Mini Reviews for September Books

the unwinding george packer pastrix book review

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure (for review from publisher)
Single Line Synopsis: Though he long attempts to avoid getting politically involved while living and working in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard finds himself with ties to both sides when he begins building hiding spaces for the city’s Jews while working to design factories for the Germans.

Thoughts: The Paris Architect is an intense, gripping novel that tells a wholly new story in a space that sometimes feels plagued by repeated tales. I felt so much anxiety for Belfoure’s characters that it took me some time to notice the somewhat lackluster writing.  

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber (for review from publisher)

Single Line Synopsis: Pastrix traces the journey of Nadiz Bolz-Weber, a foul mouthed, former stand-up comic searching to find her place as a Lutheran pastor.

Thoughts: Bolz-Weber’s memoir is straight up truth, from her spot on assessment of organized religions to her deep faith in scripture, as she painstakingly navigates the waters of faith in order to reach a place of peace. Both Jennifer at The Relentless Reader and Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf have written fantastic full reviews of Pastrix worth checking out. 

Why Do Only White People Get Abducted By Aliens? by Ilana Garon 

Single Line Synopsis: Ilana Garon, a naive, suburban white girl, takes on teaching at a public high school in the Bronx – without needing to become the mythical hero teacher portrayed in dozens of books and movies. 

Thoughts: When Kelly from Read Lately shared her review, I was totally drawn to the idea of a book about teaching that avoids the hero teacher stereotype. Kelly was awesome enough to share her copy and I was able to confirm that Ilana Garon totally gets it. Reading about Garon’s students and their stories was wonderful, but it was just as great to read her honest fears and mistakes without an immediate need to write in a hero moment. Maybe the rest of the world only wants sunshine and rainbows coming from the classroom but, as a teacher, it’s nice to read a book with realistic balance. Rebecca at Love at First Book and Katie at Words for Worms both wrote great full reviews of Why Do Only White People Get Abducted By Aliens? (with awesome discussions in the comments!). 

Lighthouse Island by Paulette Jiles (for review from Red Letter Reads)

Single Line Synopsis: In a future with an overflowing population and lack of water, orphan Nadia becomes obsessed with escaping her rigid life for Lighthouse Island, a vacation paradise she sees advertised on government sanctioned television.

Thoughts: Lighthouse Island struggled with coherent worldbuilding from the start, making it nearly impossible to feel connected to the characters. Because it was so difficult to understand the structure or history behind the world’s current state, it was also difficult to find meaning behind the choices the characters were making. Rather than feeling compelled to look deeper into the story and make connections – something I am more than willing to do if I feel those connections are there – I was both bored and frustrated. 

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer 

Single Line Synopsis: An examination of the history of the United States over the past three decades, exposing the gradual weakening systems of what was once a great superpower. 

Thoughts: I had been meaning to read this since it came out and packed it (among others) on a whim for our weekend away in Mathews. I ended up pouring through 300 pages in two days. Packer follows a handful of anchor figures through The Unwinding – a biodiesel entrepreneur, a lobbyist, the man who helped create PayPal, a laid-off factory worker turned community organizer – but also peeks at famous Americans like Newt Gingrich and Oprah. What he winds up creating is a fascinating patchwork of America, linked together by successes and, increasingly, struggles.