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Historical Novels

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The Great Sand Fracas of Ames County: A Novel (Terrace Books, September, 2014).

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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?

"Once again, Jerry Apps has tapped into a highly controversial issue to explore contemporary Midwestern values—historical preservation versus forces of change, environmental protection versus economic opportunity. And once again, Apps succeeds brilliantly. He is an articulate and forceful voice for the Wisconsin ethos."—Jerry Minnich, author of The Wisconsin Almanac

"Jerry Apps has given us another gift with his latest installment in the fictional Ames County saga. The Great Sand Fracas of Ames County will transport you to Ames County's community of Link Lake and make you one of the regulars at its cafes and supper clubs. Those familiar with the rural Upper Midwest will feel right at home and newcomers will get a crash course in the rhythms and controversies along the fault lines between economic development, conservation, and historic preservation."—Dennis Boyer, author of Listen to the Land

"Jerry Apps was born and raised on a Wisconsin farm and draws from his personal experiences and his cultural surroundings in all of the novels in his Ames County series. "The Great Sand Fracas Of Ames Country" is the latest and perhaps the best in an already outstanding roster of five previous works of homespun fiction. Solidly entertaining and very highly recommended reading, "The Great Sand Fracas Of Ames Country" will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections." - Midwest Book Review

From Farm to Typewriter, Jerry Apps' Journey By Doug Moe

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Letters from Hillside Farm (Fulcrum Publishing, April, 2013).

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"Apps adroitly weaves factual information about the difficulties of life during the Depression with the fictional story of George to create a snapshot of a different time for today’s youth, much like Patricia Reilly Giff in My Name Is Rachel." –Booklist

Told through the correspondence between twelve-year-old George Struckmeyer and his grandmother, Letters from Hillside Farm provides a glimpse into life during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Struckmeyer family is forced to move to a rented farm in central Wisconsin after George’s father, Adolph, loses his factory job in Cleveland, Ohio. George shares his discovery of rural life, the challenges of being an outsider in a new place, and the realities of tough times.

Infusing the real-life stories that make up history with his own experiences growing up on a Wisconsin farm, master storyteller Jerry Apps captures George’s struggles to adjust to a new life of milking cows, plowing fields, and walking to a one-room schoolhouse. George not only must help his family survive the Depression, but he also must endure what every adolescent has to: growing up.

(Sample) Dear Grandma,

This morning . . . our telephone rang. . . . We are on a party-line, which means that several people in our neighborhood are all connected to the same . . . line and the only way you know when to answer the telephone is when you hear your own special ring. Our ring is a long ring and three short rings.

After Ma answered the phone, she turned to Pa and said it was a call for him. As he listened, a big grin spread across his face. Then he said thank you, hung up the receiver, and asked if I'd like to ride into town with him. . . . He was still grinning.

During the Great Depression, families were uprooted as millions lost their jobs. The fictional Struckmeyer family was one such family. After father Struckmeyer looses his factory job in Cleveland, the family borrows some money from Grandma so they can rent a farm in Wisconsin and buy animals and equipment.

Told through the correspondence between the young narrator George Struckmeyer and his grandmother, Letters from Hillside Farm provides a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of those who lived through the difficult 1930s. Infusing the real-life stories that make up history with personal experience, Jerry Apps details George's discovery of rural life and the realities of tough times.

Jerry Apps writes novels and nonfiction about the outdoors and rural living. He received the 2008 First Place Nature Writing Award from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association and the 2007 Major Achievement Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers.

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Tamarack River Ghost: A Novel  (University of Wisconsin Press, November, 2012).

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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.

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The Travels of Increase Joseph: A Historical Novel About a Pioneer Preacher (Paperback Edition, University of Wisconsin Press, July, 2010).

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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.


It only seems as if Jerry Apps has written a couple hundred books, but it has to be at least a dozen by now, on subjects including beer and barns, circus and one-room schools. He’s even written a couple of fine children’s books.
It took him a long time to get around to writing a novel, but it was worth the wait. The Travels of Increase Joseph depicts a make-believe rural preacher in the real world of Wisconsin from pre-Civil War days to the turn of the Century, and it grabs and holds your interest all the way.

Like all of Jerry’s books, Travels is steeped in meticulous research, but this time Jerry has let his imagination have at the facts. We follow the career of Increase Joseph Link from the time he gets drummed out of theology school until his death. His calling to preach comes in the form of a literal lightning bolt and leads him to form the church of the Standalone Fellowship, based on teachings contained in a mysterious red book the preacher keeps with him at all times and never lets anyone else read.  When not preaching a gospel of God, man, and the land, pastor Link peddles a cure-all tonic (the recipe also remains his secret, but I'm betting on a high alcohol content) that sells for "50 cents, or two for a dollar."  It's a wonderful read and an education in Wisconsin history and the formation of America. I highly recommend it. Marshal Cook

The Travels Of Increase Joseph by Jerry Apps is a superbly crafted historical novel of a pioneer preacher who came to the wildlands of Wisconsin in 1852 with his small gathering of followers, the Standalone Fellowship. Supporting the Fellowship by selling his special curative tonic, and delivering oratory and with powerful messages that are nothing short of spellbinding, Joseph Link dared to speak out as he journeyed and his words and ideas made an impression that stayed. The Travels Of Increase Joseph is a most thoughtful and wonderfully entertaining read. Jerry Apps writes with vibrant character and has a penchant for making Wisconsin history come alive. Midwest Book Review.

Other Reviews: Fitchburg Star

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In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story (September, 2007)

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. 

Click here for Reviews of "In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story"

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Blue Shadows Farm (September, 2009)

"Jerry Apps unravels a family secret that arcs across three generations and delivers a surprising answer for one descendant."
—Philip Hasheider, contributing author to Seasons on the Farm

Fans of Jerry Apps will delight in his latest novel, Blue Shadows Farm, which 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.

Finalist, General Fiction, Midwest book Wards, 2010


Many books have good stories, but too often end up with the reader feeling that the story was better than what the writer did with it.  Likewise, many really good writers unfortunately just don’t have very good stories to tell.  But Jerry Apps scores big time on both counts with Blue Shadows Farm.  It’s an exceptionally well-crafted tale, spread over three generations of Starkweathers.

From Silas Starkweather, a wounded Civil War soldier who homesteads the farm in rural central Wisconsin, through Emma his grand-daughter who ushers in the 21st century, the book chronicles their trials and triumphs through their relationships with their neighbors and the land.  But Blue Shadows Farm is not a straight linear account of their lives. Successive chapters go back and forth among all three generations, creating interconnected timelines. From Silas Starkweather, a wounded Civil War soldier who homesteads the farm in rural central Wisconsin, through Emma, his grand-daughter who ushers in the 21st century, the book chronicles their trials and triumphs through their relationships with their neighbors and the land.

Apps' smooth narrative, vivid descriptions and natural dialogue effectively weave the stories together into a large, coherent tapestry, covering a century-and-a-half of change on their farm and in the surrounding community. Each compact chapter is filled with a wealth of details about the era in which that chapter's specific events occur, providing you with a fine taste of the vintage realities of rural life during each period.

It all comes together seamlessly and very effectively, including the mystery of an underlying theme that is an intriguing and satisfying part of the story. As you read and enjoy the literary pleasures of Blue Shadows Farm, it will inevitably expand your perspectives on how things were and how they are. You can't help but learn some significant things in this historical novel that's as much or more history as it is novel.

With Blue Shadows Farm, Jerry Apps has penned another gem in his long line of superb books. This one gives irrefutable proof that his craftsmanship as a writer is outstanding and the tales he tells are truly good stories. Nowadays, that is a hard-to-find and much-to-be-treasured combination.  Jim Pope,

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Cranberry Red - October, 2010

From Publishers Weekly:
The fourth title in Apps's Ames County, Wis., series offers a feel-good slice of 21st-century life in smalltown U.S.A. When his job is eliminated, Ben Wesley had been an Ames County agricultural agent for two decades. After breaking the news to his often difficult wife, Beth, a registered nurse, Ben is offered a more lucrative position as a œresearch application specialist � by a new online, for-profit university, which means he has to start charging fees for his services, a change he's none too happy about. He also has to aggressively market the university's scientifically developed miracle fruit, Cranberry Red. Claims of improved health from its higher antioxidant content clash with a lack of adequate product testing that leaves its side effects on humans uncertain. Ben has grave concerns, butting heads with Brittani Stone, his ambitious, by-the-book office manager, and seeks the counsel of his old fishing pal, Lars Olson. Despite all the drama, there's time for such rural staples as the county fair and family cookouts before the truly disturbing aspects of Cranberry Red emerge in Apps's satisfying outside-the-city-limits tale.  Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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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Last updated: 08/01/2017 09:18 PM CST