The best books about Chicago

43 authors have picked their favorite books about Chicago and why they recommend each book.

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Chicago by Day and Night

By Bill Savage, Paul Durica,

Book cover of Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker's Guide to the Paris of America

Originally published in 1892 as a guidebook for visitors to the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, this book has been reprinted with an introduction and endnotes from modern historians, but the bulk of the content is exactly what visitors read more than 100 years ago. The book is full of descriptions about Chicago itself as well as the highlights of the Fair.

Who am I?

Jocelyn Green is the bestselling and award-winning author of eighteen books as of 2021. Her historical fiction has been acclaimed by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and the Historical Novel Society.

I wrote...

Shadows of the White City

By Jocelyn Green,

Book cover of Shadows of the White City

What is my book about?

The one thing Sylvie Townsend wants most is what she feared she was destined never to have--a family of her own. But taking in Polish immigrant Rose Dabrowski to raise and love quells those fears--until seventeen-year-old Rose goes missing at the World's Fair, and Sylvie's world unravels.

Brushed off by the authorities, Sylvie turns to her boarder, Kristof Bartok, for help. He is Rose's violin instructor and the concertmaster for the Columbian Exposition Orchestra, and his language skills are vital to helping Sylvie navigate the immigrant communities where their search leads.

From the glittering architecture of the fair to the dark houses of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods, they're taken on a search that points to Rose's long-lost family. Is Sylvie willing to let the girl go? And as Kristof and Sylvie grow closer, can she reconcile her craving for control with her yearning to belong?

The House on Mango Street

By Sandra Cisneros,

Book cover of The House on Mango Street

The best books invite us into a perspective that’s different from our own, and this bestselling classic, perfect for younger YA or MG readers, powerfully explores the influence of Latin American and white cultures on a girl growing up Latina in Chicago. The short chapters punctuate neighborhood anecdotes and childhood adventures with notes of humor as well as sadness, and I love how Esperanza’s strong dreams are expressed in her unforgettable voice.

Who am I?

I grew up as a racial minority—but a privileged one—as a white person in an indigenous part of Latin America. Now I live in the US, and the events of the past several years have made it impossible to ignore racial injustice around me. My YA novel, The Means That Make Us Strangers, reflects some of my personal struggle to understand the racial prejudices that are part of American history and the ways a white person can respond in a world that unjustly favors whiteness. I think an important first step is to listen and pay attention to the stories of people whose experience is different from our own.

I wrote...

The Means That Make Us Strangers

By Christine Kindberg,

Book cover of The Means That Make Us Strangers

What is my book about?

Adelaide grew up in rural Ethiopia as the daughter of an American anthropologist. Then her family moves to South Carolina, in 1964. A white outsider in this strange place that everyone tells her is home, Adelaide feels more connection with the five African American students who sued for admission into her high school. As she struggles with the strict racial divide, Adelaide becomes more aware of the injustices that surround her—and her own part in that. Adelaide must finally choose what role she’ll play as she becomes part of something bigger than herself.

Storm Front

By Jim Butcher,

Book cover of Storm Front

Jim Butcher is a genius with a sense of humour. The great joy of his Harry Dresden novels is that they are magical, fantastical, violent, intricately plotted, and laugh-out-loud hilarious, all at the same time. Harry is of course a wizard for hire whose ad proclaims: ‘Harry Dresden – Wizard. Lost items found. Paranormal investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties or Other Entertainments.’ There are now 17 novels in the Dresden Files universe, and each of them is written with care and wit and zest and a huge cast of rich so-vivid-they-are-real characters. I love this genre—noir urban fantasy I guess you’d call it—but no one does it better than Butcher.  

Who am I?

I am a science fiction and fantasy novelist and also a screenwriter and prolific writer of audio dramas for BBC Radio. I began my career many eons ago writing for the crime drama series The Bill and during that period I spent a lot of time mixing with coppers & villains and attending crime scenes. I have a great passion for detective and crime writing as well as all forms of speculative fiction, and I’m a sucker for crime/fantasy mash-ups.

I wrote...

Version 43

By Philip Palmer,

Book cover of Version 43

What is my book about?

Version 43 is a high-concept detective thriller set on an alien planet. Version 43 is a cyborg detective given the job of solving a crime on a planet run by desperados and criminals, who keeps getting murdered by his enemies. And every time this happens, a new version of the cyborg cop picks up the case—but without his most recent memories... This book was inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s classic noir thriller Red HarvestI added cyborgs, quantum teleportation,  and aliens.


By Aleatha Romig,

Book cover of Secrets

Secrets is filled with everything a reader could want—lies, secrets, deception, all unexpected yet enthralling, complex characters, and captivating dark, delicious romance. Sterling and Araneae are multi-faced, intriguing characters that will demand your attention within an intricate storyline. This story was fabulous! It’s captivating, suspenseful, sexy, and full of explosive chemistry.

Who am I?

I am a voracious reader who loves to escape my hectic busy life with a good book when I don’t have the opportunity to do so in person. I’m a sucker for a good love story with a little angst and mystery. I read all genres but sexy romantic thrillers are my absolute favorite. I love them so much I started writing my own sexy stories in this genre. It has become my passion. I currently have three published books, Mr. Black, Mr. Stone, and Mr. Bennett, books one, two, and three of A Black Stone Series. My fourth book, Luke, the first book in my new Cross Security series is scheduled for release later this year.

I wrote...

Mr. Black: A Black Stone Series - Book 1

By Nancy Brown,

Book cover of Mr. Black: A Black Stone Series - Book 1

What is my book about?

Was it a teenage crush, love at first sight, or just pure and simple lust?  It was only one weekend and he walked away claiming that if the stars aligned, fate would bring us back together someday.

Fast forward fifteen years, he’s back and his sights are set on me. Unfortunately for us, there is a terrorist out there. He also wants her and will stop at nothing in order to make her his.

The Fourth Monkey

By J.D. Barker,

Book cover of The Fourth Monkey

I loved this book. This is the tenth book I’ve read this month and I haven’t had a bad one yet, so either I’m really good at picking, or the standard of writing out there is improving all the time. I would give this book 9.5 out of 10. I couldn’t wait to get my day finished so that I could settle and read in the evenings. Can’t praise this highly enough.

The plot was riveting, the pace built well, the characterisation is up there, and his description is powerful and draws you right into the visuals and meaning of the story.  What really captured me with this book was the child’s voice. It was so damned subtly done. If anything, the boy is written in an understated way—but before it ever got sinister, you just knew with that creepy little kid’s voice that it was going to. The ‘out…

Who am I?

I’ve been writing for a long time and reading even longer. I enjoy intelligent books that are well written—not overwritten or over punctuated—and as we all do both of those, I mean that it’s been well edited. And I understand the struggle which is why four of my five choices are from indie authors like myself.

I wrote...


By Katherine Black,

Book cover of Leverage

What is my book about?

Leverage is a testament to how one innocuous ad in the local paper can turn your world upside down. Two people come into Beth’s life. One gives her a reason to die. The Other gives her no other option. She appears out of nowhere and wants to be Beth’s friend. It would be sweet if it wasn’t so damned creepy. Beth can’t shake her. She won’t take no for an answer and Beth’s gentle life becomes a vortex that she can’t control.

Black’s trademark knack of delving into the psyche and finding the pockets of humanity that nobody wants to admit to have never been more in evidence than in Leverage. In this book, she bypasses black and goes to whatever black becomes when it gets darker. This is a story about power - how much influence can one person have over somebody else? Be Beth’s friend and find out.

Night Shift

By Stephen King,

Book cover of Night Shift

In the short story “Battleground”, a hitman finds himself under siege in his own apartment by an army of toy soldiers. It’s typical concept-on-a-napkin by Stephen King, and typically compulsive storytelling, too. I’ve got a special reverence for writers who can tackle silly narratives with the utmost conviction (it’s what I try to do myself!), and I just loved the ever-escalating madness here. The final twist will have you grinning, guaranteed.

Who am I?

I grew up in featureless suburbia, where the streets of identical bungalows seemed scrubbed of anything miraculous. Maybe that’s why I came to be fascinated, as a kid, with the idea of tiny things. Here was magic that might exist in my backyard: miniature people trooping through lawns as if they were forests, riding ladybugs, and carrying bramblethorn spears! These daydreams formed some of the first stories I wrote, as a child. And they’ve continued to fascinate me as a reader, and a writer, ever since. I’ve tried to pick stories that might have slipped out of sight amongst ‘bigger’ brethren like The Burrowers and Gulliver’s Travels. I hope you enjoy them!

I wrote...


By Sam Gayton, Alice Ratterree (illustrator),

Book cover of Lilliput

What is my book about?

Her name is Lily. She is a girl three inches tall, her clothes stitched from spider-silk, her eyes like dewdrops. For half her life, she’s been imprisoned in a gilded birdcage by the giant Gulliver. Only dimly does she remember the island that was home, where everything was small. 

Gulliver intends to show her to London, just as soon as he finishes the book of his travels. But Lily doesn’t have time to wait around. Time passes for small folk faster than it does for big ones. She has to get away, before it’s too late. She has to go home to Lilliput.

If You Want to Write

By Brenda Ueland,

Book cover of If You Want to Write

Many of us are a bit afraid of stepping out and trying something new. That applies especially with creative work. “I’m just not that good,” we tell ourselves—or voices from our past tell us. Brenda Ueland was a long-time Chicago creative writing instructor, and her little book is strong encouragement (and a bit of a kick in the pants) about risk-taking and learning about our super-powers in the process.

Who am I?

Creativity is a practical, problem-solving, risk-taking endeavor, something we all do, whether we claim it or not. After working for many years with groups of graduate business students, artists, writers, business professionals, women in recovery, men in prison, with those just discovering their creative ability—and with myself and my own creative journey, I realize the question isn’t “Am I creative?” The question is “Am I using it?” or “Am I continuing to grow?” Nothing is more exciting than watching others as they realize just how creative they are.

I wrote...

Create! Developing Your Creative Process

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Create! Developing Your Creative Process

What is my book about?

What is creativity, exactly? In what ways am I creative? How can I be more creative? What is my own personal creative process? If I could be more creative, what would it mean for my personal life and career?

Create! is a six-step guide to developing your individual creativity, a roadmap tested and enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds of workshop participants, from those who already defined themselves as creative to those who didn't (yet). With author and creativity expert Cathy Pickens as your guide, you'll discover your best creative process and, if you're not careful, a whole lot about your creative self.

Complicated Hearts (Complicated Hearts Duet Book 1)

By Ashley Jade,

Book cover of Complicated Hearts (Complicated Hearts Duet Book 1)

So, Ashley’s book isn’t exactly dark romance, but it is one of those duos that has an incredibly racy bite! When you consider the variables for a young adult m/f/m relationship that is riddled with angst and possibility, it’s easy to see why this book has all the scandal and heat you need to keep you bitten and trapped within the pages!

Who am I?

I have a passion for this type of writing because I am talented at it and I feel that illustrious and sensuous writing with an erotic flair is something very under-sung and often stigmatized. It has been more accepted since the Fifty Shades of Grey trend, but I feel there are so many authors who have yet to achieve the recognition they deserve for their efforts in this artistic and intriguing genre!

I wrote...

Simply Scarlet: A Sensual Tale of Lust and Love

By Sai Marie Johnson,

Book cover of Simply Scarlet: A Sensual Tale of Lust and Love

What is my book about?

When all you have believed turns out to be false, and the reality of the truth is displayed right before your eyes, how do you cope?

Camille Alessandra de Clervaux has the perfect life, or so it seems, but when bumps in the night indicate her husband has tastes for something darker, it catapults the scarlet beauty into a world of rough sex and dark fantasy.

The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin,

Book cover of The Westing Game

The oldest book on my list, The Westing Game is a classic murder-mystery puzzle set just outside of the author’s hometown of Milwaukee. The story centers around the mysterious and eccentric Westing, who is found dead in his mansion. His will challenges sixteen locals to determine who caused his death to inherit his fortune. The contrast between the enticing Sunset Towers, where the characters stay, and the vacant and eerie Westing Estate next door provides a unique setting for this classic midwestern whodunnit.

Who am I?

I love stories set in cities. A city creates adventure around every corner. Many urban tales default to east or west coast cities, but midwestern cities have just as much excitement—and uncertainty—as their coastal friends. Unfortunately, these diverse urban spaces are sometimes overlooked in books, movies, and television shows. So when I wrote my novel, I wanted to showcase a midwestern city that may not get as much love as some of its contemporaries. I grew up in St. Louis and have always appreciated its vibrant neighborhoods clustered beneath luxury high rises that sit next to abandoned buildings. Urban environments like that are rich with possibilities.

I wrote...

From Brick & Darkness

By J. L. Sullivan,

Book cover of From Brick & Darkness

What is my book about?

Bax always fantasized something remarkable would happen in his life. So when a decrepit man with glowing purple eyes offers him a ring intended for his estranged father, Bax accepts.

The ring speaks to Bax in a dream, tempting him with a vision of a powerful djinn. Desperate to make his fantasies a reality, Bax unleashes a creature called Ifrit, but soon learns this djinn isn't what the ring led him to believe. Feeding off the depths of his subconscious, the sinister demon fulfills what he thinks Bax wants by manipulating, threatening, and murdering. With everyone he loves in danger and a trail of crimes pointing back at him, Bax must scramble to solve the puzzle that will banish Ifrit forever.

The Postman

By David Brin,

Book cover of The Postman

One of Brin’s central concerns throughout his work is how normal, un-heroic people can work together to make positive change in the world. The Postman is entirely about that simple concept, and how something as simple as sending letters can bring a world back from the brink of societal disintegration. If you know the movie adaptation, be prepared: the book’s themes are radically different, and much better (even though I do still like the film…).

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by how societies and civilizations respond to crisis. We’ve seen since 2020 just how complex and fraught those responses can be. And the biggest crisis of all is annihilation – in whatever form that comes. Good, thoughtful speculative fiction can pierce the veil and look hard at these difficult issues. How can communities adapt and cope with radical change? Do we survive, or even thrive, or do we collapse into a heap of ruined hopes? Humanity can find its way back. That, to me, is the draw of post-apocalyptic fiction: despite the despair, hope remains. We just have to go find it.

I wrote...

The Post

By Kevin A. Muñoz,

Book cover of The Post

What is my book about?

A decade ago, a pandemic sent the world into darkness and the cannibalistic infected overwhelmed the earth. Now Police Chief Sam Edison protects one of the last pockets of civilization. When refugees are murdered and a young woman is kidnapped on Sam’s watch, the Chief must come face to face with monsters far worse than the ones that hunt beyond the city walls.

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