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Review: "Alaskan Healing" by Lana Voynich

The crisp air of October in the Bering Sea, the ocean slapping against the bow, two macho men to share a bunk room with, a high-paying, if perilous job fishing for crabs, and all the chocolate milk she can drink—with all this, what does Shawn Nilsen have to complain about? For beginners, she just ran away from Seattle after a shattered engagement. A week before the wedding, her fiancé eloped with her best friend and used her bank account to finance a honeymoon in Aruba. Lacking the funds to pay her college tuition, she flees to Alaska and gets hired for the only kind of work she knows something about—crab fishing.

Worse yet, the two macho men sharing her bunk room have reason to mistrust or even openly dislike her. Drake Richards, the captain’s son, dislikes her because “women don’t belong on fishing boats.” Besides, he’s a tea drinker. JP is kind to her but shouldn’t be. She brought him to grief ten years ago when they worked together on her grandfather’s fishing boat. He and the captain drink the swill they call coffee aboard ship. (Author Voynich effectively uses a character’s preferred drink as a metaphor for a different aspect of one’s personality.)

Shawn considers leaving the boat’s service. However, the captain insists that it’s too late to replace her. The boat launches with undercurrents of seething resentment clouding the atmosphere while the captain plays referee to the two feuding crew members. Shawn’s only hope for a positive outcome is her strong work ethic and non-traditional background. A stint in the Coast Guard in addition to her crab fishing experience establish her credibility as a (ahem) fisherman. Or she’ll drown in the process. At this time she isn’t sure which would leave her better off.

This engaging novel offers a liberal dose of conflict mitigated by the actions of some truly decent and hard working, if flawed, human beings. If you are a strong believer in the philosophy that even some of the worst things happen for a reason, this book will reinforce that viewpoint. Set aside several sizable blocks of time for reading because this novel is a difficult one to put down.

Author Lana Voynich kindly answered the following questions about her background and inspirations behind writing the book.

Where did you grow up, and where do you call home?
I grew up in Grand Rapids, MN (a small town in the northern part of the state). Currently I live in northern Wisconsin. Home is wherever my husband, dogs and cats are.

Name three of your favorite authors and three of your favorite books.
I like so many different authors, genres and books, it's hard to pick just three. I guess I'd have to go with Nicholas Sparks, L.M. Montgomery, and Mary O'Hara as my favorite authors. The books that I read over and over again are Anne of Green Gables, All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott, and My Friend Flicka.

What book most influenced you when you were growing up?
I can't pick just one. I devoured all of Jim Kjelgaard's books (Big Red, Irish Red, etc). I couldn't get enough of Mary O'Hara's books. Whenever my parents received their new Reader's Digest Condensed Books, I'd hide it from them until I finished reading all of the stories because I didn't want to share. I read everything I could get my hands on and I remember being bored during "library time" during elementary school because I'd read all the fiction on our school's shelf by the time I was in 4th grade.

As a child, did you have an ambition to become an author?
Yes. One day I was bored in the car and my mom gave me a piece of paper and a pencil and told me to write a story. I came up with some crazy story about my pet frog stealing a car and driving into town. When I filled the entire paper, I started writing on the back of a tissue box. I think that's when I decided I wanted to be an author.

What inspired you to write Alaskan Healing?
My husband was watching "Deadliest Catch" on television one day and I thought to myself "What if there was a female crew member trying to prove herself?" After that, I couldn't get Shawn out of my mind.

You seem to know a lot about crab fishing. Does your knowledge come from research or experience?
Research. Unfortunately, I've never even been to Alaska. The only experience I have with crabs is eating it at a nice restaurant.

Shawn Nilsen is a strong woman character, able to handle herself even in a male-dominated profession. How is she like you? How is she different from you?
Shawn and I are similar in that we've both been employed in predominantly male fields. We both like to appear to be stronger than we really are, and don't always expect the best from people. Shawn is different from me because I've never punched anyone just because they annoyed me, and she's quite a bit braver than I am. I'd never have the strength to leave everything with just the possibility of a job in another state far from everyone I know.

You mention that you were involved in a male-dominated profession. If you are willing, would you tell us what that profession is?
I worked as a printing press operator for 9 years, and there was only one other woman on my shift. All of my bosses were male and everyone I dealt with on a daily basis was male. I also worked for two years as a laborer in a paper mill, one summer in a sheet metal shop with a crew of 7 men. For some reason, 95% of the men I've worked with think they can perform manual labor better than a woman, even when the job doesn't require brute strength.

Discussion

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