Learning to Die

“Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis”Published by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-775633 Not many writers get their books blurbed by Margaret Atwood, but BC writers and scholars Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicky earned that honour with their small and powerful hat-trick of essays, Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis. These “Truth-filled mediations about grace in the face of mortality” (Atwood) are well-researched, highly educational, and eminently thought-provoking warnings about the fate of our world and species. Bringhurst authored the first essay, “The Mind of the Wild”. He maintains that there’s much we should – but have not – learned from “the wild,” which “is in control of itself and has room within it for humans but does not need and cannot tolerate human domination”. What’s this wild he speaks of? “Everything that grows and breeds and functions without supervision or imposed control,” or, more succinctly, “earth living its life to the full”. Bringhurst argues that humans are essentially committing suicide with our attempts to ““tame” the already “sane” natural world. What makes this essay so remarkable is the combination of exceptional writing, science (ie: the role cyanobacteria…

Hear Me
H.R. Hobbs / 8 February 2019

“Hear Me” (Breaking the Rules Series)by H.R. HobbsPublished by H.R. HobbsReview by Shelley A. LeedahlISBN 9-780995-344815 $15.00 In Hear Me, Assiniboia, SK teacher-turned-writer H.R. Hobbs’ follow-up to her middle years’ novel See Me, Grade Eight protagonist Hannah evolves from a reclusive and bullied girl who tries to remain invisible into an assertive gal who leads the charge for justice when friends are victimized. Through realistic scenes that move between home and school settings in fictional “Acadia,” Hobbs’ readers witness the ins and outs of Hannah’s troubled adolescent life, and learn how speaking up against bullying makes a tremendous difference, even if the-powers-that-be aren’t eager to hear the message. Readers of the first in this series of novels know that journal-writing Hannah’s set strict “rules” for herself: “1. Don’t make anyone mad. 2. If I’m invisible, no one can hurt me. 3. Keep my problems to myself. 4. No one sees my writing!” In the past, Hannah’s angered her father and been hurt by classmates. Unlike her easy-going – but also bullied – friend, Chip, Hannah’s very sensitive to these attacks, and she’s determined to do something about them. In this new novel she acquires a few more friends, and, as…

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…

For the Changing Moon
Thistledown Press / 10 January 2019

For the Changing Moon by Anna Marie Sewell Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-168-6 I’d been looking forward to multi-disciplinary artist Anna Marie Sewell’s second poetry collection, For the Changing Moon. She’d impressed with her debut, Fifth World Drum, and in her capacity as Edmonton’s poet laureate, I once observed her deliver an outstanding performance poem she’d created on the spot, based on a few words provided by the audience. It was a kind of magic few possess. In Sewell’s newly-released collection of poems (and songs) we again find an assured and original voice, and the kind of literary abracadabra (ie: superb use of linebreaks) only a skilled writer can pull off. “We are in large part composed of slanting/sun” she writes in “The Mortal Summer”. Sometimes playful, sometimes prayerful, sometimes angry, sometimes tinged with grief (particularly for lost family members and for injustices suffered by First Peoples and the impoverished) or inspired by legend, these eclectic pieces prove that Sewell knows her way around language, the map, and the moon. Each of the book’s five sections contains a kind of moon, ie: “Moon of Wolves,” and among my favourite poems is “Kinds of…

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…

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…

Mama’s Cloud
All Write Here Publishing / 31 August 2018

Mama’s Cloud Written by Jessica Williams, Illustrations by Mateya Ark Published by All Write Here Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $22.50 ISBN 978-1-7753456-1-9 There’s no rule that says children’s books must feature “feel good” stories, and I applaud those writers who do tackle the serious or sensitive subjects – like illness, bullying, or poverty – and find a way to create stories that children will find interesting and entertaining. Saskatchewan writer Jessica Williams has just done this. In Mama’s Cloud she’s teamed with Bulgarian illustrator Mateya Ark to deliver an engaging story about a woman who suffers from depression, and the ways in which her imaginative young daughter attempts to cheer her. Williams begins by presenting readers with an idyllic mother-daughter relationship. The child-narrator says “When Mama smiles, her eyes twinkle like a thousand fireflies. Her hair is soft and smells like purple lilacs in spring. Mama is Magical …” The pair play games of “Fairies and Wizards and Superheroes,” and in both text and illustration “Mama” is portrayed as smiling and affectionate. But “Sometimes a dark cloud drifts into the room and settles over her”. And thus begins the child’s mission to restore “Mama’s magic”. This book succeeds…

breathing at dusk
Coteau Books / 12 July 2018

breathing at dusk by Beth Goobie Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 9-781550-509151 Beth Goobie, poet and fiction writer, is her own hard act to follow. With twenty-five books – including the Governor General-nominated young adult novel Mission Impossible – preceding her latest title, readers have come to expect work that sets the bar high in terms of both content and technique. In breathing at dusk, Goobie’s 2017 poetry collection with Coteau Books, the Saskatoon writer again addresses some difficult themes – chiefly childhood sexual abuse – and delivers work that pours light on the darkness of her own Ontario childhood, while reconciling – often through music and nature – that it’s possible to heal from the unthinkable. I scan the Contents page and note three titles which might be considered taglines for Goobie’s work, present and past: “the other face,” “living with what remained,” and “the mind coming home to itself”. In this and previous books she reveals that her Christian father – a piano teacher – prostituted her from an early age, and that incest, violence, being drugged, and participating in religious cult-like activities were her childhood norm. As with “talk therapy,” writing…

Blackbird Song

Blackbird Song by Randy Lundy Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-780889-775572 It’s been a fair while since the poetry-reading public’s heard from writer and University of Regina (Campion College) professor Randy Lundy, but the outstanding blurbs on his third poetry collection, Blackbird Song, will definitely whet the appetites of his fans, and they should draw several new readers to these spare, contemplative poems scored with birds, prairie memories, and the moon in many different incarnations. Top Canadian poets like Lorna Crozier (“Wow, I say again and again”), Patrick Lane (he includes Lundy among “the masters”), and Don McKay (“visionary”) sing sweet praises, and Linda Hogan writes that these poems “are grounded constellations created of fire and ice”. When senior poets’ blurbs are poetry in and of themselves, you know you’re doing something right. And Lundy is certainly doing something right. Firstly, he’s turning inward, and asking questions both of himself and the universe that may be unanswerable, ie: “are you waiting for the appearance of that something whose appearance/would be its own vanishing?”. He’s creating unique images and juxtaposing words in fresh ways. Some of these poems are brief and reminiscent of…

I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust

I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust Written by Edward Willett, Illustrated by Wendi Nordell Published by YNWP Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781988-783178 Prolific Regina writer Edward Willett took a great idea and ran with it, and the result is his first collection of poems, I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust, a collection of twenty-one fantastical poems with illustrations by his niece, Albertan Wendi Nordell. That initial great idea? It began with former SK Poet Laureate Gerald Hill’s 2016 “first lines” project, in which he e-mailed the first two lines from poems by two SK writers each week day in April and invited all Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild members to use them as springboards for new poems. Willett embraced the challenge, and the result is this creative, entertaining, and occasionally spine-tingling collection of poems that no one but Willett – well-known for authoring sixty books, including twenty science fiction and fantasy novels – could pull off. Willett claims a life-long love affair with poetry, but admits he’s not known as a poet. The man is a story-teller, through and through, thus it’s not surprising that each of these poems tells a miniature story, many with an apocalyptic or space-based…