THIS DAY IN MAINE by Joseph Owen; Islandport Press, 2020; 400 pages, $16.95.


Founding Father Thomas Jefferson once derided the value of newspapers: “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” And he was wrong, as former Maine journalist Joseph Owen proves in his debut book “This Day in Maine.”

Owen currently writes the popular and entertaining column “On This Date in Maine History” for several Maine newspapers, and many of those news items are collected here. As a reporter and editor for more than 40 years, he has a knack for revealing obscure and insightful news facts and writing about them with humor and clarity.

This book contains more than 650 newsworthy items covering Maine history from the 16th century to today. Organized by calendar month and then by day, each item features a significant event, person or place, and includes politicians, athletes, inventors, writers, artists, musicians, criminals and military heroes, as well as disasters, fires, floods, business failures and successes, winter storms and some wacky items, too.

Even Thomas Jefferson would be impressed with this fun look at Maine history. For example, Jan. 8, 1825 was the birthday of Maine’s oldest newspaper still in print, the Kennebec Journal, and on Feb. 24, 1838 a Maine Congressman was killed in a duel. Owen tells when and why Hostess Twinkies stopped being made in Maine, and why in 1901 Millinocket was named “Miracle City in the Wilderness.”

Learn which future president climbed Mount Katahdin; which future king of England ate lunch in Portland; who was the first female Maine Guide; and about the dramatic Civil War naval battle in Portland Harbor. Also read about the two men who invented the “flying teapot” automobile, the man who invented chewing gum, and the “Napoleon of Temperance” who was nearly lynched in Portland’s Rum Riot.




THE LOST BOYS OF LONDON:  A BIANCA GODDARD MYSTERY by Mary Lawrence; Red Puddle Print, 2020; 324 pages, $15.95.


Fans of historical mystery fiction appreciate Limington author Mary Lawrence’s mystery series set in 16th-century London, complete with the teeming city’s poverty, filth, stink, disease and crime.

Unfortunately, “The Lost Boys of London” is the fifth and last book in this excellent series. Writing historical fiction is a challenge. Writers cannot just make things up. Details must be accurate, and that requires the hard work of meticulous research. And Lawrence has done a masterful job with this colorful mystery series.

Lawrence’s main character, Bianca Goddard, makes “medicinals and physicks” for London’s poor in 1545. A bright young woman, Bianca lives and works in a smelly hovel, cooking up home remedies for sale by a street vendor. Now, however, she is asked by Constable Patch to help investigate the hanging death of a boy at a local church. Suicide or murder?


Bianca discovers the boy was dead before he was hanged, and the only clues are a rosary around his neck and a sweet-smelling rag found nearby. Her investigation brings her into contact with well-fed priests who dislike each other, displaced monks with hidden secrets, the vulnerability of homeless boys, and the dangerous behavior of men struggling with England’s conflict over religious reform and Catholic persecution.

Two more grisly murders, a puzzling kidnapping and a shameless extortion add to the growing suspense and menace, and Bianca finds herself in deadly peril. Add lively characters like Fisk the 10-year-old street urchin, Meddybumps the street vendor, Roy the Robber and the clever Deft Drigger, and Lawrence spins a fast-paced mystery tale.

She also vividly describes King Henry VIII’s bloody wars in Scotland and France, and the bitter rivalry between Protestants and Catholics. And the ending will be a surprise. But for now, it’s goodbye Bianca Goddard.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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