All posts filed under: Reviews

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 …

Review of Sharon Berg’s “Naming the Shadows”

by Ed Hamer Naming the Shadows by Sharon Berg The Porcupine’s Quill (2019) ISBN 9780889848665 The Stories Themselves: Sharon Berg has written a collection of short stories, really a powerful gallery of highly visual tales that evoke our desire to look into them intensely and to see deeply. Inside the tableaux, she plants the ephemera of psychic shadows and these are certainly enough to launch strong flights of our imagination.  So we are reading and interpreting at two quite different levels.  And she holds true to her initial quotation from Jung: one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious These stories are laden with darkness and it transforms the reading of the apparent into a reading of the obscure and difficult. Like visual art at its best Berg avoids prettiness and too easy legibility. Again, as with difficult visual art, Berg works to make the ritual of reading transformative — calling on us to develop solutionary insights into very difficult situations and very difficult people. Some of the Stories… …

Review of Traci Skuce’s “Hunger Moon”

by Skylar Kay Hunger Moon by Traci Skuce NeWest Press (2020) ISBN 978-1-988732-80-0 Traci Skuce’s Hunger Moon is a well-crafted collection of short stories. While only two of these stories have the same characters, they connect by circling around a central theme: characters finding themselves at a tipping point in their lives and hungering for something more. Whether that something more is an exotic adventure, an escape from a relationship, or the beginning of a new one, the characters in Skuce’s collection all desire to expand another aspect of themselves.  The characters of the short stories are all well-developed — even the ones who aren’t the main focus of the story. I remember reading one story and thinking that the conflict was clearly between two people, but as the story itself develops, I realized that the conflict is internal, as both characters have motivation and reason for their actions, for which the reader cannot fault them. The characters also display a fairly wide range of personalities, showing Skuce’s depth and ability as a storyteller. The initial story …

Review of Sophie Stocking’s “Corridor Nine”

by Skylar Kay Corridor Nine by Sophie Stocking Thistledown Press (2019) ISBN 9781771871815 Sophie Stocking’s Corridor Nine is a story of life, death, family, and rebirth. To begin, the novel places a reader in a disorienting space. Questions I asked myself included: where am I? What are these people? Why does this three-year old’s body (Fabian) have a large penis, and why do I have to imagine this? The structure of the novel does not immediately alleviate the confusion, as two storylines weave and intersect throughout. The story of Bernie is grounded in reality—recognizable to any Calgarian especially—while the other plotline follows the afterlife of her father, Fabian. These two storylines twirl around one another to slowly reveal more and more about the past, and the characters themselves in a well-orchestrated manner. However, due to the jumps from scene to scene and place to place, dialogue can be confusing, as exemplified on page 173 where there are several lines of dialogue before it becomes clear that Bernie is talking to her husband. I was wary at first …

Review of Randy Lundy’s “Field Notes for the Self”

by Micheline Maylor Field Notes for the Self by Randy Lundy University of Regina Press (2020) ISBN 9780889776937 Field Notes for the Self, Randy Lundy’s fifth full-length collection, reaches towards that which is just beyond reach. Poetic insight comes frequently and with attentive rich language, musical alliteration, and conscientiousness to both embodied and disembodied detail. In this way, the collection strikes an otherworldly tone saturated with aboriginal and Eastern spiritual sensibilities. Lundy grapples with landscape, memory, dream, the contrasted paradox of individuality and wholeness, where the body is a translator of the landscape itself, such as in “Ceremony”: “A man should not dream of what is dead, or he might never wake; he might walk that path like a vein of silent, silver ore, winding its way among the dark roots of trees.” (19) Lundy resides within the vicinity of the unnamed, with a shapeshifting quality of a veil-walker between the living and the dead, a translator pulling layers of time and space forward and back in wormholes of meaning. His philosophical stance and poetic …

Review of Randy Nikkel Schroeder’s “Arctic Smoke”

by Mike Thorn Arctic Smoke: A Novel by Randy Nikkel Schroeder NeWest Press (2019) ISBN 978-1-988732-70-1 Randy Nikkel Schroeder’s Arctic Smoke does not simply inhabit its multiple genres, but instead interrogates the intersections and tensions between those genres’ methodologies. That is, while advancing its own double-pronged investigation/voyage plot, the novel simultaneously destabilizes the very foundations of that which constitutes story. Deftly side-stepping the trap of tired postmodern exercise, the book instead hybridizes content and form to deliver an absorbing reading experience: while it sometimes threatens to dissolve into total abstraction, it always conducts its deconstruction within meticulous narratological architecture. In other words, Arctic Smoke is about a lot more than plot, but it is also all about plot. If it hurts your brain trying to imagine what this paradox looks like in written practice, I recommend you pick up this book and get lost in its ingenious absurdity. Arctic Smoke depicts two sets of characters undergoing journeys toward ambiguous consequences. The primary plot follows aging punk Lor Kowalski and his newly reunited bandmates as they …

Review of Cecelia Frey’s “Lovers Fall Back to Earth”

by Vivian Hansen Lovers Fall Back to Earth by Cecelia Frey Innana Press (2018) ISBN 978-1-77133-481-5 This book is about unpacking clichés; all that has been hoarded over the years. Frey pries beneath the surface, holding a formidable dexterity with the light and dark features of story. Her characters surface as those who make you laugh, and those who tick you off.  Lovers Fall Back to Earth begins with a tragedy at the death of a beloved sister. We see how a small group of flower children—two remaining sisters and the men who married them—live beyond the tragedy. We get to know Esther and George, Helena and Benjamin, and Veronica, the marginalized mistress who demands centre stage. The book is studded with extensive dialogue that reveals surface tensions, as well as soul-searching prose that navigates deep questions. Sometimes I wanted more of one and less of the other, but Frey balances the variation. The characters achieve a sympathetic pose regardless of how they surface. Frey does not allow sympathy for long, nor does she allow us to sit …

Review of “Left” by Theanna Bischoff

by Crystal Mackenzie Left by Theanna Bischoff NeWest Press (2018) ISBN 978-1-988732-43-5 I am a sucker for a good mystery. Theanna Bischoff’s LEFT is a good mystery. Set in Calgary, AB between 1981 and 2013, it is a tale spanning generations told in what feels like multiple short stories. 29-year-old Natasha has gone missing leaving behind her pregnant, 18-year-old sister, Abby, who was living with her. Foul play is the most likely suspect and I couldn’t put the book down until I had answers. The novel’s mysteries reveal themselves through a series of chapters, switching between the points of view of important players in Natasha’s life and disappearance. The chapters either reveal moments that shaped Natasha’s life leading up to the day she went missing or dips into the secrets of those around her. Do any of these revelations reveal the mystery behind her disappearance?  Like any good mystery, there are twists and turns, possible who done its, and family tensions that can either get worse or dissolve under the pressure. Abby has been estranged from her …

Review of “Only Pretty Damned” by Niall Howell

by Mike Thorn Only Pretty Damned by Niall Howell NeWest Press (2019) ISBN 978-1-988732-53-4 Niall Howell’s Only Pretty Damned is a seriously impressive debut, showcasing a sophisticated sense of craft and a deep understanding of its genre’s genealogy. Centered on a traveling circus making its way through the unforgiving environs of post-WWII America and Canada, Damned is steeped in richly detailed sociohistorical texture. It is an intensely sensory book, sticky with sweat and booze and blood, and it is unapologetically cinematic, recalling everything from Tod Browning’s silent films to the American noir output of its depicted era—the antihero, Toby, recalls Lon Chaney’s dejected carnie characters from The Unknown (1927) and He Who Gets Slapped (1924) as readily as he recalls the haunted protagonists of postwar American film noir.  A former trapeze artist forced begrudgingly into clowning, Toby has a lust for success and recognition that is reignited by his budding relationship with Gloria, a woman who dances in his circus (Howell’s clever variation on the femme fatale archetype). The two characters’ interactions intensify and deepen …