A Small Brag – re Amazon Kindle book reviews

From time to time I get a request to review a book. I’m listed as reviewing poetry, but have been sent other genres as well.

It’s work and I take it seriously. I try hard to be consistent with star counts. I send the draft review to the author for approval, which happens almost every time.

I post the review on Amazon next to the Kindle edition of the book, and sometimes elsewhere. GoodReads is a frequent request.

I do this for free. Sometimes one or more of my authors will review some of my work, sent to them electronically. I choose writers I personally considered to be five-star talents.

Most of these authors don’t even reply to my request. Even ones for whom I’ve reviewed several Kindle books.

That’s OK. I do a review for you with no obligation on your part.

I will confess that I (almost always) really enjoy these works, and frequently learn something  – a bonus.

So, if you find me on the Kindle Book Review Team, you will know where to send your work.

I’ve done about 170 ‘formal’ reviews, and half as many informal/have a look please, ones as well. That’s the brag.

Gary Beck: Tremors

This is a cut&paste of a review posted on Amazon and GoodReads. I’ve reviewed Beck a few times (books,) and he never disappoints. Here’s the review:

social commentary, experience, and a trace of sex nicely done.

four stars

A review is one person’s view of a work and reflects both the work and the reviewer’s prejudices and limitations. So, as always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. Let’s get to Beck’s work, some one hundred and seven poems.

Social commentary is here mixed in with the human condition. For example, Decline, where the wold gets larger because of the amount of it that one may not be able to witness.

For a short experience, turn to Pretty Picture, which ends thus: “then the unexpected rainbow /and the squirrel of evening, /perched on dead sunset limb, /jabbering of sleep to come.”

Again in Loss we have social commentary made personal.

I mentioned sex earlier, and Commerce is a fine example. Beck flips expectations slightly, thus being clever instead of cliché. For example, “proffer perfumed breasts /reaching for my hands.” Again in Detached: “You accidentally shift /on purpose. /Your soft back/ touches my unmoving hand. /I am tempted to pet your belly….”

Beck can rhyme perfectly when he chooses to do so, as in the short neat poem Commuter Line. I’ve been in Norwalk, Connecticut, once and long ago on a one week course. It is a very wealthy bedroom community (four acres to build a house in the suburbs) grown up around a small village. I can’t give you the force of this work without giving you pretty much all of it, so when you get this book, turn to this poem  and see how nicely Beck merges social commentary with personal experience.

For another interesting comment on sex and desire, turn to Woman, which opens thus: “I can do without you no longer….” There are other ‘interesting’ pieces I could mention, but I’ll move on.

For a punch in the gut, turn to Profile of a Failure, which has a surprise ending.

I think the above should provide a decent feel for this book.

Given all that, how do I manage to come up with a star count? My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. Beck is for sure extremely good. Four stars feels right to me; your personal rating may well be higher. And, there are a lot of poems here to choose from. Your favourites may be different from mine.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

Amazon.com – what is your problem? Two complaints

I have five poetry books available in several places, including www.amazon.com. Two of these books still have the same dumb problem I’ve reported to Amazon several times over several months.

They show more than half the book on a ‘look inside.’

My other three books show only a few pages of text, but enough for you, a potential reader, to get a feel for the work and this author’s voice.

I reported this to Amazon last July and was told again in October that it would be fixed. It’s pretty easy to see the problem. Simply go to my author page and select each book in turn, and ‘look inside.’ It’s pretty obvious that three books show a few pages, and that two show more than 40 pages.

That’s my first complaint with Amazon. They give away too much of two of my books. And they can’t fix it, despite repeated promises and apologies.

My second complaint concerns disappearing reviews. One of my earliest positive reviews was by one Shell Tidings and it has disappeared.

I do Kindle Book Reviews for other writers under my own ID but as a Kindle Book Review Team member. I follow all the rules. I keep all the files. I have every eMail ever involved. I am, I think, the only person currently doing poetry. I take all genres, although the KBR team page only mentions poetry. Somehow word gets around. I am tough but thorough.

Several of my book reviews have been re-requested because the author involved found out it (the review) had disappeared. Of course I simply re-posted it from my files.

Recently I received an eMail from Amazon requesting me to review two specific books. Since I keep records, I checked and confirmed that I had indeed previously seen both works. I had reviewed one, and had suggested to the author of the other that some changes should be made. I don’t give a poor review when I think an author can easily fix a work and get better marketing help from what I might decide to write.

So, I checked and found the following: My review of the one work had for sure disappeared, and it wasn’t that long ago – October 5. As for the other one, I had checked its reviews and noted one that was a bit harsh. You will recall I chose not to review this particular version of this particular work. Well, that rough review is missing also.

That’s my second complaint with Amazon. They lose Kindle Book reviews. It seems to be random.

A Public Thank-You to Some Great Writers

There are a number of fine writers out there who responded to my request to help my by critiquing a draft poetry collection.

I got more responses than I had hoped for. So I thanked those I did not choose to use, and picked the earliest positive responses and sent the draft work.

There was at least one offer to critique other things I have in the sort-of-done category, where I need a pair of eyes connected to a fine mind to have a look and see if I’ve missed anything.

If you are one of those now looking over my proposed poetry book 7, I thank you. If you are going over some of my rougher work, I thank you as well.

If you are one of those who was not selected by me this time, I thank you too and assure you that I will be asking again, from time to time.

It can take me several weeks or months to put a book together, once the final vetting process has been completed. So please be patient.

Everyone that helps me by reading and critiquing a draft book will get a copy. Physical if you’re in the Toronto area; eBook file if you are not. Critiquing an entire book means you’ll be mentioned in the acknowledgements. Your web page of choice can be there too. I will publish each book in Amazon Kindle, Lulu ePub, and Lulu Print. I think url’s can be live in electronic versions.

That’s the least I can do to recognize those who help me in my quest for quality.

Thank you all.


Heavy Breathing? I don’t often get to review these: Sparkling Passion is exceptional!

This is a cut&paste of a review done for Bella Forro and her romance novel, as it appears on Amazon and elsewhere.

Romance. Extremely well done, sexy (for adults only); a compelling read.

five stars

Forro’s work is in a genre that is a little unusual for this reviewer, so the star count was (as it often is) a tough decision. Until I realized I’d done a ‘fast first peek’ and read three chapters, only stopping because of an appointment I could not possibly reschedule.

I am aware of this genre mostly from earlier experience with Lynda Simmons, who wrote for one of the Harlequin titles as Linda Simons (they already had a Simmons.) Lynda is now a successful novelist (Island Girl, for an example) under her own name. Forro is roughly her equal in the romance field. To add to the interest, the chief characters get chapters told from their own point of view. And, both viewpoints are believable. Add to this real social knowledge of clothes, makeup, fine dining, whatever.

The story has the predictable love interest, conflict, reconciliation. There is desire and frustration. However, the plot details are clever and unique, and utterly convincing. I’ll give you a few quotes:

“I couldn’t say why, but I reached forward and slipped my hand into his, not sure why or what I was even trying to say in doing it. He seemed surprised, and at least distracted from what was in front of us long enough to tip his head toward me, so I could see the length of his eyelashes and the flash of that heat in his eyes I had seen the night before.”

“…front of my building — disappearing inside to my own room, to tug off these clothes and pull on a pair of cotton shorts and a tank top and crash for a few hours before I had to endure a Monday morning from hell — when Will pulled open my door and I was stepping out into a garage that hosted nothing but beautiful, imported cars. There were so many reasons I shouldn’t be there.”

I should mention that there are a couple of sub-plots that have a surprise interconnection. This is a well-thought-out story. If romance novels are escapist literature, this one will take you in for sure. My personal guidelines, when doing any review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. Five stars it is, and an extremely recommended sexy romance.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

The Car: Stuart Larner

This is a cut&paste of a review I did on Amazon. Full text follows:

The Car     Stuart Larner

pictures and diagrams; car experiences, explanations in sonnets (!)

four stars

Really unusual works are hard to rate.  So as always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. Let’s get to my task: to describe this work to you.

Larner can do social commentary, as in Checking One Out, where the author slyly comments on the owners trying to sell a used car. “Inside seems strange, their car scent makes me cough. /Well-spruced today, but some days not at all.” The sellers’ home and vehicle are gently mentioned in a similar vein.

There are insights into British motoring, more than just calling the trunk ‘the boot’ and jack et cetera ‘breakdown tools.’ This is a fun walk into another culture, at least for this Canadian reader.

There are explanations that range from almost-praying that a car will start, to details of how essential parts work. For example, the cooling system diagram is from a Model T Ford. Much of the technology mentioned is from the simpler era where interested folk like myself actually understood how ignition, timing (and other things, like suspension) worked.

If you’re scrolling for the tiny carps, stop here. There is the odd phrase which I didn’t get. That’s it. Back to  the good stuff.

A favourite here is Epithalamium, which includes this: “The starter cranks its bridal march for this: /The well-groomed air drawing your vapour veil. /Both mists co-mingling in one tingling kiss /To share a breath that burns as you exhale.”

For a bizarre and fascinating explanation, turn to The Right Gear, which is told from the point of view of a cog.

I should mention the images included in this book. They are all credited at the end. All are appropriate for the sonnet each accompanies. It is clear that the author chose these images with care. They vary from photos of cars, of car components, to diagrams of engines, carburetors, ignition systems.

Fittingly, the volume ends with The Garden of Remembrance – a scrap yard.

Back to the star count. This is my standard boilerplate:
My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent.

Larner’s sonnets vary from literary to mechanical description. The images are all relevant. The work is imho unique. So is it best in genre? Worst in genre?

If you’re looking for some car nostalgia, this book is for you. If you’re looking to explain the automobile to a relative neophyte, this will definitely help. Four stars seems a fair rating for a general audience; your personal rating may well be higher.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Joseph Spuckler, and poetry

Joseph Spuckler is, well, a character. His eMail is something like evilcyclist. He is an activist for road safety and cycling.

He is much more than this. You can find out by looking at his web page here. He does literary reviews, a lot of them.

I found out about Spuckler from another writer, who suggested (most persuasively) that I could benefit from a literary review by him. Since this particular writer, Inge. H. Borg, has been very helpful to me in the past, I hoped that I could get a decent review from Joseph.

My wish has been granted. You can find Mr. Spuckler’s review of Cold Comes Through here. Please do have a look.

And allow me to thank him for his kind and thoughtful review.

iAuthor – anybody else tried this?

I have recently added information on my books to a new, to me, website: iAuthor. If you go there and search for Jim Bennett, you’ll end up here.

I haven’t yet put the equivalent of ‘peek inside’ up on iAuthor, but I have put in hotlinks to my blog, my website, and my book pages at Amazon. Amazon should be happy as works on iAuthor get additional visibility for their availability on Amazon.

It takes time to enter or cut&paste the information, but the website is very well designed and it is fairly clear what to do and what will result. I’ve not seen such an easy-to-use website in ages.

It’s free. The site will do paid advertising. Presumably that funds the system.

Now for the dumb questions:

Comments? is my presence reasonably well set up?

Comments? is the site doing a good job?

Comments? is there a catch?

Please comment here, and provide a real eMail to the website when it asks for one.

Have a good day.

Thoughts on Poetry, Reviews, and Martians

Kindle book reviews are work; I know, I’ve done a fair number of them. Getting my own work tested, at the point of collection-before-publication, can be a challenge. My writers’ group members often volunteer; for this work they get a signed print copy after I finish the collection. (All my poetry books have been reviewed, after Kindle publication, as well. You can find my author page on Amazon.)

I wish there was a forum, a big list of volunteers to ask one or two from, for getting a decent look-through before I finalize a volume. I have an inventory of ‘finished’ work, which needs that one-more-set-of-eyes check. Others might see typos, inconsistencies, even confusion where I see only clarity. An author can only be so objective about her or his own work. An author can only be so observant about his or her work.

For me, the most useful (and devastating) comment is, ‘I don’t get this.’ It indicates where the author has made a background assumption (location, point of view, situation, whatever) that is not clearly expressed or implied in the work itself. Thus the reader is left thinking, ‘huh? what’s that about?’

I am reminded of Townsend in Up the Organization. To find a flaw in a chain of logic, he imagines a Martian. This Martian knows everything about life on earth except he/she/it is totally ignorant of all involved in the specific topic or logic under discussion. Now imagine explaining your chain of logic to this intelligent alien. Step by tedious step.
When you reach an ‘obvious step’ in your logic that is not actually obvious, the Martian will interrupt with a question. That’s the ‘huh? what’s that about?’ moment.

If you cannot actually close the logic gap at that step, you’ve found at least one problem in your thinking.
If your reviewer sees such a gap, you’ve been shown an opportunity for improvement.

Professionally, I used Townsend’s Martian when we could not debug a computer system problem. It also works when one cannot debug a human process problem. (To quote Bob Ross, when your process is broken, it’s nobody’s fault. Processes are broken at handoffs.) Gaps in a process are like gaps in logic, and our assumptions can prevent us from seeing them.

So in writing, a gap in presentation can come from the author’s assumption that the reader will make the gap-jump he/she always does when writing or editing that piece.

In those Internet places where I have a ‘photo’ it is of a bizarre ambiguous figure looking at a globe. The figure I named Mowgli. The globe is a globe of Mars.
It was on my desk at IBM Canada Limited for years. It is now in my living room. Perhaps I should put it over my computer monitor.

For me, poetry is about truth. Writing does not need to be ‘logical’, but its vessel should bring enough for each reader to experience that truth.

Have I expressed myself? Time to ask Mowgli, the Martian.

Gary Beck: Perceptions

I do book reviews. Kindle book reviews, where I am listed for poetry but in fact get all kinds of work for consideration.

I often post a review elsewhere at the request of the author; GoodReads is a common target.

I just finished posting a review of Gary Beck’s Perceptions (some 99 poems.) You can find this review here.PerceptionsPerceptions by Gary Beck
My rating:4 of 5 stars.

Beck has provided us with ninety-nine poems on the human condition. As always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. Let’s get to the point: Beck’s work.
Beck usually ambushes his reader in a book’s first poem, and Anthem keeps up this tradition. The idea of patriotism wrapped up in growing, or at least potential, prosperity, meets with a dose of reality. To quote Pogo, we have met the enemy, and it is us.
Beck will make you think, especially about the maelstrom that was Iraq after the American-led adventure. Turn to Iraq Monologues for a series of scary insights into what it is to live in such a ‘liberated’ land.
In Beck’s Excursion, I found a disturbing ‘echo’ of Robert Frost’s The Bonfire (war is for everyone, for children too.) In Beck’s poem, tough times are reflected in a child’s conversation. Then again in Original Sin, our damaging of our own surroundings is captured: “We have tainted the air, /poisoned the water, /depleted our food, /until once again /the few have much, /the many little. /The difference this time…” Turn to this poem and read it for yourself. Like Frost, Beck tells us unpleasant truths.
A recurring theme in this collection is the ambiguity of the United States’ position as ‘world protector.’ This occurs in Misunderstood, where it is impossible for the USA to get it right in the eyes of all.
This collection explores our perceptions. We are complicit in the evil deeds of others inasmuch as we allow ourselves to be: “unaware /of the seething torments /driving some to despair /who renounce…” This is a quote from Brute Force.
Beck does venture into other aspects of culture, as in the longer poem Art History, where we find this: “An enterprising monkey /became a wealthy painter /by splashing paint on canvas /and signing it Jackson Rhesus. /New schools of art came and went/ quickly and to such acclaim /that buyers needed experts /to tell them what they liked.” The poem goes on much more from there than you might expect. A fun read.
Conversely Beck can convey tough situations, as in Invocation, where we find this: “I think of my AK-47 /hidden under the floor boards.” This is just one passing thought in a person’s head. Scary.
The dilemma of fighting domestic terror is captured in Who Will Feed Us. If you want ‘literary’ work, turn to A Moral Tale A La Shelley, which begins: “I met a merchant from an oil-poor land, /who said: “Two vast and rusting derricks stand….” The parallel is both clear and clever.
I must confess my enjoyment of A Turbulent Bird is partly because we Au Canada are watching the development of the F-35. Apparently the V-22 Osprey was a similarly ‘challenging’ defense project. I suggest you read the poem, and then google for the Wikipedia description of the plane and its history.
If you were scrolling for the tiny carps, there may be an echo. If there are any typos, I didn’t catch them. Nothing. Let’s get back to the star count.
My personal guidelines, when doing any review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. There are a lot of poems here that spoke to me, and your favourites may be different from mine. Still, four stars from this curmudgeon seems right on: highly recommended. Enjoy.

View all my reviews at GoodReads.