Book Review: The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink

the-last-act-of-loveWhat’s it about?

In the summer of 1990, Cathy’s brother Matty was knocked down by a car on the way home from a night out. It was two weeks before his GCSE results, which turned out to be the best in his school. Sitting by his unconscious body in hospital, holding his hand and watching his heartbeat on the monitors, Cathy and her parents willed him to survive. They did not know then that there are many and various fates worse than death.

This is the story of what happened to Cathy and her brother, and the unimaginable decision that she and her parents had to make eight years after the night that changed everything. It’s a story for anyone who has ever watched someone suffer or lost someone they loved or lived through a painful time that left them forever changed.

My thoughts

I attended an event with Cathy Rentzenbrink at Booka Bookshop in Oswestry  when this book was released in 2015.  During the evening it was quite obvious the devastating effect this had had on Cathy and her family; her voice shaky with emotion as she spoke about her motivation for writing this book – in all honesty, after reaching the end, I think it was for cathartic reasons and the benefits of off-loading!

The book is a brutally honest account of living with a family member in a persistent vegetative state and the effects on those that care for them and quite frankly it details experiences that you’ll wish you never have to go through.  From everyday practicalities of feeding and washing to more medical procedures.

It’s a very heartfelt story however, as I was getting towards the end I was beginning to lose patience.  It is a very raw and emotional story but I so wanted her to move on sooner, not dwell and self-destruct.  I guess until you’ve experienced such profound grief it’s hard to relate.

I found the legal aspects of the book really interesting as I can remember, as a law student, discussing the Tony Bland case which involved the hospital and his family petitioning the court to allow the hospital to withdraw life-prolonging treatment.  Such a heart-breaking decision to have to make but one which ultimately would bring, for want of a better word, closure.

Read if you like non-fiction family medical memoirs with legal aspects.

Book Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Author Links: Website | Twitter

Small print for info
Source:  Purchased
No of pages: 256
Publisher: Picador


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Book Review: Recipe for Life; The Autobiography by Mary Berry

Recipe for LifeWhat’s it about?

From the moment she came into the world – two weeks early, throwing her parents’ lives into disarray – Mary has gracefully but firmly done things her own way.

Born in 1935, in the city of Bath, Mary’s childhood was a curious mix of idyllic picnics and ramblings, and alarming air raids; of a spirited and outdoorsy home life and a dreaded school existence. All nearly cut horribly short by an almost fatal bout of polio when she was thirteen, which isolated Mary in hospital, away from beloved family and friends for months.

Recovery saw her turn to her one true passion – cookery. And so began a love affair that has – so far – spanned six remarkable decades; from demonstrating ovens in the early 1950s to producing glossy food magazines in the 60s and 70s, gradually becoming the country’s most prolific and – many would say – best loved cookery writer. Until her emergence in the 21st century as a TV sensation and style icon on the Great British Bake Off.

As a working mother, at the heart of a busy household, Mary became an expert at the art of juggling, even bringing her working life into her home with her Aga school. And there have been challenges, one terrible tragedy and many joys along the way.

My thoughts

As a fan of the Great British Bake Off and the charms of Mary Berry I’d had her autobiography on my book shelf since a couple of Christmasses ago but with the show starting this month I decided now was a good time to read it.  I noticed from the first few pages that Mary’s voice just comes out of the pages so definitely feels that she properly wrote the book 😉

If you’ve ever wondered how Mary grew to fame and why she’s considered the baking authority she is then this will give you all that and much more.  Marking or grading how interesting someone’s life is seems quite harsh  but for me this was a 5*.  I suppose you read an autobiography because you like that person and already have an interest in them and I know I’m bias because I am a Mary fan, and yes this book is quite twee, very middle class and fortunate and some of it comes across as very jolly hockey sticks but it’s also her life laid bare; wonderfully inspirational with some very sad and touching memories which endears her all the more to me.

And I just like her a little bit more for this quote on walking….

I was young, walking for walking’s own sake was to be avoided if at all possible.

Interspersed with Mary’s memories are lots of photos and some of her recipes, my favourite was right at the end of the book – Wonderful Apple Cake, I’ll have a go at baking that soon as it would be the perfect Autumnal bake.

Book links: Goodreads | Amazon

Visit Mary’s website


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Book Review: 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84 charing cross roadWhat’s it about?

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London.

As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

 

 

My thoughts

Claire from Art & Soul and I read this as a read-along a couple of Friday’s ago and posed questions to each on Twitter as we read.

The questions we raised included stuff like: do we read the dates each time, what is book post, what would Helene make of Kindles, had we heard of any of the books she was ordering and did we think she would ever make it to England?

What begins as a simple request from an American book lover to an English book shop for some rare books develops into a twenty year correspondence and friendship.

“I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest.”

From the very start you are met with Helene’s directness and humour which is really likeable and on the flip side you get Frank’s utter British professionalism; who struggled to reduce addressing her from madam, to miss, to Helene.

There are some characters that are just randomly introduced and then some who are forgotten about or their whereabouts are no longer known. I would have liked to have known what happened to Cecily.

Often there are huge gaps between letters, and I would wonder if these letters were just missing because I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t have corresponded for 2 years. In fact, I would just have liked more letters. Each letter’s author has its own quite distinct voice and it was really quite lovely getting to know these people through their letters knowing they were real people and I loved the ladies sneaking letters to Helene without Frank’s knowing, and mentioning it in their letters.

One of my initial questions to Claire was about book post – what is book post?

Thanks Wordnik for solving the book post query:

“An arrangement in the British postal service by which books and printed matter other than newspapers, as well as manuscripts intended for publication, are conveyed at reduced rates of postage, when the wrappers are left open at the ends.”

Shame this arrangement isn’t still in existence as I suspect it would save us book lovers a fortune!

It was really quite sweet for Helene to be sending the food parcels, it must have been strange for the Americans to comprehend rationing after the end of the War.

What is such a shame is that Helene doesn’t make it to England in time to meet some of her correspondees which was incredibly sad and such a wasted opportunity, I did begin wonder whether she actually wanted to go even if she’d had the means, a sad ending that did make me fill up.

This edition also includes The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street which is an account of Helene’s eventual visit to London during the summer of 1971 and is throughly enjoyable take on England through the eyes of an American. It made me laugh how she accepted any old invitation to dinner or lunch etc so she could save her money to extend her stay.

If you loved The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend or The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society then this book should be on your reading list.

Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Learn more about Helene Hanff here

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Book Review: The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield

The Undertaker's DaughterWhat’s it about?

What if the place you called “home” happened to be a funeral home? Kate Mayfield explores what it meant to be the daughter of a small-town undertaker in this fascinating memoir evocative of Six Feet Under and The Help, with a hint of Mary Roach’s Stiff…

In The Undertaker’s Daughter, Kate has written a triumph of a memoir. This vivid and stranger-than-fiction true story ultimately teaches us how living in a house of death can prepare one for life.

 

My thoughts

I’m not quite sure what enticed to me this book; maybe it was the unusual subject matter or the dark cover but it was a book that wasn’t just filled with death but also life and hope.

As the blurb suggests this is the memoir of a young girl who lives above her father’s funeral home business in small town USA in the Fifties and Sixties at the time of segregation. This is a really interesting story about a subject that is often considered taboo and not discussed until necessary but please don’t go thinking that because it’s set in an undertaker’s that it is all dreary, upsetting and dark; in some parts it is but there are also some real uplifting tales and because most is from a child’s perspective it’s not too explicit in the procedures following death.

I suppose you could call this a coming of age novel in that it’s also a young girls realisation that her father isn’t perfect and having her ideals and idealistic view of the world knocked back to having black boyfriends etc in a time when this would have caused great outrage and just wouldn’t have been expected.

There are some really interesting characters and tales in this book, including Frank and his relationship with Miss Agnes and the comfort that both found from their relationship, the other undertaker’s and those who work with the dead!

I had great respect for Kate, her views, standing up for Jemma and dealing with Evelyn, going and doing what she believed in and following her dreams and I felt bereft when the family moved; it was like everything that had made them who they were had been removed and I think this affected Frank and his identity.

From the epilogue we learn from others second hand about Kate’s father and his past, I wasn’t expecting this as a reader, this was actually what made it seem more like a memoir than the book itself, this was research and I totally understand why the author would want to do it but I’m not sure I needed to find out, I’d enjoyed reading the story beforehand.

Overall, this is a beautifully written story which reminded me of the movie My Girl, and well worth a look.

Many thanks to the publisher for approving for me for an ARC via Netgalley.

Get the book Paperback | Kindle

Connect with the author Kate Mayfield via

Twitter | Website

Book Review: The Boy with the Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera

The Boy With the TopknotWhat’s it about?2012 WBN LogoBBC 2014

For Sathnam Sanghera, growing up in Wolverhampton in the eighties was a confusing business. On the one hand, these were the heady days of George Michael mix-tapes, Dallas on TV and, if he was lucky, the occasional Bounty Bar. On the other, there was his wardrobe of tartan smocks, his 30p-an-hour job at the local sewing factory and the ongoing challenge of how to tie the perfect top-knot.

And then there was his family, whose strange and often difficult behaviour he took for granted until, at the age of twenty-four, Sathnam made a discovery that changed everything he ever thought he knew about them. Equipped with breathtaking courage and a glorious sense of humour, he embarks on a journey into their extraordinary past – from his father’s harsh life in rural Punjab to the steps of the Wolverhampton Tourist Office – trying to make sense of a life lived among secrets.

My thoughts

This book was next up for my World Book Night reading challenge and if I’m being perfectly honest it was one of a couple I was least looking forward too. I mean, a young Sikh boy growing up in eighties Wolverhampton, how was this going to interest me but I couldn’t have been more wrong I thoroughly enjoyed it. Another case of never judge a book by its cover!

In a nutshell the story is about a man who wants to tell his mother that he wants to live his own life and marry who he chooses and loves and not someone that is expected or arranged but he just can’t find the right words so he wants to put it all in a letter to his mother which will then be translated for her. He starts to write the letter and whilst he’s dealing with his own emotions he delves into his family’s history and parents marriage. This is a real insight into Indian culture and the Sikh religion in an everyday context and its integration (or not) into a modern day England.

His father and elder sister both struggled with mental health issues  that were not very well diagnosed (eventually as Schizophrenia) and there seemed to be a lack of support from any health care agencies. The following investigations that Sathnam carried out int0 his father’s illnesses history was just incredible that people could be so unhelpful!

I loved the eighties references, they reminded me of my own childhood and growing up like the tape to tape recording and DJs talking over the music, the fashion and the George Michael posters.

Wolverhampton is relatively local to me, only being about 12 miles away, so I know a lot of the places mentioned and so could quite vividly picture them.

This is a really witty memoir with all the chapters having appropriate song titles; I particularly liked chapter 11 – You Got It (The Right Stuff) as I was a massive fan of New Kids on the Block!  There are some very funny scenes but also quite humbling and very often sad. There’s a particualar paragraph on Sathnam’s interpretation of what it would mean to be illiterate which almost had me in tears; what it means to not be able to read; what his parents were missing out on and things you don’t necessarily think of but must have and obviously did affect their standard of living.

“…not being able to work out the best-before date on groceries, …not daring to travel anywhere you haven’t travelled before, in case you get lost, …staring into the distance in waiting rooms because there is nothing else to do, sending your son a ‘for my husband’ birthday card because the newsagent misunderstands your request, …not being able to read what your son writes in a newspaper”

Overall, a very interesting and enjoyable read that surprised me!

Mental Health Week 12th – 18th May

Get the book Paperback | Kindle

Connect with the author Sathnam Sanghera

Website | Twitter