Windy City Blues

In her fun very readable Windy City Blues (Berkley 2017; $16), Chicago author Renee Rosen again takes another slice of the city’s history and turns it into a compelling read.

Rosen, who plumbs Chicago’s history to write such books as Dollface, her novel about flappers and gangers like Al Capone, and What the Lady Wants which recounts the affair between department store magnate Marshall Field and his socialite neighbor, says she and her publisher were racking their brains for her next book which encompassed Chicago history.

“She suggested the blues,” says Rosen, who didn’t have much interest in the subject.

But Rosen was game and started her typical uber-intensive research.

“When I discovered the Chess brothers, who founded Chess Records, I fell in love,” she says, noting that when researching she was surprised about how much she didn’t know about the subject despite her immersion in Chicago history for her previous books. “I thought this is a story.”

“As part of my research, I drove the Blues Highway from New Orleans to Chicago,” she says. “I also met with Willie Dixon’s grandson and with Chess family members.”

Combining fact and fiction, Rosen’s story follows heroine Leeba Groski, who struggling to fit in, has always found consolation in music. When her neighbor Leonard Chess offers her a job at his new Chicago Blues label, she sees this as an opportunity to finally fit in. Leeba starts by answering phones and filing but it soon becomes much more than that as she discovers her own talents as a song writer and also begins not only to fall in love with the music industry but also with Red Dupree, a black blues guitarist.

Windy City Blues was recently selected for Chicago’s One Book project, a program designed to engage diverse groups of Chicagoans around common themes. Rosen says she is very honored to be a recipient.

“I put my heart and soul into this book,” she says. “I think it’s a story with an important message. In it are lessons of the Civil Rights movement, what it was like for Jews and people of color along with the history of the blues and the role of Jews in bringing the blues to the world. After all, as the saying goes: Blacks + Jews = Blues.”

Chosen Ones

The celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Chosen One’s victory is overtaken by the tragedy of the death of one of their group. But it gets worse. As they gather for the funeral, they learn the battle may not be over. The Dark One may still live and that means the prophecy forecasting his death wasn’t true.

         A decade ago, five teenagers living in Chicago, albeit a post-apocryphal dystopian version of the Windy City, risked everything to confront and defeat the Dark One, stopping him from destroying the world. Now, as adults the world around them has returned to normal but they haven’t. After all, when it comes to second acts, what can beat saving civilization?

         “What do you do when you finally obtain what you wanted to do?” says Chicago author Veronica Roth about her first adult novel, Chosen Ones, a continuation of sorts based on the characters from her bestselling Divergent series. “It’s like when you graduate college, you wonder is this it?”
         Of the five, Sloane, the leader of the group Sloane is having the most difficult time adapting—some say it’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, others credit her attitude—but whatever, she’s struggling big time.

         “Chosen Ones is about learning that the battles you fought to get where you are aren’t over,” says Roth who grew up in Barrington and attended Northwestern University. “They’re never really over, but you get to fight them differently when next time comes.”

         The next time is now. The celebration of the tenth anniversary of their victory is overtaken by the tragedy of the death of one of their group. But it gets worse. As they gather for the funeral, they learn the battle may not be over. The Dark One may still live and that means the prophecy forecasting his death wasn’t true.

         Roth’s attention to detail is meticulous. In the book, Sloane submits a Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents about the government’s involvement in what happened ten years ago.

         “I wanted to know everything I could,” she says. “It’s my life and they have all these…records of it.”

         To make the book realistic, or as realistic as fantasy and magic can be and to understand and recreate the FOIA records Sloane received, Roth studied hundreds of declassified government documents that she found on the CIA website and other Internet sites.

         “I read a lot about UFOs, propaganda and Project MK Ultra which is the government’s research on the effects and use of LSD,” she says.

         That’s not all that went into the novel. Roth’s characters inhabit an alternate Chicago, one she had to create. It was a complex undertaking to make the unreal seem real.

         “World building is very humbling,” she says, noting that her editor encouraged her to deep dive into devising the Chosen Ones’ city. “Chicago’s architecture is such a significant part of the story because architecture reveals history and also, just aesthetically, the skyline is so important to my experience of the city and what I love about it.”

%d bloggers like this: