I can’t believe it’s late April already. This year is speeding by so far. Here — finally — are the books I rated as 4- or 5-star reads in March 2023. Note, these aren’t necessarily new or even new-to-me books. I read lots of older books, and I tend to reread favorites. Some may not be available except as Kindle ebooks. As I’m sure you’ll notice, among my favorite reads there are always a lot of Jane Austen variations, mostly variations on Pride and Prejudice. I do read a lot of those, and I’ll go into my reasons, or my speculations about my reasons, in a future post.
It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism by Bernie Sanders
Not exactly a memoir, though it does explain from Senator Sanders’ personal experiences and observations his positions on various issues, which he’s been consistent with throughout his career. I’ve admired the man for many years, but some of what he writes here I wasn’t aware of, in spite of reading a brief biography several years ago. For those interested, his economic standpoint agrees with that of Robert Reich. They are two men of integrity whom I admire greatly and highly recommend both of them, their writings, their videos and interviews.
Tangle Art and Drawing Games for Kids by Jeanette Nyberg
This would be a fun and engaging activity book for anyone of any age, but especially kids. If you occasionally need to entertain children for a while or want rainy day activities for one or a group of children, I doubt you could go wrong with this little art book. It contains simple to slightly more complex projects, most of which only need paper and a pen, maybe some crayons or paints, and can be done quickly for a few minutes, or keep someone busy for hours. As an older adult, I couldn’t resist trying some of the doodling exercises at once.
The tone of this book is lighthearted, fun, teasing, and definitely stimulates the creative urge. It would make a great gift for parents, grandparents, teachers, or kids. I happened across it by accident and decided on a whim to see what it was all about, and I’m not sorry I did.
How to Draw Cats by Felicity Burt
Sometimes when I’m journaling I want to quickly sketch my cats and whatever they’re doing. This happens frequently enough that I decided to find a primer on drawing cats, and this simple book was exactly what I needed. It’s not so much a comprehensive instruction on how to draw or even how to draw cats, but it makes a good exercise book, with lots of sample images of cats in various poses, and shows how to begin with circles and then what can be done with those initial lines as a finished drawing. It’s mainly for pencil drawing, and really doesn’t have much more than that, simple practice poses. It’s enough of a refresher, though, for me to feel more satisfied with my quick sketches. This is from a series of books on drawing pets, and it makes for slightly more satisfying amateur captures for those of us who love our furry friends.
Geninne’s Art: Birds in Watercolor by Geninne D. Zlatkis
A glimpse into how one artist works. This book overlaps a few purposes, at least for me, from inspiration, to a collection of actual artwork, to limited how-to and materials used, a little memoir, and back to inspiration. Whether you like to dabble in artwork, or just appreciate the work others do, or have a creative leaning you aren’t sure what to do with, or maybe you’re curious about how certain types of artwork are done and where the inspiration comes from, let this book inspire you a little. The artist also has a website, a Facebook page, and a shop on Etsy.
Knit to Kill by Anne Canadeo
I had been looking through a few years old issue of Vogue Knitting magazine, recently, when I saw an ad for two knitting-related cozy mystery series, and thought I’d give one a try. I’ve been dissatisfied with a lot of cozy mysteries I’ve picked up in recent years. This one is better than most. It’s part of a cozy mystery series with a knitting group as the amateur sleuths. It’s not a must-read-the-series story. I believe each book in the series is basically a stand-alone. This one certainly is.
The small knitting group decides to get away for a few days as a kind of last fling for one member, Lucy, who’s about to get married. Another member knows someone who rents out a cottage in coastal Maine, so they travel there for a long weekend. One member of the group, who owns the knitting shop where they regularly gather, has agreed to teach a knitting class for some of the locals. At the first class, their first night there, the group witnesses an altercation between some of the local men, and the next day one of those men dies in a fall from the beach cliffs.
As with most cozy mysteries, the victim is not a nice person. In fact nearly everyone who knows him has some reason to wish him dead.
This is a bit of an escape, not intense at all. It is touching, toward the end, and I liked at least four members of the knitting group, though the whole “girls weekend away” tone of it felt tedious to me at times. Still, the writing was good, all of the location detail felt realistic, and even the night out dancing fed into the mystery. I liked that one of the women was a birdwatcher/photographer, and some of her photos provided clues. The clues and red herrings were provided at a good pace, with several suspects to wonder about, and I figured out who the killer was just before it was revealed, so I felt almost as if I was one of the group of sleuths.
Recommended for anyone who likes a low-key cozy mystery.
Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice) variations
An Appearance of Goodness by Heather Moll
This Pride and Prejudice variation is also a mystery. Just after his failed proposal at Hunsford, Darcy somehow encouraged Bingley to return to Netherfield, and Bingley and Jane are now married. But Darcy didn’t return, and Elizabeth’s trip north was canceled due to her uncle’s business, so the last time she saw Darcy was when she refused him.
Now Elizabeth takes a trip north with her sister and new brother-in-law, as well as Miss Bingley and the Hursts, believing they’ll be staying occasionally with unknown-to-her friends of Bingley’s while they head toward Scarborough. But Bingley has failed to mention that they’ll be staying for two full weeks at Pemberley.
Darcy is also shocked to see them on his doorstep, having misunderstood Bingley’s illegible letters. But Elizabeth is with them. Elizabeth is mortified to arrive unexpected at Pemberley. Darcy recovers from the awkward arrival by making her feel as welcome as he can, hoping that he can still somehow win her love. He goes out of his way to show her he’s a changed man, even going so far as to assign his sister’s lady’s maid, Molly Carew, to attend to Miss Bennet.
But then the weather turns bad, and a disastrous storm and flood cause extensive damage to Pemberley, its tenant farms, and the village of Lambton. Darcy is soon caught up in managing the recovery effort, necessarily neglecting his guests to do so. Elizabeth wants to help, and one day she witnesses the anxiety of the locals beginning to turn on Darcy because he can’t do enough quickly enough. She pitches in and helps him record their many concerns so he can begin to sort it out and take action. But there are many dead, from drowning in the floods, and even worse a second storm floods the graveyard, causing coffins to surface, so the local schoolhouse has to be turned into a morgue.
Then another body turns up, on Darcy’s property. This death is clearly more recent, and looks to be the result of an accident, or murder.
I love a good mystery, and although there are few suspects in this one, that does not detract from the mystery at all. The romance is definitely there as well, and the historical research is impeccable, almost to the point of disbelief, because I didn’t know a lot of these things.
While, for me personally, this novel has its weaknesses, they do not subtract much because it’s thoughtfully written, with complex relationships, well-rounded characters, and a certain amount of subtlety that encourages slow, deeper attention by the reader. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to give it as deep a consideration as I wanted to. So I may very well read this one again in the near future. While it isn’t as chaste as I usually prefer my romance reading, there is nothing at all gratuitous about the love scenes, and it seems to me to fit with the somewhat tragic mood of the story and the need for people to comfort one another in whatever ways they can. In fact, in addition to the smattering of humor and teasing, it lightens the story just enough that it doesn’t feel too unrelentingly dark. The story also deals with racism to some degree, and with not judging people by initial impressions of their behavior. It’s a touching story.
Dangerous When Wet by Jennifer Joy
This novella-length Pride and Prejudice variation is just right for when you want something light and quick to read but are not in the mood for too much longing or angst in a romance. There is definitely romance, but the humor is key. The letters and epilogue don’t seem particularly necessary to me, but the main story is great fun.
Any Fair Interference by Nan Harrison
A most excellent Pride and Prejudice variation by a new author who, judging by this novel, promises to be a new favorite. There’s romance, humor, and a tragedy, but all in all a very satisfying read. I like that it’s partly told from Mr. Hurst’s point of view.
The story begins at the Netherfield ball, with Mr. Darcy deciding at first that he won’t dance, but then deciding, perhaps one dance. Gilbert Hurst observes him dancing with Elizabeth Bennet. After the ball, and after the Netherfield party leaves for London, the story continues for a while with Hurst’s point of view, and I find this refreshing in that it gives a new slant to the story. Unfortunately, soon after they leave, Mr. Bennet becomes ill. And then a long, cold, snowy winter sets in, one of the worst in anyone’s memory.
I don’t want to tell more of this story, because it’s so original and refreshing a story to read for oneself. Highly recommended. This one’s going into my favorites all genres shelf. Brava, Nan Harrison!
Mr. Darcy’s Household by Lyr Newton
In this novella-length variation on Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet wants to help her father, who lost a lot of money on a bad investment. She’s in London when her aunt relates to her some news from a relative with connections in Lambton, of a unique position available at Pemberley. The housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, recently suffered a stroke. To allow Mrs. Reynolds to recover, Mr. Darcy wants to hire a temporary assistant housekeeper, and is willing to pay an unheard of amount for the right person, due to a shortage of qualified people. The more she thinks about it, the more Elizabeth wonders if it would allow her to help her father, and she begs her aunt to help her look into it. If she takes the position, it will be a secret known only to the Gardiners, her father, and Jane.
She gets the job, and travels to Pemberley. Elizabeth’s time at Pemberley takes up just under half this novella, and then the story takes up where the original began, with Elizabeth back at home, and Netherfield being let to Mr. Bingley.
While requiring a little more than usual suspension of disbelief, this is a unique, fresh take on P&P, and extremely romantic. I loved it.