All posts filed under: Reviews

Review of E. Alex Pierce’s “To float, to drown, to close up, to open.”

by Joan Shillington To float, to drown, to close up, to openE. Alex PierceUniversity of Alberta Press (2020)ISBN 978-1-77212-453-8 In the last poem of her second collection of poetry, Nova Scotian E. Alex Pierce writes: …Whatdrives the heart – to view a life lived backwards, unspooling. (Page 71) which is what these well-crafted poems do. Pierce creates movements in the rhythm of the estuary of Sable River, where she grew up, opening, closing up, floating and drowning as consistently as moon directs the tides. The musicality of Beethoven and Bach symphony in the background throughout. She draws her reader inside her poetry as she drew herself Inside the music now, shebegins to breathe. The notes carry her. (Page 35) This collection is divided into four sections. The first, To float, to drown, to close up, to open – a throat explores childhood memories of grandparents’ homes, the delicate ecosystem: … soft fragments of rock,each piece worn flat – from shale, from sandstone, from slate,enough mica from granite to make it sparkle – tiny piecesstuck to …

Review of Jennifer Spruit’s “A Handbook for Beautiful People.”

by Kim McCullough A Handbook for Beautiful PeopleJennifer SpruitInanna Publications (2017)ISBN: 978-1-77133-441-9 A Handbook for Beautiful People by former Calgarian Jennifer Spruit is a gentle love letter to the imperfect and broken set against the backdrop of the 2013 floods. A compelling and complicated story of making impossible choices and finding grace, Spruit’s characters are at times quirky and original, at times desperate and violent, but always filled with fierce love for one another. Marla, a young woman with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is a free-spirited, often flighty soul, with a strong voice and a murky past that she battles to keep hidden from her emotionally-distant boyfriend, Liam. A hallmark of Marla’s FASD is her struggle to stay focused on following through on attaining even the smallest goal. Marla is late for work, forgets to return from breaks, and is easily diverted from her duties. But she knows for sure that she loves Liam, and that she is good for him, even if he sometimes seems embarrassed and overwhelmed by her. Liam is a straight-laced music teacher …

Review of Basma Kavanagh’s “Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots”

by Megan Nega Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots Basma KavanaghFrontenac House Poetry (2018)ISBN: 978-1-927823-81-1 Basma Kavanagh’s Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots is a long-form poem written in earthy quatrains that are woven together with delicate alliterative sound and entrancing imagery. Like streams driven by gravity towards a great body of water, Kavanagh’s narrative quatrains flow together under the weighty contemplation of one ultimate topic—heritage.  Kavanagh’s work nimbly braids three narrative threads—Ahli, Astura, and Ana—through the stanzas. Ahli explores Kavanagh’s Lebanese heritage and family history, Astura binds the oppression of women with environmental crisis, and the third thread, Ana, explores the relationship between poetry, language, and life. The overlaying of story allows Kavanagh to uncover the many histories of her identity.  Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots is a poem enchanted by the science and mystery of creation. Notice how effortlessly Kavanagh blurs the line between the creation of human life and the crafting of a poem: An embryo grows cell by cell, a poem word by word –kalima bi kalima. From a kernel, …

Review of Conrad Scott’s “Waterline Immersion”

by John Wall Barger  Waterline Immersion by Conrad ScottFrontenac House (2019) ISBN 9781927823972 In Waterline Immersion, Conrad Scott enacts the birth of the world using language that shifts tectonically under our feet—histo-geographic, anthropological, geological, mythic, personal—telling every story, all narratives, via Egypt (Horus), Norway (Odin), Iceland (Poetic Edda), and his own genealogy via Denmark, Ireland, France, Scotland. Yes, this book is ambitious. It’s also riveting.  Canadian geology is the central focus. Scott figuratively excavates Kamloops and Acadia and Glacial Lake Thompson—always seeking the heart of the place, keeping history, and “the long view of time” (33) in mind. “We all,” he says, “journey back to the glacier” (30). At times the mythic language of Waterline Immersion echoes Seamus Heaney’s North “leathery old stench of the bog,” (16) and Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems “All memory now / hunches / in glaciers of the mind / as we speak ourselves / into thawing,” (31). Scott’s mentor Don McKay—the book Strike/Slip in particular—was an inspiration.  Scott balances mytho-geological deep-dives with sobering reminders of climate change “Fossil elixirs consumed, / …

Review of Naomi K. Lewis’ “Tiny Lights for Travellers”

by Ryan Stromquist  Tiny Lights for Travellers Naomi K. LewisUniversity of Alberta Press (2019) ISBN 978-1-77212-448-4  Naomi Lewis’ memoir, Tiny Lights for Travellers, begins with an epigraph from Alain De Botton’s The Art of Travel: [a]nd I wondered, with mounting anxiety, what I was to do here, what I was to think (1). Anxiety over physical, spiritual, and the familial space in the universe is the crux of the memoir as it follows Lewis while she travels from Canada to Europe to take the same path as her Jewish grandfather (Opa) once did while escaping from a Nazi occupied Netherlands:  And by spring, I wondered what Oma would think of the fierce longing that had come over me to get as far from Calgary and the condo as I could, to take Opa’s journal and his map, and to follow it. (17)  Throughout the memoir, Lewis highlights her complex relationship with her Jewish roots and the generational trauma fromthe holocaust. The complexities of this relationship are compounded by Lewis’ mostly secular parents, the death of …

Review of Sharanpal Ruprai’s “Pressure Cooker Love Bomb”

by Nikki Reimer  Pressure Cooker Love Bomb by Sharanpal RupraiFrontenac House (2019) ISBN 978-1-92782-383-5  Sex, love and food: the lyricism  The Instant Pot is all the rage right now, but what, exactly, is a ‘Pressure Cooker Love Bomb’?  Sharanpal Ruprai’s second book of poetry, Pressure Cooker Love Bomb, holds the answers. A lyrical, poetic dive into family expectations, arranged marriage, queer love, interracial relationships, and yes, cooking, it explores all the ways that a twenty-first century Sikh woman might find love on the prairies, might keep warm, might keep alive, and might write her own happy ending.  From the gentle epigraph, “create love,” (front-matter) to the final exhortative demand, “#lovemenow,” (75) Ruprai approaches her subjects with unflinching emotional honesty and great care.  Her minimalist word choices belie the impact of precisely chosen words. One rule for cooking offers “take up your rolling pin, yes / the one your mother beat you with” (13). Whole narratives waft out from those words; the weight of love, the weight of trauma. How the same object can be used to …

Review of Laura Zacharin’s “Common Brown House Moths”

by Beth Everest Common Brown House Mothsby Laura Zacharin Frontenac House (2019) ISBN: 9781927823989 Common Brown House Moths by Laura Zacharin is anything but common. Already the first line, of the first poem, tantalizes my senses. The poet’s word choice and use of image are stellar. “Amygdala” is compared to “golf ball innards;” and then, the evocative “loop after loop of rubber strand stretched” (7) becomes the interconnected imagery of loss and memory and grief and sorrow that link one poem to the next and the next. Take the final image of the first poem, for example: “newspapers flapping in a tree” is not only a strong visual in its own right, but it serves as metaphor for small glimpses in different lives, and links to the second poem with “glancing up from his paper, spread out / when she tried to explain how nerve fibres/branch” (8). We find echoes of the newspaper, plus other kinds of papers, such as in “Shadow Twin” (35), we have the character complement to Rosie; and in “A Beginner’s …

Review of JoAnn McCaig’s “An Honest Woman”

by Sarah Butson An Honest Womanby JoAnn McCaigThistledown Press (2019)ISBN 978-1-77187-178-5 JoAnn McCaig’s second novel, An Honest Woman, is not your average read. If you are looking for a linear story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending, you won’t be finding it in this beautifully-crafted piece of metafiction. Its structure is layered like an onion and tells several stories about a middle- aged single mother writer with an erotic fantasy who writes about a middle-aged single mother who writes erotic fantasy about a middle-aged single mother writer. But wait. There is so much more.  I knew nothing about metafiction when I began to read. Partway through I got the gist of it. Brilliant, I thought, to write with the insertion of self as author inside the creation of characters’ personas and circumstances, commenting on the actual process of story-writing. Quite aside from enjoying the read, that for me was exciting new learning. The onion layering was also a new experience in my reading fiction. I needed to flip a few times back and …

Interview with Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Stella Leventoyannis Harvey is a Canadian author and the founder and artistic director of the Whistler Writing Society. Harvey was born in Cairo, Egypt and immigrated to Calgary, Alberta with her family as a child. She now lives in Whistler, British Columbia. Her books include Nicolai’s Dauhgters, The Brink of Freedom, and her latest book Finding Callidora. Crystal sat down with Stella to discuss Finding Callidora and what it means to write about family. Crystal Mackenzie: This story encompasses your own family history. What inspired you to do this and make it into a novel? Stella Leventoyanis Harvey: That’s a good question. I think, for me, and I say this often, is I missed my culture my entire life. The hole where home is, belonging, probably my entire life, and I have always been very interested in that, and so I started to do some research trying to find out. Listening to stories is the other part of it, my parents would tell us all these stories about life before Canada and piecing those things …

Review of John O’Neill’s “Goth Girls of Banff”

by Skylar Kay Goth Girls of Banffby John O’NeillNeWest Press (2020) John O’Neill’s Goth Girls of Banff captures so many aspects of life in and around Banff in brilliant ways. Through expertly presenting characters and landscape, O’Neill instantly creates an environment that draws the reader in, presenting sunlight slopes and dark crevices of both the mountains and humans in general. The stories find loose connections throughout, as names or objects may reappear in later stories, but nature’s harsh indifference is a thread by which one can follow the trail of stories laid out by O’Neill, if they dare. The characters in O’Neill’s stories are generally well presented. This much is obvious even from the first story, as Don and Lee will steal the heart of any reader who has one. The titular story as well, “Goth Girls of Banff” presents us with only the observations of Linda through her sister, but it is done so well that the reader can imagine near perfectly what causes her actions. The way these characters mesh together, or push away from …