Celebrating book reviewing, book sales and surviving heat wave

Celebrate blog hopWhile I have things to celebrate today, my Wildblue internet service is not one of them. I just got told by them that I’m over my usage limit again— even though I gave up Facebook games in order to save bandwidth for my writing career. So I’m unplugging the internet when not in use and getting up early to use my off-peak bandwidth.

But there is good news in my life. First, I made two sales of my poetry book, ‘surly petunia’ on Amazon.com which is a good start there. As you may guess, poetry doesn’t sell well, and ‘quirky’ poetry even less. But I am encouraged.

Next, now that I have decided to devote my efforts to becoming one of the top Amazon.com reviewers in my genre, I am developing methods to create reviews more easily. Mainly I keep a legal pad handy when I read and note down the key points of the book including character names and such. Here are some of my recent reviews:

Shatterworld – Lelia Rose Foreman

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century – Peter Graham

The 8-Minute Writing Habit – Monica Leonelle

If you should happen to read any of my reviews — thank you! — and if you happen to think one or more of them is a helpful review for someone deciding whether to buy the book, please click ‘yes’ in the place at the bottom of the review where they ask ‘is this review helpful?’ That would be a big help to me.

And now, the final thing to celebrate— I am surviving the hot weather in spite of my lack of air conditioning. I bought an air conditioner unit but there are difficulties in installing it. It’s hard on me because of my poor health but I am surviving by drinking a lot of ice water and not doing much around the house. Today my big project, besides this blog hop, is doing the laundry. Some of the laundry. Well, maybe one load of laundry and some folding.

This is a post in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop. If you don’t know about it— it’s a great way to get started getting more people reading your blog. Go to Lexa Cain’s blog to sign up, here: http://lexacain.blogspot.com/2015/01/celebrate-small-things.html

IWSG: Book Review Reciprocity

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

 

The online world demands a lot of reciprocity. If you join a writers’ group on Facebook, and you want people to like and comment on the stuff you post there, you have to like and comment on other people’s stuff. If you want your stuff retweeted on Twitter, you retweet other people’s stuff.

But the biggest part of a writer’s dream is not about reciprocity— it’s about loads and loads of people liking your books and buying them and you not having to buy any books from all of THEM in return. That’s what you have to do to make it as a writer— sell to people including faceless strangers who only know you through your books.

Part of that dream these days is that a decent portion of your readers will write a review and that’s important. But real  writers not in the Stephen King category have another source of reviews, and that is a circle of writing friends— the kind of friends you can make in the writers’ groups I mentioned above.


Facebook Writer’s Groups

Aspie Writers (for writers with Asperger Syndrome and autism, new group, needs members.) https://www.facebook.com/groups/616192595221372/

Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers https://www.facebook.com/groups/366357776755069/

These are two of the groups I’m in— do searches at Facebook to find ones right for you— look for ones with real interactivity going on, not just people posting their books for sale.


Of course sometimes you are caught in a no-reciprocity trap. You write a review for this one, you write a review for that one, you write 2 for that author and 3 for that one— and they never think of reviewing your book in return.

That’s where I am at with my poetry book ‘surly petunia.’ (The title is taken from the first poem I wrote as a serious writer of poetry— amazingly it stood up over time, mainly because it’s weird and funny. Or sad. I can never tell those emotions apart.)

The excuse I get is that it’s POETRY and they don’t know how to read POETRY and review POETRY because, I suspect, they’d rather read someone’s overweight & second-rate fantasy tome than read a few pages of POETRY.

So today, I am taking the Nuclear Option and adding a poem to this post. Don’t worry, it’s a short one. And it’s in my book ‘surly petunia.’ Which is here: https://www.amazon.com/Surly-Petunia-Nissa-Annakindt-ebook/dp/B00NZ96EYE


catbox thriller

red explosions lying on the sidewalk
where just anyone could steal them
how can you treat your mothers so?

and why oh why the denizens
of minor towns with hidden hitlers
chastely placed beyond white window curtains

and I walk by as if quite ordinary
spies were sleeping in my breast pockets
still with their heads on they look better.

(c) Nissa Annakindt 2014


This was a post in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. It’s a great way to build up your blog if you are a writer. It happens the first Wednesday of each month.

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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Pius Tales/Declan Finn’s Writing Journey

PiusTalesNissaRecently I got a copy of author Declan Finn’s Pius Tales— a collection of short stories related to the Pius Trilogy, a thriller series based on the idea that some not-so-well-hidden secrets about WW2 Pope Pius XII trigger a lot of murders, escapades and explosions. ‘Pius Tales’ continues in the explosive tradition.

But there is a bonus— a series of essays by Declan Finn telling his writing journey of imagining, writing and selling the Pius series. I always like to see how other writers do their work, since the only writer I actually SEE at work is me and I’m not that ‘normal.’ Though I’m not sure any writers are ‘normal.’ We are probably all just different shades of weird.

The origin of the Pius series came when Finn read a book about Pope Pius XII. And then a lot more books. And discovered that in 1960, the history, at least as regards this pope, changed. Before 1960, Pope Pius was the heroic pope that fought against Hitler and saved mass numbers of Jews from the Holocaust. Afterwards, he became ‘Hitler’s Pope.’

Finn includes in his account how he went from his basic idea to find the proper setting (Rome) and the proper character-group to star in his thriller. And then the fun process of trying to get the thing published.

As for the stories in the book: Tinker, Tailor, Goyim, Spy recounts how character Scott Murphy came to join the Mossad. Even though he’s neither Israeli or Jewish.

“Erin Go Boom” tells the story of how Catholic priest Fr. Frank Williams, SJ, manages to stop a terrorist attack on a St. Patrick’s Day parade without using direct deadly force on anyone.

In “Deck the Maul,” Finn blows up Christmas. Or, at least, a shopping mall filled with angry dwarfs, protesting redheads, and, of course, terrorists.

“Oh Little Town of Bethmayhem” starts off with Sean Ryan dangling a bad guy off the Empire State Building, and segues into Scott Murphy infiltrating a terrorist plot in Bethlehem at Christmas time.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a clean read, so you don’t need to worry about the kids reading it when you are not looking. And it’s got explosions. I like explosions.

Declan Finn’s Books on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Declan-Finn/e/B008I8JO2G

Declan Finn’s Blog: http://apiusman.blogspot.com/

Declan Finn’s FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Pius-Man-a-novel/143750083289


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Forstchen: One Second After; And then, the lights went out

OneSecAfterIn my endless search for something decent to read, I went to the library yesterday and among other things picked up William R. Forstchen’s book, One Second After. It had a forward by Newt Gingrich so I presumed the book wasn’t full of smut or of anti-Catholic or anti-Christian hate.

The story centers around an attack on the US using an EMP pulse. An EMP pulse can be generated by detonating a nuclear device far above the earth. There is no fallout as in a traditional nuclear attack. Just the immediate shutdown of the power grid and any devices we have with modern electronics in them— like cars, cell phones, and the like.

The hero of the story, John Matherson, is a retired military man who currently teaches at a small Christian college near a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. He is a widower with two daughters. His late wife’s parents live nearby.

It starts with a simple power outage. Annoying, because it is the twelfth birthday of his younger daughter, Jennifer, and she wants to listen to her new CD but can’t. And then, John discovers that his car won’t start and has to borrow his mother-in-law’s antique Edsel.

Driving to town John discovers that the cars along the interstate have all stopped. He is somewhat a center of attention since he has a working car. He almost loses the car to some toughs from the highway. He contacts some of the town leaders and finds they are cut off from the outside world— no phone, no radio, no internet. There is a fire nearby caused by a crashed plane— it is later discovered that nearly every plane in the air has crashed, with the exception of a few WW2 era planes— one of which is owned by a man in town.

The story continues, telling how John, his family and his neighbors cope with the crisis caused by the EMP. I won’t tell more, so you can discover the rest of the story yourself when you read the book.

One thing that struck me personally was the part of the story that dealt with a child who was an insulin-dependent diabetic, who needed insulin— which was in limited supply and needed to be refrigerated, which was no longer possible. Just last Sunday on The Walking Dead, there was a bit about a woman who was an insulin-dependent diabetic. And I remember a values-clarification class in high school, set in an overcrowded nuclear war bunker, where one of the people whose fate you must decide was an insulin dependent Christian minister (so we all had to vote to jettison the minister for pragmatic reasons).

Diabetics just don’t fare well in the apocalypse. At least not the ones who need insulin. I’m diabetic, but right now am controlling it by sticking to a strict ketogenic (low-carb) diet. But in an apocalyptic situation, it would be hard for most diabetics to eat that way. What if the only food rations they give you are ramen noodles and fruit juice?

And then, the lights went out….

When I was about at the halfway point in One Second After, the lights went out. OK, it wasn’t caused by an EMP pulse but by the windstorm that was going on. But it was scary all the same.

It made me aware of how unprepared I was even for something as small as a power outage. I keep my flashlights someplace where I can grope to them in the dark, but none of them had fresh batteries. I had a battery operated lantern that worked, and I could find some candles. So I finished the book reading by candle light.

Review: Honor at Stake (Vampire Novel)

Honor at StakeHonor at Stake by Declan Finn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vampire romance is popular these days, but this book is vampire romance for readers who think. How many vampire novels have you read that feature a discussion on philosophy, as it relates to vampires, with references to Thomas Aquinas?

The story is centered on Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt, who meet at Hudson University. One is a vampire, one isn’t. And I suppose telling which is which would be a spoiler.

The story begins with a prologue, in which Marco and his then-girlfriend Lily Sparks, and the violent incident that made Lily into an ex-girlfriend. We then move on to the meeting of Marco and Amanda. Amanda, in spite of her name, is actually Russian, and of course she is beautiful. Sparks— but not Lily Sparks— fly.

We then encounter one of Declan Finn’s patented Clever Chapter Titles: “Always Date Inside Your Species.” Which is a way of raising the question, can a vampire date a human without someone becoming dinner?

Marco, as it turns out, is a feudal lord to a pair of street gangs— the Dragons and Los Tigres— which unlike most street gangs compete to see how many bad guys they can apprehend and turn over to the cops.

Marco introduces Amanda to his father, Dr. Richard Catalano, and invites her to spend Christmas with the family. Richard reports on the murder of a former member of one of Marco’s pet gangs. It is one of a series of vampire murders.

There are some medically unusual things about the vampire killings and Richard sends samples to the CDC. Which action attracts a vampire to the hospital. Marco has to fight the vampire off with a martial art called Krav Maga.

Then there is the matter of the Vatican Ninjas, a vampire fighting force. You see, evidently the Church noticed the sudden demand for holy water and other blessed items from people fighting vampires, and so the existence of vampires is no mystery to them.

The vampire virus is revealed to be parasitic in nature— kind of like vampires themselves. And then there is the late introduction of another character, Merle Kraft, and the useful revelation of how you can up with a 50 gallon drum of holy water when a vampire battle looms.

There is a major battle against the bad vampires, which by no means ends the war, since this book is going to have a sequel (Yay!)

FLAWS IN THE BOOK
(tongue in cheek)

Marco says some rude stuff about Mormons and also does not care for the Twilight series (I liked that series well enough, myself, and some of my imaginary friends are Mormons.)

A priest-character expresses the opinion that ‘no one’ believes in Adam and Eve any more. Which is not accurate since the Catholic Catechism mentions Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man rather than rejecting them. But I contacted the author and he says he ran this concept past a couple of priests. So it is possible a priest would say this.

The Yiddish word ‘schm-ck’ (rhymes with duck) is used. It’s a dirty word in Yiddish.

The Star Trek series is mentioned and the character who does so gets it WRONG! He mentions ‘Kojo the Executioner’ and later corrects it to ‘Chronos the Executioner’. It’s KODOS the Executioner! You know, like Kang and Kodos on the Simpsons.

A character mentions that Boston, as home of the Red Sox, is EVIL. I am a Red Sox fan and therefore know that this is wrong, and that there is a whole other baseball team that is EVIL, and their initials are: New York Yankees. I shall have to get revenge on the fictional character that said this.

CONCLUSION:
This book is an excellent read for anyone who loves vampire fiction. The love story does not get in the way of all the action. And there are no sex scenes or rants featuring foul language, so you don’t have to hide the book from your kids or your parents.

“Sikh and ye shall find.” (For some reason, some people groan at lines like that.)

There is a fair bit of violence mentioned, most either violence committed by evil vampires or violence defending against them.

And this novel represents a return to the vampire traditions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the fact that the evil vampires, at least, are vulnerable to holy items.

I can’t wait until the next book in the series comes out. If you read this book, you may feel the same way.

View all my reviews

But I don’t WANT to write a book review!!!

piusmanA new horror has entered the life of readers everywhere: the need to support our favorite authors by writing book reviews on Amazon.com, Goodreads and elsewhere.

The need to write a book review drags me back to school days when I had to write book reviews to prove I’d read the book. One semester in seventh grade I read and reread ‘Oliver Twist’, one of the books on our free reading list, rather than admit I’d finished in the first week and face up to the horror of writing a book review.

Sadly, I owe a ton of authors a review. Some of them are well known favorite authors of mine. Others are people I actually know through the internet, such as Karina Fabian, Daniella Bova and Declan Finn.

Today I bit the bullet and did a review of a Declan Finn book. How did he get to the top of my list? Well, he gave me free copies of the second and third books in his series. Since I’m very low-income because of my disability, anyone who gives me free ebooks I actually read and enjoyed deserves special blessings in my book.

Here are my secrets to meeting that dreaded book review obligation:

  1. Cheat. Go ahead, read the other reviews written about the book first. That will remind you what the book was about and may also help you remember what you thought about aspects of the story as you read it.
  2. Create a summing-up formula to help you describe plots. For me, it works like this: “This book is about a [main character] who [main character’s problem.] ” You know, like this: ‘A lawyer is chased by a Mafia don when his pet zombie gets loose and bites a mob enforcer.’ ‘A shoe salesman, bored with his life, wakes up to find he’s been transformed into a giant ape.’
  3. Don’t feel the need to be a literary critic. You don’t have to turn yourself into a college English professor and evaluate the literary status of the book. Just say if you liked it, and perhaps mention something you liked about it. If the book was seriously flawed, just mention one thing about it that you perceived as a flaw.
  4. Don’t give five stars. Not unless it’s one of the three best books you’ve ever read. Five star reviews are so common, especially on amateurish self-published books, that many of us don’t trust them any more. Four stars is good enough for nearly all of the enjoyable books you read.
  5. Don’t give one star. Even with the worst, most flawed books, be kind enough to give two stars. One-star reviews are too often unfair and vindictive.
  6. Don’t be ashamed of writing a short review. If you can only think of two or three sentences to write about the book, just use that. It helps the writer just as much as a longer review. Perhaps more, sometimes, as a potential book purchaser may prefer to read a short, pithy review to one that goes on and on.
  7. Check your review for spelling and grammar before you publish. It’s also essential to use proper capitalization and punctuation. Most readers ignore reviews by people who don’t bother to do these things correctly.

I hope this helps some of you who need to get some book reviews written. And if you have any secrets on how to write a book review, do share it in a comment!

Some of my reviews

A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller

Sunset in a Spider’s Web

The Memory of Earth