August 2021

A book review of “Toxic Stepbrother”

Another book (if you can call it a book) I came across is “Stepbrother Toxic” or “Toxic Stepbrother”. I expected a somewhat extended read, but it is in fact one relatively short story, with a couple of excerpts from other stories of the author. Therefore, my review will not be extensive either.

As before, to try to give an honest evaluation of all the books I plan to read, I have decided to make several categories and give stars for each of them, plus the comments. Five stars is the maximum. The mean value from all categories will give the final review in terms of star numbers.

The Book: “Toxic Stepbrother: A Stepbrother Romance”

By: Celia Styles

Published on: 12. August 2021 (Also a recent one)

Publisher: as far as I could tell, self-published

Page count: 26 (officially, 63, but the rest are excerpts from other stories)

Star rating so far: One 3* review and two 4* reviews on Amazon and an average of 3.06 * from 35 reviews on Goodreads

Review categories: 1.) Cover, 2.) Language, editing and formatting, 3.) Plot and believability, 4.) Character development

1.) Cover: ***

A half-naked guy, with an obligatory tattoo, probably representing the stepbrother. OK, as such covers go. Why is the title written as “Stepbrother Toxic”, whereas the real title is “Toxic Stepbrother”, I don’t know. Also, what’s toxic about the guy in the story is beyond me. The stepfather is toxic, for sure, but the stepbrother is anything but.

2.) Language, editing and formatting: ****

Language is OK. I noticed only a few spelling mistakes. No ellipses, but a lot of em-dashes, as well, in the middle, at the end, and sometimes at the beginning of the sentence.

3.) Plot and believability: **

Oh, boy… Sorry, oh, boy –

Whereas the beginning of the story is not so bad, and I can understand how the girl hooks up with the pretty surfer boy and even agrees to have sex with him half an hour later (protected, I sincerely hope), the writer lost me at the later point, when we find out that (SPOILER) the pretty boy is the son of the man the mother of the main character married. Despite being a stepbrother and a stepsister (by marriage), our two main characters decide after three days of acquaintance to start a family, which indeed happens a few pages later. I’m sorry, but I can’t believe that anyone in their right mind, and no matter how good the sex was, would decide they have found their soulmate and the mother/father of their children after 72 h of knowing someone.

4.) Character development: **

Some of it is present, but there is simply not enough pages to develop anything. We are mostly informed throughout the text about the past, and the plans for the future, as we are later on informed about how the life of our two main characters proceeds after they elope to Hawaii. Due to it being compressed to only a couple of pages, I had a feeling I was reading a Wikipedia article instead of a romance story.

Regarding the characters, the main female character is nice and relatable, and her stepbrother/boyfriend is cute. A bit lost, definitely uneducated (he quit school at 17), although properly sculpted, due to his passion for surfing, and not in the least toxic. What annoyed me was that after knowing the girl for the whole of three days, he, upon meeting her mother, immediately claims he wants to marry her (the girl, not the mother). Why? How? Also, the whole naughtiness of them being together, even though they are related (they are not)… I simply don’t get it. I also don’t get how any decent, loving mother, would allow her new husband to hit her daughter and not say a word about it. Excuse me? No matter how rich you are, you slap my kid, we’re done! Considering how close mother and daughter were described to have been, I could not believe that such an act of physical violence would be tolerated by the mother, and also that she would continue to ignore her only daughter in the days to come, only because her psycho husband said so.

Overall rating: 2.75 *

The writing style is not bad, but the story is rushed, and I did not have time (nor much desire) to get invested in the characters. At all. Too much cardboard, too little flesh. Also, paying 4.57 $ for what is essentially 26 pages story plus a bunch of excerpts is a rip off. Sorry, it is. There are so many full-length books out there costing less, and although quantity does not necessarily mean quality, I still find it uncool to bait people like that.

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A Book Review of “Between Two Galaxies”

I love SF and I love romance, so for my first review I chose a story which combines the two genres under a compelling title “Between Two Galaxies”, and subtitle “Alien Romance Story” by Kerry Webb.

Even though the topic is more fiction than science, such books can be fun, if frustrating. Ever since my experience with “The Krinar Chronicles” by Anna Zaires I have been on a lookout for a hunky alien, with whom I could have the first contact (and the second, and the third…). Unfortunately, we need to be realistic here – the probability of having a wild, interspecies sex with an ET are very low, despite the many sex scenes in the book of Ms. Zaires, some of them copy-pasted from her other books (did she think we wouldn’t notice), which would imply otherwise. But let’s get back to the original story I intend to review here.

To try to give an honest evaluation of all the books I plan to read, I have decided to make several categories and give stars for each of them, plus the comments. Five stars is the maximum. The mean value from all categories will give the final review in terms of star numbers.

The Book: “Between Two Galaxies – Alien Romance Story”

By: Kerry Webb

Published on: 09. August 2021 (So, a recent publication)

Publisher: as far as I could tell, self-published

Page count: 38 (on the short side, so more of a story than a novel)

Price: 0 $

Star rating so far: One 3* review on Amazon and an average of 4.67 * from three reviews on Goodreads

Review categories: 1.) Cover, 2.) Language, editing and formatting, 3.) Plot and believability, 4.) Character development

1.) Cover: ***

Not entirely bad, but not really reflecting the content of the book. To give an idea what I am talking about – the book tells a story of a NASA biologist Alessandra and her crush on an alien Ka. The cover shows a woman in a wet shirt and a bikini hugging a half-naked guy. If that’s what they standardly wear at NASA, I want a job there, please. But maybe it is a scene from the time after they got together and had a chance to go to a beach. I don’t know. I like the starry sky in the background, it looks quite cool and alien.

2.) Language, editing and formatting: ***

Formatting is reasonable, I was a bit put off by the curly letters used for the chapter titles. I would have liked something more scientific or with an alien flair. Language… well, how can I say, there’s some space for improvement there. For example, one sentence in the beginning:

“Sometimes, she had to admit, working for NASA could be boring sometimes.”

There’s one sometimes too many there, if you ask me.

Also, capitalization of the words (is it Alien or alien? Is it The General or the General?)

The book would profit from an editor or a proofreader.

3.) Plot and believability: **

Sorry, I am trying to be positive here, but although the plot is not that bad, there is significantly more fiction (or fantasy) than science in the SF part of the book. Let me elaborate (spoilers ahead, be warned):

Our main character is Alessandra, who works for NASA as a biologist. Her best friend is Emma, a chemist. As the writer informs us, quote “Even though they were in different fields entirely, it never seemed to influence their friendship”. Is there some secret feud between chemists and biologist that I wasn’t aware of? Or do people only become friends with others working in the exact same field? More importantly, what are two (presumably young) women, a chemist and a biologist, doing in the middle of the night in NASA headquarters? What happened to all astrophysicists? Are they on a vacation? And how can Alessandra (a biologist) figure out by just looking at the screen that the asteroid is a) manned, b) going to hit the Earth? Last time I checked, the asteroid trajectory analysis needed some serious observation and calculation, and I am kind of skeptical that a biologist would be able to do that in such a short time (or at all – most biologists I know have studied biology because they are bad in math and physics). Emma, however, seems to be much more convinced in the abilities of the chemists, in this case, to do complex astrophysical calculations because when at one point the military wants to check if the asteroid is really going to hit the Earth, she rolls her eyes and says:

“Oh, like the military scientists who went to the same schools we did know more than we do.”

Ahem… Yes? Because they have studied physics perhaps? I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that not all military scientists are either biologists or chemists.

OK, so then everyone is alarmed, and they go to the spot where the asteroid is going to hit and expect to be protected from the effects of the impact by sitting in an armored vehicle. Well, tell that to dinosaurs.

The spaceship lands (because it was a spaceship, in an asteroid, or that looked like an asteroid), and in it, they find a naked alien with a loincloth and a glowing hand. So, the representative of this highly developed alien civilization, which has mastered interstellar travel, is essentially an ET Tarzan. Alessandra is the first on the scene, and somehow, here I was really confused, one minute she was wearing a protective suit, and the next minute she is touching his glowing hand with her bare hand. How? Why? I had once been warned not to touch a dolphin with my bare hands, let alone an alien!

Anyway, now we come to the part that was really bordering on the unbelievable: the alien is a prince (OK, what else, but this is not the unbelievable part) who has come to Earth (to the USA, to be precise) because his planet is under an attack, and they need help. In fact, the Earthlings (and the USA) are their only hope!

Wait a second. You have an interstellar travelling technology, and you depend on us to save you? How? By paddling to your planet? And, do you really want that? I mean, look what happened with a number of countries on Earth that have depended on others to save them. For an all-knowing alien that’s a pretty daft move.

Later on, we find out that the aliens are apparently capable of flying through a hyperspace but know nothing about nuclear weapons. And that their spaceship control panel has three buttons and one screen (a radio, an autopilot switch, a hyperspace jump button, and a radar).

There is suspicion on both sides, the president shows up, Lindsey the red-haired soldier woman has a brilliant idea of going to the alien planet to check out the situation and the president calls that “A fine and dandy idea, sweetheart”. Lindsey is a trained soldier, not a sweetheart, Mr. President.

What was really unbelievable was when they decided to send Alessandra, Emma and Lindsey as their emissaries to Ka’s planet. I mean, three women? Hello? When did that ever happen in human history? But then it turned out they planned for them to die anyway as a pretext for attacking Ka’s people and stealing their resources, so that explained it.

Three girls find out about it by listening in on some secret radio communication (I am not sure how that happened) and decide to switch sides, essentially betraying their planet and their species. Lindsey then kicks the assess of the Earth forces, Alessandra the biologist becomes a diplomat and Emma the chemist creates cures to nearly every ailment. And Ka, the prince, becomes very popular.

So… no. I need more substance in an SF book, even if it is primarily a romance. Writers, do your research. There are so many good movies out there, so much info on YouTube about the mysteries of the universe and how much we don’t know about the things. And so, so many good SF books where people speculate on extraterrestrial life and technology required for space travel. No, you can’t just get in a spaceship and fly to a planet light years away within days. And if you could, those aliens would probably be so technologically advanced that they would come and crush us like bugs (not date us). If they could find us in the first place. The universe is enormous, namely. If you are unsure of the facts (and don’t want to take advanced courses in theoretical physics, for which I can’t blame you) then please write the plot in such a way that this does not become immediately obvious. Or find someone who is an expert and ask for support.

4.) Character development: **

Enough about science. What about the characters and their emotional connection? Alessandra is strangely drawn towards Ka, and he claims she is his soulmate. There is a telepathic connection between them. At one moment, he suddenly knows everything about her. Which is that she can speak English and that she likes Jane Austen.

OK, Jane Austen is pretty cool, admittedly. I’m a big fan myself. But is that really everything there is to know about Alessandra? There is a hint that Alessandra did not have such a great childhood. At one point, the book says:

“She had never been looked at with such care and compassion before by any man, even her father.”

I was curious to know why. It could explain why she took only a couple of seconds to fall for an alien, even though we learn along the way that he is really well mannered (he gives Alessandra his seat) and that he has perfect pearl white teeth (even though he apparently has retractable claws, as well).

Regarding Ka’s appearance and anatomy, if I were Alessandra, I would pay more attention to Derrick’s report. Derrick is a physicist in charge of studying Ka’s biology (it seems that they have real problems at NASA to assign appropriate tasks to people). Also, a secondary love interest of Alessandra. He says that Ka has an anatomy almost entirely the same as human. That “almost” would really worry me! But Alessandra ignores it and seems quite enthusiastic when Ka says that she should just move in with him and stay on his planet (the one threatened by an invasion by another type of alien and devastated by war). Maybe she knows something about Ka’s anatomy we don’t?

Anyway, the character that I liked the most was the General. Why? He was always true to himself. He barked at people, glared at them, or screamed orders most of the time, as any decent General should. Also could pilot a spaceship so well that Ka could see him sitting inside and even wave at him. Therefore, capable of making his hands dirty, not only expecting others to follow his orders. Way to go, General!

Overall rating: 2.5 *

Short and a bit rushed at the end, with a potential to be a nice story, but losing points on the science part and character development.

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Promoting a book – or not (Part 2)

The big promotion weekend is behind me and it is time to evaluate the results. My approach was not really scientific, having booked several promotion services on the same day, so I cannot give you an info about each one of them separately, just an overall effect they had on the number of downloads of my book. Plus, on this day, and the next one, I offered my book on Amazon for free. The idea was to entice people to look at the book and to create some buzz (am I using the right expression here?).

The conclusion: people looove free stuff.

And I am glad they do. I am absolutely thrilled that over 200 people have downloaded my book and are hopefully reading it now, even though I have not earned a single cent (and have actually accumulated some expenses due to the promotion fees). I will be even more thrilled if at least a portion of them likes the book enough to recommend it or write a review (like the persons who had given me the first reviews for my books – thank you so much!), and maybe even go ahead and read my other book. The experience with the publishing and marketing has sensitized me to a value of a good review, so I have decided to do my best to help other authors by reviewing their books (you can read all about it in my posts about book reviews). But, let’s get back to the promotional services I tried.

4.) Fiverr:

Fiverr, as I found out, offers all kinds of services, basically connecting freelancers with their customers. For around 30 bucks I booked someone to advertise my book on their Facebook pages over the course of 5 days. Oh yeah, the name was bookkitty. Oh, I just checked, my book ad is really posted there! Thank you bookkitty for keeping your end of the bargain. Unfortunately, no book downloads today 🙁 No likes on your post either. I guess you still need to work on your followers list, maybe?

5.) Books Butterfly:

I booked the cheapest option: an 80 $ top 200 push for free books (my book was free on the day of promotion) with guaranteed 1000 + downloads. Apparently, it should work in 92% of the cases. I guess I am in that 8% minority. Should I ask for a refund (I might be able to get a coupon to use it for their services again)? But, do I want to use their services again? I did get to a #214 rank in the contemporary romance category (if only for a moment), and to a #1014 rank in the overall Kindle free ebook download on the day of promotion, which is pretty good if one considers that there are over 60 000 titles in the contemporary romance category. However, only I am aware of that fact (and maybe my cat, if he was paying attention). And it might have been the effect of other promotion services, not them. Hmmm…. Therefore, my verdict: they promise too much. No need to do that. Why make people hope? I knew I was not going to get 1000 + downloads, and I was perfectly happy with my 200 + downloads, but I was kind of annoyed by their propaganda. And one other interesting observation: they seem to have something going on with BookBub (a fancy promotion site for books accepting only special books with a sufficient number of reviews) because they do not refund the money if the book had already been promoted over BookBub. Why? Add that to the mysteries of the universe…

6.) eBooks Habit:

For 12 $ (15 $ usually, but I had a promo code) you can book 24 tweets over the course of one day about your book on the day of promotion. Let me see, it amounts to one tweet per hour. Wow! I can do math! They claim to have a lot of followers, but I haven’t checked. Sorry 🙁 Anyway, it is not that expensive and it cannot harm to have your book promoted in the Tweeter universe, so I would go for it from time to time, maybe during some of my next book promotion actions.

7.) Reddit and Facebook:

On the day of the promotion I posted a few posts on Reddit and Facebook informing people that my book is free on that and the following day. I even got upvoted on Reddit and earned some Karma points! I really like those Karma points 🙂 And I had one like on the Facebook post. I feel so grateful! This did not cost me anything but my time, and I always get such a warm feeling when someone likes my post or upvotes me, so emotionally, this has been highly rewarding. Have I mentioned Karma points? 🙂 The conclusion: I would recommend it. There are many channels for posts about free eBooks and it’s free advertising. Plus, I became active on both Reddit and Facebook and had fun exchanging infos about books and favorite writers, which I intend to do in the future, as well. It’s nice talking to people, and even the messages from the Reddit bot make my heart beat faster.

Now to end this post, one interesting Amazon absurdity: several people came across my book and downloaded it (because it was free) by clicking on Amazon ads (which I’m paying for). So basically, I paid Amazon so that people would read my book. Whaaat? No wonder J.B. is (almost) the richest man on Earth.

Anyway, I have more plans for future promotions and one other promotion coming, so be sure to check my posts for new insights.

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Vacation reading list

To support fellow writers and maybe discover my knew favorite authors, I have decided to read several books and write an honest review about each one of them. It’s vacation time, and I managed to get all the work that kept piling up either reassigned or postponed, so I have some time for reading and writing. I will post reviews here, but also on other platforms, such as Amazon, or Goodreads and similar, wherever I can for the maximum support of the authors. The criteria for choosing the books:

Genre: Romance (all sub-genres); I do plan to read other genres as well later on 🙂

Price: Free or 0.99 $

Reviews: None or very few (no need to write a review for books that have thousands already!)

Hang around to see what I’ve read and how I liked it. I am really excited!

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Promoting a book – or not (Part 1)

Trying out different promotion services for books.

I guess all writers have experienced it: you’ve written a book, you’ve published a book; you think it’s good, a number of other people thinks it’s good (just to make sure you’re not being partial), but that number is small. Or smaller than you’d like. So, the next logical step is marketing and advertising, not for the sake of earning money (not everything is about money – duh; or at least not only about money), but for the sake of getting the story out there, getting the people to know your story and enjoy it (hopefully).

Being in that exciting and, to be honest, frustrating phase right now, I have decided to try out several book promotion services that are out there and promise everything from increasing the sales, getting you those reviews you sorely need, all the way to putting your book on the bestseller list. My budget for this venture is not limitless, to say the least, but I’m ready to put in some money and ready to lose some as I travel the learning curve. Did I mention that I’m patient, too? So, in order to help all others who are doing the same right now and are feeling lost like the most of us, here is what I’ve tried so far and how it worked out. I will add to the list as I collect more information and try new things.

1.) Amazon services:

Since I’ve published both of my books on Amazon, I thought it would be good to try their marketing services. The concept is kind of funny. The Amazon earns not only by taking a percentage from my book sales, but also by me paying for the ads. Amazon does offer free book promotions, of which there are several types, but most are connected to offering your book at a reduced price or for free for several days at a time. So far so good, but during my first book promotion (offering the book at 0.99 € for a week) I did not get a feeling that Amazon tried particularly to indicate that the book is on offer, or that the visibility of the book increased in any way. The boost in sales that I had during this time came from a different source, but I’ll get to that later.

Coming back to the ads – I created a marketing campaign for the US market (I still want to try other, smaller markets), on a small budget, used manual targeting, meaning that I am trying to figure out which search terms work, and which don’t, and which clicks convert to sales. It has been running for a while now, and the results are not impressive, I must admit. Maybe I am not experienced enough, or I am lacking brain power, but when my ad comes up in searches of people that are clearly looking for something else (and I’ve tried to exclude such searches by putting in the negative keywords), then something is not functioning the way it should. Oh, the mystery of Amazon algorithms! Who has ever said that this world is devoid of magic?

So, to conclude, this is a work in progress. I am still not ready to pass my final judgment on this one, but I’ll keep you posted.

2.) Bargain Booksy:

During the one week when my book was on sale on Amazon, I wanted to increase its visibility by informing people about the price reduction and that the book existed at all. So, I came across Bargain Booksy, where you can pay and they send newsletters to thousands of their subscribers, letting them know about your book. They have several categories for books and one can probably find the fitting one, although a bit more diversity could not harm. The least popular ones take 30-40 $ for the promotion, the most popular ones (romance included) take around 80 – 90 $ and more. I should probably switch to writing science fiction self help books for children, or something. Anyway, my book got promoted by them on the first day of price reduction at Amazon, and lo and behold, there was a boost in sales. It did not make me rich, but it did have an effect on my enthusiasm, and just thinking that a couple of dozen people out there is reading my book right now makes my heart warm.

I am planning to promote my second book through them right now, this time at the full price of 2.99 $ per book. Let’s see how this pans out. A word of advice, for romance categories it is good to plan booking the slot in advance, because the dates are usually sold out.

A cynical part of me imagines someone at Bargain Booksy sitting at the computer and using a portion of the promotion fee to buy books from the authors, just to convince them that the promotion really has an effect. But, I will silence it for now.

One other thing – no reviews so far, from this or other sources. To be optimistic, no reviews is better than bad reviews, but the feedback is lacking, so I’ll sit tonight under the summer sky and make my wish on a falling star (or actually, on falling debris of a comet, burning in the Earth’s atmosphere) that someone will give me a five star review.

3.) Justkindlebooks:

For the price of around 40-50 $ this site offers the possibility to promote your kindle book across three sites and two newsletters. Or was it two sites and three newsletters? Whatever… It did not result in increased sales or reads of my book. I sold one book more – and I am glad, but I could have just given dozens of books for free and it would have had more effect. Disclaimer – maybe my book was just not the thing to attract attention, since there was no naked male torso on the cover, or it is simply not an attractive book. Let’s face it, there is that possibility (no matter how minuscule). I have their emblem on my web page, and it’s a cute emblem, so I will keep it, but I will probably not try them again. For that money I might as well try something else, which could result in more… well, result.

Stay tuned – I am trying out some other, affordable ways of promotion right now, and will keep you posted.

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