What I’ve Been Reading Lately (July 2021)

I’m back with my monthly round-up of what I’ve been reading lately inspired by Modern Mrs. Darcy’s monthly Quick Lit where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately. All the books didn’t quite hit the mark for me last month, but the variety in both setting and genre kept it interesting.

As I write and post this, I’m enjoying books in translation by women outside of Scandinavia for August’s Women in Translation Month. I’ve got my stack of options (see my Instagram post, if you’re curious) and will read what appeals to me when I’ve finished a book. In the background of my reads, I’m listening to the 40-hour long The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Georgian author Nino Haratischvili, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin and narrated by Tavia Gilbert. I am engrossed in this multigenerational family saga that begins at the start of the 20th century and takes place mostly in Georgia and Russia. So far a great story and fabulous narration of tumultuous history through the eyes of women.

What have you been reading lately?


Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid 🇺🇸📖

This was my first Taylor Jenkins Reid story. I was intrigued by the local setting of Malibu in the 1980s, and it seemed like the perfect summer read. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite meet my expectations. I definitely enjoyed the first half. This is when the Riva family is introduced by alternating between the past when June and Mick meet and begin their family (starting in the 1950s) and the present (1983) when the Riva siblings are about to host the annual not-to-be-missed celebrity end-of-summer party. The mother and siblings did not have an easy life with the famous musician father absent for years. I enjoyed seeing how they persevered and supported each other. The second half which featured the party appealed to me much less. There was too much alcohol, drugs, sex, and out of control behavior. It got to be too much for me.


Sølvveien (The Silver Road) by Stina Jackson 🇸🇪📖
(Translated from the Swedish to the Norwegian by Inge Ulrik Gundersen)

(This book is available in English translation by Susan Beard.) It’s billed as crime fiction (won Best Swedish Crime Novel, 2018), but I felt it was more a story of loss and grief due to crime. It’s a dual narrative set in a remote and isolated part of northern Sweden which plays a significant role in the story. Lelle’s 17-year-old daughter disappeared 3 years ago. His marriage dissolved, and he is being torn apart from the inside. He has obsessively spent summer nights driving The Silver Road, where his daughter disappeared, looking for her in abandoned and hidden areas. Meanwhile, teenager Meja and her dysfunctional mother have moved to the area to live with a man the mother had met online. Over time Lelle’s and Meja’s paths cross. It was a very engaging read with main characters I cared about. The ending, however, was somewhat predictable in my opinion, but the visit to this community in northern Sweden was worth it. Stina Jackson’s next book, The Last Snow, is already on my TBR.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021: A prize-winning Scandinavian book (Best Swedish Crime Novel, 2018; and Glass Key Award, 2019) OR A book by a new-to-you Scandinavian author


Her Dark Lies by J. T. Ellison 🇺🇸🇮🇹🎧
(Narrated by Brittany Pressley)

This is the story of a high-profile destination wedding that goes totally awry. Bad weather, dead bodies, and a ruined wedding dress are just a few obstacles before up-and-coming artist Claire and wealthy, handsome, and charming Jack can marry on rocky Isle Isola off the coast of Italy. It was a fun listen. I liked the unique setting, a secluded island with history and mystery. The rotating perspectives, including one that I was unsure about until later in the story, made the story even more intriguing and suspenseful.

 


A Woman Is No Man: A Novel by Etaf Rum 🇺🇸🇵🇸🎧📖
(Narrated by Ariana Delawari, Dahlia Salem, Susan Nezami)

Just last month I read Salt Houses by Palestinian-American author Hala Alyan, and  A Woman Is No Man by another Palestinian-American writer was an interesting companion read/listen. While Salt Houses revolved around a Palestinian family that remained in the Middle East, this book focused on a Palestinian family that immigrated to Brooklyn, New York. It was a disturbing and heartbreaking story of three generations of Palestinian women in America whose lives were dictated by the patriarchal beliefs of the homeland. The story alternated between Fareeda, the matriarch, who emigrated from Palestine as a young mother; Isra who was brought over at the age of 17 as the wife of Fareeda’s eldest son; and Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter born in Brooklyn. While an important story to hear, this particular story seemed very one-dimensional. All was very negative and repetitive in regards to men and women’s status in this community.


What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, check out my Scandinavian Ebook Deals. Some offers stay around for a long time, others only a short period. If anything looks intriguing, grab it before it’s gone.

 

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 (April 2021)

Lately, it turns out I’ve been varying my reads by setting. In March, I visited South Korea, Norway, and the USA through my books. In April, I returned to the USA and also visited the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. I usually read and listen to more than one book at a time so different settings help keep the books’ characters and plots from blending. And with the pandemic still interrupting international travel, it’s a great way to escape to another world.

Where have you traveled lately in your reading?


🇺🇸 🎧 Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Narrated by Jennifer Garner)

This is the book I wish I could have read back in 2017 when I made a pledge to understand our country’s political outcome. But Tightrope wasn’t published until January 2020. At first I wasn’t interested in this book because I thought it just focused on a small group of people in one small, rural area of the U.S., but it actually explores issues and personal stories all over the U.S. It’s an eye-opening book sharing at times shocking and disturbing scenarios about “the other America”. But intertwined are stories of hope about organizations and people making a difference and providing hope. A shoutout to my mother who read it and told me it was a must-read book, and many thanks to my book club for joining me in reading it.


🇬🇧 📖 I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

This was my very first Book of the Month pick back in 2016, and I finally read it now. Why did I wait? I really enjoyed it. I stayed up too late reading and was eager to return home from work so I could continue reading. The alternating perspectives and storylines were extremely engaging. The twists were very well done. It’s about Jenna whose life in Bristol, England, turns upside down after a tragic hit-and-run accident. She escapes to a small cottage along the coast in Wales, but she is haunted by the past which makes it difficult to move forward. At the same time, detectives back in England try to get to the bottom of the accident. I highly recommend this psychological thriller. I look forward to reading more by Clare Mackintosh, but don’t know where to continue so feel free to recommend!


🇳🇱 📖 Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

This book intrigued me because it was an immigrant story with a twist. It was about a Chinese immigrant family in America, but the oldest daughter, Sylvie, had been raised in the Netherlands until she was nine years old and then reunited with her parents and younger sister in New York City. When the grandmother in the Netherlands is dying, Sylvie returns to the Netherlands only to disappear without a word. Her sister travels to try to find her. It alternated between the perspectives of the sister and the mother in the present and Sylvie a month before she disappeared. I really enjoyed the setting in the Netherlands and the slow unraveling of the family secrets as the story progressed. Unfortunately, I guessed the biggest secret before it was revealed but I still enjoyed the ride.


What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at great discount, check out my Scandinavian Ebook Deals. Currently, there are several ebooks available for $0.99. Some offers stay around for a long time, others only a short period. If anything looks intriguing, grab it before it’s gone.

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 (October & November 2020) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

October was a slow reading month so I saved my two reads from that month to share this month. It’s been a very varied period of reading and listening: two children’s books about the Sámi Indigenous peoples of Northern Europe, an LA-based contemporary novel, two historical fiction both coincidentally about a village woman and a man of faith not from the community (luckily different settings, one England in the mid-1600s and the other Norway in 1880), and finally a contemporary crime fiction set in Oslo.

I still have a couple of categories on my Scandinavian Reading Challenge to cross off. Currently, I’m reading a Scandinavian classic, Sigrid Undset’s third book in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. Still to read are a book by or about refugees to Scandinavia (planning Sara Omar’s Skyggedanseren translated from the Danish to the Norwegian) and a Scandinavian book with a film or TV adaptation (haven’t decided yet). Would love to hear about any Scandinavian/Nordic books you’ve read!

What have you been reading lately?


Samer by Sigbjørn Skåden, Illustrated by Ketil Selnes

This is a Norwegian children’s book for ages 9-12 that I discovered when researching Sámi culture and history for a special event I was helping plan at the elementary school where I work. (Special thanks to my mother who helped make it possible for me to read it here in the US!) It’s written by a Sámi author and is even available in the Sámi language. My knowledge of Sámi history was very limited. Reading this book was enlightening and provided a good basis on Sámi history and issues. However, I still have much to learn. Too bad it’s not available in English as it would be a good introduction to Sámi culture and history for English language readers.

Reading Challenges:


Children of the Northlights by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

This was another book I added to my reading list for my school project. It has been on my bookshelf for a long time and was a delight to finally read. First published in 1935, it was written after extensive visits by the authors to the land of the Sámi in the early 1930s. Interestingly, this newer edition published in 2012 includes a note in the beginning noting the authors’ use of the term “Lapp” which is now considered derogatory. The story follows Sámi siblings Lise and Lasse as they go about their daily lives during winter time. I especially enjoyed reading about their relationship with their reindeer and seeing all the pictures featuring Sámi daily life during winter. I question whether Sámi children’s school experience was as pleasant as depicted in the story since the book covers a time period when Sámi were forced to become and learn Norwegian (per an official Norwegianization policy).

Reading Challenges:


The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
(Narrated by Greta Jung)

I was drawn to this book because it was a contemporary immigrant story that takes place in Los Angeles with a family mystery to boot. It’s about Margot who returns to her childhood home in Koreatown only to discover that her mother, Mina Lee, is dead in the apartment. In the process of trying to find out the true cause of death, Margot learns about her mother’s difficult past. There’s a dual timeline: Margot in 2014 when she discovers her dead mother and 1987 when her mother arrived in Los Angeles as an undocumented immigrant from Korea. I started this book as an audiobook but switched to ebook. I felt the narrator did not do justice to the characters. I enjoyed Margot’s and Mina Lee’s stories, and I got a kick out of the setting being here in Los Angeles where the characters visited familiar places, in particular Santa Monica Pier in both timelines, but the narrator’s rendition of the characters grated on me. Finishing the book by reading it made a big difference. I recommend this book but suggest you read it instead of listening to it.

Reading Challenges:


Tidelands (Fairmile #1) by Philippa Gregory
(Narrated by Louise Brealey)

This was a book club pick that I wasn’t overly thrilled to read. I love historical fiction, but England in the 1600s didn’t really interest me as much as other times and places, or at least so I thought. It turned out I loved this book. It was not about royalty as I had assumed it would be. Rather, it was about an ordinary person, Alinor, a poor woman whose husband had left her and their two kids to fend for themselves in a remote village. The story takes places during England’s Civil War in 1648, and religious and political history (Royalists vs. Parliamentarians and Catholicism vs. Protestanism) play a role but not in a way that requires any background knowledge. I got so wrapped up in Alinor’s life and the hardship and judging she had to endure. I admired her strength, perseverance, and independence. The whole book club group enjoyed this book so much that we selected book number two in the series, Dark Tides, for our next read. The audiobook was an excellent listen.

Reading Challenges:


Death Deserved (Alexander Blix & Emma Ramm #1) by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger
(Translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce)

Jørn Lier Horst is a favorite Norwegian crime fiction author with his William Wisting series, but Thomas Enger is new to me. Their joint project intrigued me. I always enjoy returning to my native Oslo through books, and this story really took advantage of Oslo and the surrounding areas as the setting. The main characters, veteran police office Alexander Blix and celebrity blogger Emma Ramm, were smart and likeable, and the plot was very engaging with a satisfying end. I look forward to the next installment in the series, Smoke Screen, coming out later this month.

Reading Challenges:


The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting
(Translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin)

I loved Lars Mytting’s The Sixteen Trees of the Somme so The Bell in the Lake, the first book in his new trilogy, was high on my TBR list. When it was released in English during the pandemic, I had the chance to listen in on a  virtual chat between the author and translator and became even more enthusiastic about it.

The story takes place in the 1880s in the valley of Gudbrandsdalen in central Norway (also the setting of Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter). It’s about a young village woman who is torn between two outsiders in the community, the new priest who’s selling the village’s stave church to Germany and the German artist/architect who’s come to draw the church so it can be resurrected properly once it arrives in Germany.

I had mixed feelings about the book, much of it having to do with wanting and expecting to love it. I did love the setting and the historical aspect of the story. Getting a glimpse of life in Norway in the 1880s was intriguing, and stave churches have always interested me. Mytting’s descriptive writing really enhanced those aspects. However, I had trouble getting into the story itself. It was a little slow to get going, and at times the dialogue was a bit cumbersome. The dialogue was written in an old Norwegian dialect and it was also translated into an old English dialect. Another issue I had was not totally understanding the chemistry between the characters. Despite this, however, I am very eager to read the second book in the series, Hekneveven. It jumps ahead to the early 1900s and continues the legacy of the stave church, its bells, and descendants of the first book. It came out in Norway in October 2020 to great acclaim. The English translation’s release date is TBD.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at great discount, check out my Scandinavian Ebook Deals. Some offers stay around for a long time, others only a day or so. If anything looks intriguing, grab it before it’s gone. My most recent read, Death Deserved, and many other recent books I’ve enjoyed are currently on sale for $0.99 (as of the publication of this post).

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 2020) & #WITMonth

August Was Women in Translation Month!

I spent much of July planning my stack for August’s Women in Translation Month, a yearly monthlong initiative to promote women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English. Since I tend to read many Scandinavian female authors throughout the year, I usually focus on female writers from other parts of the world for this event. Originally, my TBR pile for August included Chilean, Mauritian-French, Franco-Moroccan, Thai, and Japanese authors. However, my reading took unexpected turns when special author experiences presented themselves, so it wasn’t just female authors from far away lands this month as planned.

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


The Mothers by Brit Bennett

I had been meaning to read this for a long time. It was my Book of the Month selection in October 2016! After reading author Nic Stone’s article, “Don’t Just Read About Racism—Read Stories About Black People Living,” in Cosmopolitan (June 2020), I decided there was no time like the present to read it and I convinced my book club to join me. Also, I wanted to join LA Times’ Book Club with Brit Bennett on August 25 which added an extra incentive to read it sooner rather than later. It didn’t disappoint. The story takes place in a contemporary, tight-knit Black community in Oceanside, California, and is about a decision that 17-year-old Nadia makes in her senior year of high school before she heads off to college. It’s about how that decision affects her and those around her in the years to come. We follow not only Nadia as she becomes an adult, but also her high school boyfriend and best friend. The title is spot on. The book features mothers of all kinds – missing mothers, present mothers, stand-in mothers, wannabe mothers, and a Greek chorus of mothers, the last of which I thought added an interesting layer to the story.

Reading Challenges:


Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
(Narrated by  Cassandra Campbell, Jenna Lamia)

This was another unread BOTM pick that jumped to the top of TBR pile in August when I learned that I would have the opportunity to hear the author participate in a virtual event (Creating Conversations with Literary Women). I read and listened to this one – both were excellent experiences. The story takes place in West Texas oil field country in the mid-1970s. It explores the aftermath of a brutal attack on a 14-year-old Mexican-American girl by a white boy through the perspectives of seven women in the community. The women range in age from 10 to 70s and have such unique and engaging personalities. It explores inner conflict as well as outer conflict in regards to the crime committed and how it’s handled by the community. It features women’s courage and strength. I highly recommend this book. This was a 5-star book for me.

Reading Challenges:


The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán
(Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes)

This was my first read for Women in Translation Month. It appeared on my radar last year at this time when it was released in English (originally published in Chile in 2014). I’ve been wanting to read more literature from South America so I thought this would be a good choice. Unfortunately, this book was not for me. I did appreciate getting a glimpse of Chile’s history, in this case Pinochet’s dictatorship and its legacy, but that was about it. The story of the three childhood friends who go on a road trip to retrieve the body of one friend’s mother who was being repatriated to Chile but ended up in the neighboring country instead due to volcanic ash disrupting air traffic in Santiago was uninteresting. It didn’t help that half the story was told through one character’s stream of consciousness that made little sense. I am in the minority regarding my opinion of this book, though, because it was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize.

Reading Challenges:


The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani
(Translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

This was another book for Women in Translation Month that’s been on my radar for a while, and unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations either. It’s a murder mystery that starts with the ending. We know the “who” and “how” right from the beginning (and it’s horrible) but not the “why” so the author takes us back in time to get to know the family and the nanny. Why did this supposed perfect nanny kill the two young children? It’s billed as a psychological thriller. I was engaged and enjoyed the development of the story, but the ending was unsatisfying and disappointing.

Reading Challenges:


Alt er mitt by Ruth Lillegraven
(Written in Norwegian but to be released in English in March 2021 as Everything Is Mine translated by Diane Oatley)

I had not done my research on this book, and I’m glad I hadn’t. If I had, I may not have read it and missed out on a fun reading experience. It turned out that half the book was written in New Norwegian, and historically I have avoided such books and read them in translation later. This book is about a couple, Clara and Haavard, who seem to have a perfect marriage. The story is told in alternating perspectives mostly from them. Clara is from Western Norway and speaks New Norwegian, and Haavard is from Oslo and speaks standard Norwegian. Luckily, their two different “languages” wasn’t a problem for me and I thought it a clever way to add a distinction between the characters. When I read it, I also did not know it was the first in a planned trilogy. Initially, I was very disappointed in the ending, but then I listened in on an Instagram event with the author and learned of the planned trilogy. I immediately changed my opinion of the book, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment. English readers, look out for the release of the English translation next year!

Reading Challenges:


Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah
(Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachen)

This book took me to a place in the world I’ve never been in my reading life – Department of Mayotte, a French island in the Indian Ocean between Mozambique and Madagascar. When Marie suddenly dies, her 14-year-old adopted son Moïse is left to fend for himself. He ends up involved with a gang in the largest slum on the island. The book explores hard issues – illegal immigration, poverty, race, class, youth gangs, and violence – through the perspectives of not only Marie and Moïse, but also the gang leader, a police officer, and an aid worker. This was a tough read, not a feel good book at all, but definitely an eye-opening and thought-provoking reading experience about a new-to-me part of the world, exactly why I like participating in Women in Translation Month.

Reading Challenges:


Before I leave you, I want to make sure readers interested in Nordic literature (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland) are aware of the many virtual bookish events, such as author talks, panel discussions, and book club meetings, now available to a wider audience. See my post Virtual Scandinavian Events for Fall 2020 for details!

What have you been reading lately? Did you read any women in translation in August?

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 & My Latest Virtual Book Events (May 2020)

Now that month #3 of staying at home has passed and summertime with its more relaxed schedules is here, I think I’ve finally fallen into a more regular reading rhythm. Two of my favorite times of the day now are when I can sit outside and read during lunchtime and in the early evening.

I continued to attend virtual book events this past month. I thoroughly enjoyed the LA Times’ Book Club conversation with Emily St. John Mandel on May 19. More significantly, I got to “travel” to Norway last month for the Norwegian Festival of Literature in Lillehammer which took place May 29-31. In particular, I enjoyed the panel discussion on Maja Lunde’s success around the world and her lecture as winner of this year’s Bjørnson Prize.

Through my reading this month, I’ve traveled the world in time and place. I’ve experienced 1918 Philadelphia during the Spanish flu pandemic, an Indian immigrant community in London, a small Danish coastal town, and Norway in 2017/France in 2041. Here are my latest reads and listens. What have you been reading lately?


As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

I loved this book. It provided a look at life in Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. It’s about a mother and father and their three young daughters who moved to Philadelphia to take advantage of the opportunity for the father to work with his uncle and eventually take over the uncle’s mortuary. Not too long after their arrival, the pandemic hits. In alternating perspectives of the mother and three daughters, readers follow this family through the pandemic – and World War I which is happening in the background – and beyond. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences to our own current experience. It’s not an easy time for them, but it’s not all misery either. I highly recommend it.

Reading Challenges:


Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
(Audiobook narrated by Meera Syal)

In many ways, this book was what I expected, but in a couple of significant ways, it was not. And it was the combination of the expected and the unexpected that made me enjoy the book even more. I knew it was going to be an East-meets-West kind of book. Nikki, the Westernized daughter of Punjabi immigrants in London (and a law school drop-out who doesn’t really know what to do with her life), decides to take on teaching a writing class to traditional Punjabi widows at a Sikh community center. It turns out to be not your typical writing class in any sense. The women, many of whom are illiterate, begin sharing erotic stories which are transcribed by a fellow student. This “writing class” takes on a life of its own, and over time, Nikki becomes aware of secrets and mysteries within the Punjabi community. It’s a glimpse into an immigrant experience and culture and religion that I know little about. The characters are fun, the writing engaging, and the story fulfilling. In addition, there was such unexpected depth and substance to this novel which made it a wonderful reading experience.

Reading Challenges:


The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul
(Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken)

I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical Nordic noir or murder mystery book, but I’m not sure what it ended up being for me. It begins with a murder and there is mystery surrounding the murder, but that’s not the main point of the book. It’s about the murder victim’s common law wife and how she deals with his death. She does not seem to mourn her husband as you’d expect nor does she seem interested in helping the police solve the crime. It’s more about her place in her community and her relationship with family members. She mourns her daughter’s decade-long absence from her life more than her partner’s death. She discovers secrets in her husband’s life. There’s no clear resolution to the murder mystery, but lots to wonder about. It’s certainly an interesting character study.

Reading Challenges:


The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde (The Climate Quartet #2)
(Translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley)

Book #2 in Maja Lunde’s Climate Quartet tackles the climate concern of water and the threat of worldwide drought. The story jumps back and forth between two storylines which eventually intersect: 70-year old Signe in 2017 in Norway and David and his young daughter Lou in 2041 in France. Signe is a climate activist who lives on her sailboat (named Blue, hence the Norwegian title Blå). A visit back to her childhood village deep in a Norwegian fjord sets in motion an ocean journey to find the man who used to be the love of her life. David and Lou had to flee from their home in southern France due to drought and fire and are struggling to survive in a refugee camp. Besides it being a book about humans’ connection and reliance on water, it is also about human relationships, in particular father-daughter relationships. I’m always intrigued by unique structures like the one in this book, and the human element added to my enjoyment of it. I really enjoyed the book, but I did prefer the first one, The History of Bees, with its focus on our relationship with bees in the past, present, and future (read more here). I’m looking forward to book #3, Przewalski’s Horse. The Norwegian edition, published September 2019, is already on my shelf.

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.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (November & December 2019)

The last two months of the year continued to be a good and varied period of reading. Contemporary fiction, historical fiction, a short story collection, and thrillers that took place all over the world. What have you been reading lately?


The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

I am drawn to stories about complicated families, and this is such a story. It’s about four siblings and their relationships during and after the Pause, a period of a few years in their childhood after their father died unexpectedly and when their mother basically removed herself from their lives due to severe depression and left them to fend for themselves. It was interesting to see how each sibling was affected by the Pause and how each coped with the past and related to the others as the years passed. The story is told by the youngest sibling Fiona at the age of 102 years in the year 2079. After being a recluse for 25 years, she’s finally agreed to tell the story of the inspiration behind one of her most famous poems. It’s a thoughtful and touching look at one family’s trials and tribulations.

Reading Challenges:


The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

A fan of YA historical fiction author Ruta Sepetys, I was thrilled to discover she had a new book coming out this year that was set in a time period I hadn’t read too much in, the 1950s in Spain during Franco’s fascist dictatorship. Specifically, the story takes place in Madrid in 1957 when the country is opening up to American tourists. There is great contrast between what tourists experience, in particular 18-year-old Daniel, the son of a wealthy Texas oil tycoon visiting with his parents, and how locals live, such as Ana, the hotel maid assigned to their rooms. The book opened my eyes to the brutal and heartbreaking history of this period. I really liked Daniel and admired his desire to veer from his dad’s vision for him and to pursue his photography instead. I cheered for Daniel and Ana’s growing friendship. A bonus was the primary source materials cited between chapters and the historic photos included at the end. This was a 5-star read for me.

Reading Challenges:


Forty Days Without Shadow: An Arctic Thriller by Olivier Truc

(Translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie)

I loved the setting of this book – wintertime in northern Norway above the Arctic Circle in the land of the Sámi indigenous people of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Even though it’s a fiction book, I learned so much about Sámi history, culture, and issues. I had no idea there was such a thing as a reindeer police! I liked the two main characters, Klemet Nango and Nina Nansen, reindeer police who are involved with solving the crime of a stolen Sámi drum and the murder of a Sámi reindeer herder. Klemet is an older officer of Sámi heritage and Nina is a young Norwegian woman fresh out of police school. They are a good pair. I was not a fan of the male perspective and the language usage at times. Also, the male chauvinist behavior by a couple of the side characters was off-putting. However, overall it was a very enjoyable and interesting read. It’s the first in a series written in French and I hope the rest of them are translated into English.

Reading Challenges:


My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

This was a fine book but not totally my cup of tea. I couldn’t relate to a sister helping to cover up a murder. It didn’t seem plausible, yet in this book they were able to do it more than once. I liked that the story was set in Lagos, Nigeria, giving me a glimpse of contemporary life there, and I did appreciate what the author made us think about – sisterhood, family, and social media. However, the dark humor and satire did not land with me.

Reading Challenges:


Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

(Audiobook narrated by Matilda Novak)

I read this collection of short stories as an audiobook (upon Modern Mrs. Darcy’s recommendation in 15 terrific audiobooks you can listen to in 6(ish) hours or (much) less), and it was mesmerizing. I enjoy immigrant stories and books that take me to foreign cultures, and this collection had both. I loved the range of characters (from children to elderly) and the wide variety of experiences explored. Most stories were about Indian immigrants in America, but one was about American Indians visiting India and another about Indians in India. The characters and their stories are still with me. This was another 5-star read this year.

Reading Challenges:


The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

This was a total impulse read. I needed something totally different than my previous reads. I started listening to it, but I had to speed up the narration to 1.5x to keep it somewhat engaging. The audiobook still wasn’t working for me, but I liked the story so ended up switching to the print edition. I got a little annoyed with the main character at times. I was frustrated that she couldn’t control her actions, but I understand that is easier said than done for someone in her condition. I didn’t see the twists before they came, but I wasn’t surprised by them either. Overall, it was an entertaining and engaging read.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

News to readers interested in Scandinavian reading, I will be introducing the 2020 Scandinavian Reading Challenge soon. Stay tuned!

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 (October 2019)

Lately, I’ve been very focused on working towards completing my reading challenges for the year, and this past month I made great progress. My latest reads brought me to many different places: East Prussia during World War II, to Sri Lanka during their civil war, to a remote part of northern Norway, and to the Philippines. It was a nice and varied month of reading. What have you been reading lately?


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, especially when lesser known events or people of history are explored. I really enjoyed Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray earlier this year (see Reading Lately, February 2019), and when I heard Sepetys was coming out with another historical fiction book this fall, I decided to make Sepetys the author whose books I would read three of this year for the MMD Reading Challenge. Salt to the Sea takes places during World War II and explores the events leading up to and including the sinking of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic Sea which was used to evacuate refugees escaping the advancing Russian soldiers. The story alternates between the perspectives of three individuals making their way to the ship (a Lithuanian young woman, a Polish girl, and a young German man) and a German enlisted man stationed there. It’s a story of hardship, heartbreak, courage, and most importantly, found family. I loved the book. Interesting sidenote, the Lithuanian girl is a crossover character from Shades of Gray.

Reading Challenges:


Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

This is a beautiful but heartbreaking story of the civil war in Sri Lanka (which officially began in 1983 and ended in 2009) from the perspectives of two women, one from the majority Sinhalese ethnic group and the other from the minority Tamil group. I chose to read this book for the Reading Women Challenge because of my college friend Ayub who is from Sri Lanka (and also I’d seen a fabulous exhibit of Sri Lankan art at the Los Angeles County Museum at Art this past summer). I’m ashamed that I didn’t know more about what was going on there since my college years were right in the middle of the civil war period. The author paints a vivid picture of life and its challenges on the island. Readers experience village life along the coast as well as city life in Colombo, the capital. The story even takes readers to Los Angeles as one of the families seeks refuge there. Even though it’s a fiction book, I feel I have a much greater understanding of the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Reading Challenges:


The Looking-Glass Sisters by Gøhril Gabrielsen

(Translated from the Norwegian by John Irons)

Despite not liking any of the characters, not even finding anything remotely redeeming about any of them, I was drawn into this novella about two middle aged sisters and their toxic relationship. At the age of 24 upon the death of their parents, the older sister is thrust into the role of caregiver for her younger physically disabled sister, aged 19. They live alone in an isolated area far up north in Norway for many years until an outsider arrives and upsets their status quo. At the start of the novella, the younger sister has been banished to the attic and is thinking back a year explaining how she ended up there. The story is entirely from her perspective and over time the reader begins to question her reliability. It’s a story of loneliness and yearning for love and attention. It’s dark and unlike anything I’ve ever read and very discussion-worthy.

Reading Challenges:


Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Last year I read Marisa de los Santos’ I’ll Be Your Blue Sky and loved it (Reading Lately, August 2018), so I thought I’d read Falling Together as a book in the backlist of a favorite author for the MMD Reading Challenge. It was exactly what I needed after the darker and heavier books I’d recently read. This was about friendships that last despite distance and time. Pen, Will, and Cat became inseparable during college but then parted ways four years after graduation. Their 10-year reunion provides an opportunity for them to reunite. De los Santos’ writing is beautiful. I got lost in her vivid descriptions of characters, place, and time, though I could see how some readers might think it too sentimental or sappy at times. I was not bothered by that. I really enjoyed the unexpected trip to the Philippines. This was a book I couldn’t wait to return to either via audiobook or ebook depending on the situation for me.

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 (September 2019)

This past month I’ve been focusing on checking off prompts for the Reading Women Challenge. My latest two picks were not quick and easy reads, but they were both very good and worthwhile. Coincidentally, both books took place in contemporary times (late 1980s and early 1990s) and were #ownvoices novels that dealt with difficult subject matter and opened my eyes to experiences and histories that I was unfamiliar with. After this and last month’s focus on women in translation, it’s back to my Scandinavian Reading Challenge!

What have you been reading lately?


Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

What an eye-opening book about the world hidden behind the paradise image we have of Jamaica! It takes place in a poor village on the outskirts of Montego Bay in the early 1990s and explores race, class, women’s sexuality, and LGBTQ+ issues. It focuses on two sisters and their mother and their desire to create a more desirable life. They live in a community already struggling with poverty but which is threatened even more by severe drought and the construction of a new resort nearby. The characters are strong and memorable for a variety of reasons (some better than others!). The author, born and raised in Jamaica, paints a vivid picture of the area, even using Jamaican dialect in the dialogue. Though I thought the book excellent, sadly, I’m not so keen on visiting Jamaica after reading it. But I am certainly interested in reading the author’s latest book Patsy which returns to Jamaica.

Reading Challenges:


The Round House by Louise Erdrich

I’ve been wanting to read a Louise Erdrich book for a long time and I’m grateful to The Reading Women’s challenge (and the Little Free Library where I picked one up!) for giving me that final push. This book provides an intimate look at life on a Native American reservation in North Dakota in the late 1980s. It’s a story of tragedy and justice narrated by Joe, a man looking back at his life when he was 13 years old and his mother had been violently attacked. The book looks at the challenges in prosecuting the crime and the effects of this crime on the community, especially on Joe himself. It’s a coming of age story as we follow Joe and his friends navigating this delicate time between childhood and adulthood. I really enjoyed getting to know the large cast of characters – Joe’s father, a tribal judge; Joe’s extended family (the elders provided some surprising comic relief!); Joe’s closest friends; and many other reservation members. And learning about the culture, history, and traditions of this community was a bonus.

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 (August 2019): All About #WITMonth  

In August, my primary reading focus was reading women in translation for Women in Translation Month (WITMonth). Founded Meytal Radzinski on her blog Biblibio in 2014, WITMonth is a monthlong initiative to promote women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English. Since I tend to read many Scandinavian female authors throughout the year, I generally focused on writers from other countries and continents this month. As I shared last month, I had a big stack of potential books to read. I read many, but my efforts will continue in September and beyond.

A fun project I contributed to was Meytal’s compilation of the 100 best women in translation (#100BestWIT). She asked for nominations from readers around the world. Nominations were due August 26 and the next day she published the results. I was pleased to see that 5 of the 10 books I nominated made it onto the final list. Among those were these three Norwegian ones: Love by Hanne Ørstavik (translated by Martin Aitken), Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (translated by Tiina Nunnally), and The History of Bees: A Novel by Maja Lunde (translated by Diane Oatley).

How’s your reading life been lately? Did you read any women in translation in August?


Kristin Lavransdatter II: The Wife by Sigrid Undset

(Translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally)

Last summer I read the first book in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy and was so surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I was curious to see how Kristin’s marriage to her lover Erlend would go. Just like the first book, this one provides a thorough depiction of daily life in medieval Norway. I was a little confused by the political history of the time and had some trouble remembering and distinguishing characters, but I chose not to let those issues affect my enjoyment of the book. Kristin’s life as a protective mother to seven sons, a faithful wife to a husband with questionable political intentions, and a very pious person eager to save her soul were very engaging. I definitely enjoyed the first book more, but I’m very eager to see how her life plays out in the last book.

Reading Challenges:


Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

(Translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth)

This book came on my radar about a year ago and I bought it right away, but then it lingered on my bookshelf. However, when the author (first female Omani novelist to be translated into English) won the International Booker Prize this spring, it jumped to the top of my TBR pile for WITMonth. It’s a uniquely structured novel that follows three sisters who live in a village outside the capital city of Muscat. One sister marries after realizing she’ll never have the one she truly desires. Another sister marries out of obligation. And the third sister refuses to marry and instead waits for her beloved to return from Canada. The chapters jump between the first person perspective of the first sister’s husband and the third person perspective of various family and community members. It was hard to keep track of characters (grateful for the family tree at the beginning!) and time, but I was fascinated by the lives of these women in contemporary Oman, so different from what I’m used to or been exposed to in reading before. And I learned a bit about the history of the region which was interesting as well.

Reading Challenges:


Human Acts: A Novel by Han Kang

(Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)

Last year for WITMonth I read Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and liked it so I thought I’d try another of her novels this year, especially since on May 25, 2019, Han Kang was the latest author to submit a manuscript to the Future Library in Norway for publication in 2114 (view handover ceremony in the woods of Oslo here). This novel was about a horrific historical event I had never heard of before, the violent 1980 student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea. The story is told through chapters that are interconnected short stories. In the first chapter, which takes place in 1980, readers are introduced to several characters who then reappear in the next chapters over a period of 30 years. Interestingly, the chapters are either in first or second person with one chapter in third person. Be aware, Han Kang does not shy away from the gruesome details of this violent time, but at the same time, she shares examples of kindness and compassion too. I liked this one even more than The Vegetarian.

Reading Challenges:


Strange Weather in Tokyo: A Novel by Hiromi Kawakami

(Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell)

I read Hiromi Kawakami’s The Nakano Thrift Shop last year for WITMonth and really liked it, so this summer I wanted to read this one, and I was able to convince my book club to join me as well. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it as much. It’s about Tsukiko, a woman in her thirties, and a former high school teacher (whom she calls Sensei because she can’t remember his name) who happen to meet again by chance. Over time they fall in love, but it’s an odd relationship based on unplanned meetings at a bar to drink beer and hot saké. Both characters are quirky and their conversations are limited and formal. I did really enjoy the insight into Japanese culture and foods. Even though I didn’t enjoy this book as much as The Nakano Thrift Shop, I am still glad I read it, and our book club had a good reason to meet at a Japanese restaurant and enjoy our own hot saké.

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 (July 2019): Reading Challenges Progress & #WITMonth Plans  

July was a good reading month! I checked off new prompts for both my Scandinavian reading and Reading Women challenges. Also, I had my first 5-star read of the year (I’m stingy with my stars!) and got a head start on Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth) which happens in August.

I always look forward to participating in Women in Translation Month, a monthlong initiative to promote women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English. Since I read many Scandinavian female authors throughout the year, I focus on writers from other countries and continents this month. On my TBR pile for the month are authors from Oman, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Kurdistan, Italy, and France. We’ll see how many I manage to read. My effort will most likely continue into September and beyond with this particular stack.

My TBR Pile for #WITMonth 2019

What have you been reading lately? Are you participating in #WITMonth?


The Madonna of Notre Dame by Alexis Ragougneau

(Translated from the French by Katherine Gregor)

I always like to read a book set where I’m visiting, and this book popped up on my Instagram feed just as we were planning our summer trip which included Paris. It seemed like the perfect pick with its setting of Notre Dame Cathedral considering we wouldn’t be able to enter due to the fire that ravaged it in the spring. The book didn’t disappoint. It was a murder mystery that not only took me into dark corners of the cathedral, but also to greater Paris. I got to know a whole slew of French characters – some more flattering than others – and be a part of a French community as it tried to make sense of this murder. It’s not your typical police procedural as it’s a priest who takes particular interest in the case and is crucial in solving the crime. It also doesn’t show a glamorous or touristy Paris but instead a city that struggles with good and evil just like other cities.

Reading Challenges: 


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This book had long been on my radar and we finally read it for book club this summer. I knew it was a myth retelling, but I thought it was going to be a contemporary retelling and not actually take me back to the real people, places, and events of Greek mythology. It was a welcomed surprise once I understood that I didn’t need to remember anything from my school days of learning about it and I could just read and enjoy. It’s a love story – another surprise to me – between the great warrior Achilles and his companion Patroclus and then a war story as the Trojan War occurs. The book was so different from what I expected or from anything I had read recently; it was a fun escape. I enjoyed getting this other perspective on these well-known mythological people and events, and I look forward to reading Circe as well sometime soon.

Reading Challenges:


Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

(Translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon)

I got a head start on Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth) happening in August. Since this book was winner of both the Icelandic Literary Prize (2016) and Nordic Council Literature Prize (2018), I figured Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir was a good Icelandic female author to add to my repertoire of Nordic literature. It was a quiet and enjoyable story about an almost 50-year old man who feels his life has lost meaning after a recent divorce during which he also learned that his daughter is actually not his own. He travels to an unnamed war-torn country by the sea with the intent to end his life, but instead he begins to find new purpose. What was supposed to be only a few days visit with no return turns into a weeks-long stay. It’s a moving and heartwarming story of unlikely friendships as he gets to know people who have suffered much more than him and second chances both for him and the people he helps. (Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a free copy of this book!)

Reading Challenges:


The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

My first 5-star read of the year! This book captivated me from the beginning. It’s a mystery that takes place in the British colony of Malaya (Malaysia) in the 1930s. The book alternates between the story of a Chinese houseboy on the hunt for his former master’s severed finger (which he needs to find within 49 days of the master’s death so his soul can rest) and a Malaysian girl who comes across a severed finger and sets out to find out where it came from. Slowly but surely the storylines merge. I was equally engrossed in both characters and their quests. I was fascinated by the setting and cultures depicted and especially enjoyed how Malaysian and Chinese folklore and superstition were intertwined throughout. I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author herself which was fantastic.

Reading Challenges:


How’s your reading life been 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.