Monthly Archives: September 2018

More Google NGram tales

Once again I am posting stories concocted entirely by the Google NGram site. I started each sentence with three or four words and an asterisk, as indicated by the underlines, and Google provided the next word by listing whatever most often came next following those exact words in the millions of books that it has scanned. I then repeated, dropping the first word and using the new word until a full sentence was achieved. Thus each word is a function of the preceding three or four words. Voila!

The President might have dissolved it by withdrawing the army and navy. His wife never knew whether he was in the habit of doing so. Congress reacted by passing the gas through a solution of potassium iodide and starch. Then the Supreme Court ruled that the state had a duty to perform in the future as a result.

Her beauty was not of the same kind of thing as a matter of fact. It was even more important than the other two groups. When he saw her, he was so sorry for her. That’s why she‘s so upset about the death of the body.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Something in the WaterSomething in the Water by Catherine Steadman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I normally don’t like books read by the author nor books written by actors or other celebrities, but this book is an exception to both rules. The author is an actress, a very accomplished one from shows like Downton Abbey, so her voice acting on the audiobook was superb. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a posh British female accent but I loved hearing her read. The story is a ripping good thriller, too. I wouldn’t call it a mystery. It doesn’t begin with a murder, or at least not an obvious one, but it opens with Erin, our heroine, digging a grave. After that and returning to the actual start of it all, it’s in straight chronological order, which I much appreciated. Erin and her husband honeymoon in Bora Bora where they find something in the water while out scuba diving, something that changes their lives. It’s valuable, but maybe too valuable – something wanted by some very bad people. Are they safe? Do they keep it? Read the book to find out.

There was one stylistic quirk that bothered me. Erin narrates the story in the first person and is continually second guessing herself. “Now we’re safe. We are … aren’t we?” “I’m an honest person. I am. Right? Or am I?” That sort of thing. I think the author was trying to throw some suspense into everything and it only became an irritating affectation, but only a minor one. It’s a worthy read.

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Our Ignorant Newsies – Axe to Pick

My wife caught this one while listening to the radio. I don’t know who the commentator was, but my wife usually listens to PBS. Someone reportedly had “an axe to pick” with someone else. I suppose that’s much like having a bone to grind, but it sounds a bit more violent. They both sound pretty violent when you think about it – not very PBS-like. They should take a pickaxe to both phrases.

Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer and August Cole

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World WarGhost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War by P.W. Singer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This naval war novel is very much in the thematic style of Tom Clancy. The title refers to an imagined scenario where most of the digital weapons the U.S. has, such as GPS satellites and chip-dependent aircraft, have been neutralized by a Chinese malware package. Chinese and Russians are allied against America. War ensues and the Chinese “Directorate” dominates at first. America thus turns to its older fleet of warships and planes, the so-called ghost fleet or mothball navy floating uselessly now in real life in Suisun Bay, to fight back.

It’s a clever scenario. The writing, however, doesn’t live up to the premise. The first 300 pages are a slog. I had trouble keeping everybody straight. There are too many characters and settings. Bad Chinese and good Chinese-Americans. Good Russians and bad Russians. Two characters, father and son, are named Simmons which causes additional confusion. The scenes and settings are very short jumping all over the place. Zillions of military acronyms and alphabet soup weapons system names are bandied about endlessly.

It takes way too long to get to the actual battle action. Despite this, the final 100 pages or so are pretty exciting and make it worth the three stars. I was surprised at the political correctness for such a macho-themed book. Half the military personnel are women (often with male-sounding names or nicknames, which only added to the confusion). A gay officer is even thrown in for a cameo. I gave up on the audiobook the first time I tried this one, and would have given up on it entirely, but since it was a selection for my book club I forced myself to get the print book and read it through. In the end, it was okay but I can’t really recommend it.

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Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Paper GhostsPaper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was leery of this one at first since it was supposed to be about serial killings. I expected some gore and sadism. It was indeed about serial killings, but it did not describe them in detail or with much gore. The story is told by a young woman using different names whose sister Rachel was killed. Our protagonist believes the killer is a mentally disturbed man who used to be a famous photographer and who had once taken photos of her family and other murdered girls, a man who was once tried and acquitted of the murder of one of them. She pegs him for three unsolved murders and sets about on a long-term plan to lure him from the assisted living home on the pretense she is his daughter (learned only through a DNA match). The book is the tale of their journey together the the rural south. The book held my interest and the author captures the feel of the country setting well.

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