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review 2019-01-15 22:13
Mystery, police procedural, and an in-depth look at the US judicial system. A great read.
Justice Gone - N. Lombardi Jr.

I am reviewing this book as a member of Rosie’s book review team and thank her, NetGalley,  and Roundfire for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, ahead of its publication, that I freely chose to review.

This is not an easy book to categorise, and it could fit into a number of classifications, but it goes beyond the standard examples many of the readers of some of those genres are used to come across. When I heard about this book, my interest was piqued by several elements: the book features as one of its main characters a female therapist who has specialised in counselling war vets (many of them suffering from PTSD), and as a psychiatrist (and I did work with military personnel, although not from the US) I’m always intrigued by the literary portrayals of psychologists and psychiatrists and of mental health difficulties. There is a mystery/thriller element, and because I’m an eager reader (and writer) of those genres, I’m always keen to explore new authors and approaches. The novel also promised a close look at the US judicial system, and having studied criminology and the British Criminal Justice system, that aspect of the book was also intriguing. Could the novel deliver in so many levels?

Dr. Tessa Thorpe is an interesting character, and it seems that the author is planning to develop a series of novels around her. She is described as insightful and compassionate, with strong beliefs (anti-war), morals, and a trauma of her own. She is not the perfect professional, and at times her trauma affects her behaviour to a point that I thought would have got her into trouble if she were working in a different environment. We are not given full details of what has happened to her before, but the hints we get through the novel (where other characters in possession of that information refer to it) give us a fair idea. She is much better at dealing with others and understanding what moves them to act as they do than she is at dealing with her own issues, but that is a fairly realistic aspect of the book (although considering how insistent she is in getting others to talk about their difficulties, it is surprising none of the colleagues take her to task). What I was not totally convinced about was the fact that at some point she decides to support the vet going to trial accused of murder, and she leaves her practice and patients unattended for weeks. As she works in a private clinic and we only meet one of her patients, we don’t have sufficient information of her day-to-day tasks, and it’s quite possible that this is not a problem, but it felt counterintuitive to me. Tessa plays an central part in the plot in more ways than one, because although she is an expert in some aspects, she is totally new to what happens in other parts of the novel, like court procedures, and at those points she works as a stand-in for the readers, asking for clarifications and being walked through the process in detail.

The mystery and thriller elements, as I said, are dealt with differently to in many other books. The novel starts at an earlier point than many of the books that give advice to writers would recommend. It does not start in the middle of the action, or the crime (what the real crime is here is one of the main questions). We get the background to the events, down to the phone call to the police about a homeless man, which gets the ball rolling at the very beginning of the book. The police, who have been fed the wrong information, end up beating the man, a war-vet, to death. This causes a huge uproar, and we hear about the way the authorities try to sweep it all under the carpet, then the apparent revenge killing of the three policemen, the chase of a suspect, the hair-raising moment when he gives himself up (with some help from the doctor and others), and then we move onto the court case. There are moments where the book leans towards the police procedural, and we get plenty of details about the physical evidence, the investigation and those involved, we witness interrogations, we are privileged to information even the police don’t have, we get red herrings, and dead ends. The ending… there is a twist at the end, and although some might suspect it is coming, I was so involved in the court case at that point that I had almost forgotten that we did not know who the guilty party was.

I think this is one of the books I’ve read in recent times that best manages to bring to life a US court case, without sparing too many details and at the same time making it gripping. I will confess that the defense attorney, Nathaniel Bodine, is my favourite character, one of those lawyers who will happily cross the line for their client, and he seems, at times, a much better psychologist (and manipulator) than the doctor is. The judicial process is realistically reflected and at times it reads as if it were a detailed film or TV script, with good directions and fantastic dialogue.

And, we also follow the deliberations of the jury, in a few chapters that made me think of Twelve Angry Men, a play I remember watching many years back, although in this case we have a more diverse jury (not twelve men and not all Caucasian) and a more complex case. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the novel as well, and I could clearly see the interaction between the sequestered jury in my mind’s eye. (It would make a great film or series, as I have already suggested).

The story is told in the third person by an omniscient narrator that at times shows us the events from the point of view of one of the characters, mostly from Tessa’s perspective, but at times from others, like her co-workers or members of the police force. At some points, the story is told from an external and fairly objective perspective (like the jury deliberations); although at times we glimpse the personal opinions of that unknown narrator. I know readers dislike “head-hopping”, but I was never in any doubt about whose point of view I was reading, and the alternating perspective helped get a more rounded view of events and characters. Although the style of writing is factual and to the point (some of the descriptions reminded me of police reports, in their matter-of-factness), that does not mean the book fails to produce an emotional reaction on the reader. Quite the opposite. Rather than emphasising the drama by using over-the-top prose, the author lets the facts and the characters’ actions talk for themselves, and that is much more effective, in my opinion.  

I recommend this book to anybody who enjoys a mystery/thriller/police procedural novel which does not obey by the rules and is keen to engage readers in controversy and debates that go beyond a standard genre novel. (The author explains he was inspired to write this book by an incident not dissimilar to the death of the veteran at the hands of the cops at the beginning of the novel). The novel goes into more detail than most readers keen on those genres will be used to, and also follows the events from the very beginning to the very end. This is not a novel only interested in thrilling readers by highlighting the action scenes and ignoring the rest. Readers who always feel there are aspects of a story missing or underdeveloped will love this book, and also those who like complex characters (plenty of grey areas here) and a story that lives beyond the page. I also see book clubs enjoying a great discussion after reading this book, as there is much to debate and ponder. An accomplished novel and the first of a series that we should keep a close eye on.

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review 2018-12-30 22:38
CEREMONY by Leslie Marmon Silko
Ceremony (text only) by L. M. Silko - Leslie Marmon Silko
Told from Tayo's point-of-view.  He is a Native American who, along with his cousin, goes off to fight in Southeast Asia during WWII.  When he returns home, he is suffering from PTSD.  The story switches time periods from before the war growing up, during the war, after the war.  Some of his friends relive their time in the army when they were heroes.  Tayo is just trying to cope with his life and his war experiences.
 
Interesting style of writing where there is no chapters.  It is one continuous story that switches back and forth from the far past, the war, and the present with Native wisdom, stories, and songs.  I like that it is written from the Native American point-of-view and that we get into Tayo's mind and dreams.  I had no problems switching between the time periods and was able to keep track of when and what was happening.  A fascinating book that I am glad I read.
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review 2018-12-24 18:33
Recommended to readers and professionals interested in PTSD and to those considering therapy
Trauma Recovery - Sessions With Dr. Matt: Narratives of Hope and Resilience for Victims with PTSD - Beth Fehlbaum,Matt E Jaremko

I thank the authors and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this non-fiction book that I freely chose to review.

As some of you might know, I’m a psychiatrist, and although I am not working as a psychiatrist at the moment and have mostly worked in Forensic Psychiatry, there is no specialty of psychiatry where we don’t come across Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, unfortunately. As researchers and practitioners have discovered in recent years, trauma is more widespread than people think, and it can have a bearing even in some of the classic psychiatric diagnosis, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

You have probably come across many books written by survivors of a variety of traumatic experiences, and this is a very useful trend, as one of the things that people who have experienced trauma share in common is the feeling that they are alone and nobody understands or shares the way they feel. Reading other people’s accounts and sharing in their hope can be a very useful first-step towards seeking specialised help and starting the journey towards recovery.

This book manages to combine two aspects contained in books on the topic that are difficult to get right. On the one hand, there is a solid and clear explanation of the main therapeutic technique he uses and some adjunctive therapies, and the background to the approaches that Dr Jaremko has used in his everyday clinical practice for many years. On the other, and to illustrate the theory, there is a fictionalised account of a series of sessions of group therapy that seven patients engage in throughout the book. These patients, males and females, from different backgrounds, ethnic and social origins, and who had suffered a variety of traumas, meet regularly for a whole year and learn together, through their interactions within the group, how to apply the lessons learned through the therapy, while supporting each other and modelling their behaviours upon those of the others in the group who might be further away in their journey. Some of the patients, like Ashley and Darren, had been attending the group for a long time, while others, like Patty and Felicia, are newcomers. Beth Fehlbaum, the co-author of the book, has her personal experience as a trauma survivor to bring to the book and her years as an author too, and the fictionalised part of the book works very well. The characters are individualised, fully-fledged, and we get to know them, not only through their group sessions, but through some fragments of chapters when we share in what they think and how they feel from their own perspective. There are highs and lows for all the characters, and not a single one of them is always right and well (life is not without its bumps), even those who have come the farthest through the process. Because it is a process and there are no magic bullets, but there is help out there, and that is what the book excels at: giving hope to those who experience PTSD but have never tried therapy, or have tried therapy but it has not worked for them.

As I read the book, I kept wondering about its format. At first, especially as somebody who has read a bit about the subject (although I have never worked exclusively as a therapist, run group therapy, or used Cognitive Processing Therapy, the approach recommended by the book and also by many experts working in PTSD), I found that there was a fair amount of repetition of some of the key elements and theoretical concepts, that would make sense if the book was read more slowly by people interested in becoming familiar with many of the basic therapeutic aspects, perhaps chapter by chapter. Although I felt readers would probably connect more easily with the fictionalized characters and their difficulties and experiences, than with the purely theoretical parts, I realised that the process is somewhat similar to that the characters go through. They have much to learn and to become familiar with at first (you cannot enjoy stories if you don’t know the alphabet and understand the mechanics of reading), but slowly they gain in confidence, start applying what they have learned and can offer insights to others that they might have missed. The book, towards the end, becomes more dynamic and we can follow more directly the group sessions and the events in the characters’ lives, with the therapeutic aspects more seamlessly incorporated.

Dr Matt, the fictionalised version of Dr Jaremko, also shines through the book, and we get to know him, not only as a professional, but also, although less, as a person with his own plans and interests outside of his practice. Although he is well-liked by the patients, there is no hero-worship at play, and the book clearly explains that finding a therapist with whom one can work is not easy, no matter how good a professional the therapist is or how highly recommended s/he comes. The book emphasises the importance of finding a therapist or a mentor expert in the condition and there is never any suggestion that the book itself can cure anybody, but it is meant as a way to explain and exemplify what the therapeutic process might look like, and to offer hope and encouragement to those who have been stuck suffering, unable to decide what to do, or firmly believing there is no solution.

The book also offers great resources, to both professionals and patients. There is a bibliography at the end that includes books, articles that can be downloaded, and websites to check for more information. The appendixes include relaxation techniques, worksheets, advice on how to choose a therapist (and although some aspects of this are very USA based, the general principles would apply anywhere), and one of my favourite aspects of the book was that each chapter contains a playlist including songs and movies relevant to the aspects of trauma and therapy discussed there, and there is much emphasis placed on the importance of reading and of books that inspire the journey to recovery. In the same way that no patient would be cured just by reading this book, but they might feel inspired to seek help, no psychologist or therapist would become an expert on how to treat PTSD just by reading this book, but they might discover new approaches that they might want to explore further and learn more about. Although the book talks about PTSD, as I read it I could not help but think that many of its lessons and the examples of behaviours and erroneous beliefs highlighted through the theory and especially the sessions (there are some individual sessions also illustrated in the book, although they always result from questions or aspects of a patient’s experience that has been discussed in one of the group sessions) would have practical application in many other conditions. Cognitive errors (or “stinking thinking”, as it is known in the sessions) are common in many psychiatric conditions, and we all get stuck with them at some point or other. Much of the advice about how to change behaviour (CPT has its roots in CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy) could be applied to aspects of our lives that we wish to change, and that is one of the beauties of this method and the book, that it feels common-sensical once we get used to analysing the way we think in those terms.

As a writer, I also thought this book would be a great resource to other writers who are interested in understanding their characters’ motivations better, in particular to those who write about characters with a diagnosis of PTSD or severe trauma.

This is not a book for everybody, but it is a book that I am sure will provide useful information to people interested in the subject, and you do not need to be an expert to follow the theoretical basis behind the therapy. It is also very well written, and you will get to care and feel for all the characters in the group, and that is something that as an avid reader I know is not always easy to find, even in fiction. As you can imagine, the book contains descriptions of the traumas that the characters have suffered, as that is necessary to understand the therapy and the way the patients react to it. Those go from sexual and physical abuse to war trauma, natural disasters, hate crimes, and road traffic accidents. So, plenty of trigger warnings. On the other hand, if the book can inspire readers suffering from the condition to seek a therapist and start in the way to recovery, it is well worth a read.

Note that both authors are happy to provide copies of the book to people who cannot afford it but feel might benefit from it.

A great resource for professionals and others interested in the topic, with characters that feel real and we get to understand and care about. Highly recommended.

 

 

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review 2018-12-21 17:46
Review: "A Soldier's Wish" (The Christmas Angel, #5) by N.R. Walker
A Soldier's Wish - N.R. Walker

 

~ 4.5 stars ~

 

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review 2018-12-19 17:00
Review: "Christmas Homecoming" (The Christmas Angel, #4) by L.A. Witt
Christmas Homecoming - L.A. Witt

 

~ 4 stars ~

 

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