What I’ve Been Reading Lately (September 2020)

My unintentional travel around the world via books continued in September with visits to China, Norway, and Rwanda, along with seven neighboring African countries.

My reading also continued to be influenced by the opportunity to hear authors talk about their work. The Seven Doors written by Agnes Ravatn and translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger jumped to the top of my TBR pile when I learned that Orenda Books, the English publisher, was hosting an online launch event with the author and translator (paperback was published September 17, 2020, in the United Kingdom). I had enjoyed Ravatn’s previous English release, The Bird Tribunal, and was curious about this one. It’s always interesting to get some insight into the behind-the-scenes of the writing and translating processes, and their discussion did not disappoint. (Are you curious about other virtual bookish events, in particular related to Nordic authors? Check out my Virtual Nordic Events for October 2020.)

Here are my latest book experiences. What have you been reading lately?


The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

This book first came on my radar when I saw it was a Book of the Month selection in April 2018. I didn’t pick it then, but I did buy it earlier this year when I had some ebook credit. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be appropriate for a 13-year-old so it became a must-read for me this summer when it turned up as my 8th grader’s required reading for school.

Clemantine is an inspiring woman. She endured tremendous loss and hardship when, at the age of 6, she and her 15-year-old sister Claire fled from their family in Rwanda in 1994 due to civil war and the impending genocide. They spent 6 years traveling between 7 African countries trying to find safety and meet their basic needs — and later the needs of Claire’s young children. At age 12, Clemantine and her sister were granted asylum in the United States and began new lives in Chicago. The story of the two sisters is heartbreaking and eye-opening and important to be heard. However, it was told in a vacuum. There was little context provided about what was going on in the country they left and the countries in which they sought refuge. I found the first half of the book the most interesting. It alternated between Clemantine and Claire’s experiences in Africa and their new lives in Chicago. The second half when Claire was at college and beyond was less engaging. Even though the book felt a bit disjointed, I appreciated how it opened my eyes to a world event I knew little about. Now on my radar is the movie Hotel Rwanda.

Reading Challenges:


The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
(Translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu, narrated by Luke Daniels)

This award-winning science fiction novel by “China’s most beloved science fiction author” was certainly an interesting listening experience. It was totally outside my comfort zone (not just science fiction, but also alien encounter book!) and way above my head (a lot of complicated science that I didn’t understand), yet the plot and structure were engaging and intriguing enough to carry me along so that I finished the book. It was a complex and sophisticated book with many layers and made for a good book club discussion. This book is the first in a trilogy, and Netflix recently bought the rights to the trilogy for an adaptation into a series. I’m not up for the rest of the trilogy, but I may give the Netflix adaptation a try due to curiosity.

Reading Challenges:


The Seven Doors by Agnes Ravatn
(Translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger)

This was a very enjoyable, slow-burning psychological thriller that takes place in contemporary Bergen on the west coast of Norway over the course of about a month and a half during winter. Nina, a middle aged university literature professor, is in a bit of a mid-life crisis. She questions the importance of her profession, is going through a forced sale of her home, and has a somewhat strained relationship with her adult daughter. In the middle of all this, the tenant of one of their properties suddenly goes missing. When the police hit a dead end, Nina takes on investigating the mystery herself due to a sense of guilt that a recent visit by her and her daughter had something to do with the disappearance. I enjoyed the setting, in particular the visits to a small nearby island, and I was intrigued by the mystery and slow reveal of details surrounding the missing tenant. The tension grew as the story progressed and even though I had an inkling about the perpetrator as the end neared, the ending itself caught me off-guard but in a satisfying way.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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Reading Lately (June 2019): Reading Challenges Update

I haven’t been good about sharing what books I’ve been reading lately – first due to busy end-of-school-year business and then vacation travel – so this post covers the last three months. It was a slow reading period to begin with, but then with summer upon me, my pace picked up!

Now that we’re midway through the year, I’m also taking stock of where I am with my reading challenges. This year I’m participating in three reading challenges: my own Scandinavian Reading Challenge, the Reading Women Challenge, and Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge. Reading challenges force me to research new-to-me genres and authors and read books I wouldn’t otherwise, a process I greatly enjoy.

I have completed half the prompts for each of the challenges so I’m on track. However, I need to stay focused, otherwise I’ll be scrambling at the end. I’ll continue to try to find as much overlap as possible between the challenges and read books I already own. My top priority will be to complete my own Scandinavian Reading Challenge. For a look at what I’ve read for each of the challenges so far, visit the following links:

August is Women in Translation Month so I’m thinking about that as well. I have books by female authors from South Korea, Japan, Oman, and Thailand on my radar and look forward to reading some of those.

How’s your reading life been lately?


The English Wife by Lauren Willig

This was a book club pick that didn’t quite satisfy me. The setting during the Gilded Age in New York City was new to me (in fiction) and I always enjoy getting a glimpse into history through fiction, but I wasn’t particularly interested in this time period. Luckily, the structure of the storytelling intrigued me. There was the storyline with the discovery of the murdered husband and the missing wife and the ensuing quest to solve that mystery. And in alternating chapters, readers followed the husband and wife a few years earlier when they first met in London. Seeing the two timelines approach each other and trying to figure out the mystery of the missing wife and murdered husband kept me reading.

Reading Challenges: 


The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn

(Translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger)

I was drawn to this book the minute I saw the cover picturing the desolate fjord with the lone rowboat and only a pop of red for color, and the title’s reference to birds intrigued me as well. Both aspects – setting and birds – turned out to play major roles in this psychological suspense story. Allis abruptly leaves her life in the city and takes on a job as a housekeeper and gardener at the isolated home of Bagge, a man awaiting the return of his wife. Bagge is a quiet, mysterious man. They develop an uneasy, tense relationship that eventually comes to a boiling point. I was drawn in from start to finish; it didn’t disappoint.

Reading Challenges: 


The Legacy: A Thriller by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

(Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb)

Iceland has always intrigued me, so I’ve been eager to add an Icelandic author to my repertoire. There wasn’t much specifically Icelandic about this novel other than the names of the characters which are very unique (a pronunciation guide is included), but it certainly was a good example of Nordic Noir. The main characters, child psychologist Freyja and police detective Huldar, have to work together to solve the grisly murder of a mother whose 7-year-old daughter is the only witness to the crime. More murders follow, equally grisly, though never bloody. I really liked the child psychologist Freyja and I was impressed with the author’s creativity with the murders, the characters’ stories, and how it all came together at the end. This is the first in the Children’s House series, and #2 is on my TBR list.

Reading Challenges:


Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

I really enjoyed this book. Cuba is a country whose history and culture I knew only minimally and superficially, but this book helped fix that. The story jumps between Marisol’s 2017 trip to Cuba to scatter her grandmother’s ashes and her grandmother’s early life in Havana as a high society “sugar princess” before the family fled the country in early 1959 when Fidel Castro took power. It was a fascinating tale of political unrest, teenage love and rebellion, and family secrets. I did find some overly contrived parallels between Marisol’s and her grandmother’s lives, but the dive into Cuban history and culture through these two strong female characters was worth it.

Reading Challenges:


The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young

This is a middle grade novel written by a good friend, and I’m thrilled to say it was truly a delight to read. On the surface, it’s about 12-year-old Billie (part Irish, part Native American Ojibwe) who used to be best friends with Sam but now spends her summer days ignoring him and focused on growing the biggest pumpkin possible. She wants nothing more than to beat him in the upcoming giant pumpkin race after he sabotaged her win last fall. Dig a little deeper and it’s about so much more – friendship and family, forgiveness and reconciliation. I love that Billie has a mixed background that is celebrated and interests that include beekeeping, fishing, and tending llamas. The setting of Madeline Island in Wisconsin on Lake Superior is charming. On top of all this, the writing is beautiful. I highly recommend this book to any middle grade readers in your life.

Reading Challenges:


Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This was a very good young adult fantasy novel, and it was especially fun to read it along with my 15-year-old son. Fantasy novels are not my thing, but this one takes place in Orïsha, a mythical and magical world based on African geography, mythology, and culture, and I think that’s why I liked it. It gave me some insights into a culture that I’m not too familiar with. It’s about Zélie, a young, poor girl who’s a member of the Magi, a group with magical powers until The Raid when the king eradicated magic from Orïsha and in the process killed all the adult Magi, including Zélie’s mother. Zélie has now discovered a way to bring magic back. The story is from her perspective as well as that of Amari, the princess who ran away from the palace in opposition to her father, and Inan, the prince in charge of finding Amari again and stopping the return of magic. Also playing a big role is Tzain, Zélie’s protective older brother. I was amazed by the worldbuilding. It was so unique and thorough yet relatable. I was also intrigued by the struggles of the society members – discrimination, racism, violence – and the parallels with our own society.

Reading Challenges:


When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

Romance is a genre I’ve tended to avoid, but I was persuaded by Camille Perri to give it a try after I heard her on a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this spring. This was a quick and enjoyable story of a straight woman and a gay woman falling in love, a sub-genre of romance that is even more outside my genre comfort zone. Katie is a successful young lawyer who seems to have everything in order until she’s dumped by her fiancé. She meets Cassidy at a work meeting and is instantly intrigued by her appearance and personality. They coincidentally meet again later that evening, and Katie reluctantly agrees to a drink. They develop a friendship which leads to a love relationship. It’s a sweet story of two women each trying to figure out her place and role in their relationship.

Reading Challenges:


To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari

This was another book I read because of a panel I attended at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this spring. I loved how it gave me insight into another time and place I’m not very familiar with, Iran on the eve of the Iranian Revolution. Matriarch Bibi and her husband, a retired judge, own a large orchard in a small town and are the bond that keeps their extended family together during this time of uncertainty. They are a family with conflicting personalities, beliefs, and hopes. An older uncle is a cleric with radical religious views while a young nephew has dreams of a new Iran and marrying his childhood girlfriend. Meanwhile another family member is attracted to a Western lifestyle. I appreciated getting to know the many people in this community – family, friends, servants, and townspeople – and getting a glimpse of their daily lives before it all heartbreakingly came apart.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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