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

Once again I’m joining Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately. I always get reading ideas from there and hope to return the favor here.

2022 Scandinavian Reading Challenge Update: I finished Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen for the 1900s/1910s prompt (but it actually goes into 1920s as well) and I completed The Assistant, the historical fiction thriller by Kjell Ola Dahl, for the 1920s (which takes place in 1938 as well). I’m now moving on to the 1930s with Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica by Jesse Blackadder for a slightly different Norwegian history reading experience. This one takes me away from Norway, but it keeps me in an arena where Norway still plays a role, whaling in the Antarctic.

For details on the reading challenge and insight into the past, current, and next decades, along with a few reading ideas, visit 2022 Scandinavian Reading Challenge.

What have you been reading lately?

The Yield: A Novel by Tara June Winch

This was not the easiest book to get into, but I’m glad I stuck with it because suddenly (at about 25%) it all began to fall into place and ended up being a very rewarding reading experience. I started by listening to it, but I had a hard time following the story with its three narratives. I switched to the ebook and that made a huge difference. I did not have any background knowledge for this book, not about Australia in general and definitely not Australian indigenous history in particular, which probably hindered my comprehension at the beginning also. I thought the structure of the book with the dictionary by the grandfather, the letter written by the missionary, and the narrative of the granddaughter returning to her homeland for her grandfather’s funeral worked very well together. I really enjoyed seeing how it all came together by the end and it opened my eyes to a whole new chapter in world history, in this case effects of the British colonization of Australia.

In Every Mirror She’s Black: A Novel by Lolá Ákínmádé Åkerström
(Narrated by Rosemarie Akwafo and Sara Powell)

I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, three very different Black women whose lives unexpectedly intersect via a very rich, white man in Stockholm, Sweden. One is a Nigerian-American top marketing executive in the United States, another is an American model-turned-flight-attendant flying trans-Atlantic flights, and the third is a Somali refugee in Sweden. I was drawn into their stories and struggles and eagerly followed their journeys. I did get frustrated with their actions at times, but I appreciated that they were honest with themselves. The ending was not what I had hoped nor expected for them, but I understand why the author did it (per “A Conversation with the Author” at the end, the setting of Sweden had a lot to do with it). These characters will stay with me for a long time, and I certainly walked away with much to think about. So many social issues were raised. I think this would make a great book club pick. I highly recommend the audiobook!

The Unseen (Ingrid Barrøy #1) by Roy Jacobsen
(Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw)

This is the first in a tetralogy about Ingrid who lives on the fictional island of Barrøy along the coast in Northern Norway. She is three when the book opens and it’s the beginning of the 20th century. She and her parents, aunt, and grandfather are the only inhabitants of this very remote island. The novel chronicles their life on the island, a life very tied to geography and weather. They survive off their crops, livestock, and fishing with occasional visits to the mainland. Mother, father, and Ingrid all have their dreams and it’s interesting to see how their lives play out as the outside world encroaches upon their own world. The old dialect in the dialogue is a little cumbersome, but there’s not too much of it. Looking forward to seeing how the future affects the inhabitants in the rest of the series.

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

This is a standalone historical fiction thriller by the noted Norwegian crime fiction author of the Oslo Detective series. This book introduced me to a time period of Norwegian history I’m very unfamiliar with, the interwar period. The storyline jumps between the 1920s, during the Prohibition era, and 1938, just before World War II breaks out, and follows two characters who at first are on opposite sides of the law as an alcohol smuggler and police officer and then later work together as private investigator and assistant. Their case that sets off the series of events is simple, but the circumstances become complex mixing both past personal history and the then-current situation of secret Nazi officials on Norwegian soil. It was an enjoyable way to learn about a new-to-me historical time period, and especially fun for me was that it took place all over Oslo and very specific place names were mentioned, many of which were very familiar to me. As a thriller, though, it didn’t quite hit the spot for me.

What have you been reading lately?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

Reading Challenges:

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

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

Reading Challenges:

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

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

Reading Challenges:

What have you been reading lately?

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