Book Review – A Dog called Hope

5 Stars

A Dog called Hope

This truly moving book is un-put-downable. The story of a service dog – Napal and those whose lives he touches will make you exalt at the bond and love between man and dog, marvel at the courage of some people and cry your heart out.

When Jason Morgan is critically injured on a secret mission he believes his life is over – unable to walk, in constant pain, unable to be a father to his young family, no job, no hope of anything but a life of pain and depression. Then a remarkable dog joins his household.

Napal is a miracle on four legs. Intelligent, loyal, and loving. He not only brings the family back, he gives Jason something to live for, a non-judgemental helper, a talking point, and eventually a new relationship. With Napal at his side Jason achieves more than he ever thought possible.

The book is incredibly engaging, if in places covering very emotional and dark issues. I found myself entranced by the delightful Napal, his first human raiser – who himself was disabled, and developed a bond for life with the puppy he’d selflessly raised to help another. Jason himself is a warrior – broken – but able to rise up and overcome almost insurmountable odds to regain his life, and his independence.

If you aren’t moved by this book, if you don’t have tears in your eyes, you have no heart, and no soul.

The best book I’ve read all year!

#Book Review #Animals #Disability #Love

 

 

Noobs’ Guide to Self-Publishing – Reviews on KDP/Amazon

(C)A L Butcher

 

I haven’t done a Noob’s Guide article for ages, but during lockdown I’ve spent a lot of time on the KDP forums. If you’re unaware of these they’re the forums for Kindle Direct Publishing and offer guidance from other author/publishers to their kindred souls. There’s a corps of veterans (including myself) who have been around long enough to answer most of the questions – Hitch runs a service for newbies and knows a lot about formatting, Booknookbiz, Notjohn and Levi’s Companion are always willing to help out.

That said there are dozens of newbie authors who simply don’t read the help pages. Most of the answers to the regular questions can be found there, or a simple check on the forum pages – for the hundreds of similar questions asked every month.

READ THE DAMN FAQ AND HELP PAGES! Seriously. It will save a lot of bother.

One of the recurring questions is about reviews. An author posts up that review he or she knows about can’t be posted or has been taken down. Why?

Let’s start with a bit of history: several years ago a whole host of authors were gaming the system. Getting reviews by paying people to leave dozens of fabulous five-star reviews, and other rather underhand methods. It caused a storm. After that the big bad Zon got a little sensitive about product reviews, particularly in relation to e-books.

A review is only of value to the customer looking at it (and hence to Amazon) if it is impartial. A review from your mother is NOT impartial. A review from your mate Dave who thinks your book is great is NOT seen as impartial.

Think about it. You go to buy a product and all the reviews say it’s the most awesome thing ever created do you stop and think, ‘Really?’ There will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t like a product, and that is especially true of books. Most books, if they have been reviewed, have a mix – some readers will love the book, some will be meh, and some will hate it. All are perfectly valid opinions. Do you love every book you read or movie you see? No, of course not. And that’s the other thing – what I like in a book is great worldbuilding and awesome characters. I can overlook the odd typo or editing issue. Some readers will hate a book with technical problems. Some readers will like a book with juicy sex scenes, and some won’t. Some readers will not mind violence, and some will put the book down for this.

How much is too much? That’s subjective.

Would you buy a product if you thought those reviews might be a bit dodgy? Maybe? Probably not?

Amazon changed their review process in 2017 as a result of this scandal (see link for the official guidelines). 

  • A customer has to have spent $50 (or equivalent) in the last 12 months to leave a review.
  • Persons who share a household or are well known to the author cannot leave a review
  • The author cannot review his/her own book (although I’ve had a few emails suggesting I review my own books – well done bots).

The guidelines state that social media friends or followers are allowed to leave a review. In reality, this is a very grey area. There are several posts a week from people who say follower so and so has told the author they cannot leave a review for book X. Where is the degree of separation on such relationships?

How do you define a friend on Facebook? Someone who is in the same groups as you and you comment on their posts? Do you chat to them in messenger? Do you share links? You can bet Amazon tracks this stuff and pulls reviews if it feels there is too much of a relationship there.

Personally, I’d say if a reader contacts you to say they can’t post it may be BECAUSE they feel they know you well enough to do so that they cannot post.

Reviews are for customers – not for authors. It is NOT an author’s job to contact KDP, or whine on the forum that a review doesn’t post. Advise the customer to email community-help@amazon.com and ask why. If an author does it the likelihood is Amazon will take a hard look at the other reviews on that author’s book.

Amazon does, in theory, allow review copies to be given out – but you cannot demand a review. If any incentive is offered it invalidates the review and reviewers are supposed to state they had a free copy for an unbiased review.

‘You may provide free or discounted copies of your books to readers. However, you may not demand a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review. Offering anything other than a free or discounted copy of the book—including gift cards—will invalidate a review, and we’ll have to remove it. To learn more, see our Community Guidelines.’

‘Additional Guidelines for Customer Reviews

The following guidelines apply to Customer Reviews in addition to the other guidelines given above:

  • If your review is removed or rejected because it does not comply with our guidelines concerning promotional content, you may not resubmit a review on the same product, even if the resubmitted review includes different content.
  • Reviews may only include URLs or links to other products sold on Amazon.
  • Customers in the same household may not post multiple reviews of the same product.
  • We may restrict the ability to submit a review when we detect unusual reviewing behavior, or to maintain the best possible shopping experience.
  • You may not manipulate the Amazon Verified Purchase badge, such as by offering special pricing to reviewers or reimbursing reviewers.

To learn more about Amazon Verified Purchase views refer to About Amazon Verified Purchase Reviews.’

Customers can remove or amend their own reviews (and I have done this).

‘We remove reviews that violate our Community Guidelines. We also remove reviews if we unlink two titles that were incorrectly linked. The reviews will only appear on the detail page of the book for which they were first posted. To protect our customers’ privacy, we only share information about specific reviews with the customer who posted the review. If a customer contacts you about their missing review, ask them to write to community-help@amazon.com. Customers can also remove their own reviews.

Customer Review Guidance.

In short – it is NOT the author’s job or business to deal with reviews that can’t be posted.

Do not expect reviews just because a reader has bought your book. Reviews on books are about 1%.

As a reader I don’t review every book I read. I doubt many readers do. Do you?

Ratings can be left without a text review.

If the review is not complementary – tough luck. Not everyone is going to like your book. Move on. Do not react, do not comment. It’s none of your business.

(C)A L Butcher

Other useful links about the review process on KDP and some of the articles on the issues of dodgy reviews.

Other products have been subject to these shenanigans:

https://www.authorimprints.com/amazon-book-review-policy-authors/

https://www.lovemoney.com/news/52275/amazons-battle-with-unbiased-product-reviews

Phone Chargers https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/01/which-uncovers-fake-five-star-reviews-flooding-amazon/

https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/07/exposed-the-tricks-sellers-use-to-post-fake-reviews-on-amazon/

https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-bad-review-practices-crackdown-2018-4?r=US&IR=T

Elfhame – Anthea Sharp – Review #Fantasy #Fairytales

Elfhame – Anthea Sharp

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Mara is a girl with adventure in her soul, and she wants more than her mundane village and boring suitor can offer. Her life is one of few future prospects save a dull marriage, hard work and popping out children. She has no special skills of which she is aware, save more intelligence than usual, courage and a curious nature.

Prince Bran is the heir to not only the Hawthorne Throne, an-end-of-the-world prophecy, but he’s a fearsome Dark Elf. His life is filled with duty, war and magic. He is taciturn, a powerful sorcerer and fearsome warrior.

These two are linked – by a prophecy one has lived by and the other is blissfully unaware of. Aside from that, they have little in common.

Fate has her way and our two fine heroes meet; there are deceptions, battles with unpleasant monsters, surprises, unlikely friendships and a rollercoaster ending.

Told like a fairytale, the story is engaging (I read it through in a couple of hours as I couldn’t put it down), and the characters are great. Mara quickly captures the readers – feisty and brave, a bit naive but knows her own mind and is not afraid to say so. She is not a wallflower.

Bran is a sympathetic character – doing his duty and fulfilling a prophecy that will save his people, despite his own reservations, safety and happiness. The elves are seen by the humans as alien and ‘hideous’, with strange and mythical ways; the humans are viewed as primitive and weak. And both factions are proven wrong.

Well-crafted and filled with adventure this fantasy tale is definitely one for readers of mythic tales and fairy tales. Younger readers may find the monsters and the battles unsettling but this is a good read for any age.

5 stars.

Readers – how do reviews influence you?

Similar to a post I ran a few years back – but have the results changed?  As a reader how influential are reviews to you? Do you read them all then decide? Do you just read the top few? The negative ones?

Feel free to comment at the bottom of the page.

 

 

Review – Green Men and White Swans – The Folklore of British Pub Names

3.5 Stars.

This book is a potted history and folklore of some of the names of British Pubs, past and present. Not every pub name is included – it depends on the origin of the name (and the ability to find out what it means).

Some of the names are odd, not obvious and many are reminiscent of attitudes long gone (Such as Quiet Woman – depicting a woman with no head, or wearing a scold’s bridle; or Nags Head – could also be sexist; Saracen’s Head or Black Boy – now viewed as racist.) In many cases the signs or names have been altered in our more enlightened times. Some of the pubs are old – they show which side a local landholder was on in the English Civil War, or whether they supported the Catholics or Protestants during the Reformation.

There are many mythical references – Unicorn, Green Man, Dragon, George and Dragon, Phoenix, etc. Not all in a locale directly related to that creature or hero – and some are named after ships, for example.

The snippets of local history and pride in that history are the most interesting aspect – and some of the references would be largely unknown outside a particular area.

A lot of research has been done for this book, and that shows.

The cons – there were a lot of formatting/typo errors, including a duplicate paragraph and the way certain aspects were laid out with specific topics interspersed did not work well as an ebook, as the formatting was all over the place.

Subject – 4 stars

Technical side – 3 stars.

 

Adventures in Self-Publishing – Reviews -Part 2

I remember the first ‘bad’ review I got for my first book. It was 2-star review on Goodreads, and I was angry, upset and lots of negative emotions.  How dare someone think that! Of course, now I have moved on, and I realise it is just one reader’s views, nothing more, nothing less.

My point is – for new writers a bad review feels terrible. Someone who doesn’t care how much time you spent writing, what sacrifices you made etc. Correct – the reader doesn’t give a damn about that. He or she just wanted a good experience with the book they spent money on. If you go to a restaurant and order a meal, it arrives and it’s not what you expected, or you think it’s too cold, or too hot, or has garlic in then you will complain. You don’t care that the chef has a headache, or his car broke down on the way in. You want a nice meal. It’s the same principle.

I have a mix of ratings on my books from 1 star to 5 stars, some great comments and some… less than great comments. The books I write are NOT mainstream. Light Beyond the Storm features violence against women, murder, sex, slavery and other contentious topics. I’ve been told it can be difficult to read. Am I going to change it? No. The issues therein are part of the story and the world of Erana: Elves are slaves, Dii (the main female character) is an Elven woman who is not only a slave but a magic user. She has no rights in that society – and her very existence is illegal. The poor girl is at the bottom of the social heap. Olek and Archos are the good guys (and I use that term relatively), but they aren’t nice. Olek is a thief and an assassin – he kills, he steals, he blackmails. Archos is a sorcerer and he deceives, he kills, he flouts the law, and he is, essentially, a crimelord. There are very few really ‘good people’ – except Dii and Ozena. I can understand why readers might be shocked by what happens, or upset by the violence. Some folks are. But then again some aren’t.

Books are a varied as the authors – everyone is different. Readers are different.

So how to deal with ‘bad’ reviews.

  1. DO NOT COMMENT – Really just don’t. It’s unprofessional, it’s likely to backfire. A few years ago there were some individuals on Goodreads who had rated a particular author’s book with a low rating and unfavourable review; said author then started bitching about these reviewers. There was name calling, trolling and general nastiness. No one came out well, least of all the author. Such behaviour tarnishes other authors (and readers) who don’t behave like that and indie author suffers.
  2. ANALYSE THEM – is the reader just unhappy because the story didn’t fulfil their expectations? Or are they reporting technical issues? The first you as the author can’t do much about, but technical issues can and should be fixed.
  3. DO NOT GO BITCHING ON YOUR BLOG – this relates back to 1. Yes, you might be annoyed or upset but venting online will not help. People forget what is said online can be deleted but not removed. By that I mean if someone sees it, then it’s ‘out there’ – it can be copied, or shared. If you feel you must vent do it privately.
  4. MOVE ON – pretty much every book from Shakespeare’s plays to Game of Thrones will have a bad review. It happens.
  5. KEEP WRITING – don’t give up. Writing is a craft, and it takes practice, and commitment. One or two bad reviews can knock your confidence – but just shrug and keep writing. Look for how you can improve – which is pretty much the same as in everything.
  6. DO NOT COMMENT. Yep it’s that important I am saying it twice.

There are blogs offering reviews – and they can be useful. But don’t buy a good review – it will show and many sites (such as Amazon) will remove ‘fake’ reviews. This also goes for review swaps (I read your book and rate it high if you do mine).  Indies don’t have the best reputation and behaviour like that doesn’t do anyone any good.

Don’t get your mum/brother/cat to post a review. They may indeed like your work but the review will be biased. Again most review sites will remove those, and in some places, your publishing account can be revoked.

Wait. Reviews will come. Not every reader reviews.

Good reviews are nice to have, but it’s not the end of the world if they are few.

As I said in my previous article you can’t please everyone. There will always be someone who doesn’t enjoy your work, and that’s fine. Move on. Keep writing.

 

Adventures in Self-Publishing – Reviews – Part 1

Reviews…writers crave them and fear them. Readers utilise them, write them, ignore them. So what is the point?

A good deal of advice for writers states solicit reviews at all costs, but it this good advice? Yes and No. Let me get this clear – a review is one person’s opinion of a product, be it socks, a movie, or a book. And this is where the issue lies. Every individual who reads a book views it differently. Each person has expectations of a book (possibly based on having read previous reviews), prejudices – and we all have an unconscious bias – experiences/education, and mood.

For example – I like world-building; descriptive prose; great, and believable characters; emotive and lyrical writing. I read: Fantasy, gothic horror, science fiction, historical fiction, classics, mythic, erotica, true crime, historical mystery, science and medicine books. The expectations I have for a particular genre vary – I want my science, history and crime to be well-researched and not dry, but not overly complicated as I am reading for interest not a profession. I want my science fiction believable, or at least consistent, but with an element of the fantastic. I want my fantasy to be rich, amazing and well-developed. I want my gothic horror to be creepy, dark and deadly but not terrifying. And so on. So if I review a book I have read I need to apply this – my expectations for say, Les Miserables or Tess of the D’Urbevilles are not the same as for Cadfael or Sacred Band.

And so you have an opinion by an individual with a mix of views, expectations etc. No review is right. And no review is wrong. They are all subjective. And that’s the point and the difficulty.

As a reader, I seldom read reviews for books – basically because they don’t influence my choice much.  However, I do read reviews for electronics, clothes, movies and pretty much everything else. Yes, I’m weird. Many readers aren’t like me, they put great store by reviews – looking for merits and flaws from like-minded people.

There are readers who have certain criteria:

Engaging characters, well written, free from errors, believable.

But then there’s too much description/not enough? Too much sex/romance/violence/swearing or not enough. How much IS enough? Not a clue. It’s subjective.

I posted on a facebook group – name a couple of books you thought you should like and didn’t. As expected the results were varied. Books I love were thought utter drivel, and books I hate were thought wonderful. This was the picture across the board.

There are a minority of readers who look for the errors in a book or take great delight in bitching about the book/author. It is a small, vocal minority.  But they are there. This is particularly the case for indie-authored books. I’ll discuss how to handle reviews like this in a later post.

I review books for many reasons: I have a bad memory and it’s a form of note-taking; I want to share what I think of a book, although given the fact I rarely read book reviews this is rather hypocritical on my part; I want to support an author.  But people review for many reasons, and in many ways.

Reviews are opinion, nothing more and nothing less.

I’d be interested in what criteria my readers use to review, and if they read reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

Lord of the Flies – audio edition – review

Lord of the Flies by William Golding was written in the 1950s – but this haunting coming-of-age story is dark, thought-provoking and unnervingly timeless.

I first read this as a child at school, I think it was on the English syllabus but it is not just a story for kids – in fact I probably got even more from it, as the cynical adult I have become, than I did all those years ago.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story – here’s a brief synospis.

After a plane crash a group of British schoolboys are left castaway on an island – the boys range from ‘littleuns’ to ‘biguns’ – approximately 4 or 5 to young teen. There are no adults let alive. At first, it’s an adventure – and the older more sensible kids begin to make plans to await rescue. Power struggles soon emerge – from the sensible Ralph, the bullied, overweight and myopic but intelligent Piggy, to the nasty Jack.

The kids are innocent, for the most part, but it doesn’t take long for this innocence to be lost, and the kids begin to reflect the darkness within humanity, within power and petty politics.

Part of the synopsis reads; ‘The boys’ struggle to find a way of existing in a community with no fixed boundaries invites readers to evaluate the concepts involved in social and political constructs and moral frameworks. Symbolism is strong throughout, revealing both the boys’ capacity for empathy and hope, as well as illuminating the darkest corners of the human spirit. Ideas of community, leadership, and the rule of law are called into question as the reader has to consider who has a right to power, why, and what the consequences of the acquisition of power may be.’

The audio edition is especially powerful, and the narrator builds the suspense, and the brewing tragedy excellently. It’s a tale which the reader (or listener) at once wants to end, and not to end – because one must find out what happens, but at the same time one fears one knows.

Awesome, awesome story, expertly written and expertly told. Highly recommended.

 

 

Sinners of Magic – Lynette Creswell Reviews 2019 #Fantasy

Sinners of Magic by Lynette Creswell is a fantasy tale following the adventures of young adults Crystal and Matt. Crystal is a strange girl, haunted by visions, and odd occurrences and has no answers for her skills. After she saves her friend from drowning a strange bird arrives on her windowsill. Then answers start coming and a splendid adventure really starts. The world is interesting – with elves, sorcerers, monsters and orc-like beings. The rules of the world are strict, and inevitably get broken and this leads to more problems. There is death, there is wicked magic, there is love, courage and intrigue.

It took me a while to get into the book and to connect with the characters (it may be an age thing as they are young adults – and I haven’t been that for 25 years…). That said once the adventure gets going the story is exciting, well-written and the world well crafted. The two protagonists are out of their depth, taken to a strange realm they never believed existed, and faced with life-threatening revelations and situations but the bond of friendship doesn’t wane. I found myself really wanting Crystal to find the answers, the evil lord to be defeated and the good guys to win out. Did they? Read and find out.

I shall definitely pick up the other two books in this trilogy.

4 stars.