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…

Happy Horse, The

The Happy HorseWritten by Carolyn Williams, Illustrated by L.E. Stevens Published by Ghostmountain PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 978-1-9994737-0-9 There’s so much adoration and delight – both in and between the lines – of Carolyn Williams’ slim, illustrated softcover, The Happy Horse, I’m reminded of a movie opening where it’s all blue skies and butterflies … which portends a forthcoming turn into darkness. Williams, a “transplanted Englishwoman living life (and loving it) out in the wilds of the great Canadian prairies” has teamed with Ohio illustrator L.E. Stevens to produce a book about the sweet life of a never-officially-named-in-the-story horse (I glean it’s “Snoop” from the dedication) that the writer actually owned – his photo appears above the book’s dedication – and clearly admired, as the book’s an homage to that extraordinarily ambitious animal. You could say that this is a book about a horse with a life well-lived. A happy horse with a life well-lived! Williams employs repetition of the phrase “He was a Happy Horse” as the last line in the first thirteen pages of this thirty-two page text – each facing page features a line-drawn illustration of the horse and its activities – and alters that…

Finding Father: Stories from Mennonite Daughters

“Finding Father: Stories From Mennonite Daughters”by Mary Ann LoewenPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$21.95 ISBN 9-780889-775909 What do you get when you take fifteen literary daughters writing essays about their Mennonite fathers and combine them in one anthology? You get Finding Father: Stories from Mennonite Daughters-a comprehensive, compassionate, and well-written portrayal of men who were loved for all they were, and forgiven for what they couldn’t be. You get frequent mentions of generosity; the immigrant experience (the journey and the politics that led to it, poverty, language challenges, large families, stoicism); great but often quiet faith; ample encouragement (particularly re: academic aspirations … Mennonites are “people of the book”); music; leadership; eventual illness which led to death; and, frequently, the wish for a more emotionally intimate and physically demonstrative relationship. You also get the personal memories-best delivered through imagistic snapshots-that make each father-daughter relationship unique. Vulnerability is at the heart of memoir, and the talented contributors candidly share both what pleased and pained them in their relationships with their fathers, but as authors and subjects are both Mennonite, “cultural artifacts”-particularly religion, whether the family adhered to the Mennonite Brethren denomination or another-play a key position in…

Rockstar

“Rockstar” by Marny Duncan-Cary, illustrated by Val MokerPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.95 ISBN 9-781988-78383 Southern Saskatchewan musician and writer Marny Duncan-Cary has capitalized on her complementary talents: she’s taken the lyrics from a song she wrote in 2002 and has used them as the text for an illustrated book in 2019. It’s a formula she’s successfully employed before (ie: her book/song Who’s That Man? earned a silver medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in 2010). This time the four-time Saskatchewan Country Music Award winner has transformed her song “Rockstar,” and along with vividly-colourful, full-bleed illustrations by artist Val Moker, Duncan-Cary has produced a lively song readers can hold in their hands. When one is both a dedicated artist (in any genre) who works from home and a devoted mother, juggling the necessary “me” time and family time can be a serious challenge. (I’ve been there myself; my own answer was to carve a week or two out of every year to “retreat” and work on my writing while my children were young.) In her softcover book “Rockstar,” Duncan-Cary exposes the everyday demands of children, like “Mom, can you get me some juice?” and “Mom,…

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…

See Me
H.R. Hobbs / 10 January 2019

See Me (Breaking the Rules Series) by H.R. Hobbs Published by H.R. Hobbs Review by Shelley A. Leedahl ISBN 9-780995-344808 $10.00 Retired teacher Heather Hobbs has turned her lifelong passion for books into a new profession. In 2015 she picked up the pen and started writing realistic, contemporary page-turners for middle years’ students, and rather than wait years for a publisher to consider, potentially accept her manuscript, and release her books, Assiniboia-based Hobbs took matters into her own hands and published her own work under the pen name H.R. Hobbs. With almost thirty years of classroom experience to her credit, the teacher-turned writer’s depiction of middle grades’ school culture results in an interesting and credible story. See Me, the first in her Breaking the Rules Series, looks just like a trade published book. The cover features a close-up of an eye, and the interior type is easy to read. The story’s narrator is 13-year-old Hannah, an only child who was traumatized on her very first day of kindergarten after a classmate, Brady, noticed the “ugly” burn scars on her legs and called her “Scar-legs”. The ostracizing and bullying that began that day has followed her all the way into Grade…