Beautiful Place, The
Thistledown Press / 9 December 2021

The Beautiful Placeby Lee GowanPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-208-9 Saskatchewan born-and-raised writer Lee Gowan has penned a thick new novel—The Beautiful Place—and it’s a beautiful thing. Gowan’s three previous novels have garnered much attention (Make Believe Love was shortlisted for Ontario’s Trillium Award), and his screenplay, Paris or Somewhere, was nominated for a Gemini Award. Currently the Program Director of the Creative Writing and Business Communications department at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, this award-winning author’s giving readers something completely different with The Beautiful Place, which delves into the sci-fi world of cryonics; the realistic world of failed marriages, 21st Century parenting, and dementia; and the ever-precarious world of art and art-making. What Gowan’s done here is ingenious: he’s imagined an ongoing life for Philip Bentley, Sinclair Ross’s protagonist in As for Me and My House. Gowan’s tri-provincial sequel to that prairie classic’s told from the perspective of the minister-turned-artist’s grandson, also known as Bentley. The younger Bentley—a fired, semi-suicidal cryonics salesman, writer, and father of two daughters from different wives—is approached by a beguiling woman named Mary Abraham who “met Jesus in a dream and walked with him to a desert…

Only If We’re Caught
Thistledown Press / 8 December 2021

Only If We’re Caughtby Theressa SlindPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$25.95 ISBN 9-781771-872119 In the opening paragraph of Only If We’re Caught, the debut short story collection by Saskatoon writer (and children’s librarian) Theressa Slind, readers are viscerally transported to Aspen Grove, a seniors’ residence—where the hallway “is painted the colour of cookie dough”—and into the mind of Parkinson’s-afflicted protagonist Margaret, who can no longer speak. We soon learn that Margaret’s not just any ninety-three-year-old nursing home resident with a “porous-boned spine curling in on itself” … she’s also telepathically communicating with a visiting child. This bizarre circumstance is typical of the tales in Slind’s collection of fifteen stories, some of which previously appeared in literary journals. The borders of normalcy are blurred, and that’s what makes this collection stand out. Perhaps the finest example of this is “Amygdule,” about a funeral director, Ben, who “commune[s] with ghosts.” Ben has a crush on his employee, Alice, who delivers a fountain of black humour. She “arrives in an eddy of formaldehyde,” and says things like “I like my men ripe” and “Back to work. Mrs. Chan isn’t going to embalm herself.” This story is also about a treasure hunt,…

Peacekeeper’s Daughter
Thistledown Press / 8 December 2021

Peacekeeper’s Daughter: A Middle East Memoirby Tanya Bellehumeur-AllattPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Toby A. Welch$24.95 ISBN 9781771872164  The coming-of-age memoir Peacekeeper’s Daughter is impossible to put down once it sucks you in. Told from the perspective of a twelve-year-old Canadian Army brat who is dropped into the Lebanese Civil War in 1982-1983, we are immersed into the heart of the Palestinian crisis. Alongside Bellehumeur-Allatt, we travel from Yellowknife to Jerusalem to Tiberias, Israel, eventually landing in Beirut, Lebanon. The book wraps up by going full circle with a return to Canada. Bellehumeur-Allatt does a phenomenal job of making the musings of her preteen self interesting.  Bellehumeur-Allatt was able to vividly recount the details of her life back in the 1980s thanks to a gift. Just before leaving Canada to head to the Middle East, the mother of her best friend gave her a blank journal wrapped in shiny paper. The mom told Bellehumeur-Allatt: “Write everything down, all the details. One day it’ll be a book.” In response, Bellehumeur-Allatt promised her she would. The mom likely had no idea that her serendipitous gift would lead to a potentially award-winning book forty years later. The details in this book make the reader…

Girl running
Thistledown Press / 25 November 2021

Girl runningby Diana Hope TegenkampPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-214-0 When a veteran multi-disciplinary artist pens a poetry collection, it’s likely that the influence of her other art practices will seep into the pages and make for an original read. This is evidenced in the case of Diana Hope Tegenkamp, a Saskatoon-based poet who also works with film, photography, visual and performance art, sound and music. In her debut poetry book, Girl running, Tegenkamp’s 23-page poem incorporates various fonts, strike-outs, quotations, footnotes, and superimposed text across a “mountain-like shape” which is “an outline of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic,” and the entire long poem is a conversational response to an 1809 textbook (Letters on Ancient History, by Anne Wilson). So interesting, and so are the questions it poses about history and subjectivity. “History, a whirlpool,32/sucking in obscure circumstances/with a frightful noise.33” Tegenkamp also alludes to sculpture, novels, paintings and films, ie: director Jane Campion’s adaptation of “Portrait of a Lady,” and there’s a poetic close-up of a poignant scene from “Boys Don’t Cry,” the 1999 Academy Award-winning movie concerning the tragic, real-life story about murdered trans man Brandon Teena in Nebraska. The poems in this…

Corridor Nine
Thistledown Press / 11 December 2019

Corridor Nine: A Novelby Sophie StockingPublished by Thistledown PressReviewed by Ben Charles$20.00 ISBN 9781771871815 Corridor Nine: A Novel, written by Sophie Stocking and published by Thistledown Press is an exceptional book that expertly encapsulates the extremes of soul-crushing emotions and outlandish behaviour in a way that is very accurate to the human experience. Even though this novel could be read within a weekend, it packs wallop. At under 200 pages this novel makes no room for literary fluff; every word is a thread that weaves into a beautiful and fantastical yet tender and tragic story of life and loss. The story follows Bernadette Macomber, who thought that she had all but completely cut ties with her troubled father, Fabian, to begin again and start a family of her own. In the wake of Fabian’s sudden suicide, Bernadette finds herself returning home. All is not over for Fabian, however, as he finds himself in a completely foreign afterlife named Corridor Nine and in the company of an angel/griffin-figure named Bune. As Fabian traverses life-after-life, Bernadette or “Bernie”, is left in the mundane to seek the source of her father’s recent insanity. As the twin narratives consecutively play out, they also intertwine…

Lost Boys
Thistledown Press / 22 November 2019

Lost Boysby Darci BysouthPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-175-4 Lost Boys is a short story collection with three-way heft: physical (eighteen stories), technical (diverse voices and plots; excellent characterizations; realism and magic realism are each employed to great effect), and emotional (wow). Effective art makes us think and feel, and in this, her first book, BC writer Darci Bysouth has mastered the tricky business of making the world seem both smaller and larger, and she’s made this reader’s heart turn over. Innate talent? I expect so, but Bysouth also honed her craft at the University of British Columbia and the University of Edinburgh, and her work’s appeared in respected literary journals and anthologies; these facts tell me that she paid her literary dues before breaking into the ISBN world with this fist-to-gut collection. I could speak of the equally convincing male and female narrators; the recurring themes of sibling relationships, poverty, addictions, and mental illness; or of settings that range from the “sheep and potholes” of Scotland to dark Canadian forests. I could write about the double entendre, the details, the poetic language, ie: “The water was such a long way below that it looked like…

Eater of Dreams, The
Thistledown Press / 22 November 2019

The Eater of Dreamsby Kat CameronPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl|$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-184-6 Kat Cameron, a Swift Current-born poet, fiction writer, and English literature prof at Edmonton’s Concordia University, has penned a place-specific collection of sometimes-linked stories with an intriguing title: The Eater of Dreams, and the 67-page eponymous story is a fascinating read, complete with a 100-year-old ghost, a grieving and disillusioned English teacher in Japan, and so many sensory-rich glimpses into Japanese culture – albeit from an outsider’s perspective – readers might almost believe they are there. The opening stories are Edmonton-based, and as a former resident of that city I enjoyed tagging along with the female protagonists to the Muttart Conservatory, Whyte Ave, and Jubilee Auditorium, even if these gals were not in the happiest moods. One was not having any fun being the sole woman in a trio at the Muttart Conservatory without a toddler, then she lost her friend’s little girl among the poinsettas. Zoe lives in a university-area garret that’s so cold her “breath fogged the air while she watched late-night TV, huddling under three comforters,” and she’s terrified an abusive ex will reappear. In a linked story, Zoe accompanies her new…

Travellers May Still Return
Thistledown Press / 21 November 2019

Travellers May Still Returnby Michael KenyonPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Juliana Rupchan$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-187-7 Travellers May Still Return is a collection of three fiction pieces: two novella-length stories, bridged by a third, shorter piece. Michael Kenyon is based out of Victoria, but the collection is published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, known for publishing literary poetry and fiction. Kenyon’s previous work includes five books of poetry, four chapbooks, and seven books of fiction, including The Beautiful Children, which won the 2010 ReLit Award for best novel. This extensive cross-genre experience shines through in Travellers May Still Return. The stories have the tension and smoothly crafted characters of a practiced fiction writer, woven through vivid imagery and existential questions that evoke a poetic practice. South and Central America are the main settings, and a strong sense of place as well as a tension of displacement are powerful forces in the longer novellas. While the narrative is not always easy to follow, Kenyon has created striking stories with just the enough mystery to stick in a reader’s mind, like a vivid dream half-remembered. The first novella, “The Prehistory of Jesse Green”, does an excellent job of sketching the central characters, and explores desire…

Honest Woman, An
Thistledown Press / 21 November 2019

An Honest Woman: A Novelby JoAnn McCaigPublished by Thistledown PressReviewed by Ben Charles$20.00 ISBN 9781771871785 An Honest Woman: A Novel, written by JoAnn McCaig and published by Thistledown Press is a self-proclaimed “bookish novel” that lives up to this description with an undeniable charm. It is truly a reader and a writer’s book. The book begins with a lucid dream in which a writer mysteriously named “JM” reels at the thoughts and experiences of her romantic life. This bizarre account of life and romance also acts as a segue to introduce the character Janet Mair, who is also a writer and a mother. This portion of the novel has an interesting narrative in which fantasy and reality both play integral roles to form a complete story. Janet’s recounts of fantasy and her return to reality are signified throughout the novel by symbols that signify to the reader which part of Janet’s psyche they are currently experiencing. I must admit that when I was first introduced to this concept, I was somewhat dubious about its narrative potential. I am delighted to have been wrong and watch this narrative enigma unfold in several ways that I could have never imagined. The story…

For the Changing Moon
Thistledown Press / 10 January 2019

For the Changing Moon by Anna Marie Sewell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-168-6 I’d been looking forward to multi-disciplinary artist Anna Marie Sewell’s second poetry collection, For the Changing Moon. She’d impressed with her debut, Fifth World Drum, and in her capacity as Edmonton’s poet laureate, I once observed her deliver an outstanding performance poem she’d created on the spot, based on a few words provided by the audience. It was a kind of magic few possess. In Sewell’s newly-released collection of poems (and songs) we again find an assured and original voice, and the kind of literary abracadabra (ie: superb use of linebreaks) only a skilled writer can pull off. “We are in large part composed of slanting/sun” she writes in “The Mortal Summer”. Sometimes playful, sometimes prayerful, sometimes angry, sometimes tinged with grief (particularly for lost family members and for injustices suffered by First Peoples and the impoverished) or inspired by legend, these eclectic pieces prove that Sewell knows her way around language, the map, and the moon. Each of the book’s five sections contains a kind of moon, ie: “Moon of Wolves,” and among my favourite poems is “Kinds of…