Fritz Stehwien: A Retrospective
Landscape Art Publishing / 18 September 2015

Fritz Stehwien: A Retrospective by Barbara Stehwien Published by Landscape Art Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $9.95 ISBN 9-780991-964918 The softcover book Fritz Stehwien: A Retrospective, originally published in 1993 and later released with an updated biography, was a family affair. The book-not unlike a gallery catalogue produced to accompany a major artist’s show-is prefaced by introductions to the German-born artist’s life and work by daughter Barbara Stehwien and daughter-in-law Nancy Robinson-Stehwien. What follows is 20 attractive pages of black and white and colour images of the prolific artist’s work, including landscapes, portraits, and still-lifes. First, the man. In the introductions we learn that Stehwien was the quintessential artist, always ready to capture the spirit of what was around him, and as such he lived a full and interesting life. “I have not known him to go anywhere without his materials,” his daughter writes, adding that if he didn’t have everything that was required, he would “improvise using the back of painted or printed matter, even restaurant napkins.” She says he would use “any old pen rather than lose an important moment.” The use of “moment” here lends a clue to the value the subject of this book saw…

Wild Rose
Coteau Books / 18 September 2015

Wild Rose by Sharon Butala Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.95 ISBN 9-781550-506365 After completing Sharon Butala’s epic new novel Wild Rose, I closed the book and thought: This is why she’s on CanLit’s “A” list. If you’re in the mood for getting completely swept up in a female pioneer’s adventure–and this means fully empathizing with the young Québécois idealist, Sophie, as she sets out in 1884 for the West and the freedom it signifies–then buckle up, because Butala assuredly leads readers back in time to a landscape where “the sun [pours] itself over everything: horses, the hats of the men, the few women’s entangling skirts, the children’s round eager faces, the …already weathered false-fronted buildings, piles of all kinds of goods on the ground from walking plows to stained sacks … to the teams of horses, the train itself …”. Butala has a masterly way with landscape, making it, too, feel like a character you enjoy spending time with. Given her many years of living on the Prairies-plus the fine craft she’s already demonstrated with sixteen highly-revered titles, including GG-nominated fiction and nonfiction-she comes by this gift honestly. This is a writer who’s experienced “a…

The Other Place
Serimuse Books / 18 September 2015

The Other Place by Regine Haensel Published by Serimuse Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.00 ISBN 978-603-8919-58-3 Regine Haensel’s first collection of stories, The Other Place, is so easy to read, one need only invest a few hours, yet the compelling linked stories and their credible protagonist – Greta, a young German immigrant – remain with the reader in the way one can still feel the warmth after a good friend has been to visit. Firstly, the book is physically enjoyable to read. The double-spaced lines are literally easy to see, and the paper used is noticeably whiter than in most books, so the black print stands out. This is rare and especially welcome. The attractive cover features multi-coloured circles (slightly reminiscent of a Spirograph design) against a lime green background, and offers no clue – not a bad thing! – as to what’s inside: nine stories about introspective Greta’s often difficult assimilation into a small prairie community. In her words, she “Wanted to get good at forgetting sad things.” I believe Saskatoon-based Haensel has drawn deeply from her own personal experience, as a quick internet search reveals that she was born in Germany and moved to Canada in…

250 Hours
Coteau Books / 18 September 2015

250 Hours By Colleen Nelson Published by Coteau Books Review by Justin Dittrick $12.95 ISBN 9781550506419 250 Hours by Colleen Nelson is a young adult novel that introduces readers to social issues creating divisions among Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians, while depicting how these issues manifest themselves in the problematic relations marked by discrimination, role-reduction, and conflict. However, while it is classified as a young adult novel, non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal Canadians of all ages will find in its pages a compelling representation of the social and economic realities all Canadians experience in reservations and in small town communities. The assumption that should be made is that many Canadians, like Sara Jean’s Gam, were educated in only a partial history of the residential school system, and may not realize that this school system amounted to a form of cultural genocide. The fallout of this school system is richly depicted in Jess, who grew up without a father and faced discrimination, as well as in Jess’s father, Gus, who returns home with liver cancer, having lived a life attempting to cope with his past with alcohol. The novel also depicts the conflict non-Aboriginal Canadian women experience within their own culture, particularly the conflict…

The Birthday Books
Hagios Press / 18 September 2015

The Birthday Books by Joanna Lilley Published by Hagios Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 9 781926 710334 $18.95 Joanna Lilley’s short story collection, The Birthday Books, promises readers an unforgettable trip to the threshold of becoming that exists on no map, but in individual minds and social consciousness, along the boundary of the familiar and the unknown. Many of the stories in this collection mark time and place one beat prior to personal transformation, within circumstances that distort, clarify, or enhance the lenses used to peer into the self, others and into the past. Many of the characters in this collection are on the edge of something momentous. The stories are parsimonious and elegant, at once mystifying and perspicacious, the images formed from spaces teeming with anguish, euphoria, uncertainty, curiosity, and rare beauty. In her characters’ attraction to the North, in “Rearranging Rainbows,” “Silver Salmon,” “Magnetic North,” “Carbonated,” and “The Ladies of Marsh Lake,” Lilley composes a convincing testament to the North’s magnetic powers, what makes this harsh and challenging environment so alluring to the imaginations of those desiring a break from modern existence or individual circumstance. Readers will be enthralled with Lilley’s character’s wanderlust, with how their thoughts,…

Boiling Point and Cold Cases
University of Regina Press / 10 September 2015

Boiling Point & Cold Cases: More Saskatchewan Crime Stories by Barb Pacholik, with Jana G. Pruden Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-286-1 Gruesome, grisly, and ghastly are just three words that might describe some of the crimes in Barb Pacholik’s Boiling Point & Cold Cases: More Saskatchewan Crime Stories. Readers might wonder how some people can treat other humans so brutally. The collection consists of forty stories, thirty-six black and white photos or illustrations, and a list of sources on topics as diverse as Prohibition, marijuana grow-operations, and the Ku Klux Klan in Saskatchewan. Crimes range from shooting, stabbing, bludgeoning, and arsenic poisoning. Some motives are just plain weird. It’s hard to believe someone would kill another human being just to steal his car stereo. One man killed his family because, he said, he loved them so much. The time span ranges from late 19th century to early 21st century, primarily in Saskatchewan and Alberta. The earliest case cited in Boiling Point and Cold Cases occurred in 1885 when John Connor murdered Henry Mulaski in Moose Jaw. Connor was hanged in Regina on the very day that the trial of Louis Riel began….

Between Shadows
Coteau Books / 10 September 2015

Between Shadows by Kathleen Cook Waldron Published by Coteau Books Review by Michelle Shaw $8.95 ISBN 97815506129 Between Shadows is a beautifully crafted story for ages eight and up, told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Ari, whose beloved grandfather has died, leaving his cabin at Canoe Lake to his grandson. Unfortunately Ari’s dad and his Aunt Laurel want to sell the cabin and Ari is too young to stop them. Or is he? Author Kathleen Cook Waldron has an artist’s attention to detail. Descriptions of the characters are minimal yet I was left with a vivid image of each one through her ability to infuse their actions with life and personality. Similarly, her descriptions of the world at Canoe Lake become part of the ongoing narrative rather than stand alone descriptions of place. Sometimes I read a book and there’s a sentence or a phrase that suddenly jars me back into the real world. It just doesn’t seem to fit. With Between Shadows it felt like every word, phrase and sensory detail was carefully chosen and precisely placed. I was embraced by Ari’s world at Canoe Lake: his grandfather’s whimsically rainbow coloured log cabin with its carefully hidden, perfect beach…

Cream Money
DriverWorks Ink / 4 September 2015

Cream Money: Stories of Prairie People Compiled and edited by Deana J. Driver Published by DriverWorks Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-192757019-7 I didn’t expect this. While reading Cream Money: Stories of Prairie People, I stopped several times and thought: we have no idea. “We” being anyone who did not live in rural SK in the early to mid-1900s, when even children worked hard to ensure that life ran smoothly on the farm. It was the era of large families and tight budgets, of rolling up one’s sleeves before the school bus even arrived, and of smothering foods of all kind in rich, delicious, straight-from-the-cow cream. Editor Deana J. Driver has collected 29 short and interesting anecdotes (plus several black and white photographs) from residents of the prairie provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan who well recall how hard they worked and how different life was in earlier times, when cream was regularly sold to creameries. It was not uncommon for farmers of that time to own at least one dairy cow, and the much-needed funds earned selling cream kept many families financially afloat during lean times. Within these pages we learn about specific animals, milking techniques, the…

Identities of Marie Rose Delorme Smith: Portrait of a Métis Woman, 1861 – 1960
University of Regina Press / 4 September 2015

The Identities of Marie Rose Delorme Smith: Portrait of a Métis Woman, 1861-1960 by Doris Jeanne MacKinnon Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-236-6 Doris Jeanne MacKinnon’s The Identities of Métis Rose Delorme Smith: Portrait of a Métis Woman is an incredible story of a seemingly ordinary woman who lived a remarkable life spanning nearly a century, from 1861 to 1960. In an era when ordinary women often remained unknown, what sets her apart? She lived at a time and place when significant western Canadian history was being made and personally knew many of the historical personalities of the time. She was also well-educated and literate, rare for a Métis woman of that period, and recorded her experiences in a diary. It’s incredible that she overcame all the hardships she did – surviving whooping cough as a youth, being “traded” in 1877, at age sixteen, to a white man more than twice her age for $50, giving birth to seventeen children, and losing two sons in the First World War. According to Marie Rose, her arranged marriage was the result of a misunderstanding. When Charlie Smith, a wealthy whisky trader, grabbed hold of her…

Street Symphony
Coteau Books / 4 September 2015

Street Symphony by Rachel Wyatt Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $18.95 ISBN 9-781550-506181 Rachel Wyatt’s short story collection, Street Symphony, opens with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –That perches in the soul-”. The epigraph is wisely chosen; in several of the 17 stories the protagonists are unhappy, and for good reason – job losses, accidents, partners’ deaths – and thus hope for a brighter tomorrow is what they cling to. These are characters for whom “The universe had tilted.” There’s Jason, in the story “Salvage,” who lost his wife in a car accident after they’d had a fight about her desire to get a pet fish. In the aftermath of her death Jason empties much of his furniture into a dumpster, and accidentally “bakes” some of his wife’s photographs in the oven with the lasagna. “But he sat on the floor and ate it as a penance, charred paper and all. He knew now that he had to suffer in order for the world to tilt back to its proper axis.” The story is a powerful examination of grief, which can certainly defy logic, and it’s also representative of how…

%d bloggers like this: