Spoils of the Dead

Spoils of the Dead by Dana Stabenow

After nine years, a new Alaskan mystery featuring Trooper Liam Campbell is a welcome return. I don’t remember the earlier books featuring Liam and his wife, pilot Wyanet Chouinard, but this book is a good entry into the series as Liam and Wy move to a new post in Bleweston. Wy’s flight to Bleweston beautifully describes the area’s scenery and wildlife. Liam meets the brewer who sold him a bayfront house and several other locals, and is invited to visit archaeologist Erik’s dig site on the coast. After a few days at his new post with extremely efficient assistant Sally Petroff, Liam gets a call that two boys found a skeleton in a cave. Exploring the cave the next morning, Liam also finds Erik’s body. Liam, assisted by Wy, investigates, with the most local insight coming from an elderly woman who keeps sneaking out of her assisted living facility.

The setting is gorgeous and most of the locals are friendly. The mysteries of the two deaths aren’t solved by any great detecting on Liam’s part, but rather by a confession. Liam does uncover one of the town’s many secrets; why his assistant Sally has been lying to him. Robyn Carr fans who also read mysteries will likely enjoy getting to know Liam and Wy, along with fans of Stabenow’s Kate Shugak mysteries (start in the middle with the darkly funny Breakup). Readers of Sue Henry’s Alaskan mysteries or Anne Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries may also enjoy. Mystery fans who prefer an intricate but solvable mystery plot may be disappointed, but I enjoyed the characters and setting very much.


Mistletoe & Mr. Right

Mistletoe & Mr. Right by Sarah Morgenthaler

The Tuesday Evening Book Group recently read and discussed The Tourist Attraction, a romantic comedy that begins the Moose Springs, Alaska series by Morgenthaler. This is the sequel; fun, heartwarming, and full of small town Alaska quirkiness. Rick Harding runs the local pool hall/pizza joint and caters only to locals, not tourists. He lives with his nephew Diego, who reluctantly works at the town’s resort. Unexpectedly, Rick falls for rich developer Lana Montgomery, who just might be interested. Lana and her friend Zoey have taken up the challenge to find the Santa Moose, a rogue moose who has it in for the town’s holiday decorations. Lana wants her family’s company to build luxury condos in Moose Springs, but the local residents aren’t very welcoming. This is a fun, light read. A third book, Enjoy the View, is expected in January. Mistletoe & Mr. Right will be published October 6.


The Tourist Attraction

The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler

In this quirky debut romantic comedy, Zoey Caldwell meets grumpy Graham Barnett on her first night in Moose Springs, Alaska. Graham reluctantly serves tourists from a nearby luxury lodge at his diner, The Tourist Trap, but he’d rather be spending time with his dog or making sculptures with a chain saw. Zoey has been saving her tips for years to afford a two-week vacation in Alaska, and is happy to sleep on the sofa in her friend Lana’s suite at the lodge. Determined to see as many Alaskan attractions as she can, Zoey’s day trips are with a budget company and she goes whale watching in heavy seas, and gets an uncooperative horse on a trail ride. Graham is part of a long-running local versus rich tourist feud, but introduces Zoey to his dog, his friends, and takes her to a local favorite bakery for giant cinnamon rolls. Graham is a bit too ready to get into a fight for my tastes, but clearly has a soft spot for Zoey and her friend Lana. Funny and engaging, with a great sense of place, this novel will have readers eager to visit Moose Springs, Alaska, ASAP. Fortunately, the author’s second book, Mistletoe and Mr. Right, will be published this October. Other reviewers suggest books by Kristan Higgins, Jill Shalvis, Robyn Carr, and Debbie Macomber as readalikes. The Tourist Attraction will be our virtual book discussion selection on August 25.


The Sun is a Compass

The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert

Real life adventure memoirs can make for wonderful reading, especially during a time when we’re staying close to home. Wildlife biologist Caroline, 33, makes an epic trek with husband Patrick, a home builder, to the Alaskan Arctic in 2012. Traveling by homemade rowboats, skiing, hiking, on inflatable rafts, and in a borrowed canoe, the pair make an incredible six-month journey. Along the way they meet with unexpected kindness from strangers and Caroline regains her love of science after completing her Ph.D. mostly in a lab. Their backstory and motivation for the journey are shared, along with glimpses of happy childhoods and their loving, supportive families. Caroline’s sister has a baby as they consider parenthood. Patrick is the optimistic adventurer and builder, while Caroline is the detailed list maker, organizing most of their food drops. Part of their journey is through areas so remote that available maps show little detail and the weather forecasts are unhelpful. The pair are often awed by the magnificent landscape and the wildlife, learning to trust the trails of migrating caribou, and encountering moose, bear, and many of the birds Caroline has studied. A compelling read, and a good readalike for Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and Sarah Marquis’ Wild by Nature, along with other adventure memoirs that can be found here. I read the print book, but listened to a sample of the downloadable audiobook I’ve just added to our Media on Demand collection.

Coming soon: a list of family friendly reads that can be enjoyed by older kids, teens, and adults, including titles suggested by staff in our Children’s Department.



The Great Quake

The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North American Changed Our Understanding of the Planet by Henry Fountain

I found this book about the Great Alaskan Quake of 1964 to be both informative and very readable, without being overly dramatic. Young teacher Kris Madsen was above her hilltop schoolhouse collecting water for an evening movie on Friday, March 27, when she felt the quake. From southern California, she wasn’t worried until the trees kept swaying and the water disappeared from the harbor of the tiny village of Chenega. Only the schoolhouse was unaffected by the tidal waves, and the surviving villagers climbed the hill and camped above the schoolhouse. The next day, three scientists including geologist George Plafker were already flying over Alaska to survey the damage. The only working seismograph in Alaska was overwhelmed by the quake and initial estimates were between 8.4 and 8.6 on the Richter scale. Later estimates put the quake at 9.2. You may not have heard much about the quake before, because the earthquake zone was sparsely populated. Most of the deaths were from tidal waves, now called tsunamis, which struck as far away as Oregon and California. The town of Valdez on Prince William Sound was also hit hard, along with parts of Anchorage. Working for the U.S. Geological Survey, Plafker and others studied the quake area, measuring the uplift and subsidence of land, surprised by the lack of a huge visible fault. The observations and analysis of geologists, especially George Pflafker, helped change scientific opinion to accept the theory of plate tectonics. I enjoyed reading about Plafker’s life, education, and career, and appreciated that the author, a writer and editor with the New York Times, only shared the backstories of Plafker and teacher Kris Madsen. I was also interested to learn  what happened to the villages of Valdez and Chenega after they were damaged so badly by the quake.



To the Bright Edge of the World

bright-edge-jacketTo the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

This is a beautiful book, printed on heavy, smooth paper. Scattered through the book are photographs, maps, newspaper articles, and descriptions of objects in a collection. The rest of this historical novel set in Alaska and Vancouver, Washington is in the form of letters and journal entries, mostly by Colonel Allen Forrester and his wife Sophie. In 1885, Allen is leading an expedition up the Wolverine River into the interior of Alaska, to map and make contact with the Alaska natives. Sophie is waiting for his return in army housing, expecting their first child and learning to photograph birds and develop the pictures. A tale of adventure, hard to explain encounters in the wilderness for Allen, and a tale of waiting, hoping, and learning for Sophie. A remarkable second novel by the author of The Snow Child.



81 Days Below Zero

81 days jacket81 Days Below Zero, by Brian Murphy

In December, 1943, five Army aviators left Alaska’s Ladd Field on a test flight in a B-24 Liberator. During the test, the plane spiraled out of control at 25,000 feet, and the crew bailed out. Co-pilot Lt. Leon Crane parachuted to safety away from the fiery crash, but without mittens or gloves. Crane, a city kid from Philadelphia, stayed near the wreck for several days, hoping to find another survivor and to be spotted by a search plane. Back at Ladd Field, many planes were sent in search, but in the wrong area. The crew was declared MIA, presumed dead. Enduring extreme conditions and intense loneliness, Crane covered his hands in the parachute and started walking, after over a week with no food in the Alaskan winter. His only supplies were a knife and some matches. Through phenomenal luck, he found a cabin with some supplies, but had to leave before the spring thaw by hiking over the frozen Charles River, with no idea where he was. Compelling and moving, this is a remarkable true story, very well told. Sure to be popular with readers of Unbroken and Frozen in Time.

The Wind is Not a River

wind is not a river jacketThe Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton

In 1942, Helen Easley is desperate for news of her husband John, a war correspondent. He’s not on an official assignment, but may have left Seattle for Alaska. The Japanese occupy the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska, and there is a news blackout. Since his brother’s death in the war, John is obsessed with his work, and left after an argument with Helen. Working in a dress shop in Seattle, she moves in with her elderly father Joe. Helen manages to join the USO but feels guilty about leaving her father behind. She heads for Alaska and any word of John, trying to get over her stage fright and talking with pilots and anyone who’s been to the Aleutians. John, meanwhile, has crash landed on remote Attu with young airman Karl. They scavenge coal and live on seafood, often wet and always cold, and even consider surrendering to the Japanese occupying the island. Part adventure, part wartime love story with a very unusual setting, this is an excellent historical novel.


Bad Blood

bad blood jacketBad Blood by Dana Stabenow

Have you met Kate and Mutt? They have now appeared in 20 Alaskan mysteries by Dana Stabenow. Kate Shugak is an Aleut homesteader near the fictional village of Niniltna who occasionally works as a private investigator. Mutt, her sidekick, is half wolf and half Siberian husky. Her partner, Trooper Jim Chopin, asks her to help him investigate the death of a young man, Tyler Mack, from the small traditional village of Kushtaka, just down the river from the more prosperous Kuskulana. The villagers have been bitter rivals for a while, and no one is telling Jim or Kate the whole truth. When another body is found, and someone sabotages a boat, the suspense really begins. Add a young couple with ties to both villages, and Kate really has her hands full. If you want to start at the beginning of the series, read A Cold Day for Murder. For the funniest book in the series, try Breakup. If you read Bad Blood, know that the author is continuing the series, but it will be two years before you find out what happens next. Here’s a recent interview with the author about her background and Kate’s origins.


The Snow Child

snow child jacketThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Jack and Mabel, middle-aged and childless, decide to homestead in Alaska in the 1920s. Mabel feels very isolated, especially since Jack doesn’t want her help on the farm, and bakes pies to sell in town. Jack worries about making it through their second wretchedly cold winter, and they grow apart. One day, as a distraction, they make a snow child, and wrap her in a scarf. By morning, snow child and scarf are gone, but the couple starts glimpsing a little girl in the woods. Skittish and free-spirited, Faina gradually warms to Jack and Mabel and brings them little gifts. Finally befriended by their neighbors, Mabel tells Esther about Faina, but she is skeptical. Jack knows a secret about Faina, but has promised not to tell. Mabel remembers a fairy tale she read about a snow child, and worries about what will happen when spring comes. The wintry landscape is vividly described, along with clearing land, hunting moose, trapping, and meals with their neighbors or Faina. The story takes unexpected twists and turns, and is quite memorable.