Book Review: Somebody I Used To Know by Wendy Mitchell

What’s it about?

When she was diagnosed with dementia at the age of fifty-eight, Wendy Mitchell was confronted with the most profound questions about life and identity. All at once, she had to say goodbye to the woman she used to be. Her demanding career in the NHS, her ability to drive, cook and run – the various shades of her independence – were suddenly gone.




My thoughts

This was our most recent book club pick and overall it was received by the group quite well.  None of us thought the topic an easy read but we all agreed it was one that everyone should try and read.

It wasn’t really a book I looked forward to reading and often throughout my mind kept straying to how a woman with early onset dementia could have written a book.  As you read you discover what a resourceful woman Wendy Mitchell is.  This is going to sound awful but as much as I applauded her bravery for speaking out in this way I just couldn’t take to her.  I sympathised and empathasised with her but did find her to be somewhat annoying in equal measure.  She just came across as a bit Mary Poppins – practically perfect in every way.  That said, this is an important resource for all generations to discover!

Book Review: First Man In: Leading From The Front by Ant Middleton

What’s it about?

Special forces training is no walk in the park. The rules are strict and they make sure you learn the hard way, pushing you beyond the limits of what is physically possible. There is no mercy. Even when you are bleeding and broken, to admit defeat is failure.

To survive the gruelling selection process to become a member of the elite you need toughness, aggression, meticulous attention to detail and unrelenting self-discipline, all traits that make for the best leaders.

After 13 years service in the military, with 4 years as a Special Boat Service (SBS) sniper, Ant Middleton is the epitome of what it takes to excel. He served in the SBS, the naval wing of the special forces, the Royal Marines and 9 Parachute Squadron Royal, achieving what is known as the ‘Holy Trinity’ of the UK’s Elite Forces. As a point man in the SBS, Ant was always the first man through the door, the first man into the dark, and the first man in harm’s way.

In this fascinating, exhilarating and revealing book, Ant speaks about the highs and gut-wrenching lows of his life – from the thrill of passing Special Forces Selection to dealing with the early death of his father and ending up in prison on leaving the military – and draws valuable lessons that we can all use in our daily lives.

My thoughts

I first came across Ant Middleton and this book via Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year podcast last year.  At the time, even though not a book I would normally choose for myself, I thought it sounded a very interesting read.

My Dad was in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines so as a forces child we moved around, he’d often go away ‘on exercise’ so therein lay my interest.  I was therefore really chuffed when one of the members of my book swap Meetup brought the book along to our coffee morning and I grabbed my chance.

I didn’t know anything about Ant Middleton and had never watched any of his TV shows but come on, he’s easy on the eye and has all the charm!  The book’s an easy read and I raced through it in a couple of days.  It’s a fascinating insight into Army and Special Forces training and what you need, physically and mentally, to succeed in this type of career.  I’d only got a couple of chapters in when I started watching the first series of SAS: Who Dares Wins which I binge-watched in a couple of days.  What I got from the show was that the book is totally Ant – you can absolutely hear his voice when reading as it’s very much written as he talks; even if that, on occasion, is proper cheesy!  I’m not really into motivational books, I find them a bit eye-rolling which I did here too 🙂

That said, there are parts of this book that come across as pure arrogant and preachy and I was like who the hell is this guy; particularly the time he spent in prison.  I suppose there’s no way he couldn’t have included this in the book as it did have a huge impact on his life but come on…trying to spin it a positive thing, like something we should all experience…no way!  This about hits the nail on the head >>

“People might think I’m an arrogant twat, but that doesn’t bother me because I’ve looked in the mirror and I know that I’m not.”

So, as you can imagine I did find myself swinging between he’s an absolute knobhead to he’s okay actually!

A good read if you like the show, have an interest in the Special Forces or know someone who’s served or who currently is!

Book links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Author links: Twitter | Website

Small print for info
Source: Borrowed
No of pages: 320
Publisher: Harper Collins

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

Jera's Jamboree/Talk of the Town