Sunday, 26 June 2016


Well, it is the second Midsummer Day so it's almost over... but here's a picture that pretty much captures this Midsummer. For once it was warm and sunny rather than cold and rainy, and I got to spend quite a lot of time with my book. :) Midsummer is a sort of magical time, so keeping with my holiday reading traditions, I chose Phil Rickman's "The Man in the Moss", which (set around Samhain, not Summer Solstice) features a nice number of mystical and mythological and historical elements. Oh, and bog bodies! Nothing better on a sunny summer day than reading about rain-lashed bogs and ancient human sacrifice. :D

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: Whittaker's L&P (White Chocolate with Lemon)

This chocolate was actually a birthday present from good friends to my daughter, but, a generous soul that she is, she gladly shared the chocolate with me and my DH. I love the wrapping with its vintage look!

This is another product from Whittaker's, a company in New Zealand (thanks to the same dear friends, I've had a chance to sample their chocolates once before), this time a white chocolate block. Block is indeed the right word for this chocolate bar: it is a large, thick tablet, the kind you just want to pick up and break into chunks and devour (I don't know what it is about those thick chocolate bars, but they just make me… oh never mind). I had no idea of what “L&P” might mean, but a bit of googling told me that it refers to a popular drink in New Zealand, something with lemon (lemon juice and spring water, apparently).

Well, there's definitely lemon in it, the scent is unbelievably fresh and tangy, with the tart notes of lemon almost overpowering the sweetness of white chocolate. I happen to like the lemon flavour, so that's promising!

The white chocolate is sweet and creamy, very lovely, and it comes with some sort of popping candy that crackles and pops in your mouth and releases a tangy, bright lemon flavour. To be perfectly honest, all that fizzy hissing was a little distracting for me, but my daughter absolutely loved it! I am not a big fan of white chocolate myself (I do like it, but I almost always choose milk or dark over white), but I must say I enjoyed this one very much and don't think the flavours would work so well with any other kind of chocolate.

Now, when I think of something delicious to have on a hot summer day, chocolate isn't usually on the top of my list (ice-cream is!). But then again, chocolate is always good and pretty much goes with any and all situations. However, this chocolate is perfect for those warm, sunny summer days: the white chocolate makes it less heavy, somehow, than milk or dark chocolate, the lemon makes it refreshing, and the fizzing and bubbling remind one of a cool, sparkling drink. It's really too bad that this isn't available in Finland (that I know of, anyway) for this would be lovely for all summer occasions, garden parties, days on a beach, or simply just taking it easy when it's too hot to do much else (not that we see many such days here ;) ).

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

June, the month of summer... or is it?

It’s already June, or, in Finnish, kesäkuu. Kesä, to most modern day Finns, means ’summer’. The month of summer? Makes sense, it being… well, summer and all. Right?

Well, it's not quite that simple (you knew I’d say that, didn’t you?). As it happens, the old(er) Finnish word, in some dialects at least, for summer is suvi, while kesä originally referred to something else, namely kesanto – fallow farmland, i.e. unseeded land. Apparently, June was a time when such fallow land was ploughed and thus this task gave its name to the entire month (and then the season), making it another month name that has its origins in farm work.

I don't happen to have a picture of such fallow land, so instead you'll get a photo of our front lawn and a June baby (well, no longer a baby) reading a book. :)

Friday, 10 June 2016

Friday reads

It's Friday night... all right, fine; afternoon... and I think it's time to relax with a book. I found this novel in the library; I didn't even read the text on the cover, I just saw the word "Shakespeare" and I had to have it. Luckily, it was the library, not a book store. ;)

Last week, it was warm and sunny, and I spent the Friday afternoon with some heavy reading.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone! :)

Monday, 6 June 2016

Review: Possession: A Romance by A. S. Byatt

Two academics specialised in 19th century poets discover a pile of old letters. Sessions of analysis, cross-reference and furious filling of index cards ensue.

That is basically the premise of "Possession". Either you think it makes a terribly dull book or you think it’s awesome and can’t wait to read it.

I fall into the latter category. Even after all the literary analysis classes, which, more often than not, left me feeling something like this...

...yes, even after all that, I found this book fascinating.

Right. Two academics come across certain letters that have lain hidden since the 19th century. They turn out to be a correspondence between the poets whom the two scholars have devoted their careers to: Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. It was not known that the two were in any way connected. What were they to one another? The answer might change the entire scholarship!

There are two storylines: a historical one and a more contemporary one. The contemporary storyline is mostly told in "normal" narrative prose, while the historical one is narrated mostly through letters, poems, diaries, folk tales etc. Since the poets are fictional, A. S. Byatt has written the poems in the 19th century style - I can't say how well they imitate the fashion of that time, I'm not that familiar with it, but they could have fooled me. And that is not all: the prose also has something of a poetic quality, the language is beautiful and the sentences have this unique... rhythm.

It’s true that you can’t call this book fast-paced. There are no thrilling action scenes; much of the action happens on paper and/or inside the characters’ heads. There’s plenty of tension, however – I found that my heart was galloping when the rival researcher team was about to get important information into their hands! And there is even a bit of grave-robbing involved, which is unexpected yet fitting, considering the 19th century Gothic influences. Since the scholars hunt for clues about these two poets in order to piece together their life stories, one could even claim that the novel resembles a detective story. As one of the characters remarks: "Literary critics make natural detectives."

The title also says "Romance". Do not, however, expect this to be anything you find in the “romance” section in a bookstore (actually, I can’t be entirely sure about that since I’ve only made the mistake of buying those books a couple of times – historical romances, which should be perfect for me but for whatever reason just aren’t). There is love, though, passion and tragedy – however, I would also, or even primarily, read this novel as a love affair with reading, books, writing, literature...

Now and then there are readings which make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones on fire, like points of stars in the dark...”

I’ll admit that what made the book particularly interesting for me was that two of the main characters were writers. Another thing that I found fascinating was Christabel LaMotte's struggle with a woman’s role in the 19th century – being a female poet (being recognised as a poet) and gaining and maintaining her independence weren't exactly easy.

There’s a layer upon layer upon layer here; you’re reading a story within a story within a story (sometimes I lost count). And of course there’s more than enough symbolism, metaphors, allegory, intertextuality etc. etc. I’ll have to admit that I had a feeling that I would have enjoyed the novel even more had I possessed a greater knowledge about 19th century poetry or literature in general. I’m sure there were references that I missed because I’m no expert. I'm aware that quite a many academic papers, essays, studies and analyses have been written about "Possession" itself – I'm not attempting to do anything like that here (after all, my most common excuse for reading is pleasure and entertainment), but literary analyses about a book that is, at least partly, about literary analysis... just the kind of thing that amuses me!

The author gently makes fun of academics and the sometimes rather peculiar topics of their studies. How important is it, after all, to analyse the scribblings of long-since dead poets? One might also distinguish certain criticism towards literary criticism. Isn’t it always a matter of interpretation, after all (I refer back to the image I posted above)? And when our sources are letters, diaries, other texts, don’t they give us a very incomplete picture of a person? How well can we ever truly know anyone? The book also raises certain ethical questions, such as, is it acceptable to read private correspondence (even decades after the authors of the letters passed away)? How far are we prepared to go in our quest for knowledge... or in our will to possess?

There is a film based on the book – I’ve seen it, but I don’t actually remember anything about it. I’ll have to watch it again; it’ll be interesting to see how such a complex book works on film.

I definitely enjoyed "Possession" and am happy to have discovered it – quite unexpectedly. I had added the book to my TBR list on Goodreads, then found it in our local little library by accident! I never even thought to look if they have it, since their collection of English books is rather small. I was reaching for another book entirely, when I saw that there was something familiar about the book right next to it...

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Rum & raisin chocolate

Here’s the third part of my chocolate making reports (parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here), and I’ll have to say that this time was even more successful than the previous two.

I don’t really have much to report, but this time, I finally managed to measure the ingredients! I used about 50 ml of cocoa butter and 50 ml of cocoa powder. To this, I added a tiny sprinkling of salt and 3 teaspoons of agave syrup. That seemed like a lot of sweetener to me, but even after adding all that, the mixture still tasted quite bitter. After it had cooled down and set, however, it was pretty perfect.

One reason might be that after I'd added the sweetener and decided it was enough, I added some rum-soaked raisins. They are quite sweet, and that probably influenced the result. Either way, I have to say that this was the best attempt so far. This chocolate turned out to be a great family favourite: I loved it, my DH (a big fan of rum and raisin combo) loved it, and even my daughter loved it (don't worry; there wasn't that much rum in it). They immediately requested that I make some more. :)