The DBT Solution for Emotional Eating by Debra L. Safer, M.D.

Some years ago, I was the foster parent to a teenager whose adolescence had been filled with abuse by various people, including her father, brother, and even the man who played Santa Claus. Finally, some 25+ years after she left our home, she began working with therapists to deal with the consequences of her upbringing. To this day, she still is wandering in the wilderness of therapy, doing a lot of therapist-shopping and -hopping, and I am still fascinated by the possibilities for treatment and the various options available. In the past year she has begun working with a therapist who specializes in DBT. Because of this and because her issues have manifested in behaviors that include out of control eating I was particularly pleased to receive an advance copy of the new book, The DBT Solution for Emotional Eating, from Guilford Publications and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Dr. Debra Safer is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University Medical Center. After she attended medical school at the University of California, San Francisco she had a residency in psychiatry at Stanford where she worked closely with W. Stewart Agras, MD, and his eating disorders research team. In February 2017, her textbook, Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Binge Eating and Bulimia was released. She wrote this along with three other professionals. This new book, which is scheduled for release in January 2018, was written in conjunction with two other doctors and clearly designed for a general audience.

I admit to having had some confusion between dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). One outstanding thing about this book is the clear way it explains DBT: “This DBT program for binge eating focuses on the relationship between your feelings and your urges to use food…” And that there are “…three modules or categories of DBT skills: mindfulness emotion regulation and distress tolerance…Central to DBT is that individuals turn to food to self-soothe, numb and avoid emotional discomfort because food “works” temporarily…” And the BFD for me:” Dialectical thinking involves holding two seemingly contradictory viewpoints at the same time by recognizing that there is always more than one way to view a situation more than one way to solve a problem…”and most of all “Don’t confuse dialectical thinking with rationalizing a binge.”…accepting yourself does not require that you approve of where you are or like it.”

There were many other things that resonated with me: “…for their whole lives they’ve been told that they’re “too sensitive”…” and “Hedonic eating …involves an increased appetite drive or preoccupation with highly desirable food even without physical hunger…”

Finally, “Another valuable way to use dialectical thinking involves accepting who you are at this moment while at the same time accepting that you want to change….you are accepting yourself exactly as you are in this moment so you can change…what can be changed is the way you react to your distress and difficult emotions.” POWERFUL STUFF !!

I think this book is terrific. It is extremely straightforward well organized, and readable. It includes very specific skills and strategies for managing emotions without turning to food…and it has such a supportive tone reminding the reader constantly that they are where they are and it isn’t the end of the world if they do binge…but there are ways to work on modifying this behavior. Very highly recommended for anyone who knows the struggles with food and weight management and who wants to be healthy, with a healthy approach to food and nutrition. Five enthusiastic stars. And I hope my former “daughter” will benefit from DBT!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s new book Manhattan Beach is a puzzle. I enjoyed reading it, and then felt less than positive about it…but now, a few weeks later, I realize I keep thinking about certain aspects of it, so I think that adds at least one star! The story begins in Brooklyn during the Depression, when we meet Anna Kerrigan. She is almost twelve years old and loves accompanying her father as he “does business.” It’s clear both her father and her mother are extremely influential in her view of the world: “Never part with a fact unless you’ve no choice. Her father’s voice in her ears.” And “Working with your hands meant taking orders—in her mother’s case, from Pearl Gratzky…” While accompanying her father on a particular visit, she views an interaction that leads her to understand there is some secret pact between her father and a man named Dexter Styles. Not long after, her father disappears, leaving Anna alone with her mother and sister.

Two major events as Anna is growing up: her father disappears and the country goes to war. She needs to work as she is the sole support of her mother and her beautiful sister (who is totally disabled). She begins working at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn where, suddenly, women are being allowed to do work that had always been men’s jobs. Egan does a great job using that environment to convey a great deal about her characters using descriptive language: ” Dunellen gave a drooping, corroded impression, like a freighter bone to rust after being too long at anchor.” Egan also shows the reader Anna’s unique personality and quirkiness: “She’d never been good at banter; it was like a skipping rope whose rhythm she couldn’t master enough to jump in with confidence.” But she DOES have the confidence to jump into being the first female diver, an incredibly dangerous job, repairing the ships that are critical to the War effort.

One night, she is at a nightclub and meets Dexter Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished. Anna’s life away from work leads her to begin to understand the reality of her father’s life and the reasons he might have been murdered (which is surely what happened, otherwise why would he have just gone away and she would never have heard from him?).

The story is historical fiction and also sort of a “noir thriller.” There is a ton of information about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Thinking about it after the fact, I realize it was the ending/resolution that made me think I didn’t care for it. (Also perhaps my extremely high expectations based on all the hype). But the story of a young woman fighting to make it in a man’s world at a time of social turmoil is fascinating, and Egan does have an outstanding gift for character development. I’m grateful to Scribner and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of Manhattan Beach in exchange for my honest review. I first thought four stars, then it slipped to two and a half, but after a couple of weeks’ reflection, it is back to a solid four stars.

 

Recovery from Trauma, Addiction, or Both by Lisa M. Najavits, PhD.

Some years ago, I was the foster parent to a teenager whose adolescence had been filled with abuse by various people, including her father, brother, and even the man who played Santa Claus. Finally, some 25+ years after she left our home, she began working with therapists to deal with the consequences of her upbringing. To this day, she still is wandering in the wilderness of therapy, doing a lot of therapist-shopping and -hopping, and I am still fascinated by the possibilities for treatment and the various options available.

Lisa Najavits, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University and adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is a well-regarded academic who has published widely on the topic of trauma and abuse, and developed the Seeking Safety program of treatment. Thanks to Guildford Publications and Net Galley, I received a copy of her new book, Healing from Trauma, Addiction, or Both in exchange for my honest review.

There is no doubt that Dr. Najavits knows her stuff. She noted “women with current posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comprise 30-59% of substance abuse treatment samples and experience a more severe course than women with either disorder alone. “ Following clinical studies, she has developed a manual-based 24-session cognitive behavioral group therapy protocol treatment. The results of her studies showed “significant improvements in substance use, trauma-related symptoms, suicide risk, suicidal thoughts, social adjustment, family functioning, problem solving, depression, cognitions about substance use, and didactic knowledge related to the treatment.”

While she has published Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse, which is a treatment manual geared toward academic studies and/or professionals, this new book is designed for a general audience, and effectively presents stories of particular sufferers as well as exercises and other practical tools to help sufferers of trauma, addiction, or both to begin to deal with their issues and heal.

I appreciate the presentation, and only wish there had been some information about the “difficult cases” that were mentioned at the end of some chapters. Four stars. I hope my former foster daughter will read this!

 

The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming PBS series on The Vietnam War, which I expect to be another in Ken Burns’ consistently outstanding series. I was in high school and college in the late 60s and early 70s, I still don’t understand the why of this war and I get angry when I consider the incredible loss of life and the way the country of Vietnam was changed forever. So I was very pleased to receive an advance copy of the companion book in exchange for my honest review (thanks to Knopf Doubleday and NetGalley).

In a nutshell, the book exceeded my high expectations. It is gorgeous (and BIG. And LONG. And THOROUGH). It provides an outstanding history of the war, like many other books. What really sets it apart is the way it presents more than the U.S. perspective, reminding us that this was didn’t just affect US.

The photographs are amazing. And, like some of the text, occasionally upsetting. But this book belongs in every library and will be appreciated by anyone interested in Military History in general or Vietnam in particular. If I could give it six stars, I would.

A Convenient Suspect: a Double Murder, a Flawed Investigation, and the Railroading of an Innocent Woman by Tammy Mal

What a sad story! I am something of a true crime junkie (my guilty pleasure) and was grateful to receive a copy of A Convenient Suspect from Chicago Review Press and NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.

Because I am a hard-core true crime junkie and a podcast aficionado (and don’t even get me started on my favorite true crime podcasts!), I have increasingly become aware of the many outrageous examples of prosecutorial misconduct and evidence tampering that have been brought to light by journalists, investigators, and just plain folks looking for truth and justice. Well, this book is another example of what seems to a case of settling on a suspect then tailoring the actions of the police and prosecutors to fit.

Here’s the situation: Shortly before Christmas in 1994, a young mother named Joann Katrinak and her three-month-old son, Alex, disappeared from their home in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. Their bodies weren’t found for four months, when they were found in nearby woods. The police investigated for three years before arresting another young mother named Patricia Rorrer. Although Patricia was the ex-girlfriend of Joann’s husband, she had never met either Joann or Alex.

The prosecution’s theory was that Patricia brutally beat Joann, shot her and left her and her baby for dead in the woods, and Patricia Rorrer was quickly tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Fast-forward to Rorrer filing for FBI records under the Freedom of Information Act, and finding a document stating that hairs that were looked at by the FBI did not have a hair root. This was the critical piece of evidence used at Rorrer’s trial, and her attorney is working to re-examine what he sees as a totally flawed forensic investigation.

He is adamant that once state police started to focus on Rorrer as a potential suspect, they went to North Carolina where she was living and they obtained a sample of her hair to compare to the ones found at the scene. He asks a good question: “… whether the hairs that were actually tested were in fact hairs taken from the seatback or were they part of that general pile of hairs that were taken from Patricia Rorrer in North Carolina?”

In writing this book, Mal uses information that was not previously made public, gathered from more than 10,000 official documents, including Pennsylvania State Police reports, FBI Files, forensic lab results, and the 6,500-page trial transcript.

The case has been covered by the usual sources that have popularized true crimes, including People magazine, Dateline, and Investigation Discovery but none of them have the depth of this book. It was well done, and sufficiently provoked enough outrage in me to cause me to read further about this case. Yes, the deaths of Joann and Alex were very sad, but a thirst for resolution that results in a rushed conviction based on sloppy forensic work is not only sad, it’s unjust. The subtitle wraps it up nicely: A double murder, a flawed investigation, and the railroading of an innocent woman. I’m giving this one 5 stars — for its genre, it’s OUTSTANDING.

The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose

I read about The Readymade Thief, the debut novel from Augustus Rose, and was really excited: an “addictive literary puzzle” with a female teenage protagonist and a “secret society with a dark agenda” – sounded like just my thing. So when I received a copy from Penguin Group/Viking and NetGalley, I could hardly wait to dive in.

I am convinced that sometimes a book that seemingly everyone else on the planet thinks is GREAT gets a resounding “meh” from me because of my mental state. And that may be the case with The Readymade Thief. It just wasn’t the thing for me right now.

I did love the beginning! Lee’s angst and desire for acceptance were so well written, I just totally wanted her to find what she needed/wanted. But I never really cared about any of the other characters, particularly the teenagers/young adults, so it was hard for me to get into the literary puzzle. I just wanted to get through it. And I wasn’t enthralled by the whole “secret society” aspect. Maybe there were just too many things going on? Anyway, I will definitely read the next book from Augustus Rose, because this debut author can WRITE!. Three stars (two for the book, one for the author’s obvious talent.

The Other New Girl by LB Gschwandtner

I loved this book! Possibly because I went to high school in the 60s, and this story is set at a high school in 1960? Nah — there the similarity ends! This story revolves around two 16 year olds at a private boarding school in the east, both of them  new to the school. Susannah, the new girl, gets taken into the “cool girls” clique right away, even though she is a sophomore and the cool girls are juniors and seniors. The other new girl is Moll, also a sophomore. So why did I relate to this so much? I went to a small public high school in a beach town in Southern California, and was definitely not part of the cool girls clique! But part of the reason so much of this story resonated with me was the shame and anxiety that Moll felt as she tried to fit in or at least find her place in the weird world of high school. I’m fairly sure most high school girls have felt similar feelings.

In The Other New Girl, Moll, a brilliant but nerdy social outcast, is encouraged by her only friend Susannah to overcome her fears enough to get her courage up to the point where she can attend a school dance. She works hard on looking right, trying SO hard to fit in, and finally overcomes her anxiety and fear enough to get herself there. But then (in what I thought might become a Carrie moment), she experiences bullying that is so hurtful to her that she decides to take extreme action as she desperately wants to find out who she wants to be. As her actions and disappearance reverberate throughout the school (especially for Susannah), the book explores themes of loyalty, obedience to authority, friendship, and betrayal.

Not exactly a mystery or a thriller or a coming of age story, it is all three! It is a very compelling read that is extremely well done, with realistic characters, dialogue, and situations (even for those of us who haven’t been to a private boarding school in the East). With thanks to NetGalley and She Writes Press, this one gets five stars—and I look forward to reading more of Ms. Gschwandtner’s work.

 

Heart of the City by Robert Rotenberg

 

About 8 years ago, I read my first Rotenberg book, and totally enjoyed the story, characters, and OMG the setting! He captures Toronto in a way that makes you FEEL the city, whether you have only visited a few times (like me) or are extremely familiar with the city.

Throughout what I think of as “The Toronto Series,” I’ve always enjoyed Ari Greene as a lead character. He’s very smart, has good intuition, and is persistent. The latest in the series, Heart of the City, continues Ari’s personal storyline, but it can easily be read as a standalone (although some of the plot points in earlier books will be revealed). In this latest entry in the series, Ari has left the Police Department and his former mentee Daniel Kennicott has been promoted. Ari has moved back to Toronto, bringing his daughter from her childhood home in London. A murder happens at the location of Ari’s new job, and guess who is the detective working on it?

The storyline in this book revolves around the development taking place in downtown Toronto, and the controversy is brings. Because Rotenberg is a criminal attorney in Toronto, he knows his subject well, and he has a good story that kept me guessing til the end (although I am not great at figuring out the who in whodunits).

I’m a bit on the fence about the resolution of the mystery, but am totally sure I will eagerly continue to read whatever Mr. Rotenberg publishes! Four and a half stars (sorry it only shows up as four)