Autant
Thistledown Press / 31 August 2018

Autant by Paulette Dubé Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-156-3 Autant, the highly-original novel by Albertan Paulette Dubé, begins with a confession – in the Catholic sense – and a directory of the multiple characters who populate this 144-page tale set in small fictional Autant, Alberta. The inter-generational story unfolds between two years – 1952 and 2012 – and it’s big on superstition, angels, sibling dynamics, and bees. At the centre of the bustling “hive” is the Franco-Albertan Garance family, headed by Edgar and Lucille. The youngest of their daughters, perceptive Bella, is prone to bleeding and headaches, and as Lucille’s offspring she comes by her superstitions honestly. Lucille paints her kitchen door blue “so that angels would recognize the house as a safe place,” and as a child she found a stone that “gave her dreams of a tall ship, a beautiful woman with blue eyes, long red hair, and, then, a small boat on dark water”. Young Bella also has an affinity for stones. She leaves them for her mother as gifts “inside shoes, beside the bed, under the pillow. It was her way of saying I love you, goodbye, and I…

Mama’s Cloud
All Write Here Publishing / 31 August 2018

Mama’s Cloud Written by Jessica Williams, Illustrations by Mateya Ark Published by All Write Here Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $22.50 ISBN 978-1-7753456-1-9 There’s no rule that says children’s books must feature “feel good” stories, and I applaud those writers who do tackle the serious or sensitive subjects – like illness, bullying, or poverty – and find a way to create stories that children will find interesting and entertaining. Saskatchewan writer Jessica Williams has just done this. In Mama’s Cloud she’s teamed with Bulgarian illustrator Mateya Ark to deliver an engaging story about a woman who suffers from depression, and the ways in which her imaginative young daughter attempts to cheer her. Williams begins by presenting readers with an idyllic mother-daughter relationship. The child-narrator says “When Mama smiles, her eyes twinkle like a thousand fireflies. Her hair is soft and smells like purple lilacs in spring. Mama is Magical …” The pair play games of “Fairies and Wizards and Superheroes,” and in both text and illustration “Mama” is portrayed as smiling and affectionate. But “Sometimes a dark cloud drifts into the room and settles over her”. And thus begins the child’s mission to restore “Mama’s magic”. This book succeeds…

breathing at dusk
Coteau Books / 12 July 2018

breathing at dusk by Beth Goobie Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 9-781550-509151 Beth Goobie, poet and fiction writer, is her own hard act to follow. With twenty-five books – including the Governor General-nominated young adult novel Mission Impossible – preceding her latest title, readers have come to expect work that sets the bar high in terms of both content and technique. In breathing at dusk, Goobie’s 2017 poetry collection with Coteau Books, the Saskatoon writer again addresses some difficult themes – chiefly childhood sexual abuse – and delivers work that pours light on the darkness of her own Ontario childhood, while reconciling – often through music and nature – that it’s possible to heal from the unthinkable. I scan the Contents page and note three titles which might be considered taglines for Goobie’s work, present and past: “the other face,” “living with what remained,” and “the mind coming home to itself”. In this and previous books she reveals that her Christian father – a piano teacher – prostituted her from an early age, and that incest, violence, being drugged, and participating in religious cult-like activities were her childhood norm. As with “talk therapy,” writing…

Blackbird Song

Blackbird Song by Randy Lundy Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-780889-775572 It’s been a fair while since the poetry-reading public’s heard from writer and University of Regina (Campion College) professor Randy Lundy, but the outstanding blurbs on his third poetry collection, Blackbird Song, will definitely whet the appetites of his fans, and they should draw several new readers to these spare, contemplative poems scored with birds, prairie memories, and the moon in many different incarnations. Top Canadian poets like Lorna Crozier (“Wow, I say again and again”), Patrick Lane (he includes Lundy among “the masters”), and Don McKay (“visionary”) sing sweet praises, and Linda Hogan writes that these poems “are grounded constellations created of fire and ice”. When senior poets’ blurbs are poetry in and of themselves, you know you’re doing something right. And Lundy is certainly doing something right. Firstly, he’s turning inward, and asking questions both of himself and the universe that may be unanswerable, ie: “are you waiting for the appearance of that something whose appearance/would be its own vanishing?”. He’s creating unique images and juxtaposing words in fresh ways. Some of these poems are brief and reminiscent of…

I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust

I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust Written by Edward Willett, Illustrated by Wendi Nordell Published by YNWP Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781988-783178 Prolific Regina writer Edward Willett took a great idea and ran with it, and the result is his first collection of poems, I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust, a collection of twenty-one fantastical poems with illustrations by his niece, Albertan Wendi Nordell. That initial great idea? It began with former SK Poet Laureate Gerald Hill’s 2016 “first lines” project, in which he e-mailed the first two lines from poems by two SK writers each week day in April and invited all Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild members to use them as springboards for new poems. Willett embraced the challenge, and the result is this creative, entertaining, and occasionally spine-tingling collection of poems that no one but Willett – well-known for authoring sixty books, including twenty science fiction and fantasy novels – could pull off. Willett claims a life-long love affair with poetry, but admits he’s not known as a poet. The man is a story-teller, through and through, thus it’s not surprising that each of these poems tells a miniature story, many with an apocalyptic or space-based…

Zara’s Dead
Coteau Books / 12 July 2018

Zara’s Dead by Sharon Butala Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $24.95 ISBN 9-781550-509472 She’s penned multiple novels, short fiction collections, plays, and non-fiction, including the highly popular The Perfection of the Morning (a Governor General’s Award finalist), and Sharon Butala’s showing no signs of slowing down. If anything, the longtime Saskatchewan author (who now lives in Calgary) is, in fact, stretching her literary chops: her latest title, Zara’s Dead, is a mystery. A new genre for this household-name writer, but the subject-the unsolved rape and murder of a beautiful young woman in the 1960s-is one the talented author’s previously explored. Butala’s readers will recall her non-fiction book The Girl in Saskatoon-about the murder of her high school friend, Alexandra Wiwcharuk- and there are several parallels between that real-life tragedy and the compelling plot of Zara’s Dead. Like Wiwcharuk, fictional Zara is a lovely and vivacious young woman enjoying life in a prairie city, and when she’s murdered the killer’s never found. The narrator in Butala’s mystery-Fiona Lychenko, a newspaper columnist who published a book about Zara’s decades-old death and the clouds of mystery still surrounding it-was friends with the victim. Now seventy, widowed, and living restlessly…

You Can Count on the Prairies

You Can Count on the Prairies Text and photos by Leila J. Olfert Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-11-6 I’ve been reviewing books in various genres for the last few decades, and I can say without reservation that You Can Count on the Prairies, the hot-off-the-press illustrated, children’s counting book by Leila J. Olfert, has been my quickest read yet. What can one say about a twenty-nine page book that contains only seventeen words, and sixteen numbers? Well, as it turns out, rather a lot. Olfert, a former preschool teacher and avid textile artist and photographer, has taken a prairie icon – the grain storage bin – and used it as the central image in this finely-produced SK-based book for youngsters. Beginning with zero, the first page features a close-up photograph of golden grain stalks against a blurred field and sky backdrop. The next page reveals a single grain bin, as perfectly round and centred on the page as the field surrounding it is flat. Four birds are perched at the top, where an auger would pour the grain in. As the numbers on each page climb, so do the number of…

Matronalia
Thistledown Press / 12 July 2018

Matronalia by A.B. Dillon Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-153-2 “Life had not taught you that you were a girl yet.” ” … my brain crawled with biting ants of recrimination.” “I am many diaries, and I know where all my keys are, except a few.” “I/always/worry/about/the/horses.” Rarely does a first book make me question: what is this magic? I need to know the who and how. When done exceptionally well, poetry, especially, can stir a cell-and-bone dance like no other genre. It’s just happened. Calgary poet A.B. Dillon’s Matronalia slices into the depths of what it is to mother a daughter, and to be mothered by a woman whose ideologies differ greatly from her own. Dillon illuminates what most keep hidden: the fear, the disasters, the terrible responsibility, the drowning in overwhelmedness, the non-understanding, the guilt (on page 78, “Forgive me” is the sole text). “You have wandered into my ward/and infected me” she writes of a young daughter. She later admits that “it becomes impossible to breathe”. While alternating between poems addressed to “you” (presumably the daughter to whom the book’s dedicated) and poems about being quite differently daughtered herself, Dillon weaves…

Calendar of Reckoning, A
Coteau Books / 12 July 2018

A Calendar of Reckoning by Dave Margoshes Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 9-781550-509373 Readers can sometimes glean the foci of a book even before reading the first page. With A Calendar of Reckoning, the new poetry collection by multi-genre and widely-published writer Dave Margoshes, clues rise from the cover image – a dog facing a window (surely symbolic) and the opaqueness (clouds? Heaven?) beyond – and the title. Reckoning is a strong, old-fashioned word with Biblical overtones. It implies a measuring up ­­­- to God, perhaps, or to one’s self. I expect time will be addressed (“Calendar”); the seasons, and possibly aging. And the dog? If I know Dave – and I do – there’ll be at least one homage to a dog. The Saskatoon-area writer’s organized this latest impressive collection into four sections, and indeed the poems in each section are distinct. In the first, Margoshes delivers a chronological retrospective of his life from birth to “The Heart in its Dotage”. Here we meet the thin, daydreaming boy: “Gradually, with the passage of time, the world I imagined/narrowed, and I put on weight, grew into myself”. He includes several poems about family members…

Possessions
DriverWorks Ink / 22 June 2018

Possessions: Their Role in Anger, Greed, Envy, Jealousy, and Death by Boris W. Kishchuk Published by DriverWorks Ink Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927570-42-5 I love games: card, word, trivia, etc., and I’ve usually been fortunate to have someone in my circle who also enjoys a friendly but spirited competition. Why share that in a review of Saskatoon writer Boris W. Kishchuk’s latest nonfiction title, Possessions: Their Role in Anger, Greed, Envy, Jealousy, and Death? Read on. In the preface to this exquisitely-researched book Kishchuk writes that he’s wondered “why people kill each other,” and he wins my attention. This text examines “the psychology of possession”. The author investigates our desire to possess from myriad angles, including religious and economic reasons, and presents numerous diverse examples of how the human penchant for possessing has led to crime, brutality, murder and war. At the end of this page-turner Kishchuk reveals that his original title idea was The Curse of Possessions. He could have called it Read This and Never Lose at “Jeopardy” Again! Kishchuk’s previous titles demonstrate his eclectic range of interests: Long Term Care in Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Crown Corporations, and Connecting with Ukraine. Possessions is “more reflective in…