Murder at the St. Alice
Coteau Books / 18 July 2019

Murder at the St. Aliceby Becky CitraPublished by Coteau BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.95 ISBN 9-781550-509625 Do you know a teen who would enjoy British Columbia-based historical fiction and a mystery in the same book? Then the novel Murder at the St. Alice by prolific YA writer Becky Citra is worth a look. BC’s Citra has written more than twenty books, including her well-received The Griffin of Darkwood, and a time travel series. In her latest novel she takes readers back to 1908, where “almost sixteen”-year-old Charlotte O’Dell has just been hired as a dining room waitress at the swank St. Alice Hotel, “a jewel in the wilderness, nestled on the shores of beautiful Harrison Lake”. Charlotte’s home is in Victoria, where she lives with Great Aunt Ginny, who’s taught the girl about medicinal plants and inspired Charlotte’s desire to one day become a pharmacist. First, however, Charlotte must earn money for school, and this brings her under the scrutiny of Mrs. Bannerman, St. Alice’s stern housekeeper. Mrs. Bannerman informs Charlotte that “The annex behind the hotel, where the young men live, is strictly out of bounds,” and “there is to be no fraternizing with the guests”. (One can guess…

Rescue in the Rockies
Coteau Books / 17 July 2019

Rescue in the Rockiesby Rita FeutlPublished by Coteau BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$12.95 ISBN 9-781550-509489 I’m both surprised and saddened that until reading A Rescue in the Rockies, I was unfamiliar with Edmonton writer Rita Feutl’s titles for children and young adults. Surprised, because this is a writer at the top of her game, and saddened, because had I known how good she is, I would’ve been recommending her books long before now. Her latest book – a fast-paced Banff-set novel which sees its 14-year-old heroine through several historical time travel adventures with Stoney Nakoda characters (and detainees in a WW2 internment camp ) – was gripping, credible, well-researched, political (espousing Canadian First Nations’ history and human trafficking in Europe), and fun, and that’s just the plot – the writing itself was topnotch. Feutl uses a familiar situation to get the ball rolling: the protagonist, Janey, is forced to be somewhere she doesn’t want to be (though as places go, The Banff Springs Hotel’s not too shabby) with people she’d rather not be with: her grandma; grandma’s boyfriend, who’s been hired by the hotel to play Santa; and the boyfriend’s 16-year-old Austrian grandson, Max, who just happens to have “the…

Baggage
Coteau Books / 5 July 2019

Baggageby Wendy PhillipsPublished by Coteau BooksReviewed by Ben Charles$14.95 ISBN 9781550509700 Baggage, written by Wendy Phillips and published by Coteau Books is a fantastic teen read that covers dark themes with the seriousness that fits the subject matter and a narrative device that is relevant to young readers. The story is set in British Columbia and begins at the Vancouver airport as a young, unidentified foreign boy is found near International Arrivals by a Canadian high school teacher named Ms. Nelson and one of her students, Brittany. The boy has no family or friends in sight, no identification and appears to be malnourished. To make matters worse, he does not speak any languages that anyone in the airport understands. Understandably concerned, the teacher takes the boy to the customs office only to find that their only solution is to deport the boy as he is unidentified and claim that he may not even be protected by child protection laws. They take the boy, Thabo, into their homes to protest the deportation and to protect him at all costs. It is now up to Ms. Nelson, Brittany, her sister Leah, and their friend Kevin to inspire their school and their community…

Trial by Winter
Coteau Books / 20 June 2019

Trial by Winterby Anne PattonPublished by Coteau BooksReview by Michelle Shaw$10.95 ISBN 9781550509786 I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a sod house in Saskatchewan during a winter blizzard. Now, thanks to Anne Patton, I have an inkling. Trial by Winter is the third and final story in Anne Patton’s Barr Colony Adventure Series. It’s 1903 and the Bolton family have built a sod house on their land in the North-West Territories. Running desperately short of money Dorothy’s father decides to travel to Edmonton to work for the winter, leaving ten-year-old Dorothy, her sixteen-year-old sister, Lydia and their mother to face their first harsh prairie winter essentially alone. Patton has the ability to transport the reader to another place and time in vivid detail, geographically, socially and climatically. She has clearly done an immense amount of meticulous research, but the research is always atmospheric and enhances the plot rather than crowding it. She vividly describes the everyday practicalities that are needed to survive during the brutal winter such as bringing wood inside to thaw before cutting it and scooping snow from the drifts outside the front door during a blizzard to melt for water. Then there…

Wide Open
Coteau Books / 28 May 2019

Wide Openby D. M. DitsonPublished by Coteau BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 9-781550-509663 Sure it’s a cliché, but I had a hard time putting this book down. Welcome to the literary world, D.M. Ditson, with your intimate, hard-hitting, and honest portrayal of matters that are not easy to share. First book? Could have fooled me. Sexual abuse, Fundamentalist Christianity, mental health issues, black-out drinking, and a dysfunctional family are the collaborative demons in Ditson’s memoir, Wide Open, and though the subjects are difficult, Ditson’s fresh style, pacing, and ­example – of how to live through the pain – are the reasons I’m recommending this book both publicly and privately. The former Regina journalist and government communications consultant is “obsessed with telling the truth”. She relays her story in the way you want someone to tell a story when it’s really interesting: the book moves. Like a pinball game. And I applaud the structure, with shifts in time (“Now,” “Youth,” “Childhood,” etc.) clearly indicated. After a riveting prologue, the book swerves to Ditson’s return from Belize where she’d gone to let the jungle heal her. Back in Regina she meets Ian, whom she’s loathe to introduce to her parents: “It’s…

Death by Dinosaur
Coteau Books / 10 August 2018

Death by Dinosaur by Jacqueline Guest Published by Coteau Books Review by Amanda Zimmerman $14.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-943-4 Jacqueline Guest, bestselling author of Belle of Batoche, masterfully weaves her knowledge of Drumheller AB into a mystery sure to keep young readers wondering to the very last chapter. Sam Stellar, a fourteen year old spy enthusiast, and her tech loving friend Paige, are looking forward to spending their summer at the Royal Tyrrell Museum as part of a work experience program. However, a case presents itself when a person aboard their bus sets off Sam’s weirdometer (her self proclaimed spy sense) and fits the description of a cross-country fossil thief. A short while later, after unpacking the crated bones of a South American dinosaur, Sam believes she’s found an unaccounted for dinosaur bone. But before she can make sure, it suddenly disappears! Why was it stolen? And more importantly, who is to blame? Using her deductive reasoning and extensive online spy training, Sam is determined to find out. In less than 150 pages, Death by Dinosaur manages to deliver what every good detective story needs- humour, suspense, characters you can root for (or against) and a few nail biting moments to get the heart racing. In…

Sedley
Coteau Books / 10 August 2018

Sedley by Chelsea Coupal Published by Coteau Books Review by Ben Charles ISBN 9781550509410 $17.95 Sedley, written by Chelsea Coupal, is a delightful and insightful reflection of life in small-town Saskatchewan that had me smiling from the first page to the last. This collection of poems that Coupal has so masterfully penned is a wonderful commentary of the author’s life and experiences growing up in the town of Sedley, SK, a small village located forty kilometres South-East of Regina, SK. When people think of life in small-town Saskatchewan they usually conjure images of tractors consuming the entire highway, dusty farmyards, abandoned movie theatres, and the antics of the characters from Corner Gas. While some of these themes are present, Coupal also captures the magic, beauty, tragedy, and inexplicable weirdness that come with growing up in rural Saskatchewan. As I was born and raised in a small village in Saskatchewan myself, I could not help but feel nostalgic and chuckle as I read such poems as, “The Drive Home”, or “Party”. Coupal’s eerily accurate descriptions of remedies to teenage boredom reminded me of my own young misadventures getting in trouble at parties, driving aimlessly on the grid roads, talking smack about…

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…

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…

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…