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.

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.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: November 2017

It’s been an enjoyable and thought-provoking month of reading. Two of my reads were in anticipation of author talks. Connecting books with their authors is always interesting. As I’ve done in the past, 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.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

My book club picked Practical Magic because Alice Hoffman was coming to town to speak about her newest novel The Rules of Magic, which is a prequel to Practical Magic. Witches and magic are not my ideal reading material, but it wasn’t blatantly in my face in this book which made it work for me. I was a little turned off by the writing style – barely any dialogue and a lot telling as if setting up something to come – but I enjoyed the sister relationships. Overall, it was a good read, and having the opportunity to hear Alice Hoffman speak about the book and her other works certainly added to my reading experience. I’ve definitely put the movie on my watch list and I’m interested in reading The Rules of Magic, especially with all the hype it’s gotten this fall.


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I enjoyed Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You and was eager to read this as well. I liked this one even better than the first one. Just like her first book, this one begins with a shocking event and then goes back in time and works its way to the opening event to answer the unanswered questions surrounding it. And like her first book, there are complicated family dynamics and racial questions. This story involves characters with interesting back stories and relationships. There are decisions with serious consequences. And there are complicated mother-daughter relationships. This would make an excellent book to discuss with friends or in a book club.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This was a book I had picked out months ago as a possible selection for the category “a book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending” for Modern Mrs Darcy’s 2017 Reading Challenge Reading for Growth. Then when I learned that Ishiguro had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I was even more intrigued to read a book of his. It helped that this book was listed as the book to begin with when starting to read Ishiguro. I think the best way to go into this book is not knowing what it’s about, other than it being about some kids at a boarding school in England. For me the enjoyment in this book was piecing together what was really going on in the story. It all seemed so normal, but yet it wasn’t.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In January, I made a vow to read more books by diverse authors and about issues or experiences new or unfamiliar to meBetween the World and Me was one of the books I decided I would read. When I learned that Ta-Nehisi Coates was coming to speak in LA for his tour promoting his latest book We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, I moved Between the World and Me to the top of my TBR list. This was a bold, eye-opening, and thought-provoking read about race in America and how it has shaped American history from a perspective so different from my own. I am so grateful for the opportunity to hear him speak, and having read Between the World and Me beforehand made the experience much more meaningful.


Currently reading and next on my list…

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is my local book club’s current read, and The Wednesday Club by Kjell Westö (Finnish novel written in Swedish and translated by Neil Smith) is my Scandinavian Book Group’s pick for November. After their November meetings, my book clubs won’t meet again until January, so my focus for the rest of the year will be seeing how close I can get to completing my Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenges for the year.

What have you been reading lately?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: October 2017

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

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

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

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

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 Read: Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) by Roy Jacobsen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Details:

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

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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. Continue reading

What I’ve Read: Lars Mytting’s Svøm med dem som drukner (The Sixteen Trees of the Somme)

Svoem-med-dem-som-druknerLars Mytting’s Svøm med dem som drukner was my Norwegian read this year in anticipation of my yearly trip to Norway. I had not heard of the book, nor the author, until I received it from my parents for my birthday. It came highly recommended from friends of theirs, and it had received the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize for 2014. I started reading it without any ideas of what it was about.

Not only did the book meet all my criteria for my Norwegian book selection (it was by a Norwegian author, it was in Norwegian bokmål, and it generally took place in Norway), but it had the added bonus of brining alive a bit of Norwegian history with which I was not very familiar. My hope is always that my book selection will transport me back to life in Norway while also refreshing my Norwegian language skills. This book went above and beyond what I was looking and hoping for.

I loved the book! And  – updated 8/15/17 – I am extremely happy that I can recommend it to English readers now. The novel is now available in English with the title The Sixteen Trees of the Somme, translated by Paul Russell Garrett. Continue reading