Free online fiction books set in Illinois or written by Illinois authors. Books set in Chicago, historical fiction. Some vintage 19th century novels, but most books are from recent decades.
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Book: The Man with the Golden Arm – Books Set in Chicago
Author: Algren, Nelson
“Set in the slums of Chicago, the novel, which won a National Book Award in 1950, tells the story of Frankie Machine (Francis Majcinek) who is said to have a ‘golden arm’ because of his sure touch with pool cues, dice, his drumsticks, his heroin needle, and his deck of cards. Unable to free himself from his slum environment, Frankie is finally driven to suicide.” -Reader’s Ency.
We have thousands of free novels online in many collections
Author: Altsheler, Joseph A.
NY: Appleton 1934
Joseph Alexander Altsheler (1862 – 1919) was born in Kentucky, worked on a Louisville newspaper and later for the New York World. He published the first of over 50 books and numerous short stories in about 1896. The Riflemen of the Ohio is the sixth in an 8-volume series called “The Young Trailers”. He also published a six-volume series called “The French and Indian War series”.
A story of early days along the Mississippi. Continues the fortunes of the boys whose achievements were set down in “The Forest Runner”, and tells of their journey down the Mississippi to New Orleans whither they go to present to the Spanish Governor-General the true state of affairs between the American settlers in Kentucky and the emissaries of Spain. After numerous encounters with their old enemy, Braxton Wyatt, and a traitorous Spanish agent, they accomplish their object and help thru the safe voyage of a supply fleet from New Orleans to Kentucky.
– Book Review Digest.
Book: Wicked Nell, A Gay Girl of the Town – Book Set in Chicago
Author: Andrews, Shang
Chicago: Comet 1878
Story based in Chicago.
Author: Atkinson, Eleanor
NY: Harper. 1917
Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson (1863 – 1942) was born in Rensselaer, Indiana, taught school in Indianapolis and Chicago, and wrote for the Chicago Tribune.
This story follows the forward movement of the frontier from northern New York to Chicago. The heroine, Eleanor Lytle, spends her childhood as a captive among the Indians. As a little girl of three, she attracts the attention of Chief Cornplanter, who kidnaps her and makes her an honored member of his tribe. She is grown to young womanhood before she is returned to her sorrowing mother. To make up to her for the years of suffering, Eleanor marries the man who is her mother’s choice, but later, after his death, she marries one she loves and goes westward with him, as a pioneer to the new frontier. – Book Review Digest.
– Atkinson, Eleanor, Johnny Appleseed: The Romance of the Sower in Ohio Novels and Historical Fiction;
– Atkinson, Eleanor, Boyhood of Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln: Free online Books & other Resources
Author: Bacheller, Irving
Indianapolis: Bobbs: Merrill. 1919
“A story of the youth and early manhood of Lincoln. Opening in Vermont In 1831, the story carries a typical pioneer family across the country to Illinois, the land of plenty. The Traylors settle In New Salem where they meet the lean, gaunt youth known as Abe Lincoln. They become friends and the friendship stands the test of shared joys and sorrows in the primitive frontier community. The conditions of the time are pictured and the growth of the anti-slavery sentiment, although the narrative, ending with Lincoln’s departure to take his seat in congress in 1847, does not take in the active conflict. The “underground railroad” too has a part in the story. A concluding chapter in the form of a memoir sketches the later years of Lincoln’s life.”
“The Abraham Lincoln of Irving Bacheller’s new novel is not the half legendary figure of popular imagination or even of some biographers. It is a re-creation of Lincoln, the fellow human being.” – The Book Review Digest
Author: Barton, William E.
Boston: Wilde. 1900
Rev. William Eleazar Barton (1861-1930) was born in Sublette, Illinois. As a minister, he served in parishes in Tennessee, Ohio, and Massachusetts, and finally in Oak Park, Illinois. He became one of the early twentieth century’s most prominent writers and lecturers on the life of Abraham Lincoln.
See the resources on this site for: The Black Hawk War of 1832
Author: Bell, Jared W., ed.
NY: Bell. 1837
No information was found on the author. Supposedly it was an autobiography by Lucy Ford, who as a child became lost in the forest and survived there alone, although there is some doubt as to its authenticity.
Book: The Actual – Book set in Chicago
Author: Bellow, Saul
“Harry Trellman has been drawn back to his hometown of Chicago after a lucrative business career has propelled him to such locales as Guatemala and Burma. By chance, Harry meets mega-elderly and mega-rich businessman Sigmund Adletsky, who immediately perceives Harry’s ability to discern human nature and enlists him as part of his ‘brain trust.’ This business with the old geezer brings Harry into contact with Amy Wustrin, a woman Harry loved many, many years ago and whom he has never forgotten: thus the emotional tug that drew him back to Chicago in the first place.” Booklist.
Book: Dangling Man – Books set in Chicago
Author: Bellow, Saul
This story purports to be the journal of a young man living in Chicago. who gives up his job, expecting to be inducted into the army. Owing to technicalities Joseph is left dangling for almost a year. His journal explains his psychological reactions to idleness, how he passes his time, his growing unrest, and finally the relief when the call comes.
“The book is an excellent document on the experience of the non-combatant in time of war. It is well written and never dull— in spite of the dismalness of the Chicago background and the undramatic character of the subject. It is also one of the most honest pieces of testimony on the psychology of a whole generation who have grown up during the depression and the war.” -New Yorker.
Book: Ravelstein – Illinois Novel
Author: Bellow, Saul
“Ravelstein is a brilliant albeit eccentric professor of political philosophy, many of whose acolytes have come the movers and shakers of today’s world. He has always lived life to the fullest, even when he couldn’t afford to—a point that becomes moot when he publishes, at best friend Chick’s suggestion, a best-selling book outlining his ideas. When he is diagnosed with AIDS (he is, as Chick says. homosexual but not ‘gay’), Ravelstein convinces Chick, a well-known writer in his own right, to become his Boswell.” Libr J
This “might, like the author’s earlier works, be called a novel of ideas, but that is too bloodless a description of Bellow’s signature accomplishment. … It brims with life, thanks to Chick’s that is Bellow’s comic observations on the passing scene.” -Time.
Book: Maud Martha – Book Set in Chicago
Author: Brooks, Gwendolyn
“Maud Martha is a young colored girl growing up on Chicago’s South Side, who yearns for no more than the common decencies, but who finds her way toward accomplishing them blocked in every direction by the restrictions of the white race. Her life, as viewed in a series of short episodes from childhood to motherhood, is an unremitting effort to find some kind of status and prestige in an environment which gives her nothing but shabbiness, second-class citizenship, and the subtler forms of race discrimination. Her plight is told in prose which has the rhythmic beauty of free verse.” -Booklist.
Free Historical novels set in different countries around the world
Book: The Auerbach Will – Book Set in Illinois
Author: Birmingham, Stephen
Little, Brown 1983
“Saga of a mail-order-house family dynasty. The central character is Essie, a Lower East Side Jewish immigrant, who falls in love with Jake Auerbach. the ‘renegade son in a prominent New York mercantile family. Sent off to Chicago after a disapproved-of marriage, Jake founds the nation’s first mail-order business under two Christian names (Sears & Roebuck come to mind from beginning to end, though without substantiation). The business flourishes: Jake and Essie—she now a society figure—are restored to familiar respectability but suffer the disenchantments of fading love, mutual infidelities, unhappy children, blackmail, and hollow glory.” Booklist
“Birmingham’s deft handling of the fabric of family life and shifting patterns of deception, and tragedy produces a dramatic narrative. Essie is a wonderfully sympathetic figure, and Birmingham moves her gracefully through her bitter-sweet years from determined young girl to passionate woman to sophisticated grande dame.” Publ Wkly.
Author: Blanchard, Leone
Boston: Lothrop. 1871
Leone Blanchard authored numerous articles for the Ladies’ Repository; a monthly periodical devoted to Literature, arts and religion. Her works mainly had Christian themes.
Book: The Romantic Woman – Books Set in Chicago
Author: Borden, Mary
NY: Knopf 1920
“The story of a Chicago heiress who marries into the British aristocracy. It opens in Chicago, here lightly disguised as “Iroquois,” with the heroine’s own account of her democratic and rather hoydenish girlhood and an introduction to the childhood friends, Louise, Phyllis, Jim Van Orden and Pat O’Brien, who play a part in her later life. Perhaps she should have married Jim and settled down to a conventional and comfortable American life, but traveling with her father In India she falls romantically In love with a handsome cavalry officer, not knowing that he is heir to a dukedom. He, on his part, though genuinely attracted to the girl, Is not unconscious of her wealth. Marriage brings disillusionments and introduces the naive American into a society whose standards are quite incomprehensible. There is considerable analysis of the two contrasting points of view and the story ends with a glimpse of the war.”
“Her picture of that city [Chicago] and its people is one of the very brilliant things in recent literature. Its temper is not harsh, but it has an edge and the edge cuts clean every time. Always she conveys the richness, the distinction, and the vigor of an arresting character and mind.” – The Book Review Digest.
Book: Dandelion Wine – Book that Takes Place in Illinois
Author: Bradbury, Ray
A novel about one summer in the life of a twelve-year-old boy, Douglas Spaulding: the summer of 1928. The place is Green Town, Illinois, and Doug and his brother Tom wander in and out among their elders, living and dreaming, sometimes aware of things, again just having a wonderful time. Doug’s big discovery that summer was that he was alive.
“The writing is beautiful and the characters are wonderful living people. A rare reading experience.” Libr J.
Book: The Wine of Astonishment – Book Takes Place in Chicago
Author: Bradley, Mary Hastings
NY: Appleton 1919
“The scene, (with the exception of the last few pages) is laid in Chicago. The reader is introduced to Jim Clarke as a boy of eighteen, drawn by his curiosity to see the red light district under the guidance of a medical student, and impelled by his sense of decency to leave the low dance-hall where the trip ends. Later, he becomes engaged to a charming Smith college girl, Evelyn Day, whose mother, wishing Evelyn to make a wealthy marriage, disapproves of the poor law student. Under pressure Evelyn breaks her engagement, and marries Christopher Stanley. A garbled report of what took place, years before, at the dance hall, influences her final decision. After she has been Stanley’s wife, in name only, for six years, she finds out that she has been lied to about Jim, and decides to ask Christopher to set her free, but on thinking over her indebtedness to her husband, she finally tells him that she will be his wife in reality.”
“When we put the book down we have the feeling that we have been brought very close to life as It manifests itself in two very real individuals.” “The troubled Intensity of young emotions grips the reader. The despair of youth that lacks the money to marry is well portrayed. Then comes the war to solve everybody’s troubles.” – The Book Review Digest.
Book: The Hatbox Baby – Illinois Novel
Author: Brown, Carrie
“Confirmed bachelor Dr. Leo Hoffman is a pioneer in neonatal intensive care who finances his research into and medical care of destitute babies by charging admission to his educational programs at fairs and amusement parks. During the summer of 1933, while working at his premature baby exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair, he saves the life of a special ‘premie’—and finds love in the process. . . . This is a moving story about complex, interesting characters who love deeply.” -Libr J.
Book: Diane: Mississippi Valley – Illinois Novel
Author: Brown, Katharine Holland
NY: Doubleday 1904
A romance of the Icarian settlement on the Mississippi river: a small body of French colonists with communistic views who had been brought to America by Pere Cabet; the story opens in 1856, when most of them were thoroughly tired of him. . . . But the schisms of the commune pale in interest beside the affairs of the American abolitionists who come into the story. … ln one chapter Robert Channing is carrying runaway slaves to safety; in the next Pere Cabet is preaching his flock into rebellion. The petty affairs of the Icarians and the quarrel that shall shake the states run side by side. Their separate currents meet in the loves of Robert and Diane.” – Book Review Digest.
Book: Little Caesar – Chicago Gangsters
Author: Burnett, W. R.
“This is the inside story of a Chicago gang, told from the gangster’s point of view and in his language. Rico and Sam Vettori fight for leadership and Rico wins. He is little Caesar to the gunmen who obey his orders without question. During a night-club hold-up Rico kills a policeman. The gang is broken up—one turns state’s evidence, another is shot as a squealer— and Rico himself becomes one of the hunted, until a policeman’s bullet cancels the score against him.” -Book Rev Digest
“The book is full of sordid details of gang life which make it unpleasant but exciting reading.” -Booklist.
Book: In the Boyhood of Lincoln: a Tale of the Tunker Schoolmaster and the Times of Black Hawk – Illinois Historical Novel
Author: Butterworth, Hezekiah
NY: Appleton 1893
The adventures of a pioneer Dunkard schoolmaster serve to illustrate the life of a newly settled country as well as the hardships and manly struggles of the future statesman. Collects many Indian romances and cabin tales of the Illinois settlers, and gives a warmly sympathetic view of Indian character.
Author: Campbell, Bebe Moore
“In Ms. Campbell’s story, a young black man, Armstrong Todd. visiting from Chicago in 1955, is murdered in Hopewell, Miss.. by a white man. Reporters from New York are secretly summoned by an influential citizen of Hopewell, and as a consequence of the resulting news media attention there is, uncharacteristically, a trial. After the trial, the novel follows the lives Of Armstrong’s relatives in Mississippi—and in Chicago, where Armstrong’s mother, Delotha Todd, starts a new and difficult life, raising another son. The novel also follows the lives of the murderer. Floyd Cox, and his family.” -N Y Times Book Rev
“Written in poetic prose, filled with masterfully dawn and sympathetic characters that a less able hand might have rendered in stereotypes, this first novel blends the irony of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction and the poignancy of Harper Lee’s.” -Publ Wkly
Book: The Illini; a Story of the Prairies – Illinois Historical Fiction
Author: Carr, Clark E.
Chicago: McClurg. 1912
The author attempted to portray a number of real people who were significant in Illinois history by placing them in fictional situations. He says that, “The work might be called a drama in which characters appear upon the stage in connection with events in which they acted.” He has divided the volume into three ‘books’;
Book 1 – The Pioneer
Book 2 – Political Upheaval
Book 3 – In War-time
Some of the historical figures in the book are: Stephen A. Douglas, John Wentworth, Owen Lovejoy, Abraham Lincoln, John Hay, Lyman Trumbull, David Davis, Norman B. Judd and Richard J. Oglesby.
A story of the prairies, written from the memories of over half a century lived in Illinois. The author has endeavored to present his views of the position and influence of Illinois among the states, to give an estimate of events, and of those Illinoisans who were conspicuous actors in them, from 1850, the year in which the Fugitive-slave law was enacted, to the opening of the Civil war. — Bookman.
Book: My Mortal Enemy – Illinois Fiction
Author: Cather, Willa
“In Myra Henshawe, Miss Cather has painted another portrait of a lady seen, Pike Marian Forrester, thru the eyes of an admiring yet clear- sighted friend of a younger generation. Myra Driscoll was an orphan brought up by her rich great-uncle in the fine old Driscoll home in Parthia, Illinois. The price the willful, high-spirited girl paid for her runaway marriage was the omission of her name in her uncle’s will and a lifelong discontent. Love was not enough. Myra was, by her own confession, a greedy, selfish, worldly woman who wanted success and a place in the world. The young girl who narrates the story saw her on three occasions, once when Myra was visiting in Parthia, a woman of forty-five with a strange fascination about her, again in New York and finally, ten years later, in a shabby West Coast hotel where ministered to by her devoted, if ineffectual husband, she was dying alone with her ‘mortal enemy,’ her inescapable, turbulent self.” -Book Rev Digest.
Book: Old Kaskaskia: a Novel
Author: Catherwood, Mary Hartwell
NY: Houghton, Mifflin. 1893
Mary Hartwell Catherwood (1847 -1902) was born in Luray, Ohio and as an adult lived in several cities in the Midwest. She developed a signature style of incorporating Midwestern culture, dialect, and local color into her texts. Although most of her novels and stories are set in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, some are also based along the American border with French Canada and on colonial Mackinac Island.
Book: Spanish Peggy; a Story of Young Illinois – Illinois Historical Fiction
Author: Catherwood, Mary Hartwell
Chicago: Stone. 1899
“A short story of early Illinois, containing an attractive picture of Lincoln as a young man.” – Guide to Historical Fiction, 1914. Novels set in Illinois.
See the biographical note on the Catherwood novel on this page; Old Kaskaskia.
See our free collection of reading guides and bibliographies for popular fiction and literature
Book: The Spirit of an Illinois Town, and The Little Renault; two stories of Illinois at different periods
Author: Catherwood, Mary Hartwell
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin. 1897
See the biographical note on the Catherwood novel on this page; Old Kaskaskia.
Author: Crane, J. L.
Chicago: Jansen, McClurg. 1877
According to the dedication in this volume, James L. Crane had been a chaplain in the Union army during the Civil War. This novel is about the humorous adventures of a young preacher who has recently begun riding the circuit. Books set in Illinois.