Live Ones
University of Regina Press / 6 September 2019

Live Onesby Sadie McCarneyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-776500 I’ve reviewed hundreds of books over the decades, and have developed a kind of ritual before I read a single word of the text proper. Today Charlottetown poet Sadie McCarney’s first book, Live Ones, is under inspection. A book is a reverent thing. Firstly, I turn it in my hands, and study the front and back covers. McCarney’s slim cream-coloured volume is adorned with a small purple graphic, Winged Skull / Memento Mori, by artist Susan Crawford. What does this image suggest about the poems? There will be sorrow – quite possibly death – addressed within these pages. I flip to the back, read the publisher’s blurb, any other blurbs (usually provided by accomplished writers), and biographical notes about the author. Here I learn that McCarney’s book “grapples with mourning, coming of age, and queer identity against the backdrop of rural and small-town Atlantic Canada.” First books often cast a wide net. Next I check the author’s birth year (just curious), if available; her Acknowledgments (where these poems previously appeared – impressive); and finally, I scan the individual titles in the Contents. Titles interest me….

In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience
University of Regina Press / 5 September 2019

In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilienceby Helen KnottPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 9-780889-776449 When a novice author earns the praise of writers like Maria Campbell and Richard Van Camp, it’s like a promise: readers are in for a powerful experience. But Helen Knott’s In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience, also comes with a warning: the content is “related to addiction and sexual violence. It is sometimes graphic and can be triggering for readers.” The author suggests that any readers who are triggered “be gentle with [themselves].” She opens her story by acknowledging other women’s painful memories, and stating that she “gives this in hopes that [they] remember that [they] are worth a thousand horses.” I am already wowed. As suggested, I’m not alone. Eden Robinson’s written the memoir’s foreword, and says Knott – a Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, and mixed Euro-descent writer in Northeastern BC – is “one of the most powerful voices of her generation.” Knott’s introduction to the compact hardcover reveals her raison d’être for the book: “I summoned these words and the healing that comes with them to lighten the loads of shame, addiction, and struggle” for Indigenous…

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…

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…

Murder at the St. Alice
Coteau Books / 18 July 2019

Murder at the St. Aliceby Becky CitraPublished by Coteau BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.95 ISBN 9-781550-509625 Do you know a teen who would enjoy British Columbia-based historical fiction and a mystery in the same book? Then the novel Murder at the St. Alice by prolific YA writer Becky Citra is worth a look. BC’s Citra has written more than twenty books, including her well-received The Griffin of Darkwood, and a time travel series. In her latest novel she takes readers back to 1908, where “almost sixteen”-year-old Charlotte O’Dell has just been hired as a dining room waitress at the swank St. Alice Hotel, “a jewel in the wilderness, nestled on the shores of beautiful Harrison Lake”. Charlotte’s home is in Victoria, where she lives with Great Aunt Ginny, who’s taught the girl about medicinal plants and inspired Charlotte’s desire to one day become a pharmacist. First, however, Charlotte must earn money for school, and this brings her under the scrutiny of Mrs. Bannerman, St. Alice’s stern housekeeper. Mrs. Bannerman informs Charlotte that “The annex behind the hotel, where the young men live, is strictly out of bounds,” and “there is to be no fraternizing with the guests”. (One can guess…

Walk in Wascana, A

A Walk in WascanaWritten by Stephanie Vance, Ilustrated by Wendi NordellPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-40-6 Saskatchewan resident Stephanie Vance clearly loves Regina, the city she grew up in, as she’s made it the subject of her first book. A Walk In Wascana is an homage to Saskatchewan’s capital and specifically picturesque Wascana Park, with its natural beauty; various winged and four-legged creatures; and also diverse manmade features, including fountains, a boathouse, and the Kwakiutl Nation Totem Pole (a gift, she explains, that is from British Columbia). Vance has teamed with Alberta artist Wendi Nordell to create a delightful softcover homage to the park. The rhyming text and bold, full-colour illustrations on each page are exactly what young ears and eyes enjoy at “storytime,” though the book could also be a pleasant memento for anyone who has lived in or visited Regina. The story sees a young blond boy exploring the expansive park. A playful bunny seemingly beckons the child to follow it through the paths and “grand green trees.” Readers will recognize the variety of birds and waterfowl on the lake, including sparrows, pelicans and mallards, and adults can make a game of…

Rescue in the Rockies
Coteau Books / 17 July 2019

Rescue in the Rockiesby Rita FeutlPublished by Coteau BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$12.95 ISBN 9-781550-509489 I’m both surprised and saddened that until reading A Rescue in the Rockies, I was unfamiliar with Edmonton writer Rita Feutl’s titles for children and young adults. Surprised, because this is a writer at the top of her game, and saddened, because had I known how good she is, I would’ve been recommending her books long before now. Her latest book – a fast-paced Banff-set novel which sees its 14-year-old heroine through several historical time travel adventures with Stoney Nakoda characters (and detainees in a WW2 internment camp ) – was gripping, credible, well-researched, political (espousing Canadian First Nations’ history and human trafficking in Europe), and fun, and that’s just the plot – the writing itself was topnotch. Feutl uses a familiar situation to get the ball rolling: the protagonist, Janey, is forced to be somewhere she doesn’t want to be (though as places go, The Banff Springs Hotel’s not too shabby) with people she’d rather not be with: her grandma; grandma’s boyfriend, who’s been hired by the hotel to play Santa; and the boyfriend’s 16-year-old Austrian grandson, Max, who just happens to have “the…

David G Grade 3
Cameron House Media / 17 July 2019

David G Grade 3: The Tragicomic Memoir of a Reluctant Atheistby David Robert LoblawPublished by Cameron House MediaReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 978-0-9959495-0-8 Regina writer David Robert Loblaw – he legally changed his name from David G in his early twenties to eradicate any connection to his mother’s husband, “Maurice-the-piece of-shit” – has published his first book in a series of memoirs, and it’s quite the romp. Over an easy-to-read 207 pages, Loblaw introduces us to his family, including his hard-working single mother, a staunch Roman Catholic; his half-sister sister Yvette, whom he adores; and two half-brothers, whom he does not adore. Other portions David G Grade 3 concern school misadventures, Loblaw’s passion for the Apollo moon missions, and his experiences with the church, including his love for the Bible’s “great stories of adventure”. He’s such a good child he has to make up a sin (“‘I beat up a kid’”) during his first Confession – and thus he commits the sin of lying while in his very first Confession. There’s rich fodder here. As he says, “How can you now love a religion that has human asterisks behind every God-given rule?” The book’s dedicated thus: “For the two…

When We Had Sled Dogs

When We Had Sled Dogs: A Story from the Traplineby Ida Tremblay and Miriam Körner Published by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-39-0 Searching for a book that’s educational, Woodland Cree/English bilingual, and specifically Saskatchewan? If you’d also appreciate that the story be packaged in a beautifully-illustrated hardcover, then When We Had Sled Dogs: A Story from the Trapline, should fill your desires. This upbeat and colourful book was inspired by the life of La Ronge, SK Elder Ida Tremblay, who shared her memories of “growing up following the seasonal cycle of trapline life” with Miriam Körner. Körner – also from La Ronge – wrote and illustrated the book, which, sadly, Tremblay never got to see, as she died shortly before it was published. During the summer, while Tremblay’s father worked as a fishing guide, the rest of the family camped at McKenzie End, close to La Ronge. Before winter froze the lake, Ida’s family would canoe for five or six days to their cabin on the Churchill River and tend the trapline until spring. Körner’s had the privilege of accompanying Tremblay “up north and back to the past,” and thus veracity is maintained through first-hand…

Wide Open
Coteau Books / 28 May 2019

Wide Openby D. M. DitsonPublished by Coteau BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 9-781550-509663 Sure it’s a cliché, but I had a hard time putting this book down. Welcome to the literary world, D.M. Ditson, with your intimate, hard-hitting, and honest portrayal of matters that are not easy to share. First book? Could have fooled me. Sexual abuse, Fundamentalist Christianity, mental health issues, black-out drinking, and a dysfunctional family are the collaborative demons in Ditson’s memoir, Wide Open, and though the subjects are difficult, Ditson’s fresh style, pacing, and ­example – of how to live through the pain – are the reasons I’m recommending this book both publicly and privately. The former Regina journalist and government communications consultant is “obsessed with telling the truth”. She relays her story in the way you want someone to tell a story when it’s really interesting: the book moves. Like a pinball game. And I applaud the structure, with shifts in time (“Now,” “Youth,” “Childhood,” etc.) clearly indicated. After a riveting prologue, the book swerves to Ditson’s return from Belize where she’d gone to let the jungle heal her. Back in Regina she meets Ian, whom she’s loathe to introduce to her parents: “It’s…