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…

Door Into Faerie
Coteau Books / 20 April 2018

Door into Faerie by Edward Willett Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $14.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-654-9 Door into Faerie is the fifth and final title in Regina writer Edward Willett’s “The Shards of Excalibur” series, and I read it without reading its predecessors, and also, admittedly, with a bit of a bias against the fantasy genre. Magic shmagic. I’ve oft said that what I really value in literature is contemporary realism: stories I can connect with via details from the here and now, geography and language I can relate to because I recognize it, I speak it. The old “holding a mirror to the world” thing. Well surprise, surprise: I loved this YA fantasy. Willett wields his well-honed writing chops from page one, and my interest was maintained until the final word. In the opening we learn that teens Wally Knight (heir to King Arthur) and his girlfriend Ariane (“the fricking Lady of the Lake”), have been on a global quest to “reunite the scattered shards of the great sword Excalibur,” and they’re currently at a Bed and Breakfast in Cypress Hills. Cypress Hills! This ingenious juxtaposition of old and contemporary (ie: “fricking”), of information delivered in earlier…

Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens
Coteau Books / 19 April 2018

Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens by Sara Williams and Bob Bors Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $39.95 ISBN 9-781550-509137 For those who desire to grow fruit in their own northern gardens, the comprehensive and visually-inviting new reference book by horticultural experts Sara Williams and Bob Bors would be the logical place to begin. This is a learned duo – Williams has penned numerous books on prairie gardening and leads workshops on diverse gardening topics; Bors is the Head of the Fruit Breeding Program and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan (he’s also globally-known for his work with haskaps, dwarf sour cherries, and Under-the Sea® coleus). These Saskatchewanians possess a plethora of knowledge and experience, and they share it, along with up-to-date research, in Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens: a veritable encyclopedia (but far more fun) that instructs gardeners on everything from the basics – like soil preparation and pruning – to specifics on how to grow and maintain healthy tree, shrub cane, groundcover, and vine fruits, and make the most of your hazelnuts. Aside from the wealth of information on more than 20 species and over 170 fruit…

Islands of Grass
Coteau Books / 2 February 2018

Islands of Grass Text by Trevor Herriot, Photos by Branimir Gjetvaj Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $39.95 ISBN 9-781550-509311 Saskatchewan naturalist, activist, and Governor-General’s Award-nominee Trevor Herriot has penned another title that should be on every bookshelf, and particularly on the shelves of those who love our precarious prairie grasslands and the threatened creatures who inhabit them. In Islands of Grass, Herriot has teamed with environmental photographer Branimir Gjetvaj to create a coffee table-esque hardcover that’s part call to action, part celebration, and part Ecology 101. The pair’s mutual passion for our disappearing grasslands – the term “islands” deftly illustrates their fate – is evident on every page of this important and beautiful must-read. Herriot’s erudite essays are personal, political, and urgent. Filled with first-person anecdotes (ie: his father’s memories of dust storms), plus stories from ranchers, ecologists, and agency professionals, they also explain the history of grass and reveal how pioneers were encouraged to plow in order to prosper. There’s much plant, bird, and animal information, including statistical numbers re: their endangerment and recovery. The book’s five chapters are written in the engaging conversational/informational style Herriot’s faithful readers have come to expect, ie: the opening…

Extended Families: A Memoir of India
Coteau Books / 2 January 2018

Extended Families: A Memoir of India by Ven Begamudré Published by Coteau Books Review by Keith Foster $24.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-927-4 Ven Begamudre’s Extended Families: A Memoir of India is an intriguing book, not only for the story he tells but for the way he weaves that story. Born in India, he came to Canada when he was six. Based on a journal he kept of his first trip back to India in 1977-78 when he was twenty-one, this memoir is both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. Short pieces allow readers a peek into his life, displaying his personality traits, or quirks. He’s quick to anger and slow to forgive, and shows no tolerance for beggars. “I learn to shoo the children off with a backward wave of a hand,” he says. Begamudre incorporates East Indian mysticism into his life story. He also wrestles over the question of whether he’s Indian or Canadian. He feels like an Indian in Canada, but in India he’s referred to as that Canadian boy. He marries a Canadian woman, only the second time anyone in his extended families married a non-Indian. In his fluid prose, a highly observant Begamudre uses precise wording to provide elaborate details, as…

Been In the Storm So Long
Coteau Books / 18 January 2017

Been in the Storm So Long by Terry Jordan Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.95 ISBN 9-781550-506877 I’ve long considered Terry Jordan to be a masterful writer, but if there’s any justice in the literary universe, his latest novel – the epic and historical Been in the Storm So Long – should earn him national award nominations. This captivating story centres on the sometimes discordant rhythms of family and community, the restless and hungry Atlantic, and the music that scores and changes lives. The mesmerizing tale moves with lyricism and grace, transporting readers from a small Nova Scotia fishing village to New Orleans. Protagonist John Healy is “just another sickly Irish infant begun in Sligo,” whose father moves the family to Canada for a brighter future. Jordan’s characters are imaginative storytellers and dreamers, some with peculiar gifts (ie: John has “the ability to listen to clouds”), and they’ve brought their superstitions across the pond. “There was sorcery everywhere on the water; be wary,” a young John is warned, “and it was left at that.” When a whale beaches on a shoal and the curious come to inspect (and slaughter) it, John’s mother claims that “Pure grief’d…

Convictions
Coteau Books / 19 October 2016

Convictions by Judith Silverthorne Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 9-781550-506525 I’ve now read enough of Judith Silverthorne’s numerous books to know that anything she writes will be a worthy read, and my belief was confirmed again with her latest, the historical novel Convictions. This time the multi-award-winning Regina writer (and Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild) has penned an action-packed, fact-based tale about 14-year-old Jennie, a British lass sentenced to serve seven years in a penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania, Australia) after she was ungenerously convicted of theft. First however, Jennie must survive the four or five months of sailing on a convict ship with 234 other women and children, and a crew that includes more than a few letches. It’s cramped, filthy, and there’s precious little food or medical aid. Before long Jennie finds herself stitching up a fellow convict, Lizzie, a “doxie” who’s been flogged almost to death by the evil guard Red Bull. I’m in awe of how Silverthorne pulls it all together: the historical and sailing details, the adventures (including fistfights, a hurricane, and a shipwreck of Titanic proportions), and even the first sparks of a romance…

Ceremony of Touching
Coteau Books / 5 October 2016

Ceremony of Touching by Karen Shklanka Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $16.95 ISBN 9-781550-506679 It’s gratifying to possess some knowledge of where, both literally and metaphorically, a poet is writing from. The first piece in BC poet/doctor/dancer Karen Shklanka’s second book of poetry – which originated as her master’s thesis – is a touchstone. It introduces us to “the wounded soul of a doctor” who finds repose on Salt Spring Island among the “scent of salted forest, wrap of humidity/from logs returning to earth, and reassurance/from thickets of salal flowers cupped in prayer.” It’s a strong, unique, and elemental premise. In many ways I feel this seven-sectioned book is not unlike one long prayer, or at least a meditation: upon one’s profession, personal relationships, nature and human nature, how “everything is connected,” and upon the atrocity of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The section that recounts the historical event (from a fictional tailgunner’s perspective; I’m thankful for the poet’s extensive notes on the poems) is titled “Flight Log,” and it’s no small deal that it was long-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize. More interesting to me, however, are the numerous poems in which one can almost…

Burning In This Midnight Dream
Coteau Books / 19 August 2016

Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $16.95 9781550506655 Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe is a book of poetry contrasted by photographs, centered around the Truth and Reconciliation process. In her preamble, Halfe states that the book is intended to “share more of that truth. Think of all the children, and weep. Children fed to pedophile priests and nuns. Children whipped and starved. Families and communities destroyed […] courtesy of the Canadian government. Courtesy of the Canadian public.” Halfe bravely records her memories, of being at residential school, the effect it had on herself and others, and how those experiences have stained life afterward. She struggles between reluctance and desire to share her knowledge. In the acknowledgements, she writes, “I would not have written this story if it wasn’t for the interest of my children […] and my need to describe a history that remains present.” The poems recoil through time and space, comprising a glimpse as opposed to a complete narrative. “I know this landslide / is hard to bear. I’ve pulled the stink weeds for you / to ingest.” Halfe includes her own trepidations,…