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…

Critters: Underdark
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 18 December 2019

Critters: Underdarkby Allan DotsonPublished by YNWPReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-781988-783437 How best to describe Regina writer, artist and teacher Allan Dotson’s monster-inspired graphic novel, Critters: Underdark … a 153-page, 10-years-in-the -making labour of love, and black and white demonstration of great talent? An equally touching and humorous allegory for our socially-fractured and racially- divisive times? A textual and artistic tour-de-force? Each of the above applies, but at the heart of this fantasy’s success is the creator’s unique imagination, his skill at storytelling, and his deft ability to create individuated “monsters” – both visually and literarily – that readers of all ages will quickly care about. It’s easy to suspend disbelief and get wrapped up in the train-wrecked world of innocent Eddy – a pincered “ettercap” who looks like a louse – and his first friend, the snaggle-toothed monster Sally, who tells also-caged Eddy: “You’re not alone. We’re all scared.” Eddy’s toddler-like diction is adorable, ie: “Is we all getting’ stuffs? Like weppins?” and “O nos! Thems gonna git us!” Many things are “skeery”. In the first few pages we learn that these creatures, captured along with several others by the dwarves at the bidding of the medusa queen,…

Raymond Raindrop and Swings and Things
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 18 December 2019

Raymond Raindrop and Swings & ThingsWritten and illustrated by Eileen MunroPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$12.95 ISBN 9-781988-783444 I was introduced to the fun-filled illustrations and down-home text of Saskatchewan artist Eileen Munro in 2014 via her rural-themed alphabet book, ABC’s Down on the Farm. Now, five years later, she’s followed up with another picture book, this time featuring two educational stories: Raymond Raindrop and Swings & Things. Munro’s cover advertises “Facts and fun – 2 Books in 1” – it’s a double treat for young readers and story listeners, and an ingenious way for a writer using YNWP’s excellent publishing services to get the most bang for her buck. As the title reveals, Raymond is a raindrop, which Munro visually presents somewhat like a grey Hershey’s Kiss with simple facial features, three-fingered white hands and two black ovaline feet. Raymond’s character, however, is far from simple. “Shy and a little bit proud,” he “stayed by himself” while his fellow raindrops “bounced and bubbled” together. Our watery protagonist notes that the people on the land below him look worried re: the lack of rain for their crops. The story is about the importance of working together….

Finding Fortune
Garnet House / 12 December 2019

Finding Fortuneby L.A. BelmontézPublished by QueenPin Books, an imprint of Garnet House BooksReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$25.00 ISBN 9-781999-567606 It’s astounding how frequently completely disparate parts of one’s life intersect. I recently booked a flight to Colombia for early 2020, and recently received a review copy of L.A. Belmontéz’s telenovela-type novel, Finding Fortune, which is set, in part, in Colombia. While reading I paid close attention to what I might learn about Cartagena through the former prairie resident and debut-novelist’s 399-page debut title. The book’s main character, Las Vegas resident Valerie Verlane, has authored a book titled The Princess Problem: From the Pea to Prosperity. Verlane comes from money and much attention is given to clothing brands, vehicles, and other luxury-material matters. She has her nose and breasts “done,” and is the type who “had never taken a bus and she never would”. Verlane’s told her daughter that the girl’s father is dead, and for all Verlane knows, Dmitri – the worldly young lawyer-in-training who’d waltzed into her 24-year-old life in Los Angeles – has in fact died. The Canadian-born protagonist was working in a high-end furniture store in Santa Monica when playboy Dmitri swept her off her stilettos. After…

Lost Boys
Thistledown Press / 22 November 2019

Lost Boysby Darci BysouthPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-175-4 Lost Boys is a short story collection with three-way heft: physical (eighteen stories), technical (diverse voices and plots; excellent characterizations; realism and magic realism are each employed to great effect), and emotional (wow). Effective art makes us think and feel, and in this, her first book, BC writer Darci Bysouth has mastered the tricky business of making the world seem both smaller and larger, and she’s made this reader’s heart turn over. Innate talent? I expect so, but Bysouth also honed her craft at the University of British Columbia and the University of Edinburgh, and her work’s appeared in respected literary journals and anthologies; these facts tell me that she paid her literary dues before breaking into the ISBN world with this fist-to-gut collection. I could speak of the equally convincing male and female narrators; the recurring themes of sibling relationships, poverty, addictions, and mental illness; or of settings that range from the “sheep and potholes” of Scotland to dark Canadian forests. I could write about the double entendre, the details, the poetic language, ie: “The water was such a long way below that it looked like…

Baxter and the Blue Bunny
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 22 November 2019

Baxter and the Blue Bunnyby Lorraine Johnson, Illustrated by Wendi NordellPublished by YNWPReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$12.95 ISBN 9-781988-783413 Baxter and the Blue Bunny is the debut children’s book by Yorkton writer Lorraine Johnson, and the story flows so smoothly along one would think it was penned by a veteran. Complemented by Alberta illustrator Wendi Nordell’s colourful and “just right” illustrations of the canine character Baxter and his home and family, this simple, well-told story hits a surprisingly deep emotional chord. The story, told in Baxter’s voice, begins at a pet shelter, with “mom and dad, and two brothers” choosing the black and white Shih Tzu-looking dog. “I am looking for them … and they are looking for me,” Baxter says, “each of us wanting to find someone special to love, to look after, and to grow up with.” It’s easy to read this story as an allegory, for isn’t that what most of us humans want in life, too? Through the text and Nordell’s inviting scenes we experience the days in the life of a happy, well-loved dog: he plays tug-o’-war with the boys, hide-and-seek with the adults, and Grandma brings a “stuffed blue bunny” which “soon becomes [Baxter’s]…

Eater of Dreams, The
Thistledown Press / 22 November 2019

The Eater of Dreamsby Kat CameronPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl|$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-184-6 Kat Cameron, a Swift Current-born poet, fiction writer, and English literature prof at Edmonton’s Concordia University, has penned a place-specific collection of sometimes-linked stories with an intriguing title: The Eater of Dreams, and the 67-page eponymous story is a fascinating read, complete with a 100-year-old ghost, a grieving and disillusioned English teacher in Japan, and so many sensory-rich glimpses into Japanese culture – albeit from an outsider’s perspective – readers might almost believe they are there. The opening stories are Edmonton-based, and as a former resident of that city I enjoyed tagging along with the female protagonists to the Muttart Conservatory, Whyte Ave, and Jubilee Auditorium, even if these gals were not in the happiest moods. One was not having any fun being the sole woman in a trio at the Muttart Conservatory without a toddler, then she lost her friend’s little girl among the poinsettas. Zoe lives in a university-area garret that’s so cold her “breath fogged the air while she watched late-night TV, huddling under three comforters,” and she’s terrified an abusive ex will reappear. In a linked story, Zoe accompanies her new…

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….