Reading Lately (February 2019): Lots of Variety!

Once again I’m joining Modern Mrs. Darcy‘s mid-month Quick Lit, where we share short and sweet book reviews of what we’ve been reading lately.

It’s been an unusual reading month for me with very varied reading for a wide variety of reasons which resulted in more books completed than usual! One book was for my Scandinavian Book Club, a couple were read-alongs with my 6th grade son, one was for an author talk, and a couple just because I felt like it. Some books fulfilled prompts for reading challenges, others didn’t. It was a fun month of reading! What have you been reading lately?


The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This was the second of three books for a schoolwide reading program that I read along with my 6th grade son. It’s a historical fiction book set in England during World War II. Ten-year-old Ada and her younger brother Jamie have a miserable homelife in London until they escape by joining other kids headed to the countryside as the threat of German bombings begin. Ada and Jamie are assigned to curmudgeonly Susan, and so begins a heartwarming relationship between Susan and the kids, but not without some bumps along the way. I’d been meaning to read this for a long time, and now I’m eager to read the sequel, The War I Finally Won.

Reading Challenges:


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Here’s another book that’s been on my TBR list for a while (since reading Salvage the Bones). I was planning to read it sometime this year thanks to the Reading Women Challenge, but when I saw that Jesmyn Ward was coming to town to speak, it jumped to the top of the list. This book drops you in on 13-year-old Jojo, son of a White father and Black mother, who lives in rural coastal Mississippi with his Black grandparents along with his toddler sister and mostly absent mother. He and his sister are joining their mother and her friend on a roadtrip to get their dad who is being released from prison. The story takes place over about 4 days. During this time, the complicated and heartbreaking history of the family is revealed through memories shared and visits by ghosts from the past. It is beautifully written. And hearing Jesmyn Ward speak about her writing experience was icing on the cake.

Reading Challenges:


One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

I didn’t intend for this book to be for me, but rather for my 9th grade son. However, I’m the one who ended up reading it. It’s a young adult novel described as Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club. I don’t know Pretty Little Liars, but I was a fan of The Breakfast Club and was intrigued. It’s about five high schoolers who end up in detention together. One dies while they’re all there, and the other four are then suspects and a murder investigation ensues. These teens are your typical stereotypes of high school kids – the jock, the princess, the brain, the outcast, and the bad boy – but with some modern-day diversity. And all your stereotypical high school behaviors are there. Despite that, it was an addictive, fun, and fast read.


Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

This was the final of three books I read along with my 6th grade son for a schoolwide reading program. It’s the story of three boys who plan and execute a very special goodbye for a favorite teacher who can’t complete the school year due to a cancer diagnosis. We see the day unfold through their eyes; each chapter is from a different boy’s perspective. I really enjoyed the slow reveal of finding out why Ms. Bixby was so special to each of them. Being a former teacher, I always love finding a “teacher-making-a-difference-and-being-appreciated-for-it” story and this was a sweet one. A great big thank you to my sister who gave it to me for a birthday – and an apology for waiting so long to read it!


Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

(Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles)

The author takes us into the mind of 18-year-old Maja who’s on trial for her involvement in a school shooting in a wealthy suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, that left her boyfriend and best friend dead, along with others. We alternate between her time in the jail cell and in the courtroom along with flashbacks to her life leading up to the shooting. The book started a little slow, but as I got further into it, it was a page-turner that had me very eager to find out how it all could have come to this. Many timely issues to consider: school shootings, mental health, immigration, gun violence, wealth, class, parenting… We had a great discussion at my Scandi Book Club meeting. I highly recommend it! (This book has been adapted into a TV series coming to Netflix April 5.)

Reading Challenges:


Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I’m fascinated by lesser known World War II stories, and this is a young adult book that delves into such a topic, the Soviet annexation of Lithuania in 1940 and the subsequent deportation of thousands of Lithuanians to Siberia. In particular it’s about Lena, a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl, who is rounded up along with her mother, younger brother, and many others and transported via cattle car to a labor camp in Siberia. It is a brutal and harsh time. The occasional kindness and sympathy from others make it more bearable. Lena is an artist and a strong and bold girl determined to record atrocities and survive and be reunited with her father who was arrested and imprisoned elsewhere. The mother is an admirable woman as well. It was an eye-opening book which I’m glad to have read and highly recommend. (A movie based on the book, titled Ashes in the Snow, came out January 2019 and can be found at hoopla.)

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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Reading Lately (January 2019): New Year, New Challenges

I’m excited for a new year of reading goals and challenges. This year my main focus will be on my own 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge but I’ll be participating in The Reading Women’s 2019 Reading Women Challenge and Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2019 Reading Challenge as well.

Curious about what I’m thinking of reading for this year’s Scandinavian Reading Challenge? Check out my potential picks for the 2019 #ScandiReadingChallenge. I’d love to hear if you have any other suggestions.


Less by Andrew Sean Greer

This was the first book of the new year for my local book club. I was not a total fan, but I found certain aspects enjoyable. I was intrigued by the mysterious first person narrator who surfaced occasionally. I kept wondering who he was – and how could he have such an overarching view of Arthur Less’ life? I thought Arthur’s jaunts through the many countries were interesting. However, I wasn’t a real fan of Arthur himself. He was uninteresting and frustrating and I couldn’t really relate to him.

Reading Challenges:


One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

(Translated from the Norwegian by Sarah Death)

This one took a little longer than anticipated to read. At the time of my last Reading Lately post, I had not yet completed it but counted it for 2018 challenges since I was 70% through a 500+ pages book. This was an eye-opening book because it revealed so much that I didn’t know about the before, during, and after of the July 22, 2011, bombing of the government quarters in Oslo and the massacre at the youth summer camp that followed. I also feel it’s an important book for me to have read because this day was a defining moment for Norwegians, much like September 11 is for Americans.

Reading Challenges:


Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

(Audiobook narrated by Emily Rankin)

I listened to this as my 6th grade son read it for a schoolwide reading program. Turns out it was set in Appalachia, rural Pennsylvania to be exact, so it met a prompt for this year’s Reading Women Challenge as well, which was a welcomed bonus. I really enjoyed this middle grade book! However, it wasn’t quite your typical middle grade read; it was a little darker with some serious themes and harsh scenes. It takes place during World War II, which I appreciated since I haven’t read many WWII books set in the US. The first-person narrator, soon-to-be 12-year-old Annabelle, lives on a farm with her extended family and goes to school in a one-room schoolhouse. She is responsible, trustworthy, and mature. She and her family are friendly and helpful to Toby, a WWI veteran, who lives in a deserted shack and roams the woods. Then Betty, a bully, moves to town and Annabelle’s idyllic life is turned upside-down. The language is beautiful, old-fashioned to coincide with the time period. The setting is well developed. The issues raised made for good discussions with my son.

Reading Challenges:


Simon’s Family (aka Simon & the Oaks) by Marianne Fredriksson

(Translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate)

The book opens in 1939 with 11-year-old Simon who lives in Gothenburg, Sweden. He is from a working class family and goes to school where he becomes friends with Isak, a Jewish boy from a rich family. The two families are drawn together and become an extended family that together endures the trials and tribulations of the times. The book was a little slow-going for me, but it was interesting to see what life was like for families, both Jewish and not, living in neutral Sweden during World War II. Especially interesting for me was that my maternal grandmother grew up in this area during this time (only 2 years older than Simon) and so the book gave me a glimpse of the setting of her younger life.

Reading Challenges:


Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

I have mixed feelings about this book. I didn’t love the first part, but I really enjoyed the second part. The first part about Tara’s homelife with her survivalist family was just a series of horrible experiences. I kept thinking “What crazy thing will happen next?” And something always did. There were accidents of all kinds – car, motorcycle, and junkyard – with total lack of concern by her father as well as physical and emotional abuse by her brother without any intervention by the parents. Once Tara left for Brigham Young University and began discovering the real world, however, I had a hard time putting the book down. I really enjoyed reading about her drive to make sense of the world and figure out her place in it. I was amazed at how she was able to educate herself. She’s an inspiring woman and an excellent writer which made her story even better.

🇳🇴 An interesting sidenote to my Scandinavian readers, especially Norwegian ones… Tara has a Norwegian great-great-grandmother, Anna Mathea (born 1853 in Nes, Hedmark County, Norway, about 100 miles north of Oslo, which I discovered here). “It was her [Anna Mathea’s] voice that brought our family to the church,” explained Tara’s mother (p. 245). “She heard Mormon missionaries preaching in the streets of Norway” and then managed to convert her parents who “felt compelled by God to come to America to meet prophet Joseph.” This sent me down an Internet rabbit hole curious about how Mormonism came to Scandinavia, in particular Norway, its history there and role in emigration, which was fascinating.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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Reading Lately (December 2018): Reading Challenges Wrap-Up & End-of-Year Reflections

December was all about completing my self-made 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge and seeing how much of three other challenges (Reading Women ChallengeModern Mrs. Darcy Challenge, and Read Harder) I could complete before year’s end.

I successfully completed my own challenge (see a compilation of all the books I read at What I Read for 2018 #ScandiReadingChallenge) but unfortunately not the other ones. One thing the other challenges did for sure, though, was help guide my reading when I was looking for my next read because my reading wasn’t just about reading Scandinavian books. The other challenges were an incentive (and they provided great resources) for me to read books I would not otherwise have tried — new genres, authors, and perspectives — and for that I am very grateful.


On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

I needed an audiobook that I would quickly get absorbed in and would eagerly want to return to, and this one did the job. I came across the recommendation at Modern Mrs. Darcy’s post 6 recent audiobooks I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the main character and enjoyed how she dealt with her various problems—flaky boyfriend, new house with disturbing history, parents separating due to father’s midlife crisis, and new love interest. It was a fun book with nothing too serious, a nice palate cleanser.


The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl

(Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)

Kjell Ola Dahl is a new-to-me Norwegian crime writer, though he’s been writing since 1993. I jumped into this Oslo Detectives Series with book #6 and I don’t think it mattered that I hadn’t read the previous ones. I liked the setting of Oslo and the crime was interesting. However, I was not a fan of the female detective Lena Stigersand. I like strong, smart female characters, and Lena made some dumb decisions with both a new relationship and her work responsibilities. I almost did not finish the book, but I was over half way done and wanted to know the resolution. Also, I needed it for my Scandinavian Reading Challenge. (I do believe this is Lena’s first appearance so maybe previous books in the series are better.)

Reading Challenges:


The Saboteur by Andrew Gross

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in a little-known history event involving people willing to risk everything for the love of their country. This is a historical fiction book about the sabotage of a Nazi-occupied factory in Norway during World War II. A by-product of the factory was heavy water which the Germans needed to continue their atomic bomb work. A group of Norwegians were trained in England to disrupt those plans. This book was especially fun to read since we had visited the site of the factory this past summer. I could visualize the factory and the landscape around it, which plays a significant role in the missions. I was thrown off a little by the fictional characters who were added to the story (like the American!) but the author’s note at the end put those doubts to rest. My 14-year-old son read and enjoyed it, too.

Reading Challenges:


The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

(Translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies)

This was a fun and sweet read! It’s been on my radar for a long time (must have been the bookish title and cover), but I didn’t know until somewhat recently that it’s actually a Swedish book in translation. It’s about a young Swedish woman who goes to visit her elderly penpal in the USA. However, her penpal dies right before she arrives in Broken Wheel, Iowa. It’s a story about a dying small town, unlikely friendships, new beginnings, and the power of books and a bookstore to make a difference in people’s lives. The audiobook narrated by Fiona Hardingham and Lorelei King is also very good. I both listened to and read the book and highly recommend both versions.

Reading Challenges:


Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

I had great plans to read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for this challenge prompt, but due to time constraints I opted for this related middle grade book by him instead. Both the book and the author have been on my TBR list for a while so I’m glad I can finally check them off, but I do feel I cheated a little. Odd and the Frost Giants was a quick, enjoyable read which briefly introduces the Norse gods Thor, Odin, and Loki and their enemies the frost giants. I will return to both the author and the topic some time in the future. (I gladly welcome suggestions as to which Neil Gaiman book I should read next.)

Reading Challenges:


One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

(Translated from the Norwegian by Sarah Death)

This author and book have been on my TBR list for a long time. When I saw that a film had been made based on it (Netflix original July 22 directed by Paul Greenglass), I prioritized it. This is not a quick and easy read. Not only is it 500+ pages but the subject matter is not very uplifting. (As of the writing of this post, I actually haven’t finished it yet, but I am more than 70% through it and determined to finish it and therefore counting it for my 2018 reading challenges.) I am alternating between the Norwegian edition and the English translation. Some parts, such as the political history of Norway, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik’s philosophy, and the bomb and weapon technicalities, are easier for me to read in English while the family narratives are fine to read in Norwegian. The book basically follows three people and their families before, during, and after July 22, 2011. Readers learn about Breivik’s childhood and what drove him to this horrible act. Of the many youth victims, readers get to know native Norwegian Simon Sæbø and recent Norwegian citizen Bano Rashid, a Kurdish refugee, and how their paths led to this political youth camp at Utøya. Stay tuned for more thoughts in another post once I finish the book and have watched the Netflix movie plus another July 22-themed movie which will be screened during the second weekend of Scandinavian Film Festival LA later in January.

Reading Challenges:


End-of-Year Reflections

What am I most proud of from 2018?

What am I looking forward to in 2019?

  • Reading books in translation from more areas of the world
  • My self-made 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge (join me!)
  • Seeing how much of other reading challenges I can complete with books I already own
  • Continuing to read and discuss books with my IRL and Scandinavian book clubs

How was your 2018 reading year?

What are you looking forward to in 2019?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update

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

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


This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

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


Still Waters by Viveca Sten

(Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)

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

Reading Challenges:


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

(Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

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

Reading Challenges:


When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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

Reading Challenges:


China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

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

Reading Challenges:

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

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

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

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

Reading Challenges:


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

 

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