Archive for the ‘Reviewing’ Category

Slip, slide into the World of Book Reviewing

Enjoy reading and discussing books, why not expand your canvas and slip, slide into the world of book reviewing. How does one write a review and gain recognition one may ask? The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing answers your questions.

PRLog (Press Release) – Jul 11, 2010 – M E D I A R E L E A S E

CONTACT: Lida Quillen
Email: publisher@twilighttimes.com
Website: www.twilighttimesbooks.com

For Immediate Release

Slip, slide into the World of Book Reviewing

Enjoy reading and discussing books, why not expand your canvas and slip, slide into the world of book reviewing. How does one write a review and gain recognition one may ask? The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards answers many of your questions along with practical advice which will get you started in no time.

Taking the publishing world by storm, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing first edition quickly became a must have reference tool for new and seasoned book reviewers. The authors acknowledged the fact our high speed information world changes in a nanosecond and embarked on their quest to update The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing and have released the newly revised and updated edition.

Reviews from well established and respected book reviewers continue to pour in:

“The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing should be considered mandatory reading for novice and aspiring book reviewers, as well as having a great deal of enduring value as a reference for even the more experienced reviewer. Additionally, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing will provide to be informed and informative reading about the book review process for authors, publishers, publicists, booksellers, librarians, and the general reading public.” Reviewed by James Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Book Review.

“The Slippery Art… is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in book reviews – writers, reviewers, publishers, publicists, librarians, booksellers and readers.”
Reviewed by Francine Silverman, Editor of The Book Promotion Newsletter

It comes as no surprise The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing has the distinct honor of the ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award and the esteem privilege of being listed as required reading at several American and Dutch universities.

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing
Twilight Times Books
ISBN: 978-1933353227
Amazon.com, B&N.com, and of course you can order through your local independent book store.

Anne K. Edwards is an award-winning multi-genre author, reviewer and editor of Voice in the Dark Ezine. Her latest novel is the suspense thriller, Shadows Over Paradise, just released by Twilight Times Books. Visit her website at http://www.MysteryFiction.net.

Award-winning multi-genre author Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. She reviews for SimplySharly.com, The NY Journal of Books and Blogcritics Magazine. She’s had over 300 articles, reviews, interviews and stories published online. Visit her website at http://www.MayraCalvani.com.

Full Media Kit, Headshot, Book Cover Art and more are available upon request.

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carol.thumbnailCarolyn Howard-Johnson is the founder of Authors’ Coalition, an award-winning author and poet, a columnist for My Shelf, and an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Her books include the popular titles The Frugal Promoter and The Frugal Editor, both USA Book News’ Award winners. Carolyn is also the editor of The New Book Review, a book review blog with a different twist: authors may submit reviews which have already been written about their books, thus extending the life of the reviews. In this interview, Johnson discusses the influence and effectiveness of reviews in terms of book promotion, among other things.

How influential are reviews on consumers?

For some consumers, they are very influential. My daughter-in-law (she helps me nominate books for my Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize that appears on MyShelf.com) buys her books almost exclusively on the basis of reviews. But different people buy their books differently. I believe that word-of-mouth is more influential and most studies uphold that view. By the way, winning a contest can be a big influence, too. And what a wonderful opportunity a win is to get the word on a book out there.

Do you think reviews can make or destroy an author’s career?

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity. I also think that many authors view reviews as bad reviews when they aren’t. A review will have more credibility if it isn’t all raves and rose petals. A balanced review is more credible. And like everything in our culture, reviews are short-lived. Everyone forgets them in short order. Except maybe the author.

Do you think there’s a lot of ‘facile praise’ among many online review sites?

Facile praise. Quite a term. Yes, I do. But if someone loves a book, who out there should tell them that they are wrong. I’d just prefer reviews to be a little more even-handed. After all, the review process is about learning for the author and credibility for the reader, too.

What is your stand on paid reviews?

I’m against them. Paying for something undermines its credibility. And, yes, that even applies to the paid reviews that Kirkus does.

Do you think it’s okay for reviewers to resell the books they review? What about advance review copies?

No, reviewers should donate their books to libraries. It is a fine point of ethics but an important one.

With so many major newspapers getting rid of their book review sections, how do you see the future of online review sites?

I think there is a place for shorter, quicker reviews online regardless of what the LA Times does with their pages. Still, one hates to see lovely old review sections in journals and newspapers deteriorate.

Do you keep the author’s feelings in mind when you review?

Absolutely. But I also keep the future of her craft in mind.

Have you received aggressive responses from authors or publishers because of a negative review? If yes, how do you handle it?

Not so far. I did quit reviewing for a newspaper who demanded that I write only good things because it was a “family newspaper.” This is a freedom of the press issue. Reviews — once committed — get to say what they want. Only their own standards should affect what they say.

Thanks for the interview, Carolyn!

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Former Boston Review Editor Gail Pool has been involved in literary journalism for three decades. She has been a magazine editor, a review editor, a critic, a columnist, and a freelance journalist. Her columns, essays and articles have appeared in publications such as the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Houston Post, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the St. Petersburg Times, the Kansas City Star, Columbia Journalism Review and the New York Times, among many others. She has also written about reviewing for the Women’s Review of Books, Boston Review, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Pool is the author of Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, published by the University of Missouri Press. For her impressive compilation of articles and essays on book reviewing, visit her website.

Thank you for being my guest today, Gail. Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself?

I’ve been involved with reviewing in one way or another for about 30 years. I started out as a reviewer at Boston Review, where I later became an editor, assigning essays and reviews. Since then, I’ve been a reviewer, columnist, or review editor for publications ranging from the Christian Science Monitor and the Cleveland Plain Dealer to the Women’s Review of Books, the Nation, the Radcliffe Quarterly, and the library press. I really feel I’ve seen the field from many angles.

What constitutes a good review?

Well, I think there are many ways of writing a good review—I don’t think there’s a formula. But a good review should include an accurate description of the book that places it in a meaningful context and an assessment of whether or not the book succeeds in what it set out to do and why. As an article in its own right, a review should also be well-written and interesting to read.

What is the difference between reviewing and criticism?

There are different kinds of criticism, and reviewing is one kind. Historically, reviewing has referred to the criticism of new books. This means the reviewer is writing for readers who haven’t read the book—which is why an accurate description is so important. And it also means that critics haven’t discussed the book before, so reviewers are on their own in forming their opinions. This is one of the reasons reviewing is so difficult.

Do you see a review as an opinion or as a critique of someone’s work?

I see a review as a critique of a work. It contains the reviewer’s opinion about the book, but it goes beyond expressing an opinion: it explains how the reviewer arrived at his or her opinion, providing reasons from the book. I think of a review, even a short review, as an essay explaining a response to a book.

Do you keep the author's feelings in mind when you review?

I focus on the book when I’m reviewing, and I try to respond to the book. My job is to write about the book, after all, not the author. And I’m writing for readers, not the author. Still, I’m aware that the author does have feelings, and I don’t see the need for nastiness. I don’t think criticism should be personally hurtful.

In your book, Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, you refer to book reviewing as a ‘troubled’ trade. What has gone wrong with reviewing?

Reviewing in America has always been a troubled trade. Since reviews first appeared in this country, people—even reviewers—have been complaining about them. You should read the insults heaped on reviewing in the 19th century! And many of the complaints, which have remained remarkably similar over time, are justified. Too many good books are ignored, too many reviews are hype. But there are many reasons reviewing hasn’t been better, including the fact that the field has never received financial or cultural support. The reviewing community hasn’t resolved those underlying problems.

How has book reviewing changed during the last 10 years with the rise of so many online review sites?

The main change has been the increasing number of self-published reviews with no editorial oversight. We’ve always had many amateur reviewers—unpaid reviewers writing for newspapers or literary magazines, specialists reviewing in their field. But in the past there were review editors, whose job was to choose worthwhile books, match them with knowledgeable reviewers with no conflict of interest, and edit the reviews for coherence and clarity. I see this role, if it’s well done, as important, partly for the integrity of the review, and partly for quality. In my experience as a writer and editor, writers need editors.

You also state that bad reviewing happens despite good intentions and that many intelligent people who love books can sometimes say unintelligent things about them? Would you elaborate?

What I meant is that reviewers set out to write good reviews, but constraints work against them: deadlines can force them to read and write quickly, a lack of space can force them to leave out important points, low fees limit the time they can devote to a book, the pressure to be “lively” too often leads to snappy rather than thoughtful writing. In the end, whatever reviewers’ intentions, reviews are often poorly written, poorly argued, filled with clichés and overpraise.

Do you think there's a lot of 'facile praise' among online review sites as opposed to print publications? If yes, why?

I think there’s a lot of facile praise both in print and online, and on the whole I believe the reasons are similar. One central reason is that we tend to think that being “fair” means being kind to the author rather than honest to the reader. The tendency to praise too highly is a tradition firmly embedded in American reviewing. I think it’s embedded in American culture.

There are some bloggers out there who have acquired fame as tough reviewers
because of their harsh, nasty, mean reviews. What, in your opinion, is behind their philosophy?

I think they’re trying to show how smart they are, especially how much smarter than the author whose book they’re writing about. These reviews seem to me more about self-promotion than criticism. But this isn’t limited to bloggers. Nasty reviewing has a long history in print, and there some good satirical essays mocking this kind of oneupmanship.

If a book is terrible, do you think a reviewer should write and publish the
review, or should she decline to write it?

If a reviewer finds a book so poorly conceived and written there’s nothing of interest to say about it, I don’t think she should review it. But to some degree the decision depends on the book and the aims of the reviewer or publication. Some books are bad in significant ways—they reveal a trend in writing or thinking that’s worth discussing. And there are weak books written by well-known authors that readers will want to know about, good or bad—but they need to be reviewed honestly: the reviewer has to guard against being intimidated by the famous name.

In your opinion, how influential are reviews on the consumer?

This has always been a hard question to answer because influence is difficult to measure, but I think reviews have an impact on sales and also on reputation. Reviews may not create bestsellers as Oprah does—although the New York Times Book Review has quite an impact—but the Amazon ranking for a book certainly rises after almost any review, so they do sell books. Reading groups use reviews in selecting books. Award committees use reviews. Bookstores and libraries rely on reviews in trade publications, the Times, and local papers. Directly or indirectly, reviews bring books to a reader’s attention.

Can the average reviewer review a friend's book and keep her objectivity?

No, I don’t think a reviewer should review a friend’s book. The relationship is bound to interfere with her response to the book.

Amazon and many other online retailers and review sites rate their books. Do you think this is a good thing? Is rating books fair? What should people keep in mind when looking at these ratings?

I find the rating system too crude to be useful. Reading a review, we learn not only about the book but also about the reviewer’s viewpoint and can judge for ourselves whether we want to read it. A rating accompanied by a few comments tells the reader almost nothing. Especially since reviewers apply these rating so differently. One reviewer will praise a book, with no criticism, and give it 3 stars, while another will call a book poor and also give it 3 stars. How do we interpret this? The visual impact of these stars is hard to ignore, but I think readers should be cautious in using them.

Do you think a review written by a reader has less value than one written by
a professional reviewer? What defines a true 'reviewer'?

It depends on the reader and the professional reviewer. Since reviewing began, readers have become “professional” reviewers by reviewing. There aren’t credentials or degrees. But those readers who became good reviewers had critical skills, writing skills, and they did the necessary work. And it does require work to write a good review. The reviewer has to have the background knowledge to assess a particular book and the ability to articulate his or her views on how and how well the book works. Ideally, the professional reviewer has devoted time to learning his subject field and how to write about books, and if he has, this gives value to his review. The reader, if his review is to have value, has to do this as well. It takes time and skill, which is why I’d like to see reviewing as a vocation.

Do you think a reviewer or site that receives payment for a review from the
author or publisher can be honest and objective?

I think it’s a bad idea in many ways to pay for reviews. There’s a potential conflict of interest that’s best avoided. Just as important, I think, it means that books are selected for review because publishers or authors can pay, not because they’ve been judged worth reviewing. And with so many books, we need to give attention to those that are worthwhile, not those that are best funded.

Do you see true good reviewers as endangered species?

I think that good reviews have always been an endangered species. But I do think the field is in transition right now. The danger is that the very concept of a good review will be lost amidst the mass of ratings and “comments.” But it seems to me that there will always be people with critical skills who will want to critique books well. And as some of our best critical magazines, bloggers, and online web sites show, they’ll find a way to do that.

What advice would you offer aspiring reviewers?

My advice is to read widely. Read literature from the past as well as the present, to develop a feel for good writing and a context for understanding and appreciating what’s being written now. If you’re interested in a particular field, read in that field, know the background. In reviewing, I suggest reading carefully, writing precisely, and being brave as well as thoughtful. We need critics who will say they think something is good when it’s being ignored or that it’s weak when it’s being hyped as the new great thing, and that takes courage.

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Bev Walton-Porter is an author, reviewer, freelancer, editor and publisher. She's the lady behind the succesful ezine, Scribe & Quill. Her books include Sun Signs for Writers, The Complete Writer: A Guide to Tapping Your Full Potential, and Mending Fences. Her work has appeared on many publications, both print and online. In this interview, Porter talks about her ezine and about various aspects of book reviewing.
How long have you been reviewing?
Wow…let me think! About 11 years, when I first became a full-time professional with my writing. I have reviewed books for Inkspot (the awesome site run by Debbie Ridpath Ohi many years ago), The Charlotte Austin Review website (now defunct), Bridges (based out of B.C. Canada), Suite101, Inscriptions, and, of course, Scribe & Quill.  
Please tell us about Scribe & Quill. How and when did it get started?
My site isn't just for book reviews. Scribe & Quill covers many areas related to writing, reading and publishing – including book reviews. I first launched Scribe & Quill as a small e-zine on ListBot in the late 90s and it has evolved into a larger e-zine with 6,000+ subscribers, plus a web site, editing services and online professional writing courses that dovetail with and complement the zine.
I think longevity is our greatest hallmark. Scribe & Quill has been around in some form or another for over a decade, and in the online world (especially for small-size e-zines), that's a long time! 
What is the most challenging aspect of running a review site?
Finding reliable reviewers who are also willing to review both print and electronically published books. We also like our reviewers to be willing to review any type of book, and sometimes that can be a challenge as well. 
How many books do you review a month?
Since we no longer publish monthly, but rather quarterly, we publish five to ten reviews per issue. Due to the influx of review books, it's likely we'll publish additional ones on the site in between issues of the zine. 
How many staff reviewers do you have?
Ten, but we are looking for more. 
Are you currently recruiting more reviewers? If so, what are your guidelines?
Yes we are! Our guidelines can be found here. For further information, send an e-mail to scribequill@gmail.com with REVIEWER in the e-mail subject line. 
How should an author contact you about a review request? Do you review e-books as well?
Have them send an e-mail to scribequill@gmail.com with REVIEW REQUEST in the subject line. We welcome e-books and actually prefer electronic copies of review books. 
How do you select the books you review? How do you determine which reviews to post on your site?
If you send us a book, unrequested, we may or may not review it, depending on our current queue. It's best to send a query first, then we'll let you know how to submit your book for review. We receive countless books per year for review and most are suitable for review. However, if your book includes questonable or perhaps illegal content, we may choose not to review it. In all cases, we reserve the right not to review any particular book due to a variety of reasons. However, we publish reviews of all books we select for review. 
Do you think there’s a lot of ‘facile praise’ among many online review sites? What is your policy when it comes to negative reviews?
First and foremost, we want honest reviews. That means that while we are always pleased to find books that get an excellent review from us, we are aware that some books won't always hit that top mark. Therefore, while we will run a review about a book that may not be completely positive, we try to be tactful about our criticisms and comments about a book.  There's usually something constructive that can be said in the face of a not-so-good book. For instance, there's a tactful, yet honest way of mentioning that a book's characters could be fleshed out, and then offering suggestions for how the author might have done that more successfully.  
There was a lot of controversy last year between print publication reviewers and online bloggers. In your opinion, what defines a ‘legitimate’ reviewer?
If you review a book, whether in print or online, you're 'legitimate.' I think it's a silly argument that is a waste of time and breath. Just review books and stop with the silly in-fighting over such things. We have better tasks to accomplish and can better use our energies. 
What is your stand on paid reviews?
I believe if a publication pays for reviews, that's obviously a good thing. However, if you're asking if I think it's legitimate for authors or publishers to pay for people to review their books, I would have to say I believe that's unethical. If you pay someone to review a book and you're an author or a publisher, then it seems you're 'buying' a positive review.  In addition, I believe if you have a personal or professional 'axe to grind' against an author or publisher, I believe you should not review any books related to said author or publisher. I've seen reviewers and others try to inflict damage on an author's reputation and work by posting less-than-positive reviews that were based on a personal vendetta rather than an objective view of the book itself.   
Do you think it’s okay for reviewers to resell the books or advance review copies they review? 
If a reviewer has many books and needs, for whatever reason, to thin out his/her previously read and reviewed books, then I think donating them to the library would be the first recommended action. I don't believe advance review copies should be sold or donated under any circumstance, though.  
What are the most common mistakes amateur reviewers make?
Going over or under the word count. This is because they either haven't been detailed enough with their review, or they haven't imparted the necessary information and criticism in a succint and cogent manner.  
With so many major newspapers getting rid of their book review sections, how do you see the future of online review sites?
I believe online review sites will continue to grow, and if there's a shortage of reviews in print papers, that void will be filled by online reviews and reviewers. 
Do you keep the author’s feelings in mind when you review?
Yes, in that comments or criticism about a book and its author should always be constructive, as well as honest. I believe a criticism or a comment should be constructive rather than just mean or intentionally nit-picky. Authors put their hearts and souls into their books.  
Have you received aggressive responses from authors or publishers because of a negative review? If yes, how do you handle it?
Yes, on occasion. I respond to the author and/or publisher and explain that we strive for honest reviews of books, but realize that reviews ARE subjective. While one reader or reviewer may love a book, another one may not for various reasons. My stance is if you don't want an honest review of your book by a reviewer, then perhaps you shouldn't send us a copy for review. Also, keep in mind that one reviewer's take on a book does not necessarily reflect how *I* personally would view that book, nor is it the end-all, be-all review of the book.  
What does your site offer readers?
We offer articles, interviews, columns and book reviews about all aspects of writing, authors and publishing. We also occasionally publish fiction and poetry, so there's a smorgabord of available 'treats' for people who love to read. 
What promotional opportunities does your site offer authors?
Authors may send us press releases about their upcoming book releases and we'll run them in our e-zine for no charge. In addition, if an author is launching a promotional tour, we'll run announcements on that as well. Finally, we do offer paid text ads and banners for more lengthy and concentrated exposure. 
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a reviewer? The most challenging?
The most rewarding is, of course, discovering new authors and books that you may not have otherwise discovered. The most challenging is balancing the commitment to both readers and authors/publishers when it comes to a fair and honest assessment of a book. 
Is there anything else you would like to say about you or Scribe & Quill?
I'd also like to invite readers to also visit a couple of my other sites they may find of interest: Sun Signs for WritersInt'l Order of Horror Professionals site and my own website with links and information on my nonfiction and fiction books Thanks for giving me this opportunity!  
Thank you, Bev!

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Founded in 2002 by Hilary Williamson, BookLoons now offers readers close to 10,000 reviews on various genres–from children's to teens to most adult categories. Williamson is very selective when recruiting reviewers and edits all reviews herself before they appear on the site.  On average, between 100-150 reviews are added to BookLoons each month. If you're interested in becoming a BookLoons reviewer or would like to submit your book for review, contact Williamson at editor@bookloons.com.

Thanks for stopping by today, Hilary. Please tell us about your book review site. How and when did it get started?

I launched BookLoons in Fall 2000 as a place for people to connect to books that interest them, in a broad range of genres, covering mainly new releases but also old favorites that site visitors might have missed over the years …

What makes BookLoons stand out among so many other online review sites?

That question might better be addressed to our site visitors :-).

But we do aim for a consistent quality of review. I pick reviewers carefully and edit all our reviews. We also cover a broad range of genres, which some might see as an advantage or the converse. 30-40 new reviews are added weekly. Also reviews (we have close to 10,000 now) remain online permanently and are available through a variety of search paths.

What is the most challenging aspect of running a review site?

Time :-). I write a significant percentage of our reviews myself, do all the site updates, and also spend a great deal of time communicating via email with publicists and reviewers.

How many books do you review a month?

We post somewhere between 100 and 150 new reviews every month on BookLoons.

How many staff reviewers do you have?

We have close to thirty, about a quarter Canadian and the majority from the United States. However, some are much more active than others, and some are quite specialized in what they review, while others (including myself) read broadly.

How should an author contact you about a review request? Do you review e-books as well?

We obtain most review copies directly from publishers and publicists. We don't review e-books yet as most of our reviewers don't have good e-book devices. Authors also occasionally contact us directly (editor@bookloons.com) in which case I ask for a summary, publishing details, and a link to an online excerpt so that reviewers can assess whether or not the book interests them.

Do you think there’s a lot of ‘facile praise’ among many online review sites? What is your policy when it comes to negative reviews?

There is certainly a fair amount of ‘facile praise’, not only among review sites (and on bookseller sites) but also on book jackets from other authors – as a reader, I find the latter most disappointing, when an author I trust leads me astray.

I believe that an objective review should let someone else know what the reviewer liked or disliked about a book, so the site visitor can get a sense of whether or not it would appeal to them.

We do write negative reviews when called for, but try to always end on a positive note.

Over the years, I have had a few authors email to say they were very unhappy about reviews. My policy in that case is never to modify the review, but rather to take it off the site if the author wants that. (I've done it 2 or 3 times in the last 8 years).

There was a lot of controversy last year between print publication reviewers and online bloggers. In your opinion, what defines a ‘legitimate’ reviewer?

That's an interesting one! We actually wrote an article ("What's in a Review?") on the subject last year with input from all BookLoons reviewers – and they had a lot to say.

My bottom line (quoted from the article)? "First and foremost, surely it's a wonderful thing to have this powerful grass-roots resource (the Internet, bloggers and review sites) spreading the word about good books and authors?" and in conclusion, "While I hope that literary reviewers will continue to remind us of what makes great 'writing', I – along with fellow readers and reader reviewers – feel perfectly free, ready and willing to comment on what makes great 'reading'".

What is your stand on paid reviews?

They're not reviews; they're part of book marketing, which is fine as long as you don't call them reviews and are above board with site visitors. I do not accept paid reviews on BookLoons, nor do I accept fees for featuring books on the site (as I understand some sites do). I do run ads to cover hosting fees, but they're clearly labelled as such.

Do you think it’s okay for reviewers to resell the books they review? What about advance review copies (ARCs)?

ARCs should not be sold – that's clearly indicated on the covers. But I think it's fine for reviewers to sell final copies if they want to do so, as the books are generally their only payment for reviews. I give my copies away (those I don't keep for my ever expanding personal library :-)).

Do you keep the author’s feelings in mind when you review?

When I write (or edit) reviews, I try to be tactful. But the review is not for the author (aside from helping give his or her book exposure), it's for the reader wondering if that book is to their taste. So I try to focus on that.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a reviewer?

Reading of course (and getting new releases of favorite authors early)! But also, the excitement (that all readers have) of discovering an excellent new author, and being able to play a small part in sharing that discovery with the reading world. One of our reviewers (Josephine Locke) put it well in "What's in a Review?", saying "My hope is that something in any review, even minutely, plays a note, reaching out and touching potential readers." That's why all of us read and review after all.

Thanks for this interview, Hilary!

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Anne K. Edwards gets interviewed on Advice Radio on the slippery subject of book reviewing. Listen slippery_smallto the live interview here.

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Visit: www.slipperybookreview.wordpress.com for blurbs, excerpts, reviews, interviews, and purchasing information.

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