5-star review can mean ‘This Book Sucks’

tenfromLenI often go to that online bookseller named after women with one breast (Amazon.) And noodle around looking for something new to read. And often I come upon something by an indie author with 9 – 17 reviews, all 5-star. And my usual conclusion is that this book is crap, likely reviewed mostly by the author’s mother and loving aunts. I tend to read the 3 and 4 star reviews first, and then glance at any 2 stars. I think I find a better class of books that way.

There is a sad trend toward making 5 star book reviews the norm, which is very bad. Because it makes people think anything less than five is a bad review marking a real stinker of a book.

This is awful. We need honest and fair reviews to help us find books we will like. I don’t insist on only perfect books. Some of my favorites are books where the author has a good story but is struggling with learning some of the writing skills. Honest and fair reviews help me know what I’m getting when I buy a book, and somehow if I know in advance that the book has some weak points, those weak points interfere less with my enjoyment.

Here are what the star-reviews mean on Amazon.com:

5 = I love it.

4 = I like it.

3 = It’s OK.

2 = I don’t like it.

1 = I hate it.

You can see that in a logical world, we would all know that 5 and 4 stars are good reviews, 3 stars can be good, bad or indifferent, and 1 and 2 are bad reviews. All modified a bit by the accompanying written review.

Very recently I have decided to become a serious Amazon reviewer. I am working to get more book reviews written. And in the meantime writing a few product reviews to add to my review total. [My profile page is here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A3GH4IA9SLC3YN You can read my most recent reviews there and if you find one of them ‘helpful’, please consider up-voting it, which will help my chance to rise in the reviewer ranks.]

My preference is to review books that are in genres I read, and that seem like I might enjoy them. These are the kind of books that I can review the best.

When it comes to getting a 5 star review from me, it’s kind of like getting a 10 from Len on Dancing With the Stars. You shouldn’t expect it, it’s very hard to get, and when you finally manage to get one, it really means something. I like to tell people seeking reviews from me that only 2 of the 4 Gospels get a full 5 stars from me (Luke and John.) And I regard the Gospels as being the Word of God!

Four-star reviews are my workhorse rating. Four-star reviews mean that it’s a good, solid book and that any flaws are minor and easily overlooked when you get caught up in the story. I give out a lot of 4-star reviews. Though I’m always happy when one of my favorite 4-star authors makes a Great Leap Forward and produces a 5-star book.

Three star reviews mean a book is OK. OK is good. If you don’t believe me, try reading a bunch of books that are LESS than OK. Three star books have more flaws and sometimes have a weaker, less compelling story. But if there are things to like in the story and characters, I will make sure to mention it. I prefer to review 3-star books with enough good qualities that the review is essentially a good review and will gain the author some readers in spite of any flaws. I haven’t had to give out any three-star reviews that were mostly critical yet. I probably wouldn’t bother except for a flawed book where the author was begging me for any review, even a bad one.

A two-star review means that the reviewer didn’t like it. That’s a very subjective term. There are great works of world literature that I don’t like, but I know they are well written and would never give them a 2-star. I think a fair-minded reviewer would rarely if ever bother to write a 2-star on a book. On a flawed product, especially a pricey one, maybe. It should only be used on a book that, objectively, has a number of deep flaws, and perhaps a moral issue in addition (porn or praise for Hitler and/or Stalin on top of incomprehensible writing would do it for me.)

One-star means you hated it. Can a Christian morally ‘hate’ anyone’s book? Or any person with a moral code? Most of the one-star reviews I’ve read were mean-spirited, cruel, and often based on the reviewer’s prejudices. Some fine non-fiction authors I know recently wrote a book about the Obama presidency that had some negative things to say. When the book came out some nasty people gave it one-star reviews without reading it— one admitted to reading no further than the title. I would never write a 1-star. I am a fallible human being and I would not judge any author’s book quite that harshly.

Do you write book reviews? What star ratings do you usually give out? Are you wary of books with nothing but 5-star reviews?


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Belated Celebrate: Barn Kittens

0729161314The picture above is what happens when a barncat mother of 6 wakes up to find 5 extra kittens in the kitten bed. And it looks like she’s going to have to keep them. Charybdis, first time mama of 6, has to take care of the kittens of Consubstatial 1, who ran out the door and hasn’t come back.

Escaping mama cats is a chronic problem around here. Most of my cats are barn cats, but I bring the pregnant ones in the house so the kittens will be properly socialized. Many people want to get barn cat kittens, but they expect them to be friendly, not the hostile little monsters that you get when you leave barn kittens alone until their mama moves the litter to someplace you can find.

But mostly mama cats come back to my door after an hour or two of freedom. So I’m pretty worried Consubstantial 1’s kittens may be orphans.

These kittens are very young, but not too young to be started on solid food. And Char’s kittens are about 4 weeks and just started on solid food.

Since Char can only feed 6 kittens at a time because she only had 6 nursing before, I’m feeding them in shifts. I put Connie 1’s kittens in the lower bin of the multi-level cat bed, and Char’s on the next level up. When Connie 1’s babies are done, Char’s babies get a turn. And I’m keeping solid food available at all times for Char’s babies and have let Connie 1’s babies sniff at it.

I am hoping that I can manage to keep all 11 kittens going that way if the mama doesn’t come back.

In other cat related news, escaped pregnant cat http://lexacain.blogspot.com/Consubstantial 2 has been recaptured, and this morning had 4 newborn kittens in her nest. I REALLY hope she will stop at 4.

This is a post in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop.

Does Simon of ‘Alvin & The Chipmunks’ have Asperger Syndrome?

simonAnd now, for a really important topic— The Chipmunks. Specifically, does Chipmunk brother Simon show signs of Asperger Syndrome.

It does seem that Simon is the Chipmunk with the worst social skills. In the second movie, he wouldn’t hug ‘Aunt Jackie’ because he wasn’t a hugging kind of guy. Later he never became one of the school jocks even though he showed that he had skills by throwing an apple core into the waste basket from a good distance, besting one of the jocks. Simon was twice pictured at tables with chess pieces but never really developed a circle of friends like Alvin did at school.

Simon was also very awkward with Jeanette, his Chipette counterpart. It wasn’t until the third movie when Simon was bit by a venomous spider and transformed into the heroic ‘Simone’ that he was able, in that other persona, to express his affection for Jeanette.

In the original descriptions of Asperger Syndrome children affected by the disorder were called ‘little professors.’ Doesn’t that describe Simon? He always has some intellectually advanced information to impart. And he doesn’t have the social skills to dumb it down when his only audience is Alvin and Theodore.

Simon relates well to the adult in his life, Dave Seville, and can have adult conversations with him. I don’t know if this is a common Asperger trait, but I know in my childhood I related better to adults than other kids. So perhaps this is also evidence.

I know some people think it’s futile to make these amateur diagnoses of Asperger Syndrome in famous people, and perhaps it’s even more so when we are talking about a famous chipmunk whose also part of a hit singing group.

But still, my conclusion about Simon Seville (yeah, that’s his last name) is that he is One Of Us.

Celebrating the high-information voter

11822833_10205610646398779_7711357802645791809_nI’ve been spending my evenings the past few days watching the GOP convention, mostly on C-Span once I discovered that they were the one station that was just pointing a camera at the even and letting viewers watch rather than filling up the ‘unimportant’ moments with commentators and talking heads to tell viewers what they were supposed to think.

I remember when I was a child my father always put the conventions on and watched them. In the days before cable all 3 major television networks carried the conventions and I don’t think they replaced much of the action with commentators. I distinctly remember those state-by-state announcements of the delegate count.

My father never up and told me that watching the conventions to gather the facts I needed before voting was going to be part of my duty as a citizen when I grew up. He just showed me by his actions how important it was.

Now we live in an age when trusting voting-age citizens believe whatever a biased news commentator or news comedian tells them is happening rather than finding out for themselves. Some still repeat antique talking points that every responsible citizen already knows were not accurate.

I’ve always been one for facts. And a political convention covered live without commentary is a lovely load of facts. If you listen to whole speeches on your own you know for a fact that on that date and in that place, person X said Y. You know every word of the speech and the tone of voice and the cheers or hoots or chants that interrupted parts of it. You don’t have to rely on some biased or careless reporter or comedian to tell you later.

So today, in conjunction with the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop, I’m celebrating everyone of every party who took the time to watch as much of the GOP convention as they could fit into their lives. You are the high-information voters that we need to keep our flawed-but-still-there democratic Republic going. I salute you!

On a personal note I was glad to see the candidate acceptance speech included a call to protect LGBT’Q’ people from things like the attack in Orlando, and a humble thank you to Evangelical Christian voters for their support. Maybe some year soon noticing the Catholic prolife voters among the ‘Evangelical vote’ will be a thing!

And in conclusion— what are YOU celebrating today? 

Celebrate blog hop

The Kitten Days of Summer

0720161139In spring and summer, those of my barn cats who haven’t yet been neutered have their kittens. I try to catch all the mama cats before they give birth to bring them in the house. Because kittens are safer there, and they become more friendly. And I prefer barn cats who are friendly. Feral barn kittens are impossible to rehome, and even kittens who are caught after 3 or 4 weeks of living wild are seldom as affectionate as the ones born in the house.

Spring kittens are fun. But in the hot days of summer tending mama cats and kittens gets to be a chore I can’t easily handle.

Three weeks ago, barn cat Charybdis came in the house and had 6 kittens. All are still thriving. A couple days ago, barn cat Consubstantial 1 had 5 kittens on the porch and I moved her and the kits in.

But Consubstantial 1 decided to move into the kitten box belonging to Charybdis, even if it meant abandoning her own kittens and raising Char’s instead. So I had to move her litter into the desired kitten box and persuade Char to accept a different one.

To add to the joy, we have another barn cat, Consubstantial 2, who is pregnant enough to look like a furry basketball with legs. She doesn’t want to come in the house because of all the competition so she keeps escaping. And because she knows if she has a big litter like Connie 1 and Char did, she will join them at that top of the to-be-neutered list.

Big-city animal rightsers are appalled by this post I know. But it’s still common in rural areas for people to have colonies of barn cats, and few have nothing but neutered barn cats. After all, we barn cat lovers often find abandoned cats on our properties. People figure because we live in the country and they see several cats in our yard it is OK to just drop off cats and kittens they don’t want, and they never bother to get them neutered first.

If people would come up to my door and ask, I would probably say yes to taking in a few unwanted cats. But when you just dump off cats, especially cats who have never lived outdoors, bad things can happen. I once found an abandoned mother cat and her kitten in my driveway— just when I’d gotten 100% of my barn cats neutered, by the way.

My neighbor said he’d seen the cats around his place before they wandered over to me, and he said there were at least 2 other kittens. But we never caught the other kittens and it’s likely they either starved or were killed by coyotes, foxes or other local predators.

This cat and her kitten ruined my 100% neutered-cat thing because I kept them in the house and didn’t realized that the sweet little boy kitten was getting old enough to break Commandments with his mama.

Lately I don’t even want to go for the 100% goal. I’m fine with one or two mother cats and a tomcat, chosen from the healthiest ones and the females least likely to have large litters— I have a mama cat now whose line tends toward single-kitten litters. After all, farm-raised kittens are quite easy to rehome in a rural area, and I actually need to keep a few kittens each year to make up for the outdoor cats who die or run off or just become too old to hunt any mice for me.

Anyway, that’s my ramble about my barn cat colony. And now, for some cat pictures.

Ozy01Ozymandias, three-legged cat recently donated to me by the mail lady who found him wandering in the road, half-starved. Probable kitten daddy of the litter pictured above. Since he’s unrelated to the rest of the cat tribe, he’s low down on the to-be-neutered list.

11822833_10205610646398779_7711357802645791809_nUmberto, an only-child kitten who grew up to have an only-child kitten of her own. She is therefore dead-last on the kitty neutering list, because I LIKE cats who have small litters.

10348772_10203019653145567_3746725660457403317_oKitten from a few years back who wanted to become an aerobics instructor. Since she was rehomed, I’m not sure whether she achieved her goals or not.

Angry comments from animal rights folks that include cursing and threats will be disposed of appropriately.

Becoming the Writer: Cultural Literacy

Declan Finn, author of Honor at Stake

Declan Finn, author of Honor at Stake

When you start to write, you are putting on the socially significant role of The Storyteller (there ought to be a Tarot card for that.) It’s a little like being a schoolteacher. You are expected to be knowledgeable in a way the Average Joe isn’t.

One name for the kind of knowledge you need is ‘Cultural Literacy.’ It refers to a list of things you need to know in order to pass as an educated person in the American (British, Australian, Serbian, German, Samoan) culture.

Taking on The Storyteller role means that you are claiming to be culturally literate. Even an actually illiterate tribal storyteller in a remote village needs to have high levels of cultural literacy.

To understand cultural literacy, think about its opposite, cultural illiteracy. Imagine a man who had never heard the name of William Shakespeare. Imagine he didn’t know who Zeus and Hera were. That when you mention the Gettysburg Address, he thinks you are talking about a street address, and when you say it was a Lincoln speech, he asks, ‘Who’s Lincoln?’

That’s what cultural illiteracy is— though it need not be quite that bad. Readers do not accept the culturally illiterate as serious writers. At best they might buy from you if you write pornos. And who wants to degrade their writing by using it to write pornos, which is something any idiot with a filthy mind can do?

Even lower-social-class readers who didn’t finish high school, who are culturally illiterate themselves, will be put off by a writer who shows he is culturally illiterate about something THEY know.

Now, some oh-so-special Progressive types decry cultural literacy in education and say they want to replace evil ‘white’ Shakespeare by, say, the collected works of Richard Wright (who was ‘black.’) Only they don’t actually function that way. If a Precious Progressive reviews an author who has managed to show he has no clue what Hamlet and Macbeth were all about, the criticism will be scathing— even though according to the Precious Progressive that author may have been educated the exact right way by a school who has dumped Shakespeare for Richard Wright.

But what about when there is an author who does know his Shakespeare, but who hasn’t read Richard Wright’s Native Son, or his late-in-life collection of haiku? Is there any Precious Progressive on the planet who would actually tag an author as ignorant for not recognizing a quote from Native Son or a Richard Wright haiku? Lesson is this— even people who are against the cultural literacy concept expect you to be culturally literate.

How do you fix the gaps in your cultural literacy? There are a number of books by E. D. Hirsch on cultural literacy aimed at an American audience. Much of what is in this books will also help you out if you are from Finland, Vietnam or Nigeria; you might also look at elementary and secondary school textbooks from your nation to get clues on what cultural literacy means to your own culture. (Note— if you are a Korean, say, who writes in English, you get a pass on some mistakes on English and American cultural literacy because of all the cool Korean cultural literacy stuff you know. Especially if you put some cool Korean stuff in your book.)

Question

How do you rate yourself on the cultural literacy scale? Do you have any plans for improving your cultural literacy level? What are some things you might suggest to others improving their cultural literacy level?

11 Tips for writers entering the Twitterverse

twitterTwitter. A lot of my writer friends have tried it and feel it’s a waste of time. But others are regular users of Twitter and seem to feel it’s worthwhile. If you haven’t tried Twitter, are new to it, or haven’t managed to make it work for you, here are some tips. My own Twitter, by the way, is @nissalovescats

  1. Add your reading/writing friends to the people you follow on Twitter. Suggest that they follow you back. If you are an Aspie, perhaps you don’t have real-world friends. So go on Facebook if you are not there already and join a couple of groups, especially those for writers. Try to find specialized groups that relate to what you write. There are a number of Aspie/autism writers groups. I’ve listed a few on a page on this blog.
  2. Take a minute to compose a short profile for yourself on Twitter. It should mention that you are a writer or poet, and perhaps mention a thing or two that is part of your author brand. Mine mentions my ‘poet, Aspie & cat person’ tag.
  3. Put up a profile picture that is a picture of YOU. Your face— even if unattractive like mine— helps your followers see you as a person. Post it.
  4. Put up a cover picture to help your Twitter profile look complete. I used one of my best kitten photos— one of a kitten in a boot— because ‘cat person’ is part of my author tag. And since it’s a photo I took with a kitten I own, it’s a unique image to me. Well, others may have downloaded it but they probably don’t use it on their Twitter profile.
  5. Think about some things that are a part of your author brand. For example, I am a poet, a person who likes zombie fiction, a Catholic, a person with same-sex attraction, a cat person, a Star Trek fan…. What you do is you look for Twitter accounts that relate to the topics that touch your author brand, and follow them and retweet some of their stuff.
  6. Learn to use hashtags. You need to know some broad hashtags— #amwriting, #books #Catholic — and some very specific and narrow hashtags. Like #haiku, #micropoetry and #catsforTrump
  7. Click on hashtags that you use to see what other people are saying about your topics. Click ‘like’ on some things you like.  Retweet a few things. Some of the people you have liked and/or retweeted will become your followers.
  8. You will get notifications when people follow YOU. Most of the time it’s a good idea to follow back. Other people you shouldn’t. Such as accounts that have never tweeted but have a thousand followers, accounts selling ‘author services’ or Twitter followers, and accounts that aren’t compatible with your author brand. For example, Evangelical fiction authors won’t want to follow an erotica ‘writer.’ And I, as a conservative, never follow anyone with ‘social justice warrior’ in their profile. Or any progressive account, unless they are poets. Particularly sijo or haiku poets.
  9. Don’t have a service tweet for you. Someone I know used a service to tweet science fiction related things, and it ended up tweeting pictures of naked teenage girls under his name. And he’s an Evangelical Christian author.
  10. Do use free Twitter services that are helpful. Buffer allows you to compose Tweets that can be tweeted at a time you pick. So if you are at work during peak Twitter hours, you can still have Tweets going out then. I have another service that tweets a thanks-for-following to batches of my new followers. I used to have one that would help me unfollow accounts that don’t follow me back. I do unfollow some of those, unless they are the Pope.
  11. Try to get together with Twitter followers you can relate to. Don’t go after teen Twitter users just because they are teens and you write YA. Some teen Twitter accounts are rather appalling— teens who won’t read, have contempt for the 1%, and think that the words ‘but I’m an atheist’ are a logical argument to practically everything. Though they normally spell it ‘athiest’. YA authors, you need to connect with teens who read and think and don’t believe every stupid thing some atheist, progressive or social justice warrior has told them.
  12. Limit your twitter time. Set a timer and do a ‘Twitterdoro’— timed Twitter session— and when the timer goes off, go do something else.

Questions:
Do you use Twitter? Do you have any tips and tricks of your own that might help me (and others) get better at it?

Note: if learning to use Twitter better is something you are interested in, please say so in a comment. I have some friends who are good with Twitter that I could ask to do a guest post.