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Reading the north

A Wolf Called Romeo

Nick Jans (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26)

The blurb: No stranger to wildlife, Nick Jans had lived in Alaska for nearly 30 years. But when one evening at twilight a lone black wolf ambled into view not far from his doorstep, Nick would finally come to know this mystical species -- up close as never before.

"A Wolf Called Romeo" is the remarkable true story of a wolf who returned again and again to interact with the people and dogs of Juneau, living on the edges of their community, engaging in an improbable, awe-inspiring interspecies dance and bringing the wild into sharp focus. At first, the people of Juneau were guarded, torn between shoot-first-ask-questions-later instincts and curiosity. But as Romeo began to tag along with cross-country skiers on their daily jaunts, play fetch with local dogs, or simply lie near Nick and nap under the sun, they came to accept Romeo, and he them. For Nick, it was about trying to understand Romeo, then it was about winning his trust and ultimately it was about watching over him, for as long as he or anyone could.

Excerpt: Romeo the wolf had progressed from fresh news to full-blown celebrity status, and we had a ringside seat as lengthening days and a stretch of postcard weather lured Juneauites to the glacier area in force. The mountains glistened white against a deep, cirrus-flecked sky; miles of ski tracks and walking trails beckoned. And there waited the black wolf, like a computer-generated effect. Surely we'd blink, and the image would shimmer and fade. But the wolf was real as the steam of his breath and his palm-sized prints etched into the snow, alive as the strange amber fire in his eyes...

A growing stream of watchers and gawkers added to the usual bunch of glacier area users. Families and groups of teenagers wandered out on the lake, throwing back their heads and howling in response to Romeo's calls; furtive individuals prowled along the lake edge at odd hours, up to who knew what. Word was already spreading that all you needed was the right dog to bring the wolf up close, and the whole thing was way cool and no worries, just one big Alaska amusement park ride. Even people with zero experience around large wildlife and close to zero control of their dogs felt free to spin the wheel and see what happened. Some have-nots borrowed dogs or drafted along behind others, looking for an in, adding to the procession. There's something sexy about getting tight with big, wild carnivorous things, and that aura sucked in all kinds of people and rendered addlepated a few who should have known better. I couldn't blame them, even if I wished they'd stay home. And how was I any different, really? Around the vast majority of people, the black wolf remained aloof; though he watched from the lake's edge, he'd vanish into the brush if they pressed any closer than 100 yards -- still, an incredibly tight distance by most wolf-viewing standards.

Point of Direction

Rachel Weaver (ig Publishing, $16.95)

The blurb: Hitchhiking her way through Alaska, a young woman named Anna is picked up by Kyle, a fisherman. Anna and Kyle quickly fall for one another, as they are both adventurous, fiercely independent and in love with the raw beauty and solitude of Alaska. To cement their relationship, they agree to become caretakers of a remote lighthouse perched on a small rock in the middle of the deep channel -- a place that has been uninhabited since the last caretaker mysteriously disappeared two decades ago. What seems the perfect adventure for these two quickly unravels, as an uncertain danger lurking in the surrounding waters, as well as painful secrets from their pasts, threaten to end their relationship ... and maybe even their lives! A psychological thriller set against the cold, rugged landscape of coastal Alaska, "Point of Direction" is an exquisite and striking literary debut.

Excerpt: We barely speak when Kyle comes in for the night. I have just finished cleaning the kitchen while I wait to add more chips to the smokehouse fire to keep it going through the night. He mumbles goodnight and heads upstairs to bed. I wait until I know he's sleeping, climb the ladder quietly, pick up William Harris' logbook and walk back down the stairs. I light three candles on the windowsill next to the rocking chair, add a couple more pieces of wood to the fire, and skim through entries of north and south-bound boats, of storms rising and subsiding, until the following entry:

December 23, 1977 0703 Getting harder and harder to be here. Never been so alone. Can't relax. It's so loud. Awful. Dark and windy. This is what I deserve, right?

February 18, 1978 2050 Coast Guard food drop today. They came in and had coffee and I wanted to kick them out. They had older brothers or cousins who went to the war while they stayed home and did their math homework. The fat one asked if I'm a fag out here by myself with no girls. How can I explain staying out here? If I keep drawing, leave my gun in the shed, I'll be able to go home, be someone to look up to. I'll know when it's time to leave, just like I knew when it was time to come.

I stare into the fire. I want him to appear. I want him to be sitting at the kitchen table. I want to talk to someone who knew when it was time to come here and when it was time to go. I want to know if it helped him to be out here or if he ended up dead because of it.

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News