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Reading the North

Little Merchants

By Sandra Walker; Orion Wellspring, $16.95

The blurb: Multi-million dollar businesses entrusted to youth. Incredible!

In the core of the 20th century, legions of children handled the daily delivery of the immense newspaper business. Neither pampered nor perfect, droves of rambunctious kids with remarkable fortitude hefted a canvas bag. Their routines often detoured to adventures and misadventures. Compiled from hundreds of oral histories, "Little Merchants" shares the evocative stories that arc from hilarious to horrific and poignant to repugnant. Come explore the colorful heyday and vintage photos of this American icon. The efforts of these young entrepreneurs impacted their character. Thousands of paperboys and papergirls impacted the American character.

Excerpt: Tom Rockne faced horrific conditions in Bismarck, North Dakota. The bike was no help. A sled worked okay, at times, but what did not work well: numb fingers, especially when collecting. "My fingers would get cold and my mind foggy" to the point he figured he "gave back the wrong change." Uncertain about the money and potentially suffering from "frostbite on my fingers and toes," Tom kept moving, using good Boy Scout techniques to protect himself.

The same with Bill Gamel in Anchorage. His Boy Scout wisdom and the knowledge gained from hunting in the wilds of Alaska taught him to be sensible and measure his progress over a four-mile route. The exertion from walking and carrying loaded bags for 100 customers usually warmed him, until the extreme struck. Freezing is 32 F. When the temperature dropped to -30 F., a loss of over 60 degrees, his paper delivery slowed. Customers, who were settled inside waiting for the paper, coaxed him inside to warm himself and his mukluks by an oil stove. The boots smelled but that didn't matter as warmed toes and numb fingers revived.

Fairbanks surpassed Anchorage with low temperatures. In the long, dark Alaska winter, Kent Sturgis bundled into a parka with the hood extending beyond his face, its long sides holding his warm breaths in closer. The banner on the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner explained his cold route: "America's Farthest North Daily Newspaper." The town was far enough north, it registered -50 F., which is terribly dangerous for exposed skin. His speed through apartment complexes made the route tolerable. However, back outside, his occasional falls on ice, when he smacked a surface as hard as concrete, were painful. Yet he rushed because functioning without thick, clumsy gloves meant he needed to finish fast.

Naked Fear

By Richard Newell Smith (Self-published, $11.95)

The blurb: One moment Annie Roszkowski's closing the bar at Sitka Lillie's and sharing a cup of coffee with the last customer; the next moment she's running naked across a barren Alaska island pursued by three hunters and a pack of hounds. Running with her are two kidnapped prostitutes. They are prey in a "good old-fashioned whore hunt" Annie survives the hunt and, determined to kill the hunters, tracks them to Dallas. But will she destroy the hunters or once again become their prey?

Excerpt: She started to reach for the light switch, then pulled her hand back. There was something strange, something out of place. She listened again but heard nothing. Then she realized what it was -- the same faint aroma of marijuana she'd smelled the night before. Someone had been smoking pot in her room. She put the room key down on the bed and, holding the Glock with both hands, walked across the room toward the balcony. The aroma grew stronger.

The balcony door was open and a hot breeze was drifting into the room, carrying the aroma with it. Through the curtains, she could see a vague shape. With the Glock in front of her she gently brushed the curtains aside and looked out. A man was standing on the balcony, staring down at the swimming pool and smoking a marijuana cigarette. Light glistened against his face, illuminating his profile. It was the young man from Hersee Island, the man with the bullwhip.

He held up the reefer and flicked the ash, then took another draw. Annie aimed the gun at the back of his head and stepped onto the balcony. She started to pull the trigger, then hesitated.

The man was resting his weight against the railing, with his upper body leaning outward over the railing. Annie bent down and gently placed the gun on the balcony's deck. Then she reached out, grabbed the man's ankles and yanked his feet out from under him. At the same time she pushed upward, throwing her weight against his body.

The man catapulted over the side of the balcony. He reached back and caught the railing with one hand. Then his weight yanked his hand loose, and he tumbled downward toward the tiled deck that surrounded the swimming pool. He rolled, and his momentum carried him over the edge of the pool and into the water, splashing water over the side of the pool and onto the tiles. He bobbed up and down, then lay there, limp, face down.

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News