Why 2017 Lacked Posts

We know there were no posts to the Tameri blog for 2017. We had a lot hap­pen­ing, not the least of which is the com­ple­tion of my (Scott) mas­ter of fine arts degree in film and dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy. We did main­tain post­ing to the Facebook page and to our Twitter account, but we didn’t blog. We know that it was a mis­take to let the blog go stale.

It’s nev­er good to neglect a blog for a year. Followers assume it has been aban­doned for­ev­er and some RSS appli­ca­tions mark the blog as dead. Subscribers leave, unless they hap­pen to fol­low you on Facebook and Twitter. Do fol­low the Tameri Guide social media feeds. We are active on Facebook dai­ly.

Now that the MFA is com­plete and some per­son­al mat­ters are set­tling down a bit (a lit­tle bit) we will revive this blog with posts about our favorite books and writ­ing.

Oh, and I co-edit­ed a book and wrote a chap­ter for anoth­er text.

The Librarian

This week­end, TNT aired “The Librarian” movies. It reminds me of oth­er great ref­er­ences to books and libraries.

From The Mummy (1999):

Evelyn: I may not be an explor­er, or an adven­tur­er, or a trea­sure-seek­er, or a gun­fight­er, Mr. O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am.
Rick: And what is that?
Evelyn: I… am a librar­i­an.

From the Doctor Who episode “Tooth and Claw” (2006):

Sir Robert: Nevertheless, that crea­ture won’t give up, Doctor, and we still don’t pos­sess an actu­al weapon!
The Doctor: Oh, your dad got all the brains, didn’t he?
Rose Tyler: Being rude again!
The Doctor: Good, I meant that one. You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the great­est arse­nal we could have — arm your­selves!

I found the idea of being a librar­i­an very appealing—working in a place where peo­ple had to whis­per and only speak when nec­es­sary. If only the world were like that!
― Peter Cameron, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librar­i­an can bring you back the right one.
― Neil Gaiman

When the going gets tough, the tough get a librar­i­an.
― Joan Bauer

A book is a frag­ile crea­ture, it suf­fers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the ele­ments and clum­sy hands. so the librar­i­an pro­tects the books not only against mankind but also against nature and devotes his life to this war with the forces of obliv­ion.
— Umberto Eco

Not all librar­i­ans are evil cultists. Some librar­i­ans are instead venge­ful undead who want to suck your soul.
― Brandon Sanderson, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones

Reviewing a Book, Part I

Book reviews allow us to share more than our opin­ions about spe­cif­ic books or authors: they are an oppor­tu­ni­ty to defend what we con­sid­er the qual­i­ties a good book should have, while often giv­ing us easy exam­ples of the traits a book should not poss­es. A well writ­ten review offers a les­son to writ­ers and read­ers.

In this first part of “Reviewing a Book” we exam­ine basic school book review assign­ments and pro­mo­tion­al mar­ket­ing reviews. Our sec­ond part will explore impar­tial reviews such as those appear­ing in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. Some col­lege cours­es also encour­age stu­dents to com­pose long-form impar­tial reviews.

Beginning with Book Reports

Our first expe­ri­ences with writ­ing about books is the ele­men­tary school book report. The genre is the sim­plest form of a review. Consider one pos­si­ble assign­ment out­line for young stu­dents:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Setting
  • Protagonist(s)
  • Antagonist(s)
  • Other Characters
  • Summary
  • Why I would or would not rec­om­mend this book.

In the low­er ele­men­tary grades, stu­dents might com­plete a basic form with spaces for the required infor­ma­tion. Teachers want stu­dents to devel­op the abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy ele­ments of nar­ra­tives. Early reviews reflect this empha­sis on iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Once stu­dents can iden­ti­fy nar­ra­tive ele­ments, teach­ers encour­age more advanced com­pre­hen­sion and appli­ca­tion activ­i­ties.

Once you can iden­ti­fy the role char­ac­ters play with­in a nar­ra­tive, you are ready to explore the lessons taught by the choic­es char­ac­ters make. In upper ele­men­tary grades and mid­dle school, stu­dents begin to com­pose five-para­graph reviews explor­ing the themes and the­ses of books. The theme of a work is often a gen­er­al­iza­tion. A the­sis is the core argu­ment of a work.

Theme: A fam­i­ly is more than genet­ic inher­i­tance.

Thesis: An adopt­ed child is as much a part of a lov­ing fam­i­ly as any child might be.

Appreciating the rela­tion­ship between a theme and the the­sis of a work helps you under­stand why a writer makes cer­tain choic­es when devel­op­ing a plot. Exploring such com­plex con­cepts as “theme” requires more than a sim­ple fill-in-the-blanks approach.

The (infa­mous) stan­dard school essay for­mat leads to a review that might be struc­tured accord­ing to this mod­el from the state of New York (http://www.nysedregents.org):

Catchy Review Title

Paragraph 1: Introduction of the Review. This para­graph men­tions the author and the book title. Indicate your over­all rec­om­men­da­tion in the first para­graph, which will be rephrased in the con­clu­sion.

Paragraph 2: Summary and Main Characters. Summarize the sto­ry and describe the main char­ac­ters.

Paragraph 3: Favorite Section. Describe the best part of the book, explain­ing why oth­er read­ers will enjoy it, with­out giv­ing away the entire plot. If you are writ­ing a neg­a­tive review, explain your least favorite part of the book.

Paragraph 4: Lessons Learned. Explain the theme of the sto­ry and any lessons that the author wants read­ers to remem­ber.

Paragraph 5: Conclusion of the Review. The last para­graph should restate if you rec­om­mend the book to oth­ers or not.

Book reviews expand in detail as we gain expe­ri­ences as read­ers and writ­ers, but the under­ly­ing struc­ture remains the same. A New York Times book review tells us a bit about the author, the basics about the book, and tries to per­suade us to either read or avoid an encounter with the text. The breadth and depth increase, but those ele­men­tary school mod­els remind us that most of us have writ­ten book reviews.

In high school, book review assign­ments resem­ble mar­ket­ing reviews. Teachers tend to ask stu­dents to write about books they enjoyed read­ing. As a result, the book reviews of high school stu­dents read like pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als.

Blurbs and Marketing Reviews

If you read dust jack­et endorse­ments, known as cov­er blurbs, you are famil­iar with the short­est form of mar­ket­ing review. A mar­ket­ing review is meant to sell a book; rarely does a mar­ket­ing review teach the poten­tial read­er a mean­ing­ful les­son. Of course, if you do buy a book based sole­ly on blurbs, you do risk learn­ing how use­less blurbs are.

Blurbs read like the snip­pets of movie reviews stu­dios use (often out of con­text) to pro­mote their films. Hyperbole is the norm in blurbs. “The ‘must-read’ book of the year!” “This book will change your life.” “I had to read it cov­er to cov­er. It is impos­si­ble to put down this book.” If blurbs were accu­rate, then every book pub­lished would be supe­ri­or to all pre­vi­ous books. Blurbs are less than 100 words and sel­dom longer than 50 words.

Marketing reviews are short reviews com­mis­sioned by a pub­lish­er or author. Some writ­ing groups offer to review mem­ber books, so these reviews can be cit­ed in mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als. Such reviews are col­le­gial and sup­port­ive, rarely exam­ples of detailed crit­i­cal analy­sis. However, before dis­miss­ing all mar­ket­ing reviews as use­less, appre­ci­ate that there is a dif­fer­ence between being sup­port­ive and being dis­hon­est. When writ­ing groups review books by mem­bers or when an agent asks an author for a review, these review­ers tend do their best to com­pose hon­est reviews.

Marketing reviews tend to be less than 750 words. Within the con­straints of their pur­pose, the reviews adhere to the con­ven­tions of longer form reviews you might find in news­pa­pers or mag­a­zines.

A sam­ple mar­ket­ing review struc­ture:

Catchy Review Title Review Subtitle

Paragraph 1: Introduction. This para­graph includes short, eas­i­ly quot­ed sen­tences about the best qual­i­ties of the book. Mention the author and the title in the mid­dle of the para­graph. The wit­ti­er your state­ments rec­om­mend­ing the book, the bet­ter in a mar­ket­ing review.

Paragraphs 2 and 3: Summary. In the sum­ma­ry para­graphs, con­tin­ue the pos­i­tive and wit­ty rec­om­men­da­tion mod­el. Marketing reviews tend to embrace adjec­tives and adverbs, with­out the absurd hyper­bole of blurbs. Clichés pep­per mar­ket­ing reviews, but we wish they didn’t. You do not need to write, “The dan­ger­ous voy­age across Lake Superior dur­ing a squall had me on the edge of my seat.” Replace a cliché like “edge of my seat” with more detail to make the mar­ket­ing review more sub­stan­tial.

Paragraph 4: Characters. People want to know what makes the main char­ac­ters com­pelling. Marketing mate­ri­als know that peo­ple remem­ber char­ac­ters bet­ter than plot points.

Paragraph 5: Promote the Author. Marketing reviews tend to include more pro­mo­tion of the author than impar­tial reviews do.

Paragraph 6: Style Points. Because most mar­ket­ing reviews try to asso­ciate an author’s style with his or her biog­ra­phy, praise of the style tends to fol­low the bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion. For exam­ple: “Drawing on her expe­ri­ence as a sur­geon, Dr. Garza vivid­ly describes the oper­at­ing room scenes. Readers wit­ness the com­mon mis­takes sur­geons make under pres­sure, from a first­hand per­spec­tive.”

Paragraph 7: Conclusion. Again, the wit­ti­er, the bet­ter. The first and last para­graphs of a mar­ket­ing review are the most impor­tant because they are meant to be quot­ed.

If you are asked to write a mar­ket­ing review, we sug­gest out­lin­ing the review using the above mod­el. A mar­ket­ing review needs to fit on a page or two. The sen­tences and the para­graphs are short, allow­ing them to be quot­ed. As Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Part II

In our next post, we will address com­pos­ing long-form reviews.

Book Review — After Dark by Jayne Castle

One of my favorite fea­tures of GoodReads is the abil­i­ty to get book rec­om­men­da­tions based on books list­ed or ranked in your library. Using the GoodReads rec­om­men­da­tions, I have already found dozens of new authors and books to try.

The most recent book, After Dark by Jayne Castle, was one of those books. I’ve read oth­er books by Jayne Castle/Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick so try­ing this new series, Harmony, was an easy choice.

Although I do like the sto­ry, an antiq­ui­ties theft-mur­der mys­tery, the para­nor­mal part of the sto­ry is tossed in a lit­tle too casu­al­ly. Terms like para-archae­ol­o­gy, rez-shrinks, para-rez, and a few oth­ers are sprin­kled with­in the nar­ra­tive before they were explained, and the expla­na­tions, when they did come, were not detailed enough to elim­i­nate any con­fu­sion. Readers are a few dozen pages or a chap­ter or two into the nov­el before learn­ing the series takes place on an off-world colony that has been cut off from all Earth con­tact.

It seems to me that the fan­ta­sy/s­ci-fi part of this sto­ry should have been intro­duced and explained ear­li­er in the sto­ry, and with more detail, so that the set­ting is more thor­ough­ly estab­lished. I’m guess­ing that Jayne Castle want­ed the romance and mys­tery to be the pre­dom­i­nat­ing sto­ry, not the fan­ta­sy aspects, but you can­not sprin­kle in ref­er­ences to your spe­cif­ic “world” with­out explain­ing them.

Unfortunately, After Dark reminds me of an old rule I estab­lished years ago: don’t both­er read­ing fan­ta­sy writ­ten by non-fan­ta­sy writ­ers. The “worlds” cre­at­ing by non-fan­ta­sy writ­ers do not have the same lev­el of detail, thought, and orga­ni­za­tion as the “worlds” cre­at­ed by peo­ple who spe­cial­ize in writ­ing sci­ence fic­tion or fan­ta­sy.

I’ll keep an eye out for more in the Harmony series, and am I still look­ing for books in the Arcane Society series in used book stores, but they aren’t high in my “want” list. I hope with prac­tice, Jayne improves her fan­ta­sy writ­ing skills because I do like her con­tem­po­rary and his­tor­i­cal nov­els.

Book Review — A Midsummer Night’s Scream by Jill Churchill

A Midsummer Night’s Scream is book 15 in what is now, and hope­ful­ly remains, a 16-book series fea­tur­ing Jane Jeffry, a crime-solv­ing stay-at-home moth­er. The title of each book in the series is a play on a famous book title, clev­er­ly tying the mys­ter­ies to Jane’s love of read­ing and what is prob­a­bly the author’s love of books.

As this title implies, Jane and her best friend and neigh­bor, Shelley, are loose­ly involved with a local col­lege-run the­ater. I say loose­ly because Jane and Shelley’s only involve­ment is cater­ing snacks dur­ing the play’s rehearsals so that Shelley can test new cater­ing com­pa­nies for her hus­band. During this time, two peo­ple asso­ci­at­ed with the the­ater, one of the actors and a jan­i­tor, are mur­dered. Jane’s long-time boyfriend, Detective Mel VanDyne, is assigned the two cas­es.

Despite the series name, A Jane Jeffry Mystery, Jane had almost noth­ing to do with solv­ing these mur­ders. Most of this book revolved around tast­ing test­ing cater­ers and attend­ing a needle­point class.

Previous mys­ter­ies make use of Jane’s inti­mate knowl­edge of all things domes­tic. In fact, it was her thor­ough ground­ing in her domes­tic life and chil­dren that was usu­al­ly the key to solv­ing the mys­tery.

Testing the cater­ers dur­ing the the­ater rehearsals was a fee­ble way to involve Jane and Shelley in the the­ater. Having them attend a needle­point class as a way of befriend­ing two of the char­ac­ters in the sto­ry was equal­ly fee­ble. Although the cater­ing com­pa­nies and needle­point class would fit the descrip­tion of “domes­tic,” they were poor­ly used devices. Neither the cater­ers nor the needle­point class had any­thing to do with the mur­ders, except as a dis­trac­tion, and served no pur­pose in advanc­ing the sto­ry or the mys­tery. I was wait­ing for the tie-in and was baf­fled when noth­ing hap­pened.

There was also a slip in char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, with Shelley feel­ing “hurt” that she and Jane weren’t work­ing on their needle­point togeth­er. Shelley wouldn’t feel hurt by some­thing so sil­ly, how­ev­er briefly it was men­tioned. The author also slipped in Bell, Book, and Scandal with Shelley’s char­ac­ter. At one point, Jane was wor­ried that her pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the mys­tery would annoy Shelley to the point of dam­ag­ing their friend­ship. The first reac­tion after read­ing these two sec­tions of the nov­els was, “huh?” Shelley would nev­er over­re­act like that. She should also know by now, after years of friend­ship with Jane, that Jane usu­al­ly does solve the mys­tery and her instincts for the solu­tion are usu­al­ly cor­rect.

A Midsummer’s Night Scream is clear­ly a con­tin­u­a­tion of the slow down­ward slide in qual­i­ty that began with Bell, Book, and Scandal, and ends with the hor­ri­ble The Accidental Florist.

Bell, Book, and Scandal had, I believe, only one change in view­point: we jar­ring­ly switch from Jane’s view­point to that of one of the vic­tims. A Midsummer’s Night Scream had sev­er­al changes in view­point, most­ly to Mel’s view, which is unusu­al in this series. In the pre­vi­ous books, Mel was nev­er a well-devel­oped char­ac­ter and we nev­er saw the mys­tery from his point of view, only Jane’s.

Unlike pre­vi­ous mys­ter­ies in this series, Jane does very lit­tle think­ing about this mys­tery and had almost no input into the solu­tion.

The odd­est part of this book: the epi­logue. No pre­vi­ous book in this series has ever done a “where are they now” end­ing to the sto­ry. It was out of place, not remote­ly enter­tain­ing, and again, not from Jane’s point of view. None of the “where are they now” state­ments would be any­thing Jane could pos­si­bly know.

Jill Churchill, if you are tired of writ­ing this series, just stop. Don’t try to wrap every­thing up neat­ly for Jane as you did in The Accidental Florist. Just stop writ­ing.

On a scale of 1 to 5, most of the Jane Jeffry Mysteries would get a 3 or 4. The pre­vi­ous book to this one, Bell, Book, and Scandal, would receive a 2, as would A Midsummer Night’s Scream. The final book in the series, The Accidental Florist, would receive a neg­a­tive num­ber if pos­si­ble.

Title: A Midsummer Night’s Scream
Author: Jill Churchill
Publisher: Avon Books
ISBN: 978–0-06–050100-6