Wanderlust
Thistledown Press / 24 August 2017

Wanderlust: Stories on the Move Anthology edited by Byrna Barclay Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-135-8 How does a book idea begin? Wanderlust: Stories on the Move started when seven reputable Saskatchewan writers enjoyed a barbeque together. In her introduction, editor Byrna Barclay explains that the idea for this anthology was spawned when Shelley Banks expressed a desire to tour and read with her fellow prose-writing diners at a Regina barbecue. Barclay compiled and edited the work, and though no theme was suggested, she found that “in every story a person embarks on a journey of discovery”. Along with Banks and Barclay, Brenda Niskala, Linda Biasotto, James Trettwer, Kelly-Anne Riess, and Annette Bower share imaginative journeys, and the result’s a literary road trip that takes readers to places near and far, real and imagined. Niskala transports readers to a Norse trading voyage in 1065 in her exciting novel-in-progress, “Pirates of the Heart,” and Biasotto to favoured Italian locales. Trettwer takes us to a fictitious potash company, and Riess has contributed a moving novel chapter about a twenty-one-year-old who’s never been kissed, and is leaving Saskatchewan for the first time. “Tara had never seen a…

Glass Beads
Thistledown Press / 6 June 2017

Glass Beads by Dawn Dumont Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-126-6 The cover image on Dawn Dumont’s short story collection, Glass Beads, is an ideal visual metaphor for its content. The high-heeled Chuck Taylor sneakers embroidered with flowers that look like beadwork and a (notably faceless) woman in a First Nations’ jingle dress suggest a contemporary twist on traditional First Nations’ culture, and that’s exactly what Dumont delivers. The book’s twenty-three stories are real, relevant, and riveting, and Saskatoon’s Dumont – an actor, comedian, newspaper columnist, and three-book author – was a “shoe in” to write these often hilarious interconnected stories about urban-Indigenous friends in the ’90s and early 2000s. The tales are so credible-from the diction to the romantic disasters-one can easily believe the author, who hails from Okanese First Nation, is writing exactly what she knows. This book’s overwhelming success lies in its structure, realism, and its characterizations of four friends whose lives crackle with energy, humour, and heartache. All but a few stories are dated by month and year, from 1993 to 2008, and it’s interesting to watch these characters both grow but also stay true to who they always were….

nipê wânîn
Thistledown Press / 6 June 2017

nipê wânîn: my way back by Mika Lafond Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-129-7 In her first poetry collection, nipê wânîn: my way back, Saskatoon writer and U of S educator Mika Lafond pays homage to her Cree heritage, the landscape that nurtured her as a child, and various family members-with particular gratitude expressed for grandmothers and great grandmothers-in heartfelt and easy-to-read poems presented in both English and Cree. As the book’s title suggests, the poems tell a story of a woman’s “way back” to the lessons her ancestors taught to her in their quiet ways. Lafond writes: “Words are spoken in hushed voices/their sacredness not to be shouted.” Lafond’s a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, and, with a strong interest in education and the arts, Lafond and her cousin (Joi Arcand) initiated Kimiwan Zine as a venue for Indigenous visual artists and writers. A few of the poems in this book hint at some of the heart-breaking situations she’s faced as a teacher and the difficult business of “[getting] through the walls” adolescent male students sometimes put up. One student is “always tired on cheque day” and though “winter is definitely here…

Fabric of Day, The
Thistledown Press / 5 June 2017

The Fabric of Day: New and Selected Poems by Anne Campbell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-130-3 I do love “New and Selected” poetry collections, and so it was with delight that I opened The Fabric of Day: New and Selected Poems by Regina’s Anne Campbell, who has been making poetry and sharing it with appreciative readers since her first book, No Memory of a Move, was released in 1983. In a retrospective such as this readers can track a poet’s evolution, and I was interested to read the new work: what’s in Campbell’s poetic gaze now? In the book’s introduction Campbell explains that the prairies and “time” have been her major concentrations across the decades. In the newest poems I see that the trials of aging – the poet was born in 1938 – are also receiving attention on the page, and always, there is the undertone of love that’s missed, or love that might have been. In the poem “Retiring, Gone Missing,” she writes “It’s a puzzle at this late stage, a nuisance,/really, feeling the self, one used to be/ gone” and later in this poem, “it’s odd/being with the stranger I…

Lifting Weights
Thistledown Press / 25 January 2017

Lifting Weights by Judy McCrosky Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $18.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-105-1 Saskatoon’s Judy McCrosky has a reputation for pushing the limits. As a multi-genre writer she’s authored an eclectic repertoire of material, including literary short stories, sci-fi and fantasy, non-fiction, and even (under a pseudonym) a Silhouette Romance novel. In her latest short fiction collection, Lifting Weights, McCrosky asks us to step slightly outside the borders of reality and spend a few hours in unusual worlds that may be closer than we think. This imaginative ten-story collection features a wide range of plots, from the moving “Shelter,” about a distraught mother navigating both her brain-injured son’s care and the return of her estranged husband, to a tale about a lonely pathologist, Andrea, who finds a “disgustingly cute” hamster in her home and soon has sixty-one furry new animal friends. This story makes parallel statements about the earth’s ecology (the shrinking ozone layer), and men’s inability to see beyond the surface of appearance when considering a partner. Andrea finds a warm community among her female, quilter friends, but when she goes to a party she has to “wear a dress of cute hamsters to be…

Hamburger
Thistledown Press / 12 October 2016

Hamburger by Daniel Perry Published by Thistledown Press Review by Leslie Vermeer $18.95 978-1-77187-097-9 Hamburger, Daniel Perry’s new collection of short fiction published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, is loaded with clever, provocative, thoughtful tales. Perry’s stories span moments from comedy to horror to pathos, and the collection explores familiar themes such as travel, discovery, loss, and false belief. But Perry’s fresh voice, narrative twists, and playful telling will keep readers turning pages. Even the briefest of Perry’s stories are peopled by ordinary folks at unusual, sometimes awkward moments. Some involve little epiphanies, such as “Rocky Steps,” which features a single mother with thwarted dreams. Some reveal universal human failings, such as “Gleaner,” which looks at small-town life and how rumours work. Several stories involve dying parents and how their families are affected by grief and change. What stands out about these stories is their emotional core: the basic humanness of characters in stark circumstances. Also impressive is Perry’s reach. Some of the stories take experimental forms, from the second-person address of the title story to the alternating narration of “Pleasure Craft,” in which waterskiing becomes an opportunity for remaking a relationship. There’s also the short speculative fiction “Aria di Gelato,”…

Stepping Into Traffic
Thistledown Press / 21 September 2016

Stepping into Traffic by K.J. Rankin Published by Thistledown Press Review by Leslie Vermeer $15.95 978-1-77187-101-3 If you’re looking for a new book to get teens back into the habit of reading for pleasure, you won’t go wrong with Stepping into Traffic by K.J. Rankin. Published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, Stepping into Traffic is a sensitive young-adult novel about bad choices and second chances. Sixteen-year-old Sebastian Till stands at a turning point in his life. We meet him in the middle of a shoplifting spree, which ends when he and his friends are caught and charged. A veteran of the child-welfare system, Seb soon finds himself in his eighth foster home in eight years — and it’s his last stop if he wants to avoid a group home, or worse, homelessness. Mrs. Ford, his new foster parent, seems cool, but Seb’s not prepared to trust her, not after the things he’s seen in other settings. Still, Mrs. Ford feeds him well and gives him space — which he uses to get into more trouble in the guise of a high school drug dealer and his friends. Can Seb find the inner resources to make the changes he knows he needs?…

A Map in My Blood
Thistledown Press / 9 June 2016

A Map in my Blood by Carla Braidek Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-096-2 Saskatchewan writer Carla Braidek’s most recent poetry demonstrates deep gratitude for the boreal forest in which she lives and the enviable life she’s made there, but, like anyone with the gift of imagination and the fancy of a dreamer, her emotional pendulum can’t help but swing toward “What if?”. Even the book’s title, A Map in my Blood, hints at the restlessness that currents beneath poems that celebrate the natural world and its creatures, family, food, the work of the land, childhood innocence, and rural living. The opening poem, “Where Do I Begin,” sets the bar high. “Beginning” here can refer to the book itself or the spinning of a life’s tale. It’s also a phrase commonly used to express exasperation. I admire how the Big River poet begins with ordinary details-a broken ankle, helping fix a deck-then she takes an existential leap and asks: “how do we know where a moment begins?” This questioning ferries readers to a deeper level. A spark fires, we’re engaged, and committed to asking ourselves the same question about the details of our own…

Shift
Thistledown Press / 2 June 2016

Shift by Kelly Shepherd Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-104-4 I was looking for “shifts” in Kelly Shepherd’s poetry collection, and I found them. Shepherd lives and teaches in Edmonton, and his gritty book, Shift, is testament to the fact that his hands have worked more than a pen. The author’s been part of the multitude that migrated to Fort McMurray for work, and he shows us many sides of that “orange-hardhat” dynamic, from workers “loading into buses before dawn, getting paid to build something\we don’t understand for someone we don’t know” to the “endless crumpled sky” and a “landscape\painting on the lunchroom wall” that is “of another place, not here”. Shift, then, refers in part to shift work, or a work-shift. I also found it in poems like “Honing,” about cement grinding\smoothing. The shift here comes when the narrator recognizes that the “ugly, utilitarian, dusty” cement “[opens] itself up and\the stones glimmer like stars”. There are dramatic shifts in weather during all-day drives, that moment “when the steering wheel started to bloom” and “the windshield blinked in the sun”. In the title poem, the shift concerns a diving grebe and a duck’s lift…

Wind Leaves Absence
Thistledown Press / 26 May 2016

Wind Leaves Absence by Mary Maxwell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-100-6 I read Saskatoon poet (and nurse) Mary Maxwell’s first book, Wind Leaves Absence, with interest and no small amount of admiration. Many first books of what’s often called confessional poetry-I prefer the word intimate-are a compendium of high\low events experienced over the writer’s lifetime, and what results is a wildly disparate package. While diversity can make for a lively read, we often see more seasoned writers tackle exclusive subjects, examining from multiple angles and probing more deeply to illuminate, better understand, and process. Maxwell daringly takes on the landscape of grief, specifically the pain experienced upon the deaths of her father, two brothers (who died in car accidents two years apart), friends, and patients. Religion–in particular the Catholicism she grew up with and appears to wrestle with (“miserable prayers”)–is also front and centre in this collection. In the first few poems the writer establishes mood with phrases that emotionally thrum, like bells in a deserted monastery: “the wilderness between words,” “Trousers fall from hangers\collapse on the floor,” and “Pushing his walker through wet matted leaves.” She does a spot-on job of portraying…