Actually somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, because I thought that the actual mystery, which seemed to hint at treachery of international proportions, wActually somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, because I thought that the actual mystery, which seemed to hint at treachery of international proportions, was a bit of a letdown. But then, while there are a number of iconic Sherlock Holmes mysteries that shine as plots, what I've always enjoyed the most about these tales is the mood, the 'special relationship', the language, the idiosyncratic methods of the great detective, the worshipful devotion of the great friend, and on all these points Horowitz channeled Doyle to an astonishing degree. As I said, the plots (two cleverly interwoven ones) felt a little too contemporary, somehow, but that was a small price to pay for the pleasure derived from the suspense, the double twists, the masterly detection, and the sheer pleasure of climbing into a time capsule straight back to Victorian England. I hope this is not the last time that Anthony Horowitz takes us back in time to Baker Street circa 1900....more
While this book may suffer at times from the fact that Steven Brill is covering a lot of developments in many parts of the country, and therefore doe While this book may suffer at times from the fact that Steven Brill is covering a lot of developments in many parts of the country, and therefore doesn’t always have the in-depth knowledge I might wish, I found it to be substantially accurate. For me, it was also riveting, inspirational, and at times, deeply depressing.
Five years ago I joined a local philanthropic group that decided to focus on education in our city of Los Angeles. We started by supporting a few charter schools. (We all give a bit of money and then help on a volunteer basis according to our abilities.) That is when I started realizing just how abysmal the education situation was, both in Los Angeles and in the rest of the country. At the same time, I began spending time in the classroom of a talented public (but not charter) school teacher who teaches in a poor community and witnessing how much his kids improved after just one year under his tutelage. So I asked myself: if poor second-language kids with all the usual baggage of fatherless families, alcoholism and attendant dysfunctionality can do this well, why can’t all poor kids? Why are public school kids either not graduating, or graduating functionally illiterate and with terrible math/science skills?
I came to the same conclusions as Steven Brill, and every word he wrote was a stab to my already discouraged heart. Not that there aren’t wins; but the entire system of unions (more about that later) bureaucracies, politicians, vendors, etc., is so entrenched and has such a powerfully effective lobby, that trying to change it is like David going up against Goliath, only with the opposite result.
So back to the unions: it was a real shock to me to discover that the teachers unions were not a force for improving teaching quality for kids, but an organization bent on obtaining the best packages for themselves, even if it meant standing foursquare against firing teachers who weren’t effective (not to mention abusers and pedophiles.) Also, that because they were negotiating with the very Democratic politicians they support with money and manpower, they got virtually everything they wanted. In other words, there was absolutely no balance. Brill writes: “From 1989 through 2010, the NEA and the AFT together contributed 60.7 million to candidates for federal office, far more than any other union, business, or interest group. With 95% of it going to Democrats, their impact on the party was in a class by itself.” It’s as if the automobile unions negotiating with the managers at GM were also responsible for paying the managers’ salaries, and firing them if they didn’t give them everything they wanted! This began to seem completely Kafka-esque, and yet it is the situation that exists currently. As Brill quotes Joel Klein throughout this book: “you can’t make some of this s---- up.”
And I am a longtime Democrat. I always thought of myself as a “yellow dog” Democrat.
So, my five cents is that this book is an accurate representation of the education situation in this country. Though as I said, when Brill got to Los Angeles, which I know well, I found myself feeling that his knowledge was a bit too superficial to give a total picture. He applauds the efforts of Mayor Villaraigosa, which have been pretty puny (though at least he has spoken up) and lauds Superintendent Deasy as the coming of a new day (hasn’t happened so far, though Deasy’s sympathies are clearly with the reformers.) He also doesn’t mention that Villaraigosa’s efforts to take over the schools, Bloomberg-style, were undercut by the fact that soon after he was elected it came out he’d had a recent affair, thus tarnishing his reputation in a way from which it never recovered. (Why do politicians do these things if they “care” so much about making a difference??)
So Brill’s hopefulness is a bit more wishful thinking than I’d like. (Although by the end, a dose of reality seems to have set in when he concludes the only answer is to find a way to deal with the teachers unions–though how you can do that when you are negotiating with the very people who control your job prospects, I don’t know.) Perhaps the only answer is to keep chipping away, and know that only by fighting back is there hope. Two diametrically opposed quotes come to mind:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” F Scott Fitzgerald.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
I loved and love this book, and it has nothing to do with the fact that my parents named me after Heidi!
I noticed that some of the reviewers complaineI loved and love this book, and it has nothing to do with the fact that my parents named me after Heidi!
I noticed that some of the reviewers complained that "Heidi" is "a bit treacly for these times." I have to ponder that, because I never liked "treacly" and yet I loved this.
There is quite a bit of religion, as is probably inevitable for the time when it was written, so maybe that is what these critics find off-putting. On the other hand, Heidi is a take-no-prisoners type of gal who doesn't hesitate to stand up to the evil housekeeper Rottenmeier (I went back and checked, and yes, that was really her name – even Dickens wasn't this overt!) or tell off the feckless Peter when he's messed up. She is extremely independent and self directed, which is exactly why people like her grandfather (who start off totally not wanting a five-year-old around his Alpine domain) come to love and respect her. And characters like the grandfather and the Grandmama in Frankfurt have a lovely tartness to them too.
There are people like Peter's grandmother who seem too humble and good to be true, yet Spyri draws her too with a deft hand: the implication is definitely that the grandmother's goodness comes partially from naivete and lack of world experience. Though she is a wonderful character, and I love the way she privately sighs when her grandson Peter reads the Psalms to her, because he leaves out the difficult-to-read words so that the sense of the verses is virtually lost.
So in general, I think that Spyri, who does like things to come out well in the end (and most children's books do, even contemporary ones) has no hesitation about facing up to the meanness and laziness in human nature – from Aunt Dete who tells herself she's doing the right thing while unloading Heidi on the grandfather because she doesn't want to be bothered bringing her up herself, to Rottenmeier with her pretensions and moral blindness. And this is what saves it to me from the condemnation of "teacliness".
If you want treacly, just read the "sequels" written by a man called Charles Tritten. They are the most boring tomes you'll ever try, because he didn't get any the complexities that Spyri did. Just to underline that point, he has Peter and Heidi get married. I assure you that Heidi would never in 1 million years have married Peter, who has nowhere near her charm, character or intellectual firepower. Peter always worshiped Heidi, but he knew very well that she surpassed him. And Heidi, while fond of her childhood chum, would never make the mistake of confusing that for romantic love. ...more
**spoiler alert** This is my third Quirke, and by now I've struck a pretty good balance in my feeling about this series. I liked Christine Falls a lot**spoiler alert** This is my third Quirke, and by now I've struck a pretty good balance in my feeling about this series. I liked Christine Falls a lot, as much for its portrait of Quirke and his picturesque tortured family as for the murder being investigated; I found the writing superb, and if the protagonist was sometimes too self-pitying, too alcoholic, and too inclined to fall into bed with every woman who crossed his path, I learned to shrug and let it go. The Silver Swan, by contrast, was a serious disappointment, though I don't remember why; I only know that it seemed slight in terms of both the mystery and the back story. Consequently it was a long time before I picked up "Elegy for April", and now find my interest revived. Even though the series still hasn't lived up to its initial promise, I'm giving it four stars.
Quirke is still irritating and endearing by turns, and his friend, Hackett the detective, continues to be appealingly likable. The description of Irish society in the 50s is one of the strongest assets of the book: the religiosity, the hypocrisy, the straight-lacedness masking monstrosities of degradation and cruelty. The sense of place, of touch, feel, and smell of Dublin in winter is palpable. The relationship between Quirke and his daughter continues to evolve: as a foundling who was never wanted, Quirke doesn't know how to love, yet you sense the desperation of the soul locked behind bars and raring to get out. Phoebe is equally trapped, and the question is – will these two eventually connect, and will Phoebe's outcome be better than her father's? You want this for her, but it is a function of this series' honesty that you don't necessarily think she will.
Downsides: a mystery so slight that it barely ripples the surface of the novel. We move through Quirke's struggles with alcohol, his affair with one of Phoebe's friend, his attempts to learn to drive a new car, his musings on Irish society, none of which really has anything to do with solving the question of April Latimer's disappearance. And quite honestly, when the answers surface, they do so almost haphazardly, and are, frankly, disappointing. Why does every murder these days have to revolve around incest or sexual deviancy? It makes you long for the good old days when murderers killed for money. It makes you long for a plot with little bit of originality.
But no matter, the ride is still enjoyable, and I look forward to picking up my next Quirke, if only to find out whether he starts to come to terms with his tortured past, and begins to resolve his relationship with his daughter. After all, let's not forget that Benjamin Black is actually John Banville, who is a literary gent and not a mystery writer by trade at all. We're probably lucky that he throws us a murder now and again in between his alter ego's emotional and psychological struggles....more
Mariah Fredericks is a fantastic writer with a great sense of the nuances of human nature, but I figured out the mystery half-way through this one, whMariah Fredericks is a fantastic writer with a great sense of the nuances of human nature, but I figured out the mystery half-way through this one, which was a little disappointing....more
Ron is a good writer and quite funny. It doesn't hurt that, like him, I lean Democratic. But at the end, he actually made me kind of like his father -Ron is a good writer and quite funny. It doesn't hurt that, like him, I lean Democratic. But at the end, he actually made me kind of like his father -- no mean feat!...more