Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Review: The Devil's Grin by Annelie Wendeberg

One of the first things I learned as an adult was that knowledge and fact meant nothing to people who were subjected to an adequate dose of fear and prejudice.
- Dr. Kronberg

London, 1889. When a cholera victim is found floating in London's drinking water supply, Dr. Kronberg, England's best bacteriologist, is called to investigate. Also on the case is an eccentric, intriguing, intellectually incomparable man... Sherlock Holmes. Holmes, being Holmes, discovers Dr. Kronberg's secret: the dangerous double life she lives in order to practise medicine, a profession not acceptable for a woman in Victorian England.

Kronberg and Holmes are brought together by a murder mystery, but there appears to be more between them than the desire to solve the case. Holmes meets his match in intelligence and deductive talents. The dialogue between the two is constant sparring where words left unsaid speak as much as those uttered aloud. They are masters at reading between the lines and never stop trying to figure each other out.

This book has a great, gritty setting and a potentially fascinating protagonist. Anna Kronberg is a strong, courageous woman and a dedicated physician who has her scars (literally and metaphorically) and her weaknesses. Her life in the world of men isn't easy, and the decisions she is forced to make as the investigation proceeds are morally questionable – and they will haunt her all her life. However, her portrayal doesn't quite have the depth that I need to fall in love with a character.

'The Devil's Grin' is both entertaining and thought-provoking. The writing is solid and the main character has an interesting voice, but there were some instances where the language didn't feel quite right for the setting.

I wish the book had been longer; while I got a sense that the author and the protagonist were capable of deeper reflection, there was little time for that. There were moments where tension could have been tighter and moments where I wished for more emotional involvement. In hopes that some of the questions left unanswered will be solved and the characters further developed, I might well read the next book in the Kronenberg Crimes series.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014


Nearly all the stories I've written lately have been about people living under a totalitarian regime or a dictatorial rule or in downright slavery - and fighting for their freedom. Last night, my husband sat me down, brought this up and asked, "Is there something we need to talk about?" :D

Well, no. But yes, he's right, and I've been wondering for a while now - why this obsession with freedom? I see the same theme everywhere, including what I read, what I watch, what I hear. For example, I hear an album for the first time, and the songs I remember afterwards are the ones about freedom.

Yes, freedom is important to me - but isn't it to everyone? And is that why it has - without me making any conscious decisions about it - become an underlying theme or subject in so much of what I do? Of course, it is a theme that can be explored endlessly, not only as being free (from, say, slavery - or from pain, something that in one of my stories stems from personal experience), but in terms of freedom of speech; freedom to be who you are, to think and dream and write as you will; freedom to make your own choices and not be judged for them...

Friday, 25 April 2014

Strong protagonists

Boudica, one of my favourite characters.
I recently came across this article about the characteristics of strong female protagonists. While I think that the characteristics listed there make great characters, the term 'strong female protagonist' gives me a pause. I'm all for strong female characters. I love them! We need them! But I'm always a little... disappointed when a book is described as having strong female characters. I've never seen it mentioned that a book has strong male characters. And I would say that the characteristics in the article define great protagonists, whether they are male or female.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Beautiful words

How do we define beauty when it comes to words (or anything else, but let's just stick to words, those slippery bastards)? Is a beautiful word something that denotes a beautiful concept, a word with a beautiful meaning? Or is the beauty in the ear of the listener – does a pleasing phonetic form, a pleasing sound, make a word beautiful? Is a beautiful word something with beautiful connotations and associations? Is it all of these?

British Council conducted a survey about the most beautiful words in the English language. Over 35,000 learners of English participated in the survey. The top ten list of words looks like this:
  1. Mother
  2. Passion
  3. Smile
  4. Love
  5. Eternity
  6. Fantastic
  7. Destiny
  8. Freedom
  9. Liberty
  10. Tranquillity
A similar a survey was conducted in Finland. There were 3837 votes, and the results were the following (I've added the translations):
  1. Äiti (mother)
  2. Rakkaus (love)
  3. Rakas (loved one, dear)
  4. Kiitos (thanks, thank you)
  5. Lumi (snow)
  6. Kaunis (beautiful)
  7. Kulta (while the primary meaning of this word is 'gold', it is often used as a term of endearment, the way 'honey' is used in English)
  8. Usva (mist)
  9. Aamu (morning)
  10. Koti (home)

The word that was considered the most beautiful in both languages is the word 'mother', or 'äiti' in Finnish. This seems to indicate that it is the meaning of the word rather than its phonetic characteristics (what it sounds like) that most people think makes a word beautiful.
As you can see, 'mother' and 'love' are the only two words these lists have in common, with 'love' second on the Finnish list and fourth on the English one. I am tempted to observe that on the English list, there are more abstract concepts, such as 'freedom', 'liberty', 'destiny' etc., while the Finnish list has more words referring to nature – 'snow', 'mist' – and everyday things – 'home', 'morning'. However, as these were two separate surveys, comparing their results may not be very useful.

Now, poets are obviously masters in thinking of the rights words. Five poets give their opinions on beautiful words here.

And my favourite?

Let me think...

No, it's impossible! Don't make me choose! There are too many beautiful words, and I'll remember the best ones only after I've posted this... or tomorrow, or next week, or years later. Yes, I need the rest of my life to think about this, to carefully choose the most beautiful words (actually, that is just the kind of thing I'd want to do)! But all right, off the top of my head...

Finnish: laulu (song), lintu (bird), laine (wave – as in water... or in one's hair), metsä (forest), kuulas (clear or transparent; it is a word often used to describe weather, light, sky), hiljaisuus (silence), vanamo (twinflower), venho (archaic form of 'vene', boat), virvatuli (will-o'-the-wisp), varpu (twig or brush, such as where bilberries grow)

And English: love, lively, ember, willow, aglow, autumnal, evenfall, spirit, ethereal, sylvan

Words are evocative. They bring to mind memories, they arouse feelings. How we feel about words is very subjective. Therefore, I would love to hear your opinion – what do you think is the most beautiful word? In any language!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Review: The Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon

Homo homini lupus. Michael Gallatin has lived through the brutal survival struggle of a werewolf pack in the forests of Russia, has been hunted as a monster, tormented by the question whether he, as a werewolf, is a man or a beast - but his journey through the horrors of WWII reveals the truth: it is the humans who are the beasts.
This book has everything: wonderfully built tension, plenty of action, a bit of romance. Contemplation, courage, characters you care about. History, humour, heroism and heartache. The protagonist's tendency to continuously end up in situations that turn from bad to worse to unimaginably terrible makes the book a page-turner, but I would not call it light reading, as it does not spare you from the brutality of war, the cruelty that people are capable of.
The action scenes could have been tighter and tenser, and some scenes (e.g. human-to-wolf transformations) were somewhat repetitive. Other than that, this is a well executed story, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in lycanthrope lore.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Review: Gengish: Lords of the Bow (Conqueror 2)

Gengish has united the tribes - can he keep them together when his army of nomads faces siege warfare against the walled Chin cities?

"Lords of the Bow" is the second book in Conn Iggulden's series about Gengish Khan. What made the first book, "Wolf of the Plains", fascinating was the story of how and why the young Temujin of the Wolves became the ruthless conqueror. In "LotB", he is the khan of the Mongols and his fast, mobile army of archers must find a way to defeat something they have never even seen before: cities and fortresses. Battles take centre stage - yet the truly interesting scenes are the moments where the great khan is puzzled by the task of raising his sons or wonders how (or if) he can rule his two wives. These personal struggles remain on the background, which could be seen as a reflection of Gengish's priorities. The unembellished, straightforward writing might not add to the reading experience but is a good match for the gritty, brutal story.

While those looking for beautiful prose or detailed description of everyday life on the Mongolian plains will not be entirely satisfied with "Lords of the Bow", I would recommend it to fans of fast-paced, action-packed historical fiction.