Small Reckonings: A Novel
Burton House Books / 22 May 2020

Small Reckoningsby Karin Melberg SchwierPublished by Burton House BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 9-780994-866950 Time stopped as I read Saskatoon writer Karin Melberg Schwier’s Small Reckonings. Characters in this Watrous, SK-based historical novel – set between 1914 and 1936 – are exquisitely and sympathetically drawn, the plot moves, and the portrait of this small town and its multi-ethnic pioneers rings true and clear as windchimes in a prairie breeze. Melberg-Schwier earned the 2019 John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award for Fiction with this story. If there be gods, she’ll be earning many more awards: Small Reckonings deserves a huge audience. This book – inspired by true events – begins with a great dramatic hook. Who is this Nik, hanging from the barn rafters, looking “not wild-eyed [but] more as if he’d given it some consideration and just preferred to get it over and done with”? We soon meet William, an earnest homesteader from New Zealand, and his future wife, the enigmatic Louise, who uses food to quell what befell her while she worked “at an institution for the feeble-minded”. Melberg Schwier expertly creates individuated characters readers will care deeply about, including the central figure, Violet, who, at birth, looks…

Companion of Eagles
Serimuse Books / 17 April 2020

Companion of Eaglesby Regine HaenselPublished by Serimuse BooksReview by Michelle Shaw$14.95       ISBN 9780993903229 Companion of Eagles is the third book in The Leather Book Tales, a fantasy set in western North America.  The book opens in Aquila, City of Eagles, where 14-year-old Samel lives with his father. One day, his mother’s cousin Thea arrives. She is headed to the mountains, to her childhood home in the city of Schönspitze. Samel is desperate to accompany Thea on her journey and experience a world outside his everyday life.  Thea is headed home because her grandfather, who had disappeared years before, has suddenly reappeared. When they meet him, he tells them a peculiar story. He was sucked down by the currents of a nearby lake into a deep enchanted cave where he lay for a long time. There he had mysterious visions and dreams until one day he suddenly found himself outside the cave. He tells them to call him Grandfather Frog. Grandfather Frog is consumed by the idea of finding his way back to the mysterious cave to try to understand what has happened. Samel and Grandfather Frog set off on their journey but are nearly killed in a…

Snow Shovelin’ Man
Miles of Smiles Publishing / 4 February 2020

Snow Shovelin’ Manby Bob KingPublished by Miles of Smiles PublishingReview by Toby A. Welch$20.00 ISBN 9780981121727 If you are looking for an escape from the suffering in the world and itching for some lighthearted fun, pick up a copy of Snow Shovelin’ Man. This book contains a wealth of Canadian-based humour.  Author Bob King has a fantastic sense of humour and it shines through from the first page to the back cover (where his author bio doubles as his future obituary – priceless!) His “Self-Evaluation Report” had me laughing so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath.  My favourite line: “Bob does still tend to worry too much sometimes. He pledges to correct this weakness now that he has become more familiar with reality.” And I love that King believes, “…maybe it is my purpose in life to cause women to shake their heads.” ROFL! Of the 23 songs and snippets in this book, “Awesome Dude” is my favourite. Who doesn’t love a song about growing up in the 1990s, regardless of whether it was us or our children who did so.  King is refreshing, finding pleasure in things that few of us ponder. Take breathing, for example. He spends…

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…

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…

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…

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…