FAIRBANKS — With the long year coming to a close, there’s no better time to look back on the state of Alaska’s literary scene and ahead to what it might offer next year. Thus, we present the Top Ten Best Alaska Reads of 2017, with the knowledge that if you missed any along the way, the holidays are the perfect time to catch up.
No. 10 — “Northern Lights Romance” series by Noelle Fox
Easily the cleverest and most enjoyable series to come out of Alaska’s digital self-publishing market this year. Though the overall story would have benefited from being presented as a single adventure as opposed to three too-short books, a little messy formatting can’t dull the vibrant heroines, dashing romantic leads, and fully-realized setting that makes this romantic escapism stand out as bright as its candy-colored covers. Come for the intriguing central plot gimmick, stay for the compelling twists and imminently likeable characters.
No. 9 — “Tundra Kill (A Nathan Active Mystery)” by Stan Jones
Even if you’ve never read a Nathan Active mystery before, don’t worry — this reviewer hasn’t either, yet “Tundra Kill” was perfectly engaging and understandable as a stand-alone, like all good mystery series. Thrilling, action-packed and just a bit sexy, this mystery makes for a solid page-turner even if its — for lack of a better term — “Alaska-ness” occasionally borders on parody.
No. 8 — “The Biggest Damn Hat: Tales from Alaska’s Territorial Lawyers and Judges” by Pamela Cravez
An entertaining look at a unique angle of Alaska’s territorial history, turning the spotlight to the law and order often ignored by other stories of the frontier. From the wild early courtroom shenanigans to the hard-fought battle for statehood, the stories contained in this slim volume are not to be missed.
No. 7 — “Rough Crossing: An Alaskan Fisherwoman’s Memoir” by Rosemary McGuire
The memoir market and commercial fishing trades are so often men’s worlds that the perspective of a woman in both is a selling point all on its own. That it’s also a compelling adventure with a hint of romance and a likeable narrator just makes it even better. Comfortably unique enough to stand out from the crowd but not so far out of familiar waters, “Rough Crossing” is a year in a life told well.
No. 6 — “The Blood of Patriots: How I Took Down an Anti-Government Militia with Beer, Bounty Hunting, and Badassery” by Bill Fulton and Jeanne Devon
Controversial though Fulton and his accounts may be, it can’t be denied that this is just a darn good memoir full of action, humor, tragedy and heart. It’s impossible not to like the Drop Zone crew while you’re in the midst of the story. And even if you don’t agree with his politics, Fulton’s narration is a breath of fresh, sensible air in a year of insane politics. It’s enough to make you believe that maybe, with enough good people, things can still get better.
No. 5 — “The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir” by Ernestine Hayes
One of Alaska’s better-known memoirists follows up on her previous work with the story of what happens to an “exiled” wanderer after she returns home. In equal parts a uniquely spiritual recounting of Alaska Native life and a personal reflection on growing into the role of grandmother, “The Tao of Raven” is likely the most thoughtful book you’ll read all year, memoir or otherwise.
No. 4 — “Murder on Location (A Charlotte Brody Mystery)” by Cathy Pegau
The Charlotte Brody mysteries have been a recurring highlight in the past few years, as historical mysteries are surprisingly rare in the Alaska market. It’s a niche that Pegau’s empathetic, independent suffragette of a heroine fills with aplomb, and her third adventure to the movie set on a frozen glacier keeps readers guessing right up to the end.
No. 3 — “Threadbare: Class and Crime in Urban Alaska” by Mary Kudenov
Urban Alaska so often goes ignored by writers for not being as “real” as the back-country, but make no mistake: its culture and issues are as unique as the wilds around it. “Threadbare” shines a much-needed light on the struggles of poverty in the urban north, and its take on criminality is sincere, not sensational.
No. 2 — “Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry” edited by Martha Amore and Lucian Childs
Alaska needs more collections like this one, with its varied range of authors and approaches providing a voice to issues so often silenced in a red state. But more than being important, it’s also engaging and fun, with contributers from all over the state. I’m still hoping for a Volume II someday.
No. 1 — “Shadow Run” by Adrianne Strickland and Michael Miller
At its best, Alaskan lit captures the very essence of this place and its people, that unique mix of culture and setting that anyone who’s lived here can recognize at a glance, and that authors who haven’t struggle to replicate. To take that Alaska and apply it to a story of psychic powers and interstellar royalty is no small feat, but Strickland and Miller pull it off to enormous success.
Full of adventure, romance, and the single best crew of heroic oddballs to premiere this year, “Shadow Run” is everything a genre fan could want and everything Alaskans of all backgrounds never knew they needed. And with the sequel “Shadow Call” coming out next year, there’s never been a better time to get on-board with the crew of the Kaitan Heritage and see what you’ve been missing.
Addley Fannin is a freelance writer with a master’s degree in Northern studies from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/addleyfannin.