Join the 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge!

I invite you to join the 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge, a reading challenge that focuses on the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

There are 12 prompts. I realize not everyone is as much of a Scandinavian enthusiast as me, so choose to participate at whatever level suits you: a book a month, one book every other month, or even just a couple of books in the upcoming months. I welcome all levels of participation!

New this year… There will be a Scandinavian-themed prize (something edible or readable) for a participant at the end! Each book you read for a prompt qualifies for a chance to win. Just take a picture of your list with whatever books you’ve read and email it to me by January 1, 2020, to enter the drawing.

Visit the page 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge to see the 12 prompts and to download a printable PDF to keep track of your reading.

I will make suggestions for the prompts as the year progresses. I would love to hear what books you choose to read as well. If you’re not already a subscriber to my blog, subscribe now so you’ll receive my Reading Lately posts which will include #ScandiReadingChallenge ideas. Also, follow me on Instagram at @AVikingInLA for reading ideas (among other things).

I hope you’ll join me for some Scandinavian reading this year. Share your intention to participate in the comments below, in an email, in a blog post (don’t forget to share with me!), or on social media using the hashtag #ScandiReadingChallenge. I look forward to seeing your progress and book ideas along the way!

Reading Lately (December 2018): Reading Challenges Wrap-Up & End-of-Year Reflections

December was all about completing my self-made 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge and seeing how much of three other challenges (Reading Women ChallengeModern Mrs. Darcy Challenge, and Read Harder) I could complete before year’s end. I successfully completed my own challenge but unfortunately not the other ones. One thing the other challenges did for sure, though, was help guide my reading when I was looking for my next read because my reading wasn’t just about reading Scandinavian books. The other challenges were an incentive (and they provided great resources) for me to read books I would not otherwise have tried — new genres, authors, and perspectives — and for that I am very grateful.


On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

I needed an audiobook that I would quickly get absorbed in and would eagerly want to return to, and this one did the job. I came across the recommendation at Modern Mrs. Darcy’s post 6 recent audiobooks I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the main character and enjoyed how she dealt with her various problems—flaky boyfriend, new house with disturbing history, parents separating due to father’s midlife crisis, and new love interest. It was a fun book with nothing too serious, a nice palate cleanser.


The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl

(Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)

Kjell Ola Dahl is a new-to-me Norwegian crime writer, though he’s been writing since 1993. I jumped into this Oslo Detectives Series with book #6 and I don’t think it mattered that I hadn’t read the previous ones. I liked the setting of Oslo and the crime was interesting. However, I was not a fan of the female detective Lena Stigersand. I like strong, smart female characters, and Lena made some dumb decisions with both a new relationship and her work responsibilities. I almost did not finish the book, but I was over half way done and wanted to know the resolution. Also, I needed it for my Scandinavian Reading Challenge. (I do believe this is Lena’s first appearance so maybe previous books in the series are better.)

Reading Challenges:


The Saboteur by Andrew Gross

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in a little-known history event involving people willing to risk everything for the love of their country. This is a historical fiction book about the sabotage of a Nazi-occupied factory in Norway during World War II. A by-product of the factory was heavy water which the Germans needed to continue their atomic bomb work. A group of Norwegians were trained in England to disrupt those plans. This book was especially fun to read since we had visited the site of the factory this past summer. I could visualize the factory and the landscape around it, which plays a significant role in the missions. I was thrown off a little with the fictional characters that were added to the story (like the American!) but the author’s note at the end put those doubts to rest. My 14-year-old son read and enjoyed it, too.

Reading Challenges:


The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

(Translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies)

This was a fun and sweet read! It’s been on my radar for a long time (must have been the bookish title and cover), but I didn’t know until somewhat recently that it’s actually a Swedish book in translation. It’s about a young Swedish woman who goes to visit her elderly penpal in the USA. However, her penpal dies right before she arrives in Broken Wheel, Iowa. It’s a story about a dying small town, unlikely friendships, new beginnings, and the power of books and a bookstore to make a difference in people’s lives. The audiobook narrated by Fiona Hardingham and Lorelei King is also very good. I both listened to and read the book and highly recommend both versions.

Reading Challenges:


Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

I had great plans to read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for this challenge prompt, but due to time constraints I opted for this related middle grade book by him instead. Both the book and the author have been on my TBR list for a while so I’m glad I can finally check them off, but I do feel I cheated a little. Odd and the Frost Giants was a quick, enjoyable read which briefly introduces the Norse gods Thor, Odin, and Loki and their enemies the frost giants. I will return to both the author and the topic some time in the future. (I gladly welcome suggestions as to which Neil Gaiman book I should read next.)

Reading Challenges:


One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

(Translated from the Norwegian by Sarah Death)

This author and book have been on my TBR list for a long time. When I saw that a film had been made based on it (Netflix original July 22 directed by Paul Greenglass), I prioritized it. This is not a quick and easy read. Not only is it 500+ pages but the subject matter is not very uplifting. (As of the writing of this post, I actually haven’t finished it yet, but I am more than 70% through it and determined to finish it and therefore counting it for my 2018 reading challenges.) I am alternating between the Norwegian edition and the English translation. Some parts, such as the political history of Norway, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik’s philosophy, and the bomb and weapon technicalities, are easier for me to read in English while the family narratives are fine to read in Norwegian. The book basically follows three people and their families before, during, and after July 22, 2011. Readers learn about Breivik’s childhood and what drove him to this horrible act. Of the many youth victims, readers get to know native Norwegian Simon Sæbø and recent Norwegian citizen Bano Rashid, a Kurdish refugee, and how their paths led to this political youth camp at Utøya. Stay tuned for more thoughts in another post once I finish the book and have watched the Netflix movie plus another July 22-themed movie which will be screened during the second weekend of Scandinavian Film Festival LA later in January.

Reading Challenges:


End-of-Year Reflections

What am I most proud of from 2018?

What am I looking forward to in 2019?

  • Reading books in translation from more areas of the world
  • My self-made 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge (join me!)
  • Seeing how much of other reading challenges I can complete with books I already own
  • Continuing to read and discuss books with my IRL and Scandinavian book clubs

How was your 2018 reading year?

What are you looking forward to in 2019?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update

It’s been a very satisfying reading period and I have many good books to share (but that’s because I didn’t share anything last month, not because I’ve been especially voracious this month).

From now until the end of the year, it will be all about completing my Scandinavian Reading Challenge as well as seeing how much of the other three challenges I can complete. How’s your reading been going lately?


This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

I enjoyed the book, but at the same time I had some mixed feelings about it. I loved the book’s topic — a family figuring out how to raise a transgender child — and getting a glimpse into the life of a family dealing with this challenge. It opened my eyes to something I’ve never been exposed to. However, I had some issues with certain aspects of the story, which I won’t get into here so I don’t spoil anything for interested readers. Also, I wasn’t a big fan of the writing style. It was wordy and drawn out with a lot of repetition and rephrasing. But I am so glad I read it and it was an excellent pick for our book club.


Still Waters by Viveca Sten

(Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)

This is a cozy Scandi crime book. It involves Thomas, a very likeable police detective, and Nora, a close childhood friend who’s a lawyer. The setting is a close-knit community on the island of Sandhamn in the Stockholm archipelago during summertime. There’s a murder, actually three, but they are not violent. It’s not a fast paced story, but the mystery was interesting and I was eager to find out how it would all come together in the end. The writing style was very simple with obvious descriptions and foreshadowing, which turned me off at times, but overall it was a good cozy crime story with main characters I liked in a setting I enjoyed.

Reading Challenges:


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

(Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

This book was a little gem — small, short, and heartwarming. I took a great liking to Keiko, a somewhat peculiar 36-year-old woman who’s been working part time at a convenience store in Tokyo for 18 years. Her whole being, both at the store and at home, is so attuned to the rhythms and needs of the store. Keiko thrives following the directives of the store manual and absorbing others’ dress, mannerisms, and speech. Despite her quirkiness, she has friends and is accepted and valued at her job. Also, I loved getting a glimpse into the Japanese culture through this convenience store and its workers.

Reading Challenges:


When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

This was a fun and sweet read! It’s the story of an arranged marriage in contemporary America. Dimple and Rishi are both the children of Indian immigrants. They don’t know each other, but their parents think they would be compatible in marriage. They have just graduated from high school and are looking forward to their summer plans before heading off to college. Dimple is thrilled her parents have allowed her to attend a programming program at a nearby university. Rishi is looking forward to getting to know his future wife. But neither expects what meets them at their summer program.

Reading Challenges:


China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

This was a guilty pleasure read that I zipped through. I had a little trouble remembering who was who from the first book, but it didn’t keep me from moving along quickly. I really like Rachel and Nick. They are what make this type of book about extreme extravagances work.

Reading Challenges:

  • Modern Mrs. Darcy Challenge—A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity or religion than your own
  • Read Harder—A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

(Translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch, narrated by Joan Walker)

This was my fourth Fredrik Backman book, and I can’t decide whether this or A Man Called Ove is my favorite of his. I listened to it which was a fabulous experience. It was a story of second chances and unlikely friendships, both of which I enjoy. It was endearing and funny and hopeful.

Reading Challenges:


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was a long-awaited read that I enjoyed very much. I love stories that jump back and forth in time and have different perspectives and in which clues slowly but surely arise showing how the story lines are connected. (Now I understand the comparison of The History of Bees: A Novel by Maja Lunde, a book I really enjoyed, to Station Eleven!) The premise of Station Eleven was frightening and reading it during the time of the awful fires in my area (with news and photos of evacuations, destruction, and loss) was disconcerting, but I was gripped by the quiet, suspenseful story with interesting characters.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

 

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Reading Lately: Wrapping Up #WITmonth (September 2018)

August was Women in Translation Month (#WITmonth) so I focused primarily on reading books in translation by women. Since I often read books by Scandinavian authors, I wanted to venture outside my comfort zone for #WITmonth. I started off with South Korea’s The Vegetarian by Han Kang (see last month’s write-up) and continued with books from France and Japan. Since I’ve already fulfilled the reading challenge prompt “a book in translation” many times over, I made little progress on my reading challenges but loved the opportunity to continue my summer travels through books.

Once again, I’m joining other readers at Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit to share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately.


Waiting for Tomorrow by Nathacha Appanah

(Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan)

Anita and Adam meet as students in Paris. She’s an immigrant from Mauritius and he’s from the French provinces. They both feel out of place but find comfort and love with each other. They move to the provinces, get married, and have a daughter. Life happens. She freelances for a local paper instead of writing the next great novel. He works at an architecture firm instead of devoting his life to painting. And then Adèle enters their life resetting it in an unexpected way.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a short novel but packs a lot into its pages. It explores immigration, including undocumented immigrants; cultural differences in society and within a marriage; family and motherhood (stay-at-home vs working mothers), and ambitions. It’s a tragic story but beautifully written. The characters and setting are described carefully and vividly.


The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

(Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell)

I thought this was going to contain some magical realism (since the cover I had originally seen has a woman flying into a subway train), but no, it was a down-to-earth look at the happenings and people in a neighborhood thrift shop in the suburbs of Tokyo. The main character, Hitomi, works the cash register. Her boss and the owner of the thrift shop is Mr. Nakano, a somewhat odd and mysterious person. His sister Masayo, an unmarried artist, is a regular presence in the store. And then there’s Takeo, the shy part-time co-worker who helps with pick-ups and on whom Hitomi has a crush. It’s an eclectic group of people, and I love a story with unlikely friendships. I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of everyday life in Japan.


Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

This is a middle grade novel-in-verse about a refugee boy from Sudan who resettles in Minnesota during wintertime. I was struck by how timely this book still is. It was first published in 2007, but the issue of refugees in America is still such a pertinent one. The book is entertaining and heartfelt. I chuckled at some parts and teared up at others. I admired Kek, the main character. He has a very positive way of looking at and dealing with life, especially considering what he has experienced. The author does not gloss over what Kek experienced in Sudan but presents it in a suitable way for middle graders. As an adult, I thought things may have fallen into place a little too easily for Kek in Minnesota, but then again, it is a middle grade book.


What have you been reading lately?

 

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Reading Lately: Reading Challenges & #WITmonth Progress (August 2018)

In the last month I’ve been enjoying vacation reads, a book club pick, and the first of my books-in-translation for Women in Translation Month. Since I often read Norwegian and other Scandinavian female authors, I’m going to venture outside my comfort zone for #WITmonth starting with a book from South Korea.

Once again, I’m joining Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately.


Girl at War by Sara Nović

This was a favorite of the summer. It’s a very moving novel about a young girl and the effects of the Yugoslavian Civil War (1991-1999) on her life. Ana is ten years old and living in Zagreb, Croatia, at the start of the war. She makes her way to America after some horrible war experiences. Ten years later she returns to Croatia for closure. Reading it while traveling through Croatia, particularly along the coast near where Ana spent summers and where the book ended, really brought it to life also. (A fun example, Sara Nović writes about a drink called Cedevita and its importance for Ana’s generation, and we saw it all around and were able to taste it.) It’s hard to believe war took place in this beautiful country not so long ago.


I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

I absolutely loved everything about this book! There were so many wonderful characters. Friendships were deep and true. Family was a huge extended network. There was an intriguing mystery. The writing was beautiful. It all made for a fun and easy read, but at the same time there was serious substance beneath it all. I had hesitated reading it because I hadn’t read the previous two books involving the same characters, but then I just decided to jump in anyway. I’m so glad that I did. I’m recommending this to anyone who needs a book recommendation these days.

Reading Challenges:


Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

This book was not for me. I finished it but only to see if I could understand why both Reese Witherspoon and Anne Bogel (MMD 2017 Summer Reading Guide) recommended it. The writing was simple and dull, the characters unsympathetic, and the plot not that engaging. The only interesting thing was that I really enjoyed her middle grade level The Apothecary when I read it while ago and have a hard time believing this is the same author. Luckily, it did fulfill an empty prompt for a reading challenge (a book where the characters are traveling somewhere) so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

Reading Challenges:


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This was my book club’s latest read. The book is about an African American recently married couple living in Atlanta. On a visit to his parents in a small town in Louisiana, the husband is arrested and sentenced to 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit. My heart went out to the couple in this book, put in this awful and unjust situation. Seeing the story from the three main characters’ perspectives — the husband, the wife, and the friend — added greater depth to the story. I enjoyed the book very much. It was a sad and complicated story with much to think about and discuss.

Reading Challenges:


The Vegetarian by Han Kang

(Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)

This prize-winning book in translation (Man Booker International Prize, 2016) has been on my radar for a while but not necessarily on my TBR list (due to controversy about the translation not being accurate). However, with August being Women in Translation Month, I decided to go ahead and read it. I knew it was about a woman-turned-vegetarian and her family’s opposition, but it turns out it was so much more. It was a short read, but not a light read. The story was disturbing, at times shocking and brutal, but I’m glad I read it. What was particularly interesting was the structure of the novel. In three parts, each from a different family member’s perspective (first the husband, then the brother-in-law, and finally the sister), the reader followed “the vegetarian” from the time she decided to become vegetarian until the time she was institutionalized. It was a somewhat different take on using different perspectives to tell a story. It was very much a character-driven novel with much attention given to characters’ motivations and mental turmoil. I’m intrigued by Han Kang and have added her book Human Acts to my TBR list.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

 

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update: July 2018

This past month I didn’t make too much progress on my reading challenges because I mostly read books for categories I’ve already checked off, but I did catch up on my Goodreads challenge number which I had fallen behind on! Once again, I’m joining Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately.


The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

My Book of the Month selection from February that I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to read! Alaska in the 1970s was a riveting place: an eclectic community so attuned to changing weather and seasons. My heart went out to the Allbright family, the father who came back from Vietnam so very damaged and whose wife and daughter had to endure the consequences. I did have some issues with the decisions that the mother and daughter did (or did not) make, but it’s easy for me to judge sitting on the sidelines. I wasn’t in their shoes. The book was tense and heartbreaking. I had to put it down a couple of times to take some deep breaths and sometimes even take a break before continuing. It didn’t disappoint. It was a great read that I highly recommend.

Reading Challenges:


Sunburn by Laura Lippman

This was a totally unplanned read, but I recognized the book at the library as a Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Summer Reading Guide pick and couldn’t resist picking it up since it was available. It took place in the 1990s in a small town in Delaware. It was about a woman whose mysterious past was revealed piecemeal through various third person perspectives. I had a little trouble keeping straight who knew what since there were so many secrets being kept, but otherwise it was a quick and enjoyable read (though I’m still processing the ending and deciding what I think about that).

Reading Challenges:


Love by Hanne Ørstavik (Translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken)

I first became aware of this author last summer when I was researching Norwegian female authors for Women in Translation Month (#WITmonth): Norwegian Women in Translation for WITmonth. Then the author came back on my radar when I was doing The Reading Women’s Instagram challenge this summer and needed a book with a one-word title. It wasn’t really on my immediate TBR list until I got a physical copy in my hands. It’s a lovely little book — slim, no bigger than my palm, with an elegant cover. I couldn’t resist reading it right away. It’s about an 8-year-old boy and his mother who had recently moved to a remote village in northern Norway. They live together but lead totally separate lives. The story takes place one very cold winter night in the space of only a few hours. The boy is eagerly anticipating his birthday the next day, but his mother is wrapped up in her own world and desires. It alternates between the boy’s and the mother’s separate outings during the evening. What I thought might happen didn’t, and what I didn’t anticipate happened. It was a sad but beautiful story. At times it actually felt somewhat surreal.

Reading Challenges:


The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

I love traveling to a different time and place through books. This book took me to Bombay, India, in the 1920s, which was extremely interesting to me. It was a very multicultural place with many groups of people I have little knowledge about, in particular Muslim women living in full purdah (seclusion) and Zoroastrian families. I enjoyed the mystery and getting a look at the lives of women during that time. I was not wholeheartedly a fan of the main character Perveen Mistry. I loved that she was an independent and modern woman (she was the only woman at law school and later the first female lawyer in Bombay). However, I felt she made some rash decisions occasionally which contradicted how smart I thought she was. Overall, I enjoyed the book and will most likely read the next one in the series when it comes out.

Reading Challenges:


Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

I thought I’d give Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick a chance since it seemed like the perfect summer read. Unfortunately, I was not a fan. Too many dumb decisions and paranoia leading the plot and too many unnecessary story points added to it. The whole novel is the wife Erin telling the reader what happened, similar to a stream of consciousness. The writing didn’t impress me. Even the setting of Bora Bora didn’t impress me. It wasn’t much of a thriller for me either. I predicted the main part of the outcome, though not exactly how Erin ended up where she began in the first chapter. I finished it quickly, mostly because I wanted to see if there was a redeeming factor at the end, but also because I wanted to move on to my next book. I’m curious to hear what others thought of this book.


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World Cup 2018: Time for Some Literary Connections!

World Cup season is the perfect time to make some literary connections with the countries playing! Lists have been published recommending books by authors from each of the World Cup countries. There have also been daily literary World Cup matches where participating countries’ books or authors have been matched against each other to see which book/author readers like best. Check out #literaryworldcup on Twitter for the latest match-ups and results.

Sadly, neither Norway nor the USA made it to the World Cup this year, but Scandinavian enthusiasts could still root for Sweden and Denmark and their Nordic cousin Iceland. Sweden and Denmark moved on to the knockout Round of 16. Good luck to them!

I thought I’d consolidate titles recommended around the Internet from the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland. It’s interesting to see which books and authors are repeated. Make sure to click the links to the sources to see suggestions for all World Cup countries. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update: June 2018

My goal of completing three reading challenges this year is progressing slowly but surely: my own Scandinavian Reading Challenge, Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2018 Reading Challenge, and The Reading Women’s Reading Women Challenge. And just for the fun of it, I’m seeing how many of the Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge tasks I can complete, too. I love the challenge of finding books that fulfill tasks in more than one challenge.

And once again, I’m joining Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately.


The Wreath (Kristin Lavransdatter #1) by Sigrid Undset (Translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally)

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book! It was nothing like what I expected. Kristin is quite the rebel and the book seems quite risqué for its time (first published in 1920). Broken betrothals, premarital rendezvous, poison, suicide, and coverups – so unexpected. It was interesting to learn about life in medieval Norway, and the descriptions of the setting are especially beautiful. I am eager to continue the trilogy to see how Kristin fares in her marriage to Erlend, the handsome man who wooed her away from her betrothed. This is a classic I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I tried to read it years ago, but it was the original translation (Charles Archer and J. S. Scott) and I couldn’t finish. The Nunnally translation was much better.

Reading Challenges:


Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

This was a tough read, not because the writing or the story was bad, but because the circumstances of the setting were so horrendous. Also, my background knowledge of the geography and history of the area was very limited. The story takes place in Burma, now known as Myanmar, in Southeast Asia starting in 1939. It’s about a mixed race couple, Benny (Jewish British officer) and Khin (member of Burma’s Karen ethnic minority group), and how they and their children endure years of war, occupation, persecution, and brutality. Interestingly, the story is based on the lives of a local author’s mother and grandparents. I’m glad I powered through it because it opened my eyes to a chapter of world history I had no knowledge of, but I recommend it with reservations.

Reading Challenges:


Still Lives by Maria Hummel

This was my latest pick from Book of the Month. Not only did it sound interesting (mystery in the art world of Los Angeles, my hometown), but also the author was coming to a local bookstore to discuss the book (which is always an interesting experience). It’s about a young editor at a small, prestigious art museum in Downtown LA who takes it upon herself to investigate when an artist never shows up for the opening gala of her exhibition. The story was a bit slow to get going and I had some issues with the main character’s decisions and actions. It did get more suspenseful later on. Overall, it didn’t quite pack the punch that I was hoping for, but I still enjoyed the book. I especially liked that it took place in Los Angeles and referred to many places I know. (Sadly, the author event was canceled, but I am hoping they reschedule because I would love to hear her thoughts on the book.)


Knots: Stories by Gunnhild Øyehaug (Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson)

This collection of short stories is the author’s English language debut — 13 years after its initial Norwegian publication! I chose to read it in English because the Norwegian publication was in nynorsk, a written standard for Norwegian which I don’t read as easily. The book is an eclectic collection of stories all of which explore the mind and thoughts of people in a variety of situations. Many are surreal; others are realistic. There is little action. They mostly deal with the characters’ consciousness. I was oddly transfixed by the stories. The book is small and short, and the stories are short so I just kept turning the pages to see what creative and unique story would come next.

Reading Challenges:


The Reading Women’s Photo-a-Day Challenge

This month I’ve also been dipping my toes into many miscellaneous Scandinavian books as I participate in The Reading Women’s photo-a-day challenge on Instagram (#ReadingWomenMonth). I’ve been matching their daily prompts with books by Scandinavian female authors (mostly Norwegian, it turns out). Check out my Instagram account @AVikingInLA to see my selections and follow along.

What have you been reading lately?

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update: April 2018

When we escaped to the mountains during our spring break which fell over Easter, I indulged in the Norwegian Easter tradition of reading a crime book, “påskekrim” as it’s called in Norway (Easter crime). It was a nice, unexpected palate cleanser to my reading this month which turned out to be all about women sorting out their lives.

And once again, I’m joining Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately.


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

The Los Angeles Times recommended this as an audiobook not to be missed and it certainly was a great listen. The three different narrators – the daughter, the father, and the gangster – definitely brought the characters and story to life. The story of the first female naval diver trying to solve the mystery of what happened to her father was intriguing, as was the setting of the NYC Brooklyn waterfront in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I admired the resolve and independence of the main character Anna. However, when I found out that the story was not historically accurate (the first female naval diver didn’t come around until 1975!), the book sadly lost some of its luster for me. (Did I miss a note from the author stating that it was not historically accurate?)

Reading Challenges:


The Copenhagen Affair by Amulya Malladi

This is the story of Sanya, an American woman of Indian ethnicity, who moves to Copenhagen with her husband. She’s had a nervous breakdown back home and suffers from depression, and her husband decides that a move to Copenhagen will help her recover. Sanya gets to know the wealthy, elite of Copenhagen and becomes attracted to a man who turns out to own the company her husband is acquiring. It was a quick and easy read. I didn’t particularly care for the supporting characters, but I did enjoy the setting. Malladi certainly shows she knows Copenhagen well. This is the second of two books that Malladi has written that take place in Denmark, both of which you can read more about here.

Reading Challenges:


Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This was the perfect mix of sweet, funny, and sad. The story is about Eleanor Oliphant and her very unlikely relationship with office mate Raymond Gibbons, the IT guy at work. Eleanor is a quirky, socially clueless, very literal woman. She has a set weekly routine which includes a weekly phone call with Mummy. She and Raymond bond over their good samaritan act of helping an elderly man who falls on the sidewalk. I loved Raymond for being so accepting of Eleanor. He really cared for her and stuck with her despite her faults. Most importantly, he helped her begin to come to terms with her past, which was heartbreaking to learn the details of. And a fun bonus, the author’s language usage was wonderful – so many unique words!

Reading Challenges:


Vinterstengt by Jørn Lier Horst (English Translation: Closed for Winter Translated from Norwegian by Anne Bruce)

This book with its setting of coastal summer cabins closed for winter (actually somewhat near where we visit when we go to Norway during the summer) seemed like a good choice for my Norwegian Easter crime pick. I’m a fan of Jørn Lier Horst having already read two of the books in the William Wisting mystery series. His books are certainly more police procedurals than crime thrillers. Detective Wisting is a methodical and likeable investigator. His daughter Line, a journalist, once again gets involved which adds a nice touch to the plot. In this book, the investigation takes Wisting on a short trip to Lithuania which added an unexpected diversion. This book won the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize (Bokhandlerprisen) in 2011 and it didn’t disappoint.

Reading Challenges:


Currently reading and next on my list…

I’m currently reading The Wreath, the first book in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Norwegian Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset (Tiina Nunnally translation). This is a classic I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I tried to read it years ago, but it was the original translation by Charles Archer and J. S. Scott and I didn’t finish. The Nunnally version is going much better.

What have you been reading lately?

 

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Denmark through Eyes of Indian Author Amulya Malladi

I was thrilled to come across a new-to-me author with contributions to the world of Scandinavian-themed literature. Amulya Malladi from India is the author of seven novels, most of which revolve around Indians in America or back in India. However, two of her novels take place in Denmark and explore Danish culture with a keen eye.

I first came across Malladi when I saw her latest novel, The Copenhagen Affair, offered at NetGalley this past fall. I was immediately drawn to the cover with a lady and a bicycle in Copenhagen. After some quick research, I learned Malladi has a Danish husband and lived in Denmark for fourteen years before moving to southern California. I was relieved to know that she was writing about a time and place that she had experienced personally and knew well. Her other book set in Denmark is The Sound of Language.

For readers pursuing my 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge, Malladi’s books set in Denmark fulfill various categories—a book set somewhere in Scandinavia you would like to visit (or revisit), a Scandinavian book published in the last year (The Copenhagen Affair), an immigrant story (The Sound of Language), and potentially, a Scandinavian or Scandinavia-themed book whose cover piqued your interest.


Malladi’s novel The Sound of Language (published in 2007) went to the top of my TBR list when I learned it was an immigrant story set in Denmark. It was the first book of hers that I read. The story takes place in 2002 in the small town of Skive on the Jutland peninsula. It’s about Raihana, a woman from Afghanistan who immigrates to Denmark after her husband was captured by the Taliban. Raihana is an openminded and forward-thinking immigrant eager to integrate into Danish society. However, neither the Danish people nor her immigrant community is always welcoming or supportive. The book delves into how she becomes accustomed to this very different place and new culture. It was an interesting and touching look at the immigrant debate in Denmark.

An unexpected delight of the book was how beekeeping was integrated into the story. Raihana had some experience with bees from her earlier life in Afghanistan so her Danish language teacher coordinated an apprenticeship with a Danish man who used to keep bees with his recently deceased wife. Interspersed with the current progress of Raihana and Gunnar’s beekeeping are excerpts from Gunnar’s late wife’s beekeeping diary. Gunnar’s wife comes alive through these diary entries and is a welcomed character in the story.

One of my favorite aspects of the book was how Gunnar and Raihana helped each other and how they helped the people in their own communities open their minds to people unlike themselves. I admired both of them for persevering with this unlikely friendship despite pushback from their respective communities. I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.


The Copenhagen Affair (published in 2017) is Malladi’s second book to feature Denmark, and it’s totally different than the first one. Malladi herself describes this book as a “comedy about depression” and a “love letter to Copenhagen.”

The book delves into the misconception that “emotional baggage will disappear if one changes geographies.” It’s about an American couple who decides that a move to Copenhagen, Denmark, is the right next step for them after the wife Sanya has had a nervous breakdown at her workplace and now suffers from depression. Her husband Harry has a work opportunity there, and according to him, the temporary move would improve his wife’s health.

While Harry spends his days at work, Sanya spends hers at home under her duvet. Slowly, she comes out of her shell and begins to interact with people in the city and get used to her new self. She meets and becomes attracted to a man whom it turns out owns the company that Harry’s company is acquiring. Sanya struggles with the conflict of previously being “Old Sanya” (happy and positive, devoted to work and family, eager to please) and now becoming “New Sanya” (depressed, at times difficult and stubborn, attracted to defects and the unknown). As the story progresses, Harry and Sanya are also forced to contemplate their marriage and the future of it.

Though I felt some sympathy for Sanya and her struggles with depression and anxiety, I did not care for most of the supporting characters in the story. They were all generally part of Copenhagen’s wealthy, elite class. The women were only interested in designer brand names and gossip. They were actually a bit representative of “mean girls.” Even Sanya at one point described one of the women as being a “vindictive little bitch.” And in this society, hitting on others’ spouses and having affairs was commonplace. Not my ideal kind of people to hang out with.

I did enjoy the book more when Sanya, a financial consultant by trade, began to take an interest in her husband’s business acquisition deal and put her skills to use to try to find out what was actually going on. It became a little bit of a financial mystery story then which made the book more interesting to me. The ending, though a little over the top, made me hopeful that Sanya and Harry would work things out one way or another.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book. It was a quick and easy read. One aspect I especially enjoyed was the setting. Malladi certainly showed she knows Copenhagen well. She often mentioned specific stores, cafes, restaurants, and parts of town. For anyone wanting to visit or revisit Copenhagen, this book certainly provides that opportunity.


Both books have bold, captivating covers, but be aware they are misleading. The cover of The Sound of Language shows a woman wearing a hijab. The main character Riahana, however, does not wear one and the decision to do so is a point of discussion several times in the novel. Also, much to my chagrin, the cover incorporates the Scandinavian letters “å” and “ø” into the title so the title is actually shown as “The Søund of Långuåge.” I shudder just looking at it; the sounds the letters make don’t work with the words at all. If they had, that could have been a clever marketing ploy.

The cover of The Copenhagen Affair shows a very pale woman with a bicycle. First of all, the main character Sanya is ethnically Indian. Her darker skin comes up a couple of times in the book. Also, Sanya does not ride a bike nor does she express any interest in bicycles. There is the one time when she went off one evening with a new friend and she sat in the front carriage of a bicycle. Other than that, bicycles are just used to describe life in the city. I was expecting a bicycle to play a role in the main character’s life in Copenhagen.

I would have loved to hear the discussions behind the decisions of going with these cover designs and what Malladi’s opinions on them were. But don’t let the misleading covers stop you from reading these books. They are wonderful additions to the world of contemporary Scandinavian literature.