2014 in review – blog stats

I love how WordPress does these yearly stats graphs, so I decided to share mine with you. It’s always surprising and a bit exhilarating to see how some posts manage to bring in so much traffic. I specifically remember my surprise when my review of The Picture of Dorian Gray was published. I had scheduled the post to appear during my Berlin trip in May, because I knew I would be busy exploring the city. However, on the way back I logged on to WordPress and was astonished by the huge peak that seemed to have happened overnight. Not that I do this for the stats, but it is always interesting to see what posts attract the attention. Luckily all of the three most viewed review post were all books from my Best of 2014 list!

Moreover – Holy crap, 85 countries! That’s insane!
Click here to see the complete report.

Best of 2014

Happy New Year’s Eve dear readers!

Last year I listed my top 5 books of the year, but this year I read so many incredible and amazing and thought-provoking and charming books that it was already a struggle to limit them down to ten. I read a total of 79 books in 2014, so the books that I chose for this list have all stuck with me since reading and I feel will stick with me for years to come. These books are listed in no particular order, because even if I wanted to, I couldn’t pick a favourite – they are all wonderful in their own way. I have written individual reviews of all of these books, so you can click the links if you want to know more about my thoughts on them. Now let’s get started!

gatsbyPicMonkey Collage11. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale was my first Margaret Atwood and it certainly will not be the last. Although I originally gave the book only four stars, it has been in the back of my mind ever since July and it has really made me think about the concepts that she created for this book. I’ve now slyly changed my rating to 4.5, and this was the first book that came to mind when I started compiling this list.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Another first, The Picture of Dorian Gray was my first Oscar Wilde and I fell in love with it head first. It is witty and horrible and seducing, and the language is simply divine. Very, very highly recommended!

3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie is the Queen of crime fiction and this book reminded me again why she earns her title. I was completely enthralled by this book, trapped on the island with the other characters and trying to figure out who the murderer was. A gripping read.

4. Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin
The biography that served as the starting point for my Tove100 project. What was only supposed to be a quick look for research purposes turned into instant infatuation and, over the year, a love for Tove Jansson as an artist and a writer. Inspiring to a tee.

5. Animal Farm by George Orwell  
What can I say about the brilliancy that is Animal Farm? Simply that it is a fable for the adults about a group of animals who overthrow the farmer and begin to run the farm independently.*coff*heavy criticism on Soviet revolution*coff*. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.                                                    PicMonkey Collage26. The Sands of Sarasvati by Risto Isomäki                                                           
For truly opening my eyes to the wonders of science fiction. Up until this year, I considered science fiction as something that wasn’t really for me and that the only science fiction I enjoyed was the Douglas Adams kind. However, this ecological mystery extravaganza took me on an adventure that I won’t easily forget. As I said in my review: if every scifi book were like this, I would have converted ages ago.

7. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D’Urbervilles vowed me from the very beginning and it managed to combine both an important topic, Victorian sexual hypocrisy, and stunningly poetic writing. The contrast between the two was very powerful and Tess’ story broke my heart to pieces. Emotional, but also intellectually stimulating must-read classic.

8. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger                                                   
Another enthralling book, The Time Traveler’s Wife also appealed to my emotions and took me through a rollercoaster ride of feelings. The original timeline construction and the characters just made this a wonderful read, and it is all topped of with beautiful writing. Simply fantastic.

9. Forty Years On and Other Plays by Alan BennettImportance of Being Earnest and Other Plays by Oscar Wilde
OK, so I couldn’t decide with collection of plays I liked better so I cheated and chose both. And technically I haven’t yet read all of the plays in Wilde’s collection, but here’s what’s going on: Last year I discovered Alan Bennett’s books, and he became on of my favourite authors of 2014. This year, the same happened with Oscar Wilde. Both of their play collections have witty, laugh-out-loud and amazing plays, but both also feature plays that were not really up there. So I’m calling it a tie.

10. As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka                                                                        
An amazing first book in a dark mystery YA trilogy, it is no wonder this book is selling internationally. The female protagonist, Lumikki, is a kick-ass character unlike anyone else, and Simukka’s use of language is so clever that you just want to marvel on how she weaves the story. This book also made me very scared to walk past the graveyard, even in bright daylight.

And that was my Top Ten of 2014. Let me know if you read any of these and also what was your favourite read of 2014!

Happy New Year!
Noora xx

Comics round: Fables, vol. 1 by Bill Willingham & Pelinavaus (Villimpi Pohjola, #1-2) by JP Ahonen

Because I read two comics/graphic novels in December, I decided to feature them in the same review post. I generally don’t read a lot of comics, but this year I’ve been exposed to so many that it has naturally been reflected in my own reading. I hope you enjoy these quick reviews, and if you have any suggestions for other graphic novels/comics to read, I’d love to hear them!

PAPERBACK; 128 P.
DC COMICS, 2002/2001
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Fabletown’s sheriff, a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf (Bigby Wolf), to determine if the killer is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.

In the past year or so fairy tale re-tellings have truly surfaced in popularity as can be seen with many popular book series (cf. Lunar Chronicles, Cruel Beauty Universe, The Snow White Trilogy) as well as many film adaptations. So it is no surprise that a comic series begun in the early 2000s has also received a small upsurge among book bloggers. As it happens, on the first day of December I was returning some of my library loans and I saw this sitting in the “recently returned” shelf. Now, I had vowed in my December Plans post NOT to check out any books from the library in December, but since there was no clause about reading books in the library, I decided to stretch my library visit with another hour and sat down to read Fables, vol 1: Legends in Exile. Cheeky, I know.

The synopsis pretty much explains the setting for this comic series: The universe has another world, the land of the fairy tales, but for some mysterious reason, the characters of the legends and fairy tales have been forced to leave their world and live in ours. They have settled into New York, and have their own secret community, Fabletown, that protects them and keeps them in order. Snow White is the vice mayor who runs everything, The Big Bad Wolf is (ironically) the sheriff of the community, and together they are trying to find out what happened to Rose Red, who has tragically disappeared. Naturally there are also a plethora of other characters, such as Prince Charming – Snow White’s ex-husband and a shameless lothario – , that are involved in solving the case.

Most of the Fables, vol 1: Legends in Exile is centered around the mystery of Rose Red’s disappearance, but the story does also feature some flashbacks to explain why and how the fable characters left their world. The art style is reminiscent of some superhero and detective comics, with sharp, dark lines and contrasting colors. Because it is the first volume, it has to do a lot of introduction to the characters as well as some explanation of their situation, but at the end of the volume there were still so many questions left unanswered that I feel I have to read the next one as soon as possible. The fact that the second volume is titled Animal Farm has me even more excited for it. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading a bit grittier and more adultish fairy tale re-telling.

4/5

HARDCOVER; 160 P.
ARKTINEN BANAANI, 2013
SOURCE: GIFTED

Disclaimer: This book has, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly.

Published since 2003, the Villimpi Pohjola series is a comic series about a group of friends who grow physically and on the side attempt to grow mentally as well. The core of this group of students consists of both men and women; however, their characters are very opposite which only seems to strengthen their friendship. For example, Rontti believes himself to be a gift to the womankind, and is so convincing in his preaching that many women take him for his word. Muusa tries to hold tight to her youthful dream and believe in future without expectations, duties and responsibilities. The Villimpi Pohjola series is a combination of relationship comic, parody and pop culture references. Pelinavaus (eng. The Opening) combines the first two self-published works, from 2007 and 2009, as the best of the early series. This collection also contains some new, previously unpublished material.

This comic book was a Christmas gift from my brother and I’m so glad that I finally have it. As some of you might remember, I did go a bit backwards with this comic series by purchasing the fourth volume in October and reading it immediately after that. I’d previously read the Villimpi Pohjola series in the local newspaper and loved how witty and sometimes very on point it is about some pop culture phenomena.

This collection features comics all the way from 2003 to 2009, with some additions drawn in 2013, and they are not organised chronologically. In the beginning I was actually very surprised to see how much Ahonen’s drawing style had changed during the ten year period and it took me a while to get used to the stylistic changes. However, later on I truly appreciated the variety as it showed not only how the characters had progressed in the series, but also how his style has progressed throughout the years. Although I must admit that I do like the current style a lot more than the earlier ones.

As I mentioned, I read The Opening after I had read the fourth book, Lapsus, so the characters were already familiar to me. This meant that I had a certain idea of most of them, and that the collection only gave me more background on how the series had started. This book also had a lot more university related jokes and phenomena that naturally appealed to me very much. All in all, I really enjoyed The Opening, but not quite as much as I’d enjoyed Lapsus. It might be the case where what I read first will always be the best because it is associated with the joy of discovering something brilliant (I tend to have the same problem with music as well).

I was under the impression that this comic series hadn’t been translated, but it turns out that the first two volumes were actually translated into English by the artist himself – under the title Northern Overexposure! However, those two volumes (and translations) are now out of print, and the later works (including this collection) have not been translated – which is a pity! However, should these ever get translated into English (or other languages), I’d highly suggest that you read them!

4.5/5

My review of Kypsyyskoe (#3) AND Lapsus (#4).

Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

EBOOK; 112 P.
 1843
 SOURCE: PUBLIC DOMAIN

One of the best-loved and most quoted stories of “the man who invented Christmas”—English writer Charles Dickens—A Christmas Carol debuted in 1843 and has touched millions of hearts since.

Cruel miser Ebeneezer Scrooge has never met a shilling he doesn’t like…and hardly a man he does. And he hates Christmas most of all. When Scrooge is visited by his old partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, he learns eternal lessons of charity, kindness, and goodwill. Experience a true Victorian Christmas!

Like most people, I had seen an adaptation of A Christmas Carol – several, in fact – years before I read the book. A Christmas Carol is Charles Dickens’ first Christmas book, and so far the only one of them that I’ve read. The dedication at the beginning of the story presents the story rather well in my opinion:

I HAVE endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

To quickly summarize, A Christmas Carol is a story of an old miserable man named Ebeneezer Scrooge, who on a Christmas Eve is visited by the ghost of his former partner, as well as the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet To Come. Through these visits Scrooge sees how his cold-hearted behaviour has affected others around him. The short book constructs the idea of an Christmas as a time of goodwill, charity and kindness.

I began reading A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve and finished it on Christmas Day. It has been a couple of years since I last read it, and with every read I discover new things. Because the book is only slightly over 100 pages, Dickens doesn’t go as deeply into developing some of the side characters or side plots as in his other works. However, the imagery is still there as well as the setting of Victorian London. Because there are so many adaptations, almost everyone knows how the story goes, but I’d still recommend that you read it for the little nuances that are often left out of the adaptations. A classic for the holiday season, A Christmas Carol is a short and relatively easy to read, which is why I’d definitely recommend it to people who are hesitating to picking up Dickens’ larger works.

4/5

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail.

September-December book haul

Hello lovely readers,

2014 is quickly coming to an end and I still have a few books that I’ve acquired but haven’t yet had the chance to show. These books have found their way into my shelves between the months of September and December. I did, however, post a small Helsinki Book Fair haul in October; you can find the books I bought at the event here. In contrast to my previous book hauls in which I’ve mostly shown books that I haven’t read yet, I’ve actually read and reviewed most of these (I will link the reviews so you can also go and read my thoughts). Nevertheless, my buying versus reading ratio seems to stand as usual, with the exception of review copies that tend to get read faster than other books. This book haul will also for the first time contain ebooks, because I got a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas and naturally had to buy a few books for “testing purposes”.

Physical books:

IMG_7533

I received a review copy of DJ-kirja (The DJ Book) in September and read it soon after. DJ-kirja is a non-fiction book about the Finnish DJing culture, how it came into Finland and where it currently stands. The book gave me an abundance of music recommendations but also sparked an interest to read more non-fiction. Another book that I received around the same time, this time from a Goodreads giveaway, was The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. The Iron Trial was an entertaining middle grade fantasy, but not really my cup of tea. Soon after finishing it I donated my copy to the local library, which is why it isn’t included in the picture.

Another book not included in the picture is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I’d been trying to find the book from bookshops ever since it was published, but in October I finally gave in and ordered it online. Despite all the hype, the book did not disappoint and I’ve already lent it out to a friend.

The last two books pictured were both spur of the moment purchases. George Orwell’s famous essay Politics and the English language was a piece that I’d been meaning to read for a long time, but never thought that I would buy it. However, in November I was working on a paper on intention in language and a friend of mine suggested that I should read Orwell’s essay for the paper. I looked online, and discovered that the tiny booklet cost only a few euros, so I decided to treat myself. However, due to unknown circumstances, the order was pushed back a couple of weeks and the booklet arrived a few days after I’d turned in my paper. What a shame! The essay is very Orwellian and though I do not agree with everything he says, I very much appreciate how he says it. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh I found from the library sale and paid only 20 cents for it! True, the spine is quite worn, but I’m very much excited to read more from the author of Brideshead Revisited.

Ebooks:

18602569 13643133 13519397 16283014

My boyfriend and I exchange our Christmas gifts already at the beginning of December, and my present contained a Kindle Paperwhite. I’d previously read ebooks either on my computer or on my phone, but the ereader definitely makes the reading easier and more enjoyable. I quickly downloaded a few public domain titles, such as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but also some PDFs and Word files for uni projects that I was still working on. The first book I “purchased” for the Kindle was Cry of the Peacock, which is a historical fiction novel – and free. Unfortunately it turned out that the story focused more around the romantic love interests of the female protagonist than the time period itself. After turning in my last assignments, I traveled to my parents for Christmas and to ease my load of books to carry, I bought both Gone Girl and Throne of Glass for my Kindle. Both novels have had a lot of hype surrounding them, and though Gone Girl did not quite live up to it, I’m still interested to see what I think about Throne of Glass.

Christmas presents:
17611595Because getting an ereader for Christmas is almost the equivalent of 10-20 books, it makes sense that I only got two books for Christmas: one graphic novel and one crime mystery. Pelinavaus (eng. The Opening) by JP Ahonen is the collective edition of the first two Villimpi Pohjola volumes. Both were originally self-published (and translated!), but are now out of print, so I’m glad that the publishing house decided to release this bind-up. As I had bought the fourth volume at the Helsinki Book Fair, I wished to own also the earlier volumes. The Villimpi Pohjola series narrates the lives of a group of student friends who are on their last years of university studies, juggling between studentlife and the imminent graduation.

16037062

Kolmikulma (eng. Triangular) by Karo Hämäläinen is a Finnish thriller that involves three people: a marketing executive, a scheming politician, and a German assassin named Irene Adler. According to the blurb at the back, Kolmikulma is a sharp finance thriller set at the  break of the euro crisis. I haven’t read Hämäläinen’s work before, so I have no idea what to expect. However, I hope that this book will be a good introduction to his writing and the Finnish thriller genre. Fun fact: Karo Hämäläinen is actually the spouse of YA author Salla Simukka, who wrote the Snow White trilogy.

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

EBOOK; 512 P.
PHOENIX, 2012
SOURCE: PURCHASED

What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren’t his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife? And what was in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past months, you should have heard about Gone Girl. Everyone was reading it, everyone went to see the film that was released in October, and everyone raved about how dark and twisted it was. Did I buy into the hype? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.

Winner of the Goodreads Mystery & Thriller Award in 2012, Gone Girl is a thriller that centers around Amy and Nick, a married couple living in a small-town Missouri. In the morning of their fifth anniversary Amy disappears and as the investigation for a missing person proceeds, surprising information begins to surface, indicating a darker shade in the otherwise happy marriage. The story is told in dual perspective, from the point of views of both Nick and Amy, but their facts don’t quite seem to fit. The reader is left guessing what is hidden underneath the surface and how well do two people truly know each other.

The story of Gone Girl examines at the psychology of relationships, veiled in the mystery of Amy’s disappearance. The story examines not only Nick and Amy’s relationship, but also brother-sister relationships as well as parent-child relationships. The ordinary seeming characters hold dark secrets, and there are many twists in the plot. Overall, the book, however, left me underwhelmed. Maybe it is a case of too much hype that had me expecting more – more mysterious, darker, truly thought-provoking. Nevertheless, Gillian Flynn writes well and the characters felt real. Her small details placed the story well into our time and made Gone Girl an enjoyable read. I’d recommend Gone Girl to readers who enjoy thrillers with the spice of psychology.

3/5

It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all the readers of Dawn of books!

I hope you can enjoy the Christmas time by relaxing and spending time with your family and friends. I’m spending my Christmas in Northern Finland with my family and on Christmas Eve we were able to see the Northern Lights lighting up the sky. It was stunning! At the moment I’m reading three books: Soul Kitchen, A Christmas Carol (re-read), and Pelinavaus (Villimpi Pohjola #1-2), which I received as a gift. Reviews coming up…

Happy holidays and all the best,
Noora xx

Review: Moby Doll by Saara Henriksson

HARDCOVER; 187 P.
INTO, 2011
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Disclaimer: This book has, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly.

Music is time: the journey from one note to another. A young piano student, Jenny, is searching for a melody she heard as a child, and her search leads her to the Arctic Ocean and to whales. She is followed by Jokke, a civil servant and retired activist, with whom Jenny had a summer romance years ago. They are aided in their mutual search by Hope, a marine biologist studying the language of whales.

Moby Doll is a story about reaching for the target that is out of reach, but also about the possibilities of communication and the power of music. Jenny hopes to find from the whales singing an answer to an age-old question. It is also the story of humans and whales throughout centuries.

My first instinct in picking up this book was the allusion to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, a classic that I read during the summer. The subtitle of the book – A Novel where Man searches for a woman and Woman for a whale – supported that argument, and having now read both books, there are a lot of thematic similarities between the two. However, the name also alludes to one of the first wild killer whales captured by humans, named Moby Doll.

The story of Moby Doll begins with the main character, Jenny, struggling to find inspiration for her final graduation project. She feels tired of her life in Helsinki, and feels drawn to the old whale documentaries that she used to watch as a child. She remembers having once heard the whales sing and memorized the song, but the melody escapes her. In a spur of a moment, she decides to contact Hope, who studies whales in the Arctic Ocean. Around the same time, the other main character, Jokke, walks into his boring daily job at the Ministry of the Environment. He has been lately feeling down about his career and questioning the choices that he has made during the years. The memory of Jenny resurfaces, and he decides to contact her. Jenny tells him that she is traveling to Norway, and Jokke decides to follow her in hopes of rekindling their relationship and finding himself.

The book also has a side story about Hope, the promising whale researcher stuck in a small fishing village; about a group of protesters; and about whale hunting. For such a short book, Moby Doll manages to tie in many themes and issues, from climate change to relationship problems. It also has a lot of data about whales woven into the dialogues and narrations. The narration switches between the main characters, but there are also chapters narrated by the magical old wise whale, who talks about his experiences from bellow the surface. The writing of Moby Doll is creative and beautiful, moving like water and singing like music. Some of the parts were slower and some moments felt overly stretched, but towards the end the action picked up again and I couldn’t put the book down.

Moby Doll raises several questions about the our relationship to nature and how humans have mistreated their power over animals. Like Moby-Dick, there’s a lot of facts about whales and whale hunting, but more from the perspective of protecting the species. I especially enjoyed the parts that dealt with whales and their language, and would have loved to read more about it. I’d recommend Moby Doll both to people who have read Moby-Dick and to people who are too intimidated to pick it up.

4/5