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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What I’m Thinking of Reading for 2019 #ScandiReadingChallenge

The 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge is underway! Today I’m sharing books I’m thinking of reading for each of the prompts in the challenge.

I’m listing more than one book for each prompt. I want to give myself some choice depending on mood, availability, and book club reads and also give readers some ideas for their own reading. Even though a book may be listed under more than one prompt, I will only count it for one. That’s just my personal rule for this particular challenge. You do whatever works for you. (For other reading challenges, I may double up and count a book for more than one prompt.)

If you would still like to join, it’s not too late. It won’t be too late until the year is over. Just visit 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge and let me know in the comments there.

Do you need more ideas of books to read? Ask in the comments or send me an email and I’ll see what I can suggest. I’ve read many that would be good options.

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Now, without further ado…

A book set in a Scandinavian capital:

A Nordic Noir novel:

  • The Legacy: A Thriller (Children’s House Book 1) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (tr. from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb)
  • Blind Goddess (Hanne Wilhelmsen Book 1) by Anne Holt (tr. from the Norwegian by Tom Geddes)
  • The Keeper of Lost Causes (The First Department Q Novel) by Jussi Adler-Olsen (tr. from the Danish by Lisa Hartford)
  • The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø (tr. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)
  • I’m Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork (tr. from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund)

A Scandinavian book published in the last year (either in original language or in translation):

  • Wait, Blink: A Novel by Gunnhild Øyehaug (tr. from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson) – June 2018
  • The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl
  • Dødevaskeren (Dead Washer) by Sara Omar (Danish-Kurdish) – 2018 in Norwegian (not yet available in English)

A book by a non-native Scandinavian author:

  • Demian Vitanza (Norwegian/Italian) – This Life or the Next: A Novel (tr. Tanya Thresher)
  • Berit Ellingsen (Korean-Norwegian) – Not Dark Yet
  • Sara Omar (Danish-Kurdish) – Dead Washer (not yet available in English)

A nonfiction book about Scandinavian culture:

A winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize:

A historical fiction book set in Scandinavia:

A Scandinavian book recommended or gifted to you:

  • Blå (Blue) by Maja Lunde (not yet available in English)
  • En moderne familie (A Modern Family) by Helga Flatland (English translation coming April 13, 2019)
  • Vær snill med dyrene (Be Kind to the Animals) by Monica Isakstuen (not yet available in English)

A Scandinavian book published before you were born:

A book written by a non-Scandinavian set in Scandinavia:

A Scandinavian book you’ve been meaning to read:

A book from a favorite or unread category from last year’s reading challenge:

  • This one I’ll probably decide later in the year when I see what I’ve already read and what I still want to read, but I’m considering a crime novel by a female author, another book about Scandinavia during WWII, or an immigrant story.

If you’re participating in the challenge, I’d love to read in the comments what books you’re considering to read. And if you have suggestions for me, I’d love to hear those, too!

Reading Lately (December 2018): Reading Challenges Wrap-Up & End-of-Year Reflections

December was all about completing my self-made 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge and seeing how much of three other challenges (Reading Women ChallengeModern Mrs. Darcy Challenge, and Read Harder) I could complete before year’s end.

I successfully completed my own challenge (see a compilation of all the books I read at What I Read for 2018 #ScandiReadingChallenge) but unfortunately not the other ones. One thing the other challenges did for sure, though, was help guide my reading when I was looking for my next read because my reading wasn’t just about reading Scandinavian books. The other challenges were an incentive (and they provided great resources) for me to read books I would not otherwise have tried — new genres, authors, and perspectives — and for that I am very grateful.


On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

I needed an audiobook that I would quickly get absorbed in and would eagerly want to return to, and this one did the job. I came across the recommendation at Modern Mrs. Darcy’s post 6 recent audiobooks I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the main character and enjoyed how she dealt with her various problems—flaky boyfriend, new house with disturbing history, parents separating due to father’s midlife crisis, and new love interest. It was a fun book with nothing too serious, a nice palate cleanser.


The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl

(Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)

Kjell Ola Dahl is a new-to-me Norwegian crime writer, though he’s been writing since 1993. I jumped into this Oslo Detectives Series with book #6 and I don’t think it mattered that I hadn’t read the previous ones. I liked the setting of Oslo and the crime was interesting. However, I was not a fan of the female detective Lena Stigersand. I like strong, smart female characters, and Lena made some dumb decisions with both a new relationship and her work responsibilities. I almost did not finish the book, but I was over half way done and wanted to know the resolution. Also, I needed it for my Scandinavian Reading Challenge. (I do believe this is Lena’s first appearance so maybe previous books in the series are better.)

Reading Challenges:


The Saboteur by Andrew Gross

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in a little-known history event involving people willing to risk everything for the love of their country. This is a historical fiction book about the sabotage of a Nazi-occupied factory in Norway during World War II. A by-product of the factory was heavy water which the Germans needed to continue their atomic bomb work. A group of Norwegians were trained in England to disrupt those plans. This book was especially fun to read since we had visited the site of the factory this past summer. I could visualize the factory and the landscape around it, which plays a significant role in the missions. I was thrown off a little by the fictional characters who were added to the story (like the American!) but the author’s note at the end put those doubts to rest. My 14-year-old son read and enjoyed it, too.

Reading Challenges:


The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

(Translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies)

This was a fun and sweet read! It’s been on my radar for a long time (must have been the bookish title and cover), but I didn’t know until somewhat recently that it’s actually a Swedish book in translation. It’s about a young Swedish woman who goes to visit her elderly penpal in the USA. However, her penpal dies right before she arrives in Broken Wheel, Iowa. It’s a story about a dying small town, unlikely friendships, new beginnings, and the power of books and a bookstore to make a difference in people’s lives. The audiobook narrated by Fiona Hardingham and Lorelei King is also very good. I both listened to and read the book and highly recommend both versions.

Reading Challenges:


Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

I had great plans to read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for this challenge prompt, but due to time constraints I opted for this related middle grade book by him instead. Both the book and the author have been on my TBR list for a while so I’m glad I can finally check them off, but I do feel I cheated a little. Odd and the Frost Giants was a quick, enjoyable read which briefly introduces the Norse gods Thor, Odin, and Loki and their enemies the frost giants. I will return to both the author and the topic some time in the future. (I gladly welcome suggestions as to which Neil Gaiman book I should read next.)

Reading Challenges:


One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

(Translated from the Norwegian by Sarah Death)

This author and book have been on my TBR list for a long time. When I saw that a film had been made based on it (Netflix original July 22 directed by Paul Greenglass), I prioritized it. This is not a quick and easy read. Not only is it 500+ pages but the subject matter is not very uplifting. (As of the writing of this post, I actually haven’t finished it yet, but I am more than 70% through it and determined to finish it and therefore counting it for my 2018 reading challenges.) I am alternating between the Norwegian edition and the English translation. Some parts, such as the political history of Norway, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik’s philosophy, and the bomb and weapon technicalities, are easier for me to read in English while the family narratives are fine to read in Norwegian. The book basically follows three people and their families before, during, and after July 22, 2011. Readers learn about Breivik’s childhood and what drove him to this horrible act. Of the many youth victims, readers get to know native Norwegian Simon Sæbø and recent Norwegian citizen Bano Rashid, a Kurdish refugee, and how their paths led to this political youth camp at Utøya. Stay tuned for more thoughts in another post once I finish the book and have watched the Netflix movie plus another July 22-themed movie which will be screened during the second weekend of Scandinavian Film Festival LA later in January.

Reading Challenges:


End-of-Year Reflections

What am I most proud of from 2018?

What am I looking forward to in 2019?

  • Reading books in translation from more areas of the world
  • My self-made 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge (join me!)
  • Seeing how much of other reading challenges I can complete with books I already own
  • Continuing to read and discuss books with my IRL and Scandinavian book clubs

How was your 2018 reading year?

What are you looking forward to in 2019?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update

It’s been a very satisfying reading period and I have many good books to share (but that’s because I didn’t share anything last month, not because I’ve been especially voracious this month).

From now until the end of the year, it will be all about completing my Scandinavian Reading Challenge as well as seeing how much of the other three challenges I can complete. How’s your reading been going lately?


This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

I enjoyed the book, but at the same time I had some mixed feelings about it. I loved the book’s topic — a family figuring out how to raise a transgender child — and getting a glimpse into the life of a family dealing with this challenge. It opened my eyes to something I’ve never been exposed to. However, I had some issues with certain aspects of the story, which I won’t get into here so I don’t spoil anything for interested readers. Also, I wasn’t a big fan of the writing style. It was wordy and drawn out with a lot of repetition and rephrasing. But I am so glad I read it and it was an excellent pick for our book club.


Still Waters by Viveca Sten

(Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)

This is a cozy Scandi crime book. It involves Thomas, a very likeable police detective, and Nora, a close childhood friend who’s a lawyer. The setting is a close-knit community on the island of Sandhamn in the Stockholm archipelago during summertime. There’s a murder, actually three, but they are not violent. It’s not a fast paced story, but the mystery was interesting and I was eager to find out how it would all come together in the end. The writing style was very simple with obvious descriptions and foreshadowing, which turned me off at times, but overall it was a good cozy crime story with main characters I liked in a setting I enjoyed.

Reading Challenges:


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

(Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

This book was a little gem — small, short, and heartwarming. I took a great liking to Keiko, a somewhat peculiar 36-year-old woman who’s been working part time at a convenience store in Tokyo for 18 years. Her whole being, both at the store and at home, is so attuned to the rhythms and needs of the store. Keiko thrives following the directives of the store manual and absorbing others’ dress, mannerisms, and speech. Despite her quirkiness, she has friends and is accepted and valued at her job. Also, I loved getting a glimpse into the Japanese culture through this convenience store and its workers.

Reading Challenges:


When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

This was a fun and sweet read! It’s the story of an arranged marriage in contemporary America. Dimple and Rishi are both the children of Indian immigrants. They don’t know each other, but their parents think they would be compatible in marriage. They have just graduated from high school and are looking forward to their summer plans before heading off to college. Dimple is thrilled her parents have allowed her to attend a programming program at a nearby university. Rishi is looking forward to getting to know his future wife. But neither expects what meets them at their summer program.

Reading Challenges:


China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

This was a guilty pleasure read that I zipped through. I had a little trouble remembering who was who from the first book, but it didn’t keep me from moving along quickly. I really like Rachel and Nick. They are what make this type of book about extreme extravagances work.

Reading Challenges:

  • Modern Mrs. Darcy Challenge—A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity or religion than your own
  • Read Harder—A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

(Translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch, narrated by Joan Walker)

This was my fourth Fredrik Backman book, and I can’t decide whether this or A Man Called Ove is my favorite of his. I listened to it which was a fabulous experience. It was a story of second chances and unlikely friendships, both of which I enjoy. It was endearing and funny and hopeful.

Reading Challenges:


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was a long-awaited read that I enjoyed very much. I love stories that jump back and forth in time and have different perspectives and in which clues slowly but surely arise showing how the story lines are connected. (Now I understand the comparison of The History of Bees: A Novel by Maja Lunde, a book I really enjoyed, to Station Eleven!) The premise of Station Eleven was frightening and reading it during the time of the awful fires in my area (with news and photos of evacuations, destruction, and loss) was disconcerting, but I was gripped by the quiet, suspenseful story with interesting characters.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

 

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What I’ve Read: Jo Nesbø’s Flaggermusmannen (The Bat)

I make it a point to read a Norwegian book or two every year (and it has to be a book by a Norwegian author, not any book translated into Norwegian, except maybe a Danish or Swedish book). It helps me maintain the language. I speak, read, and write Norwegian fluently, but over time words escape me. Reading a book in Norwegian brings back lost words and adds new ones. Reading a Norwegian book during spring is always good timing in preparation for our upcoming annual trip to Norway.

Flaggermusmannen  

This spring, I read Jo Nesbø’s Flaggermusmannen (The Bat), the first in the popular Harry Hole detective series. A fellow Norwegian here in LA had spoken highly about the series, and I had read an article about tours given in Oslo featuring Harry Hole locales. I was intrigued.

I easily found a digital version in Norwegian at a Norwegian online bookstore. Yeah for modern technology! But I had to pay more than twice as much as I would have had to pay for a digital Harry Hole book in English, $18 vs $8. Boo expensive Norway! Since reading it in Norwegian was important to me, I splurged. Continue reading