Amazon Adventures – Searching for Good Reviews

For self-published authors, Amazon reviews are important. Much of our business is done through Amazon, and it is a simple fact that readers check reviews – both the number of them and the average rating.

In the early days of the self-publishing boom there were even services that – for a fee – would arrange dozens, or even hundreds, of reviews for your book.

But Amazon soon realized what was going on, and took steps to remove such reviews. The company even started removing reviews written by the writer’s friends and relatives, though I don’t know how they discerned which these were. But I do know they removed some reviews that family members had written and posted for me.

I have never paid for reviews. But when I published my first book with Amazon I went to several writers’ forums and sought out authors who would like to swap reviews – I review their book and they review mine.

But I found it tedious reading books that, frankly, I found boring. They weren’t badly written, and in fact they weren’t bad books at all. But they were not the sort of novels I would normally read.

And then one author, with whom I had arranged a review exchange, wrote on Amazon, concerning my thriller “Military Orders”: “It is interesting to see that North Korea is now a Christian country.”

North Korea is of course not a Christian country, and I had never written anything remotely like that in my book. I do not know how she got that impression. But to see it in an Amazon review made my book look stupid. I contacted her and politely asked her to remove that sentence from the review.

Since then I have not tried in any way to arrange reviews for Amazon. I just take what comes, and they are very much a mixed bag.

So I was thrilled to receive recently one of the best unsolicited reviews ever for any of my books.

It is a five-star review for my thriller “Brother Half Angel,” from someone called simply Kindle Customer, and is titled “A new fan of Martin Roth!”

It reads:

Thank goodness I have discovered Martin Roth! Just the kind of excitement I enjoy in a novel exploring covert protection of modern day Christians around the world. The storyline and characters were so real with a smooth flow from one action event to the other. Prone to keeping abreast of Christian headlines in the daily news, Martin Roth makes you feel as though you are living some of those headlines just read this morning. His sharp eye for detail allows me to appreciate my freedom and the blessings of my Savior. How often I do not thank Him enough when the God given talents of those such as Martin remind me how much harder I need to work to share the word of Jesus Christ. Fabulous story without being preachy. (Big smile….isn’t that just like Jesus to make it simple for us?) Buy this book today! On my way to download more adventures by Martin Roth.

Who needs to pay for reviews, or do review exchanges, when – quite unsolicited – I can get a review like that?

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A Public Execution in North Korea

We hear horrific stories of how ISIS in the Mideast has been working to dehumanize children by forcing them to watch torture, beheadings and other gruesome activities.

But similar scenes occur in another place which also puts the lowest priority on our common humanity – North Korea.

I recall a television documentary about North Koreans who had fled their homeland and were now living safely in South Korea. At one point the interviewer asked a group of children if they had witnessed any executions. All responded that they had.

Military Orders - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013I described the scene in my thriller “Military Orders,” part of my Brother Half Angel series, based directly on accounts from several North Korean defectors:

Sunhee witnessed her first public execution when she was nine years old. It was an exhilarating experience, like watching a movie in real life, and she recalled it often, especially when it came time for her own execution. 

In a country where the primary entertainment was the cinema, mainly featuring movies about North Korea’s triumph over the imperialist United States, the Great Leader had added public executions as another means to keep his population docile. These provided drama while engendering fear. 

Sunhee recalled that, a few days before the event, posters went up around town to announce that the condemned man had been convicted of stealing state property and had been sentenced to death. On the day itself kids skipped school, and Sunhee even spotted some of her teachers in the crowd. The location was a disused strip of rocky land between the railway station and the seafront. 

First the man was paraded through the main thoroughfare of Kyongsong, the only paved street in the town. The excited crowd followed, growing larger as the time of the execution drew near. Sunhee recalled that at one time during the procession she was close enough to the man to look into his face. He was quite old. And in his eyes she saw not fear but indifference. 

At the site a hole in the ground had been readied, and soldiers pushed a thick pole into this. The man was made to don a specially designed padded execution suit, intended to absorb his blood. 

Then the soldiers tied the condemned man to the post in three places, at his eyes, chest and legs, and placed a large open body bag at his feet. Sunhee was near the front, with the other kids, hoping that after the soldiers had fired their rounds they might retrieve the spent shells as souvenirs. 

Now the drama began. Three soldiers raised their rifles and aimed. Their commanding officer gave the order. They fired first at the eyes. The rope snapped and the man’s head collapsed, as if he were bowing to the crowd. At the same time his head exploded with a burst of steam and his brains cascaded into the body bag. A second volley at the chest sent him crashing head-first – or what remained of the head – towards the body bag. A final volley at the legs snapped the ropes there, and the entire body fell into the bag. A couple of young soldiers then swiftly dumped the bag onto the back of a truck, for later disposal in the mountains. 

As intended, it was all quite theatrical. Sunhee’s two brothers later told her that this quick execution was reserved for relatively minor crimes. Those convicted of significant offenses against the state received a public hanging, which in North Korea meant a rope around the neck, then being hauled slowly upwards into the air and left to die a lingering, kicking, screaming death.

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Iraq Christian Refugees Need English Books

Father Douglas Bazi of Iraq was once kidnapped by Islamists. They used a hammer to break his teeth, his knees and his back. The torment only ended when his Chaldean Christian church paid a ransom to win his release. But he was forced to spend a year in bed, recovering from his injuries.

He is now working in a secure part of Iraq, in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan. Though just 50 miles from ISIS-controlled Mosul, the region is well protected and ISIS is not deemed a threat.

Douglas BaziHe is in charge of a small church with a large garden. After the trials of his past he should now be at peace. But he is not.

“My people are still struggling,” he told me in a Skype interview. “I do not find peace.”

In fact, the sprawling church garden has become home to 120 caravans, most of them occupied by desperate refugees who were forced to flee when ISIS launched its campaign of subjugation and genocide against Christian towns. (Though when I refer to them as refugees Father Douglas gently tells me, “I always call them my relatives, never refugees.”)

It is among the caravans that he has launched a new school, staffed by volunteers and aimed at giving education – and hope – to some 200 youngsters, and to their parents as well.

Several caravans are classrooms. One is a computer lab. There is also a library. He wanted to take the children to the cinema, but it was expensive. So he was able to acquire a large television set, and now another of the caravans is a cinema.

“I want to give the children a future,” he said. “I want them to be creative. We must not transfer our hatreds to them.”

His programs seem to be working. Youngsters who arrive angry and aggressive have become happy, enthusiastic learners. Their parents – often just as angry – have found a sense of community. Some have refused to leave the caravans when given the chance to be resettled in apartments.

The students learn English, among other subjects, and Father Bazi has a request.

“I need books,” he told me. “Especially picture books for the younger children, but also books suitable for older children and adults.” Rather than novels he would prefer collections of short stories, as well as non-fiction titles with lots of illustrations.

If you feel you have suitable books that you could donate please email Father Douglas at douglasbazi@gmail.com.

And if you are feeling especially adventurous, he also needs English teachers for two or three weeks this summer.

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The Honesty of Prisoners

If you want honesty, then talk to some prisoners.

That might sound paradoxical. People in gaol have often been locked up precisely because of crimes that involve dishonesty.

But once inside they have little to lose. That is why I always appreciate the reviews I receive regularly for my novels from the inmates of Wakulla Correctional Institution in Florida.

I am part of a scheme run by the John 3:16 Marketing Network – a group of Christian authors – to supply the prisoners with our books, to be read and critiqued as part of a writing skills program.

Festival in the Desert - Smashwords cover Jan 2013The reviews are brutally honest, and certainly several of the inmates have not taken to my books. (See here, for example.)

But most of the reviews are generally favorable, and the latest two are quite encouraging.

Here is William K, writing about my thriller “Festival in the Desert,” part of my Brother Half Angel series:

Once again Martin Roth has accomplished an enjoyable and exciting read. The Brother Half Angel thrillers have been able to entertain and provide some education. The Christian population is always in need of both.

I enjoyed this book and the series. There is always a personal challenge to overcome and this book helps make the lesson enjoyable.

And an anonymous inmate on “Brother Half Angel,” the first in the series:

Brother Half Angel - New CoverBrother Half Angel is the leader of a military order started in a South Korean church. The order is to help Christians around the world who are under attack. This leads him to a small seminary school in China. His methods are somewhat un-Christian, yet serve the purpose in the end.

This is fairly well written. The story is entertaining and I enjoyed it for what it is. There are a few interesting situations in the story that make you think and reflect on what others must endure in their faith. I would recommend this book to others that enjoy adventure stories.

Thanks guys!

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ASX Interview Goes Live

Top Stocks 2015My interview with Tony Featherstone at the ASX, about Top Stocks 2015, has gone live. The original plan was to post it in January, but the ASX decided to bring it forward a month.

My interview a year ago was apparently 2014’s most-watched interview at the ASX.

In the latest chat I spoke well of three stocks, and also discussed others, along with market themes and trends in the Top Stocks books. You can view it all at the ASX website –

http://www.asx.com.au/education/investment-videos-2014.htm

 

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Olea Nel, Author of “Andrew Murray Destined to Serve – A Biographical Novel”

Early this month I wrote a review of a new novel, “Andrew Murray Destined to Serve,” about the life of the famous South African writer and pastor. I described it as “a wonderfully written historical novel that transports you right to the heart of South Africa in the mid-nineteenth century…Highly recommended.”

Now the author, Canberra (Australia) resident Olea Nel, has kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

Please tell us a little about Andrew Murray.

Andrew Murray is known today as one of the great heroes of the faith, as well as an author, par excellence, of devotional works. In my opinion, few authors plumb the depth of topics such as prayer, holiness, humility, and the need to be filled with the Spirit, like he does. When you read his works, you know that you are encountering an author who has walked the high road of holiness before you.

Olea 1What inspired you to write about him?

When I was growing up in Cape Town, Andrew Murray was still a household name. But unfortunately, the younger generation today, especially those living in South Africa, no longer know much about him. So I decided to turn this situation around as best I could.

Why should twenty-first century Christians be reading Andrew Murray?

Unfortunately, the preaching we encounter today tends to be either light-on, or just the conveyance of knowledge without the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit to breathe life into the Word.

Andrew Murray warns us about both types of preaching. He stresses that sermons need to be based on the Word as well as point to Jesus. In addition, they need to teach us how to imitate and submit to Christ so that we may grow in holiness until we are filled with the Spirit.

What stands out in Andrew Murray’s writings for me is the how of the spiritual journey:

  • The how of abiding in Christ, and where we fail
  • The how of prayer
  • The how of growing in humility and mortifying self
  • The how of waiting upon God in silent adoration
  • The how of reading Scripture so that the Holy Spirit accompanies our reading and is there to convict and encourage
  • The how of being filled and led by the Spirit

Which are his most useful books, and which are your own favourites?

For new Christians, I’d recommend The New Life. After the revival that swept through the Cape in the early 1860s, Murray realized that many new Christians wanted to increase their biblical knowledge. So he wrote this simple theological work to supply that need.

In addition to the above work, I’d also recommend The True Vine for young believers. It is much simpler than Abide in Christ, an earlier work on which it is based.

For Christians on the way, I’d recommend The Two Covenants, Waiting on God, and any of Murray’s works on prayer.

As for my favorites, there are four that immediately spring to mind. They are: Absolute Surrender, Humility, With Wings as Eagles, and his pocket book The Secret of Adoration.

Please tell us about the spiritual revival in South Africa in the 1860s, and the role Andrew Murray played to promote it?

The 1860s revival was one of the great spiritual awakenings of the nineteenth century. Between May 1860 and December 1861, the Holy Spirit swept through most of the towns in the Cape Colony, as well as a few beyond its borders. And what was so amazing about this visitation was that the ensuing revival was a distinct departure from the norm.

During most revivals, God’s people (church goers) are awakened first. But in Worcester, where Andrew Murray had just begun to serve as their pastor, revival broke out amongst Colored farm workers who were receiving religious instructions from a young niece of the farmer.

About six months into the revival, Murray decided to go on an extensive preaching tour that helped to deepen the faith of those who had just given their lives to the Lord. As a result, his name became closely associated with this great awakening.

If you would like to know more about this revival, I invite you to read my book: South Africa’s Forgotten Revival (2010) which is available as a free download from my website – http://www.onandrewmurray.com.

Why did you decide to tell Murray’s story in fictional form?

One of the main reasons was that several non-fiction works already existed. Another was that their authors hardly touched on his spiritual journey and the struggles he experienced as a young pastor. Yet another reason was that I wanted to reach a new readership who preferred novels.

In addition to the above, his family and friends spoke of a definite ‘before’ and ‘after’ period in his spiritual pilgrimage that I was keen to explore. And to my mind, there was no better way to describe that journey than through the eyes of Andrew Murray himself. And that could only be done via a novel.

What can we expect from your next novels in the series?

While my first novel Andrew Murray Destined to Serve only covers Murray’s first year in ministry, the sequel, which will be titled Andrew Murray Destined to Preach, will cover the years 1850 to 1856.

During this period, he begins to mature as a leader, and finds himself having to negotiate with the British on behalf of the Boers. At the same time, he begins to struggle with feelings of pride and self-aggrandisement that he knows is detrimental to his spiritual growth.

It will take a proverbial slap in the face plus two emotionally searing events to bring him down to earth and get him back on track.

The third novel, which will be titled Andrew Murray Destined to Lead, will cover the heady days of revival and its aftermath. But not long after, we will witness how Murray is plunged into an emotionally-draining period, when all he can do is wait upon the Lord and hold on tight in faith. The lessons learnt during this period will ultimately lead to the spiritual turning point in his life.

Sorry I have to be so vague, but if it were not so, I’d be telling, wouldn’t I?

Olea, I enjoyed the first novel, and shall certainly be looking forward to the next. Thank you.

* “Andrew Murray Destined to Serve” is available at Amazon.

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Memoir of a Spiritual Giant

South African church minister Andrew Murray is one of the giants of Evangelical Christian spiritual literature. Some of his books, such as “With Christ in the School of Prayer,” are considered classics.

Andrew Murray Destined to ServeHis life was dramatic. He was only 21, and fresh from theological studies in The Netherlands, when he was appointed as the sole minister to a vast area of South Africa. In later years he was to become a famous preacher, not only in South Africa, but also abroad, and he was to lead a holiness revival in his home country.

Now comes an excellent novel, the first in a planned trilogy, that covers the early years of Murray’s life.

It is “Andrew Murray: Destined to Serve” by Olea Nel, who was born in South Africa, but now lives in Australia. She is also the author of “South Africa’s Forgotten Revival,” which tells of the 1860 Great Awakening in that country, spearheaded in large part by Murray.

In “Andrew Murray: Destined to Serve” we read in fictional form about Murray’s first year back home, as he steps off the ship from Europe and soon after, despite his youth, is appointed to a remote post as minister in Bloemfontein.

As a church leader tells him: “Then there’s you, a born leader and preacher with an innate ability to relate to people. You’re also bold and forthright.”

He achieves some success, but dangers await. There is a close call with lions and an encounter with wolves, and there is deadly disease. But other enemies are also skulking.

As he relates (the novel is written in the form of a first-person memoir): “But as I bathed in the sunshine of my newfound status, I was unaware of the dangers of self-satisfaction and pride that lurked in the shadows. These would make themselves known soon enough. In the meantime, my elders and deacons would continue to use my inexperience to persuade me to do their bidding.”

This is a wonderfully written historical novel that transports you right to the heart of South Africa in the mid-nineteenth century. Clearly the author has done a huge amount of research. It is also a kind of spiritual diary, as we watch a devoted young man of God struggle – not always successfully – with enemies of all kinds.

Highly recommended, and I eagerly await the next in the series.

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