Monday, February 28, 2011


Expect the unexpected in a pair of recent unusual self-published novels set in Michigan. Each could be classified as a coming-of age-novel - except they focus on substantial adult lifestyle changes.

"Root Cause" by Midland author James W. Crissman (Xlibris, $19.99) is an entertaining debut novel about a wide variety of subjects.

It showcases an unlikely hero, 32-year-old Bruce Dinkle, who has worked for eight years as a control board operator at a Bay City power plant.

Dinkle has become a hardcore locavore and urban agriculturist, eating foods only grown in a 100-mile radius.
He leaves his job, his wife and family, escaping via bicycle on a quest to discover where food comes from. He ends up in Parma, a small farming community where he learns more about food - and life - than he ever expected.

There's a great mix of quirky characters, including a randy goat farmer, a gutsy waitress, an angry husband, a very determined dog, an aging farmer and an experienced veterinarian.

Just when the reader thinks Dinkle's situation can't get much worse - it does. Crissman expertly adds dark humor, sexual overtones, deadly violence and numerous surprising, bizarre plot twists.

Crissman, an MSU grad who's a veterinary pathologist and a former large animal veterinarian, has won many prizes for his poetry. He has deftly created an atmospheric, strikingly memorable debut novel, which can be ordered at www.

"When Dreams Die" by Lansing author J.R. Kesler (CreateSpace, $14.95) features 26-year-old Donnie McLean, who's working a dead-end job as a janitor in a Flint bank building.

He was a high school basketball star eight years ago, before a terrible tragedy occurred on court. Now, his wife's a couch potato, he's a boozer and a loser, frustrated and ready to jump off a bridge. The police intervene, but McLean soon gets drunk and totals his car.

His route to recovery takes an odd twist when he meets a nurse. He decides to get back into shape and do the one thing he loves most - play basketball.

Kesler, while not always politically correct, smoothly uses flashbacks to tell a compelling story, developing strong characters and an intriguing plot.

Basketball fans will enjoy following McLean's growth as he struggles for survival and success. Copies can be ordered at

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, February, 27 2011.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.

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