You would think I'd be doing nothing but reading, as I sit around and wait for the baby to arrive. But for a long time, I was off the books. I've had a pretty good stretch for the past few days, though, so I'm going to come here and plug them.
First: Jo Walton has come out with Half a Crown, which is the final book in the trilogy that started with the awesome Farthing and continued with the more complex and, I think, less successful Ha'penny. I had reserved the book through the library even before it came out, so when it magically showed up in my email that I had to pick it up, I was excited and surprised. Short review: excellent book.
Longer review: Half a Crown actually made me rethink the whole series. Ha'penny works much better as a second act than it does by itself--like so many middle stories, it's really a setup for the third one. But since the stories don't actually continue each other, it works as a setup almost entirely in theme and emotional impact. Farthing still stands alone, of course, but it also sets up the whole trilogy with a very small, local story, with bigger implications and shadows. Then, Ha'penny expands on those implications, turning a small story with political implications to a story that takes place on the political stage. It's the part of the story where everything goes wrong, and really, nothing goes right in it. But Half a Crown tops it all off--though the characters are wonderful and the personal side of it is dead on, the point of the story is a political thriller. And it's great, a lot of fun, very satisfying. So go out and read Farthing. Really, like, now.
I also read Whatever It Takes, which is a nonfiction book about Geoffrey Canada, an education activist in Harlem whose life work is to improve schooling for low-income black children by building a community that turns them into learners. The book is really the story of Promise Academy, the charter school he founded as a part of his Harlem Children's Zone program. It's still fairly new, so the story isn't over, but the ideas behind it are interesting--the issues of improving test scores vs. creating learners, the fact that middle school might be too late to turn out great students, and the challenges of having huge amounts of funding from generous benefactors who are accustomed to running successful business--and who look for business-like, results-oriented feedback on their investments.
Before I go, I'll just drop in a little plug for Lyra's Oxford, by Philip Pullman. It's really a short story with some other things tacked on, and the story is very slight. But it's promising me more, bigger stories in the future. I think it might be lying, but the promise is enough for now.
I'll let you know if I come up with anything else--I'm falling behind on The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell, which is great, but I'm not set up for ease of audiobook listening right now. And I'm starting another interesting nonfiction book that's kind of irritating, but I haven't decided yet. I'll let you know.