Only If We’re Caught
Thistledown Press / 8 December 2021

Only If We’re Caughtby Theressa SlindPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$25.95 ISBN 9-781771-872119 In the opening paragraph of Only If We’re Caught, the debut short story collection by Saskatoon writer (and children’s librarian) Theressa Slind, readers are viscerally transported to Aspen Grove, a seniors’ residence—where the hallway “is painted the colour of cookie dough”—and into the mind of Parkinson’s-afflicted protagonist Margaret, who can no longer speak. We soon learn that Margaret’s not just any ninety-three-year-old nursing home resident with a “porous-boned spine curling in on itself” … she’s also telepathically communicating with a visiting child. This bizarre circumstance is typical of the tales in Slind’s collection of fifteen stories, some of which previously appeared in literary journals. The borders of normalcy are blurred, and that’s what makes this collection stand out. Perhaps the finest example of this is “Amygdule,” about a funeral director, Ben, who “commune[s] with ghosts.” Ben has a crush on his employee, Alice, who delivers a fountain of black humour. She “arrives in an eddy of formaldehyde,” and says things like “I like my men ripe” and “Back to work. Mrs. Chan isn’t going to embalm herself.” This story is also about a treasure hunt,…

Saskatchewan Writers Guild / 2 September 2021

apart: a year of pandemic poetry and proseEdited by Courtney Bates-Hardy and Dave MargoshesPublished by Saskatchewan Writers’ GuildReview by Toby A. Welch$24.95 ISBN 9780968845172 I have a hunch that as our lives return to a more normalized state, this book will become even more powerful. When Covid is a distant memory, the stories will take us back to this time filled with chaos and uncertainty. What a great permanent record! This book will not collect dust as time passes.  I have never recommended a book as good for every member of the human race but this one I do. Every one of us has been touched by Covid, directly or indirectly. We are all dealing with the effects that the virus brought into our world. Having a book that chronicles the anxiety and emotions of this period in our lives is invaluable.  apart is made up of both poetry and essays (and one awesome screenplay tossed in to mix things up.) Some are short and some are lengthy. One of the most powerful pieces is on page two, a poem by Mary Maxwell made up of four words repeated over and over again: Covid, Trump, News, and Fear. That poem…

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…

Travellers May Still Return
Thistledown Press / 21 November 2019

Travellers May Still Returnby Michael KenyonPublished by Thistledown PressReview by Juliana Rupchan$20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-187-7 Travellers May Still Return is a collection of three fiction pieces: two novella-length stories, bridged by a third, shorter piece. Michael Kenyon is based out of Victoria, but the collection is published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, known for publishing literary poetry and fiction. Kenyon’s previous work includes five books of poetry, four chapbooks, and seven books of fiction, including The Beautiful Children, which won the 2010 ReLit Award for best novel. This extensive cross-genre experience shines through in Travellers May Still Return. The stories have the tension and smoothly crafted characters of a practiced fiction writer, woven through vivid imagery and existential questions that evoke a poetic practice. South and Central America are the main settings, and a strong sense of place as well as a tension of displacement are powerful forces in the longer novellas. While the narrative is not always easy to follow, Kenyon has created striking stories with just the enough mystery to stick in a reader’s mind, like a vivid dream half-remembered. The first novella, “The Prehistory of Jesse Green”, does an excellent job of sketching the central characters, and explores desire…

Paths to the Stars
Shadowpaw Press / 19 October 2018

Paths to the Stars: Twenty-Two Fantastical Tales of Imagination by Edward Willett Published by Shadowpaw Press Reviewed by Toby A. Welch $19.95 ISBN 978-1-9993827-0-4 In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve read Willett’s work before. I’ve enjoyed every novel of his that I’ve consumed and hoped that his latest work would reach the same high bar. It didn’t – it hurdled right over that bar and left it hanging. This collection of twenty-two short stories spans Regina-based Willett’s career. Some of the stories were written as far back as the 1980s while others are from this century. I assumed I’d be able to detect which tales are his earlier works but I was wrong; all of the stories are expertly written. The only indicator of when Willett penned the stories was the blurb at the start of each one. It’s a requirement of mine for science fiction works to push the boundaries of imagination. And Willett didn’t disappoint. Who else would’ve thought to create a slug that sings (“A Little Space Music”) or a hibernation induction trigger that can put a human to sleep for seventy-two hours (“The Strange One”)? The readers are the ones who benefit from Willett’s willingness…

Double Exposure
Burton House Books / 24 August 2017

Double Exposure by Pat Krause Published by Burton House Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 9-780994-866936 Pat Krause was a founding member of the venerable Saskatchewan Writers Guild, a short story writer and memoirist, and a longtime resident of Regina. Krause died in 2015 but her literary legacy continues with Double Exposure, a novella and new short stories, recently published by Burton House Books. Double Exposure‘s a family affair, in more ways than one. Pat Krause penned the stories, Barbara Krause was responsible for the cover and interior artwork, and the book opens with a quote from a poem by Pat’s daughter, Judith Krause. Titled “The Women in the Family,” the poetic excerpt’s a fitting introduction to this work that explores the dynamics between generations of female family members and between the north (Saskatchewan) and the south (Alabama, where the characters and the author both lived), and both realistically and rompishly documents the vagaries of aging and the grief that accompanies the final tolling of the bell. The book’s eccentric and outspoken characters include outrageous Gran Tiss, who had the nerve to up and die on the eve of her 100th birthday; her daughter Vee, who’s horrified that…

Thistledown Press / 24 August 2017

Wanderlust: Stories on the Move Anthology edited by Byrna Barclay Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-135-8 How does a book idea begin? Wanderlust: Stories on the Move started when seven reputable Saskatchewan writers enjoyed a barbeque together. In her introduction, editor Byrna Barclay explains that the idea for this anthology was spawned when Shelley Banks expressed a desire to tour and read with her fellow prose-writing diners at a Regina barbecue. Barclay compiled and edited the work, and though no theme was suggested, she found that “in every story a person embarks on a journey of discovery”. Along with Banks and Barclay, Brenda Niskala, Linda Biasotto, James Trettwer, Kelly-Anne Riess, and Annette Bower share imaginative journeys, and the result’s a literary road trip that takes readers to places near and far, real and imagined. Niskala transports readers to a Norse trading voyage in 1065 in her exciting novel-in-progress, “Pirates of the Heart,” and Biasotto to favoured Italian locales. Trettwer takes us to a fictitious potash company, and Riess has contributed a moving novel chapter about a twenty-one-year-old who’s never been kissed, and is leaving Saskatchewan for the first time. “Tara had never seen a…

Glass Beads
Thistledown Press / 6 June 2017

Glass Beads by Dawn Dumont Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $20.00 ISBN 978-1-77187-126-6 The cover image on Dawn Dumont’s short story collection, Glass Beads, is an ideal visual metaphor for its content. The high-heeled Chuck Taylor sneakers embroidered with flowers that look like beadwork and a (notably faceless) woman in a First Nations’ jingle dress suggest a contemporary twist on traditional First Nations’ culture, and that’s exactly what Dumont delivers. The book’s twenty-three stories are real, relevant, and riveting, and Saskatoon’s Dumont – an actor, comedian, newspaper columnist, and three-book author – was a “shoe in” to write these often hilarious interconnected stories about urban-Indigenous friends in the ’90s and early 2000s. The tales are so credible-from the diction to the romantic disasters-one can easily believe the author, who hails from Okanese First Nation, is writing exactly what she knows. This book’s overwhelming success lies in its structure, realism, and its characterizations of four friends whose lives crackle with energy, humour, and heartache. All but a few stories are dated by month and year, from 1993 to 2008, and it’s interesting to watch these characters both grow but also stay true to who they always were….

Lifting Weights
Thistledown Press / 25 January 2017

Lifting Weights by Judy McCrosky Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $18.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-105-1 Saskatoon’s Judy McCrosky has a reputation for pushing the limits. As a multi-genre writer she’s authored an eclectic repertoire of material, including literary short stories, sci-fi and fantasy, non-fiction, and even (under a pseudonym) a Silhouette Romance novel. In her latest short fiction collection, Lifting Weights, McCrosky asks us to step slightly outside the borders of reality and spend a few hours in unusual worlds that may be closer than we think. This imaginative ten-story collection features a wide range of plots, from the moving “Shelter,” about a distraught mother navigating both her brain-injured son’s care and the return of her estranged husband, to a tale about a lonely pathologist, Andrea, who finds a “disgustingly cute” hamster in her home and soon has sixty-one furry new animal friends. This story makes parallel statements about the earth’s ecology (the shrinking ozone layer), and men’s inability to see beyond the surface of appearance when considering a partner. Andrea finds a warm community among her female, quilter friends, but when she goes to a party she has to “wear a dress of cute hamsters to be…

Thistledown Press / 12 October 2016

Hamburger by Daniel Perry Published by Thistledown Press Review by Leslie Vermeer $18.95 978-1-77187-097-9 Hamburger, Daniel Perry’s new collection of short fiction published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, is loaded with clever, provocative, thoughtful tales. Perry’s stories span moments from comedy to horror to pathos, and the collection explores familiar themes such as travel, discovery, loss, and false belief. But Perry’s fresh voice, narrative twists, and playful telling will keep readers turning pages. Even the briefest of Perry’s stories are peopled by ordinary folks at unusual, sometimes awkward moments. Some involve little epiphanies, such as “Rocky Steps,” which features a single mother with thwarted dreams. Some reveal universal human failings, such as “Gleaner,” which looks at small-town life and how rumours work. Several stories involve dying parents and how their families are affected by grief and change. What stands out about these stories is their emotional core: the basic humanness of characters in stark circumstances. Also impressive is Perry’s reach. Some of the stories take experimental forms, from the second-person address of the title story to the alternating narration of “Pleasure Craft,” in which waterskiing becomes an opportunity for remaking a relationship. There’s also the short speculative fiction “Aria di Gelato,”…