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Feature Wed Dec 13 2006
Chicago offered 2006 a wealth of stories featuring characters as different from each other as the city’s vast and diverse neighborhoods. This year found readers following the emotional trials of a grown-up “Encyclopedia Brown”, uncovering mysteries at the Robie House, revisiting the 1893 World’s Fair, joining the casts of reality design shows, time-traveling to the jazz age and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and remembering childhood in an idyllic Midwestern town. What follows is a, by no means complete, list of books about Chicago or by Chicago authors, published in 2006, that are always welcome additions to gift lists and wish lists alike.
by Jessica Abel (Pantheon Books, 275 pages)
A graphic novel about a young Mexican-American woman heading to Mexico to learn more about her heritage. An excerpt was included in The Best American Comics 2006.
The Wright 3
by Blue Balliott (Scholastic Press, 318 pages)
The follow up to the well-received Chasing Vermeer, join University of Chicago Lab School students Petra and Calder as they embark on another mystery, this time at the Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House.
Room For Improvement
by Stacey Ballis (Berkley Trade, 304 pages)
Interior designer Lily Allen is excited to take a job on a reality show where contestants trade apartments and help redesign their spaces, but Lily soon learns that dream jobs aren’t always so dreamy when they come back to reality.
The Handmaid and the Carpenter
by Elizabeth Berg (Random House, 153 pages)
A reinvention of the Nativity story, this book details a young woman named Mary when she first meets her future husband Joseph and chronicles the emotional and social plight of their unexpected pregnancy.
by Sandra Belton (HarperTeen, 256 pages)
Leah can hardly stand to think why her older, adopted brother, Luce, may have committed suicide in this young adult novel that deals with loss and grief.
Reality TV Bites
by Shane Bolks (Avon Trade, 304 pages)
A designer in a top Chicago design firm and a self-profession reality-show Junkie, Allison Holloway is thrilled when her design team goes head to head with a Japanese design team in a new reality show. But, once the show airs, Allison is forced to take a good hard look at the reality around her.
by Ray Bradbury (William Morrow, 224 pages)
The long-awaited follow up to Dandelion Wine, this tale picks up in the fall of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois, where a young boy named Douglas Spaulding learns what it means to grow up.
by Cris Burks (Harlem Moon, 224 pages)
Amidst desperate surroundings – poverty, abuse, a man who suddenly appears and claims to be her father, Neecey is charged with caring for her siblings while her parents’ marriage falls apart and her mother travels toward destruction. This is Neecey’s coming of age in Chicago, spanning the mid-1950’s to 1973.
Out of Cabrini
by Dave Case (Five Star, 341 pages)
A former member of the Chicago Police Department, Case writes with ease about Chicago street-gangs and the suburbanites they victimize.
The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan
by John Coyne, (Thomas Dunne Books, 288 pages)
Golf legends, country club drama and the Chicago Open figure in this story of a 14-year-old boy who caddies for the revered Ben Hogan.
by Jerry Crimmins (Northwestern University Press, 448 pages)
A historical novel set in 1803, veteran Chicago reporter Cimmins explores the city’s roots and social unrest using two fictional characters –- a son of one of the Fort Dearborn’s soldiers and his friend, a Potawatomie boy who lives nearby.
Sons of the Rapture
by Todd Dills (Featherproof Books, 192 pages)
Billy Jones has a brother in jail for killing their mother, a cowboy-like father who feeds on his own notoriety and a wide cast of characters he meets after leaving his southern home for Chicago. But, no matter how hard he tries, Billy’s father and his past will eventually catch up with him.
Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen (Algonquin Books, 335 pages)
It’s the Great Depression and Jacob Jankowski, who almost earned his veterinary degree, finds himself in the middle of a literal circus. Freaks, loners and, of course, elephants abound.
Philosophy Made Simple
by Robert Hellenga (Little, Brown and Company, 288 pages)
Rudy Harrington has lost his wife, his daughters have left, he’s planning to sell his Chicago home and take up roots on a Texas avocado grove and he’s been reading the college text Philosophy Made Simple. Family, friendships, life events and the development of philosophical beliefs all take at turn in this novel.
by Rebecca Johns (Bloomsbury USA, 320 pages)
From Newfoundland to Ontatio to Chicago, this story follows gunner Walt Dunmore, his wife and his sons as they make their way in and out of our nation’s most notable wars.
Standing Against the Wind
by Traci L. Jones (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 192 pages)
Eighth-grader Patrice has been pulled from her Georgia home and is adjusting to life in Chicago, finding school life even more difficult after her principle asks her to apply for a scholarship to a prestigious African-American school. Her story is one about the value of hope and the fight to end stereotypes that surround us all.
What, No Roses?
by Marianne Mancusi (Love Spell, 323 pages)
Foreign correspondents in love, prisoners of war and time-travel all figure in this story whose protagonist winds up possessing the body of Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn’s girlfriend. It’s the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre all over again, but with a romantic, sci-fi twist.
by Laura Mazzuca Toops (Twilight Times Books, 230 pages)
It’s the summer of 1926 and the members of the Jean Goldkette jazz band clash with the snooty citizens in a rural Indiana town with Klansmen and Chicago gangsters. Cornetist Bix Biederbecke endures a fictional romance here.
America’s Report Card
by John McNally (Free Press, 288 pages)
The politics of standardized testing plague Charlie Wolf, who is affected by a 17-year-old suburban Chicago girl’s essay that claims her art teacher’s anti-Bush rhetoric lead to her death.
The Boy Detective Fails
by Joe Meno (Akashic Books, 320 pages)
Former child sleuth Billy Argo is 30 and still fragile after the mysterious suicide of his teenage sister. Putting his sleuthing skills back to work, Billy searches for truth, love and redemption and an answer to his heartbreaking mystery.
by Bayo Ojikutu (Three Rivers Press, 400 pages)
Drugs, corrupt cops, sex scandals and personal despair fill this novel about Tommie Simms and his struggle to find his place among the working world and the streets.
The Echo Maker
by Richard Powers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 451 pages)
When a man endures a near-fatal truck accident, he awakens to believe that the woman taking care of him – his sister – is really an imposter. With the help of a famous neurologist and a note from an anonymous witness of the accident, they work to learn the horrible truth of that night.
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
by Karen Russell (Knopf, 246 pages)
In this short story collection, Russell tells of animal encounters that tell more about the emotions of humans than about zoology. Girls who have been raised by wolves learn human ways from nuns, boys travel in giant crabs to find a dead sister and a man’s dying words to his daughter involves a reminder to feed the alligators.
In Persuasion Nation
by George Saunders (Riverhead Books, 240 pages)
A short story collection that offers trips through Times Square, a flight with an Air Force public relations agent and a bad Christmas in Chicago.
Death is No Bargain
by Michael W. Sherer (Five Star, 368 pages)
A book about a Chicago writer who’s asked to find his neighbor’s missing teenage daughter, even after her father accuses him of seducing her and tries to kill him. If that weren’t twisted enough, his girlfriend is pregnant, too.
by Patrick Somerville (Vintage Contemporaries, 212 pages)
Called “hilarious” and “wildly inventive,” the stories in this book detail the transition through adolescence and adulthood through the mind of the American male.
City for Ransom
by Robert W. Walker (Avon, 336 pages)
A look at the 1893 World’s Fair and the mass murderer who tainted it through the eyes of the fictional Inspector Alastair Ransom.