Through Flood and Fire
Coteau Books / 17 March 2016

Through Flood & Fire by Anne Patton Published by Coteau Books Review by Michelle Shaw $9.95 ISBN 9781550506402 As a relative newcomer to Canada, my knowledge of the history of my home province is primarily gleaned from helping my daughters’ with their homework. So I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to lose myself in a “first-hand” account of Saskatchewan’s history, as told through the eyes of ten-year-old Dorothy, the protagonist of Through Flood & Fire by Anne Patton. Dorothy and her family leave England en route to the Barr Colony in Saskatchewan in 1903. That story is told in the first book in Anne Patton’s, Barr Colony adventure series, Full Speed to Canada. Through Flood & Fire picks up the family’s story in the little village of Saskatoon. Dorothy and her family are headed out across the prairies to establish a new settlement. After numerous adventures they eventually settle in the area surrounding the town of present-day Lloydminster, named after the man leading their community, The Reverend Mr Lloyd. I loved the fact that the book is loosely based on an actual story of a young girl called Dorothy, who was “plucked from her familiar urban life in…

Lake in the Clouds
Coteau Books / 21 January 2016

Lake in the Clouds: Shards of Excalibur Book 3 by Edward Willett Published by Coteau Books Review by Courtney Bates-Hardy $14.95 ISBN 9781550506167 Lake in the Clouds is the third installment in the Shards of Excalibur series. If you haven’t read the first two books, beware of spoilers. You’ll want to read the entire series for continuity. When we last left Ariane and Wally, they had just been separated by the evil Merlin-turned-computer-tycoon, Rex. Wally has been taken in by Rex’s smooth talk and lies about Ariane and her ever-growing power. Wally is about to discover that Rex isn’t as nice as he pretends to be. What does Rex have planned for Wally? Ariane is busy sorting through her anger with Wally for betraying her and giving the second shard to Rex. She doesn’t have a clear direction without Wally but she’s determined to find the third shard anyways. Rex finds that he is at a standstill when it comes to finding the third shard and is left with no other option but to reach out to Ariane. However, that doesn’t stop him from threatening her family along the way. Will Ariane be able to find the third shard and…

Let Us Be True
Coteau Books / 4 November 2015

Let Us Be True by Erna Buffie Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781550-506358 The unceasing mystery of “family” is at the heart of many a novel, and in Let Us Be True, Manitoba-based Erna Buffie employs a variety of characters to explore this complex subject across generations. When one considers how we often hurt those closest to us-including our kin-it’s easy to question whether blood is indeed thicker than water. Buffie kicks this novel off on a WW2 battlefield. Henry’s a young soldier who doesn’t regret the death of his hometown comrade, as it frees up that soldier’s girl. He knows that Pearl “won’t be an easy woman to love, but he can’t think of anything else he would rather do.” In the chapters that follow-and through the voices of her two adult daughters and others-we learn that Henry pegged it: foul-mouthed, sour, and seemingly heartless, Pearl’s a difficult woman to like, let alone love. In chapter two we meet the force that is Pearl Calder. Now seventy-four, she’s clearing out anything extraneous after Henry’s death, including items others might keep for sentimental reasons. Good details here help us understand these characters, ie: Henry…

250 Hours
Coteau Books / 18 September 2015

250 Hours By Colleen Nelson Published by Coteau Books Review by Justin Dittrick $12.95 ISBN 9781550506419 250 Hours by Colleen Nelson is a young adult novel that introduces readers to social issues creating divisions among Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians, while depicting how these issues manifest themselves in the problematic relations marked by discrimination, role-reduction, and conflict. However, while it is classified as a young adult novel, non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal Canadians of all ages will find in its pages a compelling representation of the social and economic realities all Canadians experience in reservations and in small town communities. The assumption that should be made is that many Canadians, like Sara Jean’s Gam, were educated in only a partial history of the residential school system, and may not realize that this school system amounted to a form of cultural genocide. The fallout of this school system is richly depicted in Jess, who grew up without a father and faced discrimination, as well as in Jess’s father, Gus, who returns home with liver cancer, having lived a life attempting to cope with his past with alcohol. The novel also depicts the conflict non-Aboriginal Canadian women experience within their own culture, particularly the conflict…

Between Shadows
Coteau Books / 10 September 2015

Between Shadows by Kathleen Cook Waldron Published by Coteau Books Review by Michelle Shaw $8.95 ISBN 97815506129 Between Shadows is a beautifully crafted story for ages eight and up, told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Ari, whose beloved grandfather has died, leaving his cabin at Canoe Lake to his grandson. Unfortunately Ari’s dad and his Aunt Laurel want to sell the cabin and Ari is too young to stop them. Or is he? Author Kathleen Cook Waldron has an artist’s attention to detail. Descriptions of the characters are minimal yet I was left with a vivid image of each one through her ability to infuse their actions with life and personality. Similarly, her descriptions of the world at Canoe Lake become part of the ongoing narrative rather than stand alone descriptions of place. Sometimes I read a book and there’s a sentence or a phrase that suddenly jars me back into the real world. It just doesn’t seem to fit. With Between Shadows it felt like every word, phrase and sensory detail was carefully chosen and precisely placed. I was embraced by Ari’s world at Canoe Lake: his grandfather’s whimsically rainbow coloured log cabin with its carefully hidden, perfect beach…

Street Symphony
Coteau Books / 4 September 2015

Street Symphony by Rachel Wyatt Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $18.95 ISBN 9-781550-506181 Rachel Wyatt’s short story collection, Street Symphony, opens with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –That perches in the soul-”. The epigraph is wisely chosen; in several of the 17 stories the protagonists are unhappy, and for good reason – job losses, accidents, partners’ deaths – and thus hope for a brighter tomorrow is what they cling to. These are characters for whom “The universe had tilted.” There’s Jason, in the story “Salvage,” who lost his wife in a car accident after they’d had a fight about her desire to get a pet fish. In the aftermath of her death Jason empties much of his furniture into a dumpster, and accidentally “bakes” some of his wife’s photographs in the oven with the lasagna. “But he sat on the floor and ate it as a penance, charred paper and all. He knew now that he had to suffer in order for the world to tilt back to its proper axis.” The story is a powerful examination of grief, which can certainly defy logic, and it’s also representative of how…

Ghost Most Foul
Coteau Books / 27 August 2015

Ghost Most Foul by Patti Grayson Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $10.95 ISBN 9-781550-506143 I was able to devote almost unbroken hours to reading Ghost Most Foul by Manitoba writer Patti Grayson, and good thing: I was so swept up in this compelling juvenile novel I wanted to charge through it like an athlete storms through opponents to win a game. For starters, Grayson really knows how to begin a book. The brief prologue hints of a plane crash, a basketball game, and a disruptive ghost. How’s that for disparate elements? My interest was immediately piqued. The credibly-voiced protagonist, Summer, is a rising basketball star at her junior high school. She’s perceptive, caring, and enjoys a pleasant home life, but we learn that Summer has also experienced pain. She was an “easy target” for jeering bullies in elementary school due to a “crazy growth spurt” which put her a head taller than some of her classmates. Summer loses sleep over hurtful comments like “‘How’s the weather up there?’” Like many who are bullied, she tries her best not to attract attention. Summer both idolizes her inspirational coach and feels a very strong connection to her, as…

The Tongues of Earth
Coteau Books / 27 August 2015

The Tongues of Earth by Mark Abley Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 9-781550-506105 A swallow’s “Cirque du Soleil”. Prairie fowl “swimming over their reflections”. The belief in “a skinny horse\the colour of burnt almonds\frying in the noonday sun”. If you are a master poet and thus possess the literary chops, numerous book publications, and the lifetime inquisitiveness that’s required, one day a publisher may honour you by releasing your “New and Selected Poems.” This is the pinnacle, and I commend Coteau Books for recognizing that Montreal poet, journalist, editor and non-fiction writer Mark Abley is worthy of such a title. The Tongues of Earth represents the best of what poetry can do: enlighten, entertain, empathize, and lift us from our familiarity for moments at a time to offer a bird’s eye view – or an insider’s view – into what it might be like to live a different life. This is a large, sweeping map of a book. Abley transports us to disparate locations that include the caves of prehistoric art in Chauvet, France; a cathedral in Girona, Spain; Montreal’s Chinese herbal shops “with powdered\centipedes and gallbladders in jars;” and to Banff’s towering Mount…

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star
Coteau Books / 21 August 2015

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star by Catherine Egan Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 9-781550-505931 Imagine a world in which “every stone and every tree has secrets to tell.” Where dragons, Faeries and great birds called “gryphons” are commonplace, and one has to be granted a permit to have a child. In this fantastical universe some have the ability to create protection “barriers” when trouble arises. Invisibility is possible, as is shapeshifting, and the manipulation of the elements. Potions are made from “the spinal juice of a Tian Xia invisible eel,” and the Thanatosi—strange, faceless, acrobatic beings called upon by Great Magic to serve as assassins—are a very real threat. As a writer who deals in realistic fiction, I have often wondered about my literary cousins who pen fantasy and science fiction. For me it would be intensely arduous to fabricate mythical geographies, beings, creatures, and names, thus I appreciate those writers who have the ability to stretch their imaginations in such far-flung directions and create these otherworldly novels. What a gift. Bone, Fog, Ash & Star is the third book in Catherine Egan’s trilogy The Last Days of Tian Di. The star of the…

The Days Run Away
Coteau Books / 23 June 2015

The Days Run Away by Robert Currie Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 9-781550-506082 The cover image on Robert Currie’s new poetry collection, The Days Run Away, features two galloping horses in silhouette. This image and the book’s title are apt metaphors for the Moose Jaw writer’s latest, a strong body of mostly narrative pieces that document the passing of time and the poet’s people, including his close friend and fellow SK writer, Gary Hyland As Hyland (to whom the book is dedicated) was, Currie is a celebrated fixture on the SK-writing landscape. He is a founding member of the Saskatchewan Festival of Words and twice served as Saskatchewan’s Poet Laureate. The longtime former teacher at Moose Jaw’s Central Collegiate knows his way around several genres; his oeuvre includes poetry, short story collections and novels. These poems are almost exclusively small stories told in “the people’s” language. They communicate. And they pack emotional punch. While reading, I kept imagining Currie delivering these diverse story-poems to a captive audience in a comfortable setting – where one’s allowed to have a beer, and fits right in wearing blue jeans. Folks would be nodding in recognition of shared…