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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Reading Lately (March 2019): A Common Thread of Nature

March was a much more normal reading month for me (3 books versus the 6 books last month): a book for each of my book clubs and an audiobook for when I needed a something in my ear. Coincidentally, they all had a common thread, nature, which was perfect since spring is making its appearance in full force these days. Two books involved scientists studying the natural world, and in the third, the protagonist escaped the everyday world by hiding out in nature (literally, in a rye field as a child and in the cemetery as an adult).

Have you read any of these?


Unsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

In this dual narrative novel, the story alternates between two families who live in the same dilapidated house in Vineland, New Jersey, in two different time periods, the 1870s and 2016. Modern-day Willa begins to investigate the house with hopes of finding historical significance in an effort to secure funds to make much-needed repairs. Through her research and the other storyline, we get to know science teacher Thatcher and his neighbor, biologist Mary Treat (actually a real 19th century biologist). It was interesting to learn a bit about the life and times of folk during the years when Charles Darwin’s theories were first being spread as well as seeing the Trump era as a backdrop to a narrative. I enjoyed the book, especially once I got into the second half. It wasn’t a super compelling read, but a thoughtful one with interesting parallels between the two storylines and commentary on society.

Reading Challenges:


Mirror, Shoulder, Signal: A Novel by Dorthe Nors

(Translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra)

Sonja, an awkward 40-something translator of violent crime fiction, is still trying to acclimate herself to life in Copenhagen after a childhood in a small, rural town. She struggles with positional vertigo, an estranged relationship with her sister, and late-in-life driving lessons. The book has received many mentions, among them 2017 Man Booker International Shortlist, 2019 Dublin Literature Award Longlist, and 2018 New York Times Notable Book, but unfortunately, I was not a total fan of this one. For those looking for an off-beat character study, this would be a great pick. I was too distracted by the writing style (unrelated clauses in the same sentence) and language (unnecessary vulgarity at times) to fully appreciate the story. It did provide good fodder for our Scandinavian Book Club discussion, though, which is always a plus!

Reading Challenges:


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

(Audiobook Narrated by the Author)

I got so much more than I bargained for with this book. I thought I was just going to read a memoir about a female scientist with Norwegian roots who at one point spent some time working in Norway. What I got instead was a book about a scientist with Norwegian roots she actually related to as well as a deep book about nature and friendship. It was a personal, and at times emotional, look at the trials and tribulations of the scientific research and life of a female scientist. It touched upon professional struggles as well as the mental illness she endured and her uncertainty about motherhood. I chose to listen to the audio version narrated by the author herself. I was a bit turned off at first due to slow narration and there being more science than I expected, but then I turned up the speed to 1.5x and settled in. It became much better very quickly. It was especially satisfying to listen to the book as I walked and ran in my neighborhood when spring was coming in full force. It certainly made me look at my surroundings in a new and deeper way.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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World Cup 2018: Time for Some Literary Connections!

World Cup season is the perfect time to make some literary connections with the countries playing! Lists have been published recommending books by authors from each of the World Cup countries. There have also been daily literary World Cup matches where participating countries’ books or authors have been matched against each other to see which book/author readers like best. Check out #literaryworldcup on Twitter for the latest match-ups and results.

Sadly, neither Norway nor the USA made it to the World Cup this year, but Scandinavian enthusiasts could still root for Sweden and Denmark and their Nordic cousin Iceland. Sweden and Denmark moved on to the knockout Round of 16. Good luck to them!

I thought I’d consolidate titles recommended around the Internet from the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland. It’s interesting to see which books and authors are repeated. Make sure to click the links to the sources to see suggestions for all World Cup countries. Continue reading

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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