What I’ve Been Reading Lately (March 2021) & Latest #ScandiReadingChallenge Reads

March was quite the mixed bag in regards to the setting and genre of my books which made for a great month of very interesting and engaging reading. I also made good progress on my 2021 Scandinavian Reading Challenge checking off two more prompts. What have you been reading lately?

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
(Narrated by Jennifer Lim)

I love novels that teach me about a real time and place that I know little or nothing about. This book did exactly that, and it had strong female characters to boot. The story takes place on the South Korean island of Jeju starting in the late 1930s. Women were the main providers for their families by diving and harvesting from the sea, while men watched the children and cooked. It follows the close friendship of two women from very different backgrounds as they begin their diving careers. Readers follow their struggles and their resolve during the Japanese colonization of the island, World War II, Korean War, and into modern times. It provides fascinating insight into a unique culture where women are in charge. The language was also beautiful. It was almost like reading a foreign book but yet it was in English. I listened to the book which was a wonderful experience because it helped with Korean names and words which were used often. I highly recommend this, but don’t expect a light and easy read. It’s a moving story, at times heartbreaking, about women during very challenging times.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This young adult book has been on my TBR list since it was published in 2017. I didn’t want to see the movie because the book is always better. It was worth the wait and didn’t disappoint. Sadly, the book’s topic is still very relevant today. What I thought most interesting about the story was how the main character, Starr, navigated her two identities, her Black self from the poor, gangridden neighborhood where she lived with her family and her private school self in a nice neighborhood away from home. She was careful to watch her language and behavior both places so she wouldn’t stand out. That became hard when she was witness to a police shooting of a childhood friend from her home neighborhood which became headline news. This is a powerful story that inspires empathy and compassion without being preachy.

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

It was the setting of this historical fiction novel that piqued my interest: early 1600s on an island in the extreme northeastern part of Norway. You can practically not get any further north or east in the country. And the story is based on true events that were unfamiliar to me, a storm in 1617 that killed the men of a village and the 1621 witch trials in the same area. It’s a story about women’s resilience and ability to fend for themselves and strong female bonds in the aftermath of the storm and at the arrival of a man sent to set these women straight and rid the community of witchcraft. The setting was intriguing and I love a story with strong female characters.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021: A book originally written in a language other than Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish that takes place in Scandinavia

Jeg vet hvor du bor by Unni Lindell (In Norwegian)

I read this book as part of a virtual Norwegian language and literature class with Mindekirken in Minneapolis, MN. They had already read the first third in the fall, and I joined them for the second third this winter. The return to work and the gradual restarting of sports and school for my boys made it hard for me to continue with the class this spring, so I finished reading it on my own. It is hard to read a crime novel over many months! You forget what turns out to be important details. I really enjoyed being able to read the last third on my own in a matter of days. I didn’t always like the decisions the main investigator made, but overall, the story and plotting were very engaging. It took place in Oslo which is always a bonus for me. Book #2 in the series, Dronen (in Norwegian), is on my TBR list.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021: A buddy read or group read (in real life or virtually) of a Nordic book

What have you been reading lately?

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

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (February 2021)

This was a niche reading month for me! All the books were in translation from Scandinavia. They did at least represent a variety of sub-genres — refugee and immigration fiction, folktales and legends, and crime fiction. And very fulfilling for me was that I finally checked off the last prompt for my 2020 Scandinavian Reading Challenge. Now I can focus fully on the 2021 Scandinavian Reading Challenge and other reads.

What have you been reading lately?

Skyggedanseren (The Shadow Dancer) by Sara Omar
(Translated to the Norwegian from the Danish by Inge Ulrik Gundersen)

This is the follow-up to a book I read a year ago, Dødevaskeren (The Dead Washer). This duology is about Frmesk, a Kurdish woman who immigrates to Denmark at a young age, and the abuse and struggles she had to endure as a female in a Muslim community, both in Kurdistan and Denmark. The structure of the two books combined was very unique and interesting. Book #1 alternated between Frmesk’s life as a young child in her grandparents’ household in Kurdistan and her life in Denmark 30 years later when she was alone in a hospital bed for unidentified reasons. Book #2 filled in many blanks in Frmesk’s life. It alternated between the next years with her grandparents in Kurdistan and her young adult years in Denmark when she was a university student and then married a Kurdish man. Frmesk lived a difficult, hard, and painful life. The only shining light for her was her grandparents. Everyone else failed her. It was an extremely tough read with much abuse happening at all ages in her life, but it was eye-opening to see what girls and women in certain parts of the world have to endure even when they emigrate to supposedly more open-minded societies. The story of Frmesk has made a deep impact on me.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2020: A book by or about refugees to Scandinavia

By the Fire: Sámi Folktales and Legends, Collected and Illustrated by Emilie Demant Hatt (Translated from the Danish by Barbara Sjoholm)

This is another book that’s been on my radar for a while and that I finally read when an opportunity arose to join a virtual book club meeting to discuss it in honor of Sámi National Day which was February 6. I’m not normally interested in folk tales and legends, but I am intrigued by Sámi history and culture. I did enjoy reading these stories collected by a Danish artist and ethnographer during her travels among the Sámi in the 1920s. This collection of stories with accompanying linoleum prints and “Field Notes and Commentary” by the author as well as an “Afterword” by the translator which featured photos of the storytellers and more background information provided a very unique and enlightening look at Sámi culture.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021:

  • A buddy read or group read (in real life or virtually) of a Nordic book
  • Bonus 1: A prompt from a previous year’s challenge (2020: A book by, about, or involving the Sámi indigenous people)

Smoke Screen (Alexander Blix & Emma Ramm #2) by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger (Translated from the Norwegian by Megan Turney)

I don’t usually read the next installment in a series this quickly (I read #1, Death Deserved, in November 2020), but I wanted to read #2 in advance of a virtual event with the authors and a favorite bookstagrammer which took place this month. I really enjoyed the first in the series, so it wasn’t hard to pick this one up. Just like in the first book, online news journalist Emma Ramm and police investigator Alexander Blix inadvertently join forces to solve a mystery. In this case, there’s an explosion in Oslo on New Year’s Eve and one of the victims is the mother of a girl who was kidnapped 10 years earlier and never found. What ensues is a dual investigation as the cold case of the kidnapping is reopened and the explosion is investigated. I like smart police procedurals with likeable investigators, and the setting being Oslo is certainly a plus. This was a very engaging read which I may have liked even better than the first one. For those wondering, book #2 can be read without having read #1.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021:

  • An unplanned or impromptu Scandinavian read
  • Bonus 2: A book by a Nordic author you’ve enjoyed before

Pakkis by Khalid Hussain
(Translated from the Norwegian by Claudia Berguson and Ingeborg Kongslien)

This book has been on my radar for many years, and I finally seized the opportunity to read it when I learned that it was the pick for Vesterheim’s monthly reading group in February. Written by the author when he was 16 years old, it’s a short account exploring a slice of life of a teenage Pakistani immigrant and his family in Oslo. It’s based on his own experiences as an immigrant in the 1970s. The book’s character, Sajjad, arrived in Norway at the age of 4 and learned the language easily. His parents, however, had more trouble assimilating. The book tackles the difficulty Sajjad has of navigating his two conflicting identities, that of his family and religion and the other of his assimilated Norwegian identity. It also explores conflicts that arise relating to the father’s expectations and the son’s wishes. Originally published in 1986, it seemed like it could have been written recently. The only things missing were cell phones and social media. It was an interesting look at an immigrant family’s experiences which most likely shares many similarities with immigrant experiences elsewhere and in contemporary times.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021:

  • A Scandinavian book you’ve been meaning to read
  • A buddy read or group read (in real life or virtually) of a Nordic book
  • Bonus 1: A prompt from a previous year’s challenge (2018: An immigrant story)

What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at great discount, check out my Scandinavian Ebook Deals. Currently, the first book in the Alexander Blix & Emma Ramm series, Death Deserved, is free!

Some offers stay around for a long time, others only a short period. If anything looks intriguing, grab it before it’s gone.

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Introducing the 2021 #ScandiReadingChallenge

I invite you to participate in my 2021 Scandinavian Reading Challenge. Last year my reading focus was distracted. This year I want to leave room for distraction and unexpected reads. I’m also offering more opportunity to read books beyond the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. You can explore Iceland and Finland as well.

With that, I’d like to introduce the 2021 Scandinavian Reading Challenge. I hope you’ll consider participating. You do not need to commit to completing all the prompts. You may use the two bonus prompts as substitutes for any of the given prompts if they don’t speak to you or as additions if you finish them all. My hope is just that you’ll consider Scandinavian/Nordic books for your reading and that we can share reading ideas and thoughts on what we’re reading throughout the year.

Prompts for Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021

  1. A Scandinavian book you’ve been meaning to read
  2. An unplanned or impromptu Scandinavian read
  3. A book by a new-to-you Scandinavian author
  4. A Scandinavian book from a favorite genre
  5. A prize-winning Scandinavian book
  6. A book originally written in a language other than Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish that takes place in Scandinavia
  7. A book set in a Nordic country you would like to visit or revisit
  8. A Nordic book you chose for the cover
  9. A Nordic book in a genre you don’t normally read
  10. A buddy read or group read (in real life or virtually) of a Nordic book
    Bonus 1: A prompt from a previous year’s challenge (201820192020)
    Bonus 2: A book by a Nordic author you’ve enjoyed before

Here are some printable PDF forms you might find helpful:

What prompts look most interesting to you?

I’m looking forward to the prompt encouraging me to read a Nordic book as a buddy read or a group read, either in real life or virtually. I’m already reading Jeg vet hvor du bor by Norwegian author Unni Lindell for my Norwegian language and literature class. My college Zoom group recently agreed to read Anxious People by Swedish author Fredrik Backman together. There’s always invitations on bookstagram to join a buddy or group read. Maybe this is the year for that.

I also look forward to exploring books written in a language other than Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish but that take place in Scandinavia. Many such books have come on my radar over the years, but I haven’t gotten around to reading them. The most recent addition to the list is The Mercies by British author Kiran Millwood Hargrave which takes place in a fishing village in Northern Norway in the early 1600s.

I look forward to hearing about any Scandinavian/Nordic books you read this year. Feel free to share your reads in the comments on my monthly “What I’ve Been Reading Lately” posts or over at Instagram with the hashtag #ScandiReadingChallenge.

Happy reading!

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (December 2020) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

December and 2020 are a wrap, but I’m still going to need a little time to complete my 2020 Scandinavian Reading Challenge. I still have one category left to check off, a book by or about refugees to Scandinavia (just started Sara Omar’s Skyggedanseren translated from the Danish to the Norwegian). I’m okay with taking January to wrap it up since my reading focus was bit distracted this past year. Then I need to finalize plans for my 2021 Scandinavian Reading Challenge.

What have you been reading lately?

Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory
(Narrated by Louise Brealey)

I’m not one to usually binge read books in a series, but the first book in the Fairmile series, Tidelands, was such a captivating and engaging read that our book club selected the second book to read right away. Dark Tides jumps ahead 20 years from where the first book left off. Family members have scattered around the globe: Alinor and her daughter have made their way to London, Alinor’s brother is in New England, and Alinor’s son has settled in Venice. I really enjoyed these different perspectives and the insight into life in 1670 in those places. I thought the story was a little slow to get going, but once it did, it moved fast and intensively. You are definitely going to have opinions about the characters in this book, good and bad. We’re eagerly awaiting news of the next book in the series. The audiobook was a fantastic listen.

Reading Challenges:

Dregs (William Wisting, #1) by Jørn Lier Horst
(Translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce)

Jørn Lier Horst is my favorite Norwegian crime writer. I usually read his books in Norwegian, but this time I thought I’d try one in English. I began by listening to the audiobook, but I was turned off by the narrator’s interpretation of the characters and switched to ebook. What a difference that made. Wisting is a likeable and respectable police investigator who works in a smalltown, coastal community south of Oslo. This crime, like others in the series, requires him to travel around the area to investigate. Horst’s books usually tackle a greater social issue; this one questions whether incarceration is effective. (This is the first Wisting book to be translated into English but actually the sixth book in the series. Wisting, the TV series, is available to view through Amazon Prime Video.)

Reading Challenges:

Kristin Lavransdatter III: The Cross by Sigrid Undset
(Translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally)

I finally finished the classic Kristin Lavransdatter by Nobel Prize winning author Sigrid Undset, a trilogy I read over three years, one book a year. It’s a surprisingly fascinating account of a woman’s life from childhood to death in medieval Norway. The first book, The Wreath, was definitely my favorite because it was unlike anything I expected from a book written in the early 1900s about Norway in the 1300s. The second, The Wife, was my least favorite due to all the political history I was unfamiliar with and the many characters I had trouble keeping track of. The third book, The Cross, was a very strong finish and I’m glad I committed to completing the series. In this final installment, Kristin returns to her childhood home of the first book with her husband to live out their years. We see how Kristin’s marriage unfolds and how her seven sons grow up and make decisions about their lives. And coincidentally, the Black Death makes an appearance at the end of the book, which was fascinating to read about considering we’re dealing with a pandemic of our own right now.

Reading Challenges:

By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at great discount, check out my Scandinavian Ebook Deals. Some offers stay around for a long time, others only a short period. If anything looks intriguing, grab it before it’s gone. Kristin Lavransdatter, the whole trilogy, just went on sale for $2.99. Dregs by Jørn Lier Horst is currently on sale for $3.99 and his Death Deserved, which I enjoyed last month, is available for $0.99 (as of the publication of this post).

What have you been reading lately?

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (October & November 2020) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

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

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

What have you been reading lately?

Samer by Sigbjørn Skåden, Illustrated by Ketil Selnes

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

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

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

Reading Challenges:

What have you been reading lately?

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

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (September 2020)

My unintentional travel around the world via books continued in September with visits to China, Norway, and Rwanda, along with seven neighboring African countries.

My reading also continued to be influenced by the opportunity to hear authors talk about their work. The Seven Doors written by Agnes Ravatn and translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger jumped to the top of my TBR pile when I learned that Orenda Books, the English publisher, was hosting an online launch event with the author and translator (paperback was published September 17, 2020, in the United Kingdom). I had enjoyed Ravatn’s previous English release, The Bird Tribunal, and was curious about this one. It’s always interesting to get some insight into the behind-the-scenes of the writing and translating processes, and their discussion did not disappoint. (Are you curious about other virtual bookish events, in particular related to Nordic authors? Check out my Virtual Nordic Events for October 2020.)

Here are my latest book experiences. What have you been reading lately?

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

This book first came on my radar when I saw it was a Book of the Month selection in April 2018. I didn’t pick it then, but I did buy it earlier this year when I had some ebook credit. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be appropriate for a 13-year-old so it became a must-read for me this summer when it turned up as my 8th grader’s required reading for school.

Clemantine is an inspiring woman. She endured tremendous loss and hardship when, at the age of 6, she and her 15-year-old sister Claire fled from their family in Rwanda in 1994 due to civil war and the impending genocide. They spent 6 years traveling between 7 African countries trying to find safety and meet their basic needs — and later the needs of Claire’s young children. At age 12, Clemantine and her sister were granted asylum in the United States and began new lives in Chicago. The story of the two sisters is heartbreaking and eye-opening and important to be heard. However, it was told in a vacuum. There was little context provided about what was going on in the country they left and the countries in which they sought refuge. I found the first half of the book the most interesting. It alternated between Clemantine and Claire’s experiences in Africa and their new lives in Chicago. The second half when Claire was at college and beyond was less engaging. Even though the book felt a bit disjointed, I appreciated how it opened my eyes to a world event I knew little about. Now on my radar is the movie Hotel Rwanda.

Reading Challenges:

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
(Translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu, narrated by Luke Daniels)

This award-winning science fiction novel by “China’s most beloved science fiction author” was certainly an interesting listening experience. It was totally outside my comfort zone (not just science fiction, but also alien encounter book!) and way above my head (a lot of complicated science that I didn’t understand), yet the plot and structure were engaging and intriguing enough to carry me along so that I finished the book. It was a complex and sophisticated book with many layers and made for a good book club discussion. This book is the first in a trilogy, and Netflix recently bought the rights to the trilogy for an adaptation into a series. I’m not up for the rest of the trilogy, but I may give the Netflix adaptation a try due to curiosity.

Reading Challenges:

The Seven Doors by Agnes Ravatn
(Translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger)

This was a very enjoyable, slow-burning psychological thriller that takes place in contemporary Bergen on the west coast of Norway over the course of about a month and a half during winter. Nina, a middle aged university literature professor, is in a bit of a mid-life crisis. She questions the importance of her profession, is going through a forced sale of her home, and has a somewhat strained relationship with her adult daughter. In the middle of all this, the tenant of one of their properties suddenly goes missing. When the police hit a dead end, Nina takes on investigating the mystery herself due to a sense of guilt that a recent visit by her and her daughter had something to do with the disappearance. I enjoyed the setting, in particular the visits to a small nearby island, and I was intrigued by the mystery and slow reveal of details surrounding the missing tenant. The tension grew as the story progressed and even though I had an inkling about the perpetrator as the end neared, the ending itself caught me off-guard but in a satisfying way.

Reading Challenges:

What have you been reading lately?

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (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 & My Latest Virtual Book Events (May 2020)

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

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

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

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

Reading Challenges:

What have you been reading lately?

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (April 2020) & Virtual Author Events

As we’ve now passed week #8 of staying at home, I haven’t really found myself reading more than I usually do. What I have been able to do is take advantage of virtual author events, though!

I’ve dropped in on a few virtual author events, but three stand out. The first one was the March LA Times Book Club event with authors Steph Cha (Your House House Will Pay, which I read last month and really enjoyed) and Joe Ide (“IQ” detective series) when they discussed LA noir. Another event was one with a Norwegian author, Jon Fosse, that I learned about after I won his book The Other Name from the publisher through a give-away on Instagram. The event was a discussion with the author and his translator Damion Searls hosted by Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. Finally, I came across an online book talk on Facebook with Icelandic author Kristín Eiríksdóttir (A Fist or a Heart) and her translator Larissa Kyzer hosted by American Scandinavian Foundation in New York City (which will be followed up by an online Nordic Book Club meeting on Tuesday, May 12, for those who may be interested). It’s always interesting to hear from the writers about their writing experiences and processes, whether I’ve read the book or not.

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

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl
(Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)

I had previously read a book in this author’s Oslo Detective Series and wasn’t a fan, but the fact that this was a stand-alone historical crime mystery about a female resistance agent that took place in Norway and Sweden during World War II intrigued me. Also, it has won two prestigious Norwegian awards, the Brage Prize (Open Category) and the crime fiction Riverton Prize. I’m glad I took another chance on this author. The story and its characters were engaging and compelling. I liked how it jumped back and forth in time. The story opened and closed in 2015, but otherwise it moved between 1942 in Oslo and Stockholm and 1967 in Oslo with the mysteries of “who killed the mother of a young child in Oslo in 1942?” and “what is the father’s story?” at the core. The book gives a unique glimpse of what life was like for Norwegians, especially Jewish Norwegians, during wartime under German occupation. I enjoyed this book very much!

Reading Challenges:

The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia
(Translated from the Spanish by Simon Bruni)

This book brought me to a new time and place in reading. It’s about an established landowning family in a small northern Mexican town in the early 1900s during the Mexican Revolution and interestingly, considering what’s going on now for us, during the influenza pandemic of 1918. It’s historical fiction with a touch of magical realism. An abandoned child covered in bees is discovered and then adopted by the family. This child, who is deformed and cannot speak and always accompanied by a swarm of bees, turns out to be a blessing for the family as they endure life in their little town with its human and natural challenges. It was a little slow to get going, but suddenly I was very absorbed in the story. I read it, but I heard the audiobook experience is fabulous.

Reading Challenges:

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

I had actually borrowed this book for my older teenage son to read but he wasn’t interested, so I ended up reading it instead. I had read it years ago back when I was in high school, but I had no recollection of the details in the story. What a delightful surprise – a very engaging, quick read! It’s about gang life in Oklahoma in the 1960s. In particular, it’s about a 14-year-old greaser named Ponyboy, who is raised by his older brothers because their parents died some time ago, and his friend Johnny, who lives in an abusive household. The greasers are their own family and look out for each other when trouble happens during a conflict with the rival gang. I have now put it on hold again at the library and will encourage both my boys to read it and I look forward to hearing their thoughts on it.

Reading Challenges:

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
(Audiobook narrated by Dylan Moore)

I’m so glad I picked this book up when I did because I recently learned that Emily St. John Mandel is the next guest to join the (now virtual) LA Times Book Club on May 19. I really enjoyed Station Eleven and was intrigued by the author’s newest book about the collapse of a Ponzi scheme. It didn’t disappoint. Similar to Station Eleven, it jumped back and forth in time and told the story from different characters’ perspectives and the reader slowly became aware of what was going on. It took some time for the different storylines’ connections to become evident, but once that started happening, it was a compelling read, or in my case, listen.

Reading Challenges:

What have you been reading lately?

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Reading Lately (March 2020) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

With a prolonged self-quarantine headed my way, I thought I would have lots of extra time to read. It hasn’t quite worked out that way yet. Maybe once we settle into this new normal, I’ll find more time to just read. In the meantime, here are my latest reads and listens. What have you been reading lately?

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
(Audiobook narrated by Barrie Kreinik)

This was a wonderfully entertaining audiobook that I always returned to eagerly. It’s a murder mystery in which the mother-in-law is found dead under suspicious circumstances and no one in the family is safe from scrutiny. It’s told from the perspectives of the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law, and it jumps back and forth in time so you get insights into all the family members’ histories and you see different perspectives on the same situations. They are a very complicated family and there are many unrealized misunderstandings. It was an extremely compelling story and had me engaged until the very end. I’ll be listening to/reading more by Sally Hepworth!

Reading Challenges:

Clearing Out by Helene Uri
(Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Sjoholm, 2019)

This was a unique book, a mix of fiction and autobiography, about families and their stories. The author discovers her grandfather was a Sámi fisherman (indigenous people in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia) and intertwines that experience with a fictional story of a character who goes to northern Norway to study Sámi language extinction. There are many parallels between the author and the fictional character. Not only are they both linguists, but they both also experience the loss of an older parent. At first it was a little difficult to distinguish between the author’s story and the character’s story, but soon the transitions became seamless and I considered it a clever technique. I was intrigued by the reflections on Sámi identities and their history in Norway. It’s not something I’ve come across often in Norwegian literature. (If interested, take a look at this article by the book’s translator which includes a discussion about the Sámi elements as well as an interview with the author.)

(Thank you to NetGalley and the University of Minnesota Press for providing me a copy of this book!)

Reading Challenges:

In the Midst of Winter: A Novel by Isabel Allende
(Translated from the Spanish by Nick Castor and Amanda Hopkinson)
(Audiobook narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Alma Cuervo)

All I knew about this book going into it was that it took place in Brooklyn during a big snowstorm. I did not know I’d be getting a whirlwind historical tour of Latin America. Most of the action takes place over just a few days when three people are brought together by a car accident. However, during their days together, we jump back in time to Guatemala in the 1990s, Chile in the 1950s, and Brazil in the 1990s to learn about their pasts. The illegal immigrant’s story of coming from Guatemala to the US through Mexico and across the Rio Grande was the one I enjoyed the most. Having recently read American Dirt, I appreciated the additional perspective on that experience. Overall, it was a fine story and the language was lovely, but it was not as engaging as I would have preferred.

Reading Challenges:

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

The racial tensions and violence of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 form the basis for this novel. A contemporary story set in 2019, it follows two families who have a shared history with that racially tense time. Shawn Matthews, an African American man whose sister was shot and killed in 1991, leads a quiet life far away from his troublesome youth days in South Central LA. At the same time, Grace Park, a Korean American woman who lives a sheltered life home with her parents, can’t understand why her sister won’t talk to their mother. It’s a very engaging and compelling read which provided much material to discuss at our virtual book club meeting. I highly recommend it.

Reading Challenges:

What have you been reading lately?

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.