The Poetics of Mona: Parsing Jen Beagin’s Excellent Debut Novel, “Pretend I’m Dead”

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beagin 2

By Christine Sneed

Jen Beagin’s novel “Pretend I’m Dead” is an enviably accomplished debut. It’s full of brilliant language and many instances of laugh-out-loud, frequently self-mocking humor. The novel’s four sections all focus on Mona, a young woman whose adventures take her to places such as Lowell, Massachusetts and a small New Mexico town near Taos. Wherever she goes, she always manages to meet a number of characters as memorable as she herself. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Home by Nightfall: A Charles Lenox Mystery” by Charles Finch

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Home by NightfallAuthor Charles Finch’s latest mystery, “Home by Nightfall,” features Finch’s British, upper-class detective Charles Lenox pursuing clues to two crimes, one in London and one in the country town of Markethouse where he and his brother, Sir Edmund Lenox, grew up.

The first puzzle is where did a brilliant German pianist named Muller disappear to after a concert he gave? He seems to have vanished into thin air, since no one saw him leave the concert hall, and there have been no sightings of him in London. In addition to this disappearance, a countryside mystery forms in the town of Markethouse when minor transgressions like small thefts and the inexplicable drawing of a young girl on a newcomer’s steps culminate in a knife attack on Markethouse’s mayor. Read the rest of this entry »

Defiant Women: Karen Abbott’s “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War”

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karen abbott

Karen Abbott/Photo: Nick Barose

From the author who gave us “Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul,” which centered around Chicago’s famed brothel, the Everleigh Club, Karen Abbott now gives us “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War.” In her new book, Abbott once again proves herself a masterful storyteller able to entertain and inform with such intelligence and ease that the two become indistinguishable.

“Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy” follows four women through the course of the Civil War. Rose O’Neal Greenhow is a Confederate woman living in Washington D.C. who gets close to Northern politicians in order to gather information she can then pass back to the Confederates. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Van Lew was on the side of the Union but living in Richmond where she helped spy on the Confederacy. Belle Boyd is a young confederate who we first meet when she shoots a union soldier in her home at the age of seventeen. Emma Edmonds is another young woman who disguises herself as Federal soldier Frank Thompson as a means to help out in the war and escape an unfortunate home life. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “The Good Neighbor” by Amy Sue Nathan

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the good neighbor“The Good Neighbor,” the second book by “The Glass Wives” author Amy Sue Nathan, is largely about a lie and its repercussions. Recently divorced high-school counselor and single mother Izzy Lane one day invents a fake boyfriend named “Mac” to write about on her blog and save face in front of her ex-husband. Her best friend Jade, who owns a small but growing blogging platform, decides to pick up Izzy’s blog so she can tell steamy stories about her new, supposedly successful relationship and give dating advice to singles over forty. Izzy’s lies continue to snowball, and the only people who know the truth are her gay brother Ethan and her elderly neighbor Mrs. Feldman, both of whom demand she come clean. Izzy proceeds to drag her feet. Read the rest of this entry »

On the Beat: Renée Rosen Crafts a 1950s Chicago Journalism Tale with “White Collar Girl”

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Renee Rosen, author, Dollface

Renee Rosen/Photo: Charles Osgood

By Liz Baudler

Renée Rosen made a national name for herself by spinning tales of Chicago, from gangsters to the Gilded Age. Her latest book, “White Collar Girl,” finds Tribune reporter Jordan Walsh in a 1950s newsroom, railing against her “sob sister” billing and making a bid to become an ace female investigative reporter. Rosen spoke with Newcity about what she learned while writing “White Collar Girl,” and why she’ll always write about Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Grant Park” by Leonard Pitts, Jr.

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“Grant Park,” the third novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. centers around Malcolm Toussaint, a black newspaper columnist who has consciously decided to torpedo his career by sneaking a vehement screed into the newspaper on the day of the 2008 presidential election, announcing his exasperation with white America. Read the rest of this entry »

Necessarily a Mother-Daughter Conflict: Bonnie Jo Campbell Discusses “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters”

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Bonnie Jo Campbell BW Headshot

Bonnie Jo Campbell/Photo: John Campbell

By Brendan Buck

Bonnie Jo Campbell, a Michigander by birth, is a short story writer and novelist known for her grit and talent, not all of it in the field of writing; she’s also a mathematician. Her last story collection, the National Book Award nominated “American Salvage,” showcased the scrappy, hard-fought lives of those in the rural Midwest. And her much anticipated new collection of short stories, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters” likewise features tough Midwesterners, but this time she focuses her gaze on a selection of determined but frequently compromised women navigating a sexualized world filled with men who seek to exploit, abuse and abandon them. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on Arrival” edited by John Freeman

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freeman's arrivalRECOMMENDED

Arrival is a verb denoting the attainment of a goal at a journey’s end. However, as John Freeman’s infinitely relatable and beautifully crafted prose and poetry anthology “Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on Arrival” demonstrates, the word arrival is more indicative of a discovery than a destination. The work Freeman presents transports us to events, life milestones and new understandings that serve as springboards for further journeys.

Freeman has assembled a thoughtful and profoundly accessible collection of work that connects our vulnerabilities, our expectations and our hopes. According to Freeman, the very act of reading can be seen as an arrival: “Every time I read, I look to recreate the feeling of arriving that day,” Freeman tells us. “Stories and essays, even the right kind of poem, will take us somewhere else, put us down somewhere new.” It is from this somewhere new that the conversation takes root and the potential for new arrivals blooms. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “See You in the Morning” by Mairead Case

Chicago Authors, Chicago Publishers, Debut Novel or Collection 1 Comment »

see you in the morningRECOMMENDED

Mairead Case’s debut novel, “See You in the Morning” is a moving and tenderhearted portrait of a teenager in the summer before her senior year of high school. The girl is acutely aware that this summer will mark the end to the way things have been: “This summer is the last one nobody really cares about. I keep wishing I could hold it, hold on to not having to make anything up so people will like me, hire me, kiss me, or whatever.” But of course the summer rushes on and she, along with her two friends, John and Rosie, find themselves growing in different ways.

The narrator spends her days working at the local big box bookstore, going to punk shows with her friends, hanging out with her eccentric neighbor Mr. Green, and attending church with her mother. She also spends much of her time ruminating on her feelings for her friend John, believing she may be in love with him. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Brush Back” by Sara Paretsky

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If you like your crime fiction set in Chicago with a female detective who breaks jaws and breaks conventions, read “Brush Back,” the seventeenth novel in Sara Paretsky’s Warshawski series. Since the first novel in the series, the portrayal of the characters, cityscape and sociopolitical setting has grown richer as Paretsky hones her powers; she has had more than thirty years to develop the characters of Vic Warshawski and her network of friends, to portray Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods as well as the class and political influences that make Chicago a great city in which the detective can exercise her sense of justice. Read the rest of this entry »