Headmasters
Shadowpaw Press / 10 July 2024

The Headmastersby Mark MortonPublished by Shadowpaw PressReview by Toby A. Welch  $26.99 ISBN 9781989398845 Mark Morton has created a fascinating world in The Headmasters. Blue Ring is an interesting place to spend a chunk of time if you are into science-fiction.  The front of this book is so cool – kudos to the cover artist. At first it looks like abstract black and green art but upon closer examination, the top half is a glimpse at the back of a young woman’s head from her shoulders up, her hair in a neat bun. The bottom half is hard to know with certainty but my best guess is that it’s an upside-down view of a creature’s skull. Regardless of what it really is, it’s a beautiful picture and it inspired me to jump straight into The Headmasters.  Unlike my original assumption that ‘Headmasters’ refers to people who are heads of schools, in this book the word refers to hand-sized parasitic entities (for lack of a better word). Headmasters attach to humans, who become their hosts. The Headmasters first made their appearance sixty years before the start of the book, a time when everyone died except for the people at Blue Ring. All remaining humans…

Dollybird (Shadowpaw Press Reprise)
Shadowpaw Press / 24 April 2024

Dollybirdby Anne LazurkoPublished by Shadowpaw Press RepriseReview by Madonna Hamel$24.99 ISBN 9781989398586 Dollybird is one of the few novels I’ve read more than once. I’m thrilled to see it re-released. It is always interesting to see how a second read strikes one after a few years have passed. The first time I read it I was sitting on the edge of my chair, anxious for the future of Moira, a young woman who was forced to leave her home in Newfoundland after becoming pregnant out of wedlock in 1906. A homestead officer finds her a job in Saskatchewan as a live-in housekeeper for a man looking for a “dollybird”. Lazurko’s novel gives us glimpses into the life of a woman compromised by culture, time and place, and by poverty of both means and mercy. Lazurko does it with the word “dollybird”. A dollybird can mean a sweet young thing, but in the day of the novel’s setting, it also meant, ambiguously, a housekeeper and/or a prostitute. The novel looks at how a woman can slide from one role into another, especially when finding herself in an isolated community where she may be the only woman for miles. I remember the…

Legend of Sarah, The
Shadowpaw Press / 26 January 2024

The Legend of Sarahby Leslie GadallahPublished by Shadowpaw PressReview by Toby A. Welch  $24.95 ISBN 9781989398494 The Legend of Sarah was first published in 1988 under the title Lore Master. It has now been republished in this third edition by Shadowpaw Press Reprise based out of Regina. Myself and anyone else smart enough to grab a copy of The Legend of Sarah will be grateful that it was chosen for republication. A few minor references were changed to make them more up to date but the novel is otherwise unchanged. The Legend of Sarah is as relevant today as it was 35 years ago. The title character is a 14-year-old who lives a rough life. Sarah survives on the streets of the fictional town of Monn, rigorously trying to avoid trouble. A storyteller she regularly encounters weaves formidable tales, unknowingly providing inspiration for Sarah to aim for a better life. But of course things are never simple. She gets caught up in the crossfire of numerous evil and negative forces that aim to muscle their way into her world, trying to pull Sarah to a darker side. Boiled down, she is trapped between two cultures.  Sarah is an interesting character. She is a tenacious young thing, working hard every day…

Emir’s Falcon, The
Shadowpaw Press / 30 August 2023

The Emir’s Falconby Matt HughesPublished by Shadowpaw Press PremiereReview by Toby A. Welch$18.99 ISBN 9781989398319 The Emir’s Falcon is a fascinating story from page one to its gratifying conclusion. It centres around Skyrider, a peregrine falcon that university student Bernie has been tending to at a Canadian Wildlife Service facility. Bernie learns that the Government of Canada has decided to give Skyrider to the son of a Persian Gulf emir as a diplomatic gift. To say Bernie isn’t thrilled with the decision is a massive understatement.  I appreciated that this book was told from three different points of view, keeping things spicy. You have Bernie, the young biologist-in-training who is attempting to save Skyrider from what he sees as a horrific fate. Then there’s petroleum engineering student Nasur, the emir’s son. Rounding out the trio is Rosie, a fascinating Métis woman whose main goal in life seems to be day-to-day survival. As the chapters bounce from one to the others and back again, Hughes does a superb job of telling this unique story from so many angles.  The aspect of this book that I loved most is that we are exposed to aspects of three diverse cultures. There’s the young man…

Backwater Mystic Blues
Shadowpaw Press / 19 July 2023

Backwater Mystic Bluesby Lloyd RatzlaffShadowpaw Press RepriseReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$18.99 ISBN 9781989398609 I somehow missed Backwater Mystic Blues—the contemplative collection of essays by Saskatoon’s Lloyd Ratzlaff—when it was first published in 2006. Shame on me, for I greatly admired Ratzlaff’s earlier book, The Crow Who Tampered With Time, and bought several copies. And shame on me, as—disclaimer—I call this gracious writer a friend. Fortunately, fate’s found a way to deliver Ratzlaff’s second essay collection into my hands these many years later, and like a song you’ve not heard in a long time but, upon listening again, remember how much you enjoyed, I’m so pleased to hear the distinguished yet down-home voice of my old Mennonite friend—a former minister, counsellor and educator—once again. Backwater Mystic Blues has been reborn with Shadowpaw Press Reprise, a press that publishes “New editions of notable, previously published books”. Hurray, that. These cultivated essays are reminiscences of a life lived with intention, but also with abundant questioning (particularly spiritual) and grief (the dissolution of a marriage, career dissatisfaction, deaths). What you’ll also find here is gentleness, nature keenly observed, scholarship, and page-by-page evidence of a human who walks through this world with a generous heart….

Ghosts of Spiritwood, The
Shadowpaw Press / 18 July 2023

The Ghosts of Spiritwoodby Martine Noël-MawPublished by Shadowpaw Press RepriseReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$17.99 ISBN 9781989398623 I’ve always loved a good ghost story, and Saskatchewan writer Martine Noël-Maw gives us ghost stories inside a ghost story in her YA novel The Ghosts of Spiritwood. First published in 2010 in French, the book’s now available in English thanks to Shadowpaw Press Reprise, and I’m so pleased. The novel was inspired by Grade 8 French Immersion students at Elsie Mironuck School in Regina, where Noël-Maw conducted six writing workshops. The author’s work’s been recognized with two Saskatchewan Book Awards, and she clearly knows how to write well, beginning with this novel’s opening paragraph: “I still have nightmares about the events that took place in that abandoned country school near Spiritwood. I’d seen disembodied spirits before but never like those.” That’s a grabber. We immediately learn that our First Person narrator is seventeen-year-old Ethan, the son of a Regina psychologist. Ethan and his classmates were to go camping in Spiritwood where they’d “watch the northern lights,” but rather than taking the bus with the others, Ethan and twins John and Reggie, plus Ethan’s crush Alex(andra) and whiny Britney had to leave the city…

Small Reckonings (SPP Reprise)
Shadowpaw Press / 18 July 2023

Small Reckoningsby Karin Melberg SchwierPublished by Shadowpaw Press RepriseReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.99 ISBN 9781989398746 Sometimes a book is so phenomenal it goes into multiple printings, either with the original publisher or with a fresh publisher. Such is the case with Saskatoon author Karin Melberg Schwier’s Small Reckonings, a Watrous, SK-based novel set between 1914 and 1936, and inspired by true events. I reviewed this book—for which the writer received a John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award for Fiction—when it was first published by Burton House Books in 2020. A revised edition came out in 2021 with Copestone, and that same year it earned a Saskatchewan Book Award. This year, Shadowpaw Press Reprise has released the third edition. This story’s got staying power. I stand by what I claimed in my initial review: Small Reckonings deserves a huge audience. Kudos to the multi-genre writer, and to Regina publisher (and writer) Edward Willett for recognizing that many well-written books deserve another chance to shine. Excerpts of my earlier review of this beautifully-crafted and highly enjoyable novel also get a reprise: Melberg Schwier expertly creates individuated characters readers will care deeply about, including the central figure, Violet, who, at birth, looks like…

From the Street to the Stars
Shadowpaw Press / 26 April 2023

From the Street to the Stars: Andy Nebula, Interstellar Rockstar – Book Oneby Edward WillettPublished by Shadowpaw PressReview by Toby A. Welch$19.95 ISBN 9781999382728 From the Street to the Stars is not my first Edward Willett book. Odds are it won’t be my last, as Willett is constantly publishing (that is a bonus for those of us who love reading the tales that come out of his super-imaginative mind.) Like his other works, this one doesn’t disappoint. It is filled with prose that draws you right in while the characters and plot keep you glued to every page.  While From the Street to the Stars is geared for young adults and I’m approaching middle age, I loved Kit’s story. The tale of a teenager turned rockstar would’ve been enough to keep me sucked in yet Willett takes the plot several exciting steps further. He adds in spaceships, aliens, interplanetary travel, and a few other galactic surprises. While that could’ve turned cheesy fast, in this case it added fabulous layers to the story. New depths are created, especially with the kooky aliens. It was a thrill ride to go along with the cast of quirky characters on their adventures.  One of…

Phases
Shadowpaw Press / 4 April 2023

Phasesby Belinda BetkerPublished by Shadowpaw Press RepriseReview by Michelle Shaw$17.99 ISBN 9781989398449 Phases, a debut poetry collection by Saskatoon poet Belinda Betker, beautifully captures the stages and transformations of one woman’s life. It unravels like a journey that begins in childhood and culminates in the “triumphant release of coming out and the liberating power of drag.” Along the way Belinda reflects on stereotypes, conformity and society’s expectations. She captures distinct moments in time with an exquisite touch and an often-soul penetrating choice of words. And while one’s instinctive response is to read it as memoir, Belinda notes that not all the poems are strictly autobiographical. I marvelled at the accuracy of her descriptions and the accessibility and emotional intensity of her words. The book is divided into four sections, each describing a particular lunar phase. I was so fascinated by the terms: Saros Cycle, Grazing Occultation, Perigee Syzygy and Orbital Eccentricity, that of course I had to look them up. The explanations gave such an added dimension to the poems in each section, which I imagine was Belinda’s intent. As I’m sure each definition is open to interpretation, I encourage you to look them up yourself! I also learned a…

What If You Could?
Shadowpaw Press / 8 November 2022

What If You Could?by Lynne Harley, Illustrations by Kiram AkramReview by Michelle ShawPublished by Shadowpaw Press Premiere$16.99 ISBN 9781989398463 What If You Could? by Lynne Harley is a wonderful book for all ages with a deep and profound message that will resonate with every reader. The author cleverly uses the familiar story of the caterpillar transforming into a butterfly to highlight the different “inner voices” we all experience. “One grey and rainy morning, a caterpillar, as caterpillars do, was eating a big, green leaf, munching, crunching, thinking, too.” One of the voices the caterpillar hears is positive and loving and encourages him to dream big, exciting dreams and to let his imagination run free. The other voice is “cold and quite mean” and full of “know-it-all advice”. This voice sternly tells the caterpillar: “forget it, little caterpillar. From this branch, you won’t go far! … HA! Who do you think you are?” Lynne Harley has spent forty years as a social worker and a transformational life coach, so it’s not surprising that this book is so profound. Through her work she encourages individuals to believe in themselves. She says this book speaks to the power of listening deeply to our…