Friday, October 28, 2011

Fixing Amazon with 6th Grade Math

I've read a number of posts over the last month or so where people complain about how pretty much everything on Amazon has a 4 or 5 star rating despite how good a book actually is. A lot of people are giving up on the rating system, and actually wading through all the reviews to find out if a book is good or not. Without an effective means for people to sort out what books are good, the reading public will abandon mid-listers and especially those Indy/Self-pub writers for whatever the New York Times or Oprah recommends.

But I say I still have faith in crowd sourcing...even if people are far too generous with their ratings. And I say lets bring some simple 6th grade math to the rescue.

First, we need to understand that the problem is people who give a 5 star rating to pretty much everything they read and only give a 4 star if they hated know, don't want to hurt the author's feelings. I don't suggest trying to change the people who are giving the review; however, what I do suggest though is that we start to weight the reviews from each reviewer based on their history.

This is what I'm talking about: Say Mary Sue rates literally everything she reads 5 stars because she is in awe of anybody who puts pen to paper. Right now, she would tend to skew books up towards 5 stars, when in reality, 5 stars is essentially "average" for her. What I propose Amazon should do is take that info and weight Mary Sue's ratings so that when she gives say my book (whenever I get one published) a 5 star rating, Amazon actually computes it as a 3 star review.

The same thing would go for Dick Cheney when he is on Amazon giving everybody a 1 star review, then goes and reviews my book (Again giving it 1 star even though it may have reached in and touched him where his heart may have been.) Amazon treats that review as a 3 star as well.

Now if Joe Smith is running around giving 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 star reviews pretty evenly, well then when he gives my book a 5 (or 1) star rating, it actually registers as that.

This is not a new idea either. has used this same basic idea for the last probably 10 years. And when you go there (yes, admit it, you visit that site from time to time) you'll notice that there is a pretty good range of ratings that everybody falls under, and never will you see somebody with a 9.0 or above rating that makes  you want to gag. Amazon on the other hand generally has a range of 4 stars to 5 stars with plenty of 5 star (average) train wreck books that would give you a migraine just trying to get past the first chapter.

Amazon, it's time you broke out your 6th grade math books and apply some of those principles of weighted averages to your ratings system.

What do you think? Is the ratings skew on Amazon a problem? Why or why not? What do you think can be done?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: "Guns of Retribution" by Icy Sedgwick

I am a bit saddened as I post this review, as I have followed the author, Icy Sedgwik, for quite some time now. Her flash stories that she posts on her blog every Friday showcase her immense talents. So when I picked up “Guns of Retribution” I had high hopes and expectations. Unfortunately, the book fell short.

This novella follows bounty hunter Grey O’Donnell as he tries to make a living, bringing outlaws to justice. He is assisted by another gun-slinging cowboy and a mute Apache as they work to keep Gray’s family safe from the crooked Sheriff of the town of Retribution.

You would never know from the vivid descriptions and world building that Icy Sedgwick lives in the UK. Instead, you might assume she owns a ranch in southern Arizona. Her depiction of a team of riders chasing down a train and the towns of the old west are colorful and very believable. But what makes Guns of Retribution unique is that it does not just use the stereotypical saloon, main street, bank, and jail towns. Instead, the setting is sprinkled with general stores, churches, and even a public bath.

As far as the plot, it was solid, and it really seemed to grow organically from the opening scene, which grabbed my attention and brought me right into the story. There were a few minor problems though that I think could have easily been fixed. For instance, there are two towns, one full of good, moral people, and the other full of evil, immoral outlaws. By my estimation from the context, they must have been less than 10 miles apart in frontier Arizona, which doesn’t seem plausible to me. But those nit-picky things aside, the story of Guns of Retribution is good and entertaining.

However strong the setting and plot was though, I felt like the characters we far too black and while, with the good guy being all good and the bad guy being all bad. I know this is a western and the characters in westerns are usually pretty polar, but I’d like to see the hero doing something morally questionable at least once in the first half. Tell a lie or punch one of his buddies. I want to know he is human. The same goes for the antagonist who is the epitome of evil. Again I just want to see a hint of mercy in him to know we are not dealing with the spawn of Satan.

Another thing that bugged me was the overarching Freudian themes in this book. The hero runs into the sheriff’s trap to save his mother, and the sheriff himself is primarily bad because his own mother ran away. I like that there is a reason the sheriff is not the greatest guy on the planet, but two mother motivations in one book was a little hard to swallow.

There was also some bits of dialogue that literally got me shouting at the book, repeating what one of the characters said. Grey is about to charge into danger and tells his sidekick that he doesn’t have to come along if he doesn’t want to. The sidekick of course says that he wants to. That’s fine and all, but Gray does this about five more times. The last time, when the sidekick pretty much says to shut up and let him come with, I shouted out with him for Grey to shut up and ride to Retribution.

It’s little things like those that pulled me out of the book enough to where it was not enjoyable to read, and this was not something I expected from this author.

Overall Gunds of Retribution was like eating a really tasty pudding embedded with grains of sand. Most of the content was really good, but the abrasion of a couple parts was enough so that I didn’t want to finish it despite the good things it had going on.

Unfortunately I can’t recommend this book, and it receives only 4/10 stars. What I can do, however, is recommend you read the flash fiction Icy Sedgwick posts on her blog. Hopefully the next book is more representative of Icy’s skill and those grains of sand are filtered out.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


John rested his hands on the hospital-standard, white porcelain sink. Sweat dripped down his face and soaked the collar of his shirt, yet his mouth remained dry. He searched for something to drink out of, but the only thing in sight were the urine sample cups stacked neatly on the shelf. Considering it for only a moment, he spun back around and collapsed on the toilet.
In his pocket, John’s phone vibrated. It’s Kurt again. He placed his hand on the bulge his phone made from under his jeans and held it there for a moment. I should tell him I won’t be going tonight, but... His thoughts drifted to the game. His favorite baseball team was embroiled in a pennant race with their most heated rivals, and Kurt had paid nearly double face-value for the tickets so they could go. I should have him just sell the damn thing, but what if we get out of here soon? Couldn’t I just sneak out for a couple hours?
Once his phone stopped vibrating, he pulled it out of his pants and shut it off. I can’t even think about leaving. What kind of a man, what kind of a husband, does that make me?
He stood up and looked down at one of his own legs. How the hell could could something this important to human life be so fragile. He shifted his weight to his right and started to fall before he caught himself on the wall of the bathroom. Tears ran down his cheeks once again.
What kind of life is she going to have? How will we hike Yosemite next summer? Our apartment doesn’t even have an elevator. How will she come back home? We’ll have to move out, and that’s going to cost more money. God only knows how much this is going to cost in the end. The ambulance ride alone was probably more than either of us makes in a week.
“I can’t do it.” he whimpered. “I can’t let them take your leg.” John slapped his hand against the tile wall and looked up at the motivational poster on the wall. It featured some guy in racing wheelchair. He scoffed at it for a second, but took a step back and read his number bib. He was racing in the Boston Marathon.
“She can still do it. Her dream doesn’t have to die.” he whispered. John faced the mirror, and stared at his reflection with the wheelchair racer behind him. “It will be hard, but we can do it.”
He walked out of the bathroom and towards his wife’s bed. Two of the doctors were still attending to her. She was unconscious, as she had been since the accident. They didn't notice John, even after he said, “I have an answer.” He spoke louder. “I said I’ve reached a decision.”
The older doctor looked up from his chart. “What did you decide?”
“If you amputate, like you said, will it really give her a better chance of surviving?” He nodded. “And she could use one of those racing wheelchairs?”
“Of course. There is a whole range of athletic opportunities for her, even with one good leg. We might even be able to fit a prosthetic.”
“Then do whatever you think is best.”
John leaned over to his wife’s bloodied and swollen body, kissing her on the forehead. “I think this is for the best. I hope that someday, you’ll understand.”

Let me know what you thought in the comments below. As always, I appreciate constructive criticism MUCH more than the basic 'good job' one...but those are still nice too :)

Greece Photos

I finally got around to posting some pictures from my trip in Greece earlier this month. I have to give credit to my wife Kelly for all of these photos (except of course the one of her...that was me.)

Anyways, I hope you enjoy them, and I will be resuming business as usual on my blog starting today. I've got some reviews, articles, and flash stories in the pipeline coming out in the next week. So I hope you enjoy!
Gotta have a picture of the Parthenon

The stadium they held the 1896 Olympics in. 68,000 person stadium comprised entirely of marble!

My wife Kelly on our balcony in Mykonos

The windmills in Mykonos

The Red Beach in Santorini

Pretty sunset in Santorini

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