What I’ve Been Reading Lately: October 2017

It’s been two months since I last shared what I’ve been reading. In addition to the books for my Scandinavian Book Group and local book club, I read books that hadn’t even been on my radar before, which is always kind of fun. School and fall activities have begun in earnest, so it wasn’t as productive a reading time as last time, but it was still very fulfilling.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This was the latest read for my local book club. Pachinko opened up a whole new world to me, both about world history and prejudice in other places. It combined elements of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles in that the book follows a family through generations (though not as many as Homegoing), and it skips years and doesn’t get into the details of the specific history taking place. Instead it focuses on the characters and their lives during those times. Historical events (Japanese occupation of Korea, division of Korea into North and South, presence of US troops, Korean War) were just in the background. After having read about Korea’s pictures brides of the 1910’s in Alan Brennert’s Honolulu, this was a great follow-up for a deeper understanding of what was going on in Korea during that time. Also, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (a fascinating but extremely disturbing look at life in North Korea, one of my favorite books of 2016) added some interesting background knowledge as well.

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

We chose this book to read for a small reunion of high school girl friends. We had a long list of titles with themes relating to friends, family, women’s issues, and current issues that we considered, and this was our final choice. I had heard high praise for it around the internet. It was even recommended specifically for our occasion by the hosts of Book Riot’s “Get Booked: Personalized Book Recommendations” podcast. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to the hype for us. We had been warned by Get Booked’s hosts that we wouldn’t all like the main character, and it turned out that none of us did. I also had an issue with the structure of the book. The chapters seemed more like short stories and jumped back and forth in time. Characters that we had already been introduced to were introduced again which I felt was unnecessary and at times confusing. But I do agree that it could make a good group read because it has plenty of discussion material, and obviously other people do like the main character and can relate.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

I was introduced to Jesmyn Ward by the hosts of Reading Women, a podcast and blog devoted to books by or about women. I had never heard of Jesmyn Ward but was intrigued after the hosts raved about her work. I read Salvage the Bones just after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and as Hurricane Irma was making its way through the Caribbean towards Florida. It could not have been a more timely read since it’s about a very poor family in rural Mississippi bracing for Hurricane Katrina. It’s a tough book in that the characters are living such hard lives. But it’s beautifully written, poetic at times. The contrast between the language and characters’ lives is stark. And what made this an even more timely read was that Jesmyn Ward’s latest novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, has been shortlisted for the National Book Award. I am so glad to be familiar with Jesmyn Ward as a writer and look forward to reading another book of hers.

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin (translated from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)

Echoes from the Dead is a Swedish mystery by Johan Theorin translated by Marlaine Delargy that I read for my Scandinavian Book Group. It takes place on the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, and the setting is a huge part of this book. It’s about Julia, a mother who comes back to her childhood summertime home where her 5-year-old son disappeared without a trace 20 years earlier. After receiving a sandal her son wore the day he disappeared, Julia and her elderly and ailing father try to solve what happened to the boy. The book jumps back and forth in time between current time with Julia and her father and the past with local misfit and psychopath Nils Kant. As the book continues, the two stories begin to lead towards each other and you’re left to wonder what the actual connection is. I was drawn into the mystery and really appreciated the strong presence of the setting with a bit of local history thrown in. This is the first of four books that take place on Öland, and I’m curious about the others.

Currently reading and next on my list…

I am currently reading Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic. My book club picked this book in anticipation of Alice Hoffman’s upcoming visit to town to speak about her latest novel The Rules of Magic. After that, I’ll be reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me before I hear him speak in November. This book is also a book I vowed to read in my effort to move forward after our latest presidential election results. Nothing like an author talk to help motivate you to read a book! I’m still working my way through Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Nothing against it, just so many other books that I’m also reading, and a book of essays is easy to put down between chapters.

What have you been reading lately?

 

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In Translation: Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees (Bienes historie)

Knowing my love of reading and joy in discovering new Norwegian works, my parents gifted me Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees in Norwegian over a year ago. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read it. It is such an interestingly structured and thought-provoking book about humans’ relationship to bees as well as relationships and expectations between family members. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it, and luckily, now non-Norwegian readers in the US can enjoy it as well since it very recently came out in translation here.

I’m always curious about how works in original language compare to their translated versions. Usually, I just read my Norwegian books in Norwegian, but this time I actually had the opportunity to read it in English as well. (The US publisher Touchstone kindly provided me with a digital advanced readers copy.) I was impressed by Diane Oatley’s translation. It was a very smooth reading experience in English. Nothing jumped out at me as being different from the Norwegian edition. In particular, I was impressed with how well she treated the different language usage by each of the main characters.

Though I haven’t seen the American edition’s physical cover in person yet, I hear it’s gorgeous! It shimmers and is textured. I may just have to buy myself a physical copy of the American hardcover just for the cover.

The novel is made up of three distinct storylines revolving around bees. It’s basically a look at the role of bees in the past, present, and future from the perspective of a family in each of those time periods, and the chapters alternate between these three narratives. The first storyline begins in England in 1852 when beehives are being perfected, the second one in the United States in 2007 when there is an increase in the number of colony collapse disorders being reported, and the last one in China in 2098 when humans have had to resort to hand-pollination due to the total collapse of bees. As the book progresses, the reader begins to see how the three families’ stories intersect. Once the book is finished, it’s interesting to look back and notice the common threads that weren’t obvious before.

On top of it being a book about human’s relationship and reliance on bees, it is also about family relations and expectations. It looks at husband-and-wife relationships as well as relationships and expectations between parents and their children. It is not a smooth journey for any of them. The most heart-breaking family dynamic is that of William’s family in England. William puts all his time and energy into trying to prove his worth to his son. However, it is his daughter Charlotte who is interested and eager to learn from her father and help him with his work.

Each of the narratives was very engaging, and it didn’t take long before I was totally absorbed in the book. My favorite narrative was that of Tao in China. It was a depressing and grim world she lived in, but her quest to find out what happened to her son when he suddenly got sick and was whisked away by authorities without any explanation was a definite page-turner. Through the different storylines, I not only learned about the history and practices of beekeeping, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I also got a glimpse of a world suffering from a total bee collapse, which was unnerving. Luckily, there was a glimmer of hope at the end.

My only complaint of the book was that in each of the three families, the hopes for the future were placed on a son. I understand that might have had to be the case for England in the 1850s, but it didn’t need to be that way in both the 2007 and 2098 narratives. Having the emphasis be on a daughter in one of those two later time periods would have been okay, I believe.

Overall, this was a unique novel combining dystopian, contemporary, and historical fiction into a very engaging and thought-provoking piece, which will stay with me for a long time.

The History of Bees is the first book in a planned series called The Climate Quartet. Maja Lunde explains The Climate Quartet on her website as follows:

“I realized I was nowhere near done writing about man and nature, neither had I stopped imagining a future where the consequences of the way we treat our wonderful earth has become ever more grave than what we see today. And from these thoughts, the idea of writing four, loosely connected books evolved, each one a stand-alone novel emphasizing specific, clima related themes: Insects, water, animals, and finally seeds and all things that grow.”

“Each novel has parallel storylines that play out both in our time and somewhere in our not-too-distant future, in addition to gazing back at our past. All four explore humans in nature and the consequences of the choices we make, not only with regards to nature and the climate, but also the people around us. Because it is through the exploration of our closest boundaries – within families, between lovers, between parents and children – one best sees the reflections of the larger picture.”

The next novel in the series, Blue, comes out this fall in Norway. I’m eagerly awaiting its publication.

Book Details:

You can support what I do on this website by purchasing the book at Amazon (or any other book or item for that matter). 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. At no extra cost to you, you support my work. Thank you.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: August 2017

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. It’s been two months since I last shared what I’ve been reading, and it’s been vacation time with plane rides and down time, so I’ve had a chance to read quite a few titles. Luckily, all of them were worth finishing this time.

Did you know that August is Women in Translation Month? I just learned that this month. I seized the opportunity to add some female authors in translation to my reading list. Continue reading

Norwegian Women in Translation for WITmonth

I’m always so surprised when I hear about something which I feel I should have known about before but didn’t. That happened recently with Women in Translation Month (WITmonth), an annual month-long reading event dedicated to promoting women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English. It takes place every August. This is right in my wheelhouse – reading, books in translation, women – how could I miss it?

WITmonth has given me incentive to dig a little deeper to find Norwegian female authors whom I may not have been aware of it. A great source of information was lists of winners of various Norwegian and Scandinavian literary awards (see end of post for list of awards). My list of Norwegian female authors is by no means an exhaustive list. In my digging, I found that many Norwegian female authors’ works in translation are not available in English (but readily available in many other languages!) or no longer in print in English.

Usually, I read my Norwegian books in Norwegian, but occasionally I make an exception. For example, sometimes the cost of getting a book in Norwegian instead of English is not warranted. Other times, if the book is written in nynorsk (New Norwegian) instead of Bokmål (Book Language), I will read it in English instead since I’m not as comfortable with nynorsk. Now, I have another reason, to support Norwegian female authors in translation and their translators.

Many of these authors I’ve already heard about, some I’ve already read, others were already on my TBR list, many were new to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these authors. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: June 2017

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. It’s been two months since I last shared what I’ve been reading lately so I’ve had a chance to accumulate a few titles. Continue reading

Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books: Metro, Authors, and even some Geocaching

Last year, as luck would have it, I was able to go to the Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books both days. On Saturday, I went alone and explored and lingered as I pleased. On Sunday, Sonny joined me for a more intentional day. It was the perfect combination of experiences.

Saturday was a gray, dreary, rainy day, but I didn’t let that stop me. I donned my rain boots and rain jacket, packed an umbrella, and headed to our nearest Metro stop.

Taking the Metro made the excursion so easy. The closest stop was only a short drive away (and now it’s even closer with the Expo extension completed), and the stop at USC was right at the entrance to the festival. There were no hassles driving and finding my way and no expensive parking fees.

Due to the weather, the festival on Saturday wasn’t as lively as in previous years. There weren’t as many people roaming the grounds, and the booths were more closed up with plastic tarps on the sides. It did make maneuvering around more manageable, though. I easily browsed booths and listened in on stages where poets and authors spoke to more intimate audiences.

A highlight of the day was that I was able to get a ticket to a panel, also known as Conversations. I had never been to a Conversation. I had always been somewhat overwhelmed by the selection of offerings. Also, I’ve always been at the festival with family members who haven’t been interested in that aspect of it. This year, I just went to the ticket booth and looked to see what was still available in the next couple of hours. It limited my choices immensely and I was able to easily find something.

I actually had a choice of many open Conversations from which to choose. I selected a young adult nonfiction panel about bringing history to life for young adult readers. Sonny had recently read the young reader adaptations of the nonfiction books Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, which he had really enjoyed. I’m always on the lookout for possible interesting reads for him, and this panel seemed like a potential opportunity for that.

The panel was very interesting even though I wasn’t familiar with any of participants. Four authors of new non-fiction spoke about the process of bringing history to life for readers and then answered questions from the audience. I even bought a book by one of the panelists, Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, and got it signed for Sonny for his birthday later in the month.

That evening I was on a high from my alone time at the festival. I was thrilled to have discovered how easy it was to go by Metro and how interesting panels could be. I looked to see if anything of interest was offered the next day. I found an available panel with middle grade authors, two of whom were favorites of Sonny’s, Stuart Gibbs (Spy School Series and FunJungle Series) and Pseudonymous Bosch (Secret Series and Bad Books Series). Sonny was interested but had his condition: he didn’t want to spend the whole day there. I reassured him it would only be a trip for the panel and food trucks and we’d be back home about 1 o’clock.

Sunday was a beautiful day, and I noticed a change already at the Metro stop. So many more people were headed to the festival. When we arrived at the festival, only about 30 minutes after opening, it was already very festive. Not only were more people there than the day before, but booths were more welcoming and music was playing.

The panel was a popular one with many young readers in attendance. The panelists were engaging and shared insights into their writing lives. It was interesting to match a face, a voice, and a personality with the names we’d seen on book covers for so long. I wished, however, that Q&A time at the end had been limited to children. Their questions were so much better than adults’ questions.

Afterwards we joined many other fans in line to have books signed. And just as promised, we checked out the food trucks and Sonny settled on some gelato.

Then came the unexpected addition to our festival visit. After Sonny and I had agreed on the plans for the morning, I had looked to see what geocaching possibilities were there. I had totally forgotten about that when I was there alone the day before. It turns out there were three geocaches within the festival grounds, and I secretly planned a route to include those spots.

When Sonny heard about my geocaching hopes, he felt a little deceived. However, when it came down to it, he was eager to be the one to make the finds. He makes a good geocaching partner. We found one right in front of a security guard because no one thinks twice about a kid sticking his head up into a statue but an adult would have attracted attention.

A day alone and a morning with Sonny was the perfect way to experience the festival. I felt like I had a chance to take it all in – browse the booths, listen to authors on stage, attend panels, enjoy music performances, watch artists at work, and indulge in some treats from food trucks.

This year’s festival will take place the weekend of April 22 and 23, and once again, it will be at University of Southern California’s campus. The schedule can be found online, and you can reserve free tickets to indoor Conversations ($1 service fee applies to each ticket). A limited number of tickets for each Conversation will also be available at the festival ticketing booth each day — free of service charges — while supplies last. There are also plenty of outdoor Conversations on stages that do not require tickets. And admission to the whole festival is free. I highly recommend you take advantage of this LA event.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: April 2017

I always enjoy hearing what people have been reading lately, so I thought I’d join Modern Mrs. Darcy’s latest Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately.

In the past couple of months, I’ve read books with covers that lured me in, a non-fiction book to hopefully help me understand our most recent election, a book in anticipation of an author talk, and books that were not what I expected.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these that you may have read.

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell

This was a book pick by my Scandinavian Book Group. The author is a British journalist who moved to rural Jutland, the large peninsula of Denmark, with her husband who got a job with Lego. She took advantage of the opportunity to explore what makes the Danes the happiest in the world. I really enjoyed this month-by-month look at Danish culture, much of which is similar to Norway’s culture. The author has a great sense of humor, fun attitude, and interesting writing style, and I laughed out loud at certain parts.

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

I was drawn to this YA fantasy by the cover and a reference in a description to Scandinavian myth (turns out that’s minimal). It’s a #diversebooks/#ownvoices book whose author and main character are half-Chinese and half-white, or hapo. I really enjoyed this book. I thought the setting of Hawaii in the mid-1800s was interesting and beautiful. The author included politics, folklore, and nature. The cast of characters is very diverse. Sonny and I both enjoyed it and are looking forward to reading the sequel, The Ship Beyond Time.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

This was my Book of the Month selection for March, and it immediately jumped to the very top of my TBR list when I saw the author was coming to town to speak about it. I had three days to complete it and that was not a problem. I loved this book – the story, the writing, and an element I won’t mention because had I known about it beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have read it – kept my attention throughout. And having the opportunity to hear the author speak about it and answer readers’ questions was icing on the cake.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

I had high hopes and expectations for this one. I thought it would help me understand our most recent election. Unfortunately, I finished it feeling less than satisfied. I did get an insight into life in the Rust Belt and Appalachia, all unfamiliar to me, but that’s about it. I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author himself which was great. There were certainly parts I enjoyed, but overall I was disappointed. But on a positive note, since it’s been such a popular book, there have been many discussions about it which I’ve been able to follow. It happened to be Pantsuit Politics Community Book Club‘s pick for March, and my son’s school has an opportunity to discuss it in May which I’m looking forward to.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I really had no desire to read this (and I don’t really know why), but my book club picked it and so I had no choice but to jump in – and I am very happy I did. I’ve always wanted to visit Moscow (bummed I missed my opportunity when a friend lived there) and this book gave me a historical look at life there. I am so impressed with how the author was able to create such a full and interesting story about a man exiled to a life in a hotel. And the writing was beautiful. This is not a book to rush through but to savor.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

I loved the cover of this book and now that I’ve read it, the cover is even more beautiful – such wonderful details. However, the book was a disappointment to me. I really thought I would love it, especially since it was the latest Newbery Award Winner and has received such great reviews. If it weren’t for the fact that both my sons had recently finished it, I probably would have put it down before finishing it.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

I recommended this to my book club. I saw it on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s list of 40 great book club novels. It’s about Melanie, a special girl, a “little genius” as a doctor calls her. She has to be taken from her cell strapped in a wheelchair for class every morning. According to the book’s description, it’s a “groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.” That’s what I based my recommendation on. I’m glad I didn’t research it more – because it is so much more – because I would never have read it. Going in blind is the best way to read this. I really liked it and can’t wait for our book club’s discussion. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Finty Williams and it was fantastic.

Currently reading and next on my list…

      

For the Scandinavian Book Group’s last meeting before the summer, we are reading The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson (translated from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles). Then I look forward to reading a Norwegian book I received from my parents last year, the novel Bienes historie (The History of Bees) by Maja Lunde (coming out in English on August 22, 2017!). It received the Norwegian Booksellers Prize in 2015.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these that you may have read as well as what you’ve been reading lately.

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What I’ve Read: Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) by Roy Jacobsen

Recently, I read Roy Jacobsen’s Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) for my Scandinavian Book Group. I always make a point of reading a Norwegian book in anticipation of (or during) our annual summer trip to Norway to brush up on my Norwegian, but I don’t often read another beyond that. I’m grateful for discovering this book group because it’s given me an added incentive to search out new (to me) Norwegian authors and carve out more time to read Norwegian.

I first became aware of Roy Jacobsen when I was home in Oslo during the summer of 2016. A Roy Jacobsen book, Hvitt hav (published 2015), was on the display of top 10 paperbacks at a local bookstore, and another of his books, De usynlige (published 2013), was on a table of popular books on sale. I was happy to find a contemporary Norwegian non-crime author who wrote novels set in Norway, and I made a mental note to consider him for a future read.

When it came time to pick the next read for the Scandinavian Book Group, the other members of the group were happy to make the next pick a Norwegian one in my honor (it was my first meeting with them). The only requirement was that it had to be available in English, and they preferred a non-crime book. They had already read Jacobsen’s The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles (Hoggerne, published 2005), so I suggested Child Wonder (Vidunderbarn, published 2009). The description and reviews sounded interesting, and it had received the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2009 which made it even more promising.

Child Wonder takes place in Norway in the early 1960’s and is about 10-year Finn who lives with his working mother in an apartment complex in a working-class suburb of Oslo. He is a boy who does well in school and enjoys playing outside with his friends. He and his mother get along well. Then their world begins to change. First, they convert Finn’s bedroom into a room that they can rent out, and soon a lodger is staying with them in their apartment. And he brings along a television that ends up in the shared family room. Next, they welcome Linda, Finn’s unknown 6-year old half-sister, into their family.

The book looks at their life together for a little over a year through the eyes of Finn. We see Finn’s relationship with the lodger take shape. We see Finn being a surprisingly mature support and help to his new half-sister. We see his relationship with his mother progress. We see Finn wonder about his worth and place in the family. We also begin to understand that the mother is struggling with something unknown to Finn.

My favorite part of the book is the summer they spend on the island of Håøya, the largest island in the inner Oslo Fjord. The lodger lets them borrow his 6-person tent that is set up on the island. Finn and his half-sister spend a few weeks there enjoying the “green paradise”.

One of the things that makes this book interesting is that Finn is an unreliable narrator. He is young and obviously doesn’t know or understand everything yet. He also doesn’t share everything he experiences. We are left to question and wonder about what we read, in particular about the half-sister (there’s something not right about her), the lodger and the mother’s relationship with him, and the nature of the mother’s struggle. It makes for a good discussion with others who have read the book.

I actually read part of the book in English (the e-book is available through Los Angeles Public Library). Jacobsen’s writing style consisted of very long sentences with very few periods and it slowed down my reading pace, so I had to switch over to English for a few chapters to get through it a little faster in order to finish in time for the book group meeting.

It was interesting to read part of it in translation. It was a British English translation so I had to think twice about some translated words and phrases. In particular, the British word “estate,” used very often, did not suggest the right meaning to me, but I understood what was meant. I found the translation to be consistent with Jacobsen’s writing style. One thing that shocked me, however, was that the translator didn’t just translate, he actually added to the English text. I noticed it in one case, but since I only read a small part in both languages, it made me wonder what other additions or changes the translator may have made in the rest of the book.

I enjoyed the book very much. This was a character-driven story that was both heart-warming and heart-breaking at times and that kept me questioning and wondering, even after finishing the book. I’m open to giving one of his newer books a chance. Norwegian readers, please let me know if you have a recommendation – whether it’s one of Roy Jacobsen’s books or another Norwegian read.

Book Details:

  • Norwegian Title: Vidunderbarn
  • Author: Roy Jacobsen (born 1954)
  • Norwegian Publication Date: 2009
  • English Title: Child Wonder
  • Translator: Don Bartlett with Don Shaw
  • US Publication Date: 2011
  • Awards: Norwegian Booksellers Award (2009)

You can support what I do on this website by purchasing the book at Amazon (or any other book or item for that matter). 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. At no extra cost to you, you support my work. Thank you.

My Favorite Books of 2016

I’m getting back into my reading groove. I was proud of my 14 books in 2015, but it turns out I read more than twice that in 2016, 33 to be precise. A few factors influenced the increase in books read. First of all, my renewed interest in reading the previous year caused me to want to read even more, and I was constantly adding to my what-to-read-next list and always had a book ready when I finished the last one. Secondly, I finally tried audiobooks, which definitely helped add books to my completed list. It was great to have an audiobook available for runs, walks, and drives. I often found myself walking or running a little extra just to finish the chapter, and I didn’t mind if there was a little bit of traffic. And lastly, being a member of two book clubs is definitely an incentive to read.

I read many very good books last year, but there were only three books that earned the top rating of five stars, books I thought were “amazing” (description used by Goodreads): The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, and Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. These are books whose stories absorbed me and have stuck with me. I’ve recommended them without hesitation to friends and family and even given them as gifts. In the following list, I also included some other books that I really enjoyed, two of which are Scandinavian.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

If I had to choose my absolute favorite book of 2016, it would probably be The Nightingale. It was a pick by my book club. It is a WWII book like so many others, but it explores what I feel is a fascinating, hidden story of WWII. It looks at the lives of two sisters and the roles they played during the war. One sister lived in Paris and became actively involved in the resistance. The other lived in the countryside with her husband and daughter. The husband had to go off to fight, and soon her town was occupied by the Nazi Germans. Both women experienced frightening and difficult situations, but they showed great strength, courage, and perseverance. This book is often mentioned in the same breath as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, another WWII book that takes place in France. I read that one in 2015 and enjoyed it greatly, but The Nightingale is my favorite by far.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Almost tied for first place is Behold the Dreamers, my Book of the Month pick for September, 2016. It’s a look at the life of an immigrant couple and their child who came from Cameroon to New York City to fulfill the American dream right before the financial crisis of 2007–2008. At first, I was turned off by the fact that they were trying to game the system, coming as refugees when they really weren’t, but I quickly let that feeling go as I was absorbed into their daily lives filled with struggles, joys, and difficult decisions. The ending was not what I expected but I was very satisfied with it. The author Imbolo Mbue is a native of Cameroon and now lives in New York City. I highly recommend this book for anyone eager to diversify their reading with an #ownvoices or immigrant story pick.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

I came across this YA book just by chance. The cover jumped out at me at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April, 2016. How could I resist a cover with Norwegian heart waffles? It turns out Tell Me Three Things has nothing to do with Norwegian heart waffles, but the cover stuck with me. Then, shortly thereafter, I saw it recommended by the teen readers council at our local children’s bookstore. I figured, let’s just give it a try. I loved it. It was a light but moving unputdownable book that I forced myself to put down so it would last longer. It’s about 17-year-old Jessie who moves to Los Angeles to live with her dad (and his new wife and her teen son) after her mother dies. She has to attend a small, private high school, and soon an anonymous person calling themselves Somebody Nobody offers to help her navigate school life. They communicate through emails and texts. I loved the sweet mystery that was wrapped up into this story as Jessie tried to find her way at her new school and figure out who the mystery person was.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

This was another book club pick, one that I would not have picked up otherwise. The story takes place in North Korea and is about Pak Jun Do, the son of a woman who was “stolen” and a man who ran a work camp for orphans. During Jun Do’s years growing up at the orphanage, he gets his first taste of power as he decides such things as which orphans get to eat first or assigned certain jobs. From there he rises in the ranks and he eventually takes on the life of a rival to the supreme leader Kim Jong-il (1994-2011). Though the book is fiction, it was highly researched by the author and even included a (very supervised) trip the country. The book is a fascinating but extremely disturbing look at life in North Korea. It was one of our book club’s best discussions.

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson, narrated by Tavia Gilbert

I came across this book when looking over a list of 15 audiobooks that enhance your reading experience. This is the story of Alice who is sent to Los Angeles to be an assistant to Mimi Banning, a reclusive author who has only published one very successful book decades ago but now needs to complete another since she has become broke. Alice is supposed to monitor Mimi’s progress, but instead she becomes full time caregiver for Mimi’s 9-year-old son, “a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders”. I loved Frank and was so glad he finally had someone who appreciated and understood him and gave him the time and attention he deserved. If you want to give the audiobook a try, the narrator Tavia Gilbert really did a wonderful job enhancing the reading experience.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves

I read this book many years ago but decided to reread it for our summer trip to Barcelona. I loved it then and yet again now. It takes place in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War (1945 and onwards) and is about young boy Daniel who discovers a book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and becomes obsessed with it. He sets out to discover all he can about about the mysterious author. Along the way, he encounters murder, madness, and love.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, translated from Swedish by Henning Koch

I read this book for my Scandinavian Book Group. It is a wonderfully sweet story about the relationship between a girl and her grandmother. Elsa is not your normal seven-year-old. She is unusually mature for her years, and her best friend is her crazy but devoted grandmother. When her grandmother dies, Elsa is sent on an unusual quest through letters left behind by her grandmother. Elsa’s quest is interwoven with a fairytale story that her grandmother told her growing up. Slowly but surely, we learn more and more about the complicated life of the grandmother and the others living in the apartment building. The ending was surprising but very satisfying.

Blindgang by Jørn Lier Horst

This was my Norwegian read this summer while in Norway, a compelling “cozy” crime story that kept me reading throughout the long summer days. (The English version Ordeal translated by Anne Bruce will be available August 8, 2017.) It is book #10 in the William Wisting series (5th to be translated into English). I had already read #9 Hulemannen (available in English as The Caveman) and knew I liked the police investigator William Wisting, so I had no hesitation picking up another by Horst. It’s really a story of everyday life in a small Norwegian coastal town. A single mother and her one-year-old daughter move into a house inherited from a grandfather with whom she had a rocky relationship. As she makes the house her own, she comes across a locked safe that is bolted to the basement floor. It turns out the safe contains important evidence to a crime that has given the police trouble for a while. This is a character-driven police procedural. The main characters are very likable and relatable. Horst writes about normal daily routines and unusual happenings with equal clarity. I’m looking forward to reading another William Wisting book next summer.

Thinking back about the books I read in 2016 was a fun experience. It’s like revisiting with old friends. Comparing them to ones I read in 2015 was interesting. I’m learning more and more about my reading likes and dislikes, and I’m reading more books outside my normal tendency and seeking out more diverse books. I look forward to another productive and diverse year of reading!

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Scandinavian Gift Ideas

gift-guide-2016Do you have friends or family with Norwegian or Scandinavian heritage? Or are you looking to open your friends’ and family’s minds to new authors, settings, and cultures? I return with an updated gift guide to help you find gift ideas for friends and family. Here are some of our Scandinavian favorites for you to consider this holiday season. You can’t go wrong with books for both kids and adults, products to promote quality family time, and items to help create a cozy Scandinavian Christmas.

BOOKS FOR KIDS

Here are some of our favorite children’s books related to Norwegian history and culture.

magnus-chase-hammer-of-thorMagnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan: This is the second in a new series by popular children’s author Rick Riordan. You many know him as the author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles, and the Heroes of Olympus, in which Greek and Roman mythology act as the background. In Magnus Chase, however, Norse mythology takes center stage.

The Klipfish CodeThe Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova: Marit, a 12-year-old girl, and her younger brother are sent to a remote fishing island to live with their grandfather and aunt while their parents stay home to help with the resistance movement during WWII. At one point, Marit finds herself in a situation where she decides to take action despite warnings from her grandfather. This story also sheds light on a little known fact about the Nazi occupation of Norway: one in ten teachers were rounded up and sent to concentration camps for their refusal to teach Nazi propaganda to Norwegian schoolchildren.

lokis-wolvesThe Blackwell Pages (Loki’s Wolves, Odin’s Ravens, and Thor’s Serpents) by K. L. Armstrong & M. A. Marr: The Blackwell Pages is a trilogy that takes place in modern day Blackwell, South Dakota, where most people are direct descendants of Norse gods Thor and Loki. Now Ragnarok is coming, and it’s up to the main characters to fight in the place of the long-dead gods to save the world.

 

West of the MoonWest of the Moon by Margi Preus: This story interweaves Norwegian folk tales into two sisters’ quest to immigrate to America in the 1800s. From the author’s website: “After having been separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America.”

Shadow on the MountainShadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus: This is the story of 14-year-old Espen who joins the Norwegian Resistance during WWII. Espen begins by delivering illegal newspapers, then serves as a courier, and finally becomes a spy, dodging the Gestapo along the way. Preus incorporates archival photographs, maps, and other images to tell this story based on the real-life adventures of Norwegian Erling Storrusten, whom Preus interviewed in Norway.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan: This is based on a true story about a group of Norwegian children who smuggled nine million dollars in gold past Nazi sentries during World War II.

Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr: Written by a Norwegian author and translated, this story takes place in Norway and is about the adventures of two best friends, a boy and girl.

Doctor Proctor Fart PowderDoctor Proctor’s Fart Powder by Jo Nesbø: This is a humorous 4-book series by popular Norwegian mystery author Jo Nesbø. Both my kids thoroughly enjoyed these books.

BOOKS FOR ADULTS

For English language readers who want to step into the world of Scandinavia, I recommend the following Norwegian authors and their translated books.

the-cavemanJørn Lier Horst is my new favorite Norwegian crime writer. Four of his books from the William Wisting series have been translated into English (Dregs, Closed for Winter, Hunting Dogs, and The Caveman). My first introduction to Horst and his series was Hulemannen, or The Caveman. The main character, Chief Inspector William Wisting, is a very likeable character and you get a get a feel for like in small Norwegian town on the east coast.

The RedbreastJo Nesbø is the author of the popular Harry Hole series about a recovering alcoholic police inspector. The series begins with two books set outside of Norway, but then it continues in Oslo with book #3, The Redbreast (book #1 in the Oslo Sequence). The story in this book alternates between the last days of WWII on the Eastern front and modern day Oslo. The Oslo Sequence contains 8 books for those readers who become hooked.

child-wonderRoy Jacobsen is a contemporary Norwegian author to consider if you’d like to step outside the world of crime. He is a prolific writer of novels and short stories, and many of his works have been translated into English. Child Wonder, winner of the prestigious Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2009, is the next read for the Scandinavian Book Group that I’ve recently joined. It takes a look at a Norwegian childhood in the early sixties.

My Struggle KnausgaardKarl Ove Knausgaard is the author of a 6-volume autobiographical series called My Struggle. “Although originally categorized as fiction, the series is an unflinching self-portrait that has Knausgaard as its protagonist and his relatives and loved ones as the supporting cast” (New Republic, April 7, 2014). The first 5 volumes have been translated into English. The latest one, My Struggle: Book Five, was just published in English this past April. I have read the first volume and was surprisingly engaged in his exploration of his struggle with his father. (You can read my thoughts about the first volume here.)

Girl in the Spiders WebAnd finally, there’s the oldie but goodie Swedish author Stieg Larsson. His Millennium Series is a thrilling series about pierced and tattooed superhacker Lisbeth Salander and investigative reporter Mikael Blomqvist and their quests to solve crime cases. The series now continues with The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz.

 

American authors have also seized the opportunity to use Norway as a setting for their writing.

Sunlit NightIn The Sunlit Night, Rebecca Dinerstein writes about two strangers from New York City who meet in northern Norway’s Lofoten area during the season of the midnight sun. I have always been fascinated by that area of Norway and really enjoyed the emphasis on the setting in this novel. The phenomenon of the midnight sun is incredible to begin with, and experiencing it in northern Norway to boot is unique.

 

Norwegian by NightIn Norwegian by Night, Derek B. Miller tells the story of Sheldon, an elderly Jew, who recently moved from New York City to live in Oslo with his granddaughter and her new Norwegian husband. Sheldon is witness to a crime and takes the victim’s son to safety. “As Sheldon and the boy look for a safe haven in an alien world, past and present weave together, forcing them ever forward to a wrenching moment of truth,” the book jacket says. I am currently thoroughly absorbed in this book.

FAMILY FUN

Do you want to facilitate some quality family time? Consider these family friendly gifts.

There are some great looking Norway-themed puzzles out there! You can choose a traditional flat puzzle (go somewhat manageable with a 1000-piece puzzle or go big with a 3000-piece puzzle), but I’ve also discovered 3D and “augmented reality” puzzles.

           

And for families looking to use their Norwegian during family game time, there is a Norwegian language Bananagrams version with the letters æ, ø, and å.

Or to help get the family outside, consider the Viking game of Kubb. It’s a lawn game where you try to knock your opponent’s blocks down followed by their king. All ages can enjoy this game.

Is there a girl in your midst you would appreciate a new addition to their doll collection? Consider a Norwegian Barbie from the Barbies of the World Collection.

                                    SCANDINAVIAN CHRISTMAS

You can’t have a true Scandinavian Christmas without proper lights, baked goods, and chocolate.

candelabra-karin-natural-7          Krumkake      Freia

Window candelabras are a popular sight in Norwegian windows during Christmas time and add a cozy feel to the dark days, and they are a beloved staple in my home, too, during the holiday season. A krumkake iron griddle will help families fulfill the traditional Norwegian Christmas custom of baking seven sorts of baked goods, one of which is a krumake, a rolled up waffle cookie. You can even buy some krumkake mix to go along with is. And of course, there’s nothing like some true Norwegian Freia milk chocolate to sweeten up the holiday season.

Keeping ChristmasFor families with a Norwegian background, they might enjoy the book Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land, which looks at Christmas traditions from Norway and Norwegian America. With “scores of accounts of ancient and modern Christmases, with recipes and photographs, this book reminds Norwegians and Norwegian Americans of their connections to each other and explains how their celebrations differ on this joyous family holiday” (book jacket). I have the book and it comes out every Christmas season. I read a different part of it every year and always learn something new and interesting.

SUBSCRIPTION TO THE NORWEGIAN AMERICAN

the-norwegian-americanAnd last but not least, for your family and friends with a Norwegian background, consider giving them a subscription to The Norwegian American, America’s only Norwegian newspaper. It has been “the voice of Norway in America” for 125 years. I always look forward to receiving this newspaper. I enjoy reading features about Norwegian happenings at home and abroad, Scandinavian food and recipes, history, and travel. I also often get book recommendations from the paper.

For many more of my favorite Norwegian and Scandinavian items, especially English translations of Norwegian books, please check out my online store.

Do you have suggestions for other gifts that would hit the spot with Norwegians and other Scandinavians? I would love to hear about them in the comments.

God jul!

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.