Monthly Archives: October 2015

International fame … sort of

You long-suffering readers of this blog regularly have to put up with my anagrams on the news. Now that skill has been officially recognized and sanctioned by an international journal, The Anagram Times. There’s even a nice interview there with me. Thank you, Anu Garg, my editor and boss now, I suppose, for this distinction.

The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri

The Terra-Cotta Dog (Inspector Montalbano, #2)The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Inspector Montalbano is the detective extraordinaire in a town in Sicily, solving murders while managing not to get in the cross-hairs of the Mafia. He has the lustful heart and other body parts of a stereotypical Sicilian male but the brain and tenacity of Sherlock Holmes. His men are mostly obedient buffoons and provide comic relief. Montalbano himself is afraid of nothing except speaking in public and being promoted.

The details of the mystery are unimportant. The book is all about style and wit. This is a translation from Italian. It is mostly lighthearted, almost cute, in tone, but occasionally lapses into gratuitous vulgarity. I suspect that may be due to the translation. I don’t know Italian and perhaps some of those original words aren’t considered quite so offensive there.

I listened to the audiobook and the reader was very good

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Movies and Anagrams

Regular readers of this blog will know that I enjoy analyzing movies and making anagrams. Here’s a way to combine the two interests. The left half of the equation is an anagram of the right half.

True Grit + Frank Millers Sin City A Dame + Precious Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire + Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Mans Chest + Avatar + Men in Black II + The Hunger Games + Juno + The Illusionist


Captain Phillips + The Dark Knight Rises + Marvels The Avengers + Inglourious Basterds + The Curious Case of Benjamin Button + American Beauty + Happy Feet + Iron Man + Amelie + Crash + The Blind Side

Crypto survey

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Murder at the Geo-Cache by Victoria L.K. Williams

Murder at the Geo-Cache...A Citrus Beach Mystery (Citrus Beach Mysteries Book 3)Murder at the Geo-Cache…A Citrus Beach Mystery by Victoria L.K. Williams
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

As a geocacher I really wanted to like this book, but it just wasn’t very good. The writing was poor and the proofreading non-existent. There were so many errors I can’t even summarize them here, but one I found particularly amusing was when a main character’s farm was described as having barns, fields, and padlocks. (Paddocks in case you were wondering). The writer obviously knows nothing about geocaching. She even spells it wrong. There’s no hyphen in geocache. There are good geocaching-themed murder mysteries out there, but this isn’t one.

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The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

The Diver's Clothes Lie EmptyThe Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reviews are all over the place on this best-seller and I can see why. Everything about it is unconventional. It’s written entirely in the second person. You do this. You do that. It smacks of one of those early text-only role playing games like Zork or Amnesia. Eventually we learn that you are a young woman from Florida fleeing a rather nasty domestic situation by making a not-very-well-thought-out trip to Morocco. The author doesn’t bother to give most characters names. If I were to read my own description of this book I probably would never have chosen to open it, but I found it quite compelling. It’s described by reviewers as a “literary thriller” and that’s as good a label as any.

Almost immediately “you” have your backpack stolen, along with your passport, money, camera and apparently your sanity, since you then go on to do some rather insane things. Adventures and misadventures ensue in one long, continuous take. It’s a quick read, partly due to the fine writing style and partly because it’s almost impossible to put down since the plot, if one can call it that, consists almost entirely of crises on the brink of being resolved. I can’t give it five stars, but it kept me thoroughly entertained from beginning to end.

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In Case of Emergency by Courtney Moreno

In Case of EmergencyIn Case of Emergency by Courtney Moreno
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The lead character is a bisexual female emergency medical technician or EMT. The book is split about 60-40 with her relationship with a lesbian being the 60 and her adventures (and misadventures) taking ambulance calls the 40.

I really liked the 40%. The dark humor, inside jargon, and debunking of TV medical crap all were terrific. I learned that PFO means Pissed and Fell Over, CATS means Cut all to Shit, and a Badge Bunny is a female EMT trying to land a firefighter or cop.

I’m probably being unfair, but I didn’t like the 60%. The author writes well, but I ended up skimming or even skipping most of it. So sue me. I’m a heterosexual male and just can’t relate to a love affair between two badly screwed-up females. Why are romances in novels almost always dysfunctional, populated by people with horrible relationship histories? I guess it sells, but it turns me off.

I think the author and publisher were really going for a romance with this one, not a medical thriller. Only one of the 29 Goodreads reviews is written by a male, although two or three others are not identifiable. Maybe they’re bi, too. That’s usually a sign of a chick lit piece. The nice thing about the way it’s written, though, is that the medical part and romance part are nicely separated by chapter, so it’s easy to cherry-pick what you want to read.

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Shrunken classmates

I recently attended my 50th high school reunion. There were many interesting stories there, but I won’t foist them on you since you didn’t know those people. However, I did make one observation you may want to consider. Most of the people there, men especially, were shorter than I remember.

I haven’t grown a millimeter in height since high school. In fact, I’m a half inch shorter than I was then. I just had my physical so I know this for a fact. But men who used to be as tall or taller than me back then are now shorter. One of my friends who was 6’3″ in high school is now 6’1″. Several others admitted they were shorter now. There were a few men who sprouted up after high school, and a few women who “blossomed” afterward if I may be excused for what is probably a sexist term. But the vast majority of both sexes (not genders, remember!) are now fatter and shorter than they were back then.

I believe there’s a correlation there. I’m no doctor or physiologist, but I think that most of the height loss comes from the discs in the spine flattening out over time. This is exacerbated by weight gain. I’m skinny, only four or five pounds heavier than I was in high school, and all of that and more is in my legs from decades of running. In fact, my upper body is no doubt lighter than it was back then when I was on the swimming and water polo teams. I contend that is why I haven’t shrunk as much as others in my class.

So now you have one more good reason to lose weight, or at least keep from gaining more, unless of course you want to be shorter.

Flame Out by M.P. Cooley

Flame OutFlame Out by M.P. Cooley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After Cooley’s excellent debut novel Ice Shear I was looking forward to a long series of mysteries with excellent writing. Sadly, this is not to be. Flame Out is a major drop in quality. The author’s gift for description is still on display, and barely nudges the overall rating into 3-star territory, but the plot is way too convoluted and implausible. There are so many characters with confusing family relationships that I lost track of who was connected to whom and how early on. The last 100 pages or so were more like a homework assignment than a pleasure. I suggest starting a spreadsheet and a genealogical chart when you begin this one.

The author’s lack of actual law enforcement knowledge was all too evident in this book. I found it telling that the acknowledgments in Ice Shear included two police officers by name, but there were none in this book other than “all the people that lent their expertise in law enforcement.” I wouldn’t want my name associated as police advisor on this one, either.

Both books have a recurring FBI character who is supposed to be the SAC of Albany Division. As an FBI agent retiree I found Cooley’s lack of FBI knowledge in Ice Shear slightly distracting, but in Flame Out, it’s positively ludicrous. In both books this SAC is trying to recruit June, the lead character and a former agent, to come back into the FBI. He rides around with her on interviews and other mundane police investigation. Neither one of these things would ever happen with an SAC. He’s both too high up and too low down for either task. SAC Albany is a mid-management position about equal to the colonel of an army base. You won’t find him cleaning the latrines and doing KP (below his pay grade) nor would he be the one to appoint the first openly gay Muslim to pilot Air Force One (above his pay grade). Allowing a resigned agent back in has never been done and would take FBI Director approval, and then only if that person had very unique (i.e., only person in the country) skills that were badly needed. There wasn’t even any FBI jurisdiction in this case, at least not at the point the SAC became involved. His whole presence is a puzzling and pointless irritation. I thought he might turn out to be a love interest, but that hasn’t happened either. C’est la vie.

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Laws of Nature

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Arthur C. Clarke

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
Vernon Schryver

The Bionic Chef by Cheryl Douglass

The Bionic Chef: Cooking With or Without HandsThe Bionic Chef: Cooking With or Without Hands by Cheryl Douglass
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an inspiring book this is! I’m no chef and no foodie, either, but you don’t have to be either to appreciate this book. The author suffered a devastating infection which resulted in the amputation of both hands and both feet. She now has prosthetic limbs. Many people in her situation would totally give up and descend into a spiral of self-pity and depression. Instead, the author has accepted what she could not change and has found myriad ways to cope with her situation and resume a normal lifestyle, including cooking.

The first section of the book is the fascinating story of her illness and recovery and is well worth the price of the book just for that. But the book is neither self-congratulating nor an appeal for sympathy. Rather it is a practical guide for others with similar disabilities on how to get on with your life, especially in the kitchen, but elsewhere, as well. I was intrigued by the ingenious adaptations and workarounds she has developed that enable her to cook. She identifies numerous implements (including brand names and photos!) that work for someone with prosthetic hands, especially myoelectric limbs like hers. She even tells you where to buy them and how to modify them if necessary and where to store them. She can chop onion, garlic, or meat and peel those sticky labels off produce with the right tools. This book is as much about attitude as it it about cooking. It’s lighthearted and upbeat throughout. Her story can help anyone with a disability learn how to cope and have a positive outlook on life.

Most of the book consists of recipes, and anyone who enjoys cooking can benefit from those, as the author has a reputation as very good cook. I don’t cook and can’t attest to those, but if they are anywhere close to the quality of the rest of the book, I’m sure they’re excellent. One last note: followers of my blog know how picky I am about grammar, spelling, and writing style in general. This book was a joy to read for its clarity and fine writing, too.

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Autocorrect Fail

I love getting 5-star reviews of my books on but they’re probably better done with a real keyboard and without autocorrect turned on. This one of Cached Out made me smile for more than one reason:

“As a geographer it was fun to read a book with eye-catching intertwined into the storyline!”

For you muggles out there, that’s “geocacher” and “geocaching”.

Cached Out – Kindle