RIPPED OFF: AN IAN CONNAH THRILLER by Vaughn C. Hardacker; Encircle Publications, 2023; 329 pages, $18.99; ISBN 978-1-64599-436-7.


When hitman Ian Connah retires from Boston’s Irish mob, he thinks he’s all set. Four divorces with alimony payments don’t faze him; after all, he’s got a $3 million retirement nest egg in the bank. Then his financial advisor steals all the money and skips town, leaving Connah broke and back in the game. And he’s not happy.

“Ripped Off” is the perfect title for Stockholm, Maine author Vaughn Hardacker’s newest novel, a fast-paced, complex tale of money, murder and mayhem. Hardacker has penned six novels, and three were finalists for the MWPA Literary Award. He understands what makes people tick, and is very skillful at convincingly describing bad guys doing bad things (especially to each other, which is refreshing).

Now that Connah is back in business and needs money, he finds himself in a dilemma. Two former girlfriends run mob operations in Boston: Billie runs the Irish mob and Bobbi runs the Italian mob and they hate each other. Each wants to hire Connah to kill their unladylike rival, but he refuses to kill a woman (a hitman with morals?). Then a third gangster takes out a contract on both women and Connah has to protect them from hired guns at a lakeside hideout in Maine.

Meanwhile, the financial advisor is on the run in South America, scared to death knowing Connah is coming for him. Connah is determined to catch up with the thief and recover his money, but first he and his sidekick, Stone, must plow through layers of South American crooks, corruption and the deadly Amazon rainforest.

The reader will quickly see this could have easily been two separate novels, but Hardacker pulls it off nicely with loads of action, plot twists, a high body count and a guy who just wants to retire.


ONCE UPON A TIME NOBODY COULD READ by Penny West; Spentpenny Press, 2022; 38 pages, $10; ISBN 979-8-9867738-0-3.


Was there a time when nobody could read? Yes, there was, but somehow you are reading this which means somebody learned how to write and read long ago, so you could read this today. How did they do that?

Belfast author Penny West tackles the miracle of literacy — language, writing, reading — in her new children’s book. This is an original concept, explaining skills often taken for granted, presented in a whimsical and clear manner, supported with clever illustrations by Maret Hensick. This book, for ages 5-8, is both funny and educational.

West tells how oral communication led to spoken language, then to the spoken word describing an image or drawing (meaning), and finally to written images becoming words to describe everything. She also discusses how and why there are so many different languages using alphabets and word sounds that seem strange to us.


Everyone has seen people walking their dogs, and it’s usually easy to see what the dog notices — smells, squirrels, other dogs, that weird stuff on the neighbor’s lawn, for example. But, what does the human notice on that walk? Does anyone really pay attention?


THINGS I NOTICE WHEN I WALK THE DOG by Christine Richards; Waystation Whistle, 2022; 32 pages, $12.99; ISBN 989-8-9857121-0-0.

Yes, they sometimes do.

This is Portland author Christine Richards’s smart children’s story for ages 4-7, describing all the things people (kids and adults) can see while walking the family dog, if they would just observe what’s going on around them.

Richards’s dog is Agatha, a droopy-eyed basset hound, and they walk everywhere together. While Agatha sniffs, Richards sees the morning dew on the grass, birds, flower gardens, falling leaves and drifting clouds. She did all the artwork herself, colorful collages that evoke the beauty we’d all see if we just took the time to look.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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