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Pepper waiting on the steps at home.

08-Feb-16

Pepper waiting on the steps at home.

Reactions to The Time of Contempt (The Witcher) by Andrzej Sapkowski

07-Feb-16

The Time of Contempt (The Witcher)The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The machine behind The Witcher books seems to have trouble sequencing them and integrating them under a single umbrella – The Time of Contempt was once numbered as 3, after the short story collection titled The Last Wish and a first novel called Blood of Elves. As of this writing, The Time of Contempt seems to be #4, still the sequel to the earlier novel, but also following another collection of short stories?

In any case, The Time of Contempt is a slight improvement on Blood of Elves, with slightly deeper exploration of some interesting characters and (finally) some actual action. But for a book so focused on describing large-scale political maneuvering across disparate races and factions, there’s precious little believable description of how the faction leaders communicate their goals or interact with each other – just a vague dark force taking over certain areas with no meaningful explanation.

The Time of Contempt is very much a continuation of the exposition from its predecessor Blood of Elves – it doesn’t stand on its own and shouldn’t be read that way.

But it probably shouldn’t be read at all. Stick with The Last Wish as the best way to encounter Geralt the Witcher and his engaging fantasy world.

Read my review of Bloo of Elves here
Read my review of The Last Wish here
See all my book reviews here

Reactions to Blood of Elves (The Witcher, #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

07-Feb-16

Blood of Elves (The Witcher, #1)Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was generally charmed by the Witcher stories compiled in The Last Wish (especially its “title track” concluding piece), which has a surprisingly cohesive narrative thread, engaging introduction of an Eastern European-flavored fantasy world and bestiary, and focus on the excellent character of Geralt, the eponymous Witcher.

Unfortunately Blood of Elves, the first Witcher novel, shares none of these positive attributes. It’s all exposition and (boring) world-building, presumably to set up the following novels, but lacks a compelling standalone story. The fantasy elements are downplayed almost to the vanishing point (apart from the idea of distinct races, of course in conflict). And maybe these books have been only retroactively named “The Witcher”, but a reader of Blood of Elves without any context would be hard-pressed to identify Geralt as important to the story, much less the protagonist. Geralt retains his enigmatic appeal in the few areas where he shows up, but on the whole Blood of Elves is a big step down from the short stories that now precede it.

Ends up a rather boring slog.

Read my review of The Last Wish here
See all my book reviews here

Reactions to “St. Nicholas and the Dragon” by Laura Hickman and Tracy Hickman

07-Feb-16

St. Nicholas and the Dragon (Dragon's Bard)St. Nicholas and the Dragon by Laura Hickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A charming short book telling a St. Nicholas origin story in a lighthearted fantasy context. Engaging tone with an instantly understandable world. Occasionally a little too jarringly cutesy with the insertion of lyrics from Christmas carols and other popular references, but on the whole a good holiday read for the younger side of young adults.

View all my reviews on Goodreads here

Reactions to “Naughty & Nice” (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI, #3.5) by Kevin Anderson

07-Feb-16

Naughty & Nice (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI, #3.5)Naughty & Nice by Kevin J. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charming holiday story using characters I suspect Anderson has introduced in earlier works, though it’s not necessary to have read those to enjoy “Naughty & Nice”. Anderson deftly and lightheartedly merges the noir-ish black comedy world of the zombie private investigator and his ghostly companion with some comfortable holiday tropes. Obviously intended more as a service to existing fans than a standalone work of substance, but it’s more than worthy for a holiday reading list.

View all my reviews on Goodreads here

Reactions to Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler by Oliver Hilmes

07-Feb-16

Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma MahlerMalevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler by Oliver Hilmes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hilmes’ biography should probably not be one’s starting place to get to know Alma Mahler Werfel (as it was mine). While his primary research bona fides are compelling – he goes to great pains to describe just how much time and effort he expended with Alma’s previously-unmined papers and other effects at the University of Pennsylvania – his actual portrait of his subject falls flat.

It’s not because Hilmes paints Alma as a vapid, narcissistic, casually anti-Semitic, and essentially despicable person – she probably was – but rather that he gives almost no indication what this jaw-dropping succession of truly great artists saw in her as a companion. Why did Klimt, Mahler, Zemlinsky, Kokoschka, Gropius, Werfel, and so many others fall so hard for her? Hilmes barely hints at it.

Hilmes is very concerned about getting to the truth of Alma’s influence on Werfel’s rumored(?) deathbed conversion to Catholicism. It was difficult for me to follow the twists and turns, or even understand why this particular event merited such attention, but I think Hilmes concludes there’s not evidence to substantiate whether the conversion occurred or not. (Perhaps the frequent but generally overlookable lapses in translation made it harder to grasp?)

I did enjoy the small portraits of Austro-Germanic émigré domestic life in Los Angeles – it’s somehow charming to see Schoenberg, Thomas Mann, Bruno Walter, Korngold, and others complaining about the food at each other’s homes. And there’s some Schadenfreude in seeing Alma hocking rare Bruckner scores and the like. But on the whole Hilmes’ biography is likely better at rounding out a picture of his subject than providing the basis for one. He unfortunately leaves it to other biographers to describe how Alma Mahler compelled so many great men to spend so much time with her.

See all of my book reviews here