What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update

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

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


This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

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


Still Waters by Viveca Sten

(Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)

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

Reading Challenges:


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

(Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

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

Reading Challenges:


When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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

Reading Challenges:


China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

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

Reading Challenges:

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

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

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

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

Reading Challenges:


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

 

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Reading Lately: Reading Challenges & #WITmonth Progress (August 2018)

In the last month I’ve been enjoying vacation reads, a book club pick, and the first of my books-in-translation for Women in Translation Month. Since I often read Norwegian and other Scandinavian female authors, I’m going to venture outside my comfort zone for #WITmonth starting with a book from South Korea.

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.


Girl at War by Sara Nović

This was a favorite of the summer. It’s a very moving novel about a young girl and the effects of the Yugoslavian Civil War (1991-1999) on her life. Ana is ten years old and living in Zagreb, Croatia, at the start of the war. She makes her way to America after some horrible war experiences. Ten years later she returns to Croatia for closure. Reading it while traveling through Croatia, particularly along the coast near where Ana spent summers and where the book ended, really brought it to life also. (A fun example, Sara Nović writes about a drink called Cedevita and its importance for Ana’s generation, and we saw it all around and were able to taste it.) It’s hard to believe war took place in this beautiful country not so long ago.


I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

I absolutely loved everything about this book! There were so many wonderful characters. Friendships were deep and true. Family was a huge extended network. There was an intriguing mystery. The writing was beautiful. It all made for a fun and easy read, but at the same time there was serious substance beneath it all. I had hesitated reading it because I hadn’t read the previous two books involving the same characters, but then I just decided to jump in anyway. I’m so glad that I did. I’m recommending this to anyone who needs a book recommendation these days.

Reading Challenges:


Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

This book was not for me. I finished it but only to see if I could understand why both Reese Witherspoon and Anne Bogel (MMD 2017 Summer Reading Guide) recommended it. The writing was simple and dull, the characters unsympathetic, and the plot not that engaging. The only interesting thing was that I really enjoyed her middle grade level The Apothecary when I read it while ago and have a hard time believing this is the same author. Luckily, it did fulfill an empty prompt for a reading challenge (a book where the characters are traveling somewhere) so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

Reading Challenges:


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This was my book club’s latest read. The book is about an African American recently married couple living in Atlanta. On a visit to his parents in a small town in Louisiana, the husband is arrested and sentenced to 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit. My heart went out to the couple in this book, put in this awful and unjust situation. Seeing the story from the three main characters’ perspectives — the husband, the wife, and the friend — added greater depth to the story. I enjoyed the book very much. It was a sad and complicated story with much to think about and discuss.

Reading Challenges:


The Vegetarian by Han Kang

(Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)

This prize-winning book in translation (Man Booker International Prize, 2016) has been on my radar for a while but not necessarily on my TBR list (due to controversy about the translation not being accurate). However, with August being Women in Translation Month, I decided to go ahead and read it. I knew it was about a woman-turned-vegetarian and her family’s opposition, but it turns out it was so much more. It was a short read, but not a light read. The story was disturbing, at times shocking and brutal, but I’m glad I read it. What was particularly interesting was the structure of the novel. In three parts, each from a different family member’s perspective (first the husband, then the brother-in-law, and finally the sister), the reader followed “the vegetarian” from the time she decided to become vegetarian until the time she was institutionalized. It was a somewhat different take on using different perspectives to tell a story. It was very much a character-driven novel with much attention given to characters’ motivations and mental turmoil. I’m intrigued by Han Kang and have added her book Human Acts to my TBR list.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

 

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

This past month I didn’t make too much progress on my reading challenges because I mostly read books for categories I’ve already checked off, but I did catch up on my Goodreads challenge number which I had fallen behind on! 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 Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

My Book of the Month selection from February that I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to read! Alaska in the 1970s was a riveting place: an eclectic community so attuned to changing weather and seasons. My heart went out to the Allbright family, the father who came back from Vietnam so very damaged and whose wife and daughter had to endure the consequences. I did have some issues with the decisions that the mother and daughter did (or did not) make, but it’s easy for me to judge sitting on the sidelines. I wasn’t in their shoes. The book was tense and heartbreaking. I had to put it down a couple of times to take some deep breaths and sometimes even take a break before continuing. It didn’t disappoint. It was a great read that I highly recommend.

Reading Challenges:


Sunburn by Laura Lippman

This was a totally unplanned read, but I recognized the book at the library as a Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Summer Reading Guide pick and couldn’t resist picking it up since it was available. It took place in the 1990s in a small town in Delaware. It was about a woman whose mysterious past was revealed piecemeal through various third person perspectives. I had a little trouble keeping straight who knew what since there were so many secrets being kept, but otherwise it was a quick and enjoyable read (though I’m still processing the ending and deciding what I think about that).

Reading Challenges:


Love by Hanne Ørstavik (Translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken)

I first became aware of this author last summer when I was researching Norwegian female authors for Women in Translation Month (#WITmonth): Norwegian Women in Translation for WITmonth. Then the author came back on my radar when I was doing The Reading Women’s Instagram challenge this summer and needed a book with a one-word title. It wasn’t really on my immediate TBR list until I got a physical copy in my hands. It’s a lovely little book — slim, no bigger than my palm, with an elegant cover. I couldn’t resist reading it right away. It’s about an 8-year-old boy and his mother who had recently moved to a remote village in northern Norway. They live together but lead totally separate lives. The story takes place one very cold winter night in the space of only a few hours. The boy is eagerly anticipating his birthday the next day, but his mother is wrapped up in her own world and desires. It alternates between the boy’s and the mother’s separate outings during the evening. What I thought might happen didn’t, and what I didn’t anticipate happened. It was a sad but beautiful story. At times it actually felt somewhat surreal.

Reading Challenges:


The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

I love traveling to a different time and place through books. This book took me to Bombay, India, in the 1920s, which was extremely interesting to me. It was a very multicultural place with many groups of people I have little knowledge about, in particular Muslim women living in full purdah (seclusion) and Zoroastrian families. I enjoyed the mystery and getting a look at the lives of women during that time. I was not wholeheartedly a fan of the main character Perveen Mistry. I loved that she was an independent and modern woman (she was the only woman at law school and later the first female lawyer in Bombay). However, I felt she made some rash decisions occasionally which contradicted how smart I thought she was. Overall, I enjoyed the book and will most likely read the next one in the series when it comes out.

Reading Challenges:


Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

I thought I’d give Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick a chance since it seemed like the perfect summer read. Unfortunately, I was not a fan. Too many dumb decisions and paranoia leading the plot and too many unnecessary story points added to it. The whole novel is the wife Erin telling the reader what happened, similar to a stream of consciousness. The writing didn’t impress me. Even the setting of Bora Bora didn’t impress me. It wasn’t much of a thriller for me either. I predicted the main part of the outcome, though not exactly how Erin ended up where she began in the first chapter. I finished it quickly, mostly because I wanted to see if there was a redeeming factor at the end, but also because I wanted to move on to my next book. I’m curious to hear what others thought of this book.


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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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