Door Into Faerie
Coteau Books / 20 April 2018

Door into Faerie by Edward Willett Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $14.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-654-9 Door into Faerie is the fifth and final title in Regina writer Edward Willett’s “The Shards of Excalibur” series, and I read it without reading its predecessors, and also, admittedly, with a bit of a bias against the fantasy genre. Magic shmagic. I’ve oft said that what I really value in literature is contemporary realism: stories I can connect with via details from the here and now, geography and language I can relate to because I recognize it, I speak it. The old “holding a mirror to the world” thing. Well surprise, surprise: I loved this YA fantasy. Willett wields his well-honed writing chops from page one, and my interest was maintained until the final word. In the opening we learn that teens Wally Knight (heir to King Arthur) and his girlfriend Ariane (“the fricking Lady of the Lake”), have been on a global quest to “reunite the scattered shards of the great sword Excalibur,” and they’re currently at a Bed and Breakfast in Cypress Hills. Cypress Hills! This ingenious juxtaposition of old and contemporary (ie: “fricking”), of information delivered in earlier…

Small Displays of Chaos
Coteau Books / 4 August 2016

Small Displays of Chaos by Breanna Fischer Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $12.95 9781550506617 Breanna Fischer’s book Small Displays of Chaos is about a girl from Saskatoon SK who develops an eating disorder during her last two years of high school. The main character, Rayanne Timko, assigns herself a fitness goal as part of a grade ten gym class project. She likes this because tracking calories appeals to her. In the beginning, her goal is “eat healthier, exercise more.” She earns the highest score for the assignment, but when it is over, she doesn’t want to stop. Fischer really gets inside the head of her character, juxtaposing action with stark, confessional journal entries. “Today I will count. Today I will starve. I will turn into myself like an imploding star. Just like yesterday.” As her obsession turns into addiction, she becomes her eating disorder. Without it, she doesn’t know who she is. The main focus of the book is what happens in Rayanne’s mind as she starves herself, developing visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations of Edie (this could be a pun on ED, or eating disorder), taunting, pushing, and demanding that she lose more weight. When her…

Lake in the Clouds
Coteau Books / 21 January 2016

Lake in the Clouds: Shards of Excalibur Book 3 by Edward Willett Published by Coteau Books Review by Courtney Bates-Hardy $14.95 ISBN 9781550506167 Lake in the Clouds is the third installment in the Shards of Excalibur series. If you haven’t read the first two books, beware of spoilers. You’ll want to read the entire series for continuity. When we last left Ariane and Wally, they had just been separated by the evil Merlin-turned-computer-tycoon, Rex. Wally has been taken in by Rex’s smooth talk and lies about Ariane and her ever-growing power. Wally is about to discover that Rex isn’t as nice as he pretends to be. What does Rex have planned for Wally? Ariane is busy sorting through her anger with Wally for betraying her and giving the second shard to Rex. She doesn’t have a clear direction without Wally but she’s determined to find the third shard anyways. Rex finds that he is at a standstill when it comes to finding the third shard and is left with no other option but to reach out to Ariane. However, that doesn’t stop him from threatening her family along the way. Will Ariane be able to find the third shard and…

Queen of the Godforsaken
Thistledown Press / 21 January 2016

Queen of the Godforsaken by Mix Hart Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $14.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-063-4 I took a plethora of notes while reading Mix Hart’s SK-based young adult novel, Queen of the Godforsaken, because there’s a lot going on across the 293 pages it encompasses. The fictional driver of this story, Lydia, is a veritable storm-cloud of teenage hormones – part girl who still plays with Barbies, part woman who feels responsible for her entire family’s welfare – and she might do or say just about anything. Feisty Lydia; her year-younger and equally sarcastic sister, Victoria (Lydia alternately considers Victoria her best and only friend and also gives her the moniker “Prissy Tits”); their pot-smoking and under-employed professor father; and their dangerously-depressed mother move from Vancouver to the paternal homestead on the Carlton Trail near Batoche, and the adjustment’s hard on everyone. First, there’s the weather. Hart ably details the brutal prairie winters, where eyelids have to be pried apart, snowstorms make prisons of homes, and even the family dog tries to avoid being outdoors. The physical cold parallels Lydia’s temperament as she navigates trials at home and school in nearby “Hicksville”. Lydia, the “ice queen,”…

250 Hours
Coteau Books / 18 September 2015

250 Hours By Colleen Nelson Published by Coteau Books Review by Justin Dittrick $12.95 ISBN 9781550506419 250 Hours by Colleen Nelson is a young adult novel that introduces readers to social issues creating divisions among Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians, while depicting how these issues manifest themselves in the problematic relations marked by discrimination, role-reduction, and conflict. However, while it is classified as a young adult novel, non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal Canadians of all ages will find in its pages a compelling representation of the social and economic realities all Canadians experience in reservations and in small town communities. The assumption that should be made is that many Canadians, like Sara Jean’s Gam, were educated in only a partial history of the residential school system, and may not realize that this school system amounted to a form of cultural genocide. The fallout of this school system is richly depicted in Jess, who grew up without a father and faced discrimination, as well as in Jess’s father, Gus, who returns home with liver cancer, having lived a life attempting to cope with his past with alcohol. The novel also depicts the conflict non-Aboriginal Canadian women experience within their own culture, particularly the conflict…

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star
Coteau Books / 21 August 2015

Bone, Fog, Ash & Star by Catherine Egan Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 9-781550-505931 Imagine a world in which “every stone and every tree has secrets to tell.” Where dragons, Faeries and great birds called “gryphons” are commonplace, and one has to be granted a permit to have a child. In this fantastical universe some have the ability to create protection “barriers” when trouble arises. Invisibility is possible, as is shapeshifting, and the manipulation of the elements. Potions are made from “the spinal juice of a Tian Xia invisible eel,” and the Thanatosi—strange, faceless, acrobatic beings called upon by Great Magic to serve as assassins—are a very real threat. As a writer who deals in realistic fiction, I have often wondered about my literary cousins who pen fantasy and science fiction. For me it would be intensely arduous to fabricate mythical geographies, beings, creatures, and names, thus I appreciate those writers who have the ability to stretch their imaginations in such far-flung directions and create these otherworldly novels. What a gift. Bone, Fog, Ash & Star is the third book in Catherine Egan’s trilogy The Last Days of Tian Di. The star of the…

Shade and Sorceress
Coteau Books / 24 December 2014

Shade and Sorceress by Catherine Egan Published by Coteau Books Review by Regine Haensel $12.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-514-6 The Mancers, ancient scholars, magicians and mystical protectors, have come looking for Eliza Tok. Long ago, the Mancers separated the One World, Tian Di, into two, for the protection of humans. Eliza’s world is Di Shang, and the other world is Tian Xia. The Mancers want to bring Eliza to their Citadel to begin teaching her to become a sorceress like her dead mother, and help guard the Crossings between the worlds. But Eliza shows no signs of magical abilities and all she wants is to go home to her father and her friend Nell. There are others looking for Eliza, spies of the Xia Sorceress. She is the most terrible, ruthless and evil being in the worlds. The Mancers, with the help of Eliza`s mother, imprisoned the Xia Sorceress years ago in the Arctic of Di Shang. Finally, after what seems to be a fruitless time of study, the Mancers put Eliza to a test. They give her Shang Sorceress clothing and a staff, and send her to battle a hound of the Crossing. And “something deep inside her, deeper than a…

The Comic Book War
Coteau Books / 24 December 2014

The Comic Book War by Jacqueline Guest Published by Coteau Books Review by Alison Slowski $12.95 ISBN 9781550505825 The Comic Book War delivers in every aspect, as Jacqueline Guest perfects every detail in executing one of the best new Young Adult fiction novels that Saskatchewan has to offer. A refreshing story, it tells fifteen-year-old Robert Tourond’s heart-wrenching tale of being the youngest brother left at home with his parents, while his two older brothers go off to fight in World War II. One cold winter night in his hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Robert is stargazing on Nose Hill when he suddenly catches a glimpse of what he believes to be a meteorite, and his life is changed forever. Unbelievably, he spots a piece of the meteorite, which has landed closer than he initially believed, and he takes a small fragment of the rock home for safekeeping. Robert appears in every aspect as a fairly ordinary teenager of the mid-1940’s, not fitting in with his peers at school. Motivated to not have his parents hanging off his wallet in hard times, he just wants to buy himself what he loves most—comic books. He devours comic books ravenously, caught up in the…

Twist of the Blade
Coteau Books / 11 December 2014

Twist of the Blade Published by Coteau Books Review by Courtney Bates-Hardy $14.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-599-3 Twist of the Blade is the second book in Edward Willett’s Shards of Excalibur series, a clever and modern adaptation of the legends of King Arthur. Ariane Forsythe has inherited the magical power of the Lady of the Lake, along with a quest: she must find the five broken pieces of the sword of Excalibur before the evil reincarnation of Merlin, Rex Major, gets his hands on it. If Rex Major gains control of Excalibur, he’ll have the power to wage war on Earth and the world of Faerie. With the help of her friend, Wally, Ariane has retrieved one piece of the sword, but now she must find the second piece quickly. She thinks it’s somewhere in France but she’ll have to find a way to get herself and Wally across the ocean first. Things get complicated as Wally begins to suspect that Ariane’s power is changing her. Ariane isn’t sure if she needs Wally anymore and begins pushing him away. Rex Major has a plan to get to the second shard and his power over technology is only helping him act upon it….

Song of the Sword
Coteau Books / 11 December 2014

Song of the Sword by Edward Willett Published by Coteau Books Review by Alison Slowski $14.95 ISBN 9781550505801 Song of the Sword: Shards of Excalibur Book One opens a door for readers to a new teen fantasy. Fifteen-year-old Ariane Forsythe is tired of being shunted back and forth through foster care after being abandoned by her mother two years previously. She is frustrated by being bounced from school to school because of her recent history of getting in fights with bullies. Things start to look up for her, however, when she comes under the protective wing of her Aunt Phyllis, who had been battling cancer in the hospital during Ariane’s stays in various foster homes. But things get complicated, when, in between worrying about being bullied and harassed by girls at her new school, Ariane inherits a brand new power. A power that was first bequeathed to her mother, but her mother rejected and was declared mentally insane. This is the power of the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend. Ariane learns to control her new power as she embraces her inheritance of being the Lady of the Lake. Only Wally, her new friend, can mitigate the potential disasters…