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?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately (July 2020) & #WITMonth Plans

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. My reading rhythm hasn’t changed much since last month. I continue to enjoy listening on my early morning walks and reading while lounging outside in the late afternoon/early evening. I’ll continue this as long as I can.

A highlight of my reading life this past month was an in-person book club meeting! Our book club last met in person in February. Since then we’ve been meeting via Zoom. In July, we got together for a physically distant picnic so we could say goodbye in person to a member moving east this month. It was a lovely day in the park, not only being social in real life but also seeing so many people enjoying the park as well. Reminded me a little of park culture I’ve seen in Europe.

August Is Women in Translation Month!

I spent much of July planning my stack for August’s Women in Translation Month, 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 usually focus on female writers from other parts of the world for this event. On my TBR pile for August are Chilean, Mauritian-French, Franco-Moroccan, Thai, and Japanese authors. We’ll see how many I manage to read in August. My effort and interest will likely extend beyond August.

Here are my latest reads and listens. How has your reading life been lately? Will you be reading any women in translation in August?


Hjemlandet og andre fortellinger (The Homeland and Other Stories)(In Norwegian, Edited by HRH Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Geir Gulliksen)

This anthology attempts to answer the question “What does it mean to be Norwegian today?”. The editors (I love that one of them is the crown princess of Norway; I’ve always admired her love of books and reading and her dedication to promoting Norwegian authors) asked 12 authors to contribute texts answering that question. What resulted is a collection of essays, short stories, and a poem by contemporary Norwegian authors, some of whom I’m already familiar with and others who are new to me. While I definitely enjoyed this as a collection of works, I did not feel it really answered the core question. I would have liked it to include more underrepresented voices, like immigrant and Sámi perspectives, to really provide a more complete picture of what it means to be Norwegian today. But I did enjoy the opportunity to “return” to my homeland while stuck in the US during the pandemic and it gave me the opportunity to discover new authors, which I appreciate, and read New Norwegian, which wasn’t as daunting as I thought it might be.

Reading Challenges:


The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
(Narrated by Tom Hanks)

This was a 5-star read for me – and especially enjoyable since I read it with my sister on the East Coast. I loved the characters, the story, the structure, and the writing. The Dutch House is the house in which siblings Danny and Maeve grow up until both, one after the other, are forced out by their new step-mother. The story spans decades and it’s interesting to see how their lives evolve and how the Dutch House keeps pulling them back. I alternated between reading and listening. The audiobook is a real treat with Tom Hanks narrating it. He even says the titles, just numbered, with the perfect emotion.

Reading Challenges:


So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo
(Narrated by Bahni Turpin)

This was the perfect book to start my antiracist reading journey. The author introduces and explains terms and concepts that are mentioned and discussed frequently these days and that you may feel you should know and understand but don’t really or have questions about. I started with the audiobook (currently always available at Los Angeles Public Library and available for free at hoopla) but then decided to get the physical book also so I could reread and underline and highlight as needed. There was too much good stuff that was just going in one ear and out the other. I needed to digest it more which I do when I read with me eyes. I will be returning to chapters about concepts that still aren’t crystal clear to me, but it was such a good starting point. I highly recommend it.

Reading Challenges:


The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Another book in my antiracist reading journey, this one about “Black people living” (per Nic Stone’s article in Cosmopolitan stating that “[T]he more we see Black people living—loving and doing and being and feeling and going on adventures and solving mysteries and being the heroes—the more we come to recognize our shared humanity.”) I wonder if I might have enjoyed this book more if I were 20 years younger? I liked the setting. It takes place in Los Angeles, specifically East LA. Areas and places are mentioned that I’m familiar with. I liked the girlfriend group. I appreciated the diverse cast of characters in the book. The love story, however, was not my cup of tea. The boyfriend was way too perfect. He’s a pediatrician, and he’s caring, kind, and thoughtful all the time. He even shops at an independent bookstore when in need of a gift for a bedridden pregnant cousin. That, and the interior dialogue, wasn’t right for me.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately? Will you be reading any women in translation in August?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Another Virtual Book Event (June 2020)

Now that I’ve been at home for four months and summertime is here with more relaxed schedules, I think I’ve finally fallen into a more regular reading rhythm. My favorite time of day is when I can sit outside and read in the very late afternoon/early evening. The light is lovely and the sun warms my body perfectly without it being too hot. My hourlong neighborhood walks also provide lots of audiobook listening time.

Once again, a virtual book event inspired the reading of a book. My reading of Afterlife by Julia Alvarez started with a book discussion hosted by my alma mater, Middlebury College. Both Alvarez and the host, John Elder, were faculty members at the college while I was there. I also knew college friends were watching, so it felt like a reunion of sorts. The book takes place in an unnamed rural town in Vermont where the protagonist has just retired from teaching at the college. I couldn’t help but visualize my college town while reading.

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


The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi
(Audiobook narrated by Zehra Jane Nacqvi and Sneha Mathan)

I really enjoy books that introduce me to new times and places. In this book, I was taken to contemporary India through the story of two girls who grew up as sisters but then were torn apart by a kidnapping. The one left behind, Tara, soon moves to Los Angeles with her father, but after her father’s death returns to India to try to find her missing sister, Mukta. The timeline jumps back and forth starting in 1986 in Bombay when the two girls are brought together and become great friends and 2004 when Tara returns to look for Mukta. Besides getting a glimpse of life both in a small village as well as a big city, I learned about the Devadasi system of dedicating young girls to a temple, which really means forcing them into prostitution. It was a heartbreaking yet at times heartwarming story.

Reading Challenges:


A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight

This was a fun, page-turning read! It’s a murder mystery/legal thriller that takes place in Brooklyn, NY, in an elite private school community. A mother is found dead at the bottom of the stairs and the husband is charged with her murder. He calls Lizzie, a law school friend, to represent him. Despite reservations, she takes the case. The structure is unique. Not only are there alternating timelines and perspectives – post-murder through the 1st person narrative of Lizzie and pre-murder through the 3rd person narrative of the murder victim – but also included within are grand jury testimonies and confidential memorandums. So many secrets and twists. Highly recommend it!

Reading Challenges:


The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

This was without a doubt a 5-star read for me. I loved the setting, new-to-me Kentucky in the 1930s. I loved that it was a story of strong and independent women on the fringe of society coming together and supporting each other and making their own family of sorts. I loved that it was about an historical event that I knew nothing about, a female-run packhorse library delivering books to remote families in the mountains. I don’t think I have a single thing to critique about this book. Highly recommend it!

Reading Challenges:


Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
(Audiobook narrated by Alma Cuervo)

The story takes place in an unnamed rural town in Vermont where the protagonist, Antonia Vega, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, has just retired from teaching English at the college. The same evening that Antonia is going to celebrate her retirement with her husband, he dies en route to meet her. This is the story of Antonia learning to live without him while his presence is still very much with her. Unexpected events challenge her grieving process. A young, pregnant, undocumented immigrant arrives in the community, and a sister goes missing and sisterhood drama ensues. The book has an interesting ensemble of characters, in particular a grumpy farmer next door along with his two undocumented workers, the endearing sisterhood, and the sheriff. The book is about so many things – loss, family, immigration, mental health, and new beginnings – but none of it in an overbearing way. It’s a lovely little book with beautiful writing and thoughtful take-aways.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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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?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately (January 2020) & Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

2019 didn’t quite end as I would have liked in regards to completing the reading challenges I had undertaken. I did complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge (see what I read here) as well as the Reading Women Challenge (except for one prompt, a play, which won’t be completed, see what I read here). Sadly, it was my Scandinavian Reading Challenge that lingered unfinished! I bit off too much last year, but I am in the process of completing it now as I also embark on my 2020 reading intentions. (I intend to finish my Scandinavian Reading Challenge this month and look forward to sharing my complete list of Scandinavian reads soon!)

In the meantime, here are my latest reads. What have you been reading lately?


One Day in December by Josie Silver

The main character Laurie experiences love at first sight through the bus window and spends the next year trying to track down the guy only to find him again as the new boyfriend of her best friend. I enjoyed the beginning and loved how it all eventually ended about ten years later, but I felt it was too long and winding in between. Maybe it was because it took me too long to read the book. When I found myself with longer chunks of time to read, I definitely enjoyed it more.

 

Reading Challenges:


A Modern Family by Helga Flatland

(Translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger)

This was a complex character study of how adult children deal with the late-in-life divorce of their parents. The story begins with the whole family – grandparents, parents, and kids – on a trip from Oslo to Rome to celebrate the grandfather’s 70th birthday. What happens instead on the night of the celebratory dinner is that news of the grandparents’ impending divorce comes out. The three adult siblings – one married with kids, another struggling with fertility issues with her boyfriend, and the third a free-thinker when it comes to love and marriage – struggle very differently in coming to terms with this new reality when they’re back in Oslo. The story alternates between the perspectives of the three siblings with some overlap of events. It’s a deep and thought-provoking look at family relationships, perceived responsibilities, family history, and parenting.

Reading Challenges:


The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

(Audiobook narrated by January LaVoy)

This came highly recommend by a colleague at work and it was on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s list of favorite audiobooks of 2019 as well as her book club pick for February. It didn’t disappoint; it was a wonderful journey. It’s an historical fantasy book combining many interesting elements: a coming-of-age story, a book within a book, adventure, love, and friendship. It’s creatively done and the language is beautiful. It was a nice change of pace from books I generally read.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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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!

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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?

 

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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?

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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?

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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?

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