Reading the North

Alaska's Sleeping Beauty

Mindy Dwyer (Little Bigfoot, $11.99)

The blurb: In this children's tale, the queen of the King Salmon Fishery meets a talking salmon who tells her that a much-wished-for daughter will at last be born. But at the birthday celebration, one of the guests makes the pronouncement that the girl -- named Alyeska -- will choke on a salmon bone and die! This Alaska retelling of the classic fairy tale spins the story of a strong-willed girl and her long, long sleep in the land of salmon, mountains and wildflowers.

Excerpt: On the day of the celebration, the palace was packed full of people. The first to speak was the king's mother.

"My granddaughter shall one day know love," she said as she gently swaddled the baby in a blanket spun of sunlight.

A teacher placed a towering stack of books next to the cradle for the gift of knowledge.

Next, a hunter spoke of courage, and presented a thick bear-hide rug.

"My gift to the young lady is patience," said a weathered old sled runner from high in the mountains, who brought a frisky sled-dog pup.

A mountain climber gave her a glass crystal that reflected colored light and said, "Trust in things that you cannot see but believe to be true."

A miner said, "Persistence means you must never give up," and gave the child a rock laced with gold.

A lumberjack said, "Always be light of heart," and he laid a necklace on the growing pile of gifts.

This went on and on until there were 11 gifts.

Now, when a baker bakes a dozen, he always bakes 13, not 12. And so, there were 13 guests at the table set with 13 freshly baked bread bowls. Even the king did not recognize the uninvited guest until she banged her fists on the table, cackled and then said...

The Hope We Seek

Rich Shapero (Outside Reading, $9.99)

The blurb: Zachary Knox, a sharpshooter known as "the Bull's-Eye Telepath," heads north in search of gold. On his way, he meets Sephy, a magnetic woman on the trail of her lost brother. But on arrival, they find the mining camp is home to a cult. The mine boss, Trevillian, rules the camp like a despotic priest, and at the center of his faith is Hope, an elusive goddess for whom the miners toil, enduring increasingly perilous trials as they pursue her into the depths of the earth.

Zack determines to overthrow Trevillian, guided by Sephy's cryptic directions -- until Hope appears and reveals the astonishing future she has in mind for him.

Excerpt: Her chest heaved against him and a whimper escaped her.

"We drilled some holes," Zack told her, "loaded a charge, and set it off. Bob watched out for me."

"He's your friend," she said.

"How long have you been waiting?" And then before she could answer, "We stopped by the saloon. I got a good look at what the Blondes do."

Sephy shivered and drew away. She was wearing pants that fit her, Zack noticed. And a pleated shirtwaist.

"Let's eat," he said. "I can pay for it now."

"The women don't sit with the men. They eat later, by themselves."

"You don't want..."

Sephy took a step back.

"Hey," Zack said.

"Please." She raised her hands.

"What's wrong?"

"I'm not going back with you," Sephy said.

He shook his head, confused. With the sky behind her, it was hard to see Sephy's face.

"To Bob's tent," she said.

"The weather's holding. He won't mind-"

"I'll be in Blondetown," Sephy said. "With the women."

Zack was stunned. "Are you worried that-"

"No," she said.

"We'll have our own spot in a day or two. I can get credit..."

"No," Sephy said again.

"Is a roof that important?"

"The Blondes are in tents, like everyone else."

She took another step back. In the dimness, Zack lost the glint of her eyes.

"Think who you'll be with," he mumbled. A stupid thing to say. Of course she knew. Before he could close the distance, she had turned her back to him. She was taking a narrow track that branched away from the trail.

Zack hurried after her. He grabbed Sephy's shoulder and swung her around.

"What's going on?"

"Please," she spoke earnestly. "Leave me alone."

His grip tightened. "You said you'd marry me."

Sephy jerked loose. "That was a mistake."

The spite in her voice froze him.

"Leave me alone," she repeated, more calmly. Again, she turned her back to him.

The path she followed was barely visible. He watched her silhouette ascend a bank, follow its top and disappear.

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News