Book Review: ‘Windy City Blues’ Is A Breath Of Fresh Air

In 1960s Chicago, a young woman stands in the middle of a musical and social revolution. A new historical novel from the bestselling author of ‘White Collar Girl’ and ‘What the Lady Wants.’

This story tells the rise of Chicago’s love affair with the blues and what an affair it turns out to be. Author Renée Rosen blends real life characters and creates others to bring this very complex story to life. I loved them, and she weaves everything together beautifully. In the prolog, Rosen sets the stage and by the time you get to chapter one, you are a fully fledged member of the family.

She starts with 1947 – 1950 and it doesn’t take long for the story to come to life. Leeba Groski is a child of Polish immigrants and Leonard and Phil Chess are friends. Leonard is sixteen, Phil is twelve, and Leeba in eleven. They are sitting in a junk yard owned by the lads’ father and watch a young black girl sing her heart out. She is standing outside a church and they cannot believe the sound that is coming out of her mouth, they are completely awestruck and we meet another player, Aileen Booker.

Red Dupree and his Stella guitar arrive in Chicago in the hope of making it big. He knows his chances are better in a big city like Chicago as opposed to the small backwater town he called home in the South. Segregation is still in full force and he wants out. Aileen Booker, the young black girl, and Leeba quickly become friends while Leeba also develops feelings for Red and they both know that will be trouble.

The palette that Rosen uses to bring ‘Windy City Blues’ to life is rich and broad, you can move around the story and not miss a beat. Leonard and Phil own a sleazy run-down bar that comes to life when artists gather together to play and you can smell the bar and the smoke that permeates into the lives of those who frequent the establishment as a hub to branch out to a better class of bar and club.

The people who live on the margins in the tenement houses, the Jews, blacks, and immigrants in general, come to life in front of you. The ever-changing mood of the country is evident, the civil rights movement is young but thriving. The love affair between Red and Leeba reflects the heartache that occurs when you go against the status quo.

Rosen tells her story from each character’s perspective and it makes for great reading as it all blends together seamlessly, which also includes background stories of family, friends, and lovers, and makes for a wonderful combination. I highly recommend this book. Young musicians are always broke so if you know any, buy this book and give it to them, they will get it!

Now available in bookstores

Ann McDonald

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