Two contributions to a spooky Halloween:
Last night was the last of three nights during which the Moon and planet Mars appeared close together in the night sky. The first two nights (October 28 and 29) were cloudy and rainy, but last night around 9 PM the full moon and Mars were clearly visible.
The red planet, however, was too far to the side for my lens to photograph it together with the Moon. It was reddish and of course not as bright as our Moon. I tried to take some shots, but I could not get a fix on it.
Mars will remain bright until the end of 2020 and I will try to get a better picture with a tripod next time.
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post of Amazon’s review policy, I asked and received the approval of two readers of my new book, “The Siege of An Lộc”, to post their reviews here, in chronological order.
Don Chalfant from Santa Barbara
“I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Siege of An Loc! I wasn’t expecting Ri to meet his end in the manner it happened! I read several chapters and then summarized them for my wife. Both of us were aware of what was happening in Vietnam during the late 60’s and early 70’s…but only in a vague sense. So much of the media’s coverage was slanted and agenda-driven. Your inclusion of the north’s propaganda versus reality paints a much truer picture than what we received in the news. Such a heartbreaking time! The research on the events must have been a mixed blessing to the author…finding out specifics yet having to relive difficult and painful memories. He certainly included lots of details! I had a somewhat hard time tracking all the various military divisions and companies and the like, including the various weapons and tanks–even with the “simplification” of terms mentioned at the beginning of the book—but thoroughly appreciated the inclusion of accurate information! This book is great for anyone interested in the events of 1970’s Vietnam.”
H.P. from Seattle
“Honestly, I don’t really like to read war stories, having lived through the Vietnam War. However, when in May this year I was introduced to the digital version of “The Siege at An Loc” by Nguyễn Trọng Hiền, whose first novel “Village Teacher” (2012) I enjoyed tremendously thanks to his artistic style, characters development, as well as the romantic plot against the background of Vietnam’s then capital of Huế in the late 19th century, I wanted to know how the author went about dealing with this much-written-about war, especially this particular front of An Loc about which I had read so much.
Before long, I was drawn into the story at the very first chapter as the author introduced the two main characters who ran into each other as both sought refuge from a tropical downpouring under the veranda of a coffee shop. They parted after the brief encounter during the rain — he, a student/soldier stationed in An Loc who was back to Saigon to pick up his class materials from the Saigon University and now returned to his unit, and she, daughter of a plantation owner in An Loc. From there, the author introduced us to an An Loc under siege by fierce North Vietnamese forces into which the only way in or out was by air amidst webs of fires from the grounds; and to a host of skillfully-described characters both good and bad. Using the same artistic skill, densed with reasearch materials yet explained in plain terms weaving smoothly into the novel narrative. I found myself absorbed in the plot, worried along with his characters despite the fact I already knew the outcome, that South Vietnam forces finally liberated An Loc – just as I had been with his first novel, “Village Teacher.”
The author’s second novel came to me as we have been in this Covid-19 pandemic lockdown on and off and on again for a good six months and continuing. I couldn’t help feel a great admiration for his achievement while we – at least I – keep on wondering when we’d be out of this realistic siege. Thank you.”
As many of you know, I recently self published a second novel, The Siege of An Lộc, on Amazon. As an independent author, I rely on word-of-mouth advertising and reader reviews published on Amazon to promote my books. My first book, Village Teacher, garnered 22 reviews, all positive. My second book so far has zero review on Amazon. I have now found out why.
Amazon has been plagued by fake reviews from companies and individuals selling their products on Amazon. There appears to be companies that hire people or even review mill companies to write fake reviews to promote their products on Amazon, without having purchased or even used those products. It got to the point where customers have complained that reviews on Amazon are unreliable if not outright misleading.
So, a few months ago, Amazon instituted a new policy which requires people who post a review to have purchased at least $50 on Amazon over the previous 12 months. Reviewers who try to post and do not meet this new requirement get this message:
“To contribute to Customer features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers, Idea Lists) or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on Amazon.com using a valid credit or debit card in the past 12 months.”
Two readers of The Siege of An Lộc have contacted me and told me that even though they like it, they are unable to post a review because of Amazon’s new policy. One person had another member of the family purchase the book. The other person did pay for the book with a credit card but did not meet the $50 minimum requirement (my book costs $25.99).
While I understand why Amazon has such a policy, I think it is unduly harsh for independent authors like me who are not well known at all. I am not trying to mass market a consumer product through fake reviews in hope of amassing millions. I don’t have the means to run expensive campaigns to advertise my books. If people are like me, unless I know an author well, I would hesitate to buy a book that has no review and would prefer to wait until at least a handful of reviews are published before making a purchase.
I went to Amazon’s site to complain about their new policy but I did not find any place to do so. If you have any suggestion, please comment below.
I took the following photos of Ruddy Turnstones in January of this year near the Barnegat Lighthouse, but only now have I found the time to post them here.
Several groups of these birds were congregating on rocks covered with seaweed. Some slept, others were starting to look for food, but none cared the least about a photographer getting right above them. The early sun was shining bright, making it appear as if I was using a flash.
Starting in late summer, when you drive on Wildlife Drive, flocks of birds often fly in and out of both sides of the road in front of you. There could be hundreds of them, and they are mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, and sparrows, sometimes mixed together. The moment you stop your car to look closer, the birds land and disappear in the dried reed and grasses. Last week I stopped long enough to find them and take some photos.
Finally, a European Starling perched above the reeds, on a road sign.