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.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (translated from Swedish by Henning Koch)

This was on my TBR list for a long time, but I was waiting for the audiobook (narrated by George Newbern) which was highly recommended by so many people. It didn’t disappoint. Ove was an interesting character and I had no idea what he was actually trying to do when I started reading the book. But really, my favorite character was his new nextdoor neighbor Parvaneh from Iran, pregnant mother of two young children who was married to the Swede Patrick. It’s a heartwarming story of a disconnected little community who come together over time. I actually shed a few happy tears at the end.

Bienes historie by Maja Lunde

I was quickly hooked on this Norwegian book (which will be available to English readers August 22, 2017, entitled The History of Bees translated by Diane Oatley). It’s 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 over time their stories intersect. The first storyline takes place in England in the mid-1850s when beehives are being improved, the second one in USA in 2007 when there is an increase in the number of colony collapse disorders happening, and the last one in China in 2098 when humans have had to resort to hand-pollination due to the total collapse of bees. I highly recommend it, and it will be out just in time to read for Women in Translation Month!

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

This was our book club’s latest read. It was very good! I highly recommend it. It’s a historical novel about the Tulsa race riot of 1921. It jumps back and forth between today and then, and the stories slowly but surely intersect. There were some difficult parts to read that required me to take a deep breath first or put the book down for a moment before continuing, but it was a great book and very discussion-worthy. I also enjoy books that introduce me to periods of time or events that are new to me, which the Tulsa race riot certainly was.

Eva’s Eye by Karin Fossum (translated from Norwegian by James Anderson)

In honor of Women in Translation Month, I chose to read a book in translation by Norway’s “Queen of Crime.” I read the first in the Inspector Sejer Mysteries series. I liked Inspector Sejer, a middle-aged and mild-mannered detective. The crime being investigated was interesting. But I wasn’t a fan of the style of writing. I wonder if something got lost in translation or maybe it was because it was a British translation. Also, I didn’t really like Eva, the woman of interest in the story. But, I am not giving up on Fossum. I will certainly read another in the series, probably book #5, The Indian Bride translated by Charlotte Barslund, which received Los Angeles Times’ Mystery Prize in 2007.

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

This was my “book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able” for Modern Mrs Darcy’s 2017 reading challenge “Reading for Fun.” It certainly kept me turning the pages. I was eager to find out the truth behind the story of the girl who was kidnapped from her bedroom and the story of the girl who returns eights years later appearing to be that kidnapped girl. It’s a book with multiple storylines, in this case the different identities of the girl who shows up at different points in time, and I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of it all, maybe because it was suspenseful and I was reading too fast. Overall, though, an interesting read. I can’t say fun or entertaining, though, due to the trauma the kidnapped girl suffered.

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

I picked this book up on the fly while vacationing in Hawaii. I was between books and thought it would be fun to read one that took place where I was. I became quickly engrossed in the story and was thrilled with my pick. It’s the story of a Korean picture bride who came to Hawaii in 1914 hoping for a better life. It turned out not to be what she was expecting at all, but she was strong, determined, and resilient and made a life for herself. It was a fascinating immigrant story about a time and place I was not familiar. I loved learning about the history of the area I was visiting, and when people and places were mentioned in the book, I had some familiarity since I had been there.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

I wasn’t a great fan on Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, but I had heard this book was liked by people who hadn’t liked the first one, so I gave it a try. Yes, it was better, but it didn’t blow me away. I felt there were too many characters and storylines to keep track of. Now that the book is over and a couple of months have passed, I can’t even remember clearly what the main plot line and resolution were.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This was my “book about books and reading” for Modern Mrs Darcy’s 2017 reading challenge “Reading for Fun.” It’s another tale of what happens when unexpected people come into your life and make an impact, like in A Man Called Ove, and it also happens to be about a grumpy man with a sad backstory, just like Ove. But this one is about books and a bookstore as well which make it very different. It was a sweet story.

 

Currently reading and next on my list…

Since Women in Translation Month is still going on until the end of August, I’m reading Ayse Kulin’s Last Train to Istanbul, translated from Turkish by John W. Baker, which has been patiently waiting on my kindle for a few months now. I am also slowly but surely making my way through Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist: Essays for Modern Mrs Darcy’s 2017 reading challenge “Reading for Growth.” The next read for my local book club is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee which I’m really looking forward to after reading Honolulu about Korea’s picture brides of the 1910s. My Scandinavian Book Group resumes in October, and our first read is Echoes from the Dead, a crime novel by Johan Theorin translated from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy. I’ve got a great variety of books ahead of me, don’t you think?

Have you joined the Women in Translation reading event this month? Consider adding a Norwegian woman in translation to your reading list. Check out my post Norwegian Women in Translation for WITmonth for ideas.

What have you been reading lately?

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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.

Booked by Kwame Alexander

I didn’t think I liked novels in verse and would avoid them despite rave reviews. Luckily, I was able to I put that thought aside for this one. My 7th grade son read Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover for school and then eagerly read this book as well. I’d seen Booked on Common Sense Media’s best books lists for 4th and 5th graders, but I had also heard it was more of a young YA book. I had to read it for myself to find out. I really enjoyed the book and had a hard time putting it down. There is nothing inappropriate for younger readers. However, it is about an 8th grader and the middle school issues he deals with, including his first love, and so older readers may relate better to it. It also deals with bullies, divorce, and his passion for soccer. My 4th grader really enjoyed it, too. It was a fun family read.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

We read this for our most recent book club meeting. Everyone was eager to revisit this book whether it was as a reread from years ago or as a book they’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I thought I had read this when I was a teenager, I even had my copy from then, but as I got more into the book, it all seemed new to me. I certainly enjoyed it and was glad to have read it, but the writing style was a bit terse for me which hindered my appreciation. I was surprised at how easily a society can fall victim to such a situation. Along with haunting images, I was left with many unanswered questions which certainly made this one of our club’s most lively discussions.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

For the Scandinavian Book Group’s last meeting before the summer, we read The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson (translated from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles). This was an interesting read. Nombeko begins her life in a tiny shack in Soweto, South Africa, and then after many years at a South African atomic bomb facility, she ends up with two Swedish brothers who want nothing more than to bring down the Swedish monarchy. I enjoyed the main character who was very resourceful and smart, but the plot was at times unrealistic and I felt it dragged a bit in the second half.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This was a quick and easy sweet YA read. It’s the story of an 18-year-old girl confined to her house because she’s allergic to the world and who falls in love with a boy who moves in next door. The format of the novel includes instant messaging, emails, drawings, handwritten notes, and post-its. I definitely recommend reading it in paper form. I had borrowed the ebook from the library, but on my kindle paperwhite, drawings and diagrams were sometimes hard to read, and on the kindle app on my ipad, some words written backwards did not show up. I ended up buying a paper copy which I don’t regret at all because it does have a great cover.

Did Not Complete

Sadly, there were 2 books I started but did not complete in the last couple of months. My son and I were eagerly awaiting the sequel to The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig. We really enjoyed that one – especially loved the diverse characters and the setting of Hawaii – and highly recommend it. Unfortunately, the sequel The Ship Beyond Time did not work for us. It felt much slower, and with so many other books to read, we reluctantly abandoned it. (Interestingly, according to Goodreads reviews, the sequel is just as good, if not better, than the first, so maybe we gave up too early or read it too soon after the first one.)

I began listening to the audiobook of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North by Blair Braverman (narrated by the author herself). I was drawn to it because of the Norway connection. It’s about a young woman’s love for the North and her experiences in Norway as an exchange student and later as a return visitor. She goes on to learn how to drive sled dogs in Norway and work as a tour guide on a glacier in Alaska. The narration did not work for me. It was a somewhat flat read and the quality was less than perfect at times. Maybe reading the book would have been better. Also, I was hoping for more about living in the “great white north” of Norway and less about the sexual tensions with the men she encountered along the way.

Currently reading and next on my list…

I am currently listening to A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (loving it!) and reading Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. I have also started the Norwegian novel Bienes historie (The History of Bees) by Maja Lunde but haven’t had the opportunity to dedicate the time to really get into it due to the busyness of the end of the school year.

Next up on my list for the summer are Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham for a summer meeting of my book club and any of my Book of the Month picks that I haven’t had a chance to read yet, and there are many: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh, The Mothers by Brit Bennet, Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, American War by Omar El Akkad, or A Million Junes by Emily Henry. Recommendations on which book to dig into first are welcomed!

What have you been reading lately?

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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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