The Unwinding (Packer)

George Packer’s The Unwinding mixes the national with the local in this personal history of the economic situation of the United States.  Using a mixture of secondary sources and interviews, he develops America’s economic history with a special focus on showing how certain decisions and situations have affected the livelihoods of ordinary Americans.  In each chapter, he covers an experience or event from a particular time period in recent United States history.

Although it is a challenge to read, The Unwinding was quite interesting.  I personally found the personal interviews the most engaging, as they show the challenges and hope that the individuals carry throughout their experiences.   I was touched by those parts because they conveyed their experiences so vividly, and I thought Packer demonstrated his message most strongly.    While  Packer did a great job of conveying the individual struggles of the ones he interviewed but I did not find Packer’s descriptions of historical events and figures fully satisfactory.  I occasionally wondered if I was missing something, and, for me, this hurt the cohesiveness of the book.

Overall, I found the book interesting and a good view into a challenging and relevant topic.  Because the book  discusses a weighty topic, The Unwinding  would probably make a great discussion book or supplementary reading for an appropriate course.

Red Rising (Brown)

Darrow is a Red, one of the many people who mine the planet Mars in order to prepare the planet for others.  Despite some frustrations, he values his wife Eo, his family, his culture, and his skills as a Helldiver (a miner who does the most dangerous mining).  After tragedy strikes, Darrow discovers that the planet has been colonized for years, and the upper classes–the top-tier being “Golds”–have been living off the toil of the Reds.   Angry and grieving, Darrow goes undercover at the Institute, the elite academy for the pinnacle members of the society.

This book is a gory fusion of classical mythology and literature and the Hunger Games concept.  The action-packed plot grabbed me and did not let go.  Red Rising takes the brutal side of society and shoves your face into it while at the same time presenting the shades of grey.  I loved it.  Every time I had to put the book down, my brain was mulling over the story, wondering what would happen next and trying to pick apart the situation and characters.  The setting–grim as it is– is well-constructed and compelling, and I became immersed.  The ending left me with an eagerness to see how the series progresses.

This would be a great cross-over book as I think it would to older teens and adults in the 20-30 year age bracket.   Check it out especially if you like rebels, science fiction, or stories of epic proportion.

Does the term “networking” set your teeth on edge?  Do you dread the idea of attending a job fair or networking event?   In her book Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected, Devora Zack provides advice to introverts and networking haters that will help these individuals survive (and thrive!) at networking events and professional situations.

As someone who is regularly frustrated by the traditional networking model, this book was a breath of fresh air.  An admitted introvert herself,  Zack is able to successfully re-frame the traditional networking model into something that introverts can feel confident doing and succeeding.   Even though this book focuses on advice for introverts, I liked that she was able to present the concepts in a personable way that would be enjoyable to read regardless of what end of the introvert-extrovert spectrum you are on.   Zack includes tips for making it through networking and suggests things to think about as you navigate professional life.  The book gave me some good ideas, and there are some tips that I am eager to try during my next networking event.

If you’re looking to step up your networking game, I recommend this book.

Good Lord Bird (McBride)

As his father dies, Henry is freed by abolitionist John Brown, a Christian man determined to rid the United States of the evil practice of slavery.   After accidentally eating John Brown’s good luck charm, Henry becomes Henrietta–or Onion–and Brown’s good luck charm.  Caught up in Brown’s schemes, Henry rides all over Kansas and eastern United States with John Brown and his band of outlaw abolitionists in his quest to abolish slavery.

I greatly enjoyed this book.  Onion is a superbly crafted narrator, and his pointed observations and personal struggles carry the book, which otherwise may have taken too long to get to the main goal of the story, John Brown’s ultimate plan to overthrow slavery.   I was enthralled by the contrast between Henry’s personal reluctance and others’ reactions to his actions.   These contrasts and Onion’s observations about the other characters also bring life to this story.

McBride’s vivid descriptions and language also make this book engaging.   Henry’s narrative voice–an unpolished way of speaking– was well-done and helped to draw me into the story.  When I put down the book to do other things, my inner dialogue would often sound like the unpolished diction in the story.   Because of that, I could not wait to get back to the book.

In short, you do not want to miss this book.  


Fangirl (Rowell)

College is supposed to be a new time: a time to try new things, meet new people .    Cath, however, wants things to stay the same: she wants to immerse herself in the world of the wildly popular Simon Snow fantasy series and work on her fan fiction with her twin sister, Wren.   However, Wren can’t wait to start college and plunges in, leaving Cath alone in a room with a strange roommate and a great fear of living her own life.  Will Cath be able to overcome her fears and find her own path?

This was a sweet story–Cath, despite her challenges, is an endearing character, who in her own way possesses a lot of moxie and grit.     I liked how Rowell was able to weave the struggles of several characters–including Cath’s sister Wren–into an enjoyable narrative.   She also  incorporate elements of Simon Snow to provide some great humor and flavor to the overall story.

The strongest part of the book, for me, was Cath’s growth as a character.  Rowell does a great job of focusing on Cath’s strengths, making her a character I wanted to cheer for.  In time, Cath comes to realize her own strengths, and I was felt feeling very happy for her at the end of the book.   Overall, Fangirl was a fun and sweet coming-of-age story, and if you like that kind of thing (especially if you like stories with boy magicians and magic schools), then this is a book for you.

For the past several years, Hayley Kincain has traveled around the United States with her father, a military veteran trying to outrun his memories and personal demons.  This year, they have settled in her father’s hometown so Hayley can finish high school.  However, Hayley is more concerned with watching her father then making friends and doing well at school  However, events–including a visitor from Hayley’s past–sets her life into a dangerous spin, and Hayley will have to fight to keep everything together.

Okay, I read my summary just now, and I don’t think it does the book justice.  The Impossible Knife of Memory  gripped me and didn’t let go.   The plot is well crafted, and I loved the characters, especially Hayley and her eventual boyfriend Finn.  Andersen does a really good job of developing their “personas” before revealing–for lack of a better term–their true selves.   Despite not being a big fan of romance, I really liked the relationship between Finn and Hayley.   They have a funny, balanced dynamic, and are deeply supportive of one another.  Hayley’s relationship with her father was also very touching; Andersen was able to demonstrate the love and the pain of that relationship very well.   Overall, this is a great book, and I recommend that you do not miss out.

Steelheart (Sanderson)

When Calamity appeared in the sky, people were gifted with powers.  These people became  Epics, and they quickly entered into battles for control of territory, catching normal humans in the wake.    Steelheart, an extremely powerful Epic, killed David’s father when he took over Chicago, transforming it into a city of solid steel.    Ever since his father’s murder, David’s planning on revenge.   He’s seen something no one else has: he’s seen Steelheart bleed, and he wants to make it happen again.   In order to reach his goal, David seeks out the Reckoners, the only group of people who dares to stand against Epics.

What a concept!  Sanderson takes the concept of superhero powers and makes it something incredibly dark: Epics are extremely egotistical and cruel, with Steelheart being the worst of them.   However, Sanderson does not just  leave that concept there; there are plenty to discover about Epics and their nature, and Sanderson does a good job of playing with your expectations throughout the story.   If you are looking for a story with a unique setting and action-packed plot, this book’s for you.


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