Thursday, 10 August 2017

Stockholm and Uppsala – in the footsteps of Gustavus Adolphus

This summer, we visited Sweden – Stockholm and Uppsala, to be more precise. Since the 17th century happens to feature strongly in our current interests, there were a couple of places that we particularly wanted to see.

One that I recommend to anyone interested in history is the Royal Armoury, Livrustkammaren, the oldest museum in Sweden (established by Gustavus Adolphus himself). Their collection features dazzling suits of armour (from various centuries)...

...gorgeous weapons...

(Above, Gustavus Adolphus' rapier)

...splendid suits and gowns, literally fit for kings and queens...


 (and their servants)

 (and their horses)

...and fairy-tale carriages.

I must also note that there was no entry fee – you could see all this and much more for free!

One cannot truly claim to be a 17th century enthusiast and not see the Vasa ship – the grand ship commissioned by Gustavus Adolphus that, unfortunately, sank as soon as it launched on its first voyage in 1628. The entire ship is housed in the Vasa Museum. There it hulks, this enormous, dark thing. The smell of old wood is everywhere. Although the museum also features a large exhibition with various other, related items, I couldn’t help it: my gaze was always drawn to the ship, and even when it wasn’t, I could just feel its presence. However, the rest of the exhibition is very interesting indeed, and it took us hours to tour the whole place.
(A more detailed post has appeared in my DH's blog; to see that, go here.)


(Our hero playing... um... not quite sure what... the role of an ancient Roman hero, I suppose. 😁)

Last but not least on our list was Uppsala and the university museum Gustavianum, built in the 1620s (and named after our hero, of course, whose donation helped construct the building).

Right across the street, Uppsala Cathedral, the coronation site of Gustavus Adolphus:

Gustavianum itself was a very pleasant surprise: I expected something in much smaller scale, but the museum had a nice little section about Egypt and ancient world. Ancient Egypt being one of my interests, this was a particularly lovely surprise – and our daughter, who had always wanted to see sarcophagi, was thrilled! A mummy that was also on display both terrified and fascinated her.

There were sections about the history of the university and, of course, a whole room dedicated to the time of Gustavus Adolphus, where the main attraction was the cabinet of curiosities he received only a little before his death. The enormous cabinet has various parts, some of them detachable, and houses a great number of all sorts of strange objects.

But there was more! I especially loved the old anatomical theater dating back to the 1660s, the kind you see in movies (but more beautiful):


In addition, there was a small but interesting Vendel and Viking Age section, but I will return to that in a later post.

The museum shops were all worth a visit as well, and thanks to this trip, our book collection grew quite a bit...

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Review: Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King

I’d had my eye on this book for quite some time, and now I finally purchased it. I was going to save it for later (seemed ideal for those lovely, dark, stormy autumn nights) but then I just could not resist.

Not that the Finnish summer so far much differs from those cold autumn nights, with the temperatures at "+7 degrees C, feels like +3" and hail storms several times a day. I wore my winter boots and winter coat when I ventured out of the house, yet somehow managed to pick up a cold somewhere. 😔(And now it's nice and warm outside. Of course.)

But now, back to the book! I couldn't wait to start it, because, well, it’s Macbeth… even better; it’s Lady Macbeth! It’s Scotland. It’s the 11th century. (There are Vikings, too.) I have previously read another novel about Lady Macbeth, titled “Lady Macbeth’s Tale”. You can read my review here.

I must point out that the castle on the cover of the novel looks a lot like Eilean Donan castle near Inverness, a castle I visited on a holiday with my husband over ten years ago now. I really want to go back to Scotland!

But that doesn't seem likely, so I'll take the next best thing: books.

Macbeth is famous thanks to the tragedy by Shakespeare, but what the bard did was he used the actual events for inspiration without bothering much with historical accuracy. It does make a great story, but in it, Lady Macbeth appears as an ambitious, ruthless woman who drives her husband to commit regicide in order to seize the crown.

Was she really like that? Unfortunately, we will never know, but Susan Fraser King has put together an account of Lady Macbeth’s life from what precious little is known about her and her (in)famous husband. Recent research has revealed some new information (again, I very much enjoyed the Author’s Note at the end of the book, always interesting), yet much remains unknown. But that is historical fiction: taking some few facts, using fiction to bridge the gaps and weave a plausible and – at its best – spellbinding story.

Lady Gruadh is of royal blood, which makes her a coveted prize among men vying for the throne of Scotland. Though she is kidnapped as a child, later married off against her wishes; though her husband is slain and his ambitious killer promptly marries her to strengthen his claim to the throne, she maintains her own will, at least as far as possible in her circumstances.

Thanks to the old Celtic tradition of women wielding weapons, Gruadh is allowed to train with a sword and even fight battles. She is not the ambitious schemer Shakespeare portrays but a much more complicated character with conflicting motives. Her strength is not only in her will and ability to protect those she loves, her people and her land and its ancient customs; it is in how she endures and survives the hardships and tragedy that life has in store for her.

The story spans decades and blends historical fact with a bit of Celtic myths and magic. The feel of the period is real, the details meticulous. The book took me to the mist-shrouded highlands and the halls of ancient kings, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. The language was beautiful, although it seemed to weaken a little after a stunning start.

My only complaint is that I did not really feel connected to the characters; they remained a little distant - Macbeth, who could have been a truly intriguing character, especially so.

All in all, this was a fascinating read which made me want to know more about Macbeth, Lady Gruadh and their time.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Review: Fazer Milk Chocolate and Honey Roasted Almonds

This is the latest addition to Fazer’s large (200 g) milk chocolate bars: a milk chocolate bar flavoured with honey-roasted almonds!

The wrapping is the typical, classic blue of the Fazer milk chocolates, with a picture of (rather deliciously looking) roasted almonds and pieces of chocolate.

The scent has the sweetness of milk chocolate with the equally sweet, warm undertones of honey.

The milk chocolate itself is of the Fazer quality – my favourite milk chocolate in fact, smooth, not too sweet or sugary (they use fresh milk rather than dried or condensed milk). The honey roasted almonds come in fairly large fragments, crispy and crunchy and not too hard. There is the sunny sweetness of honey and the lovely toasted aroma of roasted almonds. I also detect a hint of salt – salt is mentioned among the ingredients but not among of the flavourings on the front of the wrapping... but I’ve seen this chocolate marketed as “with a touch of salt”. Either way, I like that bit of saltiness and might even have wished it to be more pronounced.

So far, my favourite among flavoured milk chocolates from Fazer has been the sea salt and caramel, but, while I still adore the flavour, my teeth are not too happy with the hard caramel granules. This might be a good alternative; gentler for your teeth and absolutely delicious!

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Review: A Song of War: A Novel of Troy

I recently reviewed “A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii” and some time before that “A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion”. Both are similar to “A Song of War: A Novel of Troy” by Kate Quinn, Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Russell Whitfield, Stephanie Thornton and S.J.A. Turney in that all are novels written by several authors.

Each author writes their story from one or two point of views, which means that these change in the course of the book. But it works very well, here perhaps even more seamlessly than in the other two previous novels, or maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten used to this method.

We see the Trojan war and the events that led to it through the eyes of several characters, both Trojan and Achaean; kings, princesses, slaves, warriors… The situation lends itself to delicious drama and conflict. There are battles, there is betrayal, there is love; some seek honour, some vengeance, some victory... One of the central themes is honour and hubris, and the utter senselessness of war. The characters sacrifice so much, or even everything, but what do they win?

It would be hard to choose a favourite among these stories, so I’ll just say a few words about each.

Kate Quinn: The Apple. The story that begins the novel is told by Hellenus, half-brother of Hector and Paris, and Andromache, Hector’s young wife. Both suffer from feelings of not quite fitting in, which makes them endearing characters. Their tale of the wedding of Odysseus and Penelope introduces us to many of the key characters. The beginning may not be as dramatic as the later parts, but Quinn is an experienced author and that shows; the story gripped me right from the start. I loved the humour and I really cared about Andromache and Hellenus.

Stephanie Thornton: The Prophesy. This part is told by Priam’s daughter, Cassandra. As she is often known as a mad prophet, it was clear that this part must have been a challenge to write. On one hand, it is a truly fascinating perspective, dark and intense, but on the other hand, you don’t want the character to appear so insane as to alienate readers. Stephanie Thornton handles this with enviable skill: you don’t only understand Cassandra, but her descent to madness is so real and relatable it’s almost scary.

Russell Whitfield: The Sacrifice. This part is told from the perspective of Agamemnon, a king weary of the war and the world, tormented by his guilt and his grief. It is gritty and tragic, and if, by the end, I did not quite like or admire Agamemnon, I certainly pitied him.

Christian Cameron: The Duel. Once a queen, now a slave, Briseis finds herself becoming the lover of the legendary Achilles – and taking the place of his chariot driver. I couldn’t quite get into this story at first, but when I did… what a ride! The story gains momentum as it hurtles towards its poignant, tragic end.

Libbie Hawker: The Bow. This part has two narrators: Penthesilea, a fierce amazon, determined to seek honour and death, and Philoctetes, an old, crippled warrior, hopelessly in love with Achilles. I fell in love with both. Add to that the lovely language, the haunting and beautiful imagery… I wanted more! I have actually read one novel by Libbie Hawker before, but this story definitely convinced me to check out her other work.

Vicky Alvear Shecter: The Horse. This part has one of the most well-known narrators in the collection: Odysseus. There’s quite a lot of humour in this account of the wily trickster, but underneath it runs desperation. The war is dragging on. Someone should do something. Which is more valiant, fighting on (and on and on) or using any means to end the conflict?

S.J.A. Turney: The Fall. The end is seen through the eyes of Aeneas, which is fitting in many ways. Even when Troy falls, all the threads of the narrative are woven together. There is tragedy and so much sorrow, yet there is also hope of a new beginning.

All in all, I enjoyed “A Song of War” immensely. The story is literally legendary and very familiar – from other books, movies, TV shows… but even though I knew what would eventually happen, I never really wanted to put the book down.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

E-reader case

I haven’t posted in a while, mostly because I’ve been busy translating, revising our manuscript, reading source books and – very unusual for a hermit such as myself – meeting other people! In addition to family members, we even got together with some very dear friends who live far away. It had been a long time since we last saw each other, and the reason I'm telling you all this is that we were actually brought together by books. See, books are amazing! So are friends. 😊

But now I wanted to show you my new e-reader (Kindle paperwhite) cover. Isn’t it beautiful?

When I first saw it, I knew right away that this was the one! It comes from this company here, and the note included said that it has been hand crafted using traditional book binding techniques. 😍

Since I’ve been carrying my Kindle along with me simply in my bag or, on longer trips, in a small fabric pouch, I’m happy to have this case to protect my precious. Only, I like the cover so much that I think I should now protect it, too...


Friday, 21 April 2017

Review: Marabou Oreo Filled


Now, just in my previous post I wondered whether I should stop writing chocolate reviews, but here I am with yet another one… but my DH brought two bars of Marabou Oreo Filled chocolate from the grocery store just so that I could write a review! After such a thoughtful gesture, who am I to say no? ;)

Now, these bars have the traditional Marabou yellow-and-red look with a picture of Oreo filled chocolate. However, they are considerably heftier than your usual Marabou milk chocolate bar (320g vs 185g), which means they’re big and thick – and I do love a big and thick bar!

Um. Where was I? Right, the chocolate looks like this:

The scent is very sweet. There’s the fairly mild aroma of milk chocolate and maybe a bit of vanilla.

The milk chocolate is the typical Marabou milk chocolate. It’s very sweet and smooth – not my favourite because of the sweetness, but not bad at all. The chocolate encases a white filling, which is also very sweet and has a creamy, almost buttery flavour. It’s a little like the filling in Oreos, but I don’t think it’s exactly the same stuff although I could be wrong. Inside the filling nestles the Oreo part, which is a nice, solid layer of that dark chocolate cookie. It is crispy and crunchy and has the typical Oreo taste. Unlike I expected, it actually balances the flavours of the otherwise very sweet chocolate – and in terms of texture makes this chocolate more interesting.

This is a very sweet bar – not intended for sophisticated nibbling but rather something from which you want to break a piece after piece and just stuff your face with those deliciously thick fragments. I don’t really mind all that sweetness… and, oddly enough, lately I’ve suffered from sudden, inexplicable cravings for Oreos! 😨 So this chocolate definitely worked for me.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Blog Birthday!

It has been three years since I started this blog! It does not feel that long! (Add all the other usual exclamations about how time passes so quickly.)

In three years, I’ve written 191 posts. No, I’ve published 191 posts; there is a number of never published drivels that are better left forgotten.

The most popular posts have been… who would have guessed… chocolate reviews! Very funny, considering this was never meant to be a chocolate review blog, it was a joke from a friend that inspired the very first review! But, apparently, people do read such things – and who can blame them? Chocolate is good. (Chocolate is food of the gods!) The most popular chocolate post is this multi-bar review of Fazer’s Travel chocolates.

The most popular posts that are not about chocolate are a review of Manda Scott’s novel “Hen’s Teeth”, a post about the costumes for the movie “The Girl King” (17th century!), a review of Kelly Gardiner’s “Goddess” (17th century!), my favourite books in 2015, and our visit to the Heavy Metal exhibition hosted by the Häme Castle. It also seems that my travel tales (especially ones about chocolate and cafés) have been popular as well as the little stories about seasonal celebrations (Halloween, Valentine’s Day etc.). Readers are also interested in writing, especially the science fiction anthology “Synthesis” and our werewolf novella “Musta Susi”.

After three years, I can't quite decide what to do about this blog. My DH and I recently signed a publishing contract for our debut novel. What can I say? It’s something I’ve been daydreaming about since I was quite small. I learned to read when I was about four or five years old (I’ve been told; I can’t remember) and since then have loved reading passionately. I wasn’t even at school yet, but I still remember very vividly the first time I realised that people actually have to write all the books (I even remember exactly where I sat… with a book open before me, of course). So... someone gets to write books! I knew that was what I wanted to do, and although that dream was buried many times, for years and years, and very, very deep, and mountains of dirt was packed on top of it with a heavy shovel... I could never quite get over it.

So now that the revision process of our manuscript is in full swing, I wonder if there’ll be much time for blogging – and, considering that the novel will be published in Finnish, perhaps I should also blog in Finnish. Furthermore, should I blog about more important topics? Stop with the chocolate reviews and other frivolous matters already and become a more… um, all right, somehow I have a hard time imagining myself as a serious blogger! 😁