Water by Jennifer Wilson
Freja Folsom, a reporter from Des Moines, is assigned to a story about a man who illegally made a well in the city's emergency water supply. She has no desire to work on it as nobody reads environmental stories. However, being at risk for being laid off and finding herself fascinated by the renegade well-maker, she throws herself into the story.
Water is an interesting mix. At it's core, it's a romance about Freja's breakup with a politician and her falling for the man she's writing a story about. However, a big focus on the book is looking at the issue of nitrate pollution in Iowa rivers and what can be done about it. Wilson makes the mixture work.
As the book mentions, environmental issues can be very dry, but I found the explanations of the effects of nitrate pollution here to be interesting. The book is somewhat didactic about the issue, but it doesn't feel preachy. It brings in several characters who would be intimately connected to the issue, public servants, farmers, and people at risk from nitrate poisoning, that the explanations feel very natural. All sides of the issues are presented in a pretty fair way, even though it's clear where the author comes down on it.
While I'm not a huge fan of romance stories, I still found the story here engaging. The dynamic between her former boyfriend, a politician who (surprise!) turns out to be a sleazeball, feels very real. The one between her and the man she's doing a story about feels rather underdeveloped. They don't talk that much, as the man is refusing to share anything, and the reveal of their mutual feelings is a bit sudden. Despite that, it was still a satisfying read.
I think this is a book well-worth reading, even if you're not at all interested in Iowa pollution issues. It was also published through a local Iowa business, so you'll be supporting them by buying it.
Buy Water by Jennifer Wilson here.
Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan
Shane is a completely directionless man. He works as a temp at an insurance company, where he spends most of his time sleeping in the bathroom. He has nothing but resentment for his aggressive girlfriend Gwen, he's having an affair with his landlord's wife, and he's addicted to stealing saltshakers. When his a close friend, a deaf woman who works as a dentist's assistant, turns up dead, he needs to prove his innocence.
This book is just hilarious. It had me hooked from the beginning where a pair of cops find Shane asleep in his bed covered in salt from shakers still in his pocket. Thinking it's cocaine, one of the cops sniffs it. Some of the other ridiculous moments include a wannabe drug dealer who dresses his guinea pig in bondage gear, the sex Shane has with Gwen that leaves him bruised and battered, and the cheap girl's bicycle that barely works that he rides everywhere.
Besides its ridiculous comedy, there's also some great satire of corporate America. Shane despises his job at the company. Besides how empty it is, he hates the false "feel good" attitude pushed on him and the other employees and how the others accept it. If you've ever worked a job with bullshit "team building exercises" and mandatory "fun" events, you'll get where he's coming from.
I think this is a hilarious and excellent novel. I'm looking forward to what Paul Neilan does next. If he ever does. This book was published in 2007 and he's put out nothing since. He has a blog, but it hasn't updated in over a decade. It's a shame that he'll likely end up a one book author.
Buy Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan here.