HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAINE! by Lynn Plourde; Down East Books, 2020; 40 pages, $18.95.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAINE!

Legendary giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan is a folk hero in Canada and Minnesota, but he is beloved here in Maine because he and his friend, Moose, celebrate Maine’s 200th birthday by hosting the state’s biggest birthday party ever.

“Happy Birthday, Maine!” is Winthrop author Lynn Plourde’s newest children’s (and adult) book, a fanciful birthday romp to celebrate Maine’s bicentennial this year. Plourde is the award-winning author of more than 30 children’s books. And this effort, illustrated by Bangor artist Mark Ricketts, is a colorful and funny tribute to Maine.

Paul Bunyan’s other pal, Babe the Blue Ox, doesn’t appear here; replaced instead by Moose, who looks and acts silly like Bullwinkle. Together they plan Maine’s 200th birthday party, inviting all 1.3 million Mainers and their woodland friends. As party planners, Paul and Moose think of everything from the whimsical invitations to the tasty food menu.

They decorate all the pine trees with Bean boots, lobster buoys and garland, and plan hilarious party games like the sack race, ring toss, toboggan racing on mashed potato slopes, and a very messy blueberry pie-eating contest. Party favors include whoopie pies and cans of Moxie.

The potluck dinner is spread out along U.S. Route 1, and features clam chowder, baked beans, hot dogs and tasty tourtiere pie (pork and beef meat pie). Everybody wears a goofy party hat, and Paul makes costumes so people can dress up as Maine characters like Chester Greenwood (earmuff inventor) or writer Stephen King (in a creepy T-shirt). Other guests are encouraged to wear plaid shirts and boots.

Plourde also adds a wonderful section of Maine factoids. What does the state motto Dirigo really mean? What is Maine’s longest river? It’s not what you think. And the mystery of the “Maine Penny,” discovered in 1954.

 

45TH PARALLEL by Norman R. Kalloch, Jr.; Maine Authors Publishing, 2019; 208 pages, $19.95.

45TH PARALLEL

If anyone ever thought that being a drug dealer was an exciting, glamorous, lucrative life, then Norman Kalloch’s new novel, “45th Parallel,” will shatter that false illusion.

This is Somerset County author Kalloch’s second book after “A Long Way to Walk.” This is a grim novel about drug dealing in Maine in 1975, when cocaine and marijuana were the illegal drugs of choice and people would take incredible risks to buy and sell.

Kalloch is a realist, an author whose vivid, stark portrayal of the illicit drug trade reveals how desperate people can be made to do stupid things, and how amoral drug dealers can easily become deserving victims of their own greed, arrogance and paranoia.

Jack Ramsey is a low-level dealer working mid-coast Maine, selling cocaine from Rockland to Belfast. He is a lazy, lying, cheating manipulator who thinks he’s so smart he can skim money off the drug sales and his New York City crime boss will never know. Jack is actually pretty dumb.

Jack’s coastal drug trade is a sweet gig until the big boss, Frankie Barone, gives him an order he can’t refuse. Frankie intends to expand his operation by smuggling cocaine from NYC through Maine to Canada, and he sends Jack north to Bingham to set it up. And Jack is not happy, particularly because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and because he’s now worried Frankie will discover his skimming.

Of course, things don’t go well. Jack’s smuggling arrangements are tenuous and Frankie gets suspicious. When people show up in Bingham looking for Jack, he knows he’s in real trouble; however, he uncharacteristically does one good deed that just might help two deserving women.

There is no joy here, just an exciting story of bad decisions with a surprise ending.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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