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?

 

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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?

 

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.

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.

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

I’m continuing my quest to complete three reading challenges this year: my own Scandinavian Reading Challenge, Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2018 Reading Challenge, and The Reading Women’s Reading Women Challenge. Having these reading challenges provides me with more focus when deciding what to read next. They also force me to choose books outside my normal reading habits. I also enjoy the challenge of finding books that fulfill tasks in more than one challenge at a time. And just for the fun of it, I’m seeing how many of Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge tasks I can complete, too.

If you haven’t already checked out my 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge, I invite you to do so here. It’s not too late to join!

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. This month I’m covering the last two months. Winter Break in February helped me catch up on my reading.


The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Once I got through the first part — felt there was a little too much description and detail — and the storyline went to China and I learned more about the mother’s situation, I was hooked. Keeping track of the two narratives, one in first person and the other in third person, both switching between past and present, was a little tough, so it wasn’t an easy read. But in the end, it was a read I really enjoyed. There were a lot of issues to ponder – illegal immigration from Asia, undocumented workers, interracial adoption, for-profit prisons, just to name a few. The book club discussion was very good. We had strong differing opinions about the mother.

Reading Challenges:

  • Reading Women Challenge—a book with an immigrant or refugee viewpoint character
  • Modern Mrs. Darcy—a book by an author of a different race, ethnicity or religion than your own
  • ReadHarder—a book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)

God’s Mercy by Kerstin Ekman (Translated from Swedish by Linda Schenck)

What intrigued my Scandinavian Book Club the most was the reference to the indigenous Sami people in the book’s description. The book is about a young Swedish midwife who in 1916 moves from a university town to a remote rural area of Sweden close to the Norwegian border in anticipation of being with her secret fiancé. Things do not turn out the way she anticipated. I thought it was a very interesting look at life in this community of Swedes, Samis, and Norwegians (descriptive and complete). However, it was a tough read. There were three narratives that jumped around in time and place. It was hard to keep track of all the people and their families without taking notes. The book left me with some unanswered questions, but that’s understandable considering it’s the first in a trilogy. (My understanding is that the other books in the trilogy have not been translated yet.)

Reading Challenges:


The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (Narrated by Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin)

Once again, Modern Mrs. Darcy’s recommendations of audiobooks that enhance your reading experience didn’t disappoint! The book opens in 1791 in Virginia and is about a young orphaned Irish girl who is raised as an indentured servant and lives with the slaves in the plantation’s kitchen house. I was drawn in the moment I started listening and became very invested in the characters, especially the female ones. There are two narratives, each read by a different voice. One voice is Lavinia, the orphaned girl, and the other is Belle, her mother figure, the half-white illegitimate daughter of the plantation owner. It’s not a light read. There’s a lot of brutality towards the slaves. But at the same time, there’s great love, caring, and warmth among the slaves and Lavinia. The book is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

Reading Challenges:


Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

I picked this book because I needed a change from all the historical fiction and heavy reads I had read recently, and what better way to do that than with a superhero fantasy book, a genre I never read (#ReadingWomenChallenge!). Also, Leigh Bardugo was a YA author I was curious about. I appreciated and enjoyed the strong and independent female character of Diana, the diverse cast of characters, the female empowerment and friendship, and Bardugo’s writing, but this specific genre just isn’t for me.

Reading Challenges:


Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Translated from Swedish by Neil Smith)

I’m a Fredrik Backman fan, but this book was not like his others I had read (My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and A Man Called Ove). It’s much more serious and philosophical. It’s about how a small, rural town deals with a sexual assault by its star hockey player. To begin with, I was very uncomfortable reading it. I was disgusted by the actions and attitude of so many people (the bullying, the locker room talk and behavior, racism, classism, and sexism) and I felt like a bystander as I just continued reading along. Finally, more characters started standing up for what was right and I began to enjoy the book more. The ending was very satisfying. It was a great book for our book club meeting. The sequel Us Against You comes out this June 5.

Reading Challenges:


Currently reading and next on my list…

     

I’m currently listening to Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan read by Heather Lind, Norbert Leo Butz, and Vincent Piazza. The audiobook was recommended by Los Angeles Times as an audiobook not to be missed. I’ve never liked the cover so it fulfills the category “a book with a cover you hate” for Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge.

While my Scandinavian Book Club is reading The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi which I’ve already read, I’m reading The Copenhagen Affair by the same author. For my Scandinavian Reading Challenge it fulfills the category “a Scandinavian or Scandinavia-themed book whose cover piqued your interest,” but it could also fulfill the category “a book set somewhere in Scandinavia you would like to visit (or revisit).”

Next up to read will be Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman for my local book club. It coincidentally fulfills the category of “a book nominated for an award in 2018” for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s reading challenge.

What have you been reading lately?

 

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2018

This year I’ll be working on completing three reading challenges: my own Scandinavian Reading Challenge (#ScandiReadingChallenge), Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge (#IdRatherBeReading), and The Reading Women’s Reading Women Challenge (#ReadingWomenChallenge). In order to have a greater chance of success, I’ve decided books can overlap challenges. I’m off to a good start with two categories for each challenge completed.

If you haven’t already checked out my 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge, I invite you to do so now.

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 Indian Bride by Karin Fossum (translated from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund)

For our first meeting of the new year, my Scandinavian Book Club chose Karin Fossum’s Eva’s Eye (the first in the Inspector Sejer mystery series). I had already read that so I decided to read The Indian Bride, another of Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer mysteries, instead. I enjoyed The Indian Bride much more than Eva’s Eye. I felt for Gunder, the main character, whose life was turned upside down when, on the same day, his sister was suddenly in a coma after a car accident and his wife was killed upon arrival in town. I was wrapped up in the characters and the situation – how could this horrendous murder have happened and who could have done it? The book explores the characters and the community more than the crime itself. There were some unanswered questions and ambiguity at the end which bothered me a little, but overall it was still a good read. (The Indian Bride won the Los Angeles Times’ Mystery Prize in 2007.) Karin Fossum would be a good candidate for the Scandinavian Reading Challenge’s “a crime novel by a female author” category.


The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi

This author has been on my radar for a while. She’s from India and married to a Danish man. They lived in Denmark for several years before moving to southern California. The Sound of Language intrigued me because it was about an Afghan refugee who immigrated to Denmark after her husband was captured by the Taliban. It was also about beekeeping and an unlikely relationship between an older, stubborn, recently widowed man and this young Afghan woman learning Danish. I admired both the man and the woman for persevering with the apprenticeship despite pressure from family and community to do otherwise. It was an interesting look at the immigrant debate in Denmark. I highly recommend this for the “immigrant story” category of the Scandinavian Reading Challenge. We read it for my local book club, and it made for a good discussion.


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I was looking for a light and easy read, and this book certainly fit the bill. It was a fun ride. It was a fascinating and unbelievable look at life of the super rich in Singapore. How close to reality it really is, I’ll never know. But I believe there’s some truth to it since it’s written by an author who was born and raised in Singapore. There were a lot of characters to keep track of. The family tree at the beginning of the book was helpful at first, but then I decided it really didn’t matter if I couldn’t keep track of which family line everyone belonged to. I’m eager to read the next books in the series and to see the movie when it comes out in August 2018.


Currently reading and next on my list…

My local book club picked The Leavers by Lisa Ko for our next read. My Scandinavian Book Club meets later in the month. I’m curious to see what we’ll pick. I’m hoping I can steer the choice in the direction of one of the categories for the Scandinavian Reading Challenge. A friend suggested I read The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee with David John with her so I’ll be giving that a go, too (and it checks off a category for both Modern Mrs. Darcy’s and The Reading Women’s challenges!).

What have you been reading lately?

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Join the 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge!

I invite you to join the 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge. This reading challenge focuses on the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. There are 14 categories with the intention of providing lots of choice for the new reading year. 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.

Visit the page 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge to see the 14 categories and to download a printable PDF to keep track of your reading.

I will make suggestions for books in each category as the year progresses. I would love to hear what books you choose to read, and I always welcome suggestions from fellow readers. Share your progress and suggestions here or on social media with the hashtag #ScandiReadingChallenge.

I hope you’ll join me for some Scandinavian reading this year. Share your intention to participate in the comments below or in an email.

Click here to see the 14 categories in the reading challenge.