Author Archives: Patricia Sandberg

About Patricia Sandberg

About the Reviewer: Patricia Sandberg escaped a law career and became a writer. Her short stories have been shortlisted in competitions, published at The Cabinet of Heed and in the Lit Mag Love Anthology. She is hard at work on a World War I historical novel. Her 2016 award-winning, nonfiction book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake: Gunnar Mines, a Canadian Story is about life in a uranium mine in northern Canada during the height of the Cold War.

Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson

Author Gil Adamson has returned to the literary scene with Ridgerunner, a sequel to her debut award-winning novel The Outlander. William Moreland, the character who captured the heart of Mary Boulton, says in The Outlander:

"There is a poster up on the wall about me. They call me the Ridgerunner, which is a good name, since they could as easily call me ‘that bastard.’ I am a pain in their necks and they can’t wait to get rid of me."

It seems Moreland’s old ways haven’t changed as Ridgerunner opens in 1917 in the southern Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta. Mary is dead but her presence lingers. Unable to look after their young son Jack and earn money by legitimate means, Moreland leaves the boy in the care of a former nun so he can garner enough funds to support the child. Continuing his old patterns, he engages in thievery and is soon on the run. While waiting for a meal, he reflects:

"He was not a soldier come back from war, not a park ranger, not any sort of a good man. In fact, to his own astonishment, he had firm plans to become even worse."

The son Jack is a mix of bravery and the bravado of youth. He is also perceptive. His father had once told him that if he was afraid of doing something, that he was then obliged to do it.

"The kid had … immediately understood the trick of it. If you are not afraid, you’ll do it anyway, because why not. If you are afraid, you’re obligated to overcome your fear. So there was only one choice: do it."

The former nun is a terrifying portrait of twisted love and psychosis as she manipulates Moreland and then the son to achieve her goals.

The house had spent another night alight and heated, and its sole occupant was ablaze, too.

"When the water was ready she set his clothes on his breakfast chair and filled the washtub. Soap flakes came out of the box waxy and they clung to her hand, so she plunged her fist into the stinging water and swished them off, staring down into that milky liquid, the unseen hand shrieking until it went numb and the indignation in her chest abated a little. Pain helped."

This literary novel is set in the Canadian wild west but gives new life to the western genre. Its tension is more slow boil than explosive. The characters are rugged and warped, and some manage to be endearing. They have their own sense of honour and levels of self-awareness and understanding. Their suffering–and there’s lots of it–is so excruciatingly portrayed, it feels personal, but love in all its complexity is at the root of everything.

The one constant in the book is the harsh landscape of the southern Rockies which affects much of the plot:

"… a town may spring up and grow where none was before, a road maybe diverted, bridges rot and fall into the river. But a mountain will always look the same, and the canyon at its foot will not move; the land is as unchanging as the stars, and just as useful for navigation."

And change is coming. The story is set in the last days of World War I and the aftermath of the devastating Frank Slide. Railways and roadwork are breaching the wilderness and transforming the town of Banff; even the individualism of the characters is challenged.

I loved every word in this book, and it is back on my pile of books to reread. Ridgerunner is the winner of the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.


GIL ADAMSON is the critically acclaimed author of Ridgerunner, which won the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was named a best book of the year by the Globe and Mail and the CBC. Her first novel, The Outlander, won the Dashiell Hammett Prize for Literary Excellence in Crime Writing, the First Novel Award, the ReLit Award, and the Drummer General’s Award. It was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, CBC Canada Reads, and the Prix Femina in France; longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and chosen as a Globe and Mail and Washington Post Top 100 Book. She is also the author of a collection of linked stories, Help Me, Jacques Cousteau, and two poetry collections, Primitive and Ashland. She lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press; Reprint edition (May 12 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 456 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 148700656X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487006563

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Patricia Sandberg
Some Rights Reserved  

Pigeon Soup & Other Stories by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli

Pigeon Soup & Other Stories, published by Inanna Publications and Education Inc., opens with a quotation from Charlotte Brontë: “The shadows are as important as the light.”

Author Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli adopts this phrase as a guide as she dishes up plenty of shadows including cultural and generational differences, gender expectations for women, and the experiences of Italian immigrants far from their homeland. Add in narratives relating to racism, bullying and sexual abuse familiar to all, regardless of background, and you might think the book would be a difficult read. But the author often lightens the dark themes with humour, optimism, acceptance and understanding.

Ms. Battigelli’s Italian heritage plays a significant role in the stories. And as you might guess from the title, she offers a culinary and olfactory feast that includes such delicacies as pigeon meat, sausage, and blood pudding. Throughout the book, food binds people together, heals wounds and comforts.

Characters are deftly described. In the eponymous story “Pigeon Soup,” the cabbie takes two travellers on a wild ride. A string of red peppers hangs from the rear-view mirror, and his grin exposes nicotine-stained teeth and one gold cap. To one of the passengers, the driver smells like “the shot his grandmother usually put in her morning espresso per rinforzare il cuore––to strengthen the heart.

In “Black as Tar,” a young boy notices the new kid across the newly tarred road. “He sat in between his mother’s potted geraniums like a garden gnome ornament: knees up to his chin, pixy face in his hands, a glazed look on his face and his mouth half-open.”

In “Francesca’s Ways,” the complexities of family relationships play out over an afternoon of sausage making. A young woman (Angie) steps in to help her mother Francesca make sausages, replacing her deceased father who used to fulfil this role. When Angie doesn’t fill the sausages like her father once did, she draws her mother’s ire. Francesca criticizes her daughter’s life decisions, and the daughter bristles even as she notes signs of her mother’s ageing. Like tying off the ends of the sausages, Angie works toward a subtle reconciliation:

"Angie watched as her mother placed the last sausage link on the table. For how many years had those hands performed this ritual? Forty, maybe fifty, first with her grandparents and parents, then with her husband. Now, even with the latter gone, Francesca still clung to the traditions. Perhaps they brought her solace, Angie thought, forgetting the criticisms and harsh words uttered earlier and feeling sorry for the lonely, embittered woman across from her.”

Many of the stories reflect childhood memories or are told from a child’s perspective, and the reader acutely feels the character’s pain. Ms. Battigelli adroitly tempers this reaction, however, as her characters find hope, generosity, and resilience. And like the pigeon soup that offers healing (and sometimes bones on which to choke), grandmother Nonna’s shawl wraps those who suffer.

Pigeon Soup & Other Stories is a new and compelling short story collection.


At three years of age, Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli immigrated from Calabria, Italy, to Sudbury, Ontario, Canada with her family. During her teaching career, she received four OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association) Best Practice Awards for her unique strategies in early literacy and other initiatives. An alumna of the Humber School for Writers, her writing has been published in nineteen anthologies. Her novel, La Brigantessa, published in 2018, won a Gold Medal for Historical Fiction in the 2019 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards. La Brigantessa was also a finalist for the 2019 Canadian Authors Association Fred Kerner Book Award and the 2019 Northern Lit Award. Her children’s book, Pumpkin Orange, Pumpkin Round, was published in the fall of 2019, and she has published two novels with Harlequin UK (2018, 2020). She lives in Sudbury.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Inanna Publications (June 10 2021)
  • Paperback ‏ :‎ 80 pages
  • Print  : 978-1-77133-793-9  
  • ePUB  : 978-1-77133-794-6  
  • PDF  : 978-1-77133-795-3  ‎ 
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Patricia Sandberg
Some Rights Reserved  

The Narrows of Fear by Carol Rose GoldenEagle

The Narrows of Fear, known as Wapawikoscikanik in Cree, was the site of a massacre in 1729 of Cree women and children by the Sioux. The Cree retaliated and killed all but one of the Sioux attackers. This area in northern Saskatchewan near Deschambault Lake is where the story takes place.

We meet an engaging cast of female characters: an elder named Nina who shares the wisdom of generations past; Sandy, a journalist, who is visiting her biological family which she found only the year before; her sister Charlene who has recently lost her husband; and Mary Ann who is struggling with hidden painful memories. Together they are working on healing and rebuilding. Men include the recently widowed Gabriel; his son whose sexual identity troubles his father; and John Wayne who embodies the struggle between good and evil.

“[The Narrows of Fear] is a story of people not merely surviving but surmounting the challenges they face.”

GoldenEagle shares many aspects of Cree culture such as smudging ceremonies, making drums, the pleasures of cooking, and the comfort of Wihkaskwapoy, the wild mint tea. Spirituality and connection to the land are present in almost everything the characters do. A cardinal is a sign someone who loves you is visiting from the spirit world. A man with horns might come to the rescue and Little People keep children from harm. Messages come during the night on hind legs.

Women are key to spiritual connection. Nina makes ribbon skirts which “are considered sacred, a symbol of resilience and survival because they touch the ground and connect to spirit.” Wearing these skirts, the women attend a moon ceremony. They will “sing to Grandmother Moon and ask for guidance.” And reflecting the dichotomy of two faiths, a woman travels with a St. Christopher medal and sweet grass.

There is a recognition that women are the leaders and nurturers. Nina says:

Our men, so many of them, are damaged. It’s our women who rise above. Always have. We are the ones who raise the sons and daughters while these men run away, creating even more children and then abandoning them, too. … 
Fact is, we can no longer wait for the leaders. We are the leaders. We are the teachers. As women.

As befitting its name, this book does not shy away from hard truths. Some passages are difficult to read, especially knowing that they reflect the truth of Indigenous people. These include the impacts of separating families, abuses of foster homes and residential schools, bans on cultural practices such as smudging, loss of language, and the forced relinquishment of Indian Status to obtain education or jobs. Pain plays out in reliance on alcohol, and sometimes rape and other violence. GoldenEagle makes these consequences real in the lives of her characters but also leavens the story with much good-humoured banter.

The book is a story of people not merely surviving but surmounting the challenges they face. Narrows of Fear is an important contribution to Indigenous literature. Highly recommended.

*The Narrows of Fear has won the Indigenous Peoples’ Writing Award for 2021 (Saskatchewan Book Awards).

Carol Rose GoldenEagle is Cree and Dene with roots in Sandy Bay, northern Saskatchewan. She is an award-winning published novelist, poet, playwright, visual artist, and musician. Her works have previously been published using the surname, Daniels. She now chooses to use her traditional name. She is the author of the award-winning novel Bearskin Diary (2015) and the recently published Bone Black (2019). Her debut poetry volume, Hiraeth, was published in 2018 and was shortlisted for the 2019 Saskatchewan Book Awards. As a visual artist, her work has been exhibited in art galleries across Saskatchewan and Northern Canada. As a musician, a CD of women’s drum songs, in which Carol is featured, was recently nominated for a Prairie Music Award. Before pursuing her art on a full-time basis, Carol worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in television and radio at APTN, CTV, and CBC. She lives in Regina Beach, Saskatchewan.

  • Published: October 30, 2020
  • ISBN: 978-1-77133-789-2 – $22.95
  • ISBN: 978-1-77133-790-8 – $11.99
  • Paperback: 240 pages

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Patricia Sandberg
Some Rights Reserved  

Finding the Daydreamer by Estella Kuchta

Finding the Daydreamer opens with Annabelle and her three-year-old daughter Katie on the run. It is nighttime.

Night blurs the edges of things, like cold and fear. Blankets and air. Thought and premonition. The ghosts of glaciers came down from the mountains. They drifted into the valley, rippling over the wild grass and fiddling with skeleton leaves in the moonlight.

She reaches for the comfort of her rifle, aware that grizzlies, black bears, moose, and cowboys all present a danger. She says, “… who can sleep with one hand on death?”
Annabelle says, “I’ve not started at the beginning. Time ties itself in knots. The middles of stories lead to beginnings. Beginnings loop through to ends. One can lose their way in remembering.”

The narrative returns to the events that preceded their flight. It is the Depression. Annabelle lives with her husband Hugh and daughter at an isolated ranch in the wilds of Cariboo country in central British Columbia. Ranch life is made harder by Hugh’s cold and threatening nature. But Annabelle is a dreamer, and “When the beef is tasteless, the feet are achy, and the ill mood of a husband sends a chill, [she] simply drift[s] away.” She allows herself to dream of a new life when there is an immediate and mutual attraction between her and a cowboy who comes to work on the ranch: “I’m like a moth moving toward some undetermined source of light. No plan. Just blindly drifting forward.”

Then she catches Hugh in a brutal act, and he attacks her. She tries to come to grip with the escalating situation, reflecting:

This is an old story. Its tattered pages lay scattered all across the country. Perhaps across all countries. Tucked under mattresses. Patched over ripped nightgowns. Folded like a bandage under a scarf where no one can see. This old story says truth doesn’t matter. In the wake of abuse, silence becomes the new language. Many are forced to speak it. This old story says there is no story. This old story says forgive and forget. Other women do it.

Annabelle knows she can’t do it. She and Katie must escape. Her romantic attraction seems validated when, in true Western fashion, the cowboy rides to the rescue. But Annabelle learns again that nothing is what it seems and that she must rely on her own instincts and abilities to save herself and Katie from Hugh who is urgently pursuing them. Suspense mounts as Annabelle encounters human and animal perils challenges from the land and her own frailties. When she encounters the Xat’sull – Shuswap people, she learns of the horror of residential school. One of the many pleasures of the book is Katie who is remarkably astute and verbal for someone so young.

Kuchta’s language is so lyrical, poetic and evocative that a reader might easily immerse in the simple enjoyment of her words. That, however, would do a disservice to the story as the author skillfully depicts the Cariboo – a place dear to my heart, life on a ranch, cattle drives, the struggle between dreams and reality, and the constraints placed on women by men.

Annabelle’s romantic nature leads to my only quibble with an ending that seems too easy and a little too perfect. That aside, Finding the Daydreamer is a highly enjoyable read.

Estella Kuchta is a writer, researcher, and postsecondary instructor in Vancouver. She also has the distinction of having lived on an isolated mountaintop for two years with no electricity while raising her infant son. Her creative writing and journalism projects have been published, aired, and broadcast in newspapers and literary magazines, and on radio and TV in Canada and the United States.

  • Publisher: Elm Books; 2020
  • ISBN: 9781941614-32-7
  • ISBN: 978-1941614327
  • Pages: 230

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Patricia Sandberg
Some Rights Reserved  

Two White Queens and The One-Eyed Jack, By Heidi von Palleske

How can you not pick up a book with the title Two White Queens and The One-eyed Jack? Such a title promises an out-of-the-ordinary experience, and author Heidi Von Palleske delivers, starting with the unusual cast of characters and a penchant for eye trauma.

A young boy’s act unintentionally results in another boy losing an eye. A third boy has been blind in one eye since birth and doesn’t know it. Two albino twin sisters with a troubled family history have reduced vision as part of their albinism. The lives of these characters, their families and others intertwine during the story. Family tragedy, abuse, betrayal and the many faces of guilt form a backdrop to the story. Characters search for love and acceptance. Longing transforms to belonging. Guilt encounters change, forgiveness and yes, sometimes retribution. The past comes back to haunt and fulfill.

Sight in its physical and metaphorical sense features prominently in the narrative. A Berlin ocularist makes glass eyes, perfect eyes that will never see, to replace missing ones. I found him to be the most human and interesting of the characters. Each year he makes replacement eyes for himself in case he loses his sight. These eyes reflect changes as he ages: an extra vein, a cloudiness, a tinge of yellow. He wants the orbs to reflect what is inside the person’s soul. He says to the boy who lost his eye:

“… there are two types of seeing … the outward-looking and inward-looking…. I will make you the best eye possible, and you will have to start doing the seeing. Inward-seeing. And that, my new friend, is called insight.”

Palleske uses juxtaposition effectively. While it is the twins’ vision that is impaired, people with fully functioning eyesight see only the girls’ whiteness. A woman who fled Germany and the holocaust offers the twins the security they long for. One of the one-eyed boys becomes a photographer where monocular vision is an asset. It takes the loss of her son’s sight for a woman to see the failure in her own marriage. A man who has been blind to what has been happening in his family provides a resolution.

I loved the quirkiness of the characters. This is a dense book with a large field of characters and multiple storylines that required Palleske’s deft hand to knit it together. Two White Queens and The One-Eyed Jack is published by Dundurn.

Heidi von Palleske is a writer, actor, and activist. She has written poetry, articles, and fiction, and won the H.R. Percy Novel Prize for They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore. Heidi spends time on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts but calls Toronto home.

  • PUBLISHER: Dundurn; 2021
  • ISBN: 9781459746787
  • Pages: 288

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Whole Singing Ocean by Jessica Moore

The Whole Singing Ocean weaves abuse on board a school ship known as L’Ecole en Bateau with parallel stories in the author’s family. The ship operated in the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic from 1969 until 2002 and offered alternative learning. For many of the 400 boys and sixty girls who sailed on the ship, however, it was a venue for sexual abuse perpetrated by Leonid Kameneff, a former child psychotherapist and owner of the school, and other adults. Authorities ignored years of allegations by former students. Finally, in 2013, Kameneff was sentenced to twelve years in prison. Two other staff served lesser sentences.

Framed as a long poem, the stories unfold partly in prose form and include memoir and investigative documenting. The narrative is non-linear. As Moore says,

Lines go blurry. Story swerves

And then you have to

sidle up to it, just like a scared

animal don’t

look it in the eye.

The narrator visits an old friend, a boat builder who had been a child on the ship. The builder has always claimed he wasn’t in the inner circle, he never saw it, it never happened to him. The narrator probes and finds:

This story unfolding at the rate that I write

Each of us––story, boat builder, me––just keeping up

No that’s not true. The story has no effort

The story has no imperative

(Or does it?) 

As she continues to investigate, the narrator wonders, “What is it that compels me?” The answer is revealed in the abuse both she and her mother suffered. The story does have its own imperative. It’s a story that won’t go away.

“It’s in the simple words where the horror lies.”

For this reviewer it is the understated way Moore reveals the abuse that is most powerful, stating there is “nothing so horrifying as something different in the shape of someone you know.” And Moore employs rich metaphors and imagery. The ocean where cold deep layers rise to the top during the Nortada winds, like her own “rich inward dark.” The gyre of ocean plastics is toxic waste like what abuse sufferers carry within. Whale “song can go on for over an earthly year” …

and then there you are

just you and the whale

With her you are the vast mirroring sea. You are

the whole singing ocean. You are beheld

held in that eye and you 

are whole 

Moore questions who owns the story of the boat builder, the libertine vision of freedom espoused by the Ecole, her mother’s story, her own? How do abused victims hold both the horror and the joy of life?

The Whole Singing Ocean is an evocative and challenging read.

Jessica Moore is the author of a collection of poems, Everything, now (Brick Books, 2012), and the translator for Mend the Living (Talonbooks, 2016), a translation of the novel by Maylis de Kerangal, which was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize and won the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017. Moore’s writing has also appeared recently in BOMBCanadian ArtArcCV2The New QuarterlyCarouselThe Volta and The Antigonish Review. Moore lives in Toronto, ON.

  • PUBLISHER: Nightwood Editions; 2020
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • ISBN: 9780889713789

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Twelve Miles to Midnight, by André Narbonne

The first three stories in this short story collection feature a young boy named Derek and his mother who are, for reasons we do not yet know, fleeing. The mother rousts the boy out of bed well past midnight to drive to check on their worldly possessions which are in a parked moving van on a highway. In this unsettled way, the reader embarks with Derek as he negotiates the perils of life as a child and outsider in a small town, isolation and responsibility in his job as an engineer at sea, and the flow and ebb of a relationship.

Narbonne, in an interview, described the collection as a dramatic arc which arrives in the last story as transformation. The title Twelve Miles to Midnight reflects the relationship of time to distance.

In ‘At Uchi Mine’, young Derek returns with a friend to an abandoned mine and thinks along the way, “There is an awesome familiarity and sense of ownership to the first stage of the journey that draws us into its calm. That emotion dwindles with each passing landmark until there are none left that I know–no landmarks, no comfort of predictability.”

“A good short story is not to be rushed but savoured.”

Patricia Sandberg

Narbonne draws on his work at sea for some of the stories. A chef on a tanker in ‘Separatists’ mourns the passing of René Lévesque, and a crew member comments that the chef “is not one of them” [separatists]. The chef reflects not simply on his personal isolation but on the solitary nature of life at sea: “One of them. The words stung as they always did. Everyone was one of something else, something other, to somebody. . . . There was no way of bridging the “one-of-them” gap. . . .”

‘In the House’, a man is facing his mortality. Described in a few direct words, “Jimmy had neither been a big man nor a thin man, but hard: a man of small strengths . . . ” and later, “He was a hellion, no longer a man of small strengths but a small man of cruel strength.” Yet, Jimmy finds the strength to complete one final act of love.

Two people meet one night by chance in ‘Enchantment of Circe’. Each deceives the other. As they learn more about each other, the woman says, “You know, a friend of mine once told me I live a double life. I said, No, I live one life that you know half of.” In that night, the man realizes the truth of the woman includes the spell she has cast on him.

A good short story is not to be rushed but savoured. These characters in transformation in Twelve Miles to Midnight are human and poignant, the stories so compelling that they stay with the reader long after the book is closed. For good reason, this collection was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award.

About the Author: A marine engineer by first trade, André Narbonne was living out of his duffel bag when he arrived in Halifax on a damaged tanker in the mid-eighties. He completed two degrees in English at Dalhousie University – where he was a Killam Scholar – and his Ph.D. in Canadian literature at the University of Western Ontario. He is a former chair of the Halifax chapter of the Canadian Poetry Association.

His short stories have won the Atlantic Writing Competition, the FreeFall Prose Contest, and the David Adams Richards Prize and were anthologized in Best Canadian Stories. He teaches English & Creative Writing at the University of Windsor and is the fiction editor of the Windsor Review.

  • Publisher : Black Moss Press; 1st Edition (April 22 2016)
  • Paperback : 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0887535593
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0887535598

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The East Side Of It All, by Joseph Dandurand

Joseph Dandurand, in his fourth book of poetry, lays bare the Indigenous experience in the rugged Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Lives filled with drugs and alcohol, injustice and abuse, poverty, death and despair that he treats with tenderness, understanding and compassion. Some are scenes or stories that we, as non-Indigenous people, think we know from reading newspapers or as bystanders or observers giving thanks for our secure harbours.

In the opening poem, ‘This is My Path’, Dandurand exposes the observers: “We close our eyes when a junkie slips by us on a freshly wetted sidewalk as the city tries and tries to wash away the odour of those who sleep beside the walls as if they await entry back into this castle where all the food is kept.” And Dandurand says: ‘I walk on, into the centre of hell . . .’

It is uncomfortable when the poet pokes at our smug safety, asleep in our beds, hearing only the squeaking wheels of carts collecting pop cans or beer cans in ‘Violins’.

. . . and the half-a-man stops and picks up an old needle and checks to see if it has a drink of the black demon but it never does so he tosses it for the next half-a-man to pick up and repeat as the squeaking wheels begin to sound like violins of a pathetic symphony . . .

Hope offered in the poems comes through memory and family and nature. And from the young who will take up the drum:

“. . . and they sing new songs and they stand and shout to the world that we are still here and will never leave . . . and we are the ancestors of our future as a child picks up a drum and begins to sing a new song given to him from long ago.”

In ‘There is Always Laughter,’ Dandurand writes, “Our people struggle but there is always laughter. This is a gift that will never be taken away nor will they ever change us. We even laugh at funerals, laughter covering the pain for yet another lost soul gone too young and too tragically.”

These painful and occasionally uplifting stories are told in stunningly direct and honest language, and though hard, must be read as we as settlers bear responsibility.

About the Author: Joseph Dandurand is a storyteller, poet, playwright and member of Kwantlen First Nation located on the Fraser River about twenty minutes east of Vancouver, BC. He resides there with his three children. Dandurand is the director of the Kwantlen Cultural Centre, artistic director of the Vancouver Poetry House and author of three other books of poetry, I Want (Leaf Press, 2015), Hear and Foretell (BookLand Press, 2015), and Sh:LAM (The Doctor) (Mawenzi Press, 2019 and one children’s book The Sasquatch, the Fire and the Cedar Baskets (Nightwood Editions, 2020). Sh:LAM (The Doctor) was shortlisted for the 2020 Dorothy Livesay BC Book Prize for Poetry.

  • Nightwood Editions
  • ISBN: 9780889713802
  • Paperback / softback
  • 5.5 in x 8.0 in – 96 pp

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis, a character perhaps as folkloric as her paintings, comes to life in Carol Bruneau’s reimagining of her in Brighten the Corner Where You Are.

Lewis has been depicted in books, films and plays. Certain facts are known–her struggle with disabilities including crippling rheumatoid arthritis, her marriage to the meanspirited, miserly alcoholic Everett Lewis, the gaily decorated one-room house where they lived in abject poverty, and the colourful scenes she painted of bucolic country life and sold for a few dollars each. She left no journals and aside from recollections from acquaintances and some interviews, her story is incomplete. We are left, as Maud says, with either “…pictures we paint of ourselves or pitchers of us that others pour out.”

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

Backed by research, Bruneau pours fiction and a keen instinct for the complications of a human life from her pitcher. The story begins with Lewis reflecting from the afterworld after her death in 1970. The reader is skillfully led through memories that jump through time with ease, the way a mind naturally works as one thought begets another.

In Brighten the Corner, Maud gains a fulsomeness. She is not simply a vision of misery and a subject of pity nor a model of indefatigable spirit and artistic joy, but a cauldron of divergent emotions and thoughts starting with her husband. She is grateful to be married and for the little he provides because how else would she survive: “Marriage being a dinghy you don’t want to stand up too straight in, lest it capsizes.” Her concern for him is a mixture of acceptance that she needs him and a kind of fondness. She gets frustrated and angry, then defends him, partly because she recognizes he too is a victim of life’s misfortune.

“So long as I could paint, I got through what the world dished out.”

Bruneau’s use of the first-person narrative adeptly creates Maud’s world. The reader perches on her shoulder, like her crow Matilda might have, to feel the cruel bite of teasing: “Lift your chin off your nick! Cripple!” We see Everett’s parsimony in a tea bag drying on a line above the stove, dangling “like a mermaid’s purse pegged between two of his socks.” We feel the shame as she and her husband skulk through a junkyard for her own wedding present and at the piss pot’s odour when a visitor enters. And we celebrate with her that her art made “grown adults get over themselves and their troubles, even if just for a moment, and smile, just smile.”

Bruneau’s Lewis embodies contradictions inherent in all of us. She can be canny or trusting, suspicious or accepting, resentful or grateful. Though she says, “Joy is a slippery thing,” overall, she is optimistic. Knowing people looked at her house as if it was a cage, she says, “Well, if it was a cage, I tried to make it like one you would put a beautiful pet bird in.”

In the book, Lewis says, “So long as I could paint, I got through what the world dished out.”

We admire her spirit and hope that this is true. This is a fine book bringing credible depth to an artist who, for all that she contributed to Nova Scotia lore, is largely unknown.

About the Author: Carol Bruneau is the author of three short story collections and four novels. Her first novel, Purple for Sky, won the 2001 Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award and the Dartmouth Book Award. Her 2007 novel, Glass Voices, was a Globe and Mail Best Book. Her reviews, stories, and essays have appeared nationwide in newspapers, journals, and anthologies, and two of her novels have been published internationally. 

  • Brighten the Corner Where You Are: A Novel Inspired by the Life of Maud Lewis
  • Paperback : 360 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771088834
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771088831
  • Publisher : Vagrant Press (Sept. 9 2020)

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Melt by Heidi Wicks

We meet Jess and Cait, best friends and cusp-millennials, in 2016 during a funeral reception for Jess’s mother. Cait comforts Jess while assessing her own complicated relationship with her husband, Jake.

As Jess notes, “Cait and Jake have been at each other for years. Pick-pick-picking like crows jabbing their beaks into other people’s garbage.” Cait, a CBC host and the more daring of the two, is about to make a significant life decision. Jess, a teacher, had opted for a ‘normal’ life with Dan and two boys, but now craves something different. Their choices and unexpected obstacles will lead them down roads they don’t always want and force them to make hard choices.

The reader will enjoy glimpses of St. John’s life through the lilt of locals’ conversation, treks through local landmarks, and humorous references such as “being sunburned like lobsters: The Newfoundland base tan.” And the story is enhanced by elements of Newfoundland history, such as the painful words of the federal fisheries minister still echoing from the 1992 moratorium declared on cod-fishing:

“You don’t have to abuse me!” shouted the minister. “I didn’t take the goddamned fish out of the water!” His tailored jacket, his Old Spice suffocated by the fishermen and women and plant workers’ salty tears, guts and souls, and way of life, splattered all across the wharf.

Cait recalls wanting to leave after high school as she too has a love/hate relationship for her home province:

The land of rain and drizzle and fog, or RDF as the locals affectionately and hatefully call it. The land of economic depression, stuck on a loop, decade after decade of bad decisions and utter bullshittery.

Melt is a modern relationship story: friends, husbands and wives, parents and children with the challenges that these connections bring. The author employs snappy, smart and frank dialogue to get into the minds and hearts of the two modern protagonists and adeptly builds scenes:

“Thump, thump, her heart’s in her throat, Pink Floyd soundtrack at top volume, like the idiosyncratic climax of the Atom Heart Mother suite. She plunges her hand into her bag, departing land and descending into a psychedelic abyss of oceanic life: Lip gloss. Tissues that may or may not be blotted with lipstick or boogers. Forgotten Happy Meal toys. A God-knows-how-old granola bar. Time is simultaneously warp speed and sloth slow. Finally, she fishes tweezers from her bag. “Keep him pinned there, Dan.”

Melt is an entertaining read for its demographic by a writer with literary chops. However, odd insertions into dialogue detracted somewhat from the writing in my view, as in this example: “So,” the sun warms Cait’s shoulders, “you’re working on something new here? What is it?”

About the Author: HEIDI WICKS has written for The Telegram, The Independent, Newfoundland Quarterly, CBC, and The Globe and Mail. In 2019, she won the Cox and Palmer Creative Writing Award. She lives in St. John’s.

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Breakwater Books (June 8, 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 9781550818246

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Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor

Taylor’s two-person play Cottagers and Indians was inspired by a years-long dispute between cottage owners on Pigeon Lake in Ontario and an Anishnawbe man seeding manoomin (wild rice) in their waterways.

In the play, Maureen Poole, a white woman at her lakeside split-level ranch house, and Arthur Copper, an Indigenous man in his canoe, face off over his seeding and harvesting of the once-flourishing Indigenous food, manoomin. The cottagers see the wild rice as a noxious weed that ruins property values, spoils their view and interferes with swimming and boating. The sound of ‘Gertie’, Arthur’s harvesting machine, irritates more than the noise of their Sea-Doos and power boats.

Maureen and her husband had researched the location for their cottage carefully before buying, even finding nearby ‘a nice First Nation’ with cheap gas and lovely beaded slippers for sale. Maureen is an obnoxiously self-righteous owner and yet as the play continues, we begin to empathize with her. She says, “Everything good in our family has happened out here in this cottage, on the lake.” They had planned to retire there, eventually leaving it to their children, but her husband has recently died. She returns to the cottage after his death with renewed determination to be the lake’s guardian.

Arthur is as convinced of the correctness of his position. The objects valued by the cottagers–Muskoka chairs, docks and skidoos to name a few–are an anathema to him. “A lake is so much more than a place to put your cottage,” he says. His bond with the lake is through his family’s long connection with the area and his Indigenous heritage. Manoomin provided his people with the protein and other nutrients they needed for good health in the past and he needs it for his own income. As the story unfolds, we learn that his daughter is another reason for his zeal. As well, his wife has left him and for comfort he heads out in his canoe. Again, we empathize.

“Why need a wife when you got a canoe? Now this here canoe is older than me. It’s got the wisdom of the ages in its keel, the knowledge of our ancestors in its ribs. The strength of our people in its gunwale. The varnish is all Caucasian though. I think that’s why it smells.”

In the same way as people changed the waterways and new plants choked out the manoomin, Arthur’s replanting is changing the lake back again. Arthur relates how “manoomin is more than just a plant” and how “we are more than just humans.” Everything is interrelated and “when a manoomin field dies, more than a few straggly plants are the casualties. It’s an entire biosphere.”

Maureen is a capable verbal adversary, but the best barbs are Arthur’s. He wrestles with how to reference white people. Are they ‘people of pallor’, ‘colour-challenged’, ‘pigment-denied’? Some of his best friends are white, or whitish … cream … snow … ivory… while Maureen is a ‘demon in khaki’, a ‘devil in flipflops’.

Cottagers and Indians raises weighty issues of food sovereignty, colonization, assimilation, property ownership, racism, and privilege. The play might be solemn except playwright Drew Taylor, a member of the Curve Lake First Nation, employs snappy humour to great effect, a feature which would be enhanced by live performance.

Cottagers and Indians: Shortlisted for the 2020 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour

About the Author: Ojibway writer Drew Hayden Taylor is from the Curve Lake Reserve in Ontario. He writes for the screen as well as the stage and contributes regularly to North American Native periodicals and national newspapers. Taylor’s many awards include the Canada Council Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award for Theatre (2009); the Governor General’s Award for Drama, Nominee (2006) In a World Created by a Drunken God; and the Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, Nominee (2005).

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Talonbooks (April 27 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1772012300
  • ISBN-13: 978-1772012309

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Summer Feet by Sheree Fitch, Pictures by Carolyn Fisher

Wherever you are this summer of 2020, with COVID swirling around and many needing comfort, what better than to pick up a book that reminds you of summers past? Sheree Fitch’s delightfully playful language would be a treat to read to young ones – after all, Summer Feet is a children’s book. Not being either a child or having a willing one nearby, I read it aloud to myself several times, revisiting the exuberance of summers past.

A quote on Fitch’s webpage expresses the feeling perfectly: “In the moment of the telling of the poem or the story there is the creation of a safe place.”

With a host of children’s books to her credit (as well as poetry, nonfiction, plays and novels for all ages), Sheree Fitch knows her audience. Her tongue-twisty language takes a child (or a child at heart) on a fun romp through the barefoot adventures of summers. You will remember them! Laugh as you read to your young ones. I love that she wrote two non-fiction books for children who are aspiring writers. And that she has made significant contributions to Canadian literature, education and worked as a literacy advocate and activist for social justice, especially on issues affecting women and children.

A smile starts with the book’s cover. Award-winning author/artist Carolyn Fisher pairs her whimsical and colourful artwork perfectly with Fitch’s language. Fisher’s credits include having her book Two Old Potatoes and Me featured on the PBS educational TV show Reading Rainbow.

It’s summer! So, kick off your shoes and participate in a “hazy-day, lazy-day [of]

word-swirling book-lovin’ sticky-sweet bare-naked summer feet!

About the Author: Sheree Fitch’s first two books, Toes in My Nose (1987) and Sleeping Dragons All Around (1989), launched her career as a poet, rhymester, and a “kind of Canadian female Dr. Seuss.” Fitch has won almost every major award for Canadian children’s literature since then, including the 2000 Vicky Metcalf Award for a Body of Work Inspirational to Canadian Children. She has over twenty-five books to her credit, including her bestselling and critically praised adult novel, Kiss the Joy As It Flies (2008). Fitch’s home base is the East Coast of Canada. Visit her at

About the illustrator: Award-winning artist/author Carolyn Fisher has illustrated seven children’s books, two of which she also wrote. Her most recent titles are Weeds Find a Way and Good Night, World. Her art has been exhibited in the US and Canada. In addition to teaching at art college for seven years, Carolyn has talked to thousands of kids in schools and libraries about making books. See or Instagram: @carolyn_fisher_illustration.

Title: Summer Feet
Author: Sheree Fitch
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing Limited
ISBN: 9781771088541

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Impurity by Larry Tremblay, Translated by Sheila Fischman

Larry Tremblay is a playwright, poet and essayist in addition to novelist, and we feel the playwright at work in this book as scenes shift before us. Tremblay plays with us. He walks us through a “trap full of mirrors” where reflections cannot be trusted. The play within the play, the book within the book told through multiple characters’ points of view.

“Like a trap made up of mirrors, like one prison that contains another.”

Impurity opens with successful novelist Alice Livingston’s memories, suspicions and guilt as she lights a candle in a columbarium chapel. She imagines her philosopher husband Antoine returning to their house empty of furniture save for a single painting she hates, a ‘maelstrom of blotches’ like a Rorschach test. She imagines him picking up a book called Impurity with that painting as its cover. The cover makes him afraid.

We learn that Alice dies the day she delivers her novel entitled A Pure Heart to her publisher. The book has parallels to Antoine’s and her lives. Is it autobiographical? What is Tremblay saying when Antoine picks up Impurity, not Alice’s A Pure Heart?

Thus, this book of 160 pages begins its web of deception. Throughout, the reader puzzles over which characters are deceiving and being deceived and whether the reader is also victim.

Antoine is cynical about life and love and dismissive of his wife’s talent. She tells him that her writing is building the world of tomorrow. “Just read my novels carefully. Between the lines there is space and time. That’s where everything happens. That’s where the world is bursting out, emerging from the present.” Six months after Alice’s death, a journalist asks his opinion of the book, and he says he does not know its name. He has not read it. He asks, “Was their shared life a hidden tragedy or the unruffled happiness of an uneventful life?” If the latter, why does his deceased wife’s judgment keep him awake at night? And who is Alice? As she says, “Words are never innocent.”

Between the lines there is space and time. That’s where everything happens.

Alice chose ‘Jonathan’ as their son’s name, the inspiration being Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the bird who “represents the search for oneself.” Antoine’s relationship with his now-adult son, like every relationship, is complicated: “He notices a spider on the ceiling. Imagines what it must be like up there, with eight eyes and eight legs. Would he be lonely? Would he spend the night lying in wait for prey? …. He closes his eyes. A mild fear, unnamed, sweeps over him like a breeze announcing a distant storm. He thinks about his son.”

Antoine identifies with Antoine Roquentin (character in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea) and says he seeks the truth about himself and others. His name evokes as well Antoine Saint-Exupéry, aviator and author of the Little Prince who travels the universe to gain wisdom. But what is the truth? What is love, what does it mean to be human, and which memories can be trusted? How can one betray the people one loves? These and other questions emerge throughout Impurity.

I thoroughly enjoyed the interlocking layers of this book. Entertaining and complex, Impurity invites a second reading between the lines.

About the Author: Larry Tremblay is a writer, director, actor and specialist in Kathakali, an elaborate dance theatre form which he has studied on numerous trips to India. He has published more than twenty books as a playwright, poet, novelist and essayist, and he is one of Quebec’s most-produced and translated playwrights. Tremblay teaches acting at l’École supérieure de théâtre de l’Université du Québec à Montréal.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Talonbooks
  • ISBN: 9781772012477

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Skin House by Michael Blouin

Skin House got me with this line on its back cover: “Skin House is a story about two guys who end up in the same bar they started out in.” I thought, sweet, a kind of modern Waiting for Godot story. Wrong. But oh, so good in what it does do.

Take a down-and-out guy who stocks store shelves, add an ex-girlfriend who hates him while he still loves everything about her, his father Otis who lives unhappily in a nursing home and wonders who his son is, and his best friend, bald Gerry, who works in a meat department in a grocery store and competes with the guy for top rung on the loser ladder. Throw in a girlfriend, a guy named Socks, and lots of complications. Oh yes, and the author has a role, talks to us when he wants to tell us something. Make it funny and tragic as they try to deal with life, and you have the inventive and compelling novel by the accomplished and award-winning Michael Blouin, published by Anvil Press Publishers, Vancouver.

The sad bits are funny and the funny bits are sad. Like his attack on a broken washing machine:

I went back to the shed and got the sledge hammer. I remember how the plastic knobs shot right off the machine like flying saucers lifting off. I kept at it until my shoulders ached and a cold spit was draining off me and the machine just kind of melted into the ground but with a lot of noise. It was time lapse photography. The sixties had Woodstock. The seventies had the moon landing. The eighties had the Berlin Wall, or maybe that was the nineties. Doesn’t matter. Then there was 9/11. I’m not comparing my washing machine massacre to any of these things. I just felt better when it was done, like something had changed. It was what you call cathartic. Maybe the moon landing was in the sixties, I don’t know.

And the author warns after the hero suffers a mild injury to a personal appendage:

Careful this book doesn’t rip you up. I mean these are just things that happened. Don’t take it all too serious. We’ll get through this if we all just stick together and keep a clear head. Okay. Here we go. I’m talking around the fact that we’re having sex again right now, right here on this bed corner. Mind? I’m not going to tell you all the details. I’m busy. Got my hands full. Do you mind? Okay.

The book is irreverent and saucy, unexpected and poignant, none of which gives it enough credit. Blouin writes with spare prose, every word perfect, and repeats the F word A LOT because what else fits with a story where everything has a “hole down which, lately, I cannot help but fall” moment? Conversations and life incidents flip around as if the characters are caught in a giant rotating gumball machine and you don’t know what’s going to pop out next, except you know it’s likely going to be bad, and they may or may not be the cause of their own misfortune but you are going to cheer for them anyway.

I am putting Skin House on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Fiction. Five stars!

About the Author: Michael Blouin has won the ReLit Award (Best Novel), been shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award, the bp Nichol Award, the CBC Literary Award, and is a winner of the Diana Brebner Award and the 2012 Lampman Award from ARC magazine. He is the author of five previous books of fiction and poetry and his work has been included in several anthologies. He has been published in most Canadian literary magazines including Arc, Descant, Branch, Dragnet, The Antigonish Review, Event, Queen’s Quarterly, Grain and The Fiddlehead. 

Skin House by Michael Blouin
Anvil Press

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Anvil Press (Sept. 23 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1772141186
  • ISBN-13: 978-1772141184

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Rising Tides: Reflections for Climate Changing Times, edited by Catriona Sandilands

In the introduction to Rising Tides, Sandilands states that climate change stories “focus increasingly on thornier questions of persistence, adaptation, resistance, and renewal” instead of apocalypse. Ultimately, the short fiction, poetry and personal climate testimonies in this climate change anthology are about hope.

“The way rain falls the spring of life seed to root, stem to leaves. Oh trees, weather maker, life shaper, air sweet. Language of snail, moss lichen. Everything returns …” The intricate simplicity and beauty of Hiromi Goto’s language in ‘This is the Way’ particularly resonated with me, reinforcing one of the anthology’s messages to observe and listen to the change around us.

The writers are uniquely and intensely involved with the environment as storytellers, activists, researchers, teachers and passionate observers. Many are Indigenous, people deeply bonded to the land that is changing beneath them. These relationships enhance the authenticity and rawness of the anthology.

“Ultimately, the short fiction, poetry and personal climate testimonies in this climate change anthology are about hope.”

Some of the narratives reflect on the disappearance of small, known species, many of which pass unnoticed. In ‘Absence’ (Elysia French), a child asks if a dead bee had a family. The child’s aunt asks, “What did the death of this singular bee mean for her colony and for the human and non-human networks it supported? In ‘Five Ways to Talk about Twisted Oak Moss’ (Holly Schofield), the narrator seeks a vanishing species and asks what effect it will have if it disappears. She states, “We simply don’t know. When we decide we do need to listen to twisted oak moss, will it still be here?”

Water in its many forms is a common theme. Jamie Snook, in ‘Futures on Ice’, writes how his community in southern Labrador can no longer rely on generations of knowledge to cross winter ice. “Thoughts continually run through our minds about the safety and the thickness, the conditions and quality of the ice we are crossing, knowing what can happen if we have misread the conditions. But the ice also brings a sense of awe. And the ice brings us to places that we love, and every year we hope for good ice–ice the way it has always been.”

“Rising Tide’s power is in the rereading and reflecting on the messages within.”

I read this book while the COVID-19 epidemic was/is raging through the world. It was impossible not to intertwine these two challenges in my mind. An editorial in The Narwhal magazine recently stated, “The story of COVID-19 is at its core, a story of humanity’s ever-encroaching relationship with all other living things on this planet.” The same is true of climate change. The contributors to Rising Tides question, provoke, express personal emotion and invite change. What transpires in the future depends on us.

In ‘All Our Relations: Climate Change Storytellers’, Deborah McGregor and Hillary McGregor say we need to “act on the stories being told by the earth.”

These are not stories to be consumed at one sitting. Rising Tide’s power is in the rereading and reflecting on the messages within.

Contributors include: Catriona Sandilands (editor and writer), Carleigh Baker, Stephen Collis, Ashlee Cunsolo, Ann Eriksson, Rosemary Georgeson, Hiromi Goto, Laurie D. Graham, David Huebert, Sonnet L’Abbé, Timothy Leduc, Christine Lowther, Kyo Maclear, Emily McGiffin, Deborah McGregor, Philip Kevin Paul, Richard Pickard, Holly Schofield, Betsy Warland, Evelyn White, Rita Wong and many more.

Rising Tides: Reflections for Climate Changing Times, edited by Catriona Sandilands
Caitlin Press

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved