The Birthday Books
Hagios Press / 18 September 2015

The Birthday Books by Joanna Lilley Published by Hagios Press Review by Justin Dittrick ISBN 9 781926 710334 $18.95 Joanna Lilley’s short story collection, The Birthday Books, promises readers an unforgettable trip to the threshold of becoming that exists on no map, but in individual minds and social consciousness, along the boundary of the familiar and the unknown. Many of the stories in this collection mark time and place one beat prior to personal transformation, within circumstances that distort, clarify, or enhance the lenses used to peer into the self, others and into the past. Many of the characters in this collection are on the edge of something momentous. The stories are parsimonious and elegant, at once mystifying and perspicacious, the images formed from spaces teeming with anguish, euphoria, uncertainty, curiosity, and rare beauty. In her characters’ attraction to the North, in “Rearranging Rainbows,” “Silver Salmon,” “Magnetic North,” “Carbonated,” and “The Ladies of Marsh Lake,” Lilley composes a convincing testament to the North’s magnetic powers, what makes this harsh and challenging environment so alluring to the imaginations of those desiring a break from modern existence or individual circumstance. Readers will be enthralled with Lilley’s character’s wanderlust, with how their thoughts,…

Street Symphony
Coteau Books / 4 September 2015

Street Symphony by Rachel Wyatt Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $18.95 ISBN 9-781550-506181 Rachel Wyatt’s short story collection, Street Symphony, opens with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –That perches in the soul-”. The epigraph is wisely chosen; in several of the 17 stories the protagonists are unhappy, and for good reason – job losses, accidents, partners’ deaths – and thus hope for a brighter tomorrow is what they cling to. These are characters for whom “The universe had tilted.” There’s Jason, in the story “Salvage,” who lost his wife in a car accident after they’d had a fight about her desire to get a pet fish. In the aftermath of her death Jason empties much of his furniture into a dumpster, and accidentally “bakes” some of his wife’s photographs in the oven with the lasagna. “But he sat on the floor and ate it as a penance, charred paper and all. He knew now that he had to suffer in order for the world to tilt back to its proper axis.” The story is a powerful examination of grief, which can certainly defy logic, and it’s also representative of how…

The New Wascana Anthology
University of Regina Press / 27 August 2015

The New Wascana Anthology Edited by Medrie Purdham and Michael Trussler Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $49.95 ISBN 978-0-88977 The beauty of an anthology – and particularly a multi-genre example, like the The New Wascana Anthology, is that readers can sample from a veritable banquet of hand-picked work. This book represents a “best of” combination of two earlier “Wascana” anthologies (poetry and short fiction), plus other important and entertaining work. Editors Medrie Purdham and Michael Trussler’s intent was “to preserve the strengths of the earlier anthologies” and “add a variety of new selections to make a textbook that would be especially amenable to the twenty-first-century classroom.” Within these 551 pages you’ll discover popular works from the canon (American, British, and Canadian) sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with pieces by contemporary Canadians, including many of Saskatchewan’s finest (current or former residents), including Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, Gerald Hill, Karen Solie, and newcomer Cassidy McFadzean, b. 1989. You may find yourself remembering poetic lines from Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Dickinson, and then be pleased to shake the metaphorical hand of contemporary short story writers like Eden Robinson, Dianne Warren, Rohinton Mistry, Alexander MacLeod (his “Miracle Mile” is placed next to…

Sweet Life
Coteau Books / 9 January 2015

Sweet Life by Linda Biasotto Published by Coteau Books Review by Alison Slowski $18.95 ISBN 9781550505788 Twisted and perplexing, Linda Biasotto’s short stories in Sweet Life convey all the sadness and mystery of the human condition. With stories about grief and loss, sibling rivalry, marriage, as well as resentment and anger toward tyrannical parents and spouses, Biasotto’s stories cover all the bases of life, and with a bit of dark humour as well. She creates stories the reader has no problem slipping into, to be introduced to another new character at every turn of the page and relating to that character’s struggle with ease. Touching on strange aspects of the personality of each new protagonist that the reader meets in every story, Biasotto introduces the reader to just enough questions to arouse speculation and suspicion. While one or two stories have some parallel plot threads, each story in Biasotto’s first grand collection is unique; a sign of masterful storytelling. In the short story “Sweet Life”, we meet a teenaged boy, Jude Allan, struggling to get away from family home life problems. He realizes he’s not as tough as he thinks he is when his best friend suddenly becomes ill. Jude…

The Pious Robber
Thistledown Press / 23 July 2013

The Pious Robber by Harriet Richards Published by Thistledown Press Review by Justin Dittrick $18.95 ISBN 978-1-927068-18-2 Harriet Richards’ The Pious Robber presents its readers with eight stories that will mesmerize, disturb, and delight. Every story in the collection strikes to the bone, and is brilliantly conceived and beautifully realized. One will be tempted to read the collection in one sitting, though the depth of the stories provides much fruit for multiple readings, honest reflection, and some animated and imaginative discussion. Richards is blessed with an unimpeachable understanding of illness, childhood, family, loss, and human psychology. Her narration is cool and detached, her dialogue crisp and seamless. This work is weighty and balanced: highly observant, darkly comic, and always fascinating. This collection especially shines where it examines human frailty within the accepted boundaries that mark convention, produce (unwanted?) self-knowledge, and touch that squishy place in our psyche where we are most vulnerable and recriminatory. There are plenty of cringe-worthy moments in the stories “Tangible Reminders” and “Sometimes it Seemed”. These seem to be the moments in which intelligent people must work with the seemingly harmless social and cultural excesses that make day-to-day life a minefield. In “Tangible Reminders”, the main…

The Sometimes Lake
Thistledown Press / 24 May 2013

The Sometimes Lake by Sandy Bonny Published by Thistledown Press Review by Alison Slowski $18.95 ISBN 978-1-897235-99-7 “My daddy used to say things about what we’re made out of to make my mom roll her eyes. Like crystals vibrating. Also energy balls.” – “Marrow”, by Sandy Bonny Sandy Bonny, a Saskatoon-based writer, creates a compelling collection of stories from all corners of life in The Sometimes Lake. These are funny, moving stories of real people in contemporary settings. They warm the heart with dynamic characters the reader can’t help but want to know more about. These stories include a pair of young, bereaved children in the exotic mountains of a Buddhist nunnery in India; the bored girlfriend of a beekeeper devoted to his vexing family; a new teacher trying to get his bearings-culturally and otherwise-with a Northern Canadian Dene community school; two lesbian university students brought together by a special mutual friend; and a little girl’s musing upon death and loss after her grandfather passes. Myth and belief intertwine when a young man who is situated at a commune becomes trapped and unable to leave, and when road builders from bygone days explore legends of their past. Bonny’s love of…

To Everything A Season

To Everything a Season by Helen Mourre Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Alison Slowski $16.95 ISBN 978-1-894431-89-7 Helen Mourre’s short story collection, To Everything a Season, is her latest work, after the books Landlocked and What’s Come Over Her from Thistledown Press. Throughout her short stories about parents, about children, about young unmarried men and women, Mourre displays a strong understanding of the bonds that hold community and family together. She captures the reader’s attention by painting a portrait of the hardships families endure while experiencing the loss of a parent, the loss of a spouse, or even the loss of a cherished family home in exchange for a new one. The theme of loss carries through the entire book, paralleled and mitigated by the spark of hope. Though the characters have experienced some dark times, there is always the hope that things will improve. Mourre’s writing is candid and honest, and each swell of each story told, while it may be tragic, is also filled with hope.  Her words are penned with obvious love for the Saskatchewan prairies, a small-town community, and the ties between that community and friends and family. THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT…

Love, Loss, and Other Oddities
Saskatchewan Romance Writers / 26 February 2013

Love, Loss and Other Oddities by Saskatchewan Romance Writers Review by Karen Lawson $16.95 ISBN 978-0-9878337-0-9 Thanks to the Saskatchewan Romance Writers, romance is alive and well in Saskatchewan. In celebration of twenty-five years as a writing group, its members decided to compile their best stories. The result is an entertaining and diverse collection entitled Love, Loss and Other Oddities. There are seventeen talented writers involved in the compilation of this anthology. The stories included in Love, Loss and Other Oddities are as diverse and different as the writers themselves. But there are two things that all the contributors have in common: they all love to write in the romantic vein and they are all residents of Saskatchewan. Romance is a huge genre that encompasses many different components. This book covers every aspect of romance and love. It is a potpourri of love stories. There is everything from historical romance to contemporary romance. It also includes urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Some stories are lighthearted. Several are touching and sad. Many of the stories focus on young love. Some deal with characters that are facing middle and old age. Some look at the sweetness of a new relationship. Others zero…

Dibidalen
Thistledown Press / 6 February 2013

Dibidalen by Seán Virgo Published by Thistledown Press Review by Hannah Muhajarine $18.95 ISBN 978-1-927068-06-9 The stories found in this enchanting collection by Seán Virgo are almost fairytales, familiar and fascinatingly fresh at the same time. The collection starts simply, with “Before Ago”, a story that sounds like a poem or a song. Its rhythmic and repetitive phrases gave me the feeling I was listening to the story being told rather than reading it from a page. These opening tales are short and cryptic, full of symbolism and meaning. The characters are unnamed-‘a man’, ‘a stranger’ or ‘a priest’-and contain elements of folktales-three eggs found in a field, talking animals, dreams and transformations. As the stories progress, however, new ideas are introduced. A priest struggles to find the best way to live his faith, a soldier finds it difficult to return to his old life after the war. All the stories are neatly linked, some seeming to pick up where the last one left off. They build on each other, gradually gaining length and complexity, moving forward in time to a world more like our own. The last three stories-“Gramarye,” “The Likeness,” and “Dibidalen”-are the longest, making up most of…

The Weeping Chair
Thistledown Press / 18 December 2012

The Weeping Chair by Donald Ward Published by Thistledown Press Review by Hannah Muhajarine ISBN 978-1-927068-00-7 The sixteen stories found in The Weeping Chair by Donald Ward cover a wide range of highly imaginative situations, ranging from humorous to heartbreaking, from cognizant chickens to the criminally insane, from Saskatoon to outer space. Many of the stories present a deceptively normal situation, such as traveling on a train, preparing dinner, or ordering coffee, which quickly evolves into something fantastic and profound. Ward turns the mundane ever so slightly, giving the reader a new and illuminating perspective. The stories are full of interesting characters, some more eccentric than others. Ward is able to quickly sketch out these people and bring them to life using just a few words: “She was wearing a black, floor-length cape today,” he writes, “high-collared, like some anthropomorphic creature from a children’s tale.” His dialogue is both witty and truthful, and he skillfully captures the brief relations formed between strangers in day to day life. Some stories are hilariously quirky, others are deeply moving, and some are both. The humour is often dark, as with the observation “Death is the ultimate treatment for a sleep disorder.” There are…