Tuesday, 30 August 2016

August - the month of life (and rot)

It's already (still, just about) August, or, as we say in Finnish, elokuu.

This month has an interesting name, for, at the first glance, it looks like it means something like “the month of life”, for the Finnish word elo means life.

And while that is certainly true, it's also one of the month names with connections to farm work. Elonkorjuu means harvest. Or to be exact, korjuu alone means harvest and elo, which can also refer to harvest-ready grain, implies how important that harvest is: this is when one harvests the grain that will keep one fed and alive during the hard winter months.

Oddly enough, this month has also been called mätäkuu, 'rot month', and people sometimes still use this expression to refer to what in English is known as the dog days of summer. According to some theories, this term originates from either the Low German term Rodendage ('dog days') or the German Rodenmonat ('kaskeamiskuu' – 'slash-and-burn month') which was mistranslated into Danish as Råddenmåned, literally 'rot month', and the same term was later adopted into Finnish. But, as it happens, weather in late summer can be hot and humid and things tend to rot easily… so the term which was initially a mistake actually makes sense!

As I have failed to take photos of harvest fields, here's an August lake view instead:


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Review: Marabou Premium Cranberries & Pecan

This isn't exactly new, but it took me a while to get around to tasting it. Marabou Premium Cranberries & Pecan is a dark chocolate bar which comes wrapped in a cardboard box. Upon opening the box, one finds two fairly narrow chocolate bars. The bars are satisfyingly thick, though – I may have mentioned before that while thinness perhaps gives chocolate bars a certain feel of luxury, there's just something wicked and sinful about the thicker bars that I absolutely adore! These are also very pretty, with the pale pecans and crimson cranberries dotting the dark chocolate.

The scent is sweet and warm, and the chocolate, though dark, is also surprisingly sweet and definitely not the darkest kind (not with the cocoa content of 46 %). It's very rich, though, and the pecans and cranberries come in big pieces, almost like lumps, which not only looks good and suits the somewhat rugged appearance of these bars (which I love) but is also welcome variety to chocolates that contain additions in small morsels. The caramelised pecans are crunchy, sugary and have that delicious roasted aroma. The cranberries are juicy and tart and provide a nice contrast to the otherwise very sweet chocolate.

Despite the overall sweetness of this chocolate, I really liked it! It gets extra points for thick bars and big pieces. It's the kind of chocolate that I love to munch on. It would be easy to get addicted to this...

Friday, 19 August 2016


Right. I was not going to do another “Friday reads” post, but I couldn’t resist!

First, because a novel titled “Pyöveli” (“Executioner”) just seemed so perfect for a bookish still life that I had to play with it and snap a picture, and, second, because I’m so thrilled to finally get ahold of this novel. It’s set in the 17th century Finland, which alone is fascinating. But what's more, it’s written by Anneli Kanto, whose previous 17th century novel ("Piru, kreivi, noita ja näyttelijä" - "Devil, Count, Witch and Actor") I quite liked and whose "Veriruusut" ("Blood Roses") was nothing short of excellent. So it is with great expectations that I start reading this (probably rather grim) book.

If everything goes according to plans, however, there won’t be much time to read this weekend... which means I’d better start now! ;)

Friday, 12 August 2016

Back to Manderley

I read “Rebecca” when I was a teenager, and I remember hardly anything about it. I’ve been meaning to read it again – it is a classic, after all – but somehow never got around to doing it.

But then the local library had a book sale, and I found this copy. True, it’s just a paperback, nothing special about it really, but I was attracted to the sort of misty blue and grey cover... and the price was just one (1) €! This is why I get so excited about those book sales! :D I’ve been saving it... but now it seems to me that this book might be a good fit for August, when the nights are getting darker and the days, it seems, a bit chilly... so I'm all settled for a cosy Friday night.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Review: “The Gingerbread Princess” by Stephanie Dray

I first encountered Stephanie Dray’s work in "The Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica's Rebellion", where I much enjoyed her contribution to the anthology. I subscribed to her newsletter, which includes information about her novels and those by other historical fiction authors (my favourite genre!), frequent chances to win books – and, along with the latest one, a gift from the author: a free novella, titled “The Gingerbread Princess”. If that’s not generous, I don’t know what is! Since the story was free, I thought the least I could do was to write a few words.

The story, told by Elise, a kitchen girl and king’s bastard who desires to be acknowledged by her father, is a sort of prequel to one of the classic fairy tales (you can guess which one from the title). Although it does resemble historical fantasy, it is told in a traditional folk tale fashion: we have princes, knights, castles; even the trial/test/challenge of three. The writing is evocative – the description of various dishes created by Elise’s mother, a cook with a magical ability to guess exactly what a person desires to eat, had my mouth watering (until it disgusted me, which sounds awful but is actually brilliant, but I can’t tell you why for that would be a huge spoiler).

What begins as an innocent enough fairly tale turns out to be dark and no less grim than those collected by the Grimms. After a somewhat slow start, the story quickly spirals from one horrific event to another, and even worse. I love stories where the characters face impossible choices, and this... this is all about such choices and their consequences. In a short, fairly simple tale, Dray reveals so much about human nature; cruelty, corruption, how terrible deeds – even when your intentions are good to begin with – can poison everything. Yet, underneath it all, there is heart-breaking sacrifice.

The only problem I had with the story was that it is so short... but this is my problem with most short stories. I’m used to longer stories and it’s hard (I’d say impossible, but who knows?) to achieve the kind of deep emotional involvement that I crave from a story when you only have a few dozen pages to tell it. Still, the premise here is fairly simple, and a novella is probably the right form for such a story. And even though I felt I did not know the characters well enough to truly suffer with them (that is such a weird thing to wish for!) I will have to say that, unlike some short stories, "The Gingerbread Princess" did not leave me thinking, "So that was it?"