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text 2018-01-27 19:50
Hoping to start a discussion: Correct me if I'm wrong. . . . . .

I'm back on the couch with the heating pad, having messed up my back again.  It's not nearly as bad this time as in the past, but I'm going to take it easy for at least a few hours.


Some comments on Twitter this morning got me to thinking about the whole issue of negative book reviews, and I'm not sure if I'm coming at this from the right direction.  I almost dismissed my concerns until I went back and reread Debbie's comment on my earlier review here.


She wrote:


Lots of publicity enterprises making money generating positive reviews that illegally (on U.S. sites) don't disclose were reviewing for the publicity firm, for the author, for the publisher or as an exchange of reviews between authors or group of authors (FTC considers that a service received, I.e., payment the same as a cash fee). Always suspicious when a flurry of 4-5 star reviews are around release dates, promotions, blog tours or other events (or release date of still yet another new edition.


Yes, there are bloggers and semi-professional (getting free books) reviewers who only post positive reviews.  We've been through this before.  There are also the genuine consumers who leave reviews, sometimes honest, sometimes dishonest but kind.  Authors, including Roger Hayden who wrote The Haunting of Saxton Mansion, often leave requests for reviews in the digital books themselves:


As an indie author, Amazon reviews can have a huge impact on my livelihood. So if you enjoyed the story please leave a review letting me and the rest of the digital world know. And if there was anything you found troubling, please email me. Your feedback helps improve my work, and allows me to continue writing stories that will promise to thrill and excite in the future. But be sure to exclude any spoilers.


I would love if you could take a second to leave a review: Click here to leave a review on Amazon!

Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 8053-8059). Kindle Edition.


(I won't comment on the dangling modifier in the opening sentence of the above snippet.  Oh, I guess I just did.  My bad.)


Because of Amazon's policies regarding reviews by other authors -- which are actually in line with FTC restrictions, too -- some of the more knowledgeable people about the quality of the writing are not permitted to express their opinions when the quality falls short. Negative reviews all too often attract reprisals and/or retribution, and thus honesty is discouraged.  A culture has developed of "If you can't leave a positive review, don't leave any at all."


In some cases, it's justified/rationalized/excused by respect for the author's effort.  "Even a badly written book required the writer's time and effort.  I have to respect that."


My question, however, is this:  What obligation does any reader have to refrain from expressing a negative opinion?  And to whom is that obligation owed?


Years ago, I noticed what appeared to be a pattern of bad behavior by one of my son's teachers.  When I spoke to other parents, they agreed that her actions were problematic, but they weren't willing to make a formal complaint. They didn't want to rock the boat or risk retaliation against their children.  The teacher's behavior worsened, to the point that I finally took my concerns to the principal.  I presented evidence of the teacher's blatant favoritism and her constant belittling and harassment of the students who weren't her favorites.  The situation reached a crisis point with the principal (of a K-5 school!) calling me a lying bitch in front of a dozen students, and the teacher exploding in a temper tantrum at me in front of her entire class and most of the students' parents.  Only later did I get an acknowledgement from the principal that yes, I was right and the teacher had shown grossly unfair favoritism.  The problem was going to be addressed, but it was too late for too many students.


Is there some kind of equivalency between poor teaching techniques and poor writing?  Probably not.  So let me take it another notch higher.


Of the more than 150 young women who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar, many reported his behavior over the decades of his abuse.  Decades.  Those young women, some of them really only girls, were either ignored, or not believed, or dismissed.  Many others didn't even know that what he was doing to them was wrong, because no one told them.  Many others said nothing because they knew they wouldn't be believed.  Some even kept silent because they thought they themselves were somehow to blame!  University officials knew, but for their own reasons they, too, chose silence.  The governing body of the gymnastics sport also maintained silence.  We don't yet know who else protected themselves and their own interests through silence, while hundreds of young people suffered.


Is there some kind of equivalency between sexual abuse of children and writing a lousy book?  No, of course not.  But is there some kind of equivalency between the silence with which many people treat the wrongdoing that they see in front of them?


Have we all developed a habit of self-preservation through silence?


"First they came for the _______________, but I said nothing because I was not a _______________."


When a book is badly written, when it has numerous typographical errors and misspellings and grammatical mistakes and factual inaccuracies, when it has gaping plot holes and character inconsistencies and logical impossibilities, what do we accomplish with our silence?  Have we given that author an "A for Effort" trophy without even knowing if she/he made a sincere effort rather than just slapping something together and putting a 99-cent price tag on it?  Are we just giving ourselves the protection of not having to say something bad about someone who has, essentially, done a bad thing?


If you've read through all this so far, I have something to add regarding the book that started it, The Haunting of Saxton Mansion as assembled in the collection Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset. 


I had no intention of reading any more of either Roger Hayden's contribution or any of the other three stories in the set, but I did want to see if Hayden had included a request for reviews at the end of his section.  As I skimmed through the Kindle pages, a few odd words caught my eye here and there, enough that curiosity prompted me to stop and read.


The Haunting of Saxton Mansion is composed of three "books."  As I posted in my review of Book 0, the setting of the mansion itself is not logical and there are errors of fact (the Dom Perignon stuff), along with a lot of generic writing flubs.


But Book 0 opens with Gerald Saxton arriving home; Book 1 opens similarly, but some of the details have changed!


Cypress Creek, Florida

December 22, 1982

The fireplace crackled, casting dancing shadows on the wall. The tree in the corner filled the living room with a scent of fresh pine. Lights of green, red, blue, and orange were wrapped from its top to the base, along with silver tinsel and ornaments hanging from the branches. Christmas music played lightly from the stereo. An open bottle of red wine rested atop the coffee table near the black leather sofa where Gerald Saxton and his wife, Annette, sat, glasses in hand.

Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 2291-2296). Kindle Edition.

Same date as Book 0, same location, same characters.  Okay, so the details regarding the Dom Perignon aren't there, and we've got a more generic red wine, but something didn't feel right as I skimmed across the Kindle pages.


Gerald had purchased their two-story three-bedroom, two-bath Victorian dream house from his father four years prior.


The gated property had a courtyard and fountain, a two-car garage, a large front deck, and even a tennis court. There wasn't a house quite like it for miles--and it was the only home on the narrow dead-end road known as Pennington Drive. Gerald and Annette loved their house and had spared no expense on renovations. The upkeep was, and would always be, a challenge, but that was to be expected with a house over twenty years old.

Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 2299-2303). Kindle Edition.

What the hell?  The details are different!  Now the house is over twenty years old, not twelve!  Is Book 1 a revision of Book 0, or what?


Out of a curiosity that was now spiked with anger, I skipped ahead to Book 2.


Cypress Creek, Florida

December 23, 1982


It was past midnight. The lights were on in the Saxton mansion, an isolated estate at the end of a dead-end street. Shadowed flames from the fireplace danced against the living room wall. Outside, a black BMW sat parked next to the courtyard fountain, where water calmly flowed. A tennis court lay on the left side of the house under heavy shadow, its iron fence barely visible. A two-car garage sat housed on the other side, connected to a long driveway that ran down through the gated entrance.

There was no home quite like the Saxton mansion in the entire neighborhood. Isolated as it was, few ever ventured down Pennington Drive to see it. That night, danger was brewing inside, though nothing looked unusual from outside the gate. It was just another quiet evening in the small town of Cypress Creek, where an evil had descended upon the Saxton family.

The mansion’s elaborate Victorian architectural style included a wood exterior, arched roofs on both sides, and a tiny attic window in the center. The front porch had Christmas lights running along the railing and up the tall white columns that reached to the ceiling. The expansive front yard seemed limitless in its space, while the surrounding forest provided a sense of privacy and tranquility, shielding the mansion from view of the nearby homes that made up the neighborhood. For this reason alone, its seclusion, no one was aware of what was happening until it was too late.

That evening, the Saxtons had received two unexpected visitors. Gerald and Annette Saxton were enjoying the evening together in the living room as their children slept upstairs.

Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 4679-4692). Kindle Edition.


How much of each "Book" is a reiteration of the others?  Is the opening just a summary of what happened in the previous books?  If so, then why are the details different?  How much is a recap, and how much is new material?  Does the reader need to buy/read Book 0 and Book 1, or is the whole story contained complete in Book 2?  I'm not inclined to read any further to find out.  How many of the "reviews" on Amazon of each book are just empty but positive blathering about a product?  I don't know.  (Book 2 has far fewer reviews, but it was only released earlier this month.)


As a writer who truly does put effort into each of my works, I'm appalled that reviewers hold back on bad books.  As a reader in search of good material, I'm frankly disgusted by those who spew out only positives for their own benefit and thereby prove their own indifference to their audience.


The gymnasts deserved a whole lot better.  Don't reviewers owe readers honesty, at a bare minimum?

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review 2013-05-08 00:00
A Year and a Day by Stepanie Sterling
A Year and A Day - Stephanie Sterling A Year and A Day - Stephanie Sterling

10 May 2013 -- It appears this book has been re-published with a new title, For a Year and a Day, perhaps to flush poor reviews on Amazon??

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review 2013-02-21 00:00
The Lost Treasure by Victor Bertolaccini
The Lost Treasure (Buried Away At Grovnor) - Victor Bertolaccini

Disclaimers: I downloaded the free sample of this book (or one of its many versions) in the Kindle format. I do not know the author nor have I had any communication with him regarding this book or any other subject. I am an author of historical romances.

I should also add that horror is not my genre of choice. I do, however, enjoy a good lost treasure yarn, and there were some versions of this book that had titles alluding to haunted castles. One edition, in fact, had a marvelously gothicky cover, which led me to think that perhaps there might be a tale of gothic romance lying behind it.

Any expectations I might have had of enjoying the sample so much that I sprang for the whole book were dashed to smithereens as soon as I began. I don't think I made it past the first sentence before the eyes began to roll and the silent "WTF?"s began to tumble from my lips.

Yes, dear readers, this is yet another piece of evidence in support of Josh Olson's theory:

It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.

(By the way, here's a simple way to find out if you're a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you're not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)

I can't say for certain this is the worst writing I've ever read, but it does rank up there with some of the all-time greats. To be sure, the excessive and often bizarre use of punctuation destroyed virtually any fluidity of prose, but that could have been fixed with a decent editing. I know, I know, the book should have been edited prior to publication, but we all know that's rarely done with self-published fiction these days. And when a book has gone through as many self-publishing editions as this, well, no competent editor has been involved.

But not even a good editor could salvage writing this horrible. The style is so scattershot that it's impossible to discern the story. Oh, to be sure, we know right away it's about a castle, and probably a haunted one, and maybe there's a treasure, but the opening tries so hard to cover everything and covers nothing instead.

The Prologue begins with the castle:

For centuries the castle had been a lifeless, dormant place, buried in the wood -- lost in time, like a ghost castle, out on the edge of reality -- on the fringes of what lay beyond.

Now, actually, this isn't an entirely bad beginning, except for the abundance of commas and dashes. But "lifeless" means one thing, and "dormant" another. "Dormant" means sleeping, not dead. That which sleeps is not lifeless. So the author's error with language neutralizes at least some of the book's power to pull me into the story right away.

The inhabitants about the desolate estate, even in the twenty-first century, had inundated their descendants with alarming accounts of evil, mysterious magical forces, and transcendent creatures, dwelling in the woods.

The writing is becoming more florid, more purple, as the author uses adjectives to establish an atmosphere, but those adjectives don't allow the reader to enter the scene. The "action" of the narrative has shifted from the castle in the first paragraph to the people who live around it. Just as the juxtapositioning of "lifeless" and "dormant" waved a red flag in the first paragraph, so does "inundated" in the second. It's as if the writer has fallen in love with his thesaurus but doesn't really know what the words mean.

Local newspapers, over centuries, had continuously reported and warned their readers of unexplained occurrences there.

Now the theme of the paragraph is background history of the castle. This is the third time in as many short paragraphs that the purpose of the narrative has shifted. First was the castle itself as a setting, second was the people who live around the castle, and now the third is the background.

So many shifts in focus prevent the reader from entering the story itself.

But this paragraph has also brought in yet another almost-error. We know that the story takes place in the 21st century, and the presence of a castle therefore suggests that the locale is European. Would "local newspapers" have existed in a remote, desolate area for hundreds of years? And would they have "continuously reported" these mysterious happenings?

On the 17th of August 1898, of the worst, of the detailed accounts specified, travelers, on horseback, had come upon the mutilated remains of gypsies, scattered throughout the wood, south of the castle, at midnight, and had been attacked and chased, by things with fearful sounds, and swift-moving lights, shifting through the trees.

Now the reader is inundated with commas, most of which are unnecessary. (I think there's a word missing, too, near the beginning of that sentence, but I'm blinded by all those commas. . . .)

But the description here is so vague, and so disconnected to the rest of the narrative already presented, that the reader is still standing outside the text and waiting for the story to begin.

It sort of begins with the introduction in the next paragraph of a named character, Thomas Bryson, but the reader isn't given many concrete details about Bryson that would establish any kind of identification with him. Bryson himself isn't present; the narrative only gives background information on him, then at the end of the Prologue suggests he's coming back to the castle to investigate. Aha! The story will surely start now, won't it?

Chapter One begins with more atmospheric description of the castle and some people coming to the castle, but other than Bryson, they're not identified. Bryson's background is repeated, with a few added details, but then the narrative goes into a blueprint-like description of the building. Unfortunately, as a reader I have no need of these details; I want the story to start. The author may need that blueprint in order to lay out his story; I just want the damn story.

Another character is introduced, Dr. Reid the lawyer who is to read the will, but two others are mentioned -- James and Robert -- by name only. Who are they? What did I miss? I raced back through the detailed description of the castle to see if they'd been mentioned, but they hadn't. Instead, the author identifies them on the following page, as they're all approaching the castle again. Wait! Weren't they already in the dining room where Dr. Reid was eying them with his eagle-like eyes? No, they were still approaching. . . .

Shortly after that, I gave up. The dialogue amongst Thomas, James, and Robert is stilted and info-dumpy -- not to mention laced with exclamation points.

About those exclamation points. A bazillion years ago, when I was learning to write fiction, one of the cardinal rules was never ever ever use exclamation points in narrative, and only sparingly in dialogue. Somewhere in my files I think I still have the column William Brohaugh wrote for Writer's Digest about double exlamation points (!!) resembling crutches, and I've never forgotten that image. We use 'em in casual writing, our blogs and comments on discussion boards, but in writing-for-publication? Avoid at all costs.

So when I see text filled with exclamation points, all I hear is shrieking. I no longer see the words at all; my eyes skip to the next exclamation point, then the next, then the next, seeking a quiet and sober narrator to relate the tale.

Between the vague but choppy prose, the bizarre punctuation, and the lack of coherent narrative, I can't find any reason to keep reading this. No rating, because it doesn't deserve even one star. No recommendation, unless you like bad writing.

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review 2013-02-10 00:00
Very Bad Neighbor by William Terry Rutherford
Very Bad Neighbor - William Terry Rutherford

This book is the original version of the later title Murder Thy Neighbor.

Neither version is worth turning on your Kindle for.

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review 2013-01-16 00:00
Cleopatra Selene, Shadows of the Moon, by Felicity Zoe L'archer
Cleopatra Selene, Shadows of the Moon - Felicity Zoe L'archer

It is one thing for authors to review their own books and give them 5-star ratings, but it is just downright dishonest for an author to republish her own work under a new pseudonym and give it a 5-star rating in a manner that makes the reviewer look like an independent reader.

Felicity Zoe l'Archer is Sharon Marie Brooks Desruisseaux Goding, who is also Emma Eliza Woodhouse, and who knows who all else.

* * * * * *

And now that I've actually tried to read this book rather than just figure out who wrote it, a review . . . of sorts.

First of all, the usual disclaimers, or variations thereof: I obtained my copy of this book when it was offered as a free Kindle digital edition on Amazon. It was not given to me by the author for review purposes. I do not know the author under any of her names or incarnations, though it is very clear to see that I have had public communication with her regarding the book and my reaction to the way it was published. I have received one private communication from the author that is similar in tone and substance to what she has posted publicly, but I have not responded to her. She is not my "friend" on GoodReads, on Facebook, or anywhere else.

And of course the statement that I am an author of historical romances.

Second of all, the identification of the version of the book I'm reviewing, and precisely which book it is. The edition I am reviewing is identified as "Under the Shadow of the Moon" (Book Two) by Sharon Desruisseaux. The front matter of this edition further identifies it as

This is the second Edition of “Cleopatra Selene, Legacy of the Sun and Moon”. Now it is broken into three novels. This is the second novel of the series. The first novel is called “Legacy of the Moon”

Desruisseaux, Sharon (2012-11-30). Under The Shadow Of The Moon (From the sands of Egypt to Eternity) (Kindle Locations 7-10). Brooks Publishing. Kindle Edition.

as well as

Third Edition (First was “Cleopatra Selene, Legacy of the Sun and Moon”)

Desruisseaux, Sharon (2012-11-30). Under The Shadow Of The Moon (From the sands of Egypt to Eternity) (Kindle Location 16). Brooks Publishing. Kindle Edition.

as well as

Reformatted December 21, 2012

Desruisseaux, Sharon (2012-11-30). Under The Shadow Of The Moon (From the sands of Egypt to Eternity) (Kindle Location 28). Brooks Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Also listed in the front matter are editor Sharon Goding, which is in fact another of the author's many noms de plume; and illustrator Lucille Hemphill Jewett, yet another of the names adopted by the author.

Although the author employs the standard "This is a work of fiction" disclaimer, in fact the story is based on historical personages. It seemed strange to me that the author didn't just acknowledge that her story was based, however loosely, on real people.

The dedication is laced with punctuation errors, and the profusion of exclamation points made me wince. It just seemed so . . . twee.

What bothered me most about the opening matter was the constant pleas from the author to contact her. She listed her Facebook and Twitter accounts, her personal webpage, another location under her Sharon Goding name, an email for her illustrator name. All of this left the impression that the author was hanging over my shoulder, constantly whispering, "Are ya done yet? Whaddya think? Is it any good? Huh? Huh? Do you like it? Do you?" when what I really wanted was to be left alone to read the book.

I was also irritated by her statement in the front matter of the book that

As you can seemy (sic) novels are constantly being revised..."

Desruisseaux, Sharon (2012-11-30). Under The Shadow Of The Moon (From the sands of Egypt to Eternity) (Kindle Location 18). Brooks Publishing. Kindle Edition.

which suggests that this is not a finished novel at all but rather a work in progress subject to change/revision/improvement. I happen to be of the belief that books should not be "published" until the author considers them finished and polished and ready to be figuratively carved in stone. If even the author doesn't think the book is ready, why should I?

Then there is the "Introduction." Double spaced in an eye-scorching bold font, it is both a dull recap of the previous book in the "series" and an even duller outline of this book...and it succeeds as neither. If the contents of the previous book are essential to understanding the events of this one, then there should be a concise summary of those events and nothing more. Nothing about the current work. Just let it start. And if the contents of the previous book are not essential to the understanding of this, then no introduction at all is necessary. Just let the story start.

Virtually all of the front matter of this book was poorly done and displayed the author's lack of professionalism in digital publishing. She would do well to look at successful novels in her genre to see what the front matter should look like.

And my personal advice to her is to keep her own presence as much out of the picture as possible. Let the reader read the damn thing, for crying out loud.

And third of all, the review of the text.

It's awful.

The style is stilted and overblown and awkward. Even when the reader can figure out what the author is trying to say, the effort reduces the reading to the level of grading high school essays.

The sun from the day was slowly ending its weary course across the hazy summer sky to reach its place of slumber for the eve. The rays of the sun danced lazily across the green hills dusted with puffs of sheep. Vibrant life filled the fields of the crops that surrounded the settlement, as if to bring the attention of every person living there and in those smaller villages outside the main settlement and new capitol.

Desruisseaux, Sharon (2012-11-30). Under The Shadow Of The Moon (From the sands of Egypt to Eternity) (Kindle Locations 60-63). Brooks Publishing. Kindle Edition.

"The sun from the day" is redundant. On our planet, the sun is only visible during the daytime.

Our sun doesn't move very fast in the sky, so stating that it was slowly ending its course is also redundant. Despite its redundancies, this sentence gives an impression of sunset, in which case the sunlight wouldn't be dancing across the green hills in the next sentence. So now in the very first two sentences the reader is hit with two redundancies, a contradiction, and confusion.

The references to settlement and villages suggest that the scene is in a larger aggregation of people, which might be called a capital, but not a capitol.

This is bad writing. This is a writer trying too hard, much too hard, to be lyrical and sophisticated and failing miserably at both because she just plain doesn't know how to write a story. She's writing sentences that don't connect with each other, and that destroys any hope of a smooth, coherent narrative.

Ah, but you say I'm not being fair to base my review on just the first paragraph, and I'll give you that much for the nonce.

But the writing never gets better.

I understand, because I'm a reasonably intelligent and well-read person, that the author is trying to get across to the reader that in the Celtic world of this novel, the "day" begins at sunset. Although we in our time and culture think of a new day starting when the sun comes up, the ancient Celts, like the Jews, believed one day ended at sundown and the next began at the same time.

Unfortunately, the writer wasn't able to convey this knowledge clearly to the reader unfamiliar with these cultural nuances. She does, however, go into great and precise detail in the second paragraph -- complete with entirely unnecessary italics -- about the marriage customs among these Celts of Pryttain (which only has one T in the "Introduction"). Unfortunately (sic), this information is provided via author intrusive narrative that is about as exciting as, um, high school essays. This paragraph is an info dump of the very worst and most boring sort.

By the third paragraph, when some people are introduced, they aren't doing anything. Of course, they are introduced with grammatical errors -- "Cleopatra Selene and her family was trying"? No, they "were" trying -- and absolutely no context or action.

In his viciously hilarious 2009 essay "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script," http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2009/09/i_will_not_read.php screenwriter Josh Olson makes a particularly cogent statement that every author who gets a really, really, really negative review should keep in mind:

It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.

(By the way, here's a simple way to find out if you're a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you're not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)

I don't need to cite any more examples from the text than I already have, because the rest of it is laced with the same kinds of errors. But much worse is the lack of showing. One of the most basic rules of writing fiction for today's market -- and it's been like this for at least half a century or more -- is that you must show, not tell, what's going on. Sharon Desruisseaux just tells the reader everything rather than putting the action onstage for the reader to see.

So it's not only bad writing, but it's boring. I made it through the first chapter, but just barely. Short of a line by line edit, I can't offer anything more constructive than what I have, and I'm not even sure a line edit would help this book. It needs much more than proofreading or sentence by sentence revision. The author herself needs to re-vision what writing is. Maybe she's capable of that, but maybe she's not. Hiding behind a bunch of pseudonyms isn't going to fix this book's many, many problems.

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