6 Mini Book Reviews

6 Mini Book Reviews Including: Jane Austen, Joan Didion, Dani Shapiro, and more

Every so often I share a list of the books I’ve been stacking on my nightstand. Have you read any of them? Share your thoughts in the comments! NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase a book, I’ll receive a small commission.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This was my stay-up-late-to-read book for February. It takes place on a rugged homestead in 1920s Alaska, where Jack and Mabel arrive from the East Coast to start a new life after the devastating loss of their stillborn child. One night after building a snowman, it magically comes to life in the form of Faina, a young girl who changes their lives in ways the couple never expected. Although the novel takes inspiration from a Russian fairy tale and is laced with a sense of quiet magic, it’s also firmly rooted in the realities of daily survival in an unforgiving wilderness. I was utterly taken with this beautiful book.

You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had some to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

I’ve mentioned a not-so-insignificant life detail that I’ve started writing poetry again, and this collection has truly inspired me to keep at it. You may have read the title poem somewhere on the Internet—it’s had some viral moments and for good reason, it’s stunningly beautiful and heart-wrenchingly true. Many of the poems are wrapped around the gravity of motherhood, grappling with what to tell our children (and ourselves) about the world. From looking for deer, remembering childbirth, to choosing where to make a home, read it, read it, read it.

So what
if the crows panic at the fallen sky, at the erased
horizon? They’re suspicious, easily startled.

Let them blanket the ground, barking.
Let them spook the horses.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

A December Instagram poll about Jane Austen novels led me to Persuasion, the overwhelming favorite. In the week between Christmas and New Year’s I tucked myself into bed each night with this slim and moving novel, and I’m so grateful for the recommendation. The first thing I kept thinking as I read: I can’t believe Jane Austen wrote this (and every other novel) by hand. The second thing I kept thinking: Oh, the heartache. The years lost. The sadness. And yet, the glimmer of hope that love stands the test of time and those meant to be together, will find each other no matter how many years have passed. I rooted for Anne and Frederick, and of course that letter he writes to her—and the entire scene itself—was everything I hoped it would be in the end.

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

Lydia and I were both invited to speak at the Napa Valley Book Fest last year, and while we were sitting next to each other chatting about maternity leave policies, we discovered our kids share the same birthday. But the book. I read it in a weekend and adored how she took us into the depths of a mother’s mind, describing the intimate routines of motherhood while also driving us along (literally) through a ten-day, life-changing road trip.

...motherhood is not a house you live in but a warren of beautiful rooms, something like Topkapi … some well-trod but magnificent place you’re only allowed to sit in for a minute and snap a photo before you are ushered out.

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro

I eagerly anticipated this memoir ever since I heard Dani read from her latest book, Hourglass. She hinted at a new writing project and a newly-uncovered family secret, but couldn’t share the details yet. Well, it turns out the man who raised her wasn’t actually her biological father, and she didn’t know about it for 52 years. This gripping memoir unfolds in real-time as she works to fill in the pieces and find answers.

We never know who we will be in the burning building, the earthquake. We never know until we are faced with our own stripped-down, elemental selves. I wanted to flee. I wanted to stay. I wanted to rescue myself and the whole of my history.

Where I Was From by Joan Didion

I picked up this book before we moved to North Carolina and saved it as one of my “transition reads.” Since Didion is a native Californian, I knew she’d be a strong voice to sit with once I was looking at my state in the rear view mirror. Unfortunately, my heart may not have been ready to approach the Golden State for what it truly is. I wanted the myths, the sunsets, the warm fuzzy feelings. Instead I got the truth: a history lesson in loss, greed, questionable land use choices, among other things.

The book begins with reflections on the sheer amount of grief encountered as pioneers left their homes and headed west. Reflections move from the now (mostly) abandoned aerospace industry to railroads, all in typical Didion fashion bringing her journalistic eye to the stories that have helped shape California for better or worse. I finished the book feeling loss, not only for my own grieving journey that was unfolding, but also for what Joan Irvine Smith—an arts patron and the great-granddaughter of a famous local real estate developer—said about what’s become of the land: “I can see California as it was and as we will never see it again.” Heartache all around, I’m afraid.

...the very decision to set forth on the journey had been a kind of death, involving the total abandonment of all previous life, mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters who would never again be seen, all sentiment banished, the most elementary comforts necessarily relinquished.