Arthur Slade / 6 November 2015

Modo: Ember’s End Written by Arthur Slade, Art by Christopher Steininger Review by Courtney Bates-Hardy $20.00 ISBN 978-0-9880139-0-2 Modo: Ember’s End is a graphic novel that follows the adventures of Modo, the main character from The Hunchback Assignments, a previously published four book series. However, you don’t need to have read the series to enjoy the graphic novel. It’s a standalone story set in the Old West, with a steampunk twist. Modo is hunchbacked with the unique ability to change his appearance for short amounts of time. His friend, and fellow British spy, Octavia, provides the comic relief as they make their way in Ember’s End. Upon their arrival, they are quickly deputized and pulled into a race to find a mystery device made by a former weapons inventor. Unfortunately, someone else is after it too. The mercenary Ogden Bull will stop at nothing to find it before they do. His assassin, a ninja with glowing eyes, is after them and their only help is a mysterious young woman with a clockwork heart. These characters will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. A middle school audience will really enjoy this story, although it has appeal for older audiences…

Love Is Not Anonymous
Thistledown Press / 5 November 2015

Love is Not Anonymous by Jan Wood Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-056-6 It’s a happy coincidence when a poet’s name reflects one of his or her subjects. As I read Love is Not Anonymous, one of four books released as part of Thistledown Press’s 12th New Leaf Editions Series, I discovered that Jan Wood is an example of this synergy. Wood calls Big River SK home–anyone who knows this heavily-treed area will understand the name\leitmotif connection-and while the book’s back cover blurb addresses the poet’s handling of love, relationships and spirituality, I keep returning to the poems that indirectly honour the natural world. Among these is “Awakening,” where the narrator’s night-driving on a rain-slick road, and “at the edge of the swamp-spruce” a bull moose appears. Though the poet tries to capture a decent photograph where “the Northern Saskatchewan forest\intertwines with moose, muskeg and sky,” her “Details of the night are\a thousand apertures and nothing”. She becomes philosophical in the final stanza, and it’s this layering-the real world of a bridge and rain and headlights juxtaposed against what it may all mean in the big picture-that marks this poem a success. Clumsily human,…

Time After Time
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 5 November 2015

Time After Time by Gaye Smith Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-49-2 Before I even opened Time After Time, a colouring book (for mature colourers) by Lipton SK artist and all-round creative powerhouse Gaye Smith, I did some internet research. That may seem strange, for here I was about to review a book without text …shouldn’t it be, like, easy-peasy? I was vaguely aware that adult colouring books had become a hot new phenomenon, and I wanted to know why. Turns out it’s about de-stressing. What I learned is that like reading, or doing jigsaw puzzles, or knitting, when we focus on the activity of colouring it calms the mind and takes our focus away from worries, while simultaneously stimulating motor skills, senses, and creativity. There’s a crossover with mindfulness and mantras: “Activities in which the brain is engaged just enough to stop it whirring, but not so much that the concentration is draining.” (The Guardian) The writer of a June 2015 article (in The Guardian) reported that “Five of Amazon’s top 10 last week were adult colouring-in books, as were six of Brazil’s top 10 non-fiction list. Last year in France,…

Let Us Be True
Coteau Books / 4 November 2015

Let Us Be True by Erna Buffie Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781550-506358 The unceasing mystery of “family” is at the heart of many a novel, and in Let Us Be True, Manitoba-based Erna Buffie employs a variety of characters to explore this complex subject across generations. When one considers how we often hurt those closest to us-including our kin-it’s easy to question whether blood is indeed thicker than water. Buffie kicks this novel off on a WW2 battlefield. Henry’s a young soldier who doesn’t regret the death of his hometown comrade, as it frees up that soldier’s girl. He knows that Pearl “won’t be an easy woman to love, but he can’t think of anything else he would rather do.” In the chapters that follow-and through the voices of her two adult daughters and others-we learn that Henry pegged it: foul-mouthed, sour, and seemingly heartless, Pearl’s a difficult woman to like, let alone love. In chapter two we meet the force that is Pearl Calder. Now seventy-four, she’s clearing out anything extraneous after Henry’s death, including items others might keep for sentimental reasons. Good details here help us understand these characters, ie: Henry…

Exile on a Grid Road
Thistledown Press / 3 November 2015

Exile on a Grid Road by Shelley Banks Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-057-3 Robins, grackles, gulls, airport snow geese, a Great Horned Owl, iconic chick-a-dees that eat peanuts from the palm of a hand, pigeons, Ruby-throated hummingbirds in bougainvillea. Birds flutter in and out of Exile on a Grid Road by longtime Regina writer and photographer Shelley Banks. In her inaugural poetry collection, the multi-genre scribe demonstrates that she’s also paid attention to dogs and cats, insects, rain, the myriad plants (“natives and exotics”) that grow alongside gravel roads, and, of course, to the human heart. Why is this all important? Because life whizzes by, and most of us don’t take the time to stop and consider how a grasshopper resembles a twig on a patio gate, or how-on a grave or anywhere else in a certain season-“lumps of clay jut\through the snow”. This is the very stuff of life; it counterbalances the tedium of work-a-day lives, the horrors of cancer and chemotherapy, the shadows that deaths leave behind. It’s good and necessary to celebrate what goes on beneath the glossy surface of life, and that’s what poets like Banks do so well….

Looking for Aiktow
Joan Soggie / 3 November 2015

Looking for Aiktow: Stories Behind the History of the Elbow of the South Saskatchewan River by Joan Soggie Published by Joan Soggie Review by Keith Foster $20.00 ISBN 978-1-890692-26-1 Aiktow was a notoriously dangerous place. In 1866 a clash between Cree and Blackfoot warriors left hundreds dead, their bleached bones littering a valley. Joan Soggie describes this battle and her search for the site in Looking for Aiktow: Stories Behind the History of the Elbow of the South Saskatchewan River. Aiktow, Cree for elbow, referred to an abrupt bend or elbow in the South Saskatchewan River, located near the current village of Elbow, SK. Both Cree and early explorers avoided camping in this area where the river turned; to do so was an open invitation for the Blackfoot to attack. According to Soggie, “Cree became the official language of the fur trade” on the prairies. For a while the Cree profited by their relationship with the Hudson’s Bay Company, supplying traders with tonnes of fresh meat and pemmican “But those golden days were as elusive and short-lived as the mirages that haunt distant prairie horizons,” Soggie says. She maintains a sympathetic view of Aboriginals, devoting a chapter to Cree Chief…

Wild Sage Press / 3 November 2015

Watermarks by Laura Burkhart Published by Wild Sage Press Review by Eric Greenway $15.00 ISBN 9780988122932 Watermarks, Laura Burkhart’s second book of poetry, will make you laugh. You can hear the poet’s glee in many of these poems-and you wonder how she maintains such fine control of language while giving herself over to all-out play. The levity begins with the first poem, “Advice from Noah’s Wife”, who can “hardly breathe halfway through, let alone tell Noah he should have hired a female ark-tech who knows the ins-and-outs of cleaning.” It’s fitting that a poet who achieves a high level of playfulness with language should include a poem about strategically placing the word “Envy” on a (somewhat altered) Scrabble board, then topping that move with an even better score-“well let’s just say/your fellow players will turn/a not-unpleasant shade of green/when you also use all seven/letters for the 50-point bonus.” In “Writing the Old Frogs Home” the amphibious narrator admits that “Maybe this frog/hospital doesn’t even exist/outside our own lily-/livered minds. Maybe this/is really a frog-leg emporium/and that’s why there are so many/wheel chairs down by the pond.” And, from the same poem, have you heard the one about Mr. Weber, the…