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…

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?…

The Sixth Age

The Sixth Age by Kay Parley Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Leslie Vermeer $19.95 978-1-894431-85-9 The Sixth Age is a gentle comedic novel about a few months in the life of Allie Dutton, a poet, former farm wife, and practical prairie woman. Allie lives in a cooperative residence for aging creatives – emphatically not a nursing home, thank you very much – situated in the wondrous Qu’Appelle Valley. When some of the residents – actors, musicians, painters, and writers – decide to “put on a show” for the locals, Allie is drawn into the action despite her better judgement. Of course chaos ensues. Residents are falling ill, having accidents, getting lost. Government bureaucrats visit the residence, threatening to break up the community. And then Allie meets a carpenter who makes her wonder about love and second chances. Author Kay Parley’s gang of elderly back-to-the-landers beautifully reflects the ethos of the mid 1970s. Although Parley wrote the manuscript decades ago, it has only recently been published, and its arrival is timely. The novel touches on issues relevant to many readers, but Parley herself felt the novel would reverberate with the Baby Boomers who are now beginning to retire….

I am Free

I Am Free by Del Suelo Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $24.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-50-8 When I began I Am Free – Saskatchewan writer, wanderer, and musician Del Suelo’s “slow-art” project that combines text and an audio CD in a compact hardcover package – I was perplexed. What was this? Autobiography, I surmised. But by the second essay – or chapter, or linked story – a plot evolved and it began to read more like a novella. Knowing the genre of a text isn’t critical to its enjoyment, but as both a writer and reviewer I’m perhaps unfairly keen to “name that genre”. I quickly came to appreciate the blurred lines and the vagueness (ie: we never learn which Saskatchewan city the story’s set in), especially as they emulate the dream-like text. I turned to the author’s own website (www.delsuelo.net) for explication, and learned that Del Suelo (aka Eric Mehlsen) describes the text portion of his mesmerizing book\CD combo as a novel. The CD’s ten songs correspond to their same-named chapters. In Del Suelo’s words: “The songs and prose lean on each other in a way that together create a sense of depth that I’ve…

Queen of Fire
Serimuse Books / 26 April 2016

Queen of Fire: Book One of the Leather Book Tales by Regine Haensel Published by Serimuse Books Review by Allison Kydd $14.95 ISBN 978-1495909511 The first part of a trilogy, Queen of Fire is a fantasy novel suited to a young adult or even juvenile audience. Not that the tale is simple and straightforward. There are actually dozens of people to sort out and an assortment of special, even magical, powers. I am reminded of my sons playing Dungeons and Dragons. They spent so much time designing their characters and their characters’ special gifts, but little on the game itself. Or perhaps that was the game, to imagine the possibilities. In this instance, special gifts may return in later novels. The main action of this novel begins with fifteen-year-old Rowan, who lives with her mother, a healer and herbalist, in an isolated cabin on the edge of a forest. Rowan is a typical teenager, longing to test boundaries and resenting the one she loves the most, as her mother represents rules and limitations. All too soon, the girl really is on her own and must discover wits, powers and endurance and find guidance among strangers. She also discovers something her…

Corvus
Thistledown Press / 19 April 2016

Corvus by Harold Johnson Published by Thistledown Press Review by Allison Kydd $19.95; ISBN 978-1-77187-051-1 Corvus is a novel that repays the reader’s persistence. Its setting is eighty years in the future, during a time of uneasy peace after a period of war, caused in turn by ecological disasters that have moved populations north, which causes overcrowding. The wars, therefore, are primarily to protect territory and the technological bubble enjoyed by the wealthy. This futuristic setting may initially discourage some, but ultimate rewards make it worth reading on. The fact the novel is set in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and involves a First Nations community might also give one pause. Fortunately, it is not overly derivative nor an obvious political agenda thinly disguised as fiction. The theme does remind one of Thomas King’s The Back of a Turtle, which also features the tragic destruction of First Nations communities by corporate greed. As a rule, such corporations are represented by whites/“Europeans” or (in the case of King’s protagonist) by First Nations descendants who have lost touch with their origins. At first, Corvus seems to justify reservations. First the raven appears, a familiar totem for the First Nations psyche, suggesting the book will…

House of the White Elephant
Burton House Books / 18 February 2016

House of the White Elephant by Byrna Barclay Published by Burton House Books Review by Tanya Foster ISBN 9780994866905 $20.00 In Byrna Barclay’s most recent novel House of the White Elephant, the character Lewis Hutchinson says to his young daughter, Jesse Emma: “You cannot replace one person with another”. Yet, the compulsion to replace his first wife drives Lewis and, at first, it secures his posterity but, ultimately, alienates his children. Not only is Lewis impassioned about having an Elizabeth in his life, he is equally obsessed with compensating for his dark skin and questionable parentage. These compulsions are the metaphorical rivers that dominate the lives of the characters in the novel: at times, the rivers are life-giving and freeing, but mostly they are frozen rivers that keep the characters from moving on. In this historical novel, Barclay extends the river metaphor across continents and generations to reveal the steady-flowing influence of ancestry, history, and ethnicity on subsequent generations. The opening line of the novel—“The ice on the river is breaking up”—establishes the river metaphor that flows throughout the novel. The river of this novel is not a literal river, not the Ganges, not the Thames, not the North Saskatchewan;…

Mahihkan Lake
Thistledown Press / 22 January 2016

Mahihkan Lake by Rod MacIntyre Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-053-5 Veteran writer Rod MacIntyre has combined his talents in scoring authentic and witty dialogue, evoking place to the point where you can actually smell it, and building both personal and physical drama in his seventh book, Mahihkan Lake. Well-known for his YA novels and story collections, now MacIntyre’s characters are all grown up and about to collide – with dark secrets and personal demons in tow – at a mouse-infested cabin beside a northern Saskatchewan lake. Cue gun shots, “a Jesus big storm,” and the cremains of a brother in a “strawberry-faced” cookie jar. Cue wolf (“‘Mahihkan’ – or a word like it – is Cree for wolf”), a gravel truck driver named Harold (with a man’s “boot in his brake hose”), and a mysterious letter. Cue a 1968 Martin guitar, a Road King motorcycle, and chaos. Drama aside, this novel’s an existential story about self and an intimate exploration of family composed via equal shots of humour and pathos. If the book had a subtitle, it could be How Did We Get Here? MacIntyre’s also a playwright and screenwriter, and there’s a…