Feb 262013

Annawadi, one of a million Indian slums, lies behind Mumbai’s glittering new international airport.  Statistically speaking we all know slums suck, but before this book I don’t think any of us have ever really met the truly poor and destitute.  This book brings them to life with deep honesty and power.  Not surprisingly, like all people, slum dwellers are replete with human foibles and aspirations: competitiveness, ambition, depression, anxiety, desire, anger, and inadequacy.  What the slum dwellers have in common as we come to share their lives is the necessity of fighting for dignity or earning enough for one more meal beneath a system so severely stacked against them as to induce miasthmatic hopelessness.  This isn’t a happy book, but it is an important one, because in bringing poverty and injustice to the fore through the lives of Manju, Asha, Abdul, Kalu, Rahul and their peers we learn to see these people as real rather than faceless abstractions.  Moreover, their plight is not so different from the poor in New York, Paris, or Lagos.  Mostly this book is worth reading because it is so riveting.  Boo’s research is incomparable, her book is a page-turner.

Feb 212013

The first in a series about a rough and tumble journalist, Christopher Marlowe Cobb, who in this episode finds himself covering a delicate series of events in the Mexican Revolution.  The Germans have sent a warship to Veracruz with hopes of arming Pancho Villa.  Woodrow Wilson has sent an invasionary force to keep the revolution in check, but captures only Veracruz.  The invading marines clean up trash.  Cobb drinks, womanizes, brandishes a revolver and a typewriter, and a myriad other things you’d expect of a period piece masquerading as an early twentieth century detective story.  The drowsy heat of Mexican towns is realistically captured, but the suspense is equally drowsy.  Butler’s characters vacillate between sympathetic portrayals of real people and stereotypes of old Mexicans in sombreros and ponchos, dirty children with fast hands and wise-crack mouths, and dark-haired beauties in skin-tight leather.  If you do read the book, you’ll have to read about the Mexican Revolution on wikipedia first in order to follow the plot.

Feb 032013

This is the tale of a irrepressible friendship between two women doing very unusual jobs.  It is World War II and England is barely holding its own as the Germans begin bombing runs over Britain.  Maddie, one of the two women, is a mechanical wizard who earns herself a place in the skies as a highly skilled pilot.  Queenie, the other, is a spy.  Consider how many female spies and pilots you can picture from that era and you have the underpinnings for a lot of suspense with a new twist.  I can’t give away more of the plot without being a spoiler. Ignore the book’s cover and be aware the book is written for Young Adults, but enjoy it.