Thursday, 29 January 2015
I found this image on The Reading Room's Facebook page. I liked it so much I decided to post it here. It makes me think of not only those authors who have a way with words, who can make us laugh and cry, but also words as we use them every day - how a carelessly thrown word can cause much damage, how a few words of encouragement can brighten someone's day.
Tuesday, 27 January 2015
I was somewhat skeptical about this one. When I was younger, I wasn't a big fan of coconut and just about loathed coconut chocolate. Over the years, however, I've developed a liking for coconut, especially in Thai food, curries and so on. But the combination of coconut and chocolate still makes me a little wary – because of my suspicions, I might never have given this a try, but my dear husband had bought it for “tasting purposes”.
The wrapping is pretty, although nothing extraordinary. The picture and the text are clear (no need to wonder what's inside). I particularly like how the word “intense” seems to be emphasised by the use of the, well, intense blue. The chocolate squares are the typical size and shape for many Lindt Excellence bars: thinnish, but fairly large.
Now, the wrapping says “Coconut intense”. They're not kidding.
The scent of coconut is overwhelming. It's very strong and you have to try hard to find the chocolate in there somewhere. If you like coconut, you'll probably enjoy the aroma that almost fills the whole room when you tear open the wrapping. I wasn't sure how I felt about that – while I don't consider the scent of coconut unpleasant, I was afraid the chocolate would taste of nothing but coconut.
But then I sampled the chocolate and was pleasantly surprised! All right, the cocoa content is 47 %, so although the wrapping does say dark, it's arguable whether it actually qualifies as dark chocolate. But that is not a problem for me. The chocolate is delicious, but rather sweet, and the coconut is – as promised – intense and contributes to the sweetness. The coconut chips are crispy and crunchy but not tooth-damagingly hard. They're an interesting addition when it comes to the texture and taste. The texture, especially, is much nicer than I expected – some coconut chocolates include those tiny little coconut flakes that are sort of dry and taste like sawdust and, when there's plenty of them, they make the experience rather unpleasant. Not so here. The chips are not only toasted but also caramelised, which might explain why I liked the taste so much (oohh, caramel!).
In short, I enjoyed this much more than I expected and would recommend it to anyone who likes the chocolate and coconut combination. I'd say that of the coconut chocolates that I've tasted, this is the one where the combination is the most successful.
Wednesday, 21 January 2015
I haven't talked much about translation here, although that is what originally made me think of the title for this blog (in short, I had a translation task, and thought about it as “wrestling with words” - and then realised the phrase applies to many other situations in my life just as well).
But I'm not going to talk about translation now, either (disappointed? Yeah, right... ;) ). I'm just going to share a couple of interesting links. Don't worry, they're not exactly useful, more like weird and funny.
The 25 Most Hilarious Translation Fails Of All Time. Okay, it's not nice to make fun of others, but some of these really are hilarious (or maybe it's just my weird sense of humour :P).
|This from the site mentioned above.|
30 Untranslatable Words. This list could be endless, but some of these are lovely.
And Idioms of the World. This is why idioms can't always be directly translated!
Monday, 19 January 2015
This beautiful bar was a present from dear friends in Germany – thank you very much for the thoughtful gift, it was very much appreciated! :) Valrhona is something of a legend, I think – it's a name often mentioned in connection with high-grade luxury chocolate and in recipes that call for the best of the best. I'm not sure I've ever tasted anything from Valrhona before (I know! Shocking!) so I was very happy to get this chance!
I think this bar must have been chosen with the season in mind: the lovely red and gold wrapping made it a very appropriate Christmas present. In addition, the outer wrapping gives the bar a definite air of luxury and decadence, which is further enhanced by the gold of the inner wrapping. Everything says we're going to taste something special now! The bar itself is irregularly patterned by thin lines that don't cut very deep into the chocolate. The bar is also nice and thick – yes, there may be a certain elegance to the thinner bars and pieces, but honestly, I love sinking my teeth into a thick piece of chocolate! When you break pieces apart, you hear that snap characteristic of premium chocolates.
And was it special? Yes, it was! The scent is dark and chocolatey. The cocoa content is 70 % but the chocolate isn't bitter or acidic. It is definitely not as sweet as some other dark chocolates, but I thought that was rather refreshing. My first impression was of a little hard and dryish chocolate, but once the piece begins to melt in your mouth, the richness of the taste reveals itself. The cocoa nibs provide a nice crunch – their taste wasn't as intense as I expected, but they add a roasted flavour that, for whatever reason, reminds me a little of coffee. On the whole, I'd characterise this as a somewhat robust, down-to-earth chocolate that still provides you with an undeniable feeling of luxury. It's refined but not pretentious. I like that!
Thursday, 15 January 2015
|This image from here.|
I had barely waken up this morning and was staring at my computer screen with sleepy eyes when I saw this piece of news: It's been ten years since the first episode of “Battlestar Galactica” premiered. That was like a bucket full of icy water emptied over my head. “That can't be right!” (Closely followed by “I feel old!”) But no, they weren't wrong. (And, naturally, since it's been 10 years, I'm talking about the later version, not the older original, which, I must admit, I've never watched.)
Anyway, “Battlestar Galactica” is one of my favourite TV series. But that very nearly never happened!
My husband and I lived in Canada in 2005, so we actually saw the pilot episode when it first aired. I wasn't impressed. My husband kept watching the show, but I didn't care to. Roughly a year later, we'd moved back to Finland, and the series premiered here. I decided to give it another chance. I was instantly hooked. I don't know what happened, or what had changed, but I really, really liked it.
It wasn't the concept or even the storyline(s) or the odd mixture of realism and mystery that grabbed me (though those are great, too). It was the human drama. The relationships between the characters are never easy, never uncomplicated, and that's what makes them real. The characters are pushed beyond their limits and they face moral dilemmas and situations where they're forced to choose the lesser of two (or more) evils. They make their choices and deal with the consequences... and they don't always do that admirably and heroically. But then there are those moments when they do. The first, I guess, is why we like them and root for them. The second is why we love them. We've been shown that they're like us – human, fallible; it's easy to root for them. And then, when they're shown doing the right thing, the impossible thing, or the noble thing... it's inspiring. It's encouraging.
And that's the show's main appeal for me. Even today, when I try to think of examples of three-dimensional characters, characters that have strengths and weaknesses, who struggle and fail, who face conflicts (external, internal – there's plenty of both) and who, as a result, change – for better or for worse (and in some cases, both)... the first characters that come to mind are the ones from Battlestar Galactica.
Wednesday, 14 January 2015
A look back at the best reads of 2014 seems to be something many bloggers do... or did; I didn't manage to write this in any sort of a timely fashion – in fact, I forgot all about this idea... actually, I completely forgot I have a blog and was supposed to write something. Anyway, I thought it was a great idea (yeah, I can easily forget ideas, even great ones). The results were not what I expected.
Of the 59 books that I read last year, according to Goodreads (there are a number of books I never marked as “read” in Goodreads, so the total number is some 10-20 books higher), not a single book got a five-star rating from me. Only nine (9) books got a four-star rating.
That's just sad.
There are possible reasons. 1) It may be that I simply didn't come across a really, really great book, a book that I'd love, last year. 2) I fear that as I grow older, I become more... I was going to say critical, but that's not really it. Or perhaps that's a part of it. But above all else, I'm an emotional reader: I want a book to make me feel. And the older we get, the more we've seen and the more we've experienced, the harder it is to truly move us. 3) My rating is extremely subjective. If I'm not feeling too good in general, I'm more unlikely to give a good rating than I am when feeling good about my life. That's not fair, I know. However, low ratings do not happen just because I'm having a bad day. They happen when I've been having a bad 6 months or so. And last year really wasn't one of the best years ever. It probably will not have been the worst, either. I don't know whether that's comforting or depressing.
Looking on the bright side, I didn't give a single one-star rating! That's probably because I'm trying to learn to give up on a book when it fails to interest me. That's something I need to work on!
But let's focus on the top nine. One thing they all have in common is that they're historical fiction. Except the first one, but it's often called historical fantasy and reads, for the most part, much like historical fiction.
Guy Gavriel Kay's “River of Stars”. I've explained briefly before why I love Kay's novels, and the same goes for this one.
Veriruusut by Anneli Kanto. Also something we've seen before.
Next, two books by Kaari Utrio (Isabella and Saippuaprinsessa), which is not surprising, seeing that she is one of my favourite authors (mentioned before here and here). Splendid historical fiction, and I particularly enjoy the ones set in the Medieval times. It's somewhat surprising, however, to find these two books among the best of last year, since neither of them are among my favourites by her.
“Bring up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel. Great historical fiction, Tudor court and all that. When I was finishing this book, I couldn't quite decide whether to give it three or four stars, but then Mantel made me cry... and what did I say about wanting a book to make me feel?
And here's a surprise: a graphic novel! It's volume 2 in the series titled Pakanat (“Pagans”) by Tuomas Myllylä. This, too, I've mentioned and sort of reviewed before.
And finally... three books from the same author! Now that's really something. Robert McCammon's “The Wolf's Hour”, “The Hunter from the Woods” and “Speaks the Nightbird”. The first is historical fiction / werewolf story (there should be a short review here somewhere... found it!), the second is pretty much the same but a collection of short stories, and the third is historical fiction set in the very late 17th century, if I remember correctly. McCammon tells a great story, he knows how to keep you turning those pages! But that's not enough for me. I want the writing to be beautiful or lyrical or evocative – it's not just about the story, it's also about the language – and McCammon does have a way with words.
So. My 2014 may seem like a poor year, reading-wise. But I discovered a few authors whose work I enjoyed and really look forward to reading more. That's not bad, in my book.
Thursday, 8 January 2015
Not the smartest thing to do, starting a post with a confession... but I was never good at dissembling, and so, even though it reveals that I've no idea what I'm talking about, I'll say it right away: I hardly ever read graphic novels. My husband has tried to lure me into liking them, so I have read my share of Conans etc., but I never really understood the appeal. Therefore, I surprised everyone – myself included – when I declared that I'd found a graphic novel I wanted to read.
It was Volume 1 in the Pakanat (“Pagans”) series by Tuomas Myllylä. I read the first book a few years ago, and the second late last year. And I was not disappointed. In fact, I've read the first volume twice now, and will certainly re-read the second one as well.
So why this sudden interest? It all started with the fact that the series is set in one of my favourite periods: Viking Age. And it gets better! Even though the adventure takes the reader on a journey to other locations, such as the Byzantine Empire and various places along the Varangian Way, the main setting is Viking Age Finland. There aren't many books with such a setting, or at least I haven't come across them. Viking Age counts as prehistory in Finland, and there are few sources (we rely mostly on archeological evidence), which is part of its fascination for me. We know something, and yet we know so little! It's a mystery... and for a writer, it is both a burden and a blessing. On one hand, you can do research, but it will only get you so far, for relatively little is known about those times. On the other hand... relatively little is known about that time. Which means you can use your imagination, you can make your own interpretations. One might even say that, to a certain degree, artistic license is a must.
It seems to me that Myllylä has done his research (but I'm no expert, just an enthusiast). Things like clothing, weapons, dwellings, seem to be about right for the period. So do the behavior of people, their values etc. There may be certain genre conventions at play here, and they are respected: the battles are gory, the men are merciless, the warriors are driven by their hunger for honour and revenge. Some of the characters are named after figures in Finnish mythology (Finnish national epic, “The Kalevala”). I don't know whether Myllylä simply turned to the epic to find names suitable for the period or whether this is his interpretation of (some of) the events and characters in “The Kalevala”. I suspect the latter, and I must say I like this rather down-to-earth interpretation.
The story itself is a classic tale of revenge. Yes, it's been done many times over, but it always works. I don't know what it says about human nature that we so readily accept vengeance as a powerful motivator, but I'm not here to discuss that, and anyway, this is Viking Age: avenging murdered loved ones was a question of honour. The first volume introduces the characters and contains quite a lot of backstory, but all of that is relevant information, and, more importantly, interesting. I want to avoid all spoilers here, so I'll say nothing about the plot, only that there are bloody battle scenes, a nice amount of humour, and plenty of plotting. While the story is fast-paced and action-packed, there are quieter moments when the characters sit in a sauna, thinking or talking. If you know anything about Finland and Finns, you know what a huge dose of realism that gives to the story. ;)
The artistic merits are beyond me to discuss (read: I don't know anything about these things and have virtually nothing to compare to, so who am I to talk?). But it seems to me that there is a certain grim grittiness to Myllylä's style (see the covers above, they'll give you some idea of what I'm trying to say), which I find a perfect fit for the story. The illustrations are very eloquent and have a unique feel to them. When the characters are in the sauna, you sense the heat; when they ski through a wintry forest, you shiver with cold. It's in the details: birds huddling on the branches; wind-blown hair; breath misting in the cold air.
The story doesn't end in volume two, which means there will probably be at least another book in the series. I'm definitely looking forward to reading it, and hoping that the story would continue even after that. Encouraged by this experience, I have even added a couple of other graphic novels to my TBR list!
Sunday, 4 January 2015
As a sort of continuation to my previous post (nah, actually I'm posting this just because I think it's funny), another gift: these tiny lego figurines. You may have already met my fierce warrioress, named Breaca (if you're familiar with Manda Scott's Boudica series, and know how deeply I love it, you'll know why I named her so). Well, it seems I was appropriately enthusiastic about this figurine which I got for my name day, because a certain unnamed person decided I needed more of them. Therefore I now have not only Breaca but her brother Bán (yes, another character from the Boudica series), an axe-wielding Viking called Eirik Väkevä (Eirik the Strong – my favourite character in “Vaskilintu” by Kaari Utrio) and a Viking lady who has yet to be named. My husband suggests Ingrid Iloinen (Ingrid the Cheerful), which is nice because it made me cheerful.
Anyway, they're cute and clearly they've been picked out with my favourite historical periods in mind. They now brandish their various weapons at me under my computer screen, crying in their tiny voices, “Get to work, get to work!”
Friday, 2 January 2015
As stated in a previous post, that is what I wanted from the holidays. Turns out I got to luxuriate much more than I planned... A nasty cold and a very sore throat made sure I spent the days between Yule and New Year under a blanket with a good book – and as soon as I thought I'd won the battle against the cold, it came back. Not the ideal end for the year, nor a promising start, but it could be worse. It could be raining. Wait... it actually is raining!
But the December 24th and 25th were just about perfect. I even received a bunch of bookish gifts! I love them so much I can't resist the temptation to introduce them here.
I unwrapped this thing and had no idea what it was I was holding in my hands. It turned out to be a graphic novel version of Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice!” I haven't read it yet, but the cover is hilarious! I'm not exactly a Jane Austen enthusiast, but I do like her work and find it very interesting how they've become such a phenomenon. Movies and spin-off books and other various variations of these beloved stories... I don't know why, but they always intrigue me (one of the books on my bedside table right now is “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” and a while back I finally read “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”). To be perfectly honest, when I first read “P & P”, I didn't get it. I was a teenager (maybe 12-14, I don't remember) and I did not understand the humour or the social commentary or any of that. I thought it was just about these girls who could think of nothing else but how to get married (really, didn't they have anything more interesting to do?) – and, to make it worse, they were looking for wealthy husbands rather than love! (I was a big romantic then already.) I thought it was boring and I scorned the characters for their superficial values. Talk about pride and prejudice. ;)
Second, I got what I'd wished for, namely a new edition of Kaari Utrio's Yksisarvinen (“Unicorn”). It is the third part in her Viking/Crusader trilogy, which I've mentioned before. Naturally, I've read the earlier edition and even own a copy... but this is a new edition and, most importantly, includes previously unpublished material!
Last but certainly not least, this pendant from Jezebel Charms. I had admired their products just before the gift-giving time and said I'd love one but could not possibly choose! They have so many beautiful pieces that picking one can't be done. However... my husband had chosen one, and he had chosen the perfect one! It has a quote from Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and, coming from him, this is the one. I had tears in my eyes when I opened the box and saw what was inside (what did I say about being a romantic?).
And to fit the themes of this blog, I might mention that among the presents was some delicious dark chocolate from friends in Germany (a review will follow) and hand-made, hand-picked Belgian chocolates from my sister. They were divine!
And now I'll crawl back under the blanket and pick up my book – I'm on part 2 on Guy Gavriel Kay's “The Sarantine Mosaic” (this is a re-read, and I still love these books).