Reviews for Amazon

Where do you go if you want to buy a book online?  Amazon or Barnes and Noble? If you wanted to read a book review would you check out the reviews on those sites?  Many have come to depend on the book reviews on both sites, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, for suggestions about what to read next, what other readers think of the next book in a series, or if a to-be-released book really is going to match the hype.  Publishers have discovered that they can release books known as advance reader copies, ARC, before the actual release date to a few readers who will in turn write a review and post it on personal blogs, Goodreads, Librarything, Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

As a professor of literacy I often received advanced reader copies and wrote reviews for the journal for Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.  A couple of these even ended up on Amazon after they were published in the journal.  However, I recently discovered something that I don’t really like about Amazon’s review of advance reader copies.

Amazon has a program, called Amazon Vine, which means that if you are invited you can receive an advance reader copy and write a review to post before a book is released.   You are invited, according to the website, based on “trust earned for writing accurate and insightful reviews”.  Amazon states that they “do not influence the opinions of Amazon Vine members, nor do they modify or edit their reviews”.   I recently wanted to know about a book that hadn’t yet been released.  I found a review for it on Amazon a couple of days before it was released that helped me decide, yes it was one I would enjoy reading so I ordered it.  The thing I didn’t know when I was reading that review was how limited those pre-release reviews are, and while Amazon may not influence, modify or edit, they have a direct impact on who reviews, what is reviewed and how it is reviewed.   This is what I discovered.

I was writing a review for the summer journal for Assembly for Literature for Adolescents and I also agreed to post to Amazon for an advance reader copy of Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr. This is the fourth book in her faerie-world series that begins with Wicked Lovely.  (If you are interested in my review see the previous post in this blog.)   However when I went to Amazon to post my review I received a surprise.  I was unable to find a way to post.  I contacted Amazon and asked about being able to post a review, but I was told no reviews until the book was released.  No reviews until the book is published is important to remember. I assured the Amazon employee that I had read Amazon Vine reviews before a book was released, but was told again that no reviews would be posted until the book was released.  So I posted my review in the discussion area and another in the review section of the book Wicked Lovely and decided to wait.

Sure enough about six weeks before the book will be released up pop the Amazon Vine reviews, a total of twelve now.  When I discovered the first few reviews I contacted Amazon again.  Three times they sent me the same kind of form email that stated the Vine program is by invitation only and that those “invited customers” are allowed to review advance reader copies before a book is released.  Three times I replied back and explained that I understood that and did not object to their invitation only program, my problem was their limiting pre-release reviews only to those who were Amazon Vine participants.  Basically their answer was – too bad, their program, their website, their rules.

So why does it matter?  Amazon says they don’t influence opinions, however Amazon chooses the reviewers and no one outside the Amazon Vine program is allowed to post prior to release of a book.  Amazon controls who posts reviews and how they post those reviews for books before they are released.   According to Wikipedia the companies that use the service pay for the access and the cost is unknown.  Wikipedia also states that some of the reviewers may even have been chosen after posting only one review on Amazon.  So much for the “trust earned for writing accurate and insightful reviews”.

Radiant Shadows falls into a category of young adult literature.  Many schoolteachers, parents, and school librarians look for reviews before they put these books into the hands of students.  While it is true that there are professional sites that will have professional reviews, Amazon has easy access.  I know from my own background as a schoolteacher I often was not aware of those more professional sites, while I did know about a site with as much internet exposure as Amazon.  Even the Wikipedia site includes a statement from someone from the School Library Journal criticizing Amazon for allowing everyone to review products for kids.

I am not saying that it takes someone trained or educated in children’s literature or young adult literature to write an effective review.  A mother might be able to post a review that answers questions for other mothers.  What I am saying is that Amazon is wrong in preventing others from posting reviews. Just a couple of the things that I notice in reading the Vine reviews, one complained about Marr’s sentence structure and another complained that she liked a series that had an end so she would probably not read the next book.  First let me answer the complaint about the grammar.  Anyone familiar with Marr’s writing knows that she was a professor of literature also teaching writing for ten years.  If the person who complained would take the time to read Marr’s blog she explains that it is a struggle to write in first person because we talk in fragments and run-on sentences.  She also gives a grammar lesson on types of sentences.  As Marr states it, you must know how to use grammar in order to be able to break some of the rules.  Marr knows her grammar.  The second complaint that there seems to be no clear end to the series tells me that this reader has no real understanding of the series.  Marr’s odd numbered books tell the story of Seth and Aislinn and the even numbered ones expand the world of faerie.  It seems to me that the Vine reviewers simply are not familiar with either the series or the author.  I checked Barnes and Noble’s site and I was able to post my review for Radiant Shadows there before the book is released.  What would it hurt to allow others who have an ARC or  may be more familiar with the author or series to post reviews to Amazon?

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Radiant Shadows

As a child with red hair and a Scotch-Irish surname how could I not believe in fairies?  My fairy world was people by tiny pretty things, mostly female, with shiny wings and they lived in a forest sleeping under toadstools.  My fairy world came straight from Disney.

Disney fairy tales have been cleaned up as the older oral fairy tales were intended for adult audiences and they can be quite scary.  Still children love them and as a kindergarten teacher I started my students out with nursery rhymes.  Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry, or Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty dumpty had a great fall.  Someone who scares girls and someone who falls off a wall and can’t be put together again might be a little frightening too.  We read fairy tales like The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood with scary wolves.  We even did a play with the Big Bad Wolf.  The kids loved the nursery rhymes and stories. When I changed grade levels to junior high I had my students work with their own favorite fairy tales and rewrite the endings or put two different fairy tales together, like Hansel and Gretel meet the Three Little Pigs.  I continued to use all these lessons when I started teaching at the university, so I have lesson plans for fairy tales from kindergarten to the university, reading lessons and writing lessons for fairy tales.

My family reads fantasy literature so when I found Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely I was excited to find a new book about faeries.  Marr uses the old spelling of faery.  Wicked Lovely is about the Summer King, Keenan, Aislinn, who becomes the Summer Queen, Donia, a winter girl, and Seth.  Aislinn has been taught by her Grandmother, who raised her, not to attract the attention of faeries and not to let faeries know that she can see them.  Seth, Aislinn’s human boyfriend, lives in a railway yard so the faeries can’t come in because of the iron.  Keenan is determined to make Aislinn the Summer Queen and Donia, a winter girl because she tried to become the Summer Queen and failed is just as determined to keep her from Keenan.  There are other minor characters in this one that Marr writes about in her next books expanding the faery world of Wicked Lovely.

Marr’s faery world is nothing like mine.  Her faeries live in the cities dancing in the parks and visiting places like nightclubs, and tattoo shops, but it is fun and current!  The second book Ink Exchange explains more about Leslie, Aislinn’s best friend, Rabbit the tattoo artist, and Irial, King if the Dark Court.  Fragile Eternity is the third book and it extends the story of Aislinn, as Queen of the Summer Court, who should be in love with Keenan but still loves human Seth.  Keenan finds that he truly loves Donia, the winter girl who defeated his mother Beira to become Winter Queen.  So we have two sets of star-crossed lovers.  Seth unable to imagine growing older as Aislinn never ages finds a way to become a faery, but always in the land of Faerie there are consequences.

I follow Melissa Marr on Twitter, so when I realized that there was a possibility of reading an advance reader copy of Radiant Shadows, book four of the series; I immediately followed the instructions.  How excited I was the day the book arrived in the mail!  Not my first advanced reading copy, but the first that I was familiar with the previous book and have the release date marked on my calendar.   So as soon as possible that day I sat right down and started reading.

I think Radiant Shadows is my favorite.  It is the story of Devlin, keeper of order in Faerie and Ani, halfling daughter of Gabriel, Hound keeper of order of the Dark Court.  As a young child Ani, Tish and Rabbit were hidden safely as their mother was killed in the mortal world.  They were taken in and protected by the previous Dark Court King, Irial.  Ani is now beginning to change, but she needs both the emotions of the Dark Court and skin touch like the Hounds for nourishment, so she is a danger both to mortals and faerie.

Devlin follows the wishes of his High Court Queen Sorcha.  He is her assassin, except when the Queen asked him to kill Ani when she was a young child he spared her life.  Now Sorcha is concerned only with Seth, her mortal son, and is becoming as unbalanced as her twin Bananach.  Bananach wants Ani to kill Seth and Niall, present King of the Dark Court.  All Devlin wants to do is protect Ani from everyone.  Devlin wonders if Sorcha could see a thread of the future in which Ani was a part of all this discord.

Marr has enlarged and enveloped us in her faerie world again.  These are familiar characters if you have read her previous Wicked Lovely books, however it is not necessary to have read the previous books to enjoy this one.  I was lost in the book from the first page.  There is the familiar bad boy, but this time there is a bad girl too, both of course with the complex desire to protect family or friends from the coming dangers so the characters are likeable.  The characters are complex and personable with human needs, wants, and problems.

The book will be released April 20 and I am anxious to see if others enjoy this book as much as I did.  The chat rooms have a little about the characters, but nothing about the plot that I have found.  Marr introduces a new character Rae, a spectral girl that Devlin hides in Faerie, and she does play a part, but you don’t realize how important her part is until the book is almost finished.  Ani is another strong female character perfectly capable of taking care of herself and does fight along side Devlin.  Why they are fighting and with whom, you will just have to wait to read the book, I won’t be spoiling the story.

I love Marr’s world of faerie.  Usually a series writer spends part of the book catching the reader up, but Marr doesn’t need to do that because these books follow stories of different individuals in the world of faerie.  Each book tells us more about Marr’s imaginary world of faerie.

2009 3Day Komen Walk

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As many of you know I suffered from sciatica in the early part of the summer and that cut into my training time.  I ended up with several blisters, one bruised toenail and I was asked,  “Why didn’t you stop?”   The simple answer, I had 60 miles to walk.   For the more complicated answer, keep reading.

Friday morning as we were walking out of opening ceremonies we walked right by the woman with the sign, “My right boob thanks you” from last year and I knew it would be a good walk.   As we walk we are never bored.  We talk to each other, but each community makes it obvious that they are happy to have us walking there.  The business people come out to meet us; in neighborhoods people hand out candy, water, or just cheer as we walk by.  Walking by a school is the most fun because all the kids come out to the fence or sidewalk and they all want to give you a high five, from kindergarten to the junior high kids.  At one school we walked by a young man in a pink tie was keeping all the kids fired up.  At another school the kids had a sign, “You can do it Mr. Miller” and it was obvious that they were watching for Mr. Miller, maybe a principal or teacher.  I am sure with all that support he made it.  And through all the day my “walker stalkers” Beverly and Barbara were driving the decorated green jeep along the route to make sure I didn’t need anything. After 20.2 miles I made it to camp at Brookhaven Community College where we had students to help set up our tents.  I had a few blisters, but took advantage of the showers in the trucks, stood in line for the foot massage chair, and got a good night’s sleep on my two inches of air.

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Saturday morning came early and I taped up my feet ready for another day.  We walk about three to five miles between a pit stop for food, port-a-potties and lunch, or cheer stations.  Cheer stations are places that the 3Day sets up for friends, family or anyone to cheer as we walk by.  Saturday cheer stations are usually the best because that is when most people come out and this year we were not disappointed.  One cheer station was at a shopping center and people were lined up along the sidewalk down the whole length of one side of the shopping center and when we turned the corner they were lined up the whole length of the shopping center down the side.  That is hundreds of people clapping, yelling, holding signs, passing out candy, stickers, and all saying thank you for walking.  And the whole time I was thinking, I am just walking, these people made the effort to come out and cheer, I need to be thanking them for making that effort.

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Friday and Saturday I managed to stay toward the front, somewhere in the top five hundred.  I got into camp around four o’clock both days which meant that I did not have to wait for the showers.  There were nearly 4000 walkers, 300 men, 400 survivors, so you can see that being toward the front of the group is important.  Most of the day my “walker stalkers” Beverly and Barbara followed us around, but just about the time I got to camp, they made sure I didn’t need anything and went to visit my parents for the night.  Another foot massage, camp entertainment, checking out the blisters and a good night’s sleep would mean I was ready for the last twenty miles.

Sunday morning started at 4:30 A.M. because the tent had to be taken down, bags had to be packed and I had to meet a bus at 6:30 A.M.  to ride to the starting point.   Last year I walked as fast as I could on Sunday because I wasn’t sure I would finish, but this year I knew I would, so I walked a little slower and enjoyed the walk on Sunday.  Well, except that I knew I was going to have some serious blisters and at least one bruised toenail when I was finished.  The last cheer station on Sunday had pink balloons and ribbons tied outside the businesses and hundreds of the same people we had seen all weekend.  I saw the lady with “My right boob thanks you” sign and had time to stop and take a picture.  Sunday I had three cars full of “walker stalkers”, enough that other walkers made comments about my support team.  So I walked across the finish line about 1:00 Sunday afternoon, about two hours earlier and in much better shape, despite the blisters, than I was last year.

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I could have taken a sweep van to lunch, or camp anytime.  I could have stopped.

Friday when we were walking on really rough concrete another walker complained loudly, “I really wish they would find an easy place to walk.”  Then we all heard a quiet voice from a young woman who obviously didn’t have much hair say, “ You know I was always saying I really wish they would find an easier way to give my chemo too.”  No one complained about the rough concrete or how far we had to walk again.

Saturday night in camp a young man told us that he was walking for his sister who discovered breast cancer when she was pregnant with her son.  Her son is now three years old and it has come back,  “with a vengeance” the young man said.  A young mother should be able to watch her son grow up.

Sunday while walking I met a sixteen-year old girl who was walking.  No one in her family was walking with her and no one she knows personally has breast cancer.  When those of us walking around her said how unselfish of you to walk, she stated that she was not unselfish.  I think she doesn’t realize how different she is from most sixteen-year old girls.

But most touching this year was the older man in one of the neighborhoods who was picking up his morning paper and asked us what we were doing.  When we told him, a huge smile came to his face and he said, “Thank you, this is the house of a survivor.”

This year before the walk my dear cousin by marriage, Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She is now a survivor.  My walker stalker sister was called back for a biopsy right before the walk.  No cancer was found, but until everyone who receives that call feels no fear because we have a cure, I will keep walking as long as I am able.   Thank you for the part you played this year in contributing to the more than $7 million, that is the amount from the D/FW walk, for research, education, treatment, and prevention of breast cancer.  I know I have great supporters!

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The Cows

The terrain at Crazy Oaks is so rough that it is clear we will never be able to keep it without some kind of animal, goats or cows, so we start trying to decide what we want.  I would like black and white to accessorize with Jose, the dog.   I found an article about Florida Cracker cows, a kind of longhorn looking cows but with shorter horns.   I found out they have also been called Pineywoods, Swamp or Scrub cows.  Well, around here they are called Corriente from the Spanish meaning common.   The rodeo cowboys use them to practice roping, for team roping and steer wrestling.  There are ranches that breed full-blood Corrientes to sale to rodeos and for roping practice.  The website for the North America Corriente Association is www.corrientecattle.org.

So we started looking for Corrientes.  We went to cattle sale barns, loud, noisy, smelly places. Behind a big room are pens and pens of cows but the auction takes place in the big room much like a theatre.  People sit and watch as cows are herded through a series of pens, first in to one to wait for the actual auction pen, then the auction pen, and out of the auction pen to be weighed before the sale is even final.  At least one but sometimes two persons stand in each pen to keep the cows moving quickly.  The auctioneer, at least one watcher to help keep up with who is bidding and a person who keeps track of all the numbers on the cattle, the winning bid, and the papers that follow each cow all sit in a window that looks out over the pens.  Now don’t think for a minute that this auction sells these cows one at a time, because they are sold some times one at a time, sometimes five at a time.  Sometimes they are sold for so much a pound and sometimes at a full price for the cow and all this is up to you, the bidder, to figure out as the cattle whoosh through the auction at a rate that can make you dizzy.

Most of the Corrientes we saw at the auctions had the tips of their horns clipped and I did not like that, after all these cows maybe to keep the grass down, but they also have to look good.  So we watched and noticed that one person bought most of them.  After talking to him we discovered that he was buying them for a packing plant.   All these cows had been used up and were being sold for slaughter.  There was a really cute young longhorn that another man bought and when I asked him what he was looking for he told me anything “fresh” for his son who was a roper.  Fresh means that they haven’t been used for either a rodeo or practice.  We learned that we did not want any cows with clipped horns and we wanted to be careful that they had not been used for rodeos or practice roping and steer wrestling.

Finally we found a man at one of the sales that had a herd of Corrientes and longhorns some of them black and white.  He would let us take out pick of heifers.  We went to his place and picked our 9 heifers and a black and white bull with really pretty black and white horns.  He brought them over and we put them in my parents’ meadow because our fence wasn’t finished.

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Big Hunk the bull

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Some of the girls- see the Spring Creek cemetery and school house behind them.

Wild Flowers

I walked around today looking for wild flowers.  I just took pictures and I am going to sit with a book and identify those that I don’t know.

Mountain Pinks- these grow in gravel on the side of the road and look like little bouquets

Mountain Pinks

Standing Cypress- there are a few of these and they are supposed to make seeds in the fall, so I will be watching them.

Standing Cypress

Blanket Flowers- lots of people know these flowers and we have some in front of the hay meadow.

Blanket Flower

Texas Thistle – These are supposed to be attractive to butterflies and I know that we had lots of butterflies last fall.

Texas Thistle

The fence

We needed to get a fence done so that we could get either goats or cows on the 20 acres in order to keep Ag taxes.  We could have done that quickly by getting a bulldozer to clear a path about 4 feet around the whole place and losing tons of trees, but we did not want to lose all those trees.  So we took a chainsaw and walked tree by tree to clean out for the fence.  My husband cut down trees that were in the way, or cut limbs off if we could save the tree.  I would pull the tree out of the way and make huge stacks of trees that we will burn someday.  It was slow, very tiring work.  We were able to clean up all the way across the front and down part of one side. One side already had a fence and the other side was too much of a hill to get the tractor on so we had to have a bulldozer.  But it was worth is because the fence is finally finished and we have trees that would not be there if we had not done the work by hand. 

While we were working on getting the trees cleared we found a really interesting tree, a Mexican Buckeye.  It has smooth bark with a purple kind of tint and small white flowers with purple accents.  They look like little orchids hanging off the tree in bunches.  We had to cut some of them down because they were in the way of the fence, but there is one growing next to the electric boxes and I am going to take really good care of it. 

Mexican Buckeye

 

Mexican Buckeye

The studio

What we will use as a house for a while at Crazy Oaks was originally built as a pottery studio. The outside is Austin stone and cedar with covered porches across the front and back.  It is about 1300 square feet with concrete floors.  The large, front room and the bathroom both have cedar paneling. The front room has windows from ceiling to about two and a half feet off the floor.  There is a room where they intended to put the kiln and will be my bedroom, a five-by-five closet that was to be the glazing room but will be my closet, a five-by-five office that I will use for a pantry.  Then there is a small kitchen.  Both the bedroom and the kitchen have an alcove.  The kitchen had a pantry built into the alcove, but I am tearing it out so I can put the range and refrigerator in the alcove and more counter and cabinets between them.  The bed will sit back into the one in the bedroom.

Front room

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Looking toward the kitchen

inside the studio

All the walls were white, but I am painting them Olympic Prairie Dust.  It is a neutral brown and I think the name fits.  I need someone to take the pantry wall out, but either they want a ridiculous amount of money to do a little job. This wall is four feet long and I have already taken it half out.  Or they take forever to get back to me and I just have to wonder if they will be dependable about getting the job done.  When I do get the wall out and finish the painting, then I will get the concrete stained and I will be ready to really start moving things in.  I have a few things moved in now, but they will have to move out for the concrete staining.

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painted walls