Sumac’s Red Arms
Coteau Books / 30 September 2009

Sumac’s Red Arms by Karen Shklanka Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-402-6 Must one live an interesting life in order to write interesting poetry? I would argue that no, this is not a requirement, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The Vancouver poet, family physician, world traveler, and flamenco dancer, Karen Shklanka, draws from her own rich experience and has much to tell in her first book of poetry, Sumac’s Red Arms. She sets many of her often surprising poems against the various locales she’s called home: Moose Factory, Ontario; Sydney, Australia; Los Angeles; Houston; Salt Spring Island; and Regina. The first poems reveal scenarios from the poet’s medical work in a northern Ontario community. We meet “James,” who “woke bleeding on a battlefield of empties\and limp friends” and has “been sitting all morning with a gun to his head”. And we’re introduced to “The Girl From Attawapiskat”: “She spits on me as they wheel her out on the stretcher”. These are no-nonsense anecdotes, and Shklanka adopts a journalistic style to convey them, thus ensuring that sentimentality does not cloud the telling. In the book’s radically different second section, “The Scent of Cloves,” readers are…

Longhorns & Outlaws
Coteau Books / 26 August 2009

Longhorns & Outlaws by Linda Aksomitis Published by Coteau Books for Kids Review by Sandy Bonny $ 8.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-378-4 After losing his Dutch immigrant parents and sister to the Galveston TX Hurricane of 1900, twelve-year-old Lucas finds solace in his friends, his school work, and his favourite books – Wild West detective stories where ‘Pinkerton Agents’ track and capture outlaws. Then Lucas’s sixteen-year-old brother Gil shows up fresh off a cattle drive and Lucas is suddenly thrust into learning the ins and outs of being a cowboy. Having heard of an uncle living in Canada, Gil signs the boys on with the J Bar J Ranch, a cattle outfit driving two thousand ‘beeves’ north through Montana to Saskatchewan along the Lewis and Clark trail. Greenhorn Lucas and his reluctant Nez Perce roan, Ebenezer, have a lot to teach each other, and their mishaps ‘riding drag’ behind the cattle are good entertainment. Watching the cowboys work and listening to their stories about the geography and history of the West, Lucas, who had never ‘thought about learning any other way than from books and in a schoolroom,’ comes to a grudging realization that Gil, who can’t read or write, has still…

Dinosaur Blackout
Coteau Books / 6 August 2009

Dinosaur Blackout by Judith Silverthorne Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $8.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-375-3 It’s unusual to begin the fourth novel in a series without having read the three previous. Would the book stand on its own, I wondered? Or would it be like arriving late to a party and feeling lost? I needn’t have worried. Judith Silverthorne, the award-winning Regina author of “Dinosaur Blackout,” has created a time-travel adventure for juvenile readers that definitely pulls its own weight. The rich story concerns young Daniel, who lives on a farm in Saskatchewan’s Frenchman River Valley near Eastend, home of the T.rex Discovery Centre. Daniel’s a budding paleontologist and a great kid. He helps his parents with chores; has forgiven the delinquent and bullying Nelwin brothers; cares for his toddling sister; assists tourists who visit the quarry’s archaeological dig-site and campground; and is a sensitive friend to elderly neighbour\paleontologist Ole Pederson. Daniel enjoys “the best of all worlds … living the rural life and being able to dig for dinosaur bones.” The boy has learned how to use prehistoric foliage to travel back to the Cretaceous Period, where dinosaurs like the Stygimoloch – a fossil of which was…

The Cult of Quick Repair
Coteau Books / 22 July 2009

The Cult of Quick Repair by Dede Crane Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $18.95 ISBN 9-781550-503920 There’s a marvelous short story in Victoria, BC writer Dede Crane’s collection, The Cult of Quick Repair, about the bizarre circumstances that follow after a man’s one night-stand – the “act” is committed in his marriage bed – with a woman met at a staff party. Called “Raising Blood,” the tale begins with the man’s realization that a menstrual blood stain has been left on the $500 “pure Egyptian cotton” sheets his wife’s just purchased, and when he rinses them in hot water instead of cold, the stain, naturally, sets. The wife will be returning within hours from a business trip, and the race to erase the evidence is on. In the delicious romp that follows, the husband attempts to “raise his own blood” to explain the stain. One thing he tries is “a good hard trip up the stairs.” Crane writes: He “knelt down on the cement landing, and began to draw his knee back and forth. Scrape, scrape, scrape, he thought positively …” But this doesn’t work. An electric knife handily does the trick, but lands him in…

Run Like Jäger
Coteau Books / 3 June 2009

Karen Bass manages to get inside the head of a German soldier from World War II. Through Brandt’s honest recounting of his experience, from wartime battles to being overcome on the Kanada building site at Auschwitz, Kurt develops a new respect for his grandfather. Readers move with Kurt past blame to greater awareness.

Waiting for Elvis
Coteau Books / 13 May 2009

Winnipeg writer David Elias is making a name for himself as a writer of increasingly interesting books. Coteau Books recently published his fourth, the novel “Waiting for Elvis,” and because I was ardently cheering for these hardluck characters, I had a hard time putting the book down.

Song Dogs
Coteau Books / 6 May 2009

The book follows a young coyote named Silvertip, and other coyotes nearby, as he grows up in a particular section of rural Alberta. Using the traditions of creative nonfiction, Wilson names the coyotes and situates their stories in the gritty realism of their habitat.

Graveyard of the Sea
Coteau Books / 8 January 2009

Graveyard of the Sea by Penny Draper Published by Coteau Books for Kids Review by Karen Lawson $8.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-3975 Author Penny Draper has set her latest young adult novel, Graveyard of the Sea on Vancouver Island in the year 1906. This historical piece of fiction is the fourth book in the Disaster Strikes! Series and focuses on what life was like as a lighthouse keeper. This was a time before technology and there was just the keeper and his lamp to watch and warn the ships that sailed the often dangerous and rough seas in this part of Canada. The author tells a story about a real heroine by the name of Minnie Patterson. Minnie is a lighthouse keeper who was instrumental is saving those aboard a doomed ship that ran aground. Because this novel is based on true facts and actual people, the author has created a fictional character by the name of Nell and uses her to tell the reader about what it is like to live in a lighthouse as well as to share Minnie’s tale. Nell is a unique little girl who lives a very unusual and isolated life. She lives with her lighthouse keeper…

Passchendaele
Coteau Books / 10 December 2008

This beautifully scripted book by Norman Leach paints an accurate picture of the true essence of war. It explains the history of World War I and the role that Canadian soldiers played. At the beginning of World War I, Canada was a young country. However, after the War ended, Canada emerged with a new confidence, pride, and a strong independent spirit.