What I’ve Been Reading Lately (March 2024) & Nordic Literature Reading Challenge News 

Welcome to another round of “What I’ve Been Reading Lately.” This past month I traveled all over the world — Maine, Uruguay, Vietnam, and Panama — and two of the books were even very new releases from 2024 which is unlike me.

I have finally finalized my Nordic literature reading plan for 2024. It’s going to be slow and steady (not meant to be completed by the end of 2024) with general reading categories for each of the Nordic countries to guide me along the way. Read more about it at 2024 Nordic Literature Reading Challenge.

What have you been reading lately?

The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters (2023) 🎧(📖)
Narrated Aaliya Warbus and Jordan Waunch

This story opens during the summer of 1962 when a Mi’kmaq family from Nova Scotia is in Maine for berry picking season and 4-year-old Ruthie disappears. Her older brother Joe, 6 years old at the time, is the last to see her and is affected by this the rest of his life. What follows is a dual perspective narrative following Joe at the end of his life and the missing girl growing up with her new, overly protective mother and emotionally distant father. There is no mystery for the reader; it’s about how this early childhood trauma affected them both and how they are reunited. This was a highly anticipated novel that didn’t quite land with me like I expected it would. Maybe it was the narration of the audiobook that threw me. I ended up finishing the book by reading it. ⭐️⭐️

Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis (2019) 📖(🎧)

This story follows five queer women in Montevideo, Uruguay, who come together in secret during the Uruguayan Dictatorship and become friends, lovers, and family. They are a mixed group – a young high school student, a former activist, a married woman, a butcher, and one who is very reserved about her past and current life. A defining act of this group is discovering and buying a shack in an isolated, remote area along the coast which becomes their secret sanctuary. I read this for its setting in Uruguay and greatly appreciated the insight into life before, during, and after the dictatorship (1973-1985). I also admired the women for their resolve and determination to build their found family and to live as who they really are, despite dictators, trauma, and fear. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Women by Kristin Hannah (2024) 📖

Loved this book. Strong female characters, deep friendships, history I’m not as familiar with. It’s about three female nurses in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and then their re-entry into life when they returned to an America that wanted to forget Vietnam and didn’t acknowledge that women were there. In particular, it follows one woman, Frankie, who volunteered to serve thinking it would make her family proud, but instead it had the exact opposite effect. It’s a heartbreaking story in so many ways, but also a powerful story of patriotism, sacrifice, and courage. I was engrossed the moment I entered Frankie’s life.  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Great Divide by Cristina Henríquez (2024) 🎧
Narrated by Robin Miles

This was not a unified story but instead a series of glimpses into the lives and backstories of individuals living in the Panama Canal zone during a period of its construction. Marian Oswald left America with her husband whose goal it was to eradicate malaria from the area. Sixteen-year-old Ava Bunting ran away from her home in Barbados so she could earn money for her younger sister’s surgery. Francisco was a local fisherman whose 17-year old son Omar decided to work in the cut despite his father’s protests. Joaquin was a fishmonger in Panama City whose wife became an activist when her small home village was threatened by the building of a dam. Over time, their lives intersected. It was an interesting behind-the-scenes look at a great historical feat and visit to a part of the world unfamiliar to me. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

What have you been reading lately?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately (February 2024)

Welcome to another round of “What I’ve Been Reading Lately.” I normally try to get this out mid-month, but I needed a couple of more days to wrap it up this time. I continue to move forward without a 2024 iteration of my yearly Scandinavian/Nordic reading challenge, but I aim to have something in place by the end of March.

In the meantime, I’m motivated by challenges I’ve already committed to, in particular the #DiversityAcrossGenres reading challenge, and reading off my own shelf which certainly includes Scandinavian books. This month, I also wrapped up the 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. I participated with the 4th grade booklist this year and am very proud to add the 2024 4th grade button to my collection.

What have you been reading lately?

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (2018) 📖

This young adult novel has been sitting on my shelf for a while and I am relieved to finally check it off my unread BOTM selections list. It’s about high school student Leigh, half Asian and half white, whose mother dies by suicide after struggles with depression. Leigh’s mother turns into a bird and Leigh travels to Taiwan to try to find the bird and to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. Unfortunately, the concept and execution did not land with me. I appreciated the trip to Taiwan which provided insight into sights, foods, and culture. However, the jumping back and forth in time and in and out of other people’s memories was a little disconcerting. And the writing was just too colorful for me.

Happiness Falls by Angie Kim (2023) 🎧

I went into this one knowing there were mixed feelings about it among my reading friends at work. For me, it turned out to be one that I loved. It takes place during the summer of 2020. Mia, a biracial Korean-American college student forced back home due to the pandemic, narrates what happened when her dad went missing after having gone to a local park with her 14-year-old non-speaking autistic brother. She is intellectual and honest. She analyzes and scrutinizes all leads in the case and it goes in many directions. There’s a lot going on in the book, including a discussion of happiness, understanding neurodivergent people (brother had dual diagnosis of autism and Angelman Syndrome), insight into speech therapy, and more! It is thought-provoking and would make a great book club read. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Jakthundene by Jørn Lier Horst (2012) 📖
(The Hunting Dogs translated by Anne Bruce)

This is my fifth William Wisting installment, not read in any particular order and all except one in Norwegian. I always enjoy returning to the duo of police detective William Wisting and his crime journalist daughter Line along the coast south of Oslo. They don’t work together but their work overlaps. He’s a trustworthy and respected detective; she’s an eager and independent reporter. I like them both. In this installment, Wisting’s reputation is questioned and he’s suspended due to new evidence in a 17-year old case about a murdered missing woman. Line is investigating a recent murder. Seeing how the two cases converged made for a fun and interesting read. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

4th Grade Reads for School Reading Challenge 🎧📖

My absolute favorite of the three 4th grade selections was The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan (audiobook was excellent). It was such a sweet and heartwarming story of a Turkish American girl whose mother had to return to Turkey for immigration reasons. During the mother’s long and difficult absence, the daughter formed a touching friendship with a grandfather figure, an unusual classmate, and an elephant. The other two books I read were Odder by Katherine Applegate, a very sweet novel-in-verse about a playful otter and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga (also a great listen), an entertaining story of a Mars rover with humanlike feelings which included letters to the rover from the daughter of the female scientist assembling it. I appreciated the Arabic heritage of the main human characters.

What have you been reading lately?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately & Reading Challenges Update (December 2023)

The 2023 reading year was a good one, so many different reading experiences. I didn’t quite check off all my goals as planned but new and exciting reading opportunities came up along the way.

Once again, I traveled around the world with The Book GirlsBook Voyage: Read Around the World reading challenge. I visited 19 countries (not including the USA), three of which were new to me in reading (Albania, Argentina, and Italy), and I traveled to more of South America than in previous years. Books in translation made up 50% of the Book Voyage books.

I didn’t complete my 2023 Nordic Lit Reading Challenge as planned – a unique Nordic country for each of the six categories – but I still felt good about how it played out.

What I thought would be a simpler approach with fewer categories (in the past it’s been 12) turned out to require too much research and planning for all the pieces to fall into place. Also, I was distracted by new reading challenges.

I did read two new-to-me Nordic authors, Denmark’s Kim Leine (Reading Lately, May) and Finland’s Emmi Itäranta (Reading Lately, March). I also read two Norwegian authors long on my radar, Brit Bildøen (Reading Lately, August) and Abid Raja (Reading Lately, September) as well as a highly anticipated Swedish Sámi novel (Reading Lately, April). Looking back now, all I needed to do for the pieces to fall into place as planned was to read a Swedish book by or about a marginalized group or another book by or about the Sámi people and their history and culture, fiction or nonfiction. Goals for 2024!

Somewhere in the middle of 2023, I picked up the #DiversityAcrossGenres reading challenge, which I greatly enjoyed participating in. I read many diverse authors and different genres that I wouldn’t necessarily have read if I weren’t on the lookout for them. Click here to see my 2023 reads. I ran out of time to complete some categories, but I have those titles on my TBR for 2024’s challenge.

What have you been reading lately?

The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong (2016) 📖🎧
Translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim (2018), narrated by Johnathan McClain & Elizabeth Liang

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this one. It had been on and off my radar for a while as a book in translation by an Asian woman, and I finally read it now since I needed a thriller/horror by an Asian author for #DiversityAcrossGenres. It’s about a 26-year-old man who wakes up to find his mother dead in their home. He does not remember much from the night before, but as he tries to figure it out, more and more is revealed, both about what happened and about his past. The author really takes the reader inside his mind as he pieces everything together from bits and pieces of memories. It’s a dark and disturbing story (decent amount of  violence) but intriguing to see it all come together. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

People Like Them by Samira Sedira (2020) 🎧
Translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud (2021), narrated by Susan Nezami

This story by a French-Algerian author is loosely inspired by a quintuple murder that happened in 2003 in France. In that case, racist motives were completely overlooked. In this novella, the author takes into consideration race, which she believes to be an essential key to understanding that tragedy. The story begins mid-2015, a significant year for France with terrorist attacks both in January and November.

A wealthy Black man and his family move to a newly built chalet in a remote French mountain village. A little over a year later, they are murdered by a local whom everyone described as “normal”. The story opens with a retelling of the brutal murder. There is no doubt of the defendant’s guilt, just questions about his motivation. The story is from the point of view of the murderer’s wife. Reflecting on the tragedy and her husband’s role in it, she alternates between the trial and how she and her husband met and life in the village before the murder. It’s a thought-provoking look on human nature and race and class relations. The translation and the narration were both excellent. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Our Last Days in Barcelona (The Perez Family #5) by Chanel Cleeton (2022) 🎧
Narrated by Almarie Guerra, Elena Rey, and Victoria Villarreal

I read and enjoyed Next Year in Havana, the first book in the Perez Family series. I started but had to set aside the second one, When We Left Cuba. Now I skipped ahead to the last in the series, which was not a problem, but the family tree I found in the back of the book was helpful.

This is the story of Isabel, the oldest of four sisters. She travels from Palm Beach, Florida, to Barcelona in 1964 to track down her younger sister, Beatriz. The story jumps between Isabel in Barcelona in 1964 (unhappily married in Palm Beach) and the sisters’ mother Alicia in Barcelona in 1936 (at her parents’ home after leaving her cheating husband in Cuba) with some chapters from the perspective of Alicia’s cousin in Havana in 1936 (husband went to fight in Spain). There were many similarities, too many, between the storylines which made it hard to distinguish them at times. What I appreciated the most was the historical aspect of the novel. It takes place during the Civil War in Spain and also explores the historical relationship between Cuba and Spain, both of which have been rare topics in my reading. However, at the same time, I wish there had been a stronger sense of place in Barcelona. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

What have you been reading lately? Do you have any reading challenges planned for 2024?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately (November 2023)

This past month, the quantity of books was lower than I had hoped (I try to aim for at least 4 books a month) but the quality of the reading experiences certainly exceeded expectations. They were all extremely enjoyable books. I continue to slowly check off unread Book of the Month selections, which is an ongoing reading goal. Unfortunately, my Nordic Literature Reading Challenge has fallen off my radar as I’ve pursued the Diversity Across Genres and Book Voyage: Read Around the World reading challenges. I will have to rethink that one for next year.

What have you been reading lately?

The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson (2023) 📖🎧

This book takes place in the 1950s in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, and follows two young Black women in separate storylines that converge over time. High school student Ruby hopes to be the first in her family to attend college through a program for young, promising Black students. Eleanor is at Howard University thanks to sacrifices by her working class family. Both women fall in love with men which threatens their planned futures and leads to some hard choices. I loved the insight into the time and place of the stories, much of it unfamiliar to me. In particular, it was fascinating and eye-opening to read about DC’s elite wealthy Black community. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Survivors by Jane Harper (2021) 📖

This book was my first introduction to Jane Harper as well as to Tasmania, an island state of Australia. The story takes place in a small fictional seaside town very popular with tourists during the summer season, but otherwise very quiet. At the heart of the book are some dangerous ocean caves and a tragedy that happened 12 years ago and still haunts the locals, especially when a visitor to the area is found dead. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nothing to See Here (2019) by Kevin Wilson 🎧
Narrated by Marin Ireland

I’ve always been turned off by the cover and the premise of kids spontaneously combusting. When it was selected as a book club pick at work, I decided to listen to it. Lillian, a scholarship student, and Madison, from a wealthy family, were best friends at boarding school until a scandal separated them. Years later Madison needs Lillian’s help taking care of her 10 year old step-kids who erupt into flames when agitated. The story is from Lillian’s perspective. I loved her personality and relationship with the kids. The narration was fabulous, the delivery and tone of the narrator were spot on. Those of us who listened to it, seemed to enjoy it much more than those who read it. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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 (October 2023)

This was such an interesting diverse reading month for me which feels so satisfying. Of the four books I read, they were all different genres (autobiographical novel, crime thriller/supernatural horror, short story collection, and memoir). Two of them were books in translation (from France and Argentina) and the other two by voices that I don’t read very frequently (Indigenous and Muslim). This is all thanks to the #DiversityAcrossGenres reading challenge that pushes me to read diverse genres and perspectives. Sadly, it’s to the detriment of my personal Nordic Literature Reading Challenge which I will have to revisit and revise for next year.

What have you been reading lately?

The Postcard by Anne Berest (2021)
(Translated from the French by Tina Kover, 2023) 🎧

I loved this autobiographical novel based on the author’s own family history. The story’s seed was an anonymous postcard the author’s mother received in 2003 with only the names of Berest’s maternal great-grandparents and their two children killed at Auschwitz in 1942. That seed sprouted 15 years later when the author’s daughter experienced anti-Semitism at her elementary school.

From there began an ongoing dialogue between the author and her mother and an investigation into their family history that spanned five generations starting in Moscow in 1918. I really enjoyed getting to know the family members throughout time and place (Russia, Latvia, Palestine, France), getting insight into various aspects of life in France during World War II (Jews, Resistance fighters, and collaborators), and observing the relationship between the author and her mother throughout their investigation. I loved the structure of the novel. It jumped back and forth from contemporary to past times and included letters and emails. It kept the suspense going as the mystery around the postcard continued.

I highly recommend the book. The translation by Tina Kover was seamless. I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Barrie Kealoha. It’s not always an easy read with the atrocities against Jews during WWII and the resulting trauma upon survivors and descendants. But the fact that this book has been written and will forever keep the deceaseds’ memories alive is powerful. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Shutter by Ramona Emerson (2022) 📖

Rita, the protagonist, is an Indigenous forensic photographer with the Albuquerque Police Department. Not only does she have a great talent for capturing crime scene details, but she is also able to see and communicate with spirits of the dead. The story jumps back and forth in time between her upbringing by her grandmother on the Navajo Nation reservation and the present when the ghost of a murdered woman won’t leave her alone until the killer is brought to justice. I definitely enjoyed the Indigenous own voice narrative and Navajo cultural details. Might there have been too much graphic detail at some crime scenes and a couple of crime plot points that were too convenient, yes, but overall a great read. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez (2016)
(Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, 2017) 📖🎧

This collection of short stories from Argentina certainly delivered a strong sense of time and place, which I love about books, especially books in translation. The twelve stories are set in the recent past with Argentina’s troubled history in the background, and they take place in various areas around Buenos Aires and beyond. The characters in each of the stories are all generally going about their regular business, but there’s always something unsettling and disturbing that happens. A very captivating read, but not for the faint of heart. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H. 📖

This is the coming-of-age memoir of a queer Muslim immigrant to the US. It begins with the author’s childhood in the Middle East (after having moved there from the South Asian country of her birth so her father could provide a better life for his family) and continues through her years at an elite college in the US and into her early adult life in New York City. She has always felt out of place. Her queerness would be intolerable and ostracizing to her Muslim family and community. Her journey to make sense of her identity is interspersed with her interpretations of stories from the Quran. This book was a very engaging read that provided insight into so much that is unfamiliar to me. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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 (September 2023)

In September, my main focus was nonfiction, but I threw in some fun fiction genres outside my comfort zone as well. Last September I was introduced to a new reading challenge, #sakprosaseptember, a nonfiction reading challenge hosted by Norwegian bookstagrammer readygoread during the month of September  (“sakprosa” means nonfiction in Norwegian). I didn’t used to read a lot of nonfiction, but in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed I’ve been drawn to it more and more and welcome the opportunity to read more of it. So once again I participated in #sakprosaseptember (running through October 15) with its various nonfiction reading prompts.

#sakprosaseptember pairs well with another reading challenge I’m already participating in, #DiversityAcrossGenres, which challenges me to read various genres by diverse authors. One of those genres is nonfiction. Therefore, September’s focus was nonfiction and anything of interest that remains unread this month will be options for #NonfictionNovember.

What have you been reading lately?

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, narrated by the author (2013) 🎧

This book had been on my radar for a while. Thanks to reading challenges with nonfiction prompts, I finally read it. Sweetgrass has come up in various recent North American Indigenous-authored books I’ve read, and I haven’t really known what it is nor its significance. Not only did this book educate me about sweetgrass and its significance to Native Americans, but the book also delved into the vast differences and disconnect between Indigenous and modern day beliefs and practices in regards to the natural world. I greatly appreciated and enjoyed that aspect, even though it was sad and discouraging. Kimmerer’s language was very poetic and beautiful, but over time, it did become too much for me and additionally, the book began to feel too repetitive and long. ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (The audiobook, which she narrated herself, I had to speed up to 1.5x because it was a very slow listen otherwise so I recommend reading it over listening to it.)

Min skyld: En historie om frigjøring (My Fault: A Story of Liberation) by Abid Raja (2021) 📖

This is a very honest and open memoir – he shares difficult things! – by a Norwegian lawyer, liberal party politician, and current Member of Parliament with a minority background. It’s about his “liberation from shame, guilt, and outsiderness” as the book jacket states. Born in Norway in 1975 to Pakistani immigrants and with a rare birth defect, he faced great challenges growing up. This is the story of how he overcame those challenges, which included a few years in the child welfare system, and went on to study law at the University of Oslo and found the love of his life, a fellow Norwegian Pakistani. I admired his honesty when revisiting his past and confronting his opposing cultures – the patriarchal Pakistani culture and Islamic religion in which he was born and the liberal Norwegian society in which he lived. It was an eye-opening look at a segment of Norwegian society which I am not familiar with and that I greatly appreciated. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The book won the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2021. It went on to be the most sold nonfiction book in Norway in 2021 og 2022. It even sold more than all other books in Norway in 2021. Unfortunately, it is not available in English translation.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córcova (2021) 🎧
(Narrated by Frankie Corzo)

This was a fun ride. Fantasy is not a genre I’m normally drawn to, but I’ve read some magical realism that I’ve enjoyed and this one sounded intriguing for the #DiversityAcrossGenres challenge. Orquídea Divina, the matriarch of the Montoya family, is dying and sends out a summons for family members — grown children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren from five marriages — to return home to collect their inheritance. But this is not a regular family, instead one with a mysterious history and unexplainable happenings. The story has a dual timeline jumping between contemporary times and Orquídea’s past. At one point the number of characters became a little overwhelming and the family tree was helpful, but that passed and the character focus became narrower and more manageable. I really enjoyed the characters and settings, especially the trip to Ecuador both in the past and present. Did the magical realism get a little too much for me at the end? Maybe, but overall a great story, and the audiobook was very well narrated. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Kiss Quotient (The Kiss Quotient, #1) by Helen Hoang (2018) 📖

This was another book that I wouldn’t necessarily have read if it hadn’t been for the #DiversityAcrossGenres challenge since I don’t generally pick up romance books. So glad I did because it was a very fun and heartwarming read. The story is about Stella, a 30-year-old woman with Asperger’s who’s most comfortable in front of her computer using math and statistics to predict economic outcomes. However, she decides she needs help in the dating and romance areas of her life and hires Michael, a Swedish and Vietnamese escort, to teach her. I was so surprised by his understanding and respect of her and really enjoyed watching their relationship take its turns. I also really enjoyed the focus on Michael’s Vietnamese family life.  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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 & #WITmonth (August 2023)

Another big reading month for me in which the summer book bingo happening at work continued to be the prime motivating factor. Needless to say, I’ve got some catching up to do this fall for other reading challenges!

August was Women in Translation Month. I was able to read two books by women in translation, but they were not ones on my initial TBR list. I had pulled out a stack of three Scandinavian books – a Norwegian one, a Swedish one, and a Danish one – but none of them were the ones I ended up reading. I did begin the Norwegian one but had to set it aside because it wasn’t working for me at the time. Instead I picked up a collection of short stories by an Argentinian author which hit the spot. And then I moved on to a different Norwegian author with a book that unexpectedly met a prompt for my 2023 Nordic Literature Reading Challenge. Both of those were great reads, and I look forward to revisiting the original stack this fall.

Bonus for the month, I did recommend the prompt “A book by a woman in translation” for the summer book bingo at work. I was happy to know that I encouraged others to read women in translation this summer.

How did your summer reading go?

El Deafo by Cece Bell (2014) 📖

I don’t read a lot of graphic novels, but they’re a great change of pace when I want to mix up my reading a bit. This is an autobiographical “only slightly fictionalized” (author’s own words) account of a girl who becomes deaf due to illness and comes to terms with her disability by thinking of herself as the superhero, El Deafo. I had high hopes for this one, but I was a bit disappointed. I definitely appreciated the window into an unknown world by seeing and hearing the world from the main character’s eyes and ears (well done through catchy illustrations and dialogue muffled through the hearing aide), but certain aspects rubbed me the wrong way. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sula by Toni Morrison (1973) 📖

This book has been on my shelf for years, along with Beloved, and I’m so glad to finally have read it. Taking place in a small Ohio town in 1920s-1960s, it follows two Black women, Nel and Sula, from childhood into adulthood. Raised very differently and having very different personalities, they are best friends growing up but take very different paths as they grow older. Nel stays in their hometown, and Sula ventures out in the world only to return later. It’s a complicated friendship made even more fraught with Sula’s actions upon her return. It’s a short book; the story of the town and their friendship is told in snippets from year to year. Morrison’s writing is beautifully direct. The setting and characters really come to life. I greatly enjoyed Sula and look forward to reading Beloved soon. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume (1998) 📖

This was a fun coming of age story about best friends who grow up spending summer vacations together. It all begins at the end of 6th grade when popular Caitlin unexpectedly invites reserved Victoria to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer. It is a world of privilege and freedom that Victoria is unaccustomed to. One summer becomes every summer, and Victoria becomes more and more a member of Caitlin’s family. Their friendship is strong and complicated. They end up following separate paths after high school, but still staying in touch and eventually reuniting. I really enjoyed the summer setting, nostalgic feeling, and complicated relationships all around. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As I wrote this review of Summer Sisters, I noticed striking similarities between this and Sula — best friends, different personalities, complicated friendship, different paths, reunification, betrayal — but of course in very different worlds. Always fun to discover overlap between reads!

  • Summer Book Bingo: Re-read a favorite book & a book about best friends & a screen adaptation (soon to be)
  • Book Voyage: Read Around the World: North America (Massachusetts, USA)

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (2022) 🎧
(Narrated by Charlie Thurston)

I loved everything about this book. It takes place in Southern Appalachia in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Demon is telling his own story from some time in the future – but it’s also the story of whole region of the US. He was born to an addicted, single mother who couldn’t take care of him. He ends up in the foster care system where nothing is easy or good for him, but he is resilient and perseveres. Thankfully, he also has some stable people in the background. Demon has a talent for drawing and with his perspective on the world and Kingsolver’s writing talent, the setting of Appalachia and the people’s struggles really come to life. His story is heartbreaking but also at times humorous and overall inspiring. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was fantastic. The reading experience gets bonus points for teaching me about melungeons and providing insight into the toll of the opioid crisis on rural America. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Summer Book Bingo: A book recommended by a colleague & a book read read at the same time as someone else
  • Book Voyage: Read Around the World: North America (Southern Appalachia, USA)

Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin (2015) 📖
(Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, 2022)

This was a unique and engaging collection of short stories, a welcomed pivot from what I had been reading. Each story was about an ordinary household  in which something unsettling occurred. There was no horror or terror, but instead a creeping feeling of dread and unease – grandparents playing naked outside, woman going out alone at night, young girl walking off with a stranger. I always wondered, How will this end? One thing I was hoping for but didn’t get was a sense of place. Though the author is from Argentina, only a couple of stories mentioned anything specific to place (pesos and street names). But it’s understandable since the themes of the short stories are universal and not specific to a place. (Winner of the 2022 National Book Award for Translated Literature)  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Summer Book Bingo: A book by a woman in translation
  • #WomenInTranslationMonth

Seven Days in August by Brit Bildøen (2014) 📖
(Translated from the Norwegian by Becky L. Crook, 2016)

This novel takes place in Oslo eight years after the horrendous July 22, 2011, terrorist attack on a youth camp on the island of Utøya. A mother is still struggling with the loss of her daughter. The extent of the grief and sorrow becomes apparent as she and her husband deal with a series of unlucky events that happen over the course of a week — a tick bite, a storm, a fall, among other things. Throughout the days, details trigger memories of the day her daughter was killed. It’s about how grief takes hold and never completely goes away and affects the relationships around you. The main characters, their relationship, and the situations they find themselves in are so realistically portrayed. It’s an engaging, page-turning reading experience despite its heavy and difficult subject matter.

I especially appreciated the very strong sense of place. Besides the terrorist attack being a main element, the story touches upon many issues particular to Oslo, like neighborhood changes, the effects of climate change, and the local the Roma population. Also the main character works at MUNCH, the new Munch museum. (Interestingly, though, the new Munch museum wasn’t even completed yet when the book was published in 2014. It opened in October 2021.) The book had unique timing. Originally published in 2014, only 3 years after the terrorist attack, the story actually takes place in 2019 which is 8 years after the attack.

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 (July 2023)

July was vacation month for me with lots of air travel to, from, and within Europe and down time to read. As I always do when traveling, I try to read a book that takes place where I’m going. It provides insight that I would otherwise not get and sometimes I feel like I get to know some locals while I’m at it.

This summer that destination was Italy. One book I planned in advance, The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani, and the other, In Sardinia: An Expected Journey in Italy by Jeff Biggers, was a last minute addition to my summer reading. Just by chance, I came across this newly published book (May 23, 2023) at the airport bookstore. It was an instant purchase, despite carry-on being at capacity, since we were going exactly there and I knew next to nothing about the island.

August is Women in Translation Month (#WITmonth). Every year I normally set aside August to read women in translation from outside Scandinavia since I normally read a few during the year. However, this year I haven’t read as many Scandinavian books as I normally do, so I’m prioritizing that. I have Norwegian Vigdis Hjorth’s Long Live the Post Horn! (a prolific author I’ve been wanting to read for a long time), Dane Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen’s Island (takes place on Danish Faroe Islands), and Swede Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater (for the 2023 Nordic Literature Reading Challenge) on my TBR pile for August and going into the fall.

How is your summer reading going?

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
(Narrated by Adjoa Andoh)

A fascinating but also disturbing look into contemporary Nigerian society! Adunni is a 14-year old village girl whose biggest wish in life is to get an education. Her mother believed in this and worked hard to pay her school fees, but when the mother died, the father sold her as a third wife to an older man because he needed the money. She was soon forced to flee her husband’s household and became a domestic servant in a wealthy Nigerian household in Lagos. Life was tough for Adunni, but she persevered and had unexpected people along the way who helped her. I highly recommend the audiobook. Adunni’s voice and personality really shined. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Cipher (Nina Guerrera Book 1) by Isabella Maldonado

This is about FBI Special Agent Nina Guerrera who escaped a serial killer at age sixteen, and now eleven years later, she is brought back to his universe through a series of murders of vulnerable girls. While she and her team travel cross-country investigating, the perpetrator uses the internet and social media posting complex codes and riddles to invite the public to play along. I enjoyed the fresh and updated aspects of the book, including the strong Latina protagonist and inclusion of social media. Jennifer Lopez is going to star in a Netflix adaptation of the book (dates TBD). I would see it. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk and Robot #1) by Becky Chambers

This novella takes place far in the future when robots have long since gained self awareness and wandered off into the wilderness. A nonbinary monk who has dedicated their life to serving tea and listening to humans in times of need suddenly meets a robot who has come back to fulfill a longstanding promise of checking in on the humans. The robot is there to find the answer to the question “What do people need?”. I loved the world building and really enjoyed the relationship between the monk and the robot, but overall it was too philosophical for me. ⭐⭐⭐

  • Work Book Bingo: A book with a protagonist that isn’t human & a book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist

Beach Read by Emily Henry

This was my first Emily Henry book, and I really enjoyed it. It was a fun summer romance. I had no expectations of anything going in, and for me it was actually deeper than I thought it would be. It’s about a disillusioned romance writer and a literary fiction writer with writer’s block who find themselves living next door to each other on a lake in Michigan one summer. They make a deal to swap genres for the summer and go on field trips to learn about the other genre. I was confused by the title until the very end when it made total sense. I’ll read another Emily Henry. Book Lovers is up next but not until next summer. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

  • Work Book Bingo:  A book set in summer & a book borrowed from a friend

The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani

This book features the women of the Cabrelli family, a jewelry making family that lives in Viareggio, a seaside town in Tuscany, not far from Florence where we visited this summer. It’s a dual timeline story that jumps between “now” when Matelda, the matriarch, is nearing the end of her life and revealing a life-long family secret, and “then” when her mother Domenica is growing up and World War II arrives. I haven’t read a WWII novel from the perspective of Italians before and certainly was not familiar with “Britalians” and their history in the UK, especially during WWII. I greatly enjoyed that insight. I got to know five generations of the Cabrelli family, at times a little hard to keep track of without a family tree (made one myself), and they’re a vibrant lot with a very interesting past. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

In Sardinia: An Expected Journey in Italy by Jeff Biggers

I knew nothing about Sardinia other than it being an Italian island with beautiful beaches and having harbors full of luxury yachts. In this book, an American author and his family (Italian wife) are based in Sardinia for a year (2017) and travel the whole island exploring its history, culture, and people. I gained a much greater appreciation for the island, especially in regards to its prehistoric beginnings and the Nuragic civilization from 4,000 years ago. We made it a priority to visit one of the 7,000 nuraghe ruins that are on the island. My one big issue with the book, however, was its very frequent reference to the many authors of the past who had written about the island. I much preferred the contemporary stories of past and present.

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 (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.