Tag Archives: review

Planet Of The Eggs: Mummified Egg

As is often the case, I received book free in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I’m utterly candid below.

First of all, spoiler alert. The heroes are spat out of a mysterious vortex, find and nearly defeat a mummy though rather mysterious and nonsensical plot points and then get sucked into another vortex. That about sums it up.

To the positive, the author is wonderfully unfettered by the bounds of conventionality. Further, the illustrations are rich and colorful. I say illustrations, they appear to be photos cut out and arranged over each other to create the graphical components.

To the negative, my 10-year-old daughter looked at it and refused to have anything to do with it. Given that the target age range is 8-18 this seems a pretty grim condemnation. If I had paid money for this I would be pretty annoyed. The plot is weak and essentially follows the same lines as a few hundred identical books including the previous two. The particular details of the plot are bizarrely confusing as the eggs travel without legs and obtain whatever items happen to be needed out of nowhere. I understand that it’s intended to be a children’s book but even children need connected series of events to make sense of the action.

To sum up, my kids were EXTREMELY unimpressed. It’s obvious the authors have put a great deal of work into this book but it seems that the execution is almost rushed and never quite came together.


Rob Slaven
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Review of Hearing Thoughts by Anthony Diffley

As is often the case I received this book free for the purposes of review but I’m absolutely candid about it below because potential buyers deserve to know what it is they’re about to pay money for.

The nutshell on this novel is pretty well summed up by the back cover. Normally I would consider it a spoiler to reveal so much about the plot but since it IS on the back… Essentially, a high-power attorney is kidnapped by aliens and now can hear other people’s thoughts. Thus the title. Not exactly massively original really.

In most cases I try to frame a book by its positives and its negatives. In this case though I can’t really find anything even remotely positive to say about it. The story is trite and has been already been explored by dozens of other authors. The writing is deplorable and the dialog reminds me of a conversation you might hear in a Dick and Jane novel. I guffawed aloud when grown men started talking about their “tummies” and many of the scenes defy any knowledge of how the adult world works. It reminds me strongly of the videos you see in which a small child describes what they think their parents do all day at work.

In summary, while I always hate to take it to new authors with such vigor I can’t be party to anyone actually considering paying money for this. I’d encourage Mr. Diffley to keep at it and try a different idea with a new copy editor because the one you have has failed you terribly.

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Book Reviews: Lady of the Dead: Night World Series by Gretchen S. B.

As is often the case I received this book in exchange for an honest review but despite that kindness my candid thoughts appear below.

The nutshell-no-spoilers-summary on this one is tough because it spans several genres that don’t typically tend to cohabitate between the covers of a single book. It’s part crime drama, part action adventure and part John Edwards psychic fiction. One book features the undead, gritty cops, fierce warriors, werecreatures, immortals and spirits all in the backdrop of modern day Northwest America.

On the positive side, the author certainly isn’t afraid to mix things up. She’s brought together a lot of otherwise dissonant strings and isn’t afraid to weave them together in new and creative ways. There’s a lot of creativity evident in this book and the writer’s textual style isn’t half bad and is fairly devoid of typos and textual errors.

Sadly, the negative side gives the positive a run for its money. The overarching story is weak and the author introduces so many various characters and new types of creatures in her book that it seems forced. One barely wraps one’s mind around one group of people before another one is introduced and then either included for the duration or suddenly dropped. It’s as if the author tried to force several longer books into one shorter one. The whole story lacks patience and pacing is barely readable. The only way I managed to force myself to the end was hope that all the creative energy would somehow pay off. It didn’t.

The author skims over so much at such a high level that I thought for a long time I was reading a YA novel. That was until I got to the EXTREMELY graphic sex scenes at which point any misunderstanding about that point was entirely lost. The author’s only real attempt during the story to add any level of detail to any interaction is in those scenes of copulation.

In summary, I can’t recommend this book to anyone but there is hope for the author. Given a bit more time and patience Gretchen could go far but this one particular example of her work is pretty poor.

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Book Reviews: Guardian of the Gold Breathers by Elise Stephens

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I received this book free for review from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

The nutshell on this book is that it’s a fairly standard one of the genre in which a young person finds that they are somehow special or exceptional and must overcome some set of trials in order to achieve an elevated status in the world. Just think Harry Potter and the like.

This is a YA novel so I consider three simple questions when evaluating it. The first is to ask if I there’s any reason I wouldn’t want my kids to read it. I have a zero-tolerance attitude when it comes to sex and drugs and this one is clean as a whistle in that respect. Kids won’t pick up any negative lessons and they certainly won’t learn any “new” words. For those that are of a deeply religious bent, do know there is magic and the like.

One small word of caution, however, that requires a non-specific spoiler. Our hero goes about his journey and comes to a conclusion that from the perspective of those not in the know, looks exactly like getting burned alive. I would not want readers to somehow get the impression that the best way to escape a troubling family situation has any resemblance whatsoever to actual death. I think the risk is fairly small but it is something to note.

The second question is to ask if there’s any reason I would want my kids to read it. I love when a book teaches a lesson and this one does a fair job of demonstrating the virtues of loyalty and dedication to a goal. While I don’t think these themes are necessarily front and center to the narrative they are present and certainly not overly intrusive to the story.

The last question is to ponder whether kids will actually want to read it. In this case, I think the story is a rich one and it gives the reader plenty to enjoy and look forward to on each succeeding page. My only reservation is that kids might get a tad confused because the book seems to lack continuity in places. I won’t go into specifics but it feels like the book has been cut down from a longer version and sometimes references to previous events creep in that were edited out. I can’t validate this, of course, but a few times I asked myself, “When did THAT happen?”

In summary, reading this as an adult I found it pretty entertaining and it is a solid entrant in the YA market. The aspect that stands out for me most is the ending. The author closed this story in a way that balanced closure and uncertainty brilliantly. I’d be intensely interested in reading a sequel; this could bloom into a wonderful series of books akin to Pern.

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Request for an Interview from an Academic Researcher

Rank48Recently I was approached by a university researcher who wanted to do an interview with me on the topic of writing in social media. He approached me as an Amazon reviewer so I agreed to answer his questions. Below find my responses to his first volley of inquiry.

Can you tell me a little about what got you started writing Amazon reviews?
I’ve always been of a mind to bore people with my online drivel so in 2011 I first stumbled across the GoodReads site. There you can sign up for book giveaways in exchange for an honest review of the book. I reviewed several dozen books and cross-posted these on Amazon and within a year I had offers for other items to review that were much less literary. I started, as I suspect everyone does, with small electronics: chargers, cords, electronic gizmos. It has been my observation that anyone in the top 10,000 reviewers or so that posts an email will be graced with at least one offer for a free product. As time goes on like begets like and whatever sorts of products you’ve reviewed before will find their way to your mailbox.

How would you characterize your writing style when you write Amazon reviews?
Terse. It has been my impression that customers don’t have time for a lot of protracted blathering on so I try to make things as short and sweet as possible, condensing my points to a few bullets that sum up things as succinctly and completely as possible. For those who want a bit more detail, I have tended as of late towards video-based reviews that demonstrate the product in some way or illuminate its shortfalls.

What are your goals when writing Amazon reviews?
This is a tricky and multi-headed question. The prime mover of all things in Amazon land is, of course, the helpful vote. Customers give us direct feedback by voting helpful or unhelpful on reviews as they read or watch them. So the ultimate goal in this game (and, let’s be honest, it is a game) is to garner as many helpful votes as possible. The more helpful votes, the higher your ranking and the higher your ranking the more free crap rolls in the door. At a very fundamental level, this is the most basic and visceral goal of the whole thing.

Attached to this is the idea that you’re helping others to make a buying decision. When I receive a product that’s just downright terrible my number one goal is to do everything I can to make sure nobody actually pays money for it. If I can find some redeeming quality in a product I’ll point it out but above all the goal is to make sure nobody gets taken for a proverbial ride and that when customers actually do buy something that they get what they expected based on the reviews. The vote system drives one to to write reviews but the injustice of the system is what really keeps a reviewer up at night.

Can you ever remember a time when you didn’t achieve your goals when writing Amazon reviews? Why or why not?
As I’ve said previously, the goal that keeps me up at night most is trying to make sure customers get what they expect. When a product arrives at my door it’s my duty to make sure it’s at least a serviceable product. I cannot even hope to tell consumers everything about a product but I can at least point out obvious fatal flaws and do everything in my power to ensure customers get a reasonable quality product. The problem with that, however, comes in two forms. Firstly, many, many reviewers hate to say anything negative about a product. They received it free so they feel they should say something nice or say nothing at all. So even if a product isn’t worthwhile, the ‘yes man’ crowd can drown out even the most circumspect naysayer. Additionally, the power of the vote works in both directions. Often manufacturers will hire services to suppress unflattering reviews with down votes and vote up the positive reviews that cast their product in the best light. As might be imagined, this battle is extremely difficult to win.

How do you decide what to review and why?
This answer varies wildly depending on my mood at the time I’m looking at an offer. In general, rather selfishly, I tend to offer to review products that I want to have or that I imagine others around me would want. Secondarily I will sometimes choose products that seem like they’d merely be diverting or interesting to try out. In summary, this is almost completely selfish. I review things that I have a use for.

Do you model your method of reviewing on anything? Do you read other professional or Amazon reviews before hand?
Typically, no. I don’t read other reviews for the same product because that tends to have a bias impact on the results. I don’t tend to read professional reviewers because, frankly, I think the more plebeian viewpoint is probably more helpful in some cases.

How do you decide which reviews to update and why?
I update any review on which I receive new information. Sometimes the manufacturer will contact me with updates or sometimes a friend to whom I’ve given an item will provide additional feedback on it. In general, however, I don’t go back to proactively update reviews without reason. Just slogging through new reviews is enough of a chore.

Do you have a particular process for writing reviews? Any steps you take before or while writing?
This varies wildly depending on the product. If the product makes claims that it’s “durable” or “shatterproof” then I put those claims specifically to the test. I’ve taken electronic equipment out into the parking lot and hurled into the air based on certain claims by the manufacturer. Admittedly at least part of the reason for that is because it’s entertaining but again, I want to make sure that manufacturers at least live up to their packaging.

How would you say your style of writing reviews has changed over the course of time (if they have)?
If anything it’s become even more terse than it was in the beginning. As time goes on you begin to get a very firm sense of what the identifying points are for any one sort of product so the whole process becomes rather formulaic. You test the 45th selfie stick in must the same way as the 44th selfie stick so it’s much less like writing than it is simply checking off a list of things to check.

Do you ever respond to comments about your reviews? How do you adjust your reviews in response to those comments?
I do, but not all the time. If the commenter requests information and I can actually provide it, I will do what I can to help out but often I don’t have the product any longer. If I kept every miscellaneous gewgaw that came across my desk I’d have little room for anything else. I have, at times, found myself apologizing to a commenter for missing some nuance of the product that I completely failed to pick up on. Those are exceptionally helpful for the next review but don’t make me feel any less guilty if someone bought a product that didn’t work for them because I gave it high marks. Luckily this doesn’t happen particularly often.

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Book Reviews: Grizwall’s out,and he is telling his side of the story (**)

As usual I received this book free in exchange for a review. Also as usual I will be absolutely candid about it in spite of the kind consideration of a free book delivered unto mine doorstep.

Amazon describes the book this way, blurby goodness follows:

Grizwall is a collection of short interconnected stories that share the adventures of a dog who experienced many things in his amazing life. From bears and porcupines to helicopters, planes, and torrential rains.These are a few of his adventures I have tried to share in an entertaining way, the stories are true, except….Grizwall didn’t really talk.

The wilds of beautiful British Columbia the setting we follow Grizwall from Vancouver Island to the far North on one adventure after another. So sit back and enjoy the ride Grizwall always did.

With commentary from Grizwall himself the stories are meant to entertain and hopefully amuse.Take care,enjoy.25% of every purchase donated to the S.P.C.A. on behalf of Grizwall. For ages 8 to 108>

The nutshell view of this book is that it’s a parallel dual memoir of a man and his dog. The man’s thoughts appear interleaved with those presumed thoughts of his dog as they muck about in the wilds of Canada having all manner of rather random adventures.

On the positive side, this is a book with quite a bit of heart. It’s advertised as a tribute to a boon companion now passed on. Like all dog owners Grizwall has felt the joys of having a dog and the sorrows of suddenly not having a dog and he pours his heart and his memories into this book with great candor and openness.

Unfortunately, all the candor and openness in the world cannot compensate for the poor execution of this book. It is rife with typos and misused words and completely lacks professionalism. Like many of its ilk it is in need of a good sound editing both for grammar and for content. The rambling and sometimes poor text aside, the pictures included in the book are also in need of attention. Each time before the dog in the story speaks his picture appears in the margins. Very sadly the way the picture is cropped makes it look as if the dog is in some sort of pain or twisted into a very uncomfortable position. The effect is rather unsettling.

In summary, the author has a good idea but has simply failed to execute on it. This is, at best, the rough draft for a book that needs several more weeks of attention before it is sufficiently polished and deserving of sale to the general populous.

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Book Reviews: Scream Vacation (The Raven Archives) by Dr. I. Seymour Youngblood (*****)

As is the usual preamble I received this book free in exchange for a review. Also as usual I’ll be completely honest despite that kind consideration.

The Amazon blurb describes the book this way:

Carter’s spring break is a total bust. His family was Orlando bound until his twin sisters, Maren & Macee, sabotaged his dream vacation with their dorky ghost-hunting obsession. Now, he’s stuck in some “haunted” backwoods cabin in the middle of nowhere all because his sister’s favorite show is filming there during spring break. But what Carter always made fun, his sister’s love of the supernatural, turns out to be no laughing matter on their SCREAM VACATION.

Firstly, this is a book aimed at youth so I give it a slightly different going over than I would an adult book. I look at three basic questions and the first of those is to ask if there’s anything inappropriate for the age group. It has been my sad duty to give many books for adolescents poor scores because they had sexual or drug content but in this case the book is clean as a whistle. There is some mild pre-teen rebellion but there’s nothing to be scared of if your kid brings this book home. There’s not even any violence to speak of.

The second thing I look for is rather the opposite of the first and that’s to find positive lessons or morals in a book. This book does reasonably well at that since the main character does come to understand his family a bit better and after all is said and done they’re a closer group than they started out. This doesn’t really seem to be the focus of the book but it’s there.

Lastly, I ask myself if the book is entertaining and in this case the book scores high marks. I’m an adult and I found it amusing so kids will probably devour it. It is, of course, rather simplistic and from an adult perspective nothing new but these are kids we’re talking about as the target audience and it will be right up their proverbial alley. I can see this series doing really well.

In summary, this is a real standout in the realm of independently published books. Aside from a very few editorial errors this is an exceptionally professional, responsible and entertaining book for the young people in your life. Highly recommended for kids that like to be scared but not too scared.


Want to help us out? Go visit the review on Amazon and vote it helpful. Every vote helps us get more books to books to review for you. Want to help the author? Go buy the book! Most of the time these books are from independent authors who are just starting out. Get in on the ground floor of the next Stephen King. Lastly, if you’re in the Indianapolis area and want to have a look at some of these books for yourself then just drop me a line and I’ll be happy to pass them along.  Free to me, free to you.  Just promise that you’ll read them, review them and pass them on to someone else.

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