Sunday, March 29, 2020

Escape To Venice

Leon has been writing about police Commissario Brunetti for well over twenty years, and his city of Venice is one of the main characters, along with Brunetti and his family. The series stands out not only for its setting, but for the almost equal time devoted to Brunetti's home life as to his work; the story is never about the crimes alone, but about the people who are caught up in them. Twenty-odd years ago, Brunetti's job was petty thieves and stupid murders and working around corruption; his children were young. Brunetti, though he went to college and reads classics—Greek and Roman—for a hobby, is a working class man. His wife Paola is of the nobility, though she was a student radical and socialist; her father is a Count. The early books weave the politics of sex and class through issues of family and justice, a window into Venetian life. Venice is in the water as well as on the water, though, and the later books engage with crime in environmental issues, particularly water quality. This is all explored within the context of daily living; Brunetti's relationships at home and at work develop and change as everyone ages. There’s the ebb and flow of politics and of the canals, the rustic countryside fading away as the city grows, the customs of old fading as tourists become prevalent. Brunetti and Paola, a professor of literature whose other love is Henry James, discuss philosophy, psychology and ethics over dinner and pillow talk. In this book, we’re trying to figure out whether a crime has even been committed. Brunetti’s colleague Claudia Griffoni is featured; we always see his boss and his secretary Signorina Elettra, the most beautiful hacker in Italy, but Brunetti’s colleagues take their turn. Griffoni’s from the south of Italy, not Venetian; regional prejudices feature in the stories, too, echoing life outside the pages. They’re called to a deathbed, where the dying widow gives them not a confession, but a mystery. Who killed her husband, if he was killed? I hope I’ve intrigued you about the series; I hope you begin at the beginning. After all these years, reading Leon is like spending time with an old friend, congenial and satisfying. (Thanks to the publisher for the advance copy to review!)

What's Really Behind Those Schoolwork Packets, Or, Modern Education

Elden does a great job portraying a year in the lives of high school teachers at fictional Brae Hill Valley High School. The story takes place in Texas but teachers from all over will recognize themselves in the frustrations and hopes of these characters.During the course of the school year the tale switches back and forth from Language Arts (Lena is a spoken-word poet) to Science (Hernan has a green thumb and a crush on Lena) to Math (Maybelline has a teenage daughter at home) to Football (Coach Ray has a bellow and a soft heart) to idealistic Social Studies teacher Kaylee and tired Principal Dr. Barrios. It’s like reading a script for Parks and Rec or The Office, funny and touching at the same time. We get glimpses of their home lives and personal dreams as well as their teaching days and hopes for their students. These characters reminded me so much of teachers I have been and known, including my parents. Their hopes and dreams aren’t much different than those of the students, just more seasoned. There’s a satirical thread running through the course of this academic year: Brae Hill Valley has been chosen to model the next great packaged education system! Guaranteed! (Not.) It’s hard, when teachers have been teaching for millennia, to have to put up with fads in education; the underlying satire in the book pokes at academic and marketing professionals who proffer “expert” advice without ever having experienced the job itself. This is the cliché of modern life; it’s just particularly ironic in education. The real guarantees of education come from caring about the kids, about the subject you’re teaching, and having different strategies for different learners. This would be a great book club book; there are some reading group questions at the end—might remind you of English essays in your past, and a good author interview in the back of the book. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Queen's Bargain (The Black Jewels #10)The Queen's Bargain by Anne Bishop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After I read The Queen's Bargain—I won it in a goodreads giveaway!—I immediately re-read the rest of the Black Jewels books. That’s how good it is in re-kindling the love for the Dark Jewels universe. Bishop's work focuses on the uses and abuses of power. (There are abuse triggers in her work, for those who need to be aware of this.)
This book takes up where the last left off, early years in the marriage of Surreal and Daemon. Their daughter Janaelle has been gifted the Twilight jewel at her ceremony, even though she is not Witch reborn. She’s going through growing pains. Jillian, the young Eyrian witch who helps raise Lucivar's young children, has finally hit puberty and started dating, another form of growing pains. Dillon, the young Lord she's dating, has some problems, and Lucivar and Daemon might become two more for him.
Daemon and Surreal aren't communicating with each other or their friends, and their relationship faces real consequences. Marian, Lucivar’s wife, isn’t recovering from her last birthing. Dillon and Jillian are young people making choices that have real consequences. Bishop explores consequences.
The balance of power between lesser and greater, the dance of power between duty and desire: these are the underlying themes of the work, interlaced with explorations of acceptance in diversity, not only of gender but of race and species. Those are the pleasures of a Bishop book—in addition to great storytelling. So far I've loved all of them.
Scelties abound, Karla (kiss-kiss) visits, and love is forever—the barriers between life and death notwithstanding. The door to new adventures is always open, and I'll follow Bishop there every time. Recommended.

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