Burden
University of Regina Press / 22 September 2020

Burdenby Douglas Burnet SmithPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 (softcover) ISBN 9-780889-777729 In award-winning Canadian poet Douglas Burnet Smith’s seventeenth collection, Burden – a sparely-written account of a distant cousin’s World War I experience – I often found myself wincing. This visceral reaction’s a testament to the efficacy of the Governor General-nominated poet’s precisely-chosen words; to the bone and spirit-shattering power of war; and to this harrowing, personal story that wields the force of a novel in just fifty-nine taut pages. The title, Burden, alludes to the seventeen-year-old British soldier, Private Herbert Burden, whom the poet’s relative, Lance Corporal Reginald Smith, befriended and fought alongside; to the permanent weight of war on one’s psyche; and to Reg Smith’s personal burden of being one of the ten soldiers who killed Burden – a deserter suffering from PTSD – upon firing squad order. The first four poems, written in couplets and each several pages long, are delivered from Reg Smith’s point of view from the war field or from a hospital in England or Scotland, while the final poem, “Herbert Burden,” is a one-pager told from the deserter’s perspective – almost one hundred years after his death – at…

Sleeping Brilliant
All Write Here Publishing / 22 September 2020

Sleeping BrilliantWritten and illustrated by Jessica WilliamsPublished by All Write Here PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$16.99 ISBN 978-1-9995397-7-1 Here’s what I know about Saskatchewan writer Jessica Williams: she’s originally from British Columbia; her first book, Mama’s Cloud, thoroughly impressed me with its gentle handling of depression; and she continues to prove herself as a prolific and talented writer of childrens’ books. Her latest offering, Sleeping Brilliant, delivers a delightful spin on a fairytale we all know – but may not all love, with its prince-as-saviour theme – and this time Williams has even illustrated her own clever story. We learn from page one that Williams is going to have great fun turning this traditional tale on its crown. The “beloved” King and Queen longed for a child, and thus “adopted a charming baby girl from a nearby village”. The baby’s named Niamh – pronounced “Neev” or “Nee-iv,” which is Gaelic for “brilliant” – and the child lives up to her moniker. Upon Niamh’s arrival her parents throw a “great feast” and invite “the entire kingdom,” as one does, but of the thirteen forest fairies, only twelve receive their invitations, thanks to a “fierce wind” that magically lifts one invitation from…

Serenity Unhinged
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 22 September 2020

Serenity Unhinged (a memoir)by Jim DugglebyPublished by YNWPReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.95 ISBN 9-781988-783574 As a writer myself, I’m always curious about other writers’ inspiration for their books. In his memoir Serenity Unhinged, Regina writer, editor and journalist Jim Duggleby mines the landscape of his own history – family, childhood, career – and his bright imagination for material, but the essays and articles in this fun read really owe their existence to a Regina writers’ workshop that took place between 2017 and 2019. The workshop, which included “fewer than a dozen people” at Regina’s Lifelong Learning Centre, was facilitated by Bob Juby and Ivan Millard, and was “loosely themed ‘As I Remember’”. Duggleby has a long history with and passion for the written word. The former Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reporter professes that he “can’t recall a time when [he] didn’t love writing” in various genres, from history to futurism, and his joy and wit translate into 21 entertaining stories in this recently-released softcover with YNWP. The author earns five stars for his captivating opening lines, ie: “Perhaps the most surprising thing about my mother’s death is that some people were saddened,” and “My father died twice.” (Interestingly, Duggleby’s pop was “the…

Fully Half Committed
Wood Dragon Books / 22 September 2020

Fully Half Committed: Conversation Starters for Romantic Relationshipsby Barbara Morrison and Ed RislingPublished by Wood Dragon BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.99 ISBN 9-781989-078167 If you’ve been single and searching for a healthy new connection over the last decade or so, you’ll know that the dating and relationship landscape has changed significantly, in large part due to the popularity of online dating. With a few key strokes, finding “another fish” at the first sign of conflict or boredom is a mighty temptation for some, and short-term relationships are the new norm. Tragically, our throw-away society’s come to include people. But what about actually working on a relationship and allowing it to evolve? And why are people less likely to commit, fully and completely, today? Professional couples’ therapists Barbara Morrison and Ed Risling address these topics and examine relationship issues like communication, curiosity, awareness, and libido differences in their book Fully Half Committed: Conversation Starters for Romantic Relationships. With sixty years of combined counselling experience, the pair – who met as students – have collaborated on “writing a book about the reoccurring themes” they see in their practices, and each short chapter addresses an issue. There are also numerous examples of how…

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…