Autant
Thistledown Press / 31 August 2018

Autant by Paulette Dubé Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-156-3 Autant, the highly-original novel by Albertan Paulette Dubé, begins with a confession – in the Catholic sense – and a directory of the multiple characters who populate this 144-page tale set in small fictional Autant, Alberta. The inter-generational story unfolds between two years – 1952 and 2012 – and it’s big on superstition, angels, sibling dynamics, and bees. At the centre of the bustling “hive” is the Franco-Albertan Garance family, headed by Edgar and Lucille. The youngest of their daughters, perceptive Bella, is prone to bleeding and headaches, and as Lucille’s offspring she comes by her superstitions honestly. Lucille paints her kitchen door blue “so that angels would recognize the house as a safe place,” and as a child she found a stone that “gave her dreams of a tall ship, a beautiful woman with blue eyes, long red hair, and, then, a small boat on dark water”. Young Bella also has an affinity for stones. She leaves them for her mother as gifts “inside shoes, beside the bed, under the pillow. It was her way of saying I love you, goodbye, and I…

kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly
University of Regina Press / 29 August 2018

kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly edited by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $39.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-542-8 kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly, referring to the area now known as Saskatchewan, has something for every taste, especially those with an appreciation of Indigenous literature. It’s an eclectic mix of stories, poetry, historical documents, and creative nonfiction. Inspired by an anthology of Indigenous writing in Manitoba, editor Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber undertook a similar project in Saskatchewan. This ambitious anthology is the result. kisiskâciwan follows a variety of themes – treaties, residential schools, conflict, women and families, everyday life, First Nations culture – all written by Indigenous people. These include members of the five main First Nations cultural groups in the province – Cree, Saulteaux, Nakota, Dakota, and Dene – as well as Lakota and Métis This anthology is the first time a collection of writing by Saskatchewan Indigenous authors has been assembled. It contains significant historical material by such notable Indigenous personalities as Poundmaker, Big Bear, Piapot, Sitting Bull, Louis Riel, and Gabriel Dumont. It also contains important historical documentation predating the colonial period. It’s amazing that such…

Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind, The
Thistledown Press / 24 August 2018

The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind: Stories by Vanessa Farnsworth Published by Thistledown Press Review by Ben Charles $19.95 ISBN: 9781771871570 The Things She’ll Be Leaving Behind, a collection of short stories written by Vanessa Farnsworth and published by Thistledown Press, is a riveting adventure of both the zany and the ordinary shown through the lens of interesting and realistic female protagonists. In our age of insipid, lazy, and cliché literature and filmography I found it truly refreshing to live the experiences of women with actual depth and character that extend further than either hopeless romantics who just need a man or vapid arm candy. Farnsworth crafts her characters with such care and insight that it was impossible for me to not to crack smiles as I read these misadventures. In each story I found myself relating with her characters, laughing with them or at them, and sincerely resonating with their emotions and struggles. I do acknowledge that from reading this as a male I may not have the correct perspective to fully appreciate this work, but did gain valuable insight from it that I hope readers of all genders can also reap. After reading stories such as “The Canoe”…

Zara’s Dead
Coteau Books / 12 July 2018

Zara’s Dead by Sharon Butala Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $24.95 ISBN 9-781550-509472 She’s penned multiple novels, short fiction collections, plays, and non-fiction, including the highly popular The Perfection of the Morning (a Governor General’s Award finalist), and Sharon Butala’s showing no signs of slowing down. If anything, the longtime Saskatchewan author (who now lives in Calgary) is, in fact, stretching her literary chops: her latest title, Zara’s Dead, is a mystery. A new genre for this household-name writer, but the subject-the unsolved rape and murder of a beautiful young woman in the 1960s-is one the talented author’s previously explored. Butala’s readers will recall her non-fiction book The Girl in Saskatoon-about the murder of her high school friend, Alexandra Wiwcharuk- and there are several parallels between that real-life tragedy and the compelling plot of Zara’s Dead. Like Wiwcharuk, fictional Zara is a lovely and vivacious young woman enjoying life in a prairie city, and when she’s murdered the killer’s never found. The narrator in Butala’s mystery-Fiona Lychenko, a newspaper columnist who published a book about Zara’s decades-old death and the clouds of mystery still surrounding it-was friends with the victim. Now seventy, widowed, and living restlessly…

Angels and Avalon
Catherine Milos / 1 February 2018

Angels and Avalon by Catherine Milos Review by Kris Brandhagen $17.99 ISBN 9780994762900 In the novel Angels and Avalon, Catherine Milos uses vivid language to deliver a story that seems to have been written with a feminine reader in mind. The main character is introduced as a young princess with magical qualities who has been imprisoned her whole life, but has somehow managed to escape. The storyline is structured in short chapters that jump between different perspectives. For instance, chapter two is centered around The Goddess. Despite the fact that she is forbidden to create without the other gods, she creates a land called Avalon, which she conceals. To complete the land, Goddess transports the princess to live there, and names her Adamina. Milos draws upon paganism, monotheistic religions, and mythology, with Avalon representing a sort of garden of Eden, a new and fertile world. Adamina becomes the first priestess of The Goddess, and quickly learns to hunt and gather, grow a garden, shear sheep, and weave. With a goddess to guide Adamina, an owl to advocate for her, and an angel to provide food, clothing, shelter, and an undying fire, the story is a little too perfect. When Adamina…

Oil Change at Rath’s Garage
Thistledown Press / 21 December 2017

Oil Change at Rath’s Garage by Shari Narine Published by Thistledown Press Review by Mazin Saffou $20.00 ISBN 9781771871327 When the mysterious Humphreys boys arrive in Delwood, they immediately grab the attention of the prying eyes of the townsfolk—despite Matt Humphreys’ efforts to keep a low profile and not bring attention to their unsettling home life. Matt and Ben are latchkey kids whose alcoholic, womanizing father, Jack, has been dragging them from one depressed town to another. Matt has been forced to grow up fast, raising his little brother, Ben, with unwavering devotion, and protecting him from their abusive father. Then there is the equally wounded Rutger family next door: Allie and her unfaithful husband, Doug, and their three daughters, Lyne, Glory, and Becca. Lyne is gorgeous and popular, but selfish, petty, and spiteful and trapped in a relationship with the über-jock and bully, Rick. Glory is tender and imaginative and lost in books—and deeply in love with Matt. Quickly a bond forms between Becca and Ben, the youngest and most innocent characters in the novel, which brings Matt and Glory closer together. The friendship that forms between these four characters is an idyllic haven away from the pain that…

Double Exposure
Burton House Books / 24 August 2017

Double Exposure by Pat Krause Published by Burton House Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 9-780994-866936 Pat Krause was a founding member of the venerable Saskatchewan Writers Guild, a short story writer and memoirist, and a longtime resident of Regina. Krause died in 2015 but her literary legacy continues with Double Exposure, a novella and new short stories, recently published by Burton House Books. Double Exposure‘s a family affair, in more ways than one. Pat Krause penned the stories, Barbara Krause was responsible for the cover and interior artwork, and the book opens with a quote from a poem by Pat’s daughter, Judith Krause. Titled “The Women in the Family,” the poetic excerpt’s a fitting introduction to this work that explores the dynamics between generations of female family members and between the north (Saskatchewan) and the south (Alabama, where the characters and the author both lived), and both realistically and rompishly documents the vagaries of aging and the grief that accompanies the final tolling of the bell. The book’s eccentric and outspoken characters include outrageous Gran Tiss, who had the nerve to up and die on the eve of her 100th birthday; her daughter Vee, who’s horrified that…

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….

Child of Dragons
Serimuse Books / 20 April 2017

Child of Dragons by Regine Haensel Published by Serimuse Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $14.95 ISBN 9-780993-903212 Saskatoon writer Regine Haensel recently released Child of Dragons, Book Two in her fantasy series, The Leather Book Tales. This ambitious publication follows her 2014 novel Queen of Fire, which was nominated for a High Plains Book Award. In the new novel we journey with restless sixteen-year-old Rowan as she searches for two missing children, is romantically pursued by two young men, and benefits from the protection of a foreign soldier with a penchant for making cryptic statements, like “There is no end to a circle … and when you stand at the centre you can see it whole” and “The moon rises in the evening, until it does not.” There are numerous interesting characters in this hard-to-put-down tale, and the author does a splendid job of making each distinct and memorable with her keen gifts for dialogue and physical description. The book’s opening image depicts a small caravan of horse riders, oxen and wagons crossing a “dun-coloured land” near Aquila, City of Eagles, to Vatnborg, a city on a lake. Like all good writers, Haensel quickly moves from scenery to scene,…

Been In the Storm So Long
Coteau Books / 18 January 2017

Been in the Storm So Long by Terry Jordan Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.95 ISBN 9-781550-506877 I’ve long considered Terry Jordan to be a masterful writer, but if there’s any justice in the literary universe, his latest novel – the epic and historical Been in the Storm So Long – should earn him national award nominations. This captivating story centres on the sometimes discordant rhythms of family and community, the restless and hungry Atlantic, and the music that scores and changes lives. The mesmerizing tale moves with lyricism and grace, transporting readers from a small Nova Scotia fishing village to New Orleans. Protagonist John Healy is “just another sickly Irish infant begun in Sligo,” whose father moves the family to Canada for a brighter future. Jordan’s characters are imaginative storytellers and dreamers, some with peculiar gifts (ie: John has “the ability to listen to clouds”), and they’ve brought their superstitions across the pond. “There was sorcery everywhere on the water; be wary,” a young John is warned, “and it was left at that.” When a whale beaches on a shoal and the curious come to inspect (and slaughter) it, John’s mother claims that “Pure grief’d…