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September 2017

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Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About ItProcrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It by Jane B. Burka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably one of the most comprehensive overviews of the causes of procrastination that I've read. I think this book does a really good job of demonstrating that procrastination is a complex thing, with many possible causes behind it. I particularly liked the discussion of how some procrastinators have a different relationship with time than non-procrastinators - I've personally found that a lot of my procrastination comes not so much from a reluctance to do a task but from things like vastly underestimating the amount of time it will take, assuming there will be time "later" to do it, or just getting completely caught up in something else and losing track of time.

The second half of the book, the "what to do about it" part, goes over slightly more familiar territory, with recommendations to do things like break tasks into smaller pieces, give yourself rewards, and enlist social support.

I won't say that the book is life changing, but having a better understanding of the reasons why I procrastinate has helped me tweak my anti-procrastination strategies to be a bit more effective. Which is enough for me - my procrastination is not bad enough to be crippling, although it does annoy me sometimes.

Finally, I just want to say that I've seen several reviews dissing the authors for admitting to their own struggles with procrastination. I don't get it - why would you read a book on overcoming procrastination written by people who had never struggled with procrastination? (Come to think of it, although I've used words like "non-procrastinators" and "people who have never struggled with procrastination", I'm not sure that such people exist. If you can honestly say that you've never procrastinated on anything, I would be fascinated to hear your experiences.)

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The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth GapThe Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taibbi writes with a very distinctive style - he has a gift for outlandish and vivid metaphors, and a taste for highly emotive language. Sometimes, I wish he would cool it a little, because as a reader I'm wary of being manipulated. And there's plenty of stuff in this book where the bare clinical facts are entirely sufficient to produce outrage, and I don't need the author metaphorically poking me in the ribs saying, "Hey! Hey! Are you angry yet?"

And this book will definitely make you angry (and depressed), but it's an important read. Taibbi does an excellent job of dissecting two trends in the American justice system. First, the extent to which corporate fraud and other financial crimes are prosecuted very gingerly, if at all, and second, the extent to which (often poor, often non-white) individuals can routinely have the full force of the court system thrown at them for relatively minor offenses. The causes behind this are many. There's a big dollop of flawed legal precedent: the tale of the Holder memo is an amazing case study in unintended consequences from a policy that wasn't thoroughly thought through. There are lots of skewed institutional incentives: it turns out that if you evaluate police performance on a metric of number of arrests, police will find ways to make arrests at any cost. And if you tell the Justice Department that the thing that matters most is successful prosecutions, you can pretty much guarantee that the Justice Department will only prosecute slam-dunk cases. There's a whole lot of political theater in the form of politicians scoring cheap points by going after welfare recipients and undocumented immigrants. And a great big chunk of simple racism.

I don't think that there are simple solutions to any of these causes, but having read this book, I now feel much better informed about what the causes are, and ready to join the discussion of how to address them.

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The Coroner's Lunch (Dr. Siri Paiboun, #1)The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This comes pretty close to everything I could want in a mystery series. It has an interesting historical setting (Laos in the 1970s, just after the Communist takeover). It has a protagonist with a sharp sense of humor, and a supporting cast of characters who are interesting and likable. The crimes to be solved range from personal crimes of passion to political intrigues. And there's an interesting hint of the supernatural which manages to walk a fine line between "yes, something that can't be explained by science is happening here" and "this guy's intuition has really interesting ways of operating." It's something I've seen other writers attempt, and it's often annoyed me, but in this case it works.

I don't think these books are nearly as well known in mystery reading circles as they deserve to be. If you like mysteries, check this one out.

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Something More Than NightSomething More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the kind of book that really seems like it could only have been written by someone who really loved both Raymond Chandler and John Milton. Since that also describes me, I was quite eager to read it, and I wasn't disappointed. Basically, the story starts in the aftermath of the murder of the angel Gabriel. Bayliss, an angel who strangely speaks almost entirely in the dialect of noir detective fiction, has to find a replacement for Gabriel. He accidentally ends up with a young woman named Molly, and the two of them begin an uneasy partnership to solve Gabriel's murder and follow up on what he was working on when he died.

Molly makes a terrific protagonist: she's brave and outspoken, but also struggles realistically with adapting to her new role as an angel and the powers that come with it. Bayliss is…well, let me just say, if you get through this book without ever saying, "Jesus, what is with the Sam Spade schtick?", then maybe you're an even bigger fan of noir than I am. That question does get answered, though, and the mystery gets wrapped up very satisfyingly in the end.

I do wonder if the noir pastiche element will put off just as many people as it attracts. I would recommend giving this book a try even if it doesn't quite seem like your kind of thing - it is a really imaginative and well-written fantasy.

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The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't even really sure whether I should review this book, because I figure everyone has either already read it or made up their mind whether they're going to read it. But, here we go.

First off, there's no getting around the fact that the pacing is extremely leisurely. At times, this can be pleasant in a "relax and let the author spin you a yarn" kind of way; at other times, you are just waiting for something to happen. It does pick up a bit in the last third of the book.

Otherwise, this is a book whose virtues are very much bound up with its flaws, and whether you like it or not probably depends on how much particular flaws grate on you. For example, the world building is not terribly original, but by the standards of other books in the big fat fantasy genre, it at least feels reasonably solid and convincing. And Kvothe is just the sort of omnicompetent precocious protagonist with a prodigious ability to get himself both into and out of trouble that is going to strike some readers as a perfect wish-fulfillment character, and some readers as an egregious Gary Stu.

In the end, I found it reasonably entertaining, although I'm a bit frightened of the sequel, because statistically, multi-volume big fat fantasy series do not get more briskly paced as the series moves on.

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The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything...Fast (Audiobook)The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything...Fast by Josh Kaufman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For a start, I don't recommend getting this book on audio. It's well-narrated, but the chapters on learning programming and learning to play go would benefit a lot from visuals. (All the visuals are available from the book's website, but since I usually listen to audiobooks when I'm not sitting in front of a computer, that didn't do me a whole lot of good.)

This book is an interesting mix of how-to and memoir. The how-to part starts from the now-famous assertion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill…and then makes the happy assertion that it only takes about 20 hours of focused practice to get competent at a skill. Kaufman then lays out a check list of what you should do to maximize the results that you get out of your first 20 hours of practice. The principles seem to me to be good ones- some are things that I already do when learning something new, and some are ideas that are new to me.

The second and much longer part of the book is a kind of memoir of how Kaufman applied these principles to learning several different skills: yoga, programming basic web applications in Ruby, relearning to touch type, learning to play go, playing the ukelele, and windsurfing. I think it's probably a rare reader who will find all of these equally fascinating. The chapter on learning programming was fascinating, but if I weren't already half-competent at Ruby myself, I'm not sure if I'd have followed along at all. The chapter on relearning to touch type was actually unexpectedly fascinating. I found that the chapters on yoga and go dragged a bit.

Overall, this is a great read for relentless autodidacts everywhere, but get a paper or ebook copy so that you can skim the parts that you don't find as interesting.

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Doctor Who: Army of Death (Big Finish Audio Drama, #155)Doctor Who: Army of Death by Jason Arnopp

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't have high expectations of this going in - the "army of the walking dead" concept didn't really excite me. I was pleasantly surprised by the first half, which is a tense, fast-paced political thriller. I loved it. (Though I might also have been riding on the high of having just seen "Night of the Doctor", which had me basically bouncing around going, "Eight! Eight!! Eight!!!" for approximately 72 hours after viewing.)

I thought the second half let things down a bit. Act 3 has a lot of plot by convenient bad timing, while Act 4 suffers from a big baddie who apparently studied at the Brian Blessed School of Dramatic Subtlety.

I also had mixed feelings about the Mary-falling-in-love-with-the-Doctor subplot. On the one hand, it was handled in a way that I thought was both very character appropriate and the way I've always pictured many potential Doctor/companion "romances" resolving: Mary realizes that she's falling for the Doctor, confesses her feelings in an awkward conversation with the Doctor, and then comes to her own realization that Ancient Space Aliens Who Routinely Decide the Destiny of Civilizations Do Not Make Suitable Boyfriends. On the other hand, I think it's a unfortunate that this story happened to be written during an era of Doctor Who in which we seem, on the whole, to be vigorously making up for all those years that we spent denying the possibility that any of the people who traveled with the Doctor might have had other than Platonic feelings for him. And so the whole subplot feels just a tad obligatory.

Anyway, I'm very happy that they've left the door open for more adventures with Mary Shelley, because she is a really fantastic companion.

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Doctor Who: The Cold Equations (The Companion Chronicles, #5.12)Doctor Who: The Cold Equations by Simon Guerrier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the previous story in this trilogy featuring newly-created companion Oliver, this really captures the feel of Hartnell-era Doctor Who. The meticulously worked-out details of zero-gravity navigation even evoke some of the show's original purpose as education television, without getting tedious.

I continue to really enjoy the relationship between Oliver and Steven, and this play does a lot to showcase it, since the second half is mostly a two-hander featuring the two of them. They present a nice contrast to each other: Oliver is shrewd, slightly devious, but very much out of his depth in the realm of time and space travel. Steven is much more open and plain-spoken, but comes from far in Oliver's future.

We also get to find out what Oliver's secret is. I think they made a smart choice to reveal it now rather than trying to string it out for suspense. I'd had my suspicions about what it was, and they happened to be correct. Oliver's confession and Steven's reaction to it were pitched just about perfectly.

I'm very much looking forward to the next installment in the trilogy.

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Doctor Who: The Witch from the Well (Big Finish Audio Drama, #154)Doctor Who: The Witch from the Well by Rick Briggs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had decidedly mixed feelings about this one. Some of the pluses: Mary Shelley continues to be just about the perfect Doctor Who companion, demonstrating an ideal blend of curiosity, resourcefulness, and fearlessness in the face of the unknown. I wish she could be a companion on the TV series. I enjoyed the two time-zone nature of the story. I know that lots of listeners have complained that it deprives us of Doctor/Mary interaction, but on the flip side, it gives Mary a chance to shine. I also quite enjoyed the characters of Beatrice and Agnes, who could both have easily been stock characters straight out of central casting, but who, thanks to some combination of the acting and the writing, really come alive.

Some of the minuses: The plot is only sustained by our heroes being idiots at key moments. It starts with the Doctor's willfully ignoring the signs that anything odd is going on with the twins. Not only is this rather at odds with his usual attitude towards new people, but you'd think that the Doctor would at least pick up on the hint that he's crossed his own timeline. When you write an 8th Doctor audio, you really don't get to pretend that he's unfamiliar with how time travel works. And then there's the long stretch of time during which the Doctor and Mary are separated in two different time zones, during which the listener is wondering when it will finally occur to her to use the fast-return switch which was carefully explained in episode 1.

On the whole, the pluses just outweigh the minuses for me, making this a reasonably entertaining if imperfect story.

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1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West by Roger Crowley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very vividly written account of the siege of Constantinople in 1453. Crowley has a knack for vivid writing, and can really make you feel as though you were there.

Crowley is particularly good at explaining military tactics and the technology of warfare. And the technology of warfare was particularly remarkable at the time. For example, the Byzantines protected the entrance to the harbor of the Golden Horn by stringing a giant chain across the mouth of the harbor, preventing ships from entering. So, what did Mehmet II, sultan of the Ottomans, do when he couldn't break the chain? Well, he had his men carry a bunch of war galleys overland and rolled them into the water on the other side of the chain. I also hadn't known that the Ottomans were early adopters of field artillery. Crowley's description of how they forged immense cannon in an attempt to bring down Constantinople's land walls is fascinating. As is his description of how the defenders of the city made a virtue of necessity - when the Ottoman cannon smashed their stone walls, they rebuilt them as wooden palisades with dirt piled between them - which did a much better job of absorbing the impact of the cannon balls.

Overall, the book is a great read, both informative and suspenseful. Though, be warned, it is a book that will make you want to read lots of other books, starting with Crowley's Empires of the Sea, which appears to be something of a sequel to this one.

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Doctor Who: The Silver Turk (Big Finish Audio Drama, #153)Doctor Who: The Silver Turk by Marc Platt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, I'm still loving the fact that a throwaway line in an early 8th Doctor audio play about the Doctor meeting Mary Shelley eventually led to a whole set of plays featuring Mary Shelley as a companion. And, of course, it's thoroughly appropriate that Mary Shelley's first proper adventure with the Doctor should involve her encountering a Cyberman.

This is an atypical Cyberman story, being set in 19th century Vienna, and featuring a pair of Cybermen from Mondas who have crashed on Earth and been badly damaged. Like the author's previous story, Spare Parts, this story highlights the individuality of the Cybermen much more than most stories that feature them, bringing out hints of the human personalities still lurking beneath their cybernetically enhanced exteriors. In lots of ways, this makes them more horrific than when they're portrayed as a mass of identical emotionless near-robots. The story also does a great job of integrating the Cybermen into a story that very much has the feel of 19th century literature of the uncanny. It feels period, while incorporating futuristic elements.

Mary Shelley makes a great Doctor Who companion - she's smart, courageous, and not afraid to take the initiative. Platt strikes a good balance in showing her adjusting to the concept of time travel and the strange things that she encounters without bogging down the story. The scene where she first speaks to a damaged Cyberman is pitch perfect - she sympathizes with and tries to help a creature that everyone else sees as a monster.

I have a few quibbles. I could do with a few less jokey references by the Doctor to Mary Shelley's future books - after a while, it not only feels in-jokey but rather careless on the Doctor's part. Admittedly, these stories are set before the 8th Doctor's most traumatic experiences with the Web of Time, but it still feels like he should be a bit more careful.

Still, if the remaining Mary Shelley stories live up to this one, I'll be very happy indeed.

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Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical WisdomTeaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom by Bell Hooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think that this is probably not the ideal place to begin my reading of bell hooks. I guess that this is what happens when you realize one day that you have somehow become a grown up person who calls herself a feminist without reading any bell hooks, and so you hop over to Amazon and grab the first couple of Kindle titles that sound interesting.

Not that this is a bad book by any means. If you do any sort of teaching (and I still do quite a lot of teaching even though "teacher" or "instructor" appears nowhere in my job title and hasn't for years), there are lots of good insights and things that will make you think here. But this doesn't feel like a "bell hooks 101" level book. The essays are short, pithy, and sometimes feel to me like they could use a bit more unpacking, as if they take for granted ideas and arguments that hooks has made at greater length elsewhere.

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So, last Sunday I went up to the DNA Lounge in San Francisco to see Starkill, Arsis, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Wintersun.

Nattering and pictures below the cut )
The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330 by Ian Mortimer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is really two books in one. The first (and largest) part of this book is a well-researched and engagingly written biography of Roger Mortimer, the man who (with the assistance of Queen Isabella) deposed Edward II of England and ruled for 3 years, until he was in turn overthrown, tried, and executed by Edward III. 14th century English politics can be quite messy and confusing, with lots of personal rivalries, shifting alliances, and constantly changing positions and titles, and Ian Mortimer (no relation to Roger) does a good job of making it all make sense.

The second part of the book is an epilogue in which Ian Mortimer lays out the evidence for his theory that Edward II wasn't actually murdered at Berkeley Castle in 1327. In Ian Mortimer's version of events, Roger Mortimer faked Edward's death to stave off political intrigues designed to return the deposed king to power. It's a tale of conspiracy at least as thrilling as those woven by all those folks who want to convince you that Richard III didn't kill the princes in the tower, but it has the advantage over those that I think I might actually be convinced. At any rate, I'm convinced that a fair number of people who had reason to be in the know believed that Edward II was alive after 1327. I'd want to do a little independent fact-checking before rendering a definitive opinion on Edward II's fate.

This book also really made me want to find a good biography of Queen Isabella. Because you really have to admire a woman, who, having been abandoned by Edward II and his favorite in the path of the advancing Scottish army, arranged her own passage back to England in a harrowing journey in which two of her ladies-in-waiting died, and then went straight to the Tower of London and struck up a secret correspondence with her husband's worst enemy, Roger Mortimer. Because she had clearly decided to be Done With Edward II's Bullshit. Forget all these kings and lords - I want to read a book about her.

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The Player of Games (Culture, #2)The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first read it, over a decade ago, Player of Games was not my favorite Culture novel. In fact, it was my second least-favorite, ranking just above Excession. Not that it was a bad book, by any means, but I felt that, in the Empire of Azad, Banks had created a ridiculous caricature of a xenophobic, militaristic, authoritarian, sexist society, and used it as a rather smug way of proving the moral superiority of the Culture.

I don't find the Empire of Azad nearly so ridiculous any longer. I still think there are a few places in which Banks over-eggs things a bit in terms of convincing the reader that the Azadians are really horrible, but overall, they're entirely plausible.

More importantly, I see the book less as a smug exercise in demonstrating the superiority of the Culture than as an attempt to address two philosophical objections to post-scarcity societies like the Culture: first, the idea that in such societies, life lacks purpose because people don't have to struggle for existence; and second, the idea that a peaceful, consensus-driven society like the Culture will always be defeated by a warlike authoritarian society because the inhabitants of the warlike society have greater will and fortitude in defending their ideas. It's still preaching the choir (at least for a reader like me), but at least it's a more complex point than, "Genocide, torture, and sexism are bad, okay?"

I still don't think that this will end up being my favorite Culture novel when I've finished this re-read, but it's a better book than I'd given it credit for. I'm really curious to see whether my reaction to Excession will change, but I've got a few books to read before I get there.

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Servants of the People: The Inside Story of New LabourServants of the People: The Inside Story of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very readable account of Tony Blair's first term as British prime minister. Rawnsley does assume a certain level of political knowledge that might be reasonable for the typical British reader of this book. If you're not British, and things like "Clause Four" and "Ernest Bevin" don't ring even vague bells for you, you might want to keep Google handy at a few points.

Being an American who wasn't following British politics closely for much of Tony Blair's time in office, I was mostly aware of Blair when he did something that got substantial coverage in the American press. From this, I had two rather contradictory images of him. One was of a world leader who seemed to demonstrate much more focus and moral clarity during the war in Kosovo than President Clinton. The other was of a politician who made himself President Bush's willing accomplice in misleading the world about the case for war in Iraq. Rawnsley's book certainly makes it possible to square these two Blair's as the same man: it seems clear that Blair was capable of great energy and accomplishment when he was willing to wholeheartedly commit to something. However, it's also clear that he was obsessed with opinion polls and the idea of securing his future place in history, that he didn't actually have many strong political convictions of his own, and that he had a lot of difficulty dealing with conflict among the members of his cabinet.

Mostly, though, this is a book that is likely to make you want to read lots of other books. In particular, Rawnsley's account of the Northern Irish peace negotiations is riveting, but clearly highly compressed. I do hope some good books have been written dealing with that in more detail. I'm also quite eager to read The End of the Party, Rawnsley's book that picks up where this one left off.

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Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1)Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've embarked on a re-read of The Culture novels, starting at the beginning and going all the way through to the end.

It's been quite a long time since I last read Consider Phlebas, and I was a bit wary of rereading it, for fear of that it wouldn't hold up to the passage of time. After all, intelligent, literate space opera is no longer a rare or surprising thing, and the Culture isn't the startlingly new idea it was back when I first read these books either. Does Consider Phlebas still hold up?

It does, although I think some of its flaws are more obvious now. This novel has a very large cast of characters, many of whom never rise above being a collection of miscellaneous tics and traits before they're unceremoniously dispatched in the course of some giant set piece action scene. And I don't remember being quite so thoroughly annoyed by the book's protagonist, Horza, on my first read. Although given that he is an anti-hero who's fighting the Culture, maybe that's not a flaw.
Of course, the things I loved about the book the first time are here as well: the outsized futuristic settings - the megaships, orbitals, and underground rail-systems filled with ancient nuclear-powered steam trains; the action sequences in which these feats of futuristic engineering are often spectacularly demolished; and the slightly twisted sense of humor.

It's interesting that in this first Culture novel, we don't see that much of the Culture - and a large chunk of what we do see is through the eyes of their enemies. It's also a very early version of the Culture - both in series chronological order and, of course, in publication order, so what we do see is much less developed than in the other books which are set hundreds of years later. We don't see any banter between Ship Minds; characters don't have the ability to back up their personalities and download them casually into new bodies; even things like the drones and the Culture's genetic modification technologies seem a bit more primitive than what we see later on. Even the trademark "wacky ship names" seem subdued compared to what we'll see later - the main text features ships called "Nervous Energy", "Eschatologist", "The Ends of Invention", "Trade Surplus", and "Revisionist". Unusual names, to be sure, but hardly on a par with "Size Isn't Everything", "Anticipation of a New Lover's Arrival, The" or "Just the Washing Instruction Chip in Life's Rich Tapestry".

It'll be interesting to watch how the Culture develops through the subsequent novels, and to see how much looks like deliberate cultural evolution on Banks's part and how much is just him throwing in cool stuff as he thought of it.

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I listened to the audiobook version of this, but I think I'd recommend going for the print version. First, because Erik Davis's occasionally florid rock-journalist prose sometimes sounds a little odd being read aloud. (Especially since every time the reader says oeuvre, mese en scene, or avant la lettre, I flinch. I'm not necessarily going to defend Davis's constant use of French expressions, but given that he did it, they should have gotten a reader who could pronounce French.)

Secondly, the straightforward audio adaptation that Audible did of this book strikes me as a missed opportunity. It would have benefitted tremendously from having short illustrative snippets of the music under discussion being played at appropriate moments.

At any rate, the book takes the interesting tactic of analyzing Led Zeppelin IV as if it is a narrative, which each song representing a different stage of the hero's journey. While I think this probably exaggerates the coherence of Led Zeppelin IV (which is not, after all, a concept album), it does provide an engaging way of pointing out thematic connections and recurring tropes in the songs.

The book spends roughly two-thirds of its time discussing lyrical themes and the overall Zeppelin "mythos", and only about a third of its time discussing musical elements and details of song recording and production. I'd personally have preferred it if that ratio had been flipped, but probably the ratio is right for the general reader who didn't spend a good chunk of her teenage years trying to learn the guitar parts to at least half the songs on Led Zeppelin IV. Also, if you've read Hammer of the Gods or any other Led Zeppelin biography, you'll be familiar with a lot of the basic biographical details the book covers.

Still, I learned some new things from the book, and it would probably be the perfect introduction for someone not already steeped in Zep lore or who wants to get a sense of what all the fuss was about.

Finally, I'll be forever indebted to the author for his description of listening to a Led Zeppelin album being like, "opening the doors on a raunchy Arthurian advent calendar." What an image.
Listened to two more CDs from the grab bag. Again, they present a remarkable contrast.

Arch Enemy. Khaos Legions: This is going to sound like a criticism, but it really isn't: if I had to describe this album in two words, I'd say, "refreshingly unoriginal". Musically there's almost nothing on here that would have felt out of place on a metal album of twenty years ago - maybe a few groove metal-ish breakdowns just to prove that the 90's really happened. And some of the riffs and guitar solos are so predictable that I felt like I could sing along with them on a first listen. But the thing is, I wanted to sing along with it on a first listen. Heck, I wanted to go find a mosh pit on first listen. And play Warhammer. At the same time. No, I'm not sure how that would work.

Act As If. The Iron Is Hot: As far as I can tell, this band are not and never were signed to Century Media records. Presumably it got into the grab bag by accident - or perhaps via a deliberate plot to make some metalheads' heads explode. It's got chimey, reverby guitars, tinkly keyboard bits, a laid-back male singer, and some fairly minimalist percussion provided, I think, by a drum machine. The closest musical comparison I can come up with is that it's a bit reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie, although (unfortunately) without the humorously dark lyrics that I associate with Death Cab for Cutie. This is good music for driving on an open road on a lazy sunlit afternoon when you're in no particular hurry to arrive at your destination. I probably will not rush to acquire the band's other albums, but I'll probably keep this EP and give it the odd listen from time to time.
So far, I've had the chance to properly listen to two of the ten CDs from the grab bag I got earlier this week. Wow, what a contrast.

Rotting Christ's Sanctus Diabolos is so far the surprise hit of this bunch. Slow chugging guitar riffs are backed by droning atmospheric keyboards; odd bits of Gregorian chant, spoken word sections (in English and Greek), and the occasional weird sampled sound effect add additional atmosphere. It's like the soundtrack to an occult horror movie, in the best possible way. Pity about the band name, but it could be worse. (Oh, it could be so much worse.)

Vampires Everywhere!'s Kiss the Sun Goodbye is, musically, reasonably well-executed uptempo punk-inflected metal, with plenty of fist-in-the-air group choruses. Despite the band-name, the lyrical obsession with love and death, and the cover art, it's surprisingly un-gothy, except for the odd melodramatic keyboard flourish. What really kills this for me are the vocals: shrieky screaming alternating with auto-tuned clean vocals. WTF AUTO-TUNE IN HEAVY METAL??? WHY?? I'm clearly not the target audience for this, but I think I might actually find it reasonably pleasant background listening were it not for the constant use of auto-tune.

Interesting thing I've noticed about the way I evaluate heavy metal bands: if I love a band, it's probably because of the guitarist(s), but if I hate a band, it's probably because of the vocalist.