Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Reading quirks, part 1

One book, two books, three books... can several books compete for your attention? Some of us juggle a number of books, reading a bit of this and a bit of that and then some of something else, going back to the first one and then maybe starting yet another... Some of us like to focus on one book at a time and refuse to open (or even think of opening) a new one until they're finished with the one.

One way isn't better than the other, and these habits can change. I used to read only one book at a time, but over the recent years, I've developed a completely different style. I usually have 2-4 books on my currently-reading pile. Sometimes more.

Why? I start a book (or two... or three) and realise it isn't as good as I expected but there's something there and I can't just give up on it. Instead, I keep giving it another chance (or maybe I just persist because I'm stubborn... or hey, I've read nearly half of it, I can't quit now!). But I'm not excited about it – and that's not very satisfying. I need something more engaging. Something to indulge in. Something to pamper myself with. Sometimes I save these treats for the weekends or evenings when my daughter is asleep and I can actually read more than half a line at a time. These are my luxury reads.
A reader pampering herself

I read mostly in English, which is a second language to me, but I don't want to neglect my Finnish, either. That's why I often also have a Finnish novel on the side.

And then there are the non-fiction books. With those I usually, but not always, manage to keep my focus on one at a time.

Sometimes people ask me how I can do this. Don't I get confused? Well, no. Usually the books happen to be different genres or otherwise just different, and it's easy enough to keep them straight. Of course, now and then a book comes along that's so good it forces me to drop everything else. That's a great feeling. With my favourite authors, I always do that: set everything else aside to properly savour the book. I even have designated times, such as holidays, when I consistently do just that... but that's another reading quirk. ;)

Friday, 12 September 2014

Review: Waking the Merrow by Heather Rigney

What's the first image that comes to mind when you think of mermaids? The little mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen? Or the Disney version? Or this painting by John William Waterhouse?

The latter is what I think of when I hear the word “mermaid”. Or used to. Since reading “Waking the Merrow”, I'll be thinking of blood-thirsty, cold-hearted, dismembering creatures with a hankering for human flesh.

I was lured into this book by the promise of historical fiction, my favourite genre. There are, however, various storylines, and while most of them are set in different centuries in the past, the main storyline is set in the present. This did not bother me, though, and even more surprisingly, it was the contemporary storyline that I found the most engaging.

The protagonist in that story is Evie (rhymes with heavy) McFadan, a funeral director who has no illusions about life: “When you're young, you think you'll grow up and know everything. At thirty-eight, I didn't know shit.” When she relates her trips to the playground with her little daughter – how she rather sits alone, observing the other mothers, than engages in chit-chat and gossiping... I've found my soulmate. Fine, she has a drinking problem, but we can't all be chocoholics, now can we? As a (first person) narrator, Evie has a great voice; wry and witty (sarcasm and snarkiness are tricky as they easily come across as trying too hard, but such instances were rare). Her relationship with her husband is refreshingly realistic – no sugary romance here.

All the trouble for Evie begins on that playground. As if being a funeral director, a mother and a wife – not to mention dealing with icy in-laws – isn't enough, murderous merbitches are on a mission to wreck her life. True, she's doing a good job of that all on her own... but when her family is threatened, is she going to just sit back and do nothing? Hell, no. Evie is an everywoman, she's one of us. We need her to come out on top: if she can do it, so can we!

The author has created an interesting twist on mermaid myths, and I wish she had explored that legend a little more deeply. Some of the history bits seem pale in comparison to the contemporary storyline, but I'll blame my high expectations for historical fiction. The writing is smooth overall, there only a tiny bit towards the end that seemed a bit awkward.

“Waking the Merrow” is a dark historical fantasy – with horror and humour. It's been a while since cliffhangers actually worked for me, but there were a couple here that made me want to race through the pages to find out what happens. I managed to snatch this book when Amazon offered it for free. Carefully edited, well written and nicely paced, it's one of the best free offers I've read.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Review: Fazer Pure Dark chocolates

Ever since I heard about these new chocolates from Fazer, I've eagerly awaited for their release date and a chance to taste them. All right, I may have forgotten them for a while... which is why, when I'd had a particularly bad day, the fact that my husband brought us all these three varieties for sampling was a sweet surprise. (I know! The husband is very sweet, too. Or at least he learns fast. Wife having a bad day → do not go home without some chocolate.)

The cocoa percentage of 70 is certainly promising. And there are three different flavours! There's also an unflavoured dark chocolate in the same series (titled ”cocoa”), but it was not included in this tasting.

The wrappings are nice but not particularly exciting (see the pic above). The inner foil is greyish, with the pattern we've already seen on the outer wrapping. The chocolate itself is patterned and divided in pieces in what seems a very haphazard manner (see the pic on the left, yes the one with the monstrous shadow :P). Our six-year-old associated some of the patterning (the same as on the wrappings) with fish scales! Probably not the image you'd want to go for, but I don't mind. Only, the pieces are hard to divide equally. That's all right if you're tasting them by yourself, or with a partner, or in adult company. With children that's going to be a problem! Everyone must have an equal piece! However, after staring at the chocolate for a moment, I was able to come up with various solutions to the problem (my mind is not the most logical of them all). So, not a problem, after all. The pieces are rather thin, which enhances the feel of luxury chocolate.

First, the mint chocolate. When I opened the wrapper, a strong aroma of mint wafted into my nose. While not unpleasant, it made me somewhat suspicious. I like mint chocolate, but if the mint flavour is too strong, the experience is akin to eating tooth paste. So I took a cautious bite... and was instantly reassured. While strong, the mint flavour is not overwhelming. The chocolate has that smooth, silky, melt-in-your-mouth quality that I associate with the best chocolates. This is the perfect after dinner (or any other time) mint: soothing yet refreshing.

Next, the roasted corn. The scent is that of roasted corn... yes, exactly – popcorn! And that's what it tastes like, too, with tiny, crunchy pieces of roasted corn scattered in the chocolate. It's slightly salty. There was a time when I couldn't understand the sweet and salty combination, but lately, I've become a fan (but a rather selective one). With this, however, I can't quite make up my mind. I've never been a fan of popcorn – those family members who do like popcorn also enjoyed the chocolate (all right, all right; I enjoyed it too, it just isn't one of my favourites!). I have a feeling that it needs time: a few more bites and I could get used to it.

Finally, the coffee and cardamom. Had I not known what's in this chocolate, I might not have been able to guess it from the scent and taste, at least not right away, even though the cardamom scent is fairly strong. The taste is interesting. The cardamom comes first – I can't help but be reminded of cardamom flavoured sweet buns. That's quickly followed by the coffee which gives the chocolate a nice toasted (roasted?) flavour and lingers as a bitter-sweet aftertaste, definitely not unpleasant, especially if you like coffee. I don't know which one it is (perhaps both?) that give the chocolate a little brittle, crunchy texture. Still, the chocolate is smooth and the flavours complement each other. This would be my go-to chocolate on dark and stormy nights, but, with the coffee content of 2,5 %, it might not be the smartest choice for someone suffering from chronic insomnia. Oh well, it's just as perfect for afternoons!

Overall, I enjoyed all three varieties, but if I had to pick a favourite, I'd choose the coffee & cardamom. I will definitely buy that and the mint chocolate again. From what I've seen online, some of Fazer's dark chocolates have been criticised because of their comparatively low cocoa percentage. With their 70 % cocoa content, I'd expect these to please those who favour darker chocolates.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Review: Fazer Winter Edition chocolate, Apple, Caramel and Hazelnuts in Dark Chocolate

It was the first day of September as I walked into a supermarket and found this... Winter Edition chocolate! Yes, the winters in Finland tend to be unbearably long, but come on... September?!?

Well, winter, September – who cares? It's chocolate. Let's focus on that.

I find the wrapping very appealing – maybe it's the colours, the combination of brown and white with a  bit of green and gold that makes it look stylish to me. The inner wrapping is a silvery one with a fine shimmer – spot-on for something marketed as “winter edition.”

The chocolate is shaped in the traditional Fazer manner, no surprises there. That's a good thing; it would be a disappointment were this classic to change. The chocolate is dark with a 47 cocoa percentage. That's a little on the low side for dark chocolate, but it isn't bitter and might be a good place to start if you're not used to darker chocolates.

The chocolate itself is familiar to anyone who has tasted Fazer's darker chocolates. Not immediately impressive, but makes a good, solid base that doesn't overwhelm the taste of various additives. And what are the additives here? The wrapping lists “apple, caramel and hazelnut”. I was afraid this might be a little too much, and, indeed, when you first bite into the chocolate, it's impossible to say what's in it. Which means you just have to sample some more. (This is serious, people, we're doing important research! I may not be an expert in tasting chocolate, but no one can accuse me of not being thorough!) The hazelnut pieces are small and, unsurprisingly, have a nutty flavor. The caramel morsels are very small, crispy and tasty. I only wish there'd been more! I'd say the apple is the most interesting one of these ingredients, though. I was expecting the sort of overly sweet unidentifiable flavour and sticky, won't-ever-let-go-of-your-teeth consistency of candied fruit that I've usually encountered in chocolate, but was pleasantly surprised. The apple pieces are rather moist and provide a lovely sweet-yet-tart flavour.

So far, the pear and almond chocolate has been my favourite of Fazer's darker versions, but this has now become its rival. The flavours didn't exactly make me think of winter, they're something I'd associate with autumn. Perhaps that's a good thing, seeing that it isn't winter yet... (To be honest, I was so shocked to find “winter” chocolate in early September that last night I dreamed it snowed on September 2nd... yes, that's how exciting my dreams are these days.)