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…

Frostbite

Frostbite by Wes Funk Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781927-756980 When Saskatoon’s Wes Funk died in 2015 at age forty-six, he was well-known and admired in the local writing community. He’d self-published novels and a chapbook of poetry and short stories, hosted a weekly series, “Lit Happens,” on Shaw TV, and mentored beginning writers. YNWP’s posthumously released Funk’s final book, Frostbite, which contains the novel of the same name, plus a novella-“Rocket of the Starship”-in one handsome package. Funk’s set both stories in Saskatoon and there are no shortages of landmarks to help locate the worlds in which his protagonists-both with cool names: “Deck” from the novel; the novella features “Dare”-roam. Deck Hall, a recently fired accountant and recently separated forty-year-old, lives in City Park, and his estranged wife is a nurse at Saskatoon City Hospital. The Bessborough Hotel, Midtown Plaza, Broadway Bridge, the Senator, Amigo’s Cantina and Diefenbaker Hill are locations that help set the stage for the aptly-named “Frostbite.” As the book opens, Deck has just finished his fourth bartending shift in a week, and he returns, wearily, to the Star Wars memorabilia and the companionship of his bulldog, Muffin,…

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…

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…

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…

Yes, and Back Again
Thistledown Press / 21 January 2016

Yes, and Back Again by Sandy Marie Bonny Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-052-8 I didn’t know Yes, and Back Again was going to be that kind of book. I picked it up in the evening, intending to read only the first ten pages or so, then planned to devote the following day to it. Well, I finally put it down on page 110, and only because it was hours past my bedtime. This novel swept me up like the roaring South Saskatchewan River snatches debris off banks in the springtime. Saskatoon writer, artist, and educator Sandy Marie Bonny has crafted an ambitious story that melds history and the present, addresses cultures (specifically the Métis), and makes friends of wildly disparate people. There’s also a strong Tim Horton’s presence, text messaging, online police bulletins, and Facebook: talk about keeping it real. Bonny unrolls two parallel stories: one concerns a young high school math and Life Skills teacher, Neil, and his writer\researcher wife, Tanis. They’re tired but excited. They’ve just purchased an old home on Saskatoon’s west side (Avenue L), and their daily life includes making the former rental house livable (ie: removing the wheelchair…

Year at River Mountain, A
Thistledown Press / 21 August 2015

A Year at River Mountain by Michael Kenyon Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927068-04-5 Sometimes a book is a river, drawing us in. Such is A Year at River Mountain, by heralded BC writer Michael Kenyon. The enigmatic 68-year-old narrator of Kenyon’s introspective novel is, like most of us, trying to make sense of his life. The former stage and screen actor’s removed himself from the manic “engine,” “blue-green anger” and “loneliness” of the western world to seek harmony and practice acupressure in a Chinese monastery. He writes: “I am at River Mountain because I have turned my back on my family, history, country.” His former world included an estranged wife and son and his professional roles; stark contrast to the valley, mountains, temples, plum trees, bamboo forest and fellow monks that surround him now. It sounds pacific, but there are memories to wrestle with, and desire, and near the river beneath the monastery, nomadic tribes spar over boundaries and hungry children go missing. The nameless monk’s past and present converge; he has traded “monks for players, master for director” as he goes about his daily routines of prayers, meditation, chores (ie: sweeping leaves…