The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah’s books are beloved by millions (think The Nightingale), partly for their vivid descriptions of both place and people. They also evoke strong emotional responses to situations and relationship[s that may not be part of the reader’s everyday experience, but yet seem completely familiar because of the author’s skillful writing. So I was particularly happy to receive a copy of The Great Alone (to be released in early 2018) from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley in return for this honest review.

First, let’s get this out of the way: one of my stranger quirks is that I have a hard time reading novels set in cold climates (I HATE being cold). So I read at least half of this snuggled under a down comforter even though today (Thanksgiving) it’s in the mid-70s here on the Central Coast of California. That made me less likely to love this book, but I am glad I persisted.

Set in the 1970s, The Great Alone revolves around the family of Vietnam vet, ex-POW, and PTSD sufferer Ernt Allbright, who has tried to get his life together after returning from Vietnam a completely changed man. He is enduring sleepless nights, flashbacks, nightmares and bursts of anger. He’s not the only one suffering: his wife Cora and their 13-year-old daughter Leni are deeply affected by Ernt’s struggles. Things are rocky in the Allbright family as Ernt has trouble holding a job, they move regularly, and the parents frequently fight – all of which are very troubling for Leni, who longs for stability. So when Ernt inherits a cabin and land in Alaska from a dead soldier, he takes his family north with the idea that they will live off the land and be free of the stress they have been experiencing. A new start! They buy a VW van (very 70s!) and set out, completely unprepared for the harsh wilderness they encounter in Kenaq, Alaska.

The descriptions of the dilapidated shack called a “cabin” (no electricity or running water) were (literally) chilling. Despite the family’s hard work (assisted by some interesting community members) and effort to make a go of things, Ernt’s condition worsens as his battles with alcohols increase. Leni and Cora have a close relationship, and Leni learns to find comfort in books, something I imagine many readers can relate to.

Over time, Leni develops friendships and she and Cora find support in the community. The alcoholism, domestic violence, and harsh conditions are terribly challenging. The mother-daughter relationship is fascinating, although I wonder how many readers will find themselves wishing for such a bond and similar support in their own challenging family situations.

The bottom line is there is much to love about this book, especially seeing Leni searching for her identity and some stability at the same time, and her search for identity and roots. At the same time, it’s instructive about both the effect of war on both military members and their families – and instructive about the reality of trying to live off the land vs. the dream shared by many. Another winner for Hannah. Five 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!

 

Justice Burning by Scott Pratt

COVER Pratt Justice Burning

A few years back, I read An Innocent Client by Scott Pratt, the first in the Joe Dillard series of legal thriller/mysteries. I haven’t read all eight titles in that series, but all the ones I have read were crisp, entertaining, and fun reads. So I was happy to get an advance copy of Justice Burning, a new title by Scott Pratt featuring new attorney Darren Street, from Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

So (spoiler alert) I REALLY liked this book! The characters were vivid, the legal/criminal stuff was interesting, and I just kept reading til it was gone. BUT it turns out this is #2 in the Darren Street series (I must have been asleep or whatever, but I missed the first one, Justice Redeemed.

So Darren Street, like Scott Pratt in a previous lifetime, is an attorney in Tennessee. I’m not sure how much else they have in common, but Darren has recently had his law license reinstated after escaping from a maximum security prison where he spent two years for a crime he didn’t commit. In Justice Burning, he seems to be the target for unknown bad guys, who may or may not have something to do with things that went down in prison. Along the way, he suffers from PTSD, tries to deal with his ex-wife and son, loses a family member, and resolves to see justice (as he defines it) done.

As is my habit, I don’t do spoilers, so there’s not much I can say about the plot except that it was terrific fun. While reading it, there were several instances of me nearly shouting “NO!” and “OH!” and “AARRGGHH” to the point where my husband, ensconced in his recliner located right next to mine, grew a bit tired of asking “what’s wrong?” In the end, he decided he HAS to read this book!

I told him he really should read Justice Redeemed first…while Justice Burning stands alone just fine, there were some situations that had backstory in the first novel that I think might have been even more impactful if I had read the prior book first.

Either way, this one is highly recommended for those who like legal mystery/thrillers, smart down-to-earth protagonists who might sometimes bend the rules but still maintain their own moral compass, and a fast-moving plot with violence but not gore. Five stars.

Infamy by Robert Tannenbaum

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I’ve read most of Robert Tanenbaum’s books featuring Manhattan District Attorney Butch Karp and his wife, Marlene Ciampi, so I was happy to receive an advance copy of Infamy from NetGalley and Gallery Books in exchange for my honest review. The story is basically this: a former Army veteran murders a colonel in New York, then claims that he was being manipulated as part of mind control experiments. A hotshot criminal defense lawyer (with ties to the White House), decides to defend the killer, and uses the veteran’s apparent post-traumatic stress from his tours in Afghanistan as his defense.

DA “Butch” Karp works with an old friend (frenemy?), investigative reporter Ariadne Stupenagel. She suspects that one of her victims in the shooting was a source she was using for a story on high-level government corruption, and argues that the shooting event was a hired killing, contracted by people at the highest levels of government, rather than some random violent event.

It’s a fast-paced thriller, and Karp feels that not only he, but also his family and friends are in danger if he goes ahead with the prosecution.

At times, it seems the story was created with a movie in mind, and for me it wasn’t up to the level of some earlier books in the series. Or perhaps my expectations were too high? Or perhaps disillusionment with government ethics following the election of 2016 affected my enjoyment of this thriller that was political as well as legal. I found Butch to be a bit too right of center for me to really love his actions. (“Really, Mr. Tanenbaum, it’s not you – it’s me!!”)

In any case, fans of Tannenbaum’s will enjoy it for sure. Four stars.