All of these are books I’ve rated as 4- or 5-star reads. Also note, while I read these books this year, they weren’t necessarily published this year. I tend to read lots of older books.
Your Year in Art: Watercolor by Kristin Van Leuven
This is one of a few books I recently borrowed as library books in order to see if I want to own them, to use for my personal practice. My journaling is mostly in written form, but I’m thinking of getting back to some visual journaling, at least some of the time, and watercolor is a medium I enjoy dabbling in.
This book is an excellent resource, for anyone new or returning to watercolor after a long time and wanting to learn a bit more, practice a bit more, or keep doing it as a regular practice, for whatever reason. My reason would be self-expression, but perhaps you want to improve your skills with a more dedicated artful purpose in mind, or you want to try watercolor on your own for a while in order to decide whether to take a class. Whatever your reason, this would be a good jumping off point to learn some of the basics about watercolor, and to get some practice in. I have other books that go into greater depth as far as techniques, color theory, composition, etc. But this still would make a great practice manual for me, at my fairly low level of overall expertise.
The Illusion of Money: Why Chasing Money is Stopping You from Receiving It by Kyle Cease
This is a book not so much about money as about our emotions and thoughts around money, and how we get in our own way because we think we’re always supposed to be chasing money in today’s world, often as if that were the whole point of life. It’s kind of an anti-hustle-culture book that coaches the reader to get back in touch with their inner self and their true direction in life.
It’s not pointedly spiritual, though it does recommend meditation and spending some time in nature to decompress. I found that it jogs my thinking just enough to get me out of some mental ruts and realize that I am not my relationship to money, that whatever is going on with me financially is simply something I’m passing through, not a part of me. I got a lot out of it at this particular time in my life. In fact I intend to read it again, possibly several times. But your mileage may vary. The author is a comedian turned personal transformation coach, with ideals paralleling those of my own spiritual path, so this book feels like a good fit for me, and the gentle humor provides light relief while reading it. It could be considered psychology as well, because although the author is not a mental health pro, a lot of his guidance can lead to personal inner work.
This book might not be for everyone, but I still recommend anyone who has an uncomfortable history with money trying this perspective to see if it fits your needs. If you’re not sure, check it out of the library and give it a try before purchasing. I do that a lot, myself, and this is one I decided I wanted to buy. But that’s a great way to try a book, see if it’s for you, and only be out a little time in finding out.
Fiction: Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice) variations
Note, my brief descriptions of Pride and Prejudice variations assume the reader has some basic knowledge of the original story. I don’t go into who the characters are or explain the locations, provided they agree with canon. Some of these books may only be available at Amazon or as Kindle ebooks. (See Availability of Books Mentioned Here.)
An Unpleasant Sort of Man by Michelle D’Arcy
This Pride and Prejudice variation has Elizabeth Bennet witness an altercation between Wickham and Darcy, who don’t know she’s there, on Oakham Mount. Afterward she must confront the fact that she’s been wrong about both men. Later Wickham shows up dead, with a note in his pocket from Darcy, in which Darcy agreed to meet him. This places suspicion on Darcy, so Elizabeth comes forward with what she witnessed, including having seen Wickham riding away toward Meryton after the quarrel. In doing so, she carefully preserves Georgiana Darcy’s reputation, even while risking her own.
A grateful Darcy befriends Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth, and in order to preserve her reputation once the rumors start flying, he offers marriage. She turns him down, but in a much kinder way than in the original story, because she is coming to respect him, and then she begins to realize she’s falling in love.
It’s a different story from the original, and yet romantic, believable, and tender, especially that last scene, in a little alcove in the Pemberley library. I loved this retelling. There were some editorial problems in the second half, where it seemed as if the editor missed a scene or chapter here and there, and where the story dragged into the irrelevant for a while, so the later part of the story seemed too drawn out. But then it picked up again right at the end.
Some variations cast Mr. Bennet as even more neglectful than in the original, seeming to exaggerate his flaws. I liked this one, which although it showed him to be rather indolent and lazy, also revealed a tender side, some wisdom, and his love of his Lizzy. I loved his part in this story.
Mr Darcy’s Valentine by Heather Moll — I reviewed this book in a prior post: Valentines Day Jane Austen variations.
Mr Bennet Leaves His Study by Sydney Salier
What if, a few years before the original Pride and Prejudice begins, Mr. Bennet had an epiphany that motivated him to become a better husband and father, to take a greater interest in his family’s future? He hired a governess and spent more time guiding and helping than making fun of and escaping from his family.
This was a reread this year. On my second reading, I like this P&P variation just as much as the first time, especially Bingley’s aunt, and how things wrap up with Caroline Bingley.
The best thing about this story is how it portrays everyone’s humanity, how well-rounded the characters are. There are many who are able to come to see their own flaws and want to do something about them, some who learn to accept the imperfections of those they love. There are also some blunt assessments of behavior that are entirely called for. On top of that, there is some tying up of loose ends in the epilogue that I find touching — and I don’t usually like epilogues. Highly recommended, especially if you have the patience to get through the slightly awkward beginning.
Peacocks of Pemberley by Laraba Kendig
In this variation on Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy doesn’t meet any of the Bennets — he didn’t accompany Bingley to Netherfield — until Bingley is married to Jane. The Bingleys all visit Pemberley during the following summer, and Elizabeth Bennet comes with them.
Georgiana, in this variation, is autistic, but since nothing really was known about the autism spectrum at that time, she’s thought of as simply unusual and sometimes eccentric. Darcy wants to protect her, and he worries a great deal whether she’ll be able to have her society debut or marry. He’s reluctant to introduce her to the visitors whom she doesn’t know, because she’s so uncomfortable with any change in her routine and with strangers.
Elizabeth Bennet soon walks in the gardens and discovers a walled portion of the Pemberley grounds, from which she hears strange bird calls emanating. When she enters through the gate, she meets Georgiana Darcy and her birds, a flock of peafowl. The peacocks are beautiful and exotic, and Elizabeth is nearly as entranced with them as Georgiana is completely immersed in their care and her understanding of the birds. They strike up an instant friendship, which surprises Darcy when he learns of it, because his sister usually has so much trouble adjusting to new people.
I have a personal attraction to this story, because of having grown up for a few early years of my life around peacocks. My parents raised a few of them, many years ago, at the time of my earliest memories, on a small property in Oregon.
Although this story isn’t a comedy, and as far as autism is concerned it is sensitively written, there is a lot of comic relief, which I enjoyed, and there are some story events and actions that make this a truly unique variation on my favorite Jane Austen story. Highly recommended.