Self-Referential 100th Post

Nothing like an arbitrary milestone for the blogosphere. This is the 100th post of the Driftless Area Review.  It’s been a fun experience thus far.  I’ve met new people and started receiving free review copies.  I have enjoyed the works of the Permanent Press and enjoy the publishing philosophy of co-founder Martin Shepard. For those interested, I will continue my two long term essay series: The Art of Reviewing and Essays on Capital.  I am currently half-way through Capital, Volume 2.  The work presents more of a challenge, since the text is more technical, dry, and math-intensive than the first … Continue reading Self-Referential 100th Post

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The Ringer by Jenny Shank

On a mid-March afternoon in Denver, Ed O’Fallon and a DPD SWAT Team enter a run-down building on a no-knock warrant.  He comes upon a sleepy Mexican man who doesn’t respond to his commands.  A gun is drawn (or not?) and Ed fires.  The man is killed.  Ed later finds out that the no-knock warrant had the wrong address and the man had a name, Salvador Santillano. The Ringer by Jenny Shank chronicles the repercussions in Denver’s Latino and law enforcement communities.  While the engine that propels the narrative forward revolves around Santillano’s death, Shank begins the novel with Ed … Continue reading The Ringer by Jenny Shank

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Standing at the Crossroads by Charles Davis

Strange and short, straddling realism and fable, Standing at the Crossroads by Charles Davis tells the tale of Ishmael, his encounters, his adventures, and, above all, his love for literature.  Employed as “The Walking Librarian,” he cuts a muscular figure from the heavy books he carries from village to village.  For now, his books lay buried in a dry well and he finds himself on a journey with a strident woman named Kate. Ishmael grew up in the harsh land of an unnamed African nation, now a failed state filled with militias sporting anemic acronyms and engaging in atrocities.  One … Continue reading Standing at the Crossroads by Charles Davis

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Dead Center by Joanna Higgins

Joanna Higgins crafts a novel that extends beyond the normal genre boundaries of the murder mystery and courtroom drama.  Dead Center revolves around the Weber family.  Dr. Benjamin Weber is a beloved pediatrician with a practice in Hawaii.  He lives with his wife Karen.  Prior to marrying Ben, Karen had two daughters, Laura and Lin, from a previous marriage.  Ben and Karen also have a daughter of their own, Katherine.  Ben Weber married Karen following the death of her husband, Peter Hyland.  Ben was present when Peter died in Tunley, Michigan.  Was it an accident?  Was it murder?  Now, twenty … Continue reading Dead Center by Joanna Higgins

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Interview with Martin Shepard, co-founder of the Permanent Press

The Permanent Press is a small publisher based in Sag Harbor, New York.  With high standards and a small staff, the Permanent Press possesses both the longevity and critical acclaim usually associated with larger publishers.  Martin and Judy Shepard approach the business of publishing with small print runs and putting out only a dozen new titles every year.  Unlike the mainstream conglomerates, the Permanent Press is more of an artisan than an agent of mass production. Martin Shepard, co-founder of the Permanent Press I had the opportunity to ask Martin Shepard, co-founder of Permanent Press, some questions about the book … Continue reading Interview with Martin Shepard, co-founder of the Permanent Press

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The Reckoning by Howard Owen

In Howard Owen’s ninth novel, The Reckoning, the lives of George James and Freeman Hawk meet again after decades of separation.  Freeman was an African-American civil rights activist who fled to Canada to avoid getting drafted.  George James was a scion of the old money South and an heir to the Old Dominion Ham Company.  Owen shifts between past and present, reflecting the tense relationship between George James, widowed and alcoholic, and his son Jake.  Freeman Hawk returned to George, but George’s idealization of Freeman makes the opaque circumstances harder to pick up.  George tells Jake how Freeman led the … Continue reading The Reckoning by Howard Owen

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To Account for Murder by William C. Whitbeck

If Permanent Press had a prestige novel, To Account for Murder by William C. Whitbeck would it.  The novel presents a fictionalized version of real life events that happened in Michigan.  In 1945, Senator Warren G. Hooper was murdered in a gangland-style slaying.  To this day, the murder case has never been solved.  William C. Whitbeck, the author of the novel, also works as Chief Judge of the Michigan Court.  He presents us with the tale of one Charlie Cahill, a disabled vet, prosecutor, and son of an Irish bootlegger. Set in Lansing during 1945 and into 1946, Whitbeck paints … Continue reading To Account for Murder by William C. Whitbeck

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The Dissemblers by Liza Campbell

The Dissemblers is a story about creativity, betrayal, art, crime, and jealousy.  Ivy Wilkes has recently graduated from art school and has moved to New Mexico to work in the Georgie O’Keeffee Museum.  She works as a cashier, but hopes being close to where O’Keeffe created her work will inspire her to do the same.  Ivy lives below a couple of musicians, Jake and Maya.  When not playing with the orchestra, Jake works as a guard at the museum.  Ivy eventually becomes romantically involved with Omar, café owner and Jake’s brother. As an artist, Ivy is remarkably perceptive.  She narrates … Continue reading The Dissemblers by Liza Campbell

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How to Survive a Natural Disaster by Margaret Hawkins

With her sophomore effort entitled How to Survive a Natural Disaster, Margaret Hawkins offers the reader a meditation on family, faith, and redemption.  Given the subject matter, one shouldn’t expect a Nicholas Sparks clone or some other emotionally exploitive trash that usually lines the shelves of bookstores and tops bestseller lists.  The novel is about redemption, but it is a strange and dark redemption, more Dexter than The Notebook.  Through the prism of multiple voices, Hawkins reveals a family in turmoil and a traumatic event that shatters the numbing dysfunction.  (The cover displays a young child, teddy bear in hand, … Continue reading How to Survive a Natural Disaster by Margaret Hawkins

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Fall Asleep Forgetting by Georgeann Packard

The appreciation of a novel can occasionally come down to something as random as timing.  When one reads a book too early or too late, one can miss important elements within the story.  This reviewer read Lord of the Rings too late and found its cod-archaic prose akin to downing a sedative.  Similarly, when reading Paradise Lost in middle school, the only thing gained was “bragging rights” since the poetry remained impenetrable.  All this represents a roundabout preface for my appreciation of Georgeann Packard’s novel Fall Asleep Forgetting. In the months leading up to September 11, 2001, the inhabitants of … Continue reading Fall Asleep Forgetting by Georgeann Packard

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