SUDDENLY SPYING: A MADCAP CAPER

By Gin Mackey

Pink Granite Press, 2016

274 pages, $9.99

Nora Gallagher is an under-achiever living on a leaky boat in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, working in a greasy motorcycle shop. Then her super-secret agent sister, Giselle, shows up and people start shooting at Nora. What else could possibly go wrong in Nora’s life? A lot.

“Suddenly Spying” is Owl’s Head author Gin Mackey’s debut novel, a hilarious and wacky tale of spies, assassins, crime lords and a planned coup on the chicken-worshipping island of Barlanadana. First, it must be said that this is not great literature, it’s not even good literature, but it is very funny, silly, fast-paced and full of rapid-fire profane dialogue — sort of a female potty-mouthed Maxwell Smart fights the Three Stooges. Mackey clearly doesn’t take anything too seriously, and neither should the reader. Just have fun with it.

Giselle, the much-adored super spy, is having a career meltdown and cons Nora into helping her stop a coup on Barlanadana. Giselle is usually drunk, leaving Nora to dodge bullets and bad guys while the citizens of Barlanadana wear pineapples on their heads and do the Chicken Dance during Chicken Appreciation Day festivities. Nora even wisely uses a chicken as a hostage to escape an enraged chicken-loving mob.

Nora gets one day of spy training before she must penetrate the lair of drug lord Tommy the Twitch and his crazy mother, and foil the coup plot. She is not very good at this spy stuff and spends most of her time running and hiding from gunmen who can’t shoot straight. Aided by pistol-packing monks and nuns (they aim to maim) from a semi-celibate, goofy religious order, Nora pulls a couple of fancy moves that have everybody shooting at each other.

And then Nora finds out who Giselle really is.

SUMMER TO FALL: NOTES AND NUMINA FROM THE MAINE WOODS

By Dana Wilde

North Country Press, 2016

215 pages, $16.95

Anne Frank (1929-1944) once wrote: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God.” And Maine nature observer Dana Wilde knows exactly what she meant.

“Summer To Fall” is Wilde’s fourth book about nature, the stars and other natural wonders. He lives in Troy, and writes a naturalist column for Maine newspapers. Most of these 72 short essays have been previously published in his column, “Backyard Naturalist.”

Wilde makes no claim to be a scientist, but he certainly does his homework; his curiosity and driven research have produced lucid observations about birds, stars, plants, insects, the moon and other intriguing natural subjects like the smell of the natural world and bug sex.

Many of the essays focus on natural activities in the summer and fall, but he also includes springtime as the season that starts everything rolling for the year. Wilde is a careful, patient observer of the natural world, advising us to really look around us: “What else is right before your eyes that you’re not seeing?”

He tells of the antics, calls and comic behavior of birds like juncos, phoebes, robins and chickadees, as well as incredible facts about hummingbirds and blue jays. The essay “Ancient Light” is a wonderful history lesson about ancient Babylonian and Egyptian astronomical calculations. How did they do that thousands of years ago?

Best, however, are his essays on insects and spiders, especially “Bug Love.” Learn why stars twinkle, why dragonflies are prehistoric monsters, why stars were named for birds, why goldenrod does not cause hay fever allergies, what birds really say to each other and what “cosmography” really means.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.