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…

Wiseman’s Wager
Coteau Books / 18 December 2014

Wiseman’s Wager by Dave Margoshes Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-601-3 Winter’s an especially wonderful time to settle in with a thick and thought-provoking novel, and Coteau Books provides one that fits the bill nicely. Wiseman’s Wager is by the prolific and award-winning Dave Margoshes, who has been entertaining readers with his novels, short story collections, poetry, and nonfiction (a biography of Tommy Douglas) for decades. The Saskatchewan-based writer has now spun a 382-page tale about two Jewish-Canadian brothers, both in their 80s, and their often tumultuous lives. There’s a gun, and prison time. There are multiple marriages, Yiddish, and the Communist Party. There are counselling sessions with a desirable female psychologist, and there’s a wife in a 12-year coma. This dialogue-driven novel is less about plot, however, and more about the relationship between the brothers-and the family they’ve lost-and how memory kicks in and out, seemingly of its own volition, like a weak signal on an ancient radio. Zan, the intellectual protagonist, wrote a novel (“The Wise Men of Chelm”) that was a failure when published in 1932, but re-released 30 years later to great acclaim. Throughout the story feisty Zan mourns his…

Thugs, Thieves, and Outlaws of Alberta
University of Regina Press / 18 December 2014

Thugs, Thieves & Outlaws: Alberta Crime Stories by Ryan Cormier Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-300-4 In the decades before Canada abolished capital punishment, hanging was a popular mode of execution. It was not an efficient method. An executioner mistakenly cut down one man while he was still alive, with his neck grotesquely dislocated. As the young man struggled for breath in front of witnesses for another 12 minutes, prison officials discussed hanging him a second time. In the 40 chapters of Thugs, Thieves & Outlaws: Alberta Crime Stories, author Ryan Cormier describes many grisly crimes and their punishments. He explains that “good people can be fascinated by gruesome things.” A reporter for the Edmonton Journal, Cormier relies heavily on court transcripts, newspaper accounts, and his own notes. While acknowledging that “every crime has at least two sides,” he uses only the official version, the one sanctioned by the courts. Cormier’s book covers crimes in Alberta from 1870 to 2008. Many of the stories are ripped straight from the headlines, such as the murder of four RCMP officers at Mayerthorpe in 2005. Some stories seem beyond belief, like the banker who embezzled millions…

Wes Side Story
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 18 December 2014

Wes Side Story by Wes Funk Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Alison Slowski $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-15-7 A thoroughly entertaining book, author Wes Funk’s memoir Wes Side Story is light-hearted, fun-filled, and engaging. Funk glides effortlessly through several scenes in the story of his life from when he was a young boy to the present day. He writes candidly about every topic: from deep issues such as discrimination and suicide, to lighter, fresher topics such as getting married, and being wholly devoted to a man who is the love of his life. He describes his work as the host of a popular community TV show with a spotlight on writers in the Saskatchewan community, “Lit Happens”. Funk’s writing paints a picture of nn intelligent and unassuming Prairie boy at heart; there is a refreshingly honest quality to it. Funk’s memoir begins with details of his early life in rural Saskatchewan, growing up in a small town and then moving to an acreage with his family while still in his younger years. His beautifully rendered heartfelt memories of growing up as a teenager in the 1970’s and 1980’s speak to his earlier work, Dead Rock Stars. Coupled with his…

A Gift of the Prairie
LMLCC / 18 December 2014

A Gift of the Prairie: Writing from the Southern Shores of Last Mountain Lake Edited by Bernadette Wagner Published by Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre Review by Courtney Bates-Hardy $20.00 ISBN 978-0-9937215-0-2 A Gift of the Prairie combines all of the best things a poetry anthology can be: it’s short, focused, and includes a variety of work and writers. The anthology was the brain child of Bernadette Wagner, who served as the literary artist-in-residence at the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre in Regina Beach, Saskatchewan. Wagner worked quite closely with the community and wanted to showcase their work, so she sent out a call for writing about the Last Mountain Lake area. According to her foreword, she wasn’t sure at first that there would be enough of a response from local writers to create the anthology. However, as she states, the community came together and soon offered up their memories and writings about the area. A Gift of the Prairie is a short and satisfying read at a slim 71 pages. It starts off strong, with four beautifully minimalist poems from Jillian Bell and ends on an equally strong note with poetry from Paul Wilson, whose most recent book of…

Herstory 2015
Coteau Books / 16 December 2014

Herstory 2015: The Canadian Women’s Calendar by The Saskatoon Women’s Calendar Collective Published by Coteau Books Review by Keith Foster $15.95 ISBN 13:9781550505863 Herstory 2015 serves a dual purpose – combining a brief history of dozens of Canadian women with a daily calendar for 2015. The book follows a basic format – a photo and thumbnail sketch of a woman or activity on one page, and on the facing page, a seven-day calendar with an inspirational quote at the bottom. It is a book is chock full of stories of remarkable women and their accomplishments. Look at race car driver Kelly Williams, who “competed professionally for 15 years – 10 of these at the top level of Canadian motorsports.” Negativity didn’t daunt her. She simply turned it into a positive force and used it to fuel a win. Or look at the lumberjills, women who, like lumberjacks, rolled logs downriver. The Second World War required Canada to enlist women into jobs that were formerly primarily, if not exclusively, the domain of men. A 1943 National Film Board documentary lauded the lumberjills as handling timber like experienced lumberjacks. What about the Canadian Ninety-Nines? An association of female aviators with such notable…

Jamie and the Monster Bookroom
DriverWorks Ink / 16 December 2014

Jamie and the Monster Bookroom by Kerry Simpson (with Jamie Simpson) Published by DriverWorks Ink Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $13.95 ISBN 978-1-927570-15-9 Saskatchewan boasts a wealth of writers and artists, and, increasingly, companies that help new writers get their books into print. Deana and Al Driver are the experienced team behind DriverWorks Ink, a Regina-based company established in 2008 to publish “true stories of fascinating Prairie people and unsung Canadian heroes, books for children, fiction and humour.” Deana Driver is a journalist, writer, and editor, while Al comes from a long history as an editor in the Canadian newspaper industry. Their evolution into publishing seems a natural one. I opened my first DriverWorks Ink book, Jamie and the Monster Bookroom, ready to embrace a fresh Saskatchewan voice. The story features a little girl, Jamie, who loves books, her local library, and, as the back cover copy states, “all the smells and textures that come with the books she’s read on her weekly visits there.” Kerry Simpson, a teacher by profession, wrote the book with the help of her own young daughter, Jamie, and from the bio notes I assume this is a story that reflects the “real” Jamie’s life….

Twist of the Blade
Coteau Books / 11 December 2014

Twist of the Blade Published by Coteau Books Review by Courtney Bates-Hardy $14.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-599-3 Twist of the Blade is the second book in Edward Willett’s Shards of Excalibur series, a clever and modern adaptation of the legends of King Arthur. Ariane Forsythe has inherited the magical power of the Lady of the Lake, along with a quest: she must find the five broken pieces of the sword of Excalibur before the evil reincarnation of Merlin, Rex Major, gets his hands on it. If Rex Major gains control of Excalibur, he’ll have the power to wage war on Earth and the world of Faerie. With the help of her friend, Wally, Ariane has retrieved one piece of the sword, but now she must find the second piece quickly. She thinks it’s somewhere in France but she’ll have to find a way to get herself and Wally across the ocean first. Things get complicated as Wally begins to suspect that Ariane’s power is changing her. Ariane isn’t sure if she needs Wally anymore and begins pushing him away. Rex Major has a plan to get to the second shard and his power over technology is only helping him act upon it….

Confessions of a Dance Mom
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 11 December 2014

Confessions of a Dance Mom by Alison R. Montgomery Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-28-7 Saskatonian Alison R. Montgomery recently published Confessions of a Dance Mom, and simply put, I love this book. From the outside, it’s an honest, naturally-voiced retrospective of the author’s son’s journey from a child with an interest in dance to his employment with the prestigious Stuttgarter Ballett. But it’s much more. It’s a compelling story about family, and a strong treatise on dedication, pride, loss, and letting go. Maternal love is at the heart of this beautifully designed and well-written testimony. Interesting, then, that my out-of-province daughter was visiting days before I began this book. She saw it on my desk, and said: “Alison was one of my high school teachers.” Of course. I hadn’t made the connection, but then I also remembered Montgomery, and my daughter and I recalled the tragic loss of her elder son, who died at 24 while mountain-climbing in BC. This is important, because that early loss forms the bass-line in this story: a mother fully supports her now only child’s rise from Brenda’s School of Baton and Dance in Saskatoon to…

Song of the Sword
Coteau Books / 11 December 2014

Song of the Sword by Edward Willett Published by Coteau Books Review by Alison Slowski $14.95 ISBN 9781550505801 Song of the Sword: Shards of Excalibur Book One opens a door for readers to a new teen fantasy. Fifteen-year-old Ariane Forsythe is tired of being shunted back and forth through foster care after being abandoned by her mother two years previously. She is frustrated by being bounced from school to school because of her recent history of getting in fights with bullies. Things start to look up for her, however, when she comes under the protective wing of her Aunt Phyllis, who had been battling cancer in the hospital during Ariane’s stays in various foster homes. But things get complicated, when, in between worrying about being bullied and harassed by girls at her new school, Ariane inherits a brand new power. A power that was first bequeathed to her mother, but her mother rejected and was declared mentally insane. This is the power of the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend. Ariane learns to control her new power as she embraces her inheritance of being the Lady of the Lake. Only Wally, her new friend, can mitigate the potential disasters…