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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Vampire Legends by Kamee Shrope: Beyond The Stereotypes



What I liked most about Vampire Legends (The Collectors Volume 1) is the characterization.  It avoids the old cliché about all vampires being evil monsters, and the newer cliché about all vampires being conventional  romance heroes.  Kamee Shrope treats all her characters as individuals whether they are vampires or human.  Since vampires are born as human beings, they should have a variety of responses to living as vampires because human beings aren't all alike in their responses to any experience.   I have no interest in reading about predators without personality or stereotypical heartthrobs with fangs. Shrope's characters are neither of these.   This is why I requested her book from The Bookplex.

            
                                             
      
                                                     
Shrope begins by telling us about two brothers  who became vampires in 800 A.D. by using a magical spell. Many readers who see that this book deals with two brothers who are vampires will think of the television series,The Vampire Diaries . Shrope might have made the decision to publish her book as a result of the popularity of The Vampire Diaries, but her ideas are her own. Shrope's Vampire Legends also deals with a prophecy about five people born with the vampire virus who would have paranormal powers. These five are known as Legends.  The Collectors are vampires who can identify them.  

I like this concept's historical dimension. The Legends and the Collectors are born in different historical periods and have varying perspectives.  I have to say that their backgrounds aren't always as specific as I would like.  For example, we are told that a character came from the period when Tokyo was known as Edo.  Since Edo became Tokyo in 1868, that's a huge expanse of Japanese history.  See the Wikipedia article on Edo 
                                                        
 A more significant problem is that  Shrope may not have thought through her concept completely.    Those who become vampires with a magical spell can’t pass on a vampire virus that had never incubated inside their bodies.  Logically, none of the other vampires can possibly be children of their blood. Their blood relationship is emphasized, so it seems to be strongly implied that the vast majority of vampires shown in this book are children of the same two sires.  Perhaps the sequel will reveal that I am wrong, and that this is a community that has always sheltered vampires from a multiplicity of origins.  That’s really the only possibility that would make sense in this context.

Now lets talk about the romance in Vampire Legends (The Collectors).  In most paranormal romances that I have seen, the vampire heroes are macho types who never grow or change. This seems unlikely to me when a character has lived for centuries.  Maybe most romance readers prefer macho heroes, but I prefer character complexity.  Chance, the vampire romantic hero, is a whole man who is fully capable in the realms of thought, emotion and action.  He can appear to be like a playful child in one moment, a wise advisor in the next moment, and a strong protector soon afterward. 

Another aspect of this book that is different from conventional romances is the ending.  Romances are supposed to have the famous fairy tale ending "and they all lived happily ever after" which is known as HEA among romance fans.  Instead Shrope has written a cliffhanger ending which I consider a weakness of the novel. Like most readers, I find cliffhanger endings annoying because they are manipulative.  It’s a sign that the author doesn’t believe in her work .  Kamee Shrope must think that people won’t buy her next book if her first one contains a complete storyline.  I think that if readers like me are satisfied by the ending, they are much more likely to buy the next book.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Killing Custer: Custer vs. Arapahos in 2013

Killing Custer by Margaret Coel is a contemporary mystery that deals with historical re-enactment.  I actually know a number of medieval re-enactors and a few Victorian re-enactors , but all these people are hobbyists.  There isn't one of them who truly believes that he or she is a historical personage re-born.  I will not say that such a thing is impossible.  Reincarnation is a cherished belief of  Hinduism, Buddhism and a number of other religions.  Yet in the context of historical re-enactment, a belief that you really are the role you play can cause some serious difficulties in your relationships with the real people with whom you are currently interacting.  This is seen in the lives of several characters in Killing Custer.

I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher, Berkeley Prime Crime, through the good offices of the author's publicist, Julia Drake.

                                                     

I've read other books in Margaret Coel's Wind River mystery series that takes place on the Wind River Arapaho reservation.  My favorite is The Spirit Woman which deals with Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark.

While doing a search on Margaret Coel for this review, I discovered that she has also written an award winning history book on a real Arapaho historical personage.  Here's the page about this work of history on Margaret Coel's website: Chief Left Hand  .  It is among the resources listed in the bibliography at the end of the Wikipedia article Chief Niwot . Niwot  means left hand in the Arapaho language.

The connection that the biography of Chief Niwot has to the book I'm currently reviewing is that he was most probably a victim of the Sand Creek Massacre. Custer and his troops were responsible for a very similar atrocity known as the Washita Massacre which forms part of the historical background for Killing Custer.

Since I am fairly familiar with Custer's history, I thought the most interesting aspect of this novel was legal rather than historical.  Protagonist Vicky Holden is an Arapaho lawyer who has frequently taken pro bono cases for Arapaho clients.  Since this is well known among the Arapaho, I would have imagined that a case in which multiple parties were Arapaho could have led Vicky into a conflict of interest situation in an earlier book.  Conflict of interest is an important issue in legal ethics which does arise very poignantly for Vicky in Killing Custer in a way that I hadn't expected.  Even when there isn't an actual conflict, lawyers want to avoid any possibility that there might be one because the repercussions of such an involvement could end a lawyer's career. To learn more see Rule 1.7 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct on the American Bar Association website.

Yet what I enjoy most about the Wind River series is the friendship between Vicky Holden and co-protagonist Father John O'Malley, who is a priest at the St. Francis Mission on the Wind River Reservation.  There are some wonderful  moments in this friendship during the events of Killing Custer that will gratify the fans of this series.  So I will give my fellow Margaret Coel fans a heads up that this latest installment in the Wind River series will be available very soon.  It is slated for release on September 3, 2013.





                                                               

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Book on Autism Diagnosis By A School Psychologist


I have several friends with autistic children.  As a result, I became interested in the topic.  This is why I selected Is My Child Autistic or Delayed for review when the opportunity was offered to me by The Bookplex.
 
                                                  

Author Susan Louise Peterson is a school psychologist with a great deal of experience with observing autistic and delayed development students.  Is Your Child Autistic or Delayed provides a great many insights based on her experience.  
  
 I thought the approach of having a team assessment with members drawn from a number disciplines observing the child in multiple contexts over a period of time is a sound one.  Peterson’s caution to parents about relying on the use of online questionnaires for the diagnosis of their children seemed to be particularly apt. 

On the other hand, the structure of the book which involves presenting parents’ concerns followed by a professional response lends itself to repetitiveness.  There are many similar issues presented in Is Your Child Autistic or Delayed and similar statements in the replies.  This book could be better organized to eliminate all the repetition. 

Another important criticism is that Peterson doesn’t think that medical doctors have any role in diagnosing autism and can’t imagine how an MRI applies to this process.   The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin, which I read recently, shows how the brains of individuals on the autism spectrum can be different from neurotypical individuals.  An MRI reveals these differences.  Although The Autistic Brain is a new book, the discovery that an MRI can be used as a tool to diagnose autism is several years old.  It surprises me that a professional interested in this topic wouldn’t have noticed the published studies that have validated the use of MRIs for this purpose.

There has been a shake up in the area of autism diagnosis.  Asperger's Syndrome no longer exists as a diagnostic category.  Temple Grandin says in The Autistic Brain that diagnoses are less important than solutions. She takes a pragmatic approach to those highly functioning individuals who used to be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.   It seems to Grandin that if someone's brain functions differently from the majority of people in certain areas, maybe what's needed are coping strategies rather than a diagnosis.  A child who knows how to deal effectively with issues that are considered impairments or challenges, will become a functioning adult rather than an impaired one.  I think that is the goal of both school psychologists like Susan Peterson, and those who speak from the autistic perspective like Temple Grandin.