Christmas A to Z
White Lily Press / 8 December 2017

Christmas A to Z by Susan Harris Published by White Lily Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.00 ISBN 978-0-9949869-1-7 Christmas. Even the very youngest children get caught up in the excitement–the gifts, the tree, and of course, Santa Claus–and to help celebrate and explain some of the season’s symbols, celebrations, and emotions, Saskatchewan writer Susan Harris has added to her shelf of children’s books with a new title, the brightly illustrated Christmas A to Z. It’s important to note that this is a secular Christmas alphabet book; Harris previously published An Alphabet of the First Christmas: A Christian Alphabet Book, as well as several other titles for young children. The book begins with a broad dedication: “For boys and girls who love Christmas,” and ends with a sweet letter from Harris to her young readers. The author uses a gentle tone to address her “Little Friend[s],” and her experience as a former teacher comes across in the letter’s engaging text. “Did you know that it does not snow in some countries? I grew up in the country of Trinidad, which is an island, and it does not snow there,” she writes. “Do you have a favourite present you received…

Decoys
Thistledown Press / 26 October 2017

Decoys Written by William Robertson Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-150-1 In Decoys, the new poetry collection by William Robertson, the long-time Saskatoon scribe plumbs his own history and threads personal anecdotes into a textured fabric that reflects the prairie from what might be considered a bird’s eye view. In the country, kids push a puck around on ice “rippled/frozen by the wind,” and at Gull Lake we see “the grass in all its greens,/that bull, sequestered from the rest”. Birds are carefully considered and rendered poetic in myriad unique ways, ie: “Ruffled grouse leads its perfect/rusty brown and black fan/out of the spruce, through the ditch,” and in “Raven on Frozen River,” the poet beautifully writes “I could spend all day/watching you divide/snowy silence/from itself”. The author’s urgency to “hold onto things beautiful” is apparent, page after page. There’s a reverence for the rural, here, including lakes, and the Muenster area, with its amicable chickadees at St. Peter’s Abbey, where Robertson penned some of these poems at Saskatchewan Writers Guild artist retreats, but the city is also carefully considered – and sometimes found lacking – “Outside the rickety/red fence, unpainted for years, the…

Beethoven
Burton House Books / 25 August 2017

Beethoven by Jim McLean published by Burton House Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 9-780994-866929 Moose Jaw’s Jim McLean is all over the place – in a good way. He wrote about the CPR in his first book, Secret Life of Railroaders; about growing up in Saskatchewan in Nineteen Fifty-Seven; and he co-authored Wildflowers Across the Prairies. Now he’s turned his poetic attention to that singular composer, Beethoven. Indeed, Beethoven is the title of McLean’s third solo publication in an over thirty-year span; surely a distinguished career with Canadian Pacific Railway and Transport Canada had much to do with the lapses between books. Beethoven is a lively collection of poems presented in several invented voices, including the composer’s, the voices of the women in his life – though he’s a “poor incompetent/Don Juan“- and that of Beethoven’s tyrannical father, but one of the strongest pieces, “On His Deafness,” concerns an anecdote about McLean’s own aging father, whom the poet is trying to impress with garden “Brussels sprouts/big as fists tenderly/coaxed from the hard/prairie earth” and a well-heeled garage. Silent and apparently nonplussed, the elder man walks away, “humming softly to himself/off key …” This clever merging of disparate…

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…

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…

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,…

Muskrat Ramble
DriverWorks Ink / 21 July 2017

Muskrat Ramble by William Wardill Published by DriverWorks Ink Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $14.99 ISBN 978-1-927570-34-0 Eatonia’s William Wardill has been writing stories and poems for decades, and now the veteran historian, writer, diviner, and small-town Saskatchewan aficionado has penned his “swan song” collection of poetry, Muskrat Ramble, which includes previously published work, photographs, and, interestingly, brief, conversational-style introductions to many of the poems. The “almost autobiographical” and fictional poems (with “roots in reality”) are straightforward narrative tributes to people, places, and pre-Facebook ways of life long behind us now. Readers will appreciate the poems’ preambles: reading them is akin to hearing a writer present his or her work at a public reading. Many readers (including yours truly) will also appreciate the larger-than-usual print. Wardill has lived a rich life across his nine decades. He stretches back to his boyhood re: acknowledgement of an Alsask teacher for helping him to realize “that a little boy who liked to arrange words in patterns, paint pictures, and sing songs could be as useful in the world as the little boy who excelled in athletic competitions.” At the other end of his life, in a poem titled “Homo Emeritus,” he reflects that…

Lily in the Loft

Lily in the Loft by Carol L. MacKay Illustrated by Val Moker Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Allison Kydd $14.95; ISBN 978-1-927756-91-1 (softcover) Though reading some children’s picture books is an exercise in tolerance for adult readers, others have immediate appeal for both adult and child. MacKay’s Lily in the Loft, a story of hope, disappointment and ultimate reward, is an example of the latter. To a child it suggests the importance of dreams and determination, while to an adult—especially if that adult is a prairie writer—it’s richly evocative and an important historical document. The narrative of Lily in the Loft revolves around a young girl named Frances. Frances loves to write, and the story captures the vulnerability and desire of a beginning writer—or indeed of any writer. “Am I any good?” the young protagonist asks herself. “What if they don’t like what I write?” Frances is fortunate in that she has a mother and an aunt who support her dreams. She also lives on a farm, where nature and animals are part of her world and feed her creative imagination. MacKay obviously knows this world and gives the reader just enough of the setting without distracting…

Tales of the Modern Nomad
Early Byrd Productions / 7 July 2017

Tales of the Modern Nomad: Monks, Mushrooms & Other Misadventures by John Early Published by Early Byrd Productions Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $26.99 ISBN 978-0-9952666-0-5 Rarely do I read a book that takes the top of my head off (in the best way), but Tales of the Modern Nomad-a candid travelogue and first book by Saskatoon backpacker John Early-did just that. Well-written, entertaining, illuminating, original, cheeky, and real-in that it features both positive and negative experiences-I read chapters of this book aloud to two visiting backpackers in their twenties and thirties, and they were relating and laughing right along. To quote the author’s father: “You couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.” Early’s young, and many of the experiences described in this hefty, full-colour hardcover-with maps, photographs, anecdotes, trivia, poems, art, doodles, and quotes ranging from Eckhart Tolle to Charles Bukowski-may have special appeal for those who possess the desire to surf in Sayulita; zip-line between Laos’ tropical rain forest treehouses; or, as Early recounts in the section titled “Down The Rabbit Hole,” eat “Mystery Mushrooms from an Indonesian Road Stand,” but as one who’s backpacked and been to many of the locales he writes about (ie: Bali,…

Nenapohs Legends

Nēnapohš Legends Narrated by Saulteaux Elders Transcribed, Translated and Edited by Margaret Cote Syllabics by Lynn Cote, Glossary by Arok Wolvengrey Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-219-9 Nēnapohš Legends, Memoir 2 in the First Nations Language Readers features seven traditional Salteaux stories I’m happy to have been introduced to. As explained by Margaret Cote and Arok Wolvengrey, these language texts have been used to teach Saulteaux (Plains Ojibwe) in classrooms at First Nations University of Canada in Regina, and prior to this they existed exclusively as oral stories shared between generations. The central character is Nēnapohš (pronounced NAY nuh bohsh), the “‘trickster’ or culture-hero” in the Saulteaux tradition. Cote First Nation Elders Andrew Keewatin, John F. Cote, and Cote’s daughter, Margaret Cote, a retired Assistant Professor of Salteaux Language Studies, are to be congratulated for preserving these stories via sharing them both orally and in this text. Aside from the fun and imaginative bilingual tales, Nēnapohš Legends includes a Saulteaux syllabary, an extensive Salteaux-English glossary, and detailed ink drawings by Denny Morrison, a Salteaux artist from Ochapowace First Nation. The first story, “When the Earth was Flooded and How Nēnapohš Recreated It,”…