What I’ve Been Reading Lately (June 2023)

My summer reading is off to an exciting start! Besides longer days and vacation plans, there is a summer book bingo reading challenge happening at work. We are an avid group of readers, not surprising considering I work at an elementary school, so lots of discussions and sharing around that.

The book bingo challenge has 25 prompts. My hope is to complete the whole board, but most likely I won’t read unique books for each prompt. I’m trying to find books that will check off prompts for other reading challenges as well. So far my reads have all been so different from each other and what I’ve recently read which is refreshing.

Planning and reading for this challenge, however, has overshadowed my 2023 Nordic Literature Reading Challenge. Sadly, no progress has been made on that this month.

How is your summer reading going?


The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune 🎧
(Narrated by Daniel Henning)

This book was unlike any that I have ever heard before. I felt like I was being read a magical fairytale. There were heroes, villains, obstacles, magical beings, a happy ending, and of course a moral lesson or two. The narrator of the audiobook was fantastic; I was absorbed in his storytelling from start to finish. There were so many unique characters, all with very different personalities, and he read them all in a very nuanced and engaged way. I did feel the story went a little overboard with its sweetness and kindness and morality lessons at times, but that just played into my overall feeling of it being a fairytale for adults. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

  • #DiversityAcrossGenres: Queer, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
  • Work Book Bingo: A book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist and/or a book with magic

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby  🎧📖
(Narrated by Adam Lazarre-White)

I completed this right after The House in the Cerulean Sea, and this was no fairytale filled with sweetness and kindness. What an abrupt turn in reading experiences! This was a crime thriller with brutal deaths, revenge, and graphic violence. It was also a heartfelt story of personal growth and an unlikely friendship. Two fathers, one black and the other white, both ex-convicts, are brought together in their quest for revenge after the deaths of their married sons. While hunting down the killers, they confront their own prejudices about their gay sons as well as each other. This was an action packed revenge story with heart; I really enjoyed it. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee 📖

This is a fascinating account of a 17-year-old’s defection from North Korea and her eventual resettlement in South Korea years later. The author lived a privileged life in northern North Korea along the border with China. Living so close to China, she had exposure to the outside world and started questioning her own world. What was supposed to be just a visit to China ended up being a trip with no return to North Korea or to her family. This story of her childhood in North Korea and then building a new life first in China, then in South Korea along with her efforts to reunite with her family was eye-opening and inspiring. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

It was particularly interesting to read this not long after having read Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History by Lea Ypi, a memoir in which the author recounts her childhood in Albania in the 1980s and 1990s, the same time period as this book and also a communist dictatorship. So many similarities, yet such different countries.


Lizards Hold the Sun by Dani Trujillo

This a contemporary romance novel about Xiomara, an Indigenous archaeologist from Mexico, who goes to a remote location in Canada to lead a project to excavate artifacts, relocate human remains, and create a museum of the area’s tribal history. In the process, she and Calehan, the museum’s architect, fall head over heals in love. What I really appreciated and enjoyed about the story was the focus on archaeology and that all the characters were Indigenous and many cultural aspects were included. The characters were diverse, smart, thoughtful, and very likable. I enjoyed the setting, but I had trouble pinpointing exactly where in Canada the story took place. It was remote, north, and there were islands (in contrast to the cover showing the desert). A map would have been helpful. Also, I struggled with following the elapsed time. Sometimes there seemed to be unexpected jumps. But overall, an enjoyable read. ⭐⭐⭐


What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in purchasing Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, visit my Scandinavian Ebook Deals page. 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 (May 2023)

Last month was a very mixed month of reading on a variety of fronts — genres, settings, and enjoyment. Luckily, I enjoyed the second in a series as much as the first; but unfortunately, I had to quit a multiple award winning book.

I’m excited about my upcoming summer reading plans. Besides longer and warmer days to enjoy reading outside, I have a new reading challenge to add to the mix (a summer book bingo for work) and as well as vacation travel coming up.

What do your summer reading plans look like?


The Secret Keeper of Jaipur (The Henna Artist #2) by Alka Joshi 🎧
(Narrated by Sneha Mathan, Ariyan Kassam, and Deepa Samuel)

I loved the first book in this series, and I enjoyed this one just as much. It was the perfect mix of admirable main characters, intriguing setting and culture, and unknown history. In this second installment, the story returns to India about 12 years later (1969), but this time the focus is more on Malik than Lakshmi. The first book was about the strength and perseverance of Lakshmi making her own way despite obstacles. This one was a suspenseful story in which Malik gets drawn into the scandal of the collapse of a newly built cinema. I loved how the story took place both in Jaipur and the mountain town of Shimla and incorporated so much of the culture of these places. Interwoven in the story was also insight into the importance of gold in Indian culture and the related gold smuggling trade. I definitely look forward to the last and final book in the trilogy, though I plan to wait a while to read it so I’ll return to this world with fresh eyes.


Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro 📖🎧
(Narrated by Sura Siu)

I got Never Let Me Go vibes from this one. Everything seemed kind of normal, but then mysterious references were made and I began to feel that something more sinister was going on. This is a dystopian science fiction story told from the perspective of Klara, a solar-powered Artificial Friend. She is selected by Josie, a high school girl, who often gets sick. Klara is very observant and surprisingly introspective and empathetic. I enjoyed her journey in trying to be the best AF possible for Josie. I read both the ebook and audiobook versions to finish in time for book club. I preferred the ebook because Klara’s voice in the audiobook was a bit too robotic. The story provided good fodder for our book club discussion!


The Prophets of Eternal Fjord by Kim Leine 🎧📖
(Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken)
(Narrated by Elijah Alexander)

I was so intrigued and hopeful about this book. The time and places were new to me; I had no familiarity with this chapter of Denmark’s past, the late 18th century in Copenhagen and Greenland when missionaries went to convert the Greenlandic Inuits to Christianity (a brief history of Greenland). Also, it’s a prize-winning book. It won the Danish literature prize, De Gyldne Laurbær, in 2012 as well as the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2013. In addition, it made the shortlist for the Dublin Literature Award in 2017. Considering it was recognized for these prizes as well as others, I’m surprised and disappointed that I ended up not finishing it. I got just about 50% through this 576 page novel (tried both audio and ebook versions) so I feel I have a legitimate impression of both the book and the time and place it was about. Unfortunately, both the structure of the plot (jumps in time) and style of the writing (no quotation marks) were problematic for me. On top of this, the characters and events of the book were at times unnecessarily brutal and repulsive.


The Man Burned by Winter (Rooker Lindström #1) by Pete Zacharias

This was an Amazon First Reads selection from last year that I picked because of the Nordic Noir connection. Set in Minnesota during winter, a police detective eager to prove she can handle her new promotion and an investigative journalist drinking himself to death join forces to catch a serial killer. The setting is cold and bleak, the crimes are gruesome, and the protagonists are troubled – so many Nordic Noir elements (including Swedish character names and food). The action was fast paced and engaging, though there were some loose threads and I did have a few unanswered questions at the end. Maybe book #2, The Man Trapped by Shadows, will answer them (pub date July 11, 2023).


What have you been reading lately?

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

Nordic Lit Reading Challenge 2023: My Top Picks for Nordic Council Literature Prize Winners

The 2023 Nordic Literature Reading Challenge is underway, and one of the prompts for the challenge is to read a winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize. Awarded since 1962 to a work of fiction written in one of the Nordic languages, the mission of the Nordic Council Literature Prize is to “generate interest in the literature and language of neighbouring countries, and in the Nordic cultural community”.

This is a somewhat tricky prompt because not all of the winners have English translations, and of those that do, they aren’t always readily available. Of course you can read a winner in the original language, but here’s a list of winners with English translations in case that’s not possible. In planning my own reading for this year’s challenge, I picked out the following books from each of the Nordic countries to consider for this prompt.


DENMARK – The Prophets of Eternal Fjord: A Novel by Kim Leine, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken (novel, 500+ pages)

About the winning piece from the Nordic Council (2013):

“Kim Leine’s great epic, ‘Profeterne i Evighedsfjorden’, is the story of the Danish priest Morten Falck who travels to Greenland at the end of the 1700s. Through this unfolds the tale of Danish colonisation as a completely crazy and meaningless project. The Danish officials try to keep hold of power and customs but are plagued by homesickness and resignation. Grief and anger smoulders amongst the Greenlanders, and some of them seize Christianity and the European ideas of freedom as an inspiration for rebellion against colonial power. But as well as being a critical, historical novel that reminds us of Denmark’s problematic past as a colonial power, the book is also a depiction of dirt as mankind’s basic element.”

Why I’m considering it: I’m intrigued by this selection due to the time and place of the setting, both of which are new to me, and I have no familiarity with this story of Denmark’s past. On top of that, it’s a multiple prize-winning book. Besides winning the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2013, it won the Danish literature prize De Gyldne Laurbær in 2012. It also made the shortlist for the Dublin Literature Award in 2017. This book would be an option for two of the prompts for the Nordic Lit Reading Challenge!


FINLAND – Purge: A Novel by Sofi Oksanen, translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers (novel, 417 pages)

About the winning piece from the Nordic Council (2010):

“Her [Sofi Oksanen’s] third novel, Purge, is about the Soviet occupation of Estonia and its consequences. Unfortunately, it is also very much of current interest with its stories about human trafficking around the Baltic. The book’s two time levels are 1992 – one year after Estonia won its independence – and the 1940s – when tens of thousands of Estonians were deported to Siberia and agriculture was collectivised. On a summer morning in 1992, old Aliide Truu finds an exhausted and confused young woman in her vegetable garden. This Zara has been tricked away from her home in Vladivostok to work as a sex worker in Berlin. On the way to Tallinn where she was supposed to start selling her body to Finnish sex tourists, she manages to escape.”

Why I’m considering it: Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish author (Finnish father and Estonian mother) who first appeared on my radar for her latest novel Dog Park (2021 in translation by Owen Frederick Witesman). The Soviet occupation of Estonia is a little known topic to me, and I always enjoy a good dual-timeline novel.


ICELAND – The Blue Fox: A Novel by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (novel, 130 pages)

About the winning piece from the Nordic Council (2005):

“The Blue Fox is a novel about an Icelandic pastor and a fox hunt. Sjón makes use of the Icelandic folktale to tell his story. One of the principal characters is the pastor Baldur Skuggason. He has an evil, dark side to his character. Another key figure is the strange offspring of a cat and a fox following the story – Sjón’s style has elements of a very unique Icelandic sense of humour. The Blue Fox is a short novel with a few sections. Some pages only consist of a single written line, surrounded by large white surfaces calling to mind the Icelandic expanse. This concreteness can be said to balance on the line between prose and poetry. ‘Skugga-Baldur’ is also a contemporary novel which brings up some of today’s ethical questions. Are the weak, deformed babies with developmental disorders welcome in a world where they could have been discarded already prior to birth?”

Why I’m considering it: I’ve been curious about Sjón for a while. Besides writing novels, he’s a poet, screenwriter, and involved in the music scene. In 2016, he was the third writer chosen to contribute to the Future Library project.


NORWAY – The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas, translated from the Norwegian by Elizabeth Rokkan (novel, 144 pages)

About the winning piece from the Nordic Council (1964):

“The Ice Palace is a novel with two 11-year-old girls as the protagonists: extrovert Siss and quiet, introvert Unn. The day after a meeting of the girls at which Unn revealed that she is carrying a dark secret, Unn travels to the ice palace. This is a huge ice formation which builds up at a waterfall in winter-time. As it turns out to be made up of several ice rooms, she walks into the palace. Unn is enthralled by the beauty of the rooms, but in the seventh room she loses her way and cannot find her way out. She freezes to death with Siss’s name on her lips. The novel concludes with the story of Siss’s life and her reaction to Unn’s death. Siss now becomes the quiet and lonely one. She goes into an inner ice palace until she is finally redeemed and can move on into adulthood with a profound insight.”

Why I’m considering this: I have not read any of Tarjei Vesaas’ works yet, but he is arguably one of Norway’s greatest writers. His authorship spans from 1923 to 1970. He won many awards during his lifetime and was even nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 57 times. The Ice Palace and The Birds are his most famous works.


SWEDEN – Blackwater: A Novel by Kerstin Ekman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate (novel, 448 pages)

About the winning piece from the Nordic Council (1994):

“Blackwater is a detective novel set in the town of Svartvattnet in Norrland. It depicts a woman from Stockholm, who moves in with her boyfriend in the town to work as a teacher in a commune. However, events revolve around a double homicide that remains unsolved and the consequences of this trauma for the people in the town. Kerstin Ekman’s story invites many reading styles; it can be read as a Bildungsroman, as a critical analysis of gender roles, as a mythical story with symbolic elements, but, of course, also simply as a thrilling detective novel.”

Why I’m considering it: I read Kerstin Ekman’s God’s Mercy a few years ago. I enjoyed the descriptive setting of rural northern Sweden in the early 1900s. Blackwater also takes place in a remote, northern setting, but in the later part of the 1900s. I’m intrigued by the many ways that Blackwater can be read, but most of all by its crime novel aspect. Besides winning the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 1994, it received the prestigious Swedish August Prize and the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award in 1993.


Which of these would you read first? Are there other Nordic Council Literature Prize winners that you’ve read and would recommend?

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 2023)

This was the kind of reading month I love. The genres, settings, characters, and overall take-aways were all so different. Although I didn’t love them all, I really appreciated and enjoyed the cumulative reading experience. The Diversity Across Genres reading challenge has been a fun addition to my reading life this year.

What have you been reading lately?


Stolen by Ann-Helén Laestadius, English translation by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Stjålet by Ann-Helén Laestadius, translated from the Swedish to the Norwegian by Gøril Eldøen and Magne Tørring 📖

I really enjoyed and appreciated this book, a window into a culture that I’m very intrigued by. I admired and cared for the characters, the story was very engaging, the setting of Arctic Sweden was unique, and the insight into contemporary Sámi culture and issues was fascinating as well as infuriating.

At 9 years old, Elsa, a Sámi girl from a reindeer herding family, witnesses her reindeer calf being killed and is threatened to silence by the perpetrator. The event has a deep and lingering effect on her. As time passes, the Sámi community continues to experience crimes against their reindeer. The police do nothing; the crimes are just marked as theft with no investigations. The story jumps ahead 10 years when Elsa returns to her Sámi community after high school in town. Nothing has changed in regards to discrimination and prejudice towards the Sámi, and Elsa becomes active in the fight for justice. So many issues facing the Sámi are touched upon in this book. In addition to the discrimination and prejudice they face, there’s the effect of climate change on reindeer herding, mental health of Sámi people, and expected gender roles within the Sámi communities. It was an engaging and powerful read that left impressions that will stay with me for a long time.

FYI, the novel is getting a Netflix adaptation directed by Ella Márjá Eira set to premiere in 2024.


Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt 🎧
(Narrated by Marin Ireland and Michael Urie)

I loved this book, such a heartwarming story! The story is told from the perspectives of three characters all with such unique personalities – Tova, a woman in her 70’s whose son died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 18 and whose husband recently died of cancer; Cameron, a young adult who never had a father and was raised by his aunt when his mother left him at an early age; and Marcellus, an octopus nearing the end of his life, who has a keen eye and is not a fan of humans. I cared and rooted for all the characters, including the octopus. I loved how the storylines intertwined over time. I chuckled throughout and even teared up at the end. And a little bonus for me, Tova’s family emigrated from Sweden when she was a young girl, so the occasional mentions of her Swedish heritage were fun for me. Also, I attended a panel at the recent LA Times Festival of Books where the author and three others spoke about their recent books, which was a real treat. Highly recommend it! The audiobook narration by Marin Ireland and Michael Urie was fabulous.


The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali 📖

This book had been on my TBR list for a long time. I was intrigued by the historical setting – 1953 in Tehran, Iran, when the government was overthrown and the Shah reinstated. It’s about Roya, a teenager who falls in love and is engaged to be married, but the political upheaval disrupts those plans abruptly. She ends up moving to California and continues her life in the US. Sixty years later she is reunited with her lost love and learns what actually happened. I greatly appreciated and enjoyed the insight into Iranian history and culture (especially the food!). My favorite part of the book was when the story was set in Iran. However, I found the story of Roya in the US to be lack-luster. I had great hopes for her, but she just didn’t come off as a very strong character.


Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng 📖

I started this book by listening to the audiobook but the narration wasn’t working for me. I didn’t want to give up on it; I was too intrigued by all the hype about it, so I switched to the ebook. There I found the writing to be without quotation marks which is normally not to my liking, but luckily, I quickly got used to it and it didn’t bother me. The story takes place in the near future. So much mirrors contemporary times — children taken from parents, book banning, Asian hate, lockdown due to a crisis. Ng’s writing is wonderful, poetic at times, but I found the whole book bleak with no joy. I did admire the non-violent protests using art and the role of libraries. I was hoping for a more hopeful or satisfying ending.


What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in purchasing Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, visit my Scandinavian Ebook Deals page. 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 (March 2023)

Welcome to another round of “What I’ve Been Reading Lately”. The past month has been a ride around the world with visits to Albania, Colombia, and a dystopian, apocalyptic Scandinavia. Coincidentally, I went straight from reading about one country (Albania) during a turbulent decade to a totally different country on the other side of the world (Colombia) in the same decade, also a turbulent one, which is actually not an uninteresting thing to do. The first was a memoir; the second was a novel based on the author’s own experiences. Both were coming of age stories from the perspective of a young girl and provided interesting insight into a country I was not very familiar with at all.

This year’s 2023 Nordic Literature Reading Challenge is underway. I recently completed a Finnish longlist nominee for the Dublin Literature Award from 2016. I continue to research and decide on selections for the other categories and welcome suggestions.

And finally, I’ve joined the reading challenge Diversity Across Genres hosted by @booksonadventures and @reading.and.roaming on Instagram. They’re challenging me to read more diversely both in terms of authors and genres. I’m beginning with the Bingo option and will expand as time allows.

What have you been reading lately?


Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History by Lea Ypi 📖🎧
(Narrated by Rachel Babbage and Lea Ypi)

Albania is a country I feel I should have known more about than just its location, so this was an eye-opening read. And it’s always interesting and inspiring to read about women’s experiences and contributions, whether small or large, here or abroad. In this memoir, Lea Ypi recounts her childhood in Albania in the 1980s and 1990s as the country went from being an isolated, communist regime to embracing a free market economy, and then in 1997 collapsing into civil war. Experiencing Albania’s tumultuous history through the eyes of Lea as a child and later a teenager was unique. The book was at times very philosophical. I enjoyed it more as a window into an unfamiliar country during recent history and as a coming of age story during said time and place.


Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras 📖

Colombia in the 1990s was a time of unrest and violence when the country was under the influence of drug lord Pablo Escobar. In this novel, the main character, 7-year-old Chula, and her older sister are safe in their gated community in Bogotá, but their world begins to unravel when a live-in maid, 13-year-old Petrona from the city’s guerilla-occupied slum, begins to work for them. The story is told in alternating perspectives by Chula and the maid, a structure that I really enjoyed. It was a bit slow to begin with but the pace did pick up as the story went on and I finished quickly. Once again, another eye-opening glimpse into a country whose history I had little familiarity with.


Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta 🎧
(Narrated by Amy Landon)

Fascinatingly, the English and Finnish editions of this book were written simultaneously by the author. “I had to write in English initially, because I was submitting the early chapters as coursework for my university degree in the UK. However, I soon discovered that it was quite useful to get feedback from my Finnish writing group, so I ended up writing each chapter in parallel in English and Finnish.” (Source)

This story is set in the Scandinavian Union years in the future in a Europe ruled by China where climate change and rising seas have destroyed cities and fresh water is extremely scarce and controlled by the military. Noria is a seventeen-year-old girl who has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a tea master. When her father dies, the responsibilities and secrets that came with that role become harder to maintain, and Noria has to make difficult decisions. Noria is a likable and engaging character, and the world building is interesting and creative (though there are some holes and unanswered questions about how their world really came to be in such a way). In particular, I enjoyed the scene of the Moonfeast, when a viewing of the Northern Lights was infused with Chinese culture and ocean-themed references. I could see it being a beautiful scene in a movie (which was released in the fall of 2022).


What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in purchasing Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, visit my Scandinavian Ebook Deals page. 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.crime

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (February 2023)

Welcome to another round of “What I’ve Been Reading Lately”. Last month, I finally completed my 2022 Scandinavian Reading Challenge with a book that spanned several decades, and it was a very satisfying way to wrap up the read-through-the-decades challenge. Now I’m fully immersed in researching and planning what I’ll read for this year’s 2023 Nordic Literature Reading Challenge. (My final book for the 2022 SRC is actually a good one for the 2023 NLRC if you’re interested.)

Once again, I join Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit where readers share short and sweet reviews of what they’ve been reading lately.

What have you been reading lately?


Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse 🎧
(Narrated by Kinsale Hueston)

I wrapped up my school’s winter reading challenge with this one (see Reading Lately, January 2023 for the other reads). Although there were certainly aspects of this middle grade fantasy book that I appreciated, overall, it wasn’t for me. It started fine. At first, it actually reminded me of Firekeeper’s Daughter (a YA book I loved). It featured an independent female Indigenous character from a special lineage on a mission to save her community. Coincidentally, they were both also missing a parent/parent figure under suspicious circumstances. But then there were too many quests and fantasy elements and fantastical creatures for my liking. The insight into the Navajo belief system and hearing the Navajo words in the narration were definitely a plus.


Leksikon om lys og mørke by Simon Stranger 📖
Keep Saying Their Names translated from the Norwegian by Matt Bagguley

This novel had been on my TBR list since it won the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2018. The book is what one might call a documentary novel (though the author just calls it a novel) and has a very unique structure. It blends real Norwegian World War II history with the author’s wife’s family history into a fictionalized story told through chapters following the alphabet (the Norwegian title translates to “Dictionary of light and darkness”). I read it in Norwegian and am so curious how the translation is completed due to this structure.

This multi-generational story generally takes place in Trondheim, Norway, and begins with the author and his young son at the memory stone (“snublestein”) of the son’s great-great grandfather. He was a Norwegian Jew arrested, imprisoned, and killed by the Nazis during World War II. The author then learns that after the war, his mother-in-law (the granddaughter of this great-great grandfather) grew up in a house which used to be the headquarters of a gang of Norwegian Nazi collaborators who questioned, tortured, and killed resistance members and others. From there, the author takes the reader on a journey jumping back and forth between the 1920s, the war years, and the post war years. He delves into the origins, actions, and fate of Henry Oliver Rinnan, the Norwegian leader of the Nazi collaborators, as well as his wife’s family history, in particular how they ended up living in Rinnan’s headquarters and the effect it had on them. The book was always eye-opening, often disturbing, at times brutal (not for sensitive readers), but it was also somewhat hopeful in that it was also a story of survival and how to live on – hence the reference to light and darkness in the Norwegian title. A very powerful book that will stay with me for a long time.


The Measure by Nikki Erlick 📖

I was surprised by how quickly I read this one. It grabbed my attention right away, and with the short chapters hopping between characters, I was fully engaged until the end. The story takes place in a world just like ours, but one day every person 22 years and older receives a mysterious box with a string that shows how long they have left to live. The book revolves around a cast of eight diverse characters and their decisions to open the box or not and what to do with the new information. Over time, the lives of these people intertwine in unexpected ways, a type of story I really enjoy. This is a thought-provoking book. The arrival of these strings has repercussions far and wide. I look forward to discussing this one with fellow readers at a book club meeting!


What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in purchasing Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, visit my Scandinavian Ebook Deals page. 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 (January 2023)

Welcome to another round of Quick Lit where I join other readers in sharing what we’ve been reading lately. If it hadn’t been for a couple of middle grade books, it would not have been a very interesting start to the new year. I was so enthralled by an audiobook and on a mission to complete the 20 hours of listening before my loan expired that I focused solely on that. Instead of listening to one book and reading another, which is my usual reading tendency, I alternated between the audio version and the ebook so I could finish in time. The audiobook was such a fabulous listening experience that I wanted to listen to as much as possible before it expired, and I managed just in the knick of time. Then I squeezed in the two middle grade books before the end of the month.

Looking Ahead to 2023

I’m eager to kick off my goals for 2023 with my 2023 Nordic Literature Reading Challenge, and snuck in a read for it, but I also still have to finish the last book for my 2022 Scandinavian Reading Challenge, a book spanning decades. Almost there! In the meantime, I’ve been planning my Nordic TBR for 2023 and am excited for the year ahead.

My middle grade reads were inspired by a reading challenge that my elementary school hosts every winter in which students are encouraged to read certain books and vote for their favorite. Parents, faculty, and staff are invited to join, and I’m participating with the 6th grade booklist. All are genres I don’t normally read. Besides being middle grade books, they are a novel-in-verse (partly), a fantasy, and a graphic novel. This past month, I read the graphic novel and novel-in-verse. I’m currently reading the fantasy one.

What have you been reading lately?


Girls Who Lie (Forbidden Iceland, #2) by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir 📖
(Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb)

Iceland’s location and geography make for such a fascinating setting and are often a significant aspect of stories set there. That is certainly the case in this series which takes place outside of Reykjavik along the western coast. The author deftly incorporates changing weather and unique geographical features into the stories. I really enjoyed the first in the Forbidden Iceland series, The Creak on the Stairs. However, this second one didn’t quite do it for me. It began slowly and there were what I considered mundane and unnecessary details. Unfortunately, I was not attentive enough while reading, and the twist did not unfold for me in a satisfying way — more confusion than a-ha moment — and this frustrated me. Though I can certainly see how attentive reading could yield a satisfying, or even thrilling, reading experience so I haven’t written off the next in the series.


Dawnlands (The Fairmile Series, #3) by Philippa Gregory 🎧
(Narrated by Louise Brealey)

Once again, Philippa Gregory knocks it out of the ballpark. This installment takes place 15 years later in 1685 when England is on the brink of another civil war. We return to the lives of Alinor, her adult children and their families, her brother Ned who has returned from New England with a Native American, and Livia who continues to be as manipulative as ever. It’s a captivating read/listen with real history, including actual historical figures, and extremely engaging fictional characters. The colonial sugar plantations in Barbados play a significant role in this story, which I knew next to nothing about. There is more emphasis on royalty in this book which I was less interested in, but overall it was a fascinating continuation of Alinor’s family’s lives and a new generation is introduced as well. I look forward to the next installment when that arrives!


Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez & Gabriela Espstein 📖

This middle grade graphic novel is a modern day Breakfast Club story. A group of students seen by most as all the same, just five Spanish speaking kids, find themselves stuck together with nothing in common other than having to complete community service hours. I had mixed feelings about this one. I enjoyed getting to know the individual students and their personal stories and I liked how they came together to help someone. However, I was not a fan of how it was framed with the beginning and end as they were. I also didn’t like how the adults at the school were portrayed. I did, however, really appreciate the dual language aspect and liked reading the Spanish passages when they were offered. And the illustrations were fabulous.

  • Elementary School Winter Reading Challenge ✔️

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling  📖

I’m so impressed with how the structure of the novel contributed to the plot. The story begins in regular prose as a daughter and father head out on a road trip to hike a canyon. They are getting over the death of the mother and find peace and safety in nature. Suddenly, a flash flood comes barreling through the canyon. At this point, the story switches to verse from the perspective of the daughter as her father is swept away with the gushing water after lifting her to safety. The story continues in verse as she perseveres fighting to survive and looking for her father. The verse isn’t all uniform but changes according to what’s going on in the story. A very impressive and engaging middle grade read.

  • Elementary School Winter Reading Challenge ✔️

What have you been reading lately?

If you’re interested in purchasing Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, visit my Scandinavian Ebook Deals page. 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 Reading Challenge 2023: Nordic Literature

My passion project, the yearly Scandinavian Reading Challenge, “celebrated” its fifth year in 2022. I started it for myself (and anyone else who wanted to join) as an incentive to get to know Scandinavian authors better and to read Scandinavian books on a more regular basis. Every year I read 12+ Scandinavian (plus some other Nordic) books checking off various prompts.

This past year was the most intensive and focused year of them all. Inspired by the Book Girls’ Decades Reading Challenge, I read through the decades of the last century in Norway. A major component of this challenge was researching Norway’s history and finding books for each of the decades. It was enjoyable and satisfying but extremely time-consuming, and it took a toll on researching and reading books from other parts of the world, also a great passion of mine.

This past month has been an opportunity to evaluate how my reading was in 2022, in particular how it compared to my actual reading intentions for 2022. There were certainly some worthwhile highlights!

Highlights of 2022:

  • Learning about Norway’s 20th century history through books taking places all over Norway
  • Discovering Roy Jacobsen’s The Barrøy Chronicles series and loving it
  • Finally reading Norwegian authors Zeshan Shakar and Simon Stranger and looking forward to reading more of their work

Goals for 2023:

  • Read more new-to-me Nordic authors
  • Read more books in translation, especially women in translation, from around the world
  • As always, read off my shelves, both physical and digital
  • And also as always, try to share reading on Instagram more regularly

Reading Challenge for 2023 – Join Me!

In 2023, with my goals in mind, I’m taking a wider but less labor-intensive approach with the reading challenge. First of all, I’ve expanded the scope of the reading challenge to cover the whole Nordic region: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden which includes the autonomous territories of Greenland, Faroe Islands, and Åland, as well as Sápmi, the land of the indigenous Sámi people (which overlaps northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Kola Peninsula of Russia). Secondly, I’m limiting myself to a “mini challenge” with only six prompts, one for each of the Nordic countries plus Sápmi.

I invite you to join me in the 2023 Nordic Literature Reading Challenge by reading six unique Nordic books. For each of the five Nordic countries, match it with a different prompt, as listed below. For the Sámi selection, the prompt is free choice. Any book by or about the Sámi people and their history and culture, fiction or nonfiction, is fine.

Prompts

The Nordic Council’s Literature Prize has been awarded since 1962 and is awarded to a work of fiction written in one of the Nordic languages. It can be a novel, a drama, a collection of poems, a collection of short stories or a collection of essays that meet high literary and artistic requirements. View a list of winners with English translations.

The Dublin Literary Award has been presented annually since 1996 to a novel written in English or translated into English. The Award promotes excellence in world literature and is solely sponsored by Dublin City Council and administered by Dublin City Libraries. Nominations are submitted by libraries in major cities throughout the world. See a catalog of all nominees.

  • By or about a marginalized group in the Nordic region — indigenous, immigrant, minority, etc

  • Nonfiction — by a Nordic author or about a Nordic region

  • Nordic Noir — crime fiction by a Nordic author set in the Nordic region

  • Sámi Literature free choice

This year I still want to expand my Scandinavian reading, but I also want more opportunity and time to venture beyond those borders. I want to enjoy books in a more relaxed way and read more of what I already have on my shelf, both physical and digital shelves, both for this challenge and the wider world.

Will you join me in adding some Nordic books or authors to your reading list this year?

What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update (December 2022)

I didn’t quite finish the year as I would have liked to reading-wise. Ideally, I would be more or less done with my 2022 Scandinavian Reading Challenge (I have one book left, a book spanning multiple decades or places) and I would have planned the next year’s challenge. However, unexpected family circumstances and an unplanned trip to Norway in December left me with little energy or opportunity to read, listen, or plan ahead. While in Norway, though, I did acquire some Norwegian books for later reading which was a bonus!

I did, however, complete my trip around the world for The Book Girls’ reading challenge, Book Voyage: Read Around the World. And my last selection was an unread Book of the Month pick; it’s always satisfying when I can check off another read for my forever ongoing #unreadBOTMchallenge. I’ll certainly do another round of Book Voyage in 2023, but this year also, I’ll be skipping around and not following their order.

Once again, I join Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately. What have you been reading lately?


Tante Ulrikkes vei by Zeshan Shakar 🎧
(Narrated by Martin Lange, Tohid Akhtar and Ivar Nergaard)

I had the physical copy of this book on my shelf, but I decided I would listen to the audiobook as well, which I believe turned out to be the optimal way to read this book for me since it is in standard Norwegian as well as “kebabnorsk” (Kebab Norwegian), a spoken dialect mixing Norwegian with foreign words, mainly Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages. It is a modern epistolary novel, emails and transcripts of audio recordings from Mo and Jamal, two teenage, second generation immigrant boys who live in the same low-income neighborhood of Oslo. They are part of a study about the daily lives of teenagers with minority backgrounds during the time period 2001-2006. Their parents’ country is never specified but they are both Muslim. The author himself grew up in this neighborhood which lends great authenticity to the novel. It was a unique perspective on contemporary life in Oslo, very engaging and eye-opening. So glad I finally got around to reading it.

This was Zeshan Shakar’s debut novel. He won the Norwegian Tarjei Vesaas’ Award for it in 2017. There was news about four years ago that the book would be released in English translation by the independent British publisher Wrecking Ball Press, but I have not been able to find any update on that. Since this debut, he has written two more novels, Gul bok (Yellow Book, 2020) and De kaller meg ulven (They Call Me the Wolf, 2022), the last of which won the Booksellers’ Prize in 2022, both of which are on my TBR list.


The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles  📖

An unread Book of the Month selection corresponded nicely with the Book Voyage prompt of South America! Most of the story takes place in Brazil in the 1920s and 1930s, a place and history I know very little about and enjoyed exploring. It’s the story of Dora and Graça, told from Dora’s perspective late in life. Dora was a poor, orphaned servant girl on a sugar plantation in northern Brazil and Graça the spoiled daughter of the owner. Together they developed a love for music, in particular samba, which they pursued with passion in Rio de Janeiro. They had a lifelong, very complicated friendship being partners and rivals at the same time. Dora, Graça, and their band made it to Hollywood in the 1940s, and unbeknownst to me, there were direct connections to family history at Twentieth Century-Fox which was very fun to come across. The book is written in a very lyrical style, even including lyrics between chapters. For me, the style was a bit over the top, but I became too engaged with the diverse and eclectic cast of characters to give it up.


What have you been reading lately?

If you’re interested in purchasing Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, visit my Scandinavian Ebook Deals page. 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.

Celebrating a Norwegian Christmas: Watch, Read, Listen, Do & Consume!

In Norway, the Christmas season is stretched over several weeks. It starts on the first Sunday of Advent, usually at the end of November. The Advent period lasts about four weeks until Christmas Eve. During Advent, a new candle is lit in a four-candle Advent wreath every Sunday. It’s a time of Christmas preparations – baking, decorating, shopping, and parties. On Christmas Eve, there are church services and families get together for the main Christmas meal. Presents are exchanged, and Julenissen may even visit and distribute presents. After Christmas Eve follows the period called “romjulen”, a quiet time until New Year’s Eve.

Would you like to experience a touch of Norwegian jul? Here are some ideas of what to watch, read, listen, do, and consume in these last few days of Advent and during romjulen that follows. God jul!

(Some of the links below are affiliate links. Any purchases you make through links on my blog may result in a small commission to me. I greatly appreciate it when you support my blog by clicking on these links to make purchases.)


Watch 👀

Home for Christmas (Netflix Original Series, 2 Seasons, 2020 & 2021)

A fun and atmospheric rom-com set in a Christmasy, winter wonderland in Norway! (It’s a bit raunchy at times, so beware if watching with young children.) Frustrated by all her friends being a part of couples and families and her family constantly commenting on her single status, Johanna rashly and falsely announces at a family dinner on the first Sunday of Advent that she has a boyfriend. Now she has to find one to introduce on Christmas Eve.

A Storm for Christmas (Netflix Limited Series Released Dec. 16, 2022)

I was hoping for a third season of Home for Christmas, but instead there’s a spin-off of sorts with this limited series. The main character and her father from Home for Christmas return but in totally different roles. The story takes place at the Oslo airport. Per Netflix’s description, “Destinies collide when extreme weather traps travelers and workers at an airport, forcing them to spend the final hours leading up to Christmas together.”

Three Wishes for Cinderella (Available through Amazon Prime Video)

Apparently, it’s a Christmas tradition for many Norwegians to watch the Norwegian dubbed version of the 1973 Czech movie Three Wishes for Cinderella. Last year, an updated Norwegian retelling was made by director Cecilie A. Mosli. The movie features spectacular shots of Norwegian winterscapes and architecture as well as glimpses of Norwegian culture. Consider putting it on your watch list!

Grevinnen og hovmesteren / Dinner for One (YouTube, Skit begins at 2:25)

This is a bizarre Norwegian tradition! Every year on Little Christmas Eve (Dec. 23) at 9:00 p.m., NRK, the Norwegian national TV station, shows this short black and white comedy skit (first released in 1963) about a butler and an elderly countess hosting a dinner for four imaginary guests. The link above includes an introduction in German. The skit begins at 2:25. “Same procedure as last year?” and “Same procedure as every year” are now common phrases in Norway.


Read 📚

There’s no better time to read books set during Christmas or winter than now. Below you’ll suggestions, and it wouldn’t be a Norwegian book list without some crime fiction as well.

For a list of Christmas books for families, visit my page Book List: Christmas in Scandinavia.

   

A Very Scandinavian Christmas: The Greatest Nordic Holiday Stories of All Time (2019)

From the publisher: This collection brings together the best Scandinavian holiday stories including classics by Hans Christian Andersen of Denmark; Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf, August Strindberg and Hjalmar Söderberg of Sweden; as well as the acclaimed contemporary Norwegian authors Karl Ove Knausgaard and National Book Award nominee Vigdis Hjorth. These Nordic tales―coming from the very region where so much of traditional Christmas imagery originates―convey a festive and contemplative spirit laden with lingonberries, elks, gnomes, Sami trolls, candles, gingerbread, and aquavit in abundance.

Berlin Poplars by Anne B. Ragde, translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson (First published in Norway in 2004)

Taken from the publisher: Aware of their 80-year-old mother’s failing health, three brothers reluctantly reunite over the winter holidays, where unexpected guests and the question of inheritance prompt the revealing of some bizarre, and devastating, truths.

Winter Stories by Ingvild H. Rishøi, translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley (First published in Norway in 2014)

I don’t often read short story collections, but at a virtual event with Norwegian authors, this particular author was mentioned as a must-read and I was drawn to the serene winter cover. It’s a collection of three long short stories, all of which take place during winter time in Norway and are about vulnerable people (a young single mother, an ex-convict, and a teenager) trying to do their best for the young children in their lives, but with difficulty. The author does a compelling job of exploring their struggles, and in every story there’s an unexpected stranger whose compassion makes a significant difference. A five-star read for me.

   

The Caveman (William Wisting Mystery) by Jørn Lier Horst, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce (First published in Norway in 2013)

Jørn Lier Horst is my favorite Norwegian crime writer. The Caveman was the first of his that I read. Wisting is a likable and respectable police investigator who works in a smalltown, coastal community south of Oslo. His daughter Line, a journalist, is also a main character in this story. This installment takes place during the holiday season. Horst’s books usually tackle a greater social issue; this one reflects on forgotten and marginalized members of society. The Caveman won the the 2016 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

The Snowman (Harry Hole #7) by Jo Nesbø, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (First published in Norway in 2007)

I had read the first Harry Hole book a few years ago and wasn’t a fan of him (a too damaged alcoholic with poor judgement), but I wanted to give the series another try since it’s such a popular one both at home and abroad. I’m glad I did; this book was a fun ride! I really enjoyed that it took place in Oslo (November with the first snow). Also, Harry Hole’s character was much more likable; he doesn’t drink in this installment and his skills as a detective really shine. In this story, Harry is on the hunt for a serial killer who’s been targeting married women with children and leaves a snowman behind as a calling card. It was very engaging and suspenseful with a satisfying resolution.

The Redeemer (Harry Hole #6) by Jo Nesbø, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (First published in Norway in 2005)

This Harry Hole installment is even more of a Christmas crime read, though it does venture outside of Norway. From the publisher: Shots ring out at a Salvation Army Christmas concert in Oslo, leaving one of the singers dead in the street. The trail will lead Harry Hole, Oslo’s best investigator and worst civil servant, deep into the darkest corners of the city and, eventually, to Croatia. An assassin forged in the war-torn region has been brought to Oslo to settle an old debt. As the police circle in, the killer becomes increasingly desperate and the danger mounts for Harry and his colleagues.


Eat & Drink 😋

Norwegian Christmas Cookies – Syv slag kaker

Christmas cookies are an important part of a Norwegian Christmas. The baking starts early and long standing tradition calls for syv slag, or seven varieties. The number seven was believed to bring luck and is an important religious number often symbolizing completion or perfection. The seven types are chosen based family preferences. Norwegian Christmas cookies all generally have the same basic ingredients (butter, flour, sugar, eggs) and are either baked, fried, or made with a special tool. My favorite type is krumkaker, a cone-shaped cookie made with a special flat iron. Berlinerkranser is another good one. This year I plan to try making serinakaker. Read more about Norway’s syv slag kaker at The Great Norwegian Christmas Cookie Extravaganza and 21 Norwegian Christmas Cookies for a Scandinavian Holiday.

Gløgg

Gløgg is a very popular warm beverage (may be alcoholic or non-alcoholic) served throughout the Christmas season. You’ll find it in homes, at parties, and out at Christmas markets. It’s usually made with red wine along with various mulling spices and served with raisins and almonds. You can make it from scratch or buy readymade gløgg (and potentially add your own wine or spirits) or you can buy mulling spices to add to your own seasonal beverage.

Risengrynsgrøt (Rice Porridge)

A popular food during Christmastime is risengrynsgrøt or rice porridge. It is served with butter, cinnamon, and sugar on top, and during Christmastime, it is traditional to hide a peeled almond in it. The person who finds it receives a marzipan pig as a prize (though my family is not a fan of marzipan so we have Norwegian chocolate as prizes instead). You can make it from scratch or buy a premade mix you heat up with milk.

For more inspiration related to eating and drinking, visit the websites of favorite Scandinavian food writers.


Do 👐

Listen to Norwegian Christmas music.

For me it’s not Christmas without my playlist of Christmas music which of course includes various Norwegian artists. Among my favorite songs are Kim Rysstad’s 2017 album Snøen laver ned (The snow is falling down) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I also enjoy songs from trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen’s 2010 Christmas album Desemberstemninger (December Moods). And finally, it’s not Christmas without some Sissel Kyrkjebø, Norway’s Queen of Christmas Music. Sissel has a new Christmas album out this season, Winter Morning. It was recorded in Utah with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.

Make heart baskets.

Paper heart baskets are popular not only in Norway but also in Denmark and Sweden. During Christmas time, they are used as decorations on trees or in garlands and may even hold candies and small treats. They can be simple and extremely complex. All you need is paper, scissors, and a little tape for the handle. Single color wrapping paper and construction paper work fine for this. See instructions here and watch this video to help with the weaving.

Go on a virtual visit to Oslo during Christmas time!

In the video Christmas in Oslo: Festive Highlights from Oslo, Norway, it’s early December 2022 and winter has arrived in Oslo, though not the snow that is currently there now (at time of publication). The days may be short and dark, but the city is bright with festive decorations. Consider also taking a walk through the Oslo Christmas Market. For more glimpses of Christmas time in Oslo, watch Visit Norway’s photo series, The Christmas Town, Oslo, which covers everything from Christmas markets to ski jumping.

Watch St. Lucia celebrations with Rick Steves on a visit to Drøbak and Oslo.

In Rick Steves’ European Christmas, Rick visits Drøbak and Oslo to explore the Scandinavian Christmas tradition of Santa Lucia (December 13). Candle-bearing Santa Lucias bring light to the middle of winter and the promise of the return of summer. To capture the celebration, he traveled to Drøbak where kindergarteners bring light and saffron buns to a senior home and to Oslo where the Norwegian Girls’ Choir perform by candlelight in Gamle Aker Kirke, a tiny, heavy-stone, Viking Age church in Oslo (skip to 14:43 for segment on Norway). For some background information on the celebration, visit Life in Norway’s The Scandinavian Santa Lucia Celebrations Explained.


Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season! God jul og godt nytt år!