Broken Through
Joanne Paulson / 5 September 2019

Broken Throughby J. C. PaulsonPublished by Joanne PaulsonReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 9-780995-975620 Broken Through is former Saskatoon journalist J.C. Paulson’s follow-up to her first genre-blending novel, Adam’s Witness, and the author’s only getting better. In the new book, heroine Grace Rampling – a Saskatoon StarPhoenix reporter – digs into another gritty story after a friend’s neighbour’s dog is shot on the same day there’s been a fatal hit-and-run in Saskatoon. Then: the neighbor, a young dental hygienist who recently kicked a drinking problem, is found brutally murdered in her home. And – spoiler alert – she was pregnant. The father? The philandering dentist she worked for. That’s hardly all: Rampling’s romantic partner, Detective Sergeant Adam Davis (from the earlier book), is investigating the murder, and the handsome and capable cop quickly connects this crime with others committed against petite, long-haired brunettes in Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Can you say serial killer? The novel definitely earns the moniker of a mystery, but one could also call it a romance. New lovers Rampling and Davis are extremely passionate about one another, but both are also being careful. Davis suffers from PTSD, which manifests in violent nightmares. “I feel like a piece…

Xeno Manifesto – Redepmtion
Brysen Mann / 3 September 2019

The Xeno Manifesto: Redemptionby Brysen Mann Published by Time Matters Publishing Review by Toby A. Welch $17.99 ISBN 9781775363927 Picking up the third book in a trilogy is always tricky for me. I am invested in the story by the time the first book ends, and fully committed by the time the second book wraps up. My expectations are usually high as I want book three to be just as juicy as its predecessors. I shouldn’t have wasted one moment worrying about that in this case as The Xeno Manifesto: Redemption is just as thrilling as The Xeno Manifesto and The Xeno Manifesto:Reclamation.  Mann picks up book three with the return of past characters that he developed so thoroughly in the first two books. The Tsiatko and the Handlers are back. The Committee is gung-ho to achieve their goal. Frank, Zach, Willow, and the Orb continue their adventures. Everyone seems to be on their own quest to save the world using their own methods.   This book gave me warm fuzzies – a good thing! – when Frank’s extended family was brought into the storyline in a deeper way. They appear in an abstract context but it is a heartwarming reprieve…

Rue Des Rosiers
Coteau Books / 12 August 2019

Rue Des Rosiersby Rhea TregebovPublished by Coteau BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 9-781550-506990 Rue Des Rosiers by Vancouverite Rhea Tregebov is not just an exemplary novel, it’s also an important book that examines anti-Semitism and empathetically puts faces on the victims and aggressors, and my hope is that the novel receives the major attention it warrants. In this richly-layered story, multi-genre author Tregebov introduces us to 1980s Toronto and Paris, and the life of 25-year-old Jewish protagonist Sarah – intelligent, questioning, and floundering – who feels the aftershocks of the generations-earlier Holocaust and suffers nightmares she can’t explain. Readers can expect credibility and precise craft on every page as Sarah, the youngest of three daughters raised in Winnipeg, wrestles with a long-ago abortion, sibling dynamics, career choices, an emotionally-wrenching Holocaust history class, and her relationship with upwardly-mobile Michael, a lawyer who invites her to join him in Paris. Sarah despises the word “Jewess,” and even dislikes the word “Jew”: “I always hear the slur,” she says. “Hear all this weight behind the word: history, the war.” She makes almost every yes-no decision with the turn of a lucky penny. This is also the story of Laila, who’s come to…

Xeno Manifesto and Xeno Manifesto: Reclamation
Brysen Mann / 26 April 2019

Xeno Manifesto and Xeno Manifesto: Reclamationby Brysen MannPublished by Brysen MannReview by Toby A. Welch$16.99 / $17.99 ISBN 9781773703237 / 9781775363903 The Xeno Manifesto and The Xeno Manifesto: Reclamation (the second book in the trilogy) deliver everything that is magnificent about the science fiction genre. We have the Tsiatko, a group of creatures related to the Bigfoot myth. We have funky Earthly spectacles like lava tubes. We encounter Handlers, a group who re-establish planets but it’s to save them, not take them over. We have weather modifying technologies, Roswell references, DNA anomalies, and Alien Neanderthal Cloning, all of which makes for entertaining reading.    Regina-based writer Brysen Mann does a phenomenal job of crafting characters that readers care about. Take Frank Smirnov, the main character in the books. Mann spends chapters covering Smirnov’s childhood and some of his adult years up to the present day (Smirnov is almost sixty.) So much backstory is usually irksome but in this case, we need it to fully understand Smirnov. Kudos to Mann for pulling off the perfect balance with the history lesson. The Orb, a sphere-shaped device that contains all the data regarding a takeover of the Earth, features heavily in The Xeno…

Second Cousin Once Removed
Burton House Books / 26 March 2019

“Second Cousin Once Removed” by Byrna BarclayPublished by Burton House BooksReviewed by Ben Charles$20.00 ISBN 9780994866943 Second Cousin Once Removed, written by Byrna Barclay and published by Burton House Books is an incredibly graceful read and a testament to the pure talent of this Saskatchewan author. The novel is a sequel to House of the White Elephant, which in itself was a critically acclaimed novel and the winner of the Whistler/Tidewater Award for Best Fiction in 2016. My estimate is that the sequel will draw equal acclaim, as it is a masterfully written historical fiction brimming with Saskatchewan culture, driven by an intelligent plot and an engrossing narrative. The story follows Jesse Emma Burtonwood, a woman of East Indian descent living in Prince Albert, SK, and is in the midst of mourning the loss of her husband. The story begins in 1953 and follows Jesse as she traverses life in Canada, and forms a relationship with John George Diefenbaker during this tumultuous time in both her life and in Canadian politics. Much of the story also follows Jesse’s granddaughter, Annika Robin, a woman living in Saskatoon, SK. Throughout the story Barclay masterfully crafts both of these characters in such a…

Musician’s Compass, The
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 6 February 2019

The Musician’s Compass: A 12-Step Programme by Del Suelo Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781988-783321 Regina writer and Juno Award-winning musician (with band The Dead South) Erik Mehlsen – who writes under the pseudonym “Del Suelo” – explains in the author’s note for his second book, The Musician’s Compass: A 12-Step Programme, that he wrote this text because “the music industry is an environment that fosters mental illness, and [he] had no idea how to talk about it”. That said, and first person voice aside, he maintains that this isn’t a memoir. What it is: 131 gritty fictional pages about a band. For many in the arts, what begins as a passion can become terribly hard and unsexy work. Suelo presents a grueling day-in-the-life of a young (and at times extremely juvenile) four-piece Canadian rock band on tour in Germany. He peels back the lid on the rock and roll road trip, and it’s a bleak, barely-holding-it-together experience, complete with a groupie who overdoses on cocaine, band in-fighting, severe sleep deprivation, excessive drinking and marijuana imbibing, reeking clothes, and a narrator (Dev) who’s almost ready to pack in his bass-playing days, yet…

More Things Change, The
Benchmark Press / 9 January 2019

The More Things Change: A Case Study to Introduce Information Technology Ethics by Donna Lindskog Published by Benchmark Press Reviewed by Ben Charles $20.00 ISBN 9781927352373 The More Things Change: A Case Study to Introduce Information Technology Ethics, written by Donna Lindskog is a thought provoking exercise in technology ethics that manages to also be an entertaining experience along the way. The story follows Carol McIsaac, a brand new employee of MTS, working as a programmer analyst. Set in 1979, Carol and her friends, Jeremey and Susan, traverse the new world of technology using keypunch machines to write code. Although the technology used throughout this story is archaic by today’s standards, the ethical dilemmas found within are very much relevant to today’s professional and technological climates. The issues that Carol faces include plagiarism, fraud, sexual harassment, racism, basic incompetence, and a plethora of other debatable ethical dilemmas. The book also provides a detailed appendix of all the information that an IT enthusiast needs in order to act ethically and responsibly in a professional setting. This includes a Code of Ethics, generously provided by the Canadian Association of Information Technology Professionals (CIPS). In our world of net neutrality, Russian bots, micro-transactions,…

Adam’s Witness
J.C. Paulson / 9 January 2019

Adam’s Witness by J. C. Paulson Published by Joanne Paulson Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $18ftenace and her feisty loving .99 ISBN 9-780995-975606 Adam’s Witness is longtime Saskatoon StarPhoenix journalist Joanne Paulson’s first foray into fiction, and the part mystery, part romance novel set in Saskatoon is sure to gain her many fans. The fast-paced story begins with diligent StarPhoenix reporter Grace Rampling receiving a phone call from Pride Chorus member Bruce, who’s upset that his choir’s next-day concert at St. Eligius Catholic Church was suddenly and inexplicably cancelled. Rampling crosses the alley to the nearby cathedral to learn why, and in the dark sanctuary she stumbles upon “a man in clerical clothing right at her feet” who is “bleeding copiously from the head”. The bishop’s been murdered, and all hell breaks loose. Could the perpetrator be a bitter choir member? A parishioner? Someone within the church? We learn that “the monstrance is missing,” and this large sacred vessel (it contains the Host) could, ironically, be the murder weapon. What makes this book work so well is Paulson’s smart handling of diverse, well-drawn characters, and a two-pronged plot: not only is mid-twenties Grace the key witness (she’ll also come under…

Paths to the Stars
Shadowpaw Press / 19 October 2018

Paths to the Stars: Twenty-Two Fantastical Tales of Imagination by Edward Willett Published by Shadowpaw Press Reviewed by Toby A. Welch $19.95 ISBN 978-1-9993827-0-4 In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve read Willett’s work before. I’ve enjoyed every novel of his that I’ve consumed and hoped that his latest work would reach the same high bar. It didn’t – it hurdled right over that bar and left it hanging. This collection of twenty-two short stories spans Regina-based Willett’s career. Some of the stories were written as far back as the 1980s while others are from this century. I assumed I’d be able to detect which tales are his earlier works but I was wrong; all of the stories are expertly written. The only indicator of when Willett penned the stories was the blurb at the start of each one. It’s a requirement of mine for science fiction works to push the boundaries of imagination. And Willett didn’t disappoint. Who else would’ve thought to create a slug that sings (“A Little Space Music”) or a hibernation induction trigger that can put a human to sleep for seventy-two hours (“The Strange One”)? The readers are the ones who benefit from Willett’s willingness…

Autant
Thistledown Press / 31 August 2018

Autant by Paulette Dubé Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-156-3 Autant, the highly-original novel by Albertan Paulette Dubé, begins with a confession – in the Catholic sense – and a directory of the multiple characters who populate this 144-page tale set in small fictional Autant, Alberta. The inter-generational story unfolds between two years – 1952 and 2012 – and it’s big on superstition, angels, sibling dynamics, and bees. At the centre of the bustling “hive” is the Franco-Albertan Garance family, headed by Edgar and Lucille. The youngest of their daughters, perceptive Bella, is prone to bleeding and headaches, and as Lucille’s offspring she comes by her superstitions honestly. Lucille paints her kitchen door blue “so that angels would recognize the house as a safe place,” and as a child she found a stone that “gave her dreams of a tall ship, a beautiful woman with blue eyes, long red hair, and, then, a small boat on dark water”. Young Bella also has an affinity for stones. She leaves them for her mother as gifts “inside shoes, beside the bed, under the pillow. It was her way of saying I love you, goodbye, and I…