THE LAST ACT OF LOVE – Cathy Rentzenbrink

2/7/2015 Pan Macmillan last act of love

“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. Told with boundless warmth and affection, The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink is a heartbreaking yet uplifting testament to a family’s survival and the price we pay for love.”

I had been warned about this book many times. Everyone who had read it, told me it was a heartbreaker, a gamechanger, something which would stay with me forever. And oh my word, they were right. As a doctor, I have been involved in the care of patients like Matty. I have checked their obs and written in their notes, I have spent time with their families and sat in on MDT meetings about their care. I thought I knew. I thought I understood. I did not.

This book is the closest you (and I) will ever get to appreciating the enormity of dealing with the after effects of a traumatic brain injury, and – more importantly – of seeing someone you love disappear from your life without ever leaving. In a growing elderly population, where the burden of care is too often left to the families, it also explores the very relevant and powerful topic of how we struggle to deal with grief without bereavement. How we have yet to find a rule book to cope with the loss of identity – whether from severe injury or degenerative illness – and how we need to accept that the most painful of mourning is not always accompanied by death.

Of course, this book is beautifully written, and of course, it’s incredibly moving, but – more than that – it’s an uplifting and inspiring story of love, families and courage.

As an aside, I took this book with me to the hairdressers.


(if you would like more of Cathy’s words of wisdom, you can follow her on Twitter here)


THE WIDOW – Fiona Barton

Bantam Press 14/1/2016

(proof very kindly sent to me by Transworld)

The Widow  For fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, an electrifying thriller that will take you into the dark spaces that exist between a husband and a wife.

When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen…
But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.
There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.
Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.
The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything …

What a perfectly wonderful premise for a novel. How many times have we looked behind the shoulder of the man on the courtroom steps, to the wife coated in M&S and loyalty, and thought ‘she must have known, surely? SURELY?’ Fiona Barton takes this idea to a whole new, and rather brilliant, level.

Jean Taylor was the woman on the courtroom steps. Recently widowed, she has a marriage full of secrets and nothing to lose (or does she?). Although we initially feel sympathy for the grieving Mrs Taylor, it’s not long before a certain unease begins to creep in. Fiona Barton paces this beautifully, until I began to wonder if there was anyone left in this scenario I could really trust after all. And it came as absolutely no surprise that the author used to be a journalist – as we switch to the viewpoint of the reporter desperate for an exclusive with Jean, the insight into cash-for-stories is really quite an eye-opener.

If you love a good domestic-noir, if you love unreliable narrators, and if – like me – you love putting the ordinary under a microscope and discovering it’s really quite unordinary after all, you will love THE WIDOW. I’m sure this will be a huge hit next year, and heavens-to-goodness, someone has to make this into a film?

You can follow Fiona on Twitter here


LOOK AT ME – Sarah Duguid

25/2/2016 – Tinder Press

(proof very kindly sent to me by Headline)

Look At Me

Lizzy lives with her father, Julian, and her brother, Ig, in North London. Two years ago her mother died, leaving in a trail a family bereft by her absence and a house still filled with her things: for Margaret was lively, beautiful, fun, loving; she kept the family together. So Lizzy thinks. Then, one day, Lizzy finds a letter from a stranger to her father, and discovers he has another child. Lizzy invites her into their world in an act of outraged defiance. Almost immediately, she realises her mistake.

Look at Me is a deft exploration of family, grief, and the delicate balance between moving forward and not quite being able to leave someone behind. It is an acute portrayal of how familial upheaval can cause misunderstanding and madness, damaging those you love most.

The characters in LOOK AT ME land on the first page, living and breathing and fully-fashioned from Sarah Duguid’s wonderful words. You do not need to ‘get to know them’, you certainly won’t need to ‘get into the story’ (don’t you just hate that?). These people are ready to creep into your head and join in with your life right this minute, because you will know exactly who they are from the word go.

You will feel immediate sympathy for Lizzy, who is vulnerable (if not a little spirited), and who still hasn’t come to terms with the loss of her mother. You will love her unconventional father and her mysterious brother, and you will adore their wonderful house. The problem is, so does Eunice. Oh EUNICE. One of the most brilliant characters I’ve read in a long time. No one knows Eunice exists, until Lizzy finds a letter to their father and discovers she has a long-lost half-sister. In an act of defiance, she invites Eunice into their lives. This is a mistake. A BIG mistake.

This book is exquisitely written, with a beautiful balance between darkness and humour, and I challenge you not to fall in love with Eunice’s character. Even if you wouldn’t want her living in your house.

(PS you really, really wouldn’t want her living in your house …)

You can follow Sarah on Twitter here


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