I received this book for free from Lola's Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Fairytale Chicago of Francesca Finnegan by Steve Wiley, Chris Cihon
Narrator: Sean Lenhart
Published by Lavender Line Press on March 1st 2017
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Format: ARC, Audiobook
Source: Lola's Blog Tours
In Chicago, a secret L train runs through the mythical East Side of the city. On that train, you’ll find a house-cat conductor, an alcoholic elf, a queen of the last city farm, the most curious wind, and an exceptional girl by the name of Francesca Finnegan.
When we first encounter Richard K. Lyons, he is a man who has long forgotten the one night, when he was still a boy called Rich, when Francesca invited him aboard the secret L for an adventure through the East Side. The night was a mad epic, complete with gravity-defying first kisses, mermaid overdoses, and princess rescues. Unfortunately for Rich, the night ended like one of those elusive dreams forgotten the moment you wake. Now, Rich is all grown up and out of childish adventures, an adult whose life is on the verge of ruin. It will take the rediscovery of his exploits with Francesca, and a reacquaintance with the boy he once was, to save him.
I admit I had NO IDEA what to expect when I picked up this book. It’s an interesting concept.
The basic premise is that Richard is the Vice President of Something, and he’s miserable. And through a chance of fate, he’s reminded of some of his childhood adventures with Francesca Finnegan and the L line in Chicago. So, basically, the book ends up being a recounting of Rich (the boy)’s encounters with strange and mystical people.
What I loved about this is that it’s basically a reverse exploration of Chicago’s history. Each of the encounters Rich has is with someone who explains something about why Chicago is the way it is. We learn about the derivation of the design for the city flag, why the river flows backward, and much more. It was cool to get these origin stories from the perspective of people who lived them, and to feel like Rich was actually going back in time.
There’s an overarching theme that the young can experience magic, but that grown men don’t experience it and get bogged down with boring jobs. It’s an interesting enough theme to explore, especially in a book written as a series of “modern” fairytales. But sometimes it was a bit heavy-handed. That said, it had a VERY satisfying ending 🙂
While I loved the premise, this book didn’t totally shine for me for one very important reason: It was difficult to keep track of an actual plot. The stories were all stitched together by the sole plot of “Rich is going along the Lavender Line,” and little else. So it was interesting and fun, but didn’t have that WOW factor.
I did think some of the stories and characters were quite brilliant though. I got the impression that there were a LOT of references that native Chicagoans might get that were lost on me. Some of them I kind of got because I’m from the midwest and know lots of people from Chicago, but not having grown up there, I was missing a lot of context. Still, even without it, the book was fun 🙂
If you’re looking for something quick and easy, a little bit dark, but a little bit light-hearted, this might be a decent read 🙂
(Oh, and the audiobook itself was quite well-done — GREAT choice of narrator for this particular tale!)
I’m also pleased to announce that I have Steve Wiley here with us today!
“What was the most enjoyable part about writing The Fairytale Chicago of Francesca Finnegan? The most challenging?”
Best part about writing the book was publishing the individual chapters as short stories within various literary journals. It was nice to see something in print before the book was actually finished, and it validated the quality of the writing. I also enjoyed the process of creating new characters – the book has some outrageous characters (alcoholic elf, wind, Riverview machinist, etc.).
The most challenging part was keeping the project secret. I didn’t tell anyone I was even writing a book until the book was actually completed. So, when I finally published the book, lots of jaws on the floor for sure. It was worth not telling anyone, but hard to keep a good secret.
About the Author
Steve is a father, husband, uncle, brother, friend, and purveyor of fairy stories. He grew up in and around Chicagoland, where he still lives with his wife and two kids. He has been published in an array of strange and serious places, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., to Crannóg magazine in Galway, Ireland. This is his first book. He has an undergraduate degree in something he has forgotten from Illinois State University and a graduate degree in something equally forgotten from DePaul University. Steve once passionately kissed a bronze seahorse in the middle of Buckingham Fountain. You can email Steve at Lavenderlinepress @ gmail . com, or visit thewileymancan on Instagram.
Sample the audiobook!
There is magic in the city.
When Rich Lyons was a little boy, he learned of the magic from an old, cockeyed, Captain Hook–looking magician. The old man sat alone at a table for two outside a neighborhood bar every summer day, all day, always with a glass of twinkling whiskey. He said the twinkle had once been in his eye, but had blown out one windy day and splashed right into the whiskey. Rich liked how the twinkle twinkled in the whiskey. He liked it so much, he asked the old man if he could have it. The man told Rich he didn’t need it, because he already had a twinkle of his own, and besides, that particular twinkling whiskey tasted like shit, worse than Malört, if that’s possible.
“You be careful,” the old man warned, “because in the city of wind, a twinkle may blow out. The wind here, it twirls and sings like a music-box ballerina. It plays tricks and tells stories like an old-man magician. Like me, like this …”
And so, the old man performed tricks for Rich and regaled him with city folklore and fantasy. He said the Great Chicago Fire was arson, started by a fire-breathing dragon from the Fulton River District who was fed up with the cold winters. He said the Chicago River started flowing backward when a giant sea serpent sneezed so powerfully, it changed the direction of the current. He said the sky was purple (not black) above the city because a wicked witch had stolen all the black for her cats and bats and witch hats.
Rich’s favorite story was one about the L trains, and how each had come to be named for a color. The old man said the colors arrived when the first skyscrapers did. Before then, all the trains were the same dull brown. On the day the first skyscraper went up, a rainbow, unused to encountering buildings so high in the sky, accidentally crashed into it. When the rainbow crashed, each of its individual colors went splattering in all directions. Some landed on the L trains and stained them. The only train to miss a color was the Brown Line, because, the old man said, it was offline for repairs.
The old man also said there was one line, a secret line, that got a splash of lavender.
One day, Rich asked the old man if he could use his magic to tell fortunes. The old man said, well, hell, of course he could, it was a matter of simple city magic. Rich asked if he might hear his own fortune. He wanted to know what he would be when he grew up.
The old man told Rich there wasn’t much he wouldn’t be when he grew up. He would be a father, a husband, an uncle, a brother, a friend. He would be a ghost in the graveyard. He would be a vice president of something. He would be a pisser in the pancake batter. He would be a reveler-adventurer. He would be a hider and seeker. He would be a rocket man. A businessman.
And, he would be a rich man.
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