Two little boys growing up in America; one an urban Jersey boy, the other raised in the small towns of the deep South. Both are African-American, poor, with strong, determined mothers and absentee fathers, each a young witness to violence. Both are identified as highly intelligent and both went to college and graduated. One became a reporter and appears on network television news shows; the other is dead, murdered. Journalist Charles Blow tells his own story in Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir while Jeff Hobbs memorializes the life of his Yale roommate in the bestselling The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League.
Charles Blow looks to be sitting in the catbird seat. Op-ed columnist for The New York Times and a commentator on CNN, he is a man who projects confidence and success. His memoir, however, reveals a rural Louisiana childhood of poverty where he saw conflict settled with weapons and one of the greatest insults a boy could endure was to be a called a “punk,” meaning homosexual. Blow was twice the victim of sexual abuse by older male relatives, leaving him wondering what it was about himself that attracted predators. Fire Shut Up In My Bones is Blow’s sensitive and introspective reflection on how his past created his present.
Young Robert Peace idolized his father, a man who seemed to know everyone in Newark’s rough suburbs. Convicted of killing two women, Peace’s father was incarcerated when Peace was in first grade. Rob’s mother Jackie worked in institutional kitchens to afford a private education for her son, determined that Rob would escape the ghetto. Indeed he did, landing a fully funded spot at Yale thanks to his prodigious intellect, focused hard work and leadership qualities. The quick and sad version of Peace’s story is after college, he gradually drifted back to his old neighborhood and slid into the criminal activity leading to his murder. Hobbs chooses to honor his friend fairly by writing The Short and Tragic Life which presents Peace as a complex man who struggled under the weight of opposing expectations and experiences.
This 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.
What 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.
The aftermath of an energy crisis is explored in Edan Lepucki’s new novel California. Frida and Cal are on their own, living in a shack and facing the uncertain future that may include the birth of a baby. Frida knows she may need help with the birth, and the couple discover that there is a community of people nearby, surrounded by a foreboding fortress made of tall spikes and broken glass. But is the fortress meant to keep strangers and roving bands of pirates out, or keep the insular residents in? Desperate to find acceptance, Frida and Cal decide to play by the rules. But a charismatic leader emerges with an agenda of his own, and both Frida and Cal begin to wonder if this is the paradise for which they had hoped.
A remarkable work of dystopian literature, California stays fresh with interesting characters and a suspenseful storyline. Frida and Cal are sympathetic protagonists, and Lepucki examines elements of their past life and slowly reveals how the world before has led to a dramatic and difficult present.
Although set in the future, the novel stays grounded in reality and will appeal to readers who enjoy strong characters facing hard choices in a realistic way. This debut novel for Edan Lepucki proves her to be a writer to watch. The audiobook is narrated by Emma Galvin, who brings life to the text for an enjoyable listening experience. Readers who enjoy this novel may want to also read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel or The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber.
When 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.
As the temperatures cool down and the days become shorter, a new season has arrived. With leaves falling and warm sweaters unpacked comes the desire for foods that exemplify warmth and coziness. Three recently published cookbooks express strong autumnal flavors that will surely bring pleasant aromas to your kitchen.
One style that always warms the heart and belly is Indian cuisine. Aarti Sequeira, winner of season six of Food Network Star, brings her winning personality and complex-tasting but simple-to-create spice blends to Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul. After a short introduction discussing her background, she explains the many spices in the Indian pantry as well as a quick guide to lentils and the mystery of curry powder. Vegetarian dishes are well-represented, as well as Sequeira’s fondness for sweets and desserts. Her recipes incorporate exotic flavors into American favorites, creating intriguing concepts such as South Indian Tomato Soup, Bombay Sloppy Joes and Masala Shrimp ‘n’ Grits.
Averie Sunshine, the popular food blogger at AverieCooks.com, has her finger on the pulse of one of this decade’s hottest food trends in Cooking with Pumpkin: Recipes that Go beyond the Pie. She brings 50 of her favorite savory and sweet recipes together to create a group of mouthwatering fall dishes. From Parmesan and Cream Cheese Pumpkin Puff appetizers to Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, this is a book for the pumpkin lover. She also has suggestions for perfectly roasted pumpkin seeds and a number of pumpkin beverages that surpass the tired spiced latte.
A well-known British chef and international culinary superstar is back with Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook, a compendium of hearty-but-healthy recipes perfect for the home cook. Each recipe includes the preparation time and the caloric intake per serving, in addition to attractive photographs of the foods. Oliver states in the introduction that these recipes are intended for a leisurely experience, to celebrate and savor, and not simply for the everyday routine. Respected for his charge to improve school lunch menus worldwide, the chef returns to his roots with this cookbook to pore over and plan cold-weather weekend meals around.
Fabio Viviani, chef, restaurateur and charismatic entertainer is a familiar face from Top Chef where he was voted Fan Favorite. He is also becoming a major player in the world of American restaurants, owning spots in California, Chicago and, soon, Miami. In his newest cookbook Fabio’s American Home Kitchen, Fabio offers over 100 recipes for American classic dishes, from Chicago-style deep dish pizza to spaghetti carbonara all with his own Italian flair. The recipes include basic ingredients that can be found in any well-stocked supermarket and are accompanied by stunning photographs and a taste of Fabio’s charm. Between the Covers was lucky enough to ask Fabio a few questions in the midst of his hectic schedule which includes opening a new restaurant and embarking on a book tour. Buon Appetito!
Between the Covers: Readers will relish your newest cookbook, Fabio’s American Home Kitchen, which is a feast for the eyes. What prompted you to put your Italian spin on American recipes?
Fabio Viviani: I’ve been in America for many years now, and I love it and wanted to put my Italian spin on American food. In my new cookbook, I try to keep my Italian heritage by keeping dishes lighter but also incorporating the deliciousness of American food with approachable recipes.
BTC: Your suggested menus are so helpful, as are your ideas for entertaining and make-ahead dishes. What are the five ingredients you think a home pantry should never be without? What is your best tip for saving time in the kitchen?
FV: Five ingredients a home pantry should never be without: olive oil, cold cuts, fresh pasta, eggs, herbs/spices. You can make anything with these ingredients in your pantry! My motto for saving time in the kitchen is always, ‘Keep it simple stupid, keep it stupid simple.’ If a recipe feels very complicated then it’s a problem! Simple recipes will always come out the best.
BTC: Thank you so much for making your recipes incredibly accessible to the home cook and your style so easy and encouraging. Who gave you your love for food and cooking? When did you realize you wanted to be a chef? Did you have any tough teachers or bad experiences that made you want to throw in the apron?
FV: For me it always comes back to my family. When I was eleven, my mom developed a problem with her hands and had to quit her job, so I decided to find a job since there was no money. I ended up working a night job unloading 50-pound bags of flour and baking pies from one in the morning until seven and did that job for two and a half years, which was how I was introduced to the kitchen for the first time. From a very young age I was surrounded by cooking with my family so I knew I loved it, but it wasn’t until I had my first kitchen job that I realized I wanted to be a chef. My grandma was my toughest teacher, probably because I wasn’t always the best student!
BTC: You grew up in Italy - was there much culture shock when you moved to the United States? What do you miss most about living in Italy? Do you get a chance to go return often?
FV: I go back to Italy about twice a year. What I miss most about Italy is the smell. Italy smells different; it smells of fresh cut grass. There are no traffic noises or people screaming, and very little trash around. If you ever find the smell of paradise, you will know you’re in Italy.
BTC: We know all about your hatred of cilantro and your love of Nutella. Any other food favorites or dislikes? What is your number one comfort food? What is your go-to dish for a romantic dinner?
FV: My number one comfort food is pasta, and, of course, a jar of Nutella if it’s available. My go-to dish for a romantic dinner is wine. If you have lots of good wine, the rest will take care of itself.
BTC: As a former contestant on Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars, what’s your take on reality television? Would you do it again?
FV: Reality TV is great exposure and it’s good for your business. However, there are many situations where reality TV does not make you look good and that can be bad for your business. Reality TV should be taken with caution, but I would definitely do it again if the opportunity came up.
BTC: Sienna Tavern Miami is about to open. As you build your restaurant empire, can those of us living in Baltimore hope to see a Fabio restaurant close by in the near future?
FV: Baltimore is a beautiful city and I would love to have a restaurant there one day!
Truth is stranger than fiction, and Adrian McKinty’s latest novel The Sun Is God is based on a true mystery surrounding the German nudists known as Cocovores. It is 1906 in Colonial New Guinea and the body of Max Lutzow, who has apparently died of malaria, has been transported to the capital city. An autopsy proves otherwise and the suspicious circumstances of the death have to be investigated. Max was a member of the Cocovores, an extreme group of nudists who worship the sun god Apollo and eat only things that grow from the tops of trees. Will Prior had previously worked for the British military during the Boer War, and seems perfectly suited to solve this unusual crime. Paired with a captain of the German army and a feisty female travel writer, Will heads to the isle of Kabakon to solve the murder.
McKinty is a thoughtful writer and skilled at crafting a really good tale. The characters are solid and he spends enough time fleshing out Will Prior’s background and current circumstances to make him an interesting protagonist. The unusual setting is described in perfect detail and the book will have many a reader peering around for a stray mosquito. The book becomes all the more fascinating when reading the afterword, where the reader discovers that the Cocovores were an actual documented group of people living this lifestyle just after the turn of the century. Although this novel is meant to be a stand-alone, readers who enjoy McKinty’s style may want to pick up his novels featuring Detective Sean Duffy. The first in the Duffy series is called The Cold Cold Ground.
The lives of teenage girls are filled with intense rivalries, frantic friendships, evolving cliques and lots and lots of secrets. Those secrets provide the backdrop for Tana French’s latest psychological thriller The Secret Place. The headmistress of St. Kilda’s School has created the Secret Place – a bulletin board where the girls can indulge their fantasies, spread their rumors, and engage in a little malicious backstabbing. One day, a card is posted with the picture of Chris Harper, a handsome student boarding at a nearby boys school who was bludgeoned to death the previous year, with the caption “I know who killed him.” Sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey, a student at St. Kilda’s and the daughter of the chief of the Dublin Murder Squad, brings the card to ambitious Detective Stephen Moran, who’d like nothing better than a ticket out of the Cold Case Unit and into the prestigious Murder Squad.
The action takes place over the period of one day, with multiple interviews conducted by Moran and Murder Squad Detective Antoinette Conway, a prickly sort, sensitive to any sexist injustice. Moran and Conway slowly learn to trust one another, honing their interview skills as they slide ever deeper into a world of power games and manipulation, jealousy and rivalries. While desperately trying to solve the case, Holly’s father is ever-present, interfering in his position as Conway and Moran’s boss. Then there is the hovering spirit of the victim, who considered his girlfriends to be throwaway commodities, to be dumped upon any indication of neediness. But perhaps he truly found the one he loved, only to find that someone else objected.
Tana French is a master of psychological suspense and has once again produced a riveting page-turner. The teenage girls are authentic and raw; their complex relationships are navigated with a sure hand. The techniques used by the detectives to discover the truth are as varied as the labyrinth of lies and misdirection. Other titles by this Edgar, Anthony and Macavity Award-winning author include In the Woods, Broken Harbor, The Likeness and Faithful Place. Fans of John Verdon, Denise Mina and Stephen Booth are sure to find a deeply satisfying read.
We 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.