Reflections in a Farmhouse Window
Marilyn Frey / 10 July 2024

Reflections in a Farmhouse Window: A Prairie Memoir by Marilyn FreyPublished by Marilyn FreyReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 9780981380346 One of the many joys of reading memoir is learning you share certain places, people or experiences with an author. I didn’t anticipate crossovers between my life and Saskatchewan writer Marilyn Frey’s, but I discovered multiple intersections while reading her candid, thought-provoking and beautifully-written book, Reflections in a Farmhouse Window: A Prairie Memoir. Like Frey, I’ve also lived in Middle Lake, Meadow Lake and Saskatoon, but overlapping communities aside, I really connected emotionally to the sixty stories this talented writer shares about her rural upbringing, the joys and trials of family life, weathering major transitions, and knowing when it’s time to take a few moments for oneself. After a long career in banking—from teller beginnings to becoming a District Manager who frequently travelled—Frey now has the time to turn her attention to her passion for writing, and I’m so glad she does. It’s rare to read a first-time, self-published writer’s book that sings the way this one does: it’s clear that Frey has put the time in re: learning the craft of writing. Her use of literary devices (like personification), the…

Lilacs by the Kitchen Door
Welcome Home Publishing / 3 April 2024

Lilacs by the Kitchen Door: Prairie life on the family farmby Sheri HathawayPublished by Welcome Home PublishingReview by Toby A. Welch  $20.00 ISBN 9781738822317 Lilacs by the Kitchen Door is the dramatic telling of the lives of Sheri Hathaway’s parents, Harold and Louise, and their supporting cast of extended family and friends. “They represent most rural prairie dwellers of North America, living their lives through the 40s, 50s, and 60s.” Instead of one chronological tale, each chapter can stand on its own. As Hathaway points out about the chapters in her book, “Think of it as a fruit basket. Pick the ones you like or settle in for a long buffet.” At the very front of Lilacs by the Kitchen Door, even before the acknowledgements and introduction, you’ll find a family tree that has twenty-three limbs. There is a branch for each family member mentioned in this book. It is an invaluable resource as you work your way through the family saga. For example: Oh yeah, Wesley married Varina. Alice and Edward had two children, Constance and Harold. So helpful! My favourite chapter in Lilacs by the Kitchen Door is number ten: Richard. The year was 1947. Louise and Harold went through five horrific tragedies in that…

My List, My Rules
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 14 November 2023

My List, My Rules: The Year A Checklist Changed My Lifeby Angie CouniosPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Toby A. Welch  $29.95 ISBN  9781778690211 Holy smokes – I don’t think I’ve read a memoir more exposed and vulnerable than this one. Usually books in that genre feel a tad curated to me, which takes away from the authenticity you want in a memoir. But not this one. Counios laid it all out there for us and it is magnificent! The layout of this book is genius. I incorrectly assumed that since Counios was going to do 101 things in 365 days, she would just list them and tell us how she tackled each one. Wrong! The 365 days weren’t a calendar year, they were one birthday to the next. So the book is categorized into months, starting with her birthday month: November. I loved that she laid out the book that way as it flowed perfectly with each month having eight or nine random items from her list. (For those of you who like seeing the list in numerical order, you can find that at the back of the book.) This is catalogued as a memoir but it could also be considered a…

Don’t They Kick When You Do That? Volume 2
DriverWorks Ink / 26 October 2023

Don’t They Kick When You Do That? Vol 2 More Stories of a Prairie Veterinarianby Dr. Gary HoiumPublished by DriverWorks InkReview by Michelle Shaw$19.95 ISBN 9781927570814 An anxious Saint Bernard with a muzzle full of porcupine quills, four escaped buffalo that inadvertently crossed the international border into Canada and an escaped tomcat that resulted in an unusual “fishing” experience. These are a few of the heartwarming and quirky scenarios Dr Gary Houim relates in Don’t They Kick When You Do That? Vol 2 More Stories of a Prairie Veterinarian , the sequel to his popular 2021 memoir Don’t They Kick When You do That? For more than 30 years, Dr Gary Hoium was the owner of a mixed animal clinic in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. Mixed animal is a simple way of saying that he treated everything in the surrounding areas from turtles to alpacas. Most of his day-to-day work of course was more routine – calving cows, caring for injured cattle and horses and the many small animal concerns and emergencies of a busy veterinary clinic. But never, ever snakes. And yes, there’s a story in that! Gary Hoium is a wonderful storyteller. He sets each scene with a vivid sense…

kâ-pî-isi-kiskisiyân – The Way I Remember
University of Regina Press / 26 October 2023

kâ-pî-isi-kiskisiyân / The Way I Rememberby Solomon RattPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$25.95 ISBN 9780889779143 I went to school with a relative of educator, writer, storyteller and keeper of the Woods Cree language, Solomon Ratt, so when his memoir kâ-pî-isi-kiskisiyân / The Way I Remember became available for review, I requested it. Blurbs from Buffy Sainte-Marie (“Sol is an international treasure …”) and Maria Campbell (“This is an important book …”) demonstrate that Ratt’s highly lauded for his work in restoring Woods Cree and preserving the traditional stories he heard near his home community “on the banks on the Churchill River just north of … Stanley Mission”. Ratt’s 340-page autobiography is uniquely and significantly presented in Cree th-dialect Standard Roman Orthography, syllabics and English. The cover features a photo of the smiling author, and this joviality’s evident in many of his autobiographical stories. Between ages six and sixteen, Ratt was “Torn from his family” for ten months each year to attend All Saints Indian Student Residential School in Prince Albert, SK. The abuse that several thousands of residential school survivors endured has been documented via the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2007-2015), and the multi-generational legacy…

Cathedral of Stars
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 1 September 2023

Cathedral of Stars: A Memoir of Home & Faith on the Moveby Gloria EngelPublished by YNWPReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 9781988783901 Cathedral of Stars: A Memoir of Home & Faith on the Move by SK-born Gloria Engel is utterly fascinating. The stories about her peripatetic life—and constant faith—as a linguist with Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics is indeed hard to put down. The intrepid author asks and adeptly answers this question: “How can you find a sense of belonging in home and church when you’re constantly on the move?” Much of this global zinger of a book takes place in Guatemala, and Engel paints a colourful portrait of the family’s authentic experiences there. Now in her eighties, the joy-filled wife, mother of four boys, linguist, writer and dancer (a verboten activity re: her strict Lutheran upbringing) experienced “forty-five changes of residence in five countries,” before settling in Biggar, SK. The anecdotes about her resourceful family and rural SK upbringing (no indoor plumbing; folks said her father “could hold machinery together with macaroni”) are compelling, but the Guatemalan accounts left me gasping. First came linguistics training at the University of North Dakota. Orientation sessions took place…

Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney, The

The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinneyby Rik McWhinneyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Toby A. Welch$24.95 ISBN 9780889778979 When I review a book, I allot myself two weeks to read it. That way I don’t feel pressure when life throws curve balls my way, like it inevitably does to all of us. Two weeks wasn’t necessary with this book – I devoured it in one day. The content was so engrossing that it sucked me right in. I couldn’t let go until I’d turned the last page.  In brief, The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney is about the torment that one man went through while in Canadian penitentiaries. Rik McWhinney spent over 34 years in prisons across the country, 16 of those in solitary confinement. He was granted parole in 2007 and struggled to adjust to a world so drastically different from what he had known for decades. Sadly, McWhinney passed away in January 2019 but we are fortunate to have his experiences live on in The Life Sentences of Rik McWhinney.  Most of my knowledge about penitentiary life came from TV and movies. How clueless I was! Being a prisoner in Canada is nothing like what you see on the screen. It is…

I Never Met a Rattlesnake I Didn’t Like
Thistledown Press / 18 November 2022

I Never Met A Rattlesnake I Didn’t Like: A Memoir”by David CarpenterPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-227-0 When I discovered that Saskatoon’s David Carpenter was releasing a new memoir, I Never Met A Rattlesnake I Didn’t Like, I immediately wanted to review it. I knew it would be illuminating, well-written and downright fun, because this is what I’ve come to expect of Carpenter’s work, whether fiction or nonfiction, and this latest title’s cleared the bar. Carpenter’s a bonafide storyteller and a “rabid conservationist,” and his entertaining stories and mind-broadening research into “this ancient cafeteria called nature”—and who and what threaten it—is an epiphanic read. The memoir’s an homage to “creatures with Fangs, Claws, and Other Pointy Things,” from mosquitos, snakes and weasels to the apex predators: wolves, cougars and bears. Over eighteen mostly short chapters that “follow the chain of predation,” we learn about Carpenter’s lifelong passion and reverence for the winged, finned and four-legged. “I seem to have a thing for predatory animals,” he writes. “My journals are full of them.” He’s been keeping field notes for fifty years re: his “sightings of and adventures with predacious creatures,” from boyhood memories of fishing on Lake…

Sariri
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 26 October 2022

Sariri: Travels Through Boliviaby Ivar MendezPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Toby A. Welch$24.95 ISBN 9781988783796 This is a fascinating read to add to your collection of travel books! You’ll find 20 chapters in Sariri (not counting the introduction, afterword, and glossary.) Each chapter covers a specific place in Bolivia, a terrific way to lay out a book about a country. Close to the front of the book you’ll find a map that pinpoints the location of each chapter – so handy! If you are confused by the title of this book, ‘sariri’ is the Bolivian word for the nature of a traveller – a pilgrim on a spiritual quest, a traveller in search of new horizons, adventures, and cultures. That sums up Mendez himself perfectly. Mendez does an amazing job of describing each place he visits in Bolivia without being flowery – I love that! For example, when detailing the houses in the village of Culpina, he writes, “A row of brick houses… are still in use. These small red houses with chimneys look like they belong in an English town rather than in the middle of the Bolivian pampas.” Of all the interesting places Mendez wrote about,…

Unravelling, The

The Unravelling: Incest and the Destruction of a FamilyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Toby A. Welch$21.95 ISBN 9780889778436 As the title suggests, this fantastic read is about how a family deals with the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse across generations . But this book isn’t just about abuse and retribution. It also delves into the dynamics of a marriage, the struggles of parenthood, and the delicate balance of friendships, among many other topics. It even touches on faith and the church. It is a fascinating story that pulls you in right from the get-go.  So we don’t need a Spoiler Alert label at the top of this review, I won’t go into the details about how the decades of abuse and the subsequent quest for justice went. But I will say that I’d wager that Besel had no idea how extreme the highs and lows would be that she encountered along her journey. It was a wild ride! As the chapters flew by, I was triggered by how many people wanted Besel to drop her quest for justice just because the person who abused her was in a questionable state. Should someone not be penalized for their actions…