Rasmussen Papers, The
Thistledown Press / 9 April 2024

The Rasmussen Papersby Connie GaultPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Brandon Fick$24.95 ISBN 9781771872539 Connie Gault’s The Rasmussen Papers is a precise work of psychological realism about one woman’s obsessive quest to gain access to the papers of a deceased poet, Marianne Rasmussen, in order to write her biography. Readers enter the mind of an unnamed narrator who bluffs her way into lodging with Rasmussen’s former lover, the almost-centenarian Aubrey Ash, and his eighty-year-old brother, Harry, who live in an aging townhouse in Toronto’s Cabbagetown. Gault’s novel toys with the premise of Henry James’ 1888 novella, The Aspern Papers, but no knowledge of that book is required to enjoy this deft look at a lonely soul. One of the book’s major strengths is the narrator’s observations of those around her, whether it’s Aubrey’s “shiny, scaly, scabby scalp, his dandruff sprinkled Ray-Bans, the blue vein like a snake at his temple,” or in a key turning point, a female addict with the “look of having been eroded from the inside.” But there is a limit to these observations. What does the narrator really see? There’s more to the situation with Aubrey and Harry, Marianne’s poetry, the marginalized people she encounters, and even…

Where Could My Baby Be
Home Style Teachers / 3 April 2024

Where Could My Baby Be?by Ashley Vercammen, Illustrated by P Aplinder KaurPublished by Home Style TeachersReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 9781778152962 Of the several books I’ve read by Saskatoon writer, publisher and teacher, Ashley Vercammen, Where Could My Baby Be? is among the best. Vercammen’s selected motherhood—in its myriad incarnations—as the subject of a children’s book, and she’s done so with both a generous and a gentle eye. The illustrated softcover opens with the suggestion that the book “is perfect for sparking conversations about motherhood with your little one,” and I agree. I’ve been reading and reviewing children’s books for decades, and this is the first I’ve read that presents such a wide lens re: mothering, and how “there are a lot of ways to do it!”. P Aplinder Kaur’s initial illustrations show a woman breastfeeding (age-appropriate depiction for young readers); a woman changing the diaper of an active baby; an expectant mother having an ultrasound; and an anguished-looking doctor giving a seated woman—face in hands, supportive partner standing behind with his hands on her shoulders—the news she does not want. This introductory page pulls no punches: “Being a mom is hard work!” In the following pages we’re introduced…

Lilacs by the Kitchen Door
Welcome Home Publishing / 3 April 2024

Lilacs by the Kitchen Door: Prairie life on the family farmby Sheri HathawayPublished by Welcome Home PublishingReview by Toby A. Welch  $20.00 ISBN 9781738822317 Lilacs by the Kitchen Door is the dramatic telling of the lives of Sheri Hathaway’s parents, Harold and Louise, and their supporting cast of extended family and friends. “They represent most rural prairie dwellers of North America, living their lives through the 40s, 50s, and 60s.” Instead of one chronological tale, each chapter can stand on its own. As Hathaway points out about the chapters in her book, “Think of it as a fruit basket. Pick the ones you like or settle in for a long buffet.” At the very front of Lilacs by the Kitchen Door, even before the acknowledgements and introduction, you’ll find a family tree that has twenty-three limbs. There is a branch for each family member mentioned in this book. It is an invaluable resource as you work your way through the family saga. For example: Oh yeah, Wesley married Varina. Alice and Edward had two children, Constance and Harold. So helpful! My favourite chapter in Lilacs by the Kitchen Door is number ten: Richard. The year was 1947. Louise and Harold went through five horrific tragedies in that…

Alphabet in the Park
Home Style Teachers / 2 April 2024

Alphabet in the Parkby Ashley Vercammen, Illustrated by Evgeniya FilimonovaPublished by Home Style TeachersReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 9781778152900 I’ve reviewed a number of children’s alphabet books across the decades, so I’m always impressed when a writer puts an original twist on the traditional “A is for Apple” text. Saskatchewan’s Ashley Vercammen and her illustrator, Evgeniya Filimonova have done just that. Their 2022-released Alphabet in the Park contains a rhyming narrative, it’s interactive, seasonal, and it offers some original ideas re: ways to explain—and show—the twenty-six letters that form the English language. The letters actually become characters, playing along with the children in the book. This unique story is set in a park, and it’s winter. From a visual perspective, this makes for many pages with snowy white backgrounds, which in turn make the illustrations stand out. On the left side of each page spread a single letter takes its turn in a solid bold colour. In choosing a winter theme and selecting one orange-haired girl to appear in several of the scenes, readers get a sense of continuity. The cast of characters is culturally inclusive, which is always a bonus in children’s stories. Young readers are welcomed to…

Stones Will Sing, The
Cold Blue Press / 2 April 2024

The Stones Will Singby Alanna VanePublished by Cold Blue PressReview by Toby A. Welch  $12.72 ISBN 9781738023301 The premise of The Stones Will Sing seems to be the question of whether music can be a life-changing force. It is a quirky yet fascinating topic to delve into, wrapped inside a fantastical tale of adventure.  The novel opens as the king of the country of Koshluk goes rampant on a quest to quash all the arts. Included in his declarations is that musical instruments are illegal and anyone caught singing will have their larynx removed. You can imagine the chaos that ensues when these rules (among others involving books, theater, etc.) are made known.  On one hand, you have Prince Ash, the second son of King Marcus of Koshluk, who is on a mission to protect the people of his country and their freedoms. Then there is Cedar, a woman who’s drawn to music with an inexplicable force. The duo embark on a journey, both carrying their provisions but also the weight of their secrets. For example, Cedar has no clue that Ash is a prince. Ash’s brother, James, is weaved through the tale as well as many other characters that keep things interesting…