Novels That Strike as the Heart of Contemporary Issues

The Travels of Increase Joseph

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Inspired by actual events that took place in upstate New York and Wisconsin in the mid-nineteenth century, The Travels of Increase Joseph is the first in Jerry Apps’s series set in fictional Ames County, Wisconsin. The four novels in the series—which also includes In a Pickle, Blue Shadows Farm, and the forthcoming Cranberry Red—all take place around Link Lake at different points in history. They convey Apps’s deep knowledge of rural life and his own concern for land stewardship.

In a Pickle

Jerry Apps in his latest novel, In a Pickle, is a many-layered pleasure delivered by a master craftsman who is also, like his contemporaries Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn, a passionate student of the people’s history.  As Apps engages us in the coming-of-age saga of the pickle factory manager Andy Meyer, his In a Pickle is at once a lesson in rural Wisconsin sociology, a quietly scathing indictment of factory farming, and a great read.”—John Galligan. 

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Blue Shadows Farm

Blue Shadows Farm follows the intriguing family story of three generations on a Wisconsin farm. Silas Starkweather, a Civil War veteran, is drawn to Wisconsin and homesteads 160 acres in Ames County, where he is known as the mysterious farmer forever digging holes. After years of hardship and toil, however, Silas develops a commitment to farming his land and respect for his new community. When Silas’s son Abe inherits Blue Shadows Farm he chooses to keep the land out of reluctant necessity, distilling and distributing “purified corn water” throughout Prohibition and the Great Depression in order to stay solvent. Abe’s daughter, Emma, willingly takes over the farm after her mother’s death. Emma’s love for this place inspires her to open the farm to school- children and families who share her respect for it. As she considers selling the land, Emma is confronted with a difficult question—who, through thick and thin, will care for Blue Shadows Farm as her family has done for over a century? In the midst of a controversy that disrupts the entire community, Emma looks into her family’s past to help her make crucial decisions about the future of its land.

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Cranberry Red

From Booklist:
In the fourth book in the Ames County series, Ben Wesley, an agricultural agent for the past two decades, is suddenly out of work when funding for his program is cut. He’s immediately offered a job with Osborne University, doing pretty much what he did before but charging people for his services. This makes him a little uncomfortable but not nearly as much as Cranberry Red, a new chemical developed by the university’s researchers that could have spectacular benefits for people with heart disease or Alzheimer’s. When it begins to appear that Cranberry Red has some pretty nasty side effects, Ben is faced with a difficult choice: keep his job and find a way to protect the community, or blow the lid off the secret and risk everything. Apps approaches his familiar themes (honor, the importance of community, the increasing threat to traditional farming) from a new angle, focusing on the issue of genetic modification and its impact on an entire way of life. As usual, he creates compelling characters and places them in a vividly realized setting. –David Pitt

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Tamarack River Ghost

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When journalist Josh Wittmore moves from the Illinois bureau of Farm Country News to the newspaper’s national office in Wisconsin, he encounters the biggest story of his young career—just as the paper’s finances may lead to its closure.

Josh’s big story is that a corporation that plans to establish an enormous hog farm has bought a lot of land along the Tamarack River in bucolic Ames County. Some of the local residents and officials are excited about the jobs and tax revenues that the big farm will bring, while others worry about truck traffic, porcine aromas, and manure runoff polluting the river. And how would the arrival of a large agribusiness affect life and traditions in this tightly knit rural community of family farmers? Josh strives to provide impartial agricultural reporting, even as his newspaper is replaced by a new Internet-only version owned by a former New York investment banker. And it seems that there may be another force in play: the vengeful ghost of a drowned logger who locals say haunts the valley of the Tamarack River.

The Great Sand Fracas of Ames County

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When the Alstage Mining Company proposes a frac sand mine in the small Ames County village of Link Lake, events quickly escalate to a crisis. Business leader Marilyn Jones of the Link Lake Economic Development Council heads the pro-mine forces, citing needed jobs and income for the county. Octogenarian Emily Higgins and other Link Lake Historical Society members are aghast at the proposed mine location in the community park, where a huge and ancient bur oak—the historic Trail Marker Oak—has stood since it pointed the way along an old Menominee trail. Reluctantly caught in the middle of the fray is Ambrose Adler, a reclusive, retired farmer with a secret.

Soon the fracas over frac sand attracts some national attention, including that of Stony Field, the pen name of a nationally syndicated columnist. Will the village board vote to solve their budget problems with a cut of the mining profits? Will the mine create real jobs for local folks? Will Stony Field come to the village to lead protests against the mine? And will defenders of the Trail Marker Oak literally draw a battle line in the sand?

Cold as Thunder

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Since the Eagle Party took power in the United States, all schools and public utilities have been privatized, churches and libraries closed, and independent news media shut down. Drones buzz overhead in constant surveillance of the populace, and the open internet has been replaced by the network of the New Society Corporation. Environmental degradation and unchecked climate change have brought raging wildfires to the Western states and disastrous flooding to Eastern coastal regions.

In the Midwest, a massive storm sends Lake Michigan surging over the Door County peninsula, and thousands of refugees flee inland. In the midst of this apocalypse, a resourceful band of Wisconsin sixty-somethings calling themselves the Oldsters lays secret plans to fight the ruling regime’s propaganda and show people how to think for themselves.