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…

Catherine of Cannington Manor
DriverWorks Ink / 2 October 2015

Catherine of Cannington Manor by Shirley Harris Published by DriverWorks Ink Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927570-14-2 Shirley Harris’s Catherine of Cannington Manor shows how a young woman with a brave heart sets out to escape a tragic memory. Along the way, she finds love and adventure while developing many deep friendships. After her father and lover are killed in a tragic accident, twenty-year-old Catherine Henson leaves England in 1897, bound for a fresh start in Canada. She settles in Moosomin, District of Assiniboia, North-West Territories, which later becomes the province of Saskatchewan. While listening to a choir at a Christmas concert, Catherine hears “the voice” of Michael Jones, a handsome architect and contractor. From the outset, she knows she wants to hear that voice for the rest of her life. When she compliments Michael on his dancing, he says it’s easy when he has “an angel in his arms.” Their courtship is immediate and swift, and romance blossoms into marriage. Together, they buy a cottage just outside Cannington Manor and name their farm Tanterra. They treat their business associates and friends like an extended family. A neighbour comments, “Nobody else treats the hired help like that.” Catherine writes…

Wild Rose
Coteau Books / 18 September 2015

Wild Rose by Sharon Butala Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.95 ISBN 9-781550-506365 After completing Sharon Butala’s epic new novel Wild Rose, I closed the book and thought: This is why she’s on CanLit’s “A” list. If you’re in the mood for getting completely swept up in a female pioneer’s adventure–and this means fully empathizing with the young Québécois idealist, Sophie, as she sets out in 1884 for the West and the freedom it signifies–then buckle up, because Butala assuredly leads readers back in time to a landscape where “the sun [pours] itself over everything: horses, the hats of the men, the few women’s entangling skirts, the children’s round eager faces, the …already weathered false-fronted buildings, piles of all kinds of goods on the ground from walking plows to stained sacks … to the teams of horses, the train itself …”. Butala has a masterly way with landscape, making it, too, feel like a character you enjoy spending time with. Given her many years of living on the Prairies-plus the fine craft she’s already demonstrated with sixteen highly-revered titles, including GG-nominated fiction and nonfiction-she comes by this gift honestly. This is a writer who’s experienced “a…

Prairie Initiation: A War Bride Story
Benchmark Press / 26 June 2015

Prairie Initiation: A War Bride Story by Joan Spencer Olson Published by Benchmark Press Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927352-19-9 Prairie Initiation is a love story of Anne Clark, an English war bride who moves to the Saskatchewan prairies with her Canadian soldier husband, Carl Swenson. Saskatchewan novelist Joan Olson, herself an English war bride, knows her subject well. Anne and Carl meet at a dance, and the attraction is immediate. But the differences between them are deep. She has strong religious connections; he’s an agnostic. She smokes; he’s a non-smoker. Yet in wooing Anne, Carl plies her with chocolates and cigarettes. Anne is stunned when Carl tells her he’s married, but it’s a marriage in name only. He demobilizes in Canada at the end of World War II, divorces his wife, and returns to marry Anne. Anne is disappointed with their wedding, which takes place in a courtroom presided over by a judge, “a mere formality taking barely more time than weighing and stamping a parcel.” Anne also has misgivings about moving to Canada to live with Carl and his parents. She has a strange premonition when Carl’s mother tersely writes, “I hope you will not regret the…

The Rawhide Homesteader
Benchmark Press / 6 November 2014

The Rawhide Homesteader by Scott Henders Published by Benchmark Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 978192735218 $19.95 Scott Henders’ The Rawhide Homesteader offers readers an engrossing narrative engemmed with wisdom about the human condition within boundaries of the natural order. It is a novel most remarkable for its true-as-life characters, all of whom are intelligently moulded by the institutions of social life demarcating society, yet show the strains in traditional ways, under pressures of family, religion, nature, and changing socio-economic conditions at the turn of the 20th Century. Several characters are twice born, once into what must be endured, and once into what must be done to live well for themselves and their loved ones. The novel also offers rich insight into the spiritual life as a means of learning respect for forces of man and nature that can expand, yet will just as likely devastate, the soul. It is a novel about the inescapable needs that pulsate in the human psyche, the ties of society within and across cultural lines, and the inborn patterns of nature that provide the logic in which human beings must progress toward self-understanding and enlightened acceptance. At the heart of this narrative is Josh…

Swedes’ Ferry
Coteau Books / 14 May 2014

Swedes’ Ferry by Allan Safarik Published by Coteau Books Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-561-0 Swedes’ Ferry is a double-barrelled adventure tale, and author Allan Safarik lets loose with both barrels blazing. His novel has a cast of colourful characters, some based on actual historical people like North-West Mounted Police Commissioner Lawrence Herchmer, others fictional but very much imbued with the breath of life. The search for a tall man who robbed a bank in Bismarck, North Dakota, killed the manager, and galloped away on a stolen powerhouse of a horse leads two Pinkerton detectives to Regina in 1894. There they try to enlist the aid of the imperious Herchmer, who proves unco-operative. Their break in the case comes from two attractive “spies” operating in a brothel above a Chinese restaurant. The tall man is aided by Bud Quigley, an astute horse trader, who brokers the deal of a lifetime with James J. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway and owner of the First National Bank that was robbed. A ferry, operated by two Swedish brothers, plays a pivotal role in the tall man’s attempt to retrieve his hidden stash of $44,000. With a background as a poet,…

Blood and Salt
Coteau Books / 5 June 2013

Blood and Salt by Barbara Sapergia Published by Coteau Books Review by Alison Slowski $21.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-513-9 Barbara Sapergia’s latest novel, Blood and Salt, tells the story of Taras Kalyna. Taras, a young Ukrainian man from Halychyna province in Austrian-occupied Ukraine, never expected to wind up on this train. Upon his immigration to Canada in 1914, he finds himself a job at a brick plant in Southern Saskatchewan and plans to find his sweetheart, Halya, and marry her. Suddenly, Taras is pulled from his job and sent on a train to an internment camp in remote Castle Mountain, Alberta. The days are long, work is hard and wearying, and the food is disgusting slop. The wind and cold are biting and fierce, a constant reminder of a crime these immigrant Ukrainian men don’t remember committing. The ever-present guards watch over the poorly dressed prisoners labouring through a harsh Canadian winter. The Canadian government, in an act of incredible injustice, has decided these Ukrainians are “enemy aliens”, and should be in this camp because Canada is at war with Austria. All is not lost, though. As Taras begins to build friendships with the other Ukrainian prisoners, he begins to see life…

The Knife Sharpener’s Bell
Coteau Books / 29 February 2012

The Knife Sharpener’s Bell by Rhea Tregebov Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $21.00 ISBN 978-1-55050-408-8 Recommendation: if you buy The Knife Sharpener’s Bell, by Saskatchewan-born writer Rhea Tregebov, budget your time accordingly, because you’ll not be able to put this gripping historical novel down. Where to begin? The plot? The story starts in Winnipeg, 1935, with the narrator, Annette, age nine, reluctantly seeing her idealist father off at the train station. He’s returning to Russia, the homeland, because he sees capitalism failing in the west amid the chaos of the Great Depression, and he believes “a planned economy” is “the only rational approach;” because it’ll make his shrewish wife happy; and because the Soviet Union is “a good place for the Jews.” After the visit, he’s convinced that his family must make their home in the east. Once back in Europe, however, the parents stay in Odessa and Annette and brother Ben continue to Moscow, where it’s safer. Except it isn’t. Or perhaps I should speak of the writing: Tregebov’s novel is literature. When she paints the scene of Annette in the middle of a war zone, among a river of people trying to get to…

Coming to Salvation
Lori Kohlman , Self-Published / 4 January 2012

Coming to Salvation by Lori Kohlman Published by Lori Kohlman Review by Cindy Wilson $19.99 ISBN 978-0-9810826-1-5 Lori Kohlman returns us to a time in our history when the world was not steeped in technology and industrialization. As her novel shows, the triumphs and tribulations experienced by individuals at that time run parallel to those experienced by individuals in society today. This novel tells two stories. The first begins in 1939 when Angelica Aster answers an ad in a Winnipeg newspaper. She comes to Salvation, Saskatchewan, as a mail-order bride for Jacob Matthews and as a step-mother for Peter, his young son. Angelica has a secret. She does not come to Saskatchewan only to find a husband. Her reasons for coming to Jacob’s farm involve the death of Jacob’s first wife and the suspicion that little Peter is unloved and uncared for. The second storyline tells of a modern day couple, Rachel and Will. They come to Salvation to work out their marital problems, hoping to re-claim the love they have somehow lost with the passing years. They come to stay with Will’s bachelor Uncle Pete on the family farm. As the novel progresses we see the similarities between Angelica…

The Secret of the Stone Circle
Coteau Books / 28 January 2011

In Silverthorne’s latest book, the prolific and award-winning Regina writer again introduces readers to a contemporary character who travels back in time. Young Emily, the likeable protagonist, travels to Scotland to spend time with her geologist father (whom she’s not seen since her parents decided to divorce, months before), and to learn more about her family’s Scottish ancestry. Before leaving, however, she finds a hand mirror – “with intricate filigree metalwork and inlaid stones” – in her recently-deceased grandmother’s home, and the image in the mirror is not Emily’s own.