Organist, The

The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mindby Mark AbleyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$21.95 (softcover) ISBN 9-780889-777613 Does anyone ever really know anyone else? In multi-genre writer Mark Abley’s absorbing memoir, The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mind, the Pointe Claire, QC writer contemplates the life of his perplexing father, Harry Abley – virtuoso organist, composer, and music teacher with a complex “range of identities” – and in doing so the author attempts to reconcile why this accomplished and restless man, more than twenty years gone, never seemed enough to his only child. Abley has a dozen critically-acclaimed books behind him and I heartily recommend this title because the writing’s exceptional: I was hooked by the end of the short prologue. The work is also honest. Abley admits that “any picture I draw of [his father] becomes an exercise in self-portraiture.” I commend that clear-eyed confession: it helps me to trust the writer, and know there’ll be no subterfuge. I also applaud the book’s interesting structure, conversational tone, and the gentle pacing of its ending … despite their often tempestuous relationship, Abley seems in no hurry to kill his father off quickly on the…

I Know a Woman

I Know A Woman: A Song for Mothersby Sharon Gudereit, Illustrated by Miranda PringlePublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.95 ISBN 9-781988-783536 The colourfully-illustrated softcover, I Know A Woman: A Song for Mothers, is a grand example of creative collaboration, and a testament to the beauty of YNWP’s (Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing) titles. SK’s Sharon Gudereit and BC’s Miranda Pringle are teachers who exude artistic talent: Gudereit is a singer/songwriter and musician, and Pringle is the artist who brought what was originally Gudereit’s song to life on the page. The book is “A heartfelt tribute to the nurturing women in our lives,” and the story pictorially follows the lives of an emotionally tightknit mother and daughter, from the latter’s birth to the former’s possible death; yes, the words “angel,” “far away,” and the illustration of the elder woman’s framed photo beside a glowing candle are open to interpretation, but even children of a certain age will clue-in to the gentle suggestion here. This feels like a personal story, but anyone who’s had the gift of a loving mother will certainly connect to it. The text – lyrics, really – contain some rhymes and off-rhymes, and the chorus…

Small Reckonings: A Novel
Burton House Books / 22 May 2020

Small Reckoningsby Karin Melberg SchwierPublished by Burton House BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 9-780994-866950 Time stopped as I read Saskatoon writer Karin Melberg Schwier’s Small Reckonings. Characters in this Watrous, SK-based historical novel – set between 1914 and 1936 – are exquisitely and sympathetically drawn, the plot moves, and the portrait of this small town and its multi-ethnic pioneers rings true and clear as windchimes in a prairie breeze. Melberg-Schwier earned the 2019 John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award for Fiction with this story. If there be gods, she’ll be earning many more awards: Small Reckonings deserves a huge audience. This book – inspired by true events – begins with a great dramatic hook. Who is this Nik, hanging from the barn rafters, looking “not wild-eyed [but] more as if he’d given it some consideration and just preferred to get it over and done with”? We soon meet William, an earnest homesteader from New Zealand, and his future wife, the enigmatic Louise, who uses food to quell what befell her while she worked “at an institution for the feeble-minded”. Melberg Schwier expertly creates individuated characters readers will care deeply about, including the central figure, Violet, who, at birth, looks…

Until We Are Free
University of Regina Press / 23 April 2020

Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in CanadaEdited by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson, and Syrus Marcus WarePublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$27.95 ISBN 9-780889-776944 This multi-voiced tour-de-force details the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement from compelling Canadian perspectives. It’s comprehensive, diverse, and explains the “origin story” and trajectory of BLM – praise-worthy, all – but I also commend the anthology’s structure. Editors Sandy Hudson (founder of the BLM’s Canadian presence and BLM—Toronto) and Rodney Diverlus (a Haitian-born artist, activist, educator and member of BLM—Toronto) have written a creative introduction set in “An Imagined Future” (2055 C.E.), after the world’s been decimated by “droughts, fires … class wars” and “race wars”. The narrator melts beneath the blistering sun under one of the few remaining trees on a “weekly water-sourcing trek,” and reflects upon this very book. “We wrote about our future,” he/she says, “and it was beautiful”. It’s a literary entry into a text that’s alternately academic, political, and also written for those just learning about the movement, which was spawned after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman re: the shooting murder of the unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin. “This case captured the public’s…

Wheel The World

Wheel the World: Travelling with Walkers and Wheelchairsby Jeanette DeanPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95  ISBN 9-781988-783505 I’ve just spent a pleasant afternoon with Jeanette Dean’s book Wheel the World: Travelling with Walkers and Wheelchairs. As the entire world’s currently anchored with the Coronavirus pandemic, we need travel books like Dean’s: over a few hours and 202 pages, she took me on well-described journeys around the globe, across Canada, and through my home province of Saskatchewan while I practiced social isolation on my comfortable couch. The title infers that this might be a “How To” book, but I’m suggesting it’s a wonderful armchair- adventure title for people with mobility issues or fully able bodies.   Dean and her husband, Christopher Dean, are British-born educators – now retired – who share passions for travel and photography. Saskatoon’s been home since 1966, and there Jeanette spent twenty-two years teaching at the R.J.D. Williams School for the Deaf. In her latter years, Dean’s arthritis has seen her transition from walker to wheelchair, but these challenges have not metaphorically slowed her one iota. She states: “Above all, this book is intended as an expression of the joy of travelling itself, regardless…

Vivian Poems
Radiant Press / 17 April 2020

The Vivian Poems: Street Photographer Vivian Maierby Bruce RicePublished by Radiant PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00  ISBN 9-781989-274293 Choosing a subject most readers will be unfamiliar with is a risky undertaking for a poet. Will readers care about a subject they don’t know? Has enough research been done? Will the poet sufficiently engage his or her audience with this new literary territory? Regarding Bruce Rice’s The Vivian Poems: Street Photographer Vivian Maier, I say Yes, Yes, and Yes. Rice is Saskatchewan’s Poet Laureate, and this poetic portrait of Chicago photographer Vivian Maier (d. 2009) – whom Rice first learned of via CBC Radio – is the Regina writer’s sixth poetry collection. Maier, his “obsessively private” subject, was employed as a nanny, shot diverse subjects, and died poor, leaving a “legacy of 140,000 black and white negatives, prints, undeveloped rolls of colour film, Super 8 films, and audio recordings” that would later inspire several books, documentaries and “over 60 international exhibits”. Clearly, Rice – who’s frequently inspired by art – found an intriguing subject. He credits many – including the Saskatchewan Arts Board, re: funding his research trip to Chicago – for assistance in bringing this title to fruition.  I was…

Loss of Indigenous Eden and the Fall of Spirituality

Loss of Indigenous Eden and the Fall of Spiritualityby Blair StonechildPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$32.95  ISBN 9-780889-776999 Blair Stonechild’s made a name for himself as the skilled writer of numerous nonfiction books, and as a professor of Indigenous Studies at Regina’s First Nations University of Canada. Stonechild’s led an interesting life. He attended Residential School, obtained his doctorate and became an academic and historian, and he’s worked closely with First Nations Elders for more than forty years. He’s supremely well qualified to write on Indigenous spirituality, and that’s precisely what he’s mastered in his latest book.  In this ten-chaptered new title, Stonechild discusses how “the Indigenous world preceded that of modern civilization, that it contained values vital to human survival, and that the significance of ancient beliefs needs to be re-explained for today’s world”. The author’s travelled globally to visit other Indigenous communities, and writes that “we all share incredibly strong beliefs about the transcendent”.    He begins by discussing the fundamentally-held belief among Indigenous Peoples of the world that they possess a “sacred obligation” re: protecting the land and environment, and hold a common belief that “spirits lurk in every corner – in trees, in…

Field Notes for the Self
University of Regina Press / 25 March 2020

Field Notes for the Selfby Randy LundyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-776913 It’s official: Saskatchewan’s Randy Lundy is one of my favourite Canadian poets. His last collection, Blackbird Song, fueled my fandom for this erudite writer, but the recently-released Field Notes for the Self has secured it. This is a poet at the top of his game: one doesn’t so much read this new collection of mostly prose poems as she experiences it. This is Lundy’s magic: although the title indicates that these are works “for the Self” – and the second person “You” (the narrator) is addressed throughout – I felt these contemplative works so viscerally it was as if they were articulating my own intimate thoughts and practices. Move over, Mary Oliver.   In Blackbird Song, many poems spun on the word thinking, and in this handsome new volume, knowing is central. Lundy writes: “you know you know the song, but nothing is clear to you anymore,” “Your heart knows and holds the key – meditate, live purely, do your work, be quiet,” and “You know that you almost know, and you know that is as close as you will get.”  There’s a…

Touched by Eternity
White Lily Press / 26 February 2020

Touched By Eternity: A True Story of Heaven, Healing, and Angelsby Susan HarrisPublished by White Lily PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.99 ISBN 9-780994-986948 Rural Saskatchewan writer Susan Harris wears a number of hats. I’ve previously reviewed two of her Christmas alphabet books, but her literary prowess also includes inspirational and nonfiction work. It’s appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Sunday School students may have read her biblical literature in class. Outside of writing, Trinidad-born Harris can be found presenting on her extraordinary religious experiences, and hosting an Access7Television series called “Eternity”. In Touched By Eternity: A True Story of Heaven, Healing, and Angels, Harris explores her greatest passion, Heaven. Indeed, she claims to have an “obsession about Heaven,” and if you read her new book you’ll understand why. In clear, well-written prose, Harris tells the otherwordly story of her three near death experiences, each occasioned by a health crisis, and what she felt and observed on the proverbial “other side”. Add anecdotes about angels, a description of fiery Hell, and a few visions, and you’ll also glean why she’s dedicated her book to “those who long for Heaven”. Born into a family of “old-fashioned Pentecostals,” it wasn’t uncommon…

Angry Queer Somali Boy
University of Regina Press / 7 February 2020

Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoirby Mohamed Abdulkarim AliPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$21.95 ISBN 9-780889-776593 Sometimes a single line succinctly underscores the depths of the valley a person’s experienced. Deep into Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali’s memoir, Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir, the Torontonian’s phrase “the first day I was homeless for the second time” leaps off the page, and it’s an example of how this first-time writer both lives, and writes. Changes happen quickly, and the reader finds herself catching her breath. Ali’s memoir was published as part of the University of Regina Press’s series The Regina Collection. These pocket-sized hardcovers emulate the U of R’s motto, “a voice of many peoples,” and “tell the stories of those who have been caught up in social and political circumstances beyond their control.” Born in Mogadishu in 1985, Ali was removed from his mother’s home at age five to join his father and the man’s new family in Abu Dhabi, then relocated to a refugee camp in the Netherlands (sans Dad). The next move – with his abusive stepmother and her kids – was to Toronto’s “Jane and Finch area,” where in school “The relationships…