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,”…

Cloud Physics

Cloud Physics by Karen Enns Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-780889-774612 She had me at “peonies of sound”. She is Karen Enns, and the opening piece -and title poem – of her new poetry collection Cloud Physics, is refined and thoughtful, and it makes me ravenous for more. A few poems in the first section have a dystopian edge, ie: in “Epilogue,” “Nothing was questioned/after the last polar flares broke through,/and silence finally took over.” Enns, however, never slips into melodrama, and often her pieces conclude quietly (yet profoundly). The aforementioned poem ends thus: “It was warm for a while/after the birds migrated east/in a single line.” Yes! I love the poet’s use of understatement throughout the book, and her use of what I’ll call “imaginings”. She (or her subjects) ponder interesting “What if?” questions, ie: What if time worked in the opposite direction, “so we could live our lives from death to birth”? What would it be like to “bi-selve”? What if “middle syllables/were lost,” and what if we are “made of what [we’ve] heard”? This last quote is from the list poem, “Ad Libitum,” which concerns the diverse sounds 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….

nipê wânîn
Thistledown Press / 6 June 2017

nipê wânîn: my way back by Mika Lafond Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-129-7 In her first poetry collection, nipê wânîn: my way back, Saskatoon writer and U of S educator Mika Lafond pays homage to her Cree heritage, the landscape that nurtured her as a child, and various family members-with particular gratitude expressed for grandmothers and great grandmothers-in heartfelt and easy-to-read poems presented in both English and Cree. As the book’s title suggests, the poems tell a story of a woman’s “way back” to the lessons her ancestors taught to her in their quiet ways. Lafond writes: “Words are spoken in hushed voices/their sacredness not to be shouted.” Lafond’s a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, and, with a strong interest in education and the arts, Lafond and her cousin (Joi Arcand) initiated Kimiwan Zine as a venue for Indigenous visual artists and writers. A few of the poems in this book hint at some of the heart-breaking situations she’s faced as a teacher and the difficult business of “[getting] through the walls” adolescent male students sometimes put up. One student is “always tired on cheque day” and though “winter is definitely here…

Fabric of Day, The
Thistledown Press / 5 June 2017

The Fabric of Day: New and Selected Poems by Anne Campbell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-130-3 I do love “New and Selected” poetry collections, and so it was with delight that I opened The Fabric of Day: New and Selected Poems by Regina’s Anne Campbell, who has been making poetry and sharing it with appreciative readers since her first book, No Memory of a Move, was released in 1983. In a retrospective such as this readers can track a poet’s evolution, and I was interested to read the new work: what’s in Campbell’s poetic gaze now? In the book’s introduction Campbell explains that the prairies and “time” have been her major concentrations across the decades. In the newest poems I see that the trials of aging – the poet was born in 1938 – are also receiving attention on the page, and always, there is the undertone of love that’s missed, or love that might have been. In the poem “Retiring, Gone Missing,” she writes “It’s a puzzle at this late stage, a nuisance,/really, feeling the self, one used to be/ gone” and later in this poem, “it’s odd/being with the stranger I…

Virgin Envy

Virgin Envy: The Cultural (In)Significance of the Hymen Edited by Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos and Adriana Spahr Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $27.95 ISBN 9-780889-774230 Until I read Virgin Envy: The Cultural (In)Significance of the Hymen, I never knew that viragos are Latinas who assume “‘male’ traits and [transgress] popularly accepted gender roles.’” I didn’t know that sexual abstinence in Stephanie Meyer’s popular Twilight series is a subject of academic study, nor was I aware of the sketchy business of virginity testing as a literary motif in both medieval romance novels and contemporary English Orientalist romance literature. The trio of editors for this illuminating eight-essay collection by University of Regina Press invite readers to consider the myriad political, social, cultural, and literary complexities concerning the “utter messiness” of virginity. Firstly, the editors tackle the difficulty of a singular definition of “virginity,” and point to subjective and objective meanings, and the notion that the hymen is not always “the signifier of virginity,” (boys and queer people lose their virginity, too). The editors and writers of this text “go beyond the hymen” in their considerations of virginity, and this makes for an especially provocative treatise….