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Dead in the Water: My Forty-Year Search for My Brother’s Killer

Penny Farmer. Diversion, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-63576-619-6

The emotional devastation from a double murder permeates British journalist Farmer’s moving debut, an account of her decades-long search for justice. In 1978, 25-year-old Christopher Farmer, her physician brother, and his 24-year-old girlfriend, Peta Frampton, left England to travel the world. In June of that year, the couple ran into Duane Boston, an American who ran a charter boat business, in a bar on an island off the Belize coast. Christopher and Peta arranged passage to Honduras on Boston’s 32-foot sail boat, which was also transporting Boston’s sons, 13-year-old Vince and 12-year-old Russell. When the volatile Boston began beating Russell, Christopher intervened. While Boston appeared to calm down, the next evening he battered Christopher with a club and tied up him and Peta before dumping them overboard with weights attached. Their bodies were found in the sea off Guatemala a few days later. In 2013, Penny’s internet research led her to Russell, who provided an eyewitness account of the murders. In 2017, law enforcement arrested Boston, who claimed to have committed more than 30 other murders, though he died of an infection before he could stand trial. This engrossing, heartbreaking story is sure to appeal to true crime fans. Agent: Robert Smith, Robert Smith Literary (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters

Joe Namath, with Sean Mortimer and Don Yaeger. Little, Brown, $30 (256p) ISBN 978-0-316-42110-2

Namath, quarterback of the 1968 Superbowl III–winning Jets, reflects on his life in this riveting, earnest memoir. Namath explains that he intends to show readers “how I’ve changed, both positively and negatively,” and divides his memoir into four parts, as he recalls each quarter of Super Bowl III, incorporating moments of his private life throughout. For example, as Namath discusses his legendary Super Bowl III “guarantee” to win against the Baltimore Colts, he addresses his struggles with drinking. Namath is refreshingly candid throughout, taking readers through his decision to even write the book (Mortimer and Yaeger expertly bring out Namath’s intimate, conversational tone), and emphasizing his desire to not overlook the darker parts of his life. It’s apparent that he valued his relationship with coach Bear Bryant, for whom he played at the University of Alabama, and uses his quotes as metaphors for life (“You’ll remember the losses quicker than the wins. We’re going to win a lot of games, but the losses will stick in ya’ll’s craws”). Football fans­ will delight in Namath’s play calling throughout (he tells Jets coach Weeb Ewbank on the sideline, “They haven’t scored on our defense yet. I’d rather not throw. I’d like to run”). Namath’s razor-sharp recollections bring a bygone era of football to vivid life in this illuminating volume. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems

Stephanie Burt. Basic, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-465-09450-9

In this eloquent literary primer, Burt, a poet and Harvard English professor, contends with poetry’s reputation for inaccessibility. Beginning by proposing readers think in terms of individual works rather than poetry in general, Burt goes on to discuss a wide selection of practitioners, from past masters including W.B. Yeats and Langston Hughes to such contemporary figures as Cathy Park Hong and Terrance Hayes, to support her argument that all readers can find poetic voices and styles agreeable to them. Her selections also show an awareness of the historic underrepresentation of different groups, in terms of races, sexual preference, and languages, in American poetry. The writing falters at times, as when an attempt to seem current with a reference to Pokémon comes across as patronizing. Burt’s writing is best when deeply enmeshed in a poem, such as John Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning,” used to critique modern preconceptions about plainspokeness being the most sincere way of speaking; she describes the 17th-century work’s “elaborate, challenging metaphors not as barriers to sincerity but as ways to achieve it.” Burt’s sweeping, insightful survey makes a great case that with wider exposure, people will discover how poems can be relevant to anyone who has “ever felt unique, or confused, or confusing to others.” (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism

Adam Gopnik. Basic, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5416-9936-6

According to this militantly nonfanatical treatise, liberalism is the self-doubting creed of cautious, compromising, incremental reform—and that’s why it’s great. New Yorker essayist Gopnik (Paris to the Moon) grounds liberalism not in arid individualism but in emotion and social connection, an animus against suffering and for freedom and equality, an understanding of human fallibility, a tolerance for debate, and a search for lasting improvements through democratic action. To conservatives who say liberal rationalism erodes communities, families, and sacred values, he replies that it allows diverse communities and religious beliefs to flourish without bitter divisions; to left-wingers who condemn it as a cover for capitalist exploitation, he champions liberalism’s record of progressivism without the totalitarian repressions of communism or the essentialist identity politics of today’s left. Gopnik hangs his discussion on vivid profiles of liberal dreamers and doers, from theorist-lovebirds Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill to civil rights pioneers Frederick Douglass and Bayard Rustin. He writes with a pithy, aphoristic charm—“what we have today, the insistent sneering insists, is a long, permanent bar fight, where you can’t trust a liberal to throw a bourbon bottle at the bad guys”—that overlies deep erudition and nuanced analysis. The result is a smart, exhilarating defense of the liberal tradition. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone

Astra Taylor. Metropolitan, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-17984-5

Writer and filmmaker Taylor follows her 2018 documentary What Is Democracy? with this wide-ranging “inquiry into democracy as a balance of paradoxes, an exploration of opposites” to “gain better insight into why the challenge of self-rule is so great.” Each chapter focuses on a binary that influences democracy (freedom/equality, coercion/choice, inclusion/exclusion, expertise/mass opinion), chipping away at what democracy is not and revealing that the binaries themselves are more complicated than they seem. A consensus-based system (unlimited choice) will run into deadlock and fall apart, for example, if there is no provision for decisions to be made swiftly (coercion) when necessary. From ancient Athens to modern-day Greece, from the social democratic Scandinavian countries to the monarchy-turned-democracy of Bhutan, Taylor searches the world (mostly the West) for often unexpected examples (pirates, for instance, had one of the most egalitarian societal frameworks ever seen). However, she always returns to class and the U.S., examining gerrymandering, the founding fathers, and the rise and fall of Occupy Wall Street. Taylor clearly communicates her vision of democracy: always in flux, never certain, more an ideal than a realized system, but always something to strive for. This unusual and challenging work is worth the effort. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI

Lauren Johnson. Pegasus, $35 (752p) ISBN 978-1-64313-128-3

Johnson (So Great a Prince) seeks to reclaim the unhappy Lancastrian king from the “simple saint” myth with a thorough examination of his difficult circumstances and his pious, peace-oriented personality. The early death of warrior-king Henry V left an infant with a claim to both the English and French thrones and substantial French holdings, but the gentle, insecure Henry VI ultimately lost everything. Surrounded by such strong-willed figures as Richard, Duke of York, who dominated his life, and the queen, Margaret of Anjou, who tried to save him, Henry’s cowed reaction to family infighting, significant personal losses, and his own inadequacies doomed him to failure, forcing him to eventually renounce his son’s claim with the Act of Accord in favor of Yorkist Edward IV. Johnson allows for a bit of fun with the multiple English monarchs (including Richard III and Henry VII), showing how closely intertwined these warring factions actually were. This dense exploration of Henry’s boyhood shows how his passive personality and bouts of psychosis (during which his wife, a stronger ruler, stepped in) led to his making disastrous decisions. Johnson’s intense look at the earthly failures that defined Henry VI’s unpopular reign—and the transformation of a medieval king’s fatal flaws into the basis for a devoted posthumous following—is a treat for committed Anglophiles. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Second Most Powerful Man in the World: The Life of Admiral William D. Leahy, Roosevelt’s Chief of Staff

Phillips Payson O’Brien. Dutton, $30 (544p) ISBN 978-0-399-58480-0

Military historian O’Brien (How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II) serves up an engaging biography of the under-the-radar WWII power broker, William D. Leahy (1875–1959). O’Brien traces Leahy’s path from naval cadet to his increasingly important combat and administrative posts, culminating in his appointment by FDR to lead the Joint Chiefs of Staff after the U.S. entered WWII. As the country’s highest-ranking military official, he became FDR’s top adviser and later advocated policies to ensure that in the future no one occupying the role would hold a similar amount of power. Leahy is drawn as a complex character who thrived in positions of authority, but who preferred to avoid the spotlight; the book excels at relating the political maneuvering that allowed him to repeatedly upstage better-known historical figures including George Marshall and Douglas MacArthur (whom Leahy called out in front of the president for his nonstandard uniform). O’Brien provides little analysis of the underlying motivations for Leahy’s actions and can occasionally veers into the realm of hyperbole (“He might as well have said: No, Mrs. Roosevelt, I am the acting president of the United States”). But this is a solid and informative account of a relatively underdiscussed influence on Cold War policies, worldviews, and relationships that still matter today. Agents: Alexa Stark and Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Snakeskins

Tim Major. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-78909-078-9

Government conspiracy and magic of the unknown intertwine in an uncanny tale. Caitlin Hext is unprepared for her 17th birthday, marking the time of her first shedding ceremony as a Charmer—people with the power to produce a clone every seven years. These clones, called Snakeskins, usually turn to dust, but Caitlin’s does not. Shocked, she must wrestle with questions of identity as well as the idea that the Hext family is crucial to the lineage of all Charmers. These events are interwoven with politics as Caitlin learns that the Great British Prosperity Party has sinister plans for her and the people of Britain. Each chapter shows a bit more of the different narrators’ various perspectives on events, gradually creating a delightfully tense parallel story that begs the reader to guess what will happen next. This novel earns its verbosity using tact, mystery, and a strong voice, and readers who stick with it will feel well rewarded. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Archive of Alternate Endings

Lindsey Drager. Dzanc, $16.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-945814-82-2

Traversing time and space, the captivating latest from Drager (The Lost Daughter Collective) employs nonlinear structure and the cyclical, 75-year path of Halley’s Comet to link centuries of siblings and partners to the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” In 1835, storytellers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collect versions of the narrative, and in one, Hansel is banished to the forest for being gay. Wilhelm recognizes the impact this discovery has on his brother, whom he suspects is homosexual. In 1986, a computer programmer constructing an early form of the internet contracts AIDS and visits the Witch, who dedicates herself to comforting ailing gay men in their final days. A lesbian sent to an asylum in 1910 has an affair with one of her nurses, watches for the comet, and crafts a series of illustrations of “Hansel and Gretel,” while in 1456, Johannes Gutenberg shows his sister the magic of his new printing press by duplicating copies of the fairy tale. Stretching as far back as the comet’s pass in 1378, which incorporates interactions between a real Hansel and his sister, and forward to 2365, when the comet passes an Earth void of life, Drager’s plot is ambitious and emotionally resonant, making for a clever, beguiling novel. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Correspondents

Tim Murphy. Grove, $27 (448p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2937-6

In this ambitious but schematically plotted novel, Murphy (Christodora) refracts the American experience through the lives of an extended Lebanese-American family from 1912 to the early 21st century. The main character, Rita Khoury, is the daughter of Irish and Lebanese parents. Rita is working as a journalist in Beirut when, in the aftermath of 9/11, she is sent to cover the war in Iraq, and her relationships—with Palestinian and Jewish boyfriends and an Iraqi interpreter—and postings in the Middle East and (later) Washington are drawn to encompass the social and political issues that shaped America and the rest of the world around the turn of the 21st century. Rita is well-developed as a character, but as her and her family and friends’ lives progress through decades punctuated by those issues—including war, gay coming-of-age, racism, and domestic gun violence—they seem less to be participants in history than hostages to it. Murphy’s authorial voice also frequently intrudes in the narrative, as when he uses Arabic words for foods and then immediately explains them in English. The resulting story comes across as more instructive than immersive. (May)

Reviewed on 04/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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