A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden
Thistledown Press / 26 April 2013

A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden by Stephen Reid Published by Thistledown Press Review by Hannah Muhajarine ISBN 978-1-927068-03-8 $18.95 I decided to try A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison because both the form (short non-fiction essays) and the topic (prison, as one might deduce from the subtitle) are outside the usual scope of my reading. I expected to learn something, and I definitely did. The tone ranges from tragic to humorous to poignant and back, sometimes within a single essay. Alongside difficult topics such as drug and sexual abuse, there are lighter sections on writing a poem for a fellow inmate’s girlfriend (“Dear Mona, / Roses are dead / Violets are doomed / As will be you / If you don’t visit soon”) and the trials of filling out the “Psychopathy Check List Revised”. The first essay describes the failed bank robbery which led to author Stephen Reid’s incarceration. The police chase through the streets of Victoria reads almost like a heist movie. But unlike a movie, there are real consequences to Reid’s actions, and he does not shy away from writing about the harm he caused to innocent civilians, as well as his own family….

Thistledown Press / 7 February 2013

Given by Susan Musgrave Published by Thistledown Press Review by Hannah Muhajarine $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927068-02-1 Susan Musgrave has created a story that is both beautiful and heart-wrenching. Given continues where Cargo of Orchids, Musgrave’s previous novel, left off, but it is as welcoming to new readers as it is to old. Indeed, those who discover Given will no doubt be pleased to find that in Cargo, they can learn the full story of the narrator’s intriguing past. The narrator, who remains unnamed, escapes from prison at the beginning of the novel and travels back to her home on an island in B.C. In this small community there are many protestors, a Christian vegetable salesman, a ‘Church of the Holy Brew’, and a café that serves a ‘Philosophical Chicken special’. There is humour, but the majority of it is dark, suitable for the novel’s themes of poverty, addiction, and grief. The narrator is haunted, literally, by the ghosts of her two friends from Death Row. Although they are dead, Frenchy and Rainy are incredibly vibrant. They speak in a witty and inventive slang, speaking disturbing truth using many original turns of phrase. The journey is very much an inner, emotional one,…

Thistledown Press / 6 February 2013

Dibidalen by Seán Virgo Published by Thistledown Press Review by Hannah Muhajarine $18.95 ISBN 978-1-927068-06-9 The stories found in this enchanting collection by Seán Virgo are almost fairytales, familiar and fascinatingly fresh at the same time. The collection starts simply, with “Before Ago”, a story that sounds like a poem or a song. Its rhythmic and repetitive phrases gave me the feeling I was listening to the story being told rather than reading it from a page. These opening tales are short and cryptic, full of symbolism and meaning. The characters are unnamed-‘a man’, ‘a stranger’ or ‘a priest’-and contain elements of folktales-three eggs found in a field, talking animals, dreams and transformations. As the stories progress, however, new ideas are introduced. A priest struggles to find the best way to live his faith, a soldier finds it difficult to return to his old life after the war. All the stories are neatly linked, some seeming to pick up where the last one left off. They build on each other, gradually gaining length and complexity, moving forward in time to a world more like our own. The last three stories-“Gramarye,” “The Likeness,” and “Dibidalen”-are the longest, making up most of…

The Weeping Chair
Thistledown Press / 18 December 2012

The Weeping Chair by Donald Ward Published by Thistledown Press Review by Hannah Muhajarine ISBN 978-1-927068-00-7 The sixteen stories found in The Weeping Chair by Donald Ward cover a wide range of highly imaginative situations, ranging from humorous to heartbreaking, from cognizant chickens to the criminally insane, from Saskatoon to outer space. Many of the stories present a deceptively normal situation, such as traveling on a train, preparing dinner, or ordering coffee, which quickly evolves into something fantastic and profound. Ward turns the mundane ever so slightly, giving the reader a new and illuminating perspective. The stories are full of interesting characters, some more eccentric than others. Ward is able to quickly sketch out these people and bring them to life using just a few words: “She was wearing a black, floor-length cape today,” he writes, “high-collared, like some anthropomorphic creature from a children’s tale.” His dialogue is both witty and truthful, and he skillfully captures the brief relations formed between strangers in day to day life. Some stories are hilariously quirky, others are deeply moving, and some are both. The humour is often dark, as with the observation “Death is the ultimate treatment for a sleep disorder.” There are…

Redcoats and Renegades
Thistledown Press / 18 December 2012

Redcoats and Renegades By Barry McDivitt Published by Thistledown Press Review by Hannah Muhajarine ISBN 978-1-897235-97-3 Barry McDivitt’s young adult novel Redcoats and Renegades is a tale of thrilling adventure, made all the more interesting because it is based on true events. It follows the story of Hamlet Hamlin, who claims to be the first person the Mounties ever arrested. As a young pickpocket, Hamlet falls under the ‘renegades’ side of the title, but ends up joining the Mounties, semi-voluntarily, on their march West. At the time of this story-the early 1870s-the North West Mounted Police was still young. It was created after the purchase of the Northwest Territories from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Mounties were charged with protecting the First Nations people from American whiskey and fur traders, and at the same time establishing a stronger Canadian presence in the newly-acquired land. The Mounties faced opposition not just from the Americans, but from Sioux and Blackfoot as well. Many characters, Hamlet included, express their doubt in the ability of the Mounties to bring order to the lawless West, expecting them to be massacred instead. Hamlet’s perspective is fresh and entertaining. He sees the ridiculousness of some of the…