What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update: April 2018

When we escaped to the mountains during our spring break which fell over Easter, I indulged in the Norwegian Easter tradition of reading a crime book, “påskekrim” as it’s called in Norway (Easter crime). It was a nice, unexpected palate cleanser to my reading this month which turned out to be all about women sorting out their lives.

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.


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

The Los Angeles Times recommended this as an audiobook not to be missed and it certainly was a great listen. The three different narrators – the daughter, the father, and the gangster – definitely brought the characters and story to life. The story of the first female naval diver trying to solve the mystery of what happened to her father was intriguing, as was the setting of the NYC Brooklyn waterfront in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I admired the resolve and independence of the main character Anna. However, when I found out that the story was not historically accurate (the first female naval diver didn’t come around until 1975!), the book sadly lost some of its luster for me. (Did I miss a note from the author stating that it was not historically accurate?)

Reading Challenges:


The Copenhagen Affair by Amulya Malladi

This is the story of Sanya, an American woman of Indian ethnicity, who moves to Copenhagen with her husband. She’s had a nervous breakdown back home and suffers from depression, and her husband decides that a move to Copenhagen will help her recover. Sanya gets to know the wealthy, elite of Copenhagen and becomes attracted to a man who turns out to own the company her husband is acquiring. It was a quick and easy read. I didn’t particularly care for the supporting characters, but I did enjoy the setting. Malladi certainly shows she knows Copenhagen well. This is the second of two books that Malladi has written that take place in Denmark, both of which you can read more about here.

Reading Challenges:


Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This was the perfect mix of sweet, funny, and sad. The story is about Eleanor Oliphant and her very unlikely relationship with office mate Raymond Gibbons, the IT guy at work. Eleanor is a quirky, socially clueless, very literal woman. She has a set weekly routine which includes a weekly phone call with Mummy. She and Raymond bond over their good samaritan act of helping an elderly man who falls on the sidewalk. I loved Raymond for being so accepting of Eleanor. He really cared for her and stuck with her despite her faults. Most importantly, he helped her begin to come to terms with her past, which was heartbreaking to learn the details of. And a fun bonus, the author’s language usage was wonderful – so many unique words!

Reading Challenges:


Vinterstengt by Jørn Lier Horst (English Translation: Closed for Winter Translated from Norwegian by Anne Bruce)

This book with its setting of coastal summer cabins closed for winter (actually somewhat near where we visit when we go to Norway during the summer) seemed like a good choice for my Norwegian Easter crime pick. I’m a fan of Jørn Lier Horst having already read two of the books in the William Wisting mystery series. His books are certainly more police procedurals than crime thrillers. Detective Wisting is a methodical and likeable investigator. His daughter Line, a journalist, once again gets involved which adds a nice touch to the plot. In this book, the investigation takes Wisting on a short trip to Lithuania which added an unexpected diversion. This book won the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize (Bokhandlerprisen) in 2011 and it didn’t disappoint.

Reading Challenges:


Currently reading and next on my list…

I’m currently reading The Wreath, the first book in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Norwegian Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset (Tiina Nunnally translation). This is a classic I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I tried to read it years ago, but it was the original translation by Charles Archer and J. S. Scott and I didn’t finish. The Nunnally version is going much better.

What have you been reading lately?

 

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update: March 2018

I’m continuing my quest to complete three reading challenges this year: my own Scandinavian Reading Challenge, Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2018 Reading Challenge, and The Reading Women’s Reading Women Challenge. Having these reading challenges provides me with more focus when deciding what to read next. They also force me to choose books outside my normal reading habits. I also enjoy the challenge of finding books that fulfill tasks in more than one challenge at a time. And just for the fun of it, I’m seeing how many of Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge tasks I can complete, too.

If you haven’t already checked out my 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge, I invite you to do so here. It’s not too late to join!

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. This month I’m covering the last two months. Winter Break in February helped me catch up on my reading.


The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Once I got through the first part — felt there was a little too much description and detail — and the storyline went to China and I learned more about the mother’s situation, I was hooked. Keeping track of the two narratives, one in first person and the other in third person, both switching between past and present, was a little tough, so it wasn’t an easy read. But in the end, it was a read I really enjoyed. There were a lot of issues to ponder – illegal immigration from Asia, undocumented workers, interracial adoption, for-profit prisons, just to name a few. The book club discussion was very good. We had strong differing opinions about the mother.

Reading Challenges:

  • Reading Women Challenge—a book with an immigrant or refugee viewpoint character
  • Modern Mrs. Darcy—a book by an author of a different race, ethnicity or religion than your own
  • ReadHarder—a book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)

God’s Mercy by Kerstin Ekman (Translated from Swedish by Linda Schenck)

What intrigued my Scandinavian Book Club the most was the reference to the indigenous Sami people in the book’s description. The book is about a young Swedish midwife who in 1916 moves from a university town to a remote rural area of Sweden close to the Norwegian border in anticipation of being with her secret fiancé. Things do not turn out the way she anticipated. I thought it was a very interesting look at life in this community of Swedes, Samis, and Norwegians (descriptive and complete). However, it was a tough read. There were three narratives that jumped around in time and place. It was hard to keep track of all the people and their families without taking notes. The book left me with some unanswered questions, but that’s understandable considering it’s the first in a trilogy. (My understanding is that the other books in the trilogy have not been translated yet.)

Reading Challenges:


The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (Narrated by Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin)

Once again, Modern Mrs. Darcy’s recommendations of audiobooks that enhance your reading experience didn’t disappoint! The book opens in 1791 in Virginia and is about a young orphaned Irish girl who is raised as an indentured servant and lives with the slaves in the plantation’s kitchen house. I was drawn in the moment I started listening and became very invested in the characters, especially the female ones. There are two narratives, each read by a different voice. One voice is Lavinia, the orphaned girl, and the other is Belle, her mother figure, the half-white illegitimate daughter of the plantation owner. It’s not a light read. There’s a lot of brutality towards the slaves. But at the same time, there’s great love, caring, and warmth among the slaves and Lavinia. The book is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

Reading Challenges:


Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

I picked this book because I needed a change from all the historical fiction and heavy reads I had read recently, and what better way to do that than with a superhero fantasy book, a genre I never read (#ReadingWomenChallenge!). Also, Leigh Bardugo was a YA author I was curious about. I appreciated and enjoyed the strong and independent female character of Diana, the diverse cast of characters, the female empowerment and friendship, and Bardugo’s writing, but this specific genre just isn’t for me.

Reading Challenges:


Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Translated from Swedish by Neil Smith)

I’m a Fredrik Backman fan, but this book was not like his others I had read (My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and A Man Called Ove). It’s much more serious and philosophical. It’s about how a small, rural town deals with a sexual assault by its star hockey player. To begin with, I was very uncomfortable reading it. I was disgusted by the actions and attitude of so many people (the bullying, the locker room talk and behavior, racism, classism, and sexism) and I felt like a bystander as I just continued reading along. Finally, more characters started standing up for what was right and I began to enjoy the book more. The ending was very satisfying. It was a great book for our book club meeting. The sequel Us Against You comes out this June 5.

Reading Challenges:


Currently reading and next on my list…

     

I’m currently listening to Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan read by Heather Lind, Norbert Leo Butz, and Vincent Piazza. The audiobook was recommended by Los Angeles Times as an audiobook not to be missed. I’ve never liked the cover so it fulfills the category “a book with a cover you hate” for Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge.

While my Scandinavian Book Club is reading The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi which I’ve already read, I’m reading The Copenhagen Affair by the same author. For my Scandinavian Reading Challenge it fulfills the category “a Scandinavian or Scandinavia-themed book whose cover piqued your interest,” but it could also fulfill the category “a book set somewhere in Scandinavia you would like to visit (or revisit).”

Next up to read will be Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman for my local book club. It coincidentally fulfills the category of “a book nominated for an award in 2018” for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s reading challenge.

What have you been reading lately?

 

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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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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: December 2017

I’ve had a tough reading time this past month with disappointments for unexpected reasons. I need to turn that around. Once again, I’m joining Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

This one came highly recommended from Modern Mrs Darcy and I suggested it for my local book club. Unfortunately, I was not blown away by it. I believe it was *reading* the book that made the difference for me. I’ve since learned that *listening* to the book is a totally different experience. I enjoyed the main characters and the unlikely relationship between the Captain and the young orphan girl he was charged to bring back to relatives after having been taken captive by Kiowa Native Americans. I liked the setting of Texas post Civil War. The story introduced me to a chapter in American history that I was unfamiliar with, which I really enjoyed. However, the writing style was not for me and affected the whole reading experience. There were no quotation marks in the dialogue which made reading it more frustrating and harder than it should have been. I suggest listening to this one.


The Wednesday Club by Kjell Westö (Finnish novel written in Swedish translated to English by Neil Smith)

This was the latest book pick for my Scandinavian Book Club. And it was another tough read but for a totally different reason. I did not have the necessary background knowledge to absorb everything easily. It takes place in Helsinki, Finland, in 1938. At one point, I had to research Finnish history, in particular the civil war that happened in 1918 and left deep scars in the people. Also, I was not knowledgeable enough about the intricacies of the political atmosphere throughout Europe between World War I and II. However, I was intrigued by the main character: Matilda, Miss Milja, or Mrs. Wiik, depending on the situation. I was curious about her past, clues about which were meted out slowly, and culminated in an ending that I was not expecting. (A sidenote, Kjell Westö won the Nordic Council Literature Award in 2014 for this book. It’s one of the most prestigious awards that Nordic authors can win.)


I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick, narrated by Neela Vaswani

I was recently very moved by a Norwegian movie about a Pakistani immigrant family living in Oslo whose daughter was sent back to Pakistan as punishment for her Western behavior (What Will People Say by Iram Haq). I Am Malala has been a memoir I’ve been interested in reading for a long time, and I seized the moment now to learn more about Pakistan and its people. Unfortunately, in my rush to get started, I unintentionally selected the young readers’ adaptation of the audiobook and realized it once I was too invested. Malala is an inspiring girl and the book provided a fascinating window into the culture and history of the region. I definitely enjoyed the book and Malala’s story, but I do wish I had selected the adult version.


Sourdough by Robin Sloan

After my recent hard and serious reads, I needed something light-hearted and fun. I really enjoyed Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore so I thought I’d try his latest book. Sourdough was definitely an easy and fun read – to begin with at least. I enjoyed the main character and her new life with the sourdough starter left to her unexpectedly. The casual style of writing also helped the story move along quickly. Then about 75% into it, I found the book harder to return to as the story took a fantastical turn. Sadly, I had to force myself to finish it. The fantasy elements in this book were not for me. But I seem to be in the minority. The Goodreads community thinks much more highly of the book than I did.


Currently reading and next on my list…

Since Christmas is around the corner, I’m reading Jostein Gaarder’s The Christmas Mystery, a book I’ve long been curious about. Jostein Gaarder is a Norwegian intellectual and author of several novels, short stories, and children’s books. The Christmas Mystery is written in 24 chapters and is about a boy who discovers a magic Advent calendar. My local book club’s next read is The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi about an Afghani woman who immigrated to Denmark after her husband was captured by the Taliban. My Scandinavian Book Club chose Karin Fossum’s Eva’s Eye (first book in the Inspector Sejer mystery series) which I’ve already read so I may read The Indian Bride, another of Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer mysteries, instead. It received the Los Angeles Times’ Mystery Prize in 2007. But before I read either of those books, I need something light and fun. I may try Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians.

What have you been reading lately?

Do you have any books to recommend? I need to get some more enjoyment into my reading life right now.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: November 2017

It’s been an enjoyable and thought-provoking month of reading. Two of my reads were in anticipation of author talks. Connecting books with their authors is always interesting. As I’ve done in the past, I’m joining Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

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


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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


Currently reading and next on my list…

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

What have you been reading lately?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: October 2017

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

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: August 2017

Once again, I’m joining Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately. It’s been two months since I last shared what I’ve been reading, and it’s been vacation time with plane rides and down time, so I’ve had a chance to read quite a few titles. Luckily, all of them were worth finishing this time.

Did you know that August is Women in Translation Month? I just learned that this month. I seized the opportunity to add some female authors in translation to my reading list. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: June 2017

I’m joining Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately. It’s been two months since I last shared what I’ve been reading lately so I’ve had a chance to accumulate a few titles. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: April 2017

I always enjoy hearing what people have been reading lately, so I thought I’d join Modern Mrs. Darcy’s latest Quick Lit link-up where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately.

In the past couple of months, I’ve read books with covers that lured me in, a non-fiction book to hopefully help me understand our most recent election, a book in anticipation of an author talk, and books that were not what I expected. Continue reading