Mo Welch: How To Die Alone

              Always a doodler, stand-up comedian Mo Welch, who’d just broken up with her boyfriend, was eating a blueberry  Pop Tart in her mom’s kitchen when she began sketching a dozen cartoons about a female character she named Blair—think a more sarcastic, less sunny but equally funny version Cathy, the popular cartoon character created by Cathy Guisewite, one of Welch’s favorite cartoonists.

              “My mom always makes Pop Tarts,” says Welch, who grew up in Oak Park, Illinois.  “I was at a crossroad in my life, depressed and trying to decide what to do and thinking too how depressing and hilarious I probably looked. So, I got out my Sharpie and started drawing.”

              But first she had to finish eating her Pop Tart, a food group according to Welch that also figures large not only in her own life but also in the life of Blair.  A simply drawn cartoon, Blair is a 30-something single woman whose outlook on life is fairly dark. She’s definitely the cup is always half-empty type, lamenting in one cartoon panel how “My best friend just bought a house and I’m eating a Pop Tart for dinner.”

              Since that day in her mon’s kitchen, Welch has pursued her career as a stand-up comedian and cartoonist with considerable success–currently her Blair comics which are on Instagram @momowelch has over 65,000 followers–and her first book, How to Die Alone: The Foolproof Guide to Not Helping Yourself (Workman 2019; $12.95) is just being released.

              Describing working in the field of comedy as one filled with rebuffs which for her can mutate into depression, Welch describes the Blair cartoons as helping her at a time where everything seemed chaotic.

              “I felt rejected in both my love life and career,” she says. “Drawing my Blair comics every day got me into a routine and also reminded me how I love comedy. Anytime I get depressed or irritated, Blair helps me.”

              Intensely shy when she was young, Welch says she couldn’t say her name aloud at an ice breaker or read aloud in class.

              “When I go on TV or do a big show, I still have that nervousness,” says Welch who has been on Conan several times, appeared in season two of Amazon’s Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street and season two of Life in Pieces on CBS and starred in Foul Ball on CBS and also has worked as a writer for TBS, CBS and Nickelodeon. “But I translate that into a better way now.”

              Even though she’s been successful, Welch still feels a deep affinity for Blair.

              “What I like about her is that I think everyone can relate to her,” she says.

              As for her upcoming Chicago book signing and presentation, she’s very excited.

              “My mom is going to bring all her friends from her quilting club,” she says. “It’s always nice to know you’ll have a friendly crowd.”

              Getting back to the driver of all the good things in her life, Welch says, “I thank the entire Pop Tart industry for the success I’ve had.”


What: Mo Welch in conversation with local podcast host and storyteller, Whitney Capps; book signing

When: Thursday, May 2nd at 7pm

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 26 La Grange Rd., La Grange

Cost: This event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase a copy of Welch’s new book from Anderson’s.

FYI: 708-582-6353;

Park Avenue Summer

              Chicago-based author Renee Rosen typically writes novels about historic periods and people in Chicago such as the age of jazz (Windy City Blues); mid-20th century journalism (White Collar Girl) and the Roaring Twenties (Dollface). But in Park Avenue Summer, her latest novel which she describes as “Mad Men the Devil Wears Prada,” she takes us to New York City during the era of Helen Gurley Brown, first female Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine and the author of the scandalous best seller, Sex and the Single Girl.

              Like many of us, Rosen read Cosmo (as it was known) when young.

              Rosen remembers quickly flipping to “Bedside Astrologer” column.

              “I was looking for guidance on my 16-year-old love life,” she says, noting that all the time she spent poring over the glossy pages of Cosmo essentially shaped my view of female sexuality and female empowerment, too. “She changed the face of women’s magazine.”

              Park Avenue Summer tells the story of Alice (Ali), who moves to New York City after breaking up with her boyfriend and ends up getting her dream job, working for Cosmo.

              Like she does for all her books, Rosen threw herself into full research mode, wanting to convey the story through Alice’s eyes.

              “I even went down to the Port Authority to get the feel of what Alice would have seen and felt when she arrived,” says Rosen.  

              Because Rosen had lived on the Upper West side in New York for a year she knew where Ali, as a single working girl would live—an area in the East 60s called “the girl’s ghetto.” She walked the streets until she found the exact apartment she had envisioned for Ali.

              All in the name of research, she visited Tavern on the Green, 21 Club, St. Regis and the Russian Tearoom, all swank places still in business that were very popular back then. But best of all, a friend introduced her to Lois Cahall who had worked for Brown.

              “Helen Gurley Brown was like a second mother to Lois,” says Rosen. “She and I became good friends and she vetted the book for me. It was like a gift from the gods, because she knew so much about Brown and Cosmo and that time.”

              Rosen is very much an admirer of Brown and what she accomplished.

              “She really wanted to help women be their best,” she says. “She wanted them to know that they could get what they want even in what was then a man’s world.”


What: Rene Rosen has several book signing events in the Chicago area.

When & Where: Tuesday, April 30th at 7 p.m.  Launch party at The Book Cellar Launch Party, 4736 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL.

When & Where: Wednesday, May 1 at 11:30 a.m., Luncheon at The Deer Path Inn, 255 East Illinois St., Lake Forest, IL. $55 includes lunch and book. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Sponsored by Lake Forest Bookstore. 847-234-4420;

When & Where: Wednesday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m. The Book Stall, 811 Elm St, Winnetka, IL 847-446-8880;  In conversation with Susanna Calkins who is celebrating the release of Murder Knocks Twice, the start of a new mystery series set in the world of Chicago speakeasy in the 1920s.

When & Where: Monday, May 13 at 7 p.m. The Book Table’s Authors on Tap series with author Jamie Freveletti. Beer Shop 1026 North Blvd., Chicago, IL. 847- 946-4164;

William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Mean Girls

              Take two cultural icons—William Shakespeare, the English poet, playwright and actor who is considered one of the best writers in the English language and the movie Mean Girls which was released 15 years ago and stars Tina Fey, one of my favorite comedians and you have tales of passion, toxic envy, back-stabbing (both literal and figurative) and intense power struggles (for kingdoms or, in the case of Mean Girls, to belong to the most popular high school clique.

            Now, Ian Doescher, a best selling author has combined the two in the recently introduced Pop Shakespeare series from Quirk Books, starting with two books, William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Mean Girls and William Shakespeare’s Get Thee Back to the Future. Both cost $12.99 each.

            Doescher, who earned a B.A. in Music from Yale University, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Ethics from Union Theological Seminary, has taken the Bard’s comedic play Much Ado About Nothing (nothing signifying a great deal of fuss over something of little importance) and Mean Girls which tells the story of Cady Heron, a home-schooled child of anthropologists raised in Africa who enrolls in an American high school.

            Written in iambic pentameter, the style of poetry favored by Shakespeare, the books are in a play format. If you’re like me and forgot exactly what iambic pentameter is, Doescher explains that it’s a line of poetry with a very specific syllabic patter.

            “The iamb has two syllables and pentameter mean they are five iambs in a line,” he says. “That means that iambic pentameter is a line of ten syllables.”

            Think da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, he says. Or to make it easier, sing the line from Simon and Garfunkel’s song that goes “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.”

            At first reading the books can be daunting but it only takes a short time to get in the rhyme of the poetry and recognize scenarios and phrases from both Shakespeare and Mean Girls and enjoy the humor.

            A natural to write these books which also includes William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Doescher describes himself as having been the high school nerd who memorized Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquys and then felt compelled to repeat them for friends, family and even to perform them while standing on his desk in English class. We have to agree with him about the nerd thing, particularly after he says that he’s been practicing speaking in iambic pentameter since high school.


What: Ian Doescher talk and book signing.

When: Friday, April 26 from 6 to 7 pm

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W Jefferson Ave, Naperville, IL

Cost: Free and open to the public.

FYI: To join the signing line, please purchase one of the author’s latest books, William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Mean Girls and William Shakespeare’s Get Thee Back to the Future, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville (630) 355-2665 or order online at

Save Me the Plums: Ruth Reichl’s Memoir

            A decade ago, out of all the food magazines published, the most famous was Gourmet, which offered a sophisticated look at culinary trends and cookery. And Ruth Reichl, who formerly had been the food critic for the New York Times, a job that entailed wearing disguises because her photo was plastered on a large number of kitchen walls in the city’s restaurants, was the editor-in-chief of the magazine. It’s a story she recounts in her latest book, Save Me the Plumst (Random House; 2019 $27). You don’t need to be a serious foodie to enjoy her take on what she calls “the golden age of magazines.”

            Reichl didn’t want the job and though she had collected Gourmet magazines starting when she was eight, she saw it as old fashioned and stuffy and at first said no. But the publisher wanted to take the magazine in a different direction and saw Reichl as the person to be able to make that happened. So, she signed on to a job that included a limousine service, first class airfare and a lavish expense account. The selling point after turning it down the first time was that she would be home in the evenings with her son, not critiquing restaurants.

            “I never wanted to become that person,” says Reichl about the luxuries and perks. She recalls flying coach and seeing two of her colleagues boarding the same flight as they were going to the same place and they looked at her in wonderment as they headed to the first class section. She took the bus until a limo driver shamed her into using his service on a regular basis.

             Despite being the food editor and restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Times, the experience of being Gourmet’s editor-in-chief made Reichl quickly learned how much she didn’t know. She recalls freaking her first day when the staff started talking about TOCs and she had to desperately call a friend and ask what that meant as she didn’t want to look ignorant in front of her employees.

            “Table of Contents,” she was told. How simple but it shows the type of learning curve Reichl was encountering in her new career.

            Being Reichl, multiple James Beard-winning and bestselling author, she also includes a few recipes in her book.

            “All of my books have recipes, so I had to have some,” she says. That includes the turkey chili she and her staff used when the gathered in the Gourmet test kitchen on 9/11 and cooked for the first responders.

 “I still love cooking and get an enormous amount of pleasure from it,” she says. “And I like to cook for other people. Every morning I ask my husband what he would like to eat.”

Indeed, for Reichl, food is such a sensory experience that she often likes to eat alone so she can savor every mouthful, letting it take her back to the source of what she’s consuming.

            From the magazine folded and everyone went home, Reichl knew she’d write a book about her time at Gourmet and kept copious notes and saved emails. “But then my editor had to torture me into actually writing it.”

            She wants readers to come along for the ride when reading her book.

            “I want them to get the sense of what it was like,” says Reichl. “I want them to enjoy themselves as much as I did.”


What: Ruth Reichl in-conversation with Louisa Chu, a Chicago based food writer.

When: Wednesday, April 24 at 6 pm

Where: 210 Design House, 210 West Illinois, Chicago, IL

Cost: The cost of on ticket is $56 ($58.95 w/service fee) and includes a copy of the book, wine, and tastes made from Ruth’s book My Kitchen Year. 2 tickets include one book, wine and tastes for $80 ($83.79 w/service fee). To purchase, visit

FYI: The event is sponsored by the Book Cellar. For more information, (773) 293-2665.

The Last Voyageurs: Retracing La Salle’s Journey Across America: Sixteen Teenagers on an Adventure of a Lifetime

In her last year of college, Lorraine Boissoneault, an avowed Francophile and writer who lives in Chicago, became interested in the French history of North America and the journey undertaken by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the first European to travel from Montreal to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Her fascination with the great explorer led to a conversation with an underwater diver and thus to the story of La Salle’s Le Griffon (The Griffin), the first full-sized sailing ship on the upper Great Lakes which disappeared in 1679 with six crew members and a load of furs—also making it the first shipwreck in the Great Lakes. Luckily La Salle had disembarked before the ship made its final voyage. She also learned about a Reid Lewis, a French teacher who decided to re-enact La Salle’s trip, an eight-month, 3,300-mile expedition he undertook with 16 students and six teachers dressed in the period clothing from that time to celebrate the country’s Bicentennial.

Interviewing the voyageurs as well as visiting places where La Salle had landed during the journey and reading original documents written in French (“nothing is ever quite the same in translation,” says Boissoneault), who wrote The Last Voyageurs: Retracing La Salle’s Journey Across America: Sixteen Teenagers on an Adventure of a Lifetime (Pegasus 2016; $27.95).

“It’s amazing when you think of how much they could withstand,” she says, meaning both La Salle and Lewis’ crews.

Indeed, Lewis and his group of students and educators had to trudge over 500 miles of Midwestern landscape during one of the coldest winters on record in the 20th century, paddle in Voyageur canoes across the storm tossed and freezing Great Lakes and, in keeping with their pledge to emulate La Salle, start their campfires with flint and wood.

Of all the thousands of miles they retraced, Lewis’ voyageurs felt that Canada’s Georgian Bay on Lake Huron was most unchanged and therefore the closest they came to what La Salle would have experienced in terms of the water and landscape.     

“We’re fascinated by history but you can’t go back no matter how hard you want to,” says Boissoneault noting she can’t imagine seeing Chicago without civilization as La Salle would have done. “The past is unobtainable. Most poignant for me is their walk across the Midwest. They were doing the same thing La Salle did and wearing the same clothes but nothing was like how it would have been in La Salle’s day.”

Magical Miniature Gardens & Homes: Create Tiny Worlds of Fairy Magic & Delight with Natural, Handmade Décor

Donni Webber, creator and owner of and author of Magical Miniature Gardens & Homes: Create Tiny Worlds of Fairy Magic & Delight with Natural, Handmade Décor (Page Street Publishing 2016; $9.99 Amazon price) offers ideas and instructions for creating a variety of gardens and accessories. Chapters titled The Fairy Sunny House: An Exploration in Fairy Interior Design, A Gourdy Gnome Home: A Gnome in a Gourd, Hobbiton: A Terrarium Garden That Hobbits Will Love and Enchantment in a Gift: Giving the Gift of Magical Fairy Garden Kits feature a myriad of both easy and more complex craft projects. The following are from her book.


Tin Town

Materials: collection of 5 empty vintage cans with lids removed, drill (or you can use a sharp nail in hammer), pebbles, assorted miniature plants, garden gloves, garden trowel, potting soil, sand.


1. Using the drill or sharp nail, puncture holes in the bottom of the tins so that water can drain. Place pebbles in the bottom of the tins to help with drainage. Choose miniature plants including several succulents in a color scheme you like.

2. Add top soil to the tin. For the succulents add ½-inch small pebbles or sand. Add plants. Then add miniature garden items including the wine cork planter (directions provided below). Create a door and window (directions below).

Miniature Tin Town Door and Windows

Materials: sharp scissors, paper painting tape, wax paper, dark brown acrylic paint, paintbrush, wood skewer, red acrylic paint


1. You scissors to cut rectangular door in a square window from the painting tape. Still the shapes on to the wax paper.

2. Use dark Brown acrylic paint to paint the door and window Brown with a paintbrush.

3. To make the door handle, dip the end of the wood skewer into the red acrylic paint and I did come to the door.

4. When the paint is dry, peel the door and window from the wax paper and stick     

Wine Cork Planter

Materials: Pen knife, wine cork, soil, small succulent cutting, wood skewer.  


1. Use a pen knife to carefully whittle a whole about 1 inch deep into the center of the cork. Be slow and deliberate with your whittling, making sure that the blade does not slip and make a hole in the outside of the cork or cut your hand.

2. Hello Hall in the court with moist soil. Make sure your succulent cutting has a long stem for planting. Prepare the cutting by using the nails of your thumb and forefinger to snip off the stem at the end so the cut is fresh.

3. Use the wooden skewer to make a hole in the soil in the core planter of the bright depth for the stem of your cycle succulent cutting. Plant the succulent in the soil and place the planter in your garden.

Brett Paesel’s Everything is Just Fine: Life for a Beverly Hills Soccer Team

Everything is Just Fine, a social satire about families on a Beverly Hills soccer team for 10-year-old boys told partially in e-mails, explores the secrets and failings of the parents as they connect with each other throughout the season’s wins and losses.

Written by Brett Paesel, who also authored the bestselling Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories of an Ordinary Mom, the book could have been full of stock characters. We have the divorcee who drinks too much and spends way too much time flirting with other women’s husbands, the vaguely zoned-out housewife who keeps telling herself she is really, really grateful for what she has until she lands in bed with the sexy Latin soccer star who is helping coach the team and Coach Randy, who after losing his job, hides out at the library so his wife doesn’t know he’s unemployed.

But Paesel goes beyond the stereotypes and we come to know and care about these people as we follow what they’re dealing with in their lives.

“Because of an over-parenting snafu–I wanted to get my son on his friend’s team–I ended up in the Beverly Hills soccer league,” says Paesel about what inspired her to write her book. “My neighborhood league would have been much more modest. Suddenly, I was in a world that was rarified. The fields are lovely and have shade, parents lived in McMansions and some of them even owned restaurants. My son’s team played Beckham’s kid’s team. Paparazzi regularly staked out the games. Will Farrell was a coach at one point. My son wasn’t a gifted player and he landed on a team that really didn’t have a super-strong athlete, but the coach was hugely enthusiastic, and they became the little team that could. The coach sent long e-mails giving shout-outs to each player. I remember he called my son a Lion which he wasn’t – he was deathly afraid of the ball. I started out wondering what was going on with the coach because he was so zealous and seemed to have lots of time to craft these e-mails.”

At first Paesel thought she was writing a short story parody of the email chain she was reading but soon started feeling compassion for her characters.

“I wanted to know them better,” says Paesel who is also an actress and producer. “They are all very flawed people, but I was moved by their intense desire to connect – even when they fell disastrously short.”

Though she initially based most of her characters on people she knew, Paesel says they quickly became their own people and so now, when she sees them in her mind, she no longer sees the real people they were based on.

Does she worry that someone will know themselves when reading her book?

“People never recognize themselves in my writing for some reason,” says Paesel. “I found this to be true in my memoir writing as well.”

              Besides a good read and a lot of laughs, Paesel hopes that people put her book down feeling a sense of belonging to this great human drama we get to live through.

“The characters in my book get too caught up in things that are simply unimportant and won’t get them the happiness that they are desperately seeking,” she says. “At the heart of my book is an exhortation to keep paying attention to what’s really important. Which is always – very simply – love.”


What: Brett Paesel has several book events in Chicago.

Monday, April 15 at 8 pm. Brett Paesel at Louder Than A Mom, 3855 N, Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL.;

Wednesday, April 17 at 6 pm. Brett Paesel at The Annoyance Theatre & Bar, 851 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL. 773-697-9693;

Thursday, April 18 7 pm. The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL. 773-293-2665;

Abby Wambach Shows Women How to Change the Game in Wolfpack

Abby Wambach, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA World Cup champion and international soccer’s all-time leading scorer, is taking on a new game, that of empowering women—asking them not only to be thankful for what they have but also to demand what they deserve. And that’s the premise of her new book, Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game (Celadon 2019; $15.82 Amazon price).

To create a winning championship team, Wambach, who was co-captain, helped forage the 2015 Women’s World Cup Champion Team into a wolfpack of winners. Now she’d like women to ignore the old rules that help keep them down and instead change the game.

Believing that there has never been a more important moment for women, she talks about the “Power of the Wolf” and the “Strength of the Pack,” and her book is rousing call to women outside of the sports world but employing the techniques she used to create a championship team.

“We are the wolf,” she said in her keynote address to the Class of 2018 at Barnard’s 126th Commencement on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at Radio City Music Hall and her book reflects that stirring speech. Her concepts of “Power of their Wolf” and the “Strength of their Pack” is her way to be a catalyst for overcoming the obstacles that women face. As an example, she talks about the pay gap where women in the U.S. still earn only 80 cents on the dollar compared to men and black women make only 63 cents, while Latinas make 54 cents.

“What we need to talk about more is the aggregate and compounding effects of the pay gap on women’s lives,” she says.  “Over time, the pay gap means women are able to invest less and save less so they have to work longer. When we talk about what the pay gap costs us, let’s be clear. It costs us our very lives. That’s why if we keep playing by the old rules, we will never change game.”

Wambach offers some rules to overcome being Little Red Riding Hood and instead become “the wolf.”

· Make failure your fuel: Transform failure to wisdom and power.

· Lead from the bench: Lead from wherever you are.

· Champion each other: Claim each woman’s victory as your own.

· Demand the effing ball: Don’t ask permission: take what you’ve earned.


What: Celebrate the release of Abby Wambach’s book Wolfpack

When: Thursday, April 11 at 7 pm

Where: Community Christian Church, 1635 Emerson Lane, Naperville

Cost: Tickets cost $29.97 (with service fee) and include a pre-signed copy of the new book and admission for one person. You will receive your book when you arrive at the event.

FYI: For more information, call Anderson’s Bookshops, 630-355-2665

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

Totally unexpectedly, Lori Gottlieb’s long term boyfriend, the man she thought she’d marry, made a succinct and ultimately devastating statement, saying he didn’t “want to live with a kid in the house for the next ten years” and then he was gone.

Lori Gottlieb

Suddenly, Gottlieb, a psychotherapist who writes the weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column for The Atlantic, had to deal with her own issues as well as those of her clients, a process she chronicles in her very engaging Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019; $28).

The clients include John, a married man with two children and a very successful career as a television producer who pays Gottlieb in cash because he doesn’t want his wife to know he’s in therapy.

“You’ll be like my mistress,” he tells her at the end of their first therapy session. “Or, actually, more like my hooker. No offense, but you’re not the kind of woman I’d choose as a mistress . . . if you know what I mean.”

Another patient, newly married, had achieved tenure at her university and after years of hard work, was eager to become a parent.

“She was accomplished, generous, and adored by colleagues, friends, and family. She was the kind of person who enjoyed running marathons and climbing mountains and baking silly cakes for her nephew,” writes Gottlieb. 

The client, Julie, overcomes cancer once and then six years later receives the news it has reoccurred, and she has a year or so to live.

“One of the themes of the book is that our stories form the core of our lives and give them deeper meaning,” says Gottlieb, whose book was recently optioned for television by Eva Longoria for 20th TV. “Sharing these stories is essentially about one person saying to another: This is who I am? Can you understand me?”

But even for therapists, it’s scary to reveal ourselves to others and that’s what Gottlieb, who speaks about relationships, parenting, and hot-button mental health topics on such shows as The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Dr. Phil, CNN, and NPR, discovered when she found a professional to talk to about her fractured relationship. Despite her understanding that’s it’s important to be truthful, she, like all of us, edit the truth.

“Clients make a choice about what to leave in, what to leave out as well as how to frame the situation in the way they want me to hear it,” says Gottlieb who found herself doing just the same. “One of the things with my therapist that I did that my clients do to me, is I wanted him to like me, I want him to like me better than others in the waiting room. That’s why we don’t always tell our therapists our secrets. We don’t realize the ways we get in out way in the therapy room is the way we get in the way in our own lives.”

Gottlieb describes people as emotionally hiding out.

“People carry out their pain, they think they can compartmentalize,” she says. “I see so much loneliness in the people who come to see me, people are really stressed out.”

Texting and social media sometimes stop us from being together and communicating. That’s why therapy can help people change largely because as they grow in connection with others in a way often lost in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture.

But change is scary, both for Gottlieb in her personal therapy sessions that she chronicles and for her clients who we follow as they come to grips with their issues in her office.

“I thought it was important to put myself out there with this book,” says Gottlieb, noting that the book was very difficult to write. “Therapists are real people and we have our own struggles. We’re all members of the human race.”


What: Author Lori Gottlieb and Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated advice column, Ask Amy, discuss Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

When: Monday, April 8 from 6-7:15pm 

Where: Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St., Chicago IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (312) 747-4300;

Gottlieb will also be interviewed by Dr. Alexandra Solomon of Northwestern University and author of Loving Bravely on Tuesday, April 9 at 7pm at New Trier High School, Cornog, 7 Happ Road, Winnetka, IL. Cost: Free. Sponsored by The Book Stall. 847-446-8880;

An American Agent: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

Jacqueline Winspear, author of The American Agent, the 15th book in her Maisie Dobbs’ series, transports us to early September 1940, as Adolf Hitler unleashed his Blitzkrieg or lighting attack on London and other United Kingdom cities, an intensive attack already used successfully in Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and France to enable an invasion to take place.  Day after day, night after night for months on end, hundreds of German bombers would fly across the Channel to wreak havoc.  Maisie and her friend, Priscilla are volunteer ambulance drivers, and on one run they are accompanied by an American war correspondent, Catherine Saxon.

Following her late-night broadcast to the US, where she describes her experience of seeing the death and destruction that the bombings have wrought on the city, Saxon is found dead in her rooms. Maisie Dobbs is brought in to conduct an undercover investigation – her presence requested by a man from the US Department of Justice, Mark Scott, who had previously saved her life in Munich, in 1938.  The story is peppered with excerpts from real broadcasts and reporting at the time.

           On a multi-city tour, Winspear will be in Chicago for a book signing on April 4. Speaking to Jane Ammeson, she talks about An American Agent and how her own past was an impetus for her series.

For readers who have never met Maisie, can you give us a brief summary?

Readers first met Maisie Dobbs in the first novel in the series – entitled Maisie Dobbs.  From a working class background, Maisie is a young woman of intellect and a keen intuitive ability, which is recognized by a friend of her employer. Dr. Maurice Blanche – a psychologist and Doctor of Forensic Medicine who consults with the police –oversees her education and entry to university, which is sponsored by her employer – but WW1 intervenes, and Maisie volunteers for nursing service, and is later wounded at a Casualty Clearing Station in France – an experience that defines her.  Later, having recovered, she becomes Blanche’s assistant, and in the first novel in the series we see her striking out on her own upon his retirement – she is a “psychologist and investigator.” Maisie is very much a woman of her day – so many young women had to be incredibly self-sufficient as the men they might have married had been lost to war. I have written extensively on this subject as it’s always interested me.

I am impressed by your vast knowledge and ability to bring us into this time period. I know your grandfather was severely injured in the Battle of the Somme and your family talked about the war. How did those experiences translate into you writing books and immersing yourself in this time period?

Family stories always have an immediacy that reading books and immersing oneself in research sometimes lacks. My grandfather was very much of his generation of men who saw the most terrible death in the trenches of WW1 France and Belgium – he never talked about it, with the exception of a couple of stories shared with my father. But I could see the wounds – his poor shrapnel-filled legs (he was still removing shrapnel splinters when he died at age77), and I could hear the wheezing of his gas-damaged lungs. And I knew he had suffered shell-shock.  Added to this were my mother’s stories of the Second World War – her experiences of being evacuated, of having to return to London, then of being bombed out time and again. And yes, of seeing death on the streets following a bombing.  The experience of listening to family stories – even from a very young age – inspired my curiosity, which later became an adult inquiry, so you could say I’ve been researching my subject since childhood.

This is your 15th book in the series.  How do you go about developing your stories? Are they mapped out or do you take an incident and place Maisie in there and let it all happen?

I think creating a story is like lighting fire. First of all, you lay down the paper and kindling, then you need a match for the flame, and you follow that with your fuel.  Often the kindling for a story is laid down years before I begin to write – because I have been waiting for the spark to light the fire and then the fuel to build the flame.  For example, I had known the true story that inspired “Elegy for Eddie” since I was a teen – of a young girl not 16 years old, a cleaner in the local brewery stables who had given birth to a baby boy while at work, and while stopping him from crying had starved his brain of oxygen. That young boy – thereafter considered “slow” – was born and grew up around horses and had a gift.  As he grew up, he could settle the most uppity horse, simply by laying a hand upon the animal – that’s how he earned a living at a time when horses were vital for commerce and transportation.  As a boy, my father knew this young man, and he told me of his later “suspicious” demise.  After I began writing the series, I knew “Eddie” would form the basis of a story – the kindling, if you will.  Then I learned more about the pre-war machinations of various powerful men close to Churchill, and the secrecy surrounding their work, whether it was in creating soft propaganda or developing fighter aircraft.  That’s when I asked the question – what if an innocent, a young man of limited intellectual ability but deep empathy stumbled across crucial classified information? Then what might happen? The flame caught and I had a fire.  But when I begin writing any story, I only know the main landing points along the way, I do not know all the details – they come as the story is written. I like to have the basic map, but I also like to “dance with the moment” and be able to respond to new ideas or information as they emerge.

Are there times you’re back in the England between the wars versus 2019?

To some extent I have to be in the years I’m writing about – I cannot be distracted by today while I’m writing.  When I’m at work, I am completely with my characters – I walk their streets, I can see what they are wearing, what they buy, what they eat, and I can hear their use of language, which is different from today.

For more information visit


What: Jacqueline Winspear book signing

When: April 4 at 7 pm

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W Jefferson Ave, Naperville, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: 630-355-2665;

%d bloggers like this: