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…

The Birthday Books
Hagios Press / 18 September 2015

The Birthday Books by Joanna Lilley Published by Hagios Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 9 781926 710334 $18.95 Joanna Lilley’s short story collection, The Birthday Books, promises readers an unforgettable trip to the threshold of becoming that exists on no map, but in individual minds and social consciousness, along the boundary of the familiar and the unknown. Many of the stories in this collection mark time and place one beat prior to personal transformation, within circumstances that distort, clarify, or enhance the lenses used to peer into the self, others and into the past. Many of the characters in this collection are on the edge of something momentous. The stories are parsimonious and elegant, at once mystifying and perspicacious, the images formed from spaces teeming with anguish, euphoria, uncertainty, curiosity, and rare beauty. In her characters’ attraction to the North, in “Rearranging Rainbows,” “Silver Salmon,” “Magnetic North,” “Carbonated,” and “The Ladies of Marsh Lake,” Lilley composes a convincing testament to the North’s magnetic powers, what makes this harsh and challenging environment so alluring to the imaginations of those desiring a break from modern existence or individual circumstance. Readers will be enthralled with Lilley’s character’s wanderlust, with how their thoughts,…

University of Regina Press / 4 September 2015

#IdleNoMore: And the Remaking of Canada by Ken Coates Published by University of Regina Press Review by: Justin Dittrick $27.95 ISBN: 9780889773424 In #IdleNoMore: And the Remaking of Canada, Ken Coates examines the Idle No More movement from its understated beginnings in November 2012 to its climax in the late winter of 2013. While Idle No More can be compared to other social movements, such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, it differs from them in several important ways. It is these differences that make the movement truly remarkable, including its lack of an official spokesperson, its lack of affiliation with political leaders, mainstream ideologies, and party elites, and its lack of an organizational structure beyond organizers’ commitment to its grassroots origins and inspiration. Indeed a convincing argument can be made that Idle No More contributes a set of best practices for peaceful, exuberant, and community-driven protest. With its energy, direction, and focus coming almost entirely from the public, it is greater than the sum of its actions and events, having galvanized discussion and instilled pride in a new generation of Indigenous Canadians on a wide assortment of issues and challenges to be faced in the coming years….

Know Thyself
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 13 January 2015

Know Thyself: Help Me, I’m Naked, Book Three by Donna Miller Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Justin Dittrick $21.95 ISBN 9 781927 756348 In Donna Miller’s Know Thyself: Help Me, I’m Naked, Book Three, readers will find an engrossing, heartfelt, and honest memoir. Miller is a natural story-teller and memoirist, her memory of events startlingly clear, the prose crystalline, spare, and even. The events it depicts are relentlessly tragic, yet affirm the gift of life in faith, grace, and hope. The sense of harmony at this memoir’s depth is achieved through the rich development of its many strong female characters, who repeatedly demonstrate ingenuity, self-sacrifice, and resilience in the most trying circumstances imaginable. In one passage, the narrator admits that she does not grasp the difference between knowledge and understanding, with knowledge being defined as the possession of information, and understanding being defined as the possession of meaning in that information. This memoir’s great achievement is that it maintains just the right distance from its well-developed characters and detailing of events, a kind of sympathetic distance for the great costs attributable to free will, allowing the reader to grasp meaning in spite of the complexity of motivations…

Afghanistan Confessions
Hagios Press / 8 January 2015

Afghanistan Confessions by Victor Enns Published by Hagios Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 978-1-926710-32-7 $17.95 Victor Enns’ collection, Afghanistan Confessions, is voice poetry that draws on the violence, chaos, death, and wholesale desecrations that mark the dimensions of war as experienced by soldiers on the ground. Written in the confessional mode, the poems emanate affective energy, and are compulsively readable. It is poetry for readers who wish to probe the unlapsing dominion war wields over those who pursue it, over those who must grow more or less accustomed to its atrocities and its ugly realities. It unapologetically presents mind and perception under the influence of war’s effects, beyond the domestic domain of ideological argument, as one of its speakers declares, “[t]his is my third tour, and I still want more/heat, dust, challenge and blood”. This collection’s presentation of war, its glimpses of sublime transfiguration, is endorsed in an afterword by Neil Maclean, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan, which lends this sympathetic and intriguing collection even greater credibility. It is honest, unflinching, and fully alive as an account of 21st Century war, a subject matter to which the poetic of voice seems especially suited under Enns’ pen. The collection…

Homegrown and Other Poems
DriverWorks Ink / 23 December 2014

Homegrown and other poems By Bryce Burnett Published by DriverWorks Ink Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 9 781927 570081 In Bryce Burnett’s collection of cowboy poetry, Homegrown, readers will discover lively and intelligent poems that reminisce on country life from the turn-of-the-century to the present day. Bryce Burnett demonstrates that he is a master raconteur, spinning narratives of wit and turning conventional wisdom on its head. The commonplace and the significant converge in this collection, as seen in a son who contemplates his father in his own shadow, in “Dad”. These poems frequently surprise with the unexpected, with humourous, at times, hilarious, twists and turns, as in the poem “Silent is Golden”. Several poems share recollections of unique personalities shaped by the country life, such as the giving spirit demonstrated by the most frugal of men (“The Scotsman”), the simplified existence of life on the land (“George Law”), the close-knit, at times, comic, relations that characterize the landed community (“Newlyweds”), the hard-headed, crafty bargaining practices necessary to turn a profit (“Livestock Buyers”), and a man who shows up “when all the work is done” (“The Blister”). This collection captures the ethos and colourful outlook of frontiersmen, presenting a melodious set…

Seasons of Plenty
Doreen M. Bleich / 11 December 2014

Seasons of Plenty by Doreen M. Bleich Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 978-0-9731167-1-7 $25 Doreen M. Bleich’s Seasons of Plenty offers a wide assortment of recipe ideas for cooks of all skill levels. This cookbook offers appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, desserts, dressings, and sauces that will please palettes, and satisfy the heartiest appetites. Organized around the holidays, it presents many meal options that are economical and require surprisingly little preparation, allowing the cook to prepare the meal and return to guests, who can look forward to a homey, balanced dish that will amaze for how easy it all seemed. These recipes are simple without ever being bland, while evoking a sense of comforting familiarity, as only home-cooked offerings can. In the age of the internet, this is also a much-needed cookbook of ideas, methods, and variations. Inspired offerings are not always easy to find in search engine queries. Bleich offers cooks the certitude that every meal will taste inspired by tradition, yet honed from years of experience in the kitchen. At a cursory glance, the impression given is that this cookbook contains a meal for any occasion, from afternoon teas to potlucks to full-blown family dinners. The holiday theme does…

The Rawhide Homesteader
Benchmark Press / 6 November 2014

The Rawhide Homesteader by Scott Henders Published by Benchmark Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 978192735218 $19.95 Scott Henders’ The Rawhide Homesteader offers readers an engrossing narrative engemmed with wisdom about the human condition within boundaries of the natural order. It is a novel most remarkable for its true-as-life characters, all of whom are intelligently moulded by the institutions of social life demarcating society, yet show the strains in traditional ways, under pressures of family, religion, nature, and changing socio-economic conditions at the turn of the 20th Century. Several characters are twice born, once into what must be endured, and once into what must be done to live well for themselves and their loved ones. The novel also offers rich insight into the spiritual life as a means of learning respect for forces of man and nature that can expand, yet will just as likely devastate, the soul. It is a novel about the inescapable needs that pulsate in the human psyche, the ties of society within and across cultural lines, and the inborn patterns of nature that provide the logic in which human beings must progress toward self-understanding and enlightened acceptance. At the heart of this narrative is Josh…

Blue Grama
Wild Sage Press / 10 September 2014

Blue Grama by Heather Peat Hamm Published by Wild Sage Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 978-0-988 1229-6-3 $18.00 Heather Peat Hamm’s collection of poems, songs, and illustrations, Blue Grama, offers readers a rich field study in monographic perspective, demonstrating this ecological poet’s masterful command of detail and description that holds the prairies in their clearest, most vivid light. No aspect of prairie fields, or people who call the prairie land their home, is too small or too hidden, to attract this poet’s perspicacious eye. These are poems not just to read, but to assimilate with care, as one assimilates the defining characteristics revealed in a botanist’s handbook. The poem’s are a celebration of a distinct livelihood—one that is seldom presented with such joie de vivre. The collection’s greatest triumph might be that it metaphorically couples the hardships, pathos, joys, and raptures experienced by the land’s people with penetrating insight into that which perseveres among them, the creatures and plants that share the conditions of life, wondrously unique, yet familiar, in their adaptive movements. The people and the land become intertwined as one reads the poems and studies the drawings painstakingly sketched and labelled by a deft poet-scientist. Like the…

The Path to Ardroe
Thistledown Press / 25 October 2013

The Path to Ardroe by John Lent Published by Thistledown Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 978-1-927068-01-4 John Lent’s novel, The Path to Ardroe, offers a sustained, polymorphous meditation on understanding and accepting oneself, as seen in the shared memories, thoughts, and experiences of several Canadians. It offers a tapestry consisting of four strands of narrative, including those of three characters approaching mid-life, which are told in the first-person, and one of a young woman in her early twenties, which is told in the third-person. Lent’s approach in this terrain is balanced and focused, each character’s situation being sufficiently engrossing to make the experience effortlessly contemplative, highly observant, and satisfyingly rich with detail and personal insight. It is not only an enjoyable novel to read, but to sustain in the mind, as each perspective differs in its orientation to the landscape, the present, and the past, making the strands of selves form the parts of a distinct chord, the hum of the chord being unique and enjoyable, in itself. The Path to Ardroe is a novel of the themes that recur and reverberate across lives and generations, showing their tendency to enter and enrich the texture of human thought and…