Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime

Beth has a weakness for love stories. She reads a wide variety of genres, but her favorites are Romance, Fiction, and Chick Lit. Her first literary loves were Nat from The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. She works in the Collection Development department. In her spare time, she enjoys baking and reading gossip magazines.

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Author Interviews


In the News




Between the Covers with Gary Krist

posted by: October 28, 2014 - 7:00am

Empire of SinThis fall, Maryland author Gary Krist will take readers into a little-known chapter of New Orleans history with his new book Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. Krist brings to light the social and political struggles that New Orleans faced at the turn of the 20th century. Focusing on events from 1890 through 1920, Krist tells a tale of vice, politics, economic development, crime, jazz, racism and murder. The most shocking thing about this story is that it’s all true! This engrossing book is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.


Krist recently answered some questions about Empire of Sin for Between the Covers. Read on to learn more about the city’s politics, its remarkable residents and the Axman, a serial murderer who terrorized New Orleans for 18 months.


Between the Covers: Why New Orleans? Was it the story or the city that first captured your interest?

Gary Krist: It’s hard to separate story from city, but I’d say it was a desire to write about New Orleans that first attracted me. For an urban historian, New Orleans is a particularly attractive subject, primarily because of its unique history. As a place with French and Catholic roots, it has a culture very different from that of other American cities. (My favorite observation about New Orleans is that it was the first major American metropolis to build an opera house but the last to install a sewer system.) So it was fascinating for me to see how this unique place weathered the great transition to modernity in this era.


BTC: I suspect that many of our readers don’t know a lot about this chapter in New Orleans history. Will you describe the social and political climate of the city at the turn of the 20th century?

GK: The last decades of the 19th century were difficult for New Orleans. The city’s prosperous antebellum days were long past; years of civil war and reconstruction had been hard on the local economy, and the city had become hopelessly backward in terms of urban development (hence that much-delayed sewer system). Northern capital investment was desperately needed to modernize the city’s infrastructure, but Northern capitalists were reluctant to invest in a place with such a bad reputation for vice and crime. So the city’s “better half” decided that it was time to clean up New Orleans, which meant doing battle with the city’s long-entrenched underworlds of vice and crime. Basically, they wanted to make New Orleans “respectable”—and that was going to be quite a job.


BTC: During this time, a red-light district called Storyville was created in New Orleans. Tell us a little bit about its development.

GK: Interestingly, Storyville began as part of this clean-up campaign. Reformers knew that abolishing prostitution entirely would not be feasible in a city like New Orleans, so they tried instead to isolate and regulate the trade. An alderman named Sidney Story identified a particular 18-block neighborhood and wrote an ordinance making prostitution illegal everywhere EXCEPT in this one, out-of-the-way area. Reformers figured that this would be a good way of lowering the profile of vice in the city. But the plan backfired, and Storyville (as the district came to be called, much to Alderman Story’s annoyance) soon was making New Orleans world-famous as a virtual supermarket of sin. And when reformers decided that they needed to close the district after all, it turned out that Storyville was a lot harder to kill than it had been to create.


BTC: Another notable thread of the story is the Axman murders, a series of grisly murders that took place from 1918-1919 and remain unsolved. What impact did these events have on the city?

GK: The Axman appeared at a critical time, just when the champions of respectability thought they had won their battle for New Orleans. Storyville had finally been closed in 1917, and the city’s crime problem seemed to be under control at last. But then an anonymous murderer dramatically upended this sense of victory with a series of bloody nighttime ax attacks that terrorized the city for 18 months. With each succeeding murder, panicked New Orleanians became increasingly paranoid and irrational. Then an open letter—purportedly from the Axman himself—appeared in The Times-Picayune, claiming that the murderer was a devil from hell with a liking for the new jazz music. He threatened to kill again on St. Joseph’s Night, promising only to spare any household in which jazz was being played. And, well, I don’t want to reveal too much, but you can just imagine what a night of music and dancing took place in New Orleans that night.


BTC: Empire of Sin is filled with unbelievable characters, and the most amazing thing is that they were all real people. Do you have a favorite? Which person in this book will stick with the reader the longest?

GK: Oh, I could probably name a dozen—like Josie Arlington, the wealthy brothel madam who for decades kept her sinful life a secret from her beloved niece; or Buddy Bolden, the almost-legendary cornetist who is credited with being the inventor of jazz music; or Tom Anderson, the poor kid from the rough Irish Channel neighborhood who rose to become one of the most powerful (and strangely likeable) vice lords in the country. But my favorite character is probably Louis Armstrong, who grew up in the hardest and most degrading circumstances imaginable, but whose unfailing good-heartedness and matchless musical gift allowed him to rise above his harsh childhood to become one of the great artists of the century.


BTC: What is the most shocking thing that you learned in your research?

GK: Some of the beliefs of the so-called reformers shocked me. For instance, one of the leaders of the anti-Storyville campaign was a woman named Jean Gordon. She was firmly convinced that she was on the side of virtue, but as with many self-styled moral champions, her idea of “virtue” was often distorted by class and racial prejudice. So while she fought hard for female suffrage and child labor regulation, she also lent her support to the rise of Jim Crow discrimination and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Even worse, she held some astounding beliefs about eugenics, advocating for the forced sterilization of children who showed signs of a future in crime, prostitution or alcoholism. “Took Lucille Decoux to the Women’s Dispensary July 17 [for an appendectomy],” Jean once wrote in her diary. “This was an excellent opportunity to have her sterilized…and thus end any feeble-minded progeny coming from Lucille.”


BTC: What are you working on next?

GK: My fascination with cities in the early 20th century hasn’t gone away, so I’m working on a book about Los Angeles in roughly this same time period. The book will center on the Hollywood of the silent-film era and weave in a few other elements. But the idea is still taking shape in my mind, so it’s probably too early to talk about it.


Pride and Prejudice and Murder

posted by: October 24, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Death Comes to PemberlyWhat happens after happily ever after? Mystery author P. D. James reimagines the futures of the characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in Death Comes to Pemberley. Six years after Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage, a shocking event rocks the residents of Pemberley. On the night before their annual ball, Elizabeth’s sister Lydia appears at Pemberley hysterically screaming that Mr. Wickham has been murdered. Upon investigation, it is actually Captain Denny who is dead, but in an even more shocking turn of events, the most logical suspect is none other than Wickham! Austen fans are well-acquainted with Wickham’s past misdeeds, but could he really be capable of murder?

Death Comes to Pemberley is a well-crafted mystery written in a tone similar to Austen’s own, making this a perfect companion to the classic novel. The audiobook read by Rosalyn Landor will whisk you away to the 19th century. James seeds the story with plausible suspects and a few red herrings, but in the end all questions are answered and readers are given a glimpse into the Darcys’ future.

The novel has been adapted into a miniseries that will soon air on PBS. The miniseries will begin on October 26 and will be released on DVD later that week.


Justice for All

posted by: October 22, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Just MercyWhen he was a child, Bryan Stevenson’s grandmother would tell him, “You can’t understand the most important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close.” That’s exactly what Stevenson does for all of us with his new book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. The book focuses on the case of Walter McMillian, a man who was wrongly convicted and sent to death row.

McMillian was arrested for the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison, the 18-year-old daughter of a well-respected family in Monroeville, Alabama. Despite a lack of physical evidence and the existence of several witnesses who could place him miles away at the time of the crime, McMillian was convicted of capital murder. Stevenson took on his appeal while working for the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in Atlanta. After a lengthy appeals process, McMillian was exonerated and released in 1993 after spending six years on death row.

Readers will be astonished that these events actually took place as the book reads like a legal thriller that would do John Grisham proud. The story has a unique literary connection as well. McMillian lived in Monroe County, Alabama, home of To Kill a Mockingbird-author Harper Lee. Just Mercy is a gripping and thought-provoking read that would also be a great choice for book clubs.

Stevenson is now a law professor and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to those who have been denied fair treatment in the legal system. His TED Talk on race and justice has been viewed over 1.25 million times, and it was named one of five essential TED Talks by The New Yorker. You can view it on BCPL’s Tumblr.


Cover art for People I Want to Punch in the ThroatWe all have that friend who doesn’t have a filter and says whatever she thinks. Blogger Jen Mann’s new book People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots and Other Suburban Scourges is just like sitting down next to that friend and listening (and laughing) as she tells it like it is. Mann, whose writing style has been called “Erma Bombeck with F Bombs,” takes on modern inconveniences, marriage and motherhood with humor and sarcasm. Mann explains why she covets a minivan (a.k.a. mobile command center), the danger of wearing pajamas in the school pickup line, the complexities of enrolling your kids in summer camp and the challenges of navigating playgroup politics.


Mann’s blog was a small project that she worked on for herself and a few followers until a post called “Over Achieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies” went viral in 2011. This book will bring Mann’s witty and, yes, often profanity-filled observations on life in the suburbs to an even wider audience. Her irreverent, brutally honest essays are a perfect match for readers who enjoy Jenny Lawson and Jen Lancaster’s humorous memoirs. Mann has also edited two humor anthologies called I Just Want to Pee Alone: A Collection of Hilarious Essays about Motherhood and I Just Want to Be Alone: A Collection of Humorous Essays, both of which will be treats for her always-growing fan base.


Between the Covers with Mary Jo Putney

posted by: October 1, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Not Quite a WifeThroughout her career, author Mary Jo Putney has received multiple RITA nominations and awards, two Romantic Times Career Achievement Awards and the Romance Writers of America’s Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. She also has something in common with many of our readers — she’s a BCPL customer! In Putney’s new book Not Quite a Wife, which recently hit The New York Times Best Sellers list, fate brings a couple back together for a second chance at love.

Putney recently took some time to answer questions for our Between the Covers readers. Read on to learn more about her new book, her advice for aspiring writers and her favorite things about Baltimore.


Between the Covers: Describe Not Quite a Wife in one sentence.
Mary Jo Putney: A long-estranged couple who never stopped loving each other must come together again to see if they can rebuild their marriage.


BTC: You’ve written in several genres throughout your career, but you’re probably best known for your rich historical romances. What about the Regency era inspires you most? Do you find yourself researching less now or does each book and its characters demand its own research?
MJP: The Regency was a time of change, a transition from the old regime world into what has become our modern world. The industrial age was shattering the old feudal/agricultural structure, the ideas of the enlightenment were leading to better education, more equality and individualism and reform moves like abolition and eventually women's rights. There was also the creative Romantic revolution in writing, painting, music and other areas of life. Plus, a great war against a continental tyrant: Napoleon. It gives writers so much to work with!

The amount of research varies. By now, I've developed a fairly broad foundation of Regency knowledge, but every book will have some new topics to research. For example, in Not Quite a Wife I was looking at things like Bristol's historic role in the slave trade and the development of steamship service on the Thames as well as studying maps of London's dockyards. That's part of what makes writing historical novels so interesting.


BTC: What’s a typical work day like for you? Is there such a thing as a typical work day?
MJP: Days can vary enormously! I'm more owl than lark. After breakfast, I sip coffee and check email. Three mornings a week, I go to Curves to exercise, since sitting at a computer too long is hard on the body and I need to stretch. I spend time on blogging — I'm part of a long running blog, the Word Wenches, and we all contribute regularly. (They're a great group, both as writers and as friends.)Photo of Mary Jo Putney

I also spend a fair amount of time working at re-publishing my older books. I love that it's now possible to make all those backlist stories available as e-books. But the closer a deadline is, the more time I spend actually writing new work. Everything else gets pushed out!


BTC: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
MJP: Read, read, read! You need to thoroughly understand the genre you want to write in, and what you love to read and to write. You also need to work on the craft of writing. No matter how good a natural storyteller you are, you must also have enough writing skill to tell that story well. For romance writers, I recommend joining the Romance Writers of America. It's a large group with a lot of classes and opportunities to find critique. The local chapter is Maryland Romance Writers, and I've been a member since two months after I started my first book.


BTC: What are your favorite things about living in Baltimore?
MJP: I love the variety and history of Baltimore and Maryland. The people are nice, the weather provides four distinct and generally pleasant seasons, and there's lots of social and historical texture. Since I didn't grow up here, there are still things I'm learning despite having lived in Baltimore for many years.


BTC: What can readers look forward to from you next?
MJP: I've been writing a Regency historical series called the Lost Lords. All the heroes attended a school for boys of "good birth and bad behavior." Basically, as kids they were square pegs in round holes, and the school not only taught them how to adapt to society without losing their souls, but how to build deep friendships as well.

The sixth book in the series, Not Quite a Wife, has just been released, and I'm working on the book for next year, Not Always a Saint. Though the different characters show up in different stories, basically each book stands alone by focusing on the romance of just one couple.

Thanks for having me here! Since BCPL is my local library, this is a particular pleasure.



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