Reading Lately (March 2020) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

With a prolonged self-quarantine headed my way, I thought I would have lots of extra time to read. It hasn’t quite worked out that way yet. Maybe once we settle into this new normal, I’ll find more time to just read. In the meantime, here are my latest reads and listens. What have you been reading lately?


The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
(Audiobook narrated by Barrie Kreinik)

This was a wonderfully entertaining audiobook that I always returned to eagerly. It’s a murder mystery in which the mother-in-law is found dead under suspicious circumstances and no one in the family is safe from scrutiny. It’s told from the perspectives of the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law, and it jumps back and forth in time so you get insights into all the family members’ histories and you see different perspectives on the same situations. They are a very complicated family and there are many unrealized misunderstandings. It was an extremely compelling story and had me engaged until the very end. I’ll be listening to/reading more by Sally Hepworth!

Reading Challenges:


Clearing Out by Helene Uri
(Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Sjoholm, 2019)

This was a unique book, a mix of fiction and autobiography, about families and their stories. The author discovers her grandfather was a Sámi fisherman (indigenous people in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia) and intertwines that experience with a fictional story of a character who goes to northern Norway to study Sámi language extinction. There are many parallels between the author and the fictional character. Not only are they both linguists, but they both also experience the loss of an older parent. At first it was a little difficult to distinguish between the author’s story and the character’s story, but soon the transitions became seamless and I considered it a clever technique. I was intrigued by the reflections on Sámi identities and their history in Norway. It’s not something I’ve come across often in Norwegian literature. (If interested, take a look at this article by the book’s translator which includes a discussion about the Sámi elements as well as an interview with the author.)

(Thank you to NetGalley and the University of Minnesota Press for providing me a copy of this book!)

Reading Challenges:


In the Midst of Winter: A Novel by Isabel Allende
(Translated from the Spanish by Nick Castor and Amanda Hopkinson)
(Audiobook narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Alma Cuervo)

All I knew about this book going into it was that it took place in Brooklyn during a big snowstorm. I did not know I’d be getting a whirlwind historical tour of Latin America. Most of the action takes place over just a few days when three people are brought together by a car accident. However, during their days together, we jump back in time to Guatemala in the 1990s, Chile in the 1950s, and Brazil in the 1990s to learn about their pasts. The illegal immigrant’s story of coming from Guatemala to the US through Mexico and across the Rio Grande was the one I enjoyed the most. Having recently read American Dirt, I appreciated the additional perspective on that experience. Overall, it was a fine story and the language was lovely, but it was not as engaging as I would have preferred.

Reading Challenges:


Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

The racial tensions and violence of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 form the basis for this novel. A contemporary story set in 2019, it follows two families who have a shared history with that racially tense time. Shawn Matthews, an African American man whose sister was shot and killed in 1991, leads a quiet life far away from his troublesome youth days in South Central LA. At the same time, Grace Park, a Korean American woman who lives a sheltered life home with her parents, can’t understand why her sister won’t talk to their mother. It’s a very engaging and compelling read which provided much material to discuss at our virtual book club meeting. I highly recommend it.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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

Reading Lately (February 2020) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

February was a productive, varied, and very enjoyable month of reading for me. First of all, I finally completed my 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge at the beginning of the month. I have compiled all my reads at What I Read for the 2019 #ScandiReadingChallenge. Secondly, I continued strong with my reading intentions for 2020. And considering what’s going on this month, it looks like March will be a good reading month, too.

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


North Wild Kitchen: Home Cooking from the Heart of Norway
by Nevada Berg

I was already a fan of the author’s blog North Wild Kitchen so when she published a cookbook I knew I would buy it. The author is from Utah, and in the introduction, she explains how she ended up buying a mountain farm “deep in the belly of Norway” and began exploring the country’s cuisine. I enjoy how the cookbook is organized thematically by source reflecting Norwegian food culture: foraging, fishing, farming (“Seteren”), harvesting, hunting, storing (“Stabburet”), camping, and baking. It includes both traditional Norwegian meals as well as Norwegian-inspired recipes. I was happy to see many favorite foods, such as “boller” (sweet buns with cardamom), “grovbrød” (multigrain bread) and “bløtkake” (layered cream cake with fresh berries), as well as some new-to-me dishes like “plukkfisk” (fish and mashed potatoes with roasted carrots, sauteed leeks, and bacon) which seemed reasonable to attempt at home. The commentary on Norwegian food culture is insightful, the recipes manageable (I appreciate the tips on substitutions for some of the more “exotic” ingredients like moose and grouse), and the photos are delightful. It’s a beautiful addition to any kitchen, but especially to one with a cook with Norwegian roots.

Reading Challenges:


American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
(Audiobook narrated by Yareli Arizmendi)

This was high on my TBR list after I first heard about it in the fall of 2019, but then on the day of its release with all the surrounding controversy, I became uncertain as to whether I actually wanted to read it. However, before I had a chance to think much more about it, my audiobook hold became available so I decided to give it a try. At least I’d know specifically what the controversy related to. I did really enjoy it. I found it engaging and eye-opening. It’s the story of a mother and her young son on a journey to survive. They have to flee Acapulco after her journalist husband and many family members are killed by the cartel. They make their way north along with other migrants who are from different places and on the journey for various reasons. I was familiar with the general picture of migrants from Central America making their way north and the troubles at the border. I knew of El Bestia, the Mexican freight trains that carry migrants northward, and the dangers involved. However, the book gave me a closer and more personal look at what that journey is like – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and I appreciated that. I always make an effort to read diverse authors and now I have added even more books by Latinx authors to my TBR, books exploring a variety of Latinx experiences.

Reading Challenges:


Dødevaskeren (The Dead Washer) by Sara Omar
(Translated from the Danish to the Norwegian by Hilde Rød-Larsen)

This is an amazing and heartbreaking novel dealing with the oppression of Muslim women, in particular in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The author was born and raised in Kurdistan, but she had to flee as a young teenager in the late 1990s due to war. She eventually made her way to Denmark. I was very eager to read this book when I first learned about it from the Scandinavian bookstagram community. When it was published in Denmark in 2017, it was hailed as “the year’s most important book.” The author had to have police protection due to the backlash from the anti-Islam content.

The book is about a girl named Frmesk born in Kurdistan in 1986 (just like the author; I wonder how much of the novel is autobiographical). She is unwanted by her father because she’s a girl. She is sent to live with her mother’s parents because the mother is afraid for the baby’s life if she stays at home. Her grandparents are very kind, loving, open-minded “parents” to Frmesk in a world where the Koran rules and women’s rights and freedoms are non-existent. The story moves between Frmesk’s life as a young child in her grandparents’ household and Frmesk’s life in Denmark 30 years later when she’s alone in a hospital bed for unidentified procedures. Real events, such as the 1988 Halabja chemical attack, are included in the story. It was an extremely engrossing and engaging story despite the difficult subject material. I certainly hope it’s translated to English so it can engage many more readers. Sara Omar’s second book, Skyggedanseren (The Shadow Dancer), a follow-up to the first, was published in Denmark in November 2019 and I’m very eager to read it when it’s released in Norwegian in May 2020.

Reading Challenges:


Beyond All Reasonable Doubt by Malin Persson Giolito
(Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles)

This was my second Malin Persson Giolito book. I really enjoyed Quicksand, her English language debut. There are many similarities between the two books. They are both legal thrillers in which the subject matter is heavy and discussion-worthy, and the narrative structure is one in which the story jumps back and forth in time. Quicksand was about a school shooting; this book explores a possibly wrongful murder conviction (of a man who happens to be hated by society for an unrelated alleged child molestation). This story alternates between contemporary times, when the criminal defense lawyer is looking through the case again, and 1997/1998, when the 15-year-old girl was killed and a 35-year-old man convicted and sentenced to life in prison. I felt the book lacked in certain areas, like character development of Sophia Weber, the lawyer, and advancement of the plot. I learned later that this book is actually the second book in a series featuring this lawyer (the first does not have an English translation) so that could explain the missing background information needed to understand some of the lawyer’s actions. Plot-wise, the lawyer didn’t agree to take the case until practically half way through the book which was frustrating. The book provided thought-provoking material, but unfortunately, I did not feel satisfied at the end.

Reading Challenges:


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
(Audiobook narrated by Jack Hawkins and Louise Brealey)

I’m confused by this book. I loved it while I was listening and couldn’t wait to return to it. It was extremely engaging and kept me wondering. But then when the pieces started falling into place, I became confused. I thought I had a handle on the timelines – the events leading up to the killing that took place years earlier and the therapist’s current life situation – but then it didn’t make sense to me. When I had finished, I felt like I needed to go back and reread to see where I had missed something. Did I listen too fast? I would have loved to discuss this with someone who had read it at the same time as me. Thinking back about it now I realize I’ve already started forgetting little details so it’s hard to attempt to clear up my confusion.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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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: December 2017

I’ve had a tough reading time this past month with disappointments for unexpected reasons. I need to turn that around. 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.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

This one came highly recommended from Modern Mrs Darcy and I suggested it for my local book club. Unfortunately, I was not blown away by it. I believe it was *reading* the book that made the difference for me. I’ve since learned that *listening* to the book is a totally different experience. I enjoyed the main characters and the unlikely relationship between the Captain and the young orphan girl he was charged to bring back to relatives after having been taken captive by Kiowa Native Americans. I liked the setting of Texas post Civil War. The story introduced me to a chapter in American history that I was unfamiliar with, which I really enjoyed. However, the writing style was not for me and affected the whole reading experience. There were no quotation marks in the dialogue which made reading it more frustrating and harder than it should have been. I suggest listening to this one.


The Wednesday Club by Kjell Westö (Finnish novel written in Swedish translated to English by Neil Smith)

This was the latest book pick for my Scandinavian Book Club. And it was another tough read but for a totally different reason. I did not have the necessary background knowledge to absorb everything easily. It takes place in Helsinki, Finland, in 1938. At one point, I had to research Finnish history, in particular the civil war that happened in 1918 and left deep scars in the people. Also, I was not knowledgeable enough about the intricacies of the political atmosphere throughout Europe between World War I and II. However, I was intrigued by the main character: Matilda, Miss Milja, or Mrs. Wiik, depending on the situation. I was curious about her past, clues about which were meted out slowly, and culminated in an ending that I was not expecting. (A sidenote, Kjell Westö won the Nordic Council Literature Award in 2014 for this book. It’s one of the most prestigious awards that Nordic authors can win.)


I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick, narrated by Neela Vaswani

I was recently very moved by a Norwegian movie about a Pakistani immigrant family living in Oslo whose daughter was sent back to Pakistan as punishment for her Western behavior (What Will People Say by Iram Haq). I Am Malala has been a memoir I’ve been interested in reading for a long time, and I seized the moment now to learn more about Pakistan and its people. Unfortunately, in my rush to get started, I unintentionally selected the young readers’ adaptation of the audiobook and realized it once I was too invested. Malala is an inspiring girl and the book provided a fascinating window into the culture and history of the region. I definitely enjoyed the book and Malala’s story, but I do wish I had selected the adult version.


Sourdough by Robin Sloan

After my recent hard and serious reads, I needed something light-hearted and fun. I really enjoyed Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore so I thought I’d try his latest book. Sourdough was definitely an easy and fun read – to begin with at least. I enjoyed the main character and her new life with the sourdough starter left to her unexpectedly. The casual style of writing also helped the story move along quickly. Then about 75% into it, I found the book harder to return to as the story took a fantastical turn. Sadly, I had to force myself to finish it. The fantasy elements in this book were not for me. But I seem to be in the minority. The Goodreads community thinks much more highly of the book than I did.


Currently reading and next on my list…

Since Christmas is around the corner, I’m reading Jostein Gaarder’s The Christmas Mystery, a book I’ve long been curious about. Jostein Gaarder is a Norwegian intellectual and author of several novels, short stories, and children’s books. The Christmas Mystery is written in 24 chapters and is about a boy who discovers a magic Advent calendar. My local book club’s next read is The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi about an Afghani woman who immigrated to Denmark after her husband was captured by the Taliban. My Scandinavian Book Club chose Karin Fossum’s Eva’s Eye (first book in the Inspector Sejer mystery series) which I’ve already read so I may read The Indian Bride, another of Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer mysteries, instead. It received the Los Angeles Times’ Mystery Prize in 2007. But before I read either of those books, I need something light and fun. I may try Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians.

What have you been reading lately?

Do you have any books to recommend? I need to get some more enjoyment into my reading life right now.

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: 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

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. Continue reading