Title: Behind the Sequins – My Life

Author: Shirley Ballas

Pages: 352 Pages

Publisher: Random House

The Blurb

Leave it all on the floor…

Queen of Latin Ballroom, Shirley Ballas has a spectacular dance career spanning over 40 years – she has Cha-Cha’d her way across the world’s dance floors to become a multi-award-winning ballroom champion and one of the most renowned dancers in the world. In 1996, Shirley retired from competitive dancing to become a highly-acclaimed coach and now holds the enviable position of Head Judge on BBC One’s prime time show Strictly Come Dancing.

In Behind the Sequins, she leads us through her dramatic and determined life, from growing up in a rough estate on the Wirral and leaving home at 14 years old, to conquering the high-octane world of ballroom and coping with betrayal, bullying, two broken marriages and a personal tragedy that left Shirley and her family devastated. 

Speaking from the heart, Shirley leaves her dancing shoes at the door to tell you the story of a fiery, strong-willed grafter who could make the brat pack blush.

The Review

When Len Goodman stepped down as head judge on Strictly I was gutted. I loved Len and his old school cockney charm. I wondered who would be able to tale his place. Would whoever it was be able to live up to his standards. I was worried. However, within minutes of Shirley Ballas’ first appearance and her first dance critique I knew I liked her. She would give clear constructive criticism. She wasn’t too nice and she wasn’t too harsh. She really managed to find a good balance straight away. It probably helped that she was a fellow northerner – opposite side of the Mersey but still an honorary Scouser.

Shirley Ballas further won my approval when a family friend – an elderly lady in her 80s – was struggling to climb down some steps at Lime Street Station. Shirley Ballas saw her and helped her, linked her arm and made sure that my friend got to the place she needed to get to safely. So besides being a great judge, dancer, choreographer and teacher she also proved herself to be a pretty decent human being too. It is for this and many other reasons that I will forever be a fan.

In her book Behind the Sequins we get to read a real rags to riches story about a young working class girl growing up on a rough council estate and manages to change her life through dance.

Shirley Ballas’ perseverance and determination saw her get to the top of her field, achieving the pinnacle of awards several times both in the UK and internationally and then use that talent as a dancer to teach others. To unselfishly impart that knowledge to the next generation. Her love of dance and what it can do is palpable and it dances off every page.

Ballas, however, did not have an easy life. Sometimes life has been downright cruel – relationships, other competitors in the world of dance but none so moving as when she discusses the loss of her brother. She really lets her heart bleed on to the page.

I defy anyone to read Behind the Sequins and not be moved by Shirley Ballas’ story and also be in awe of her durability in a world where everything is fast moving and trends come and go. Class – which is what Ballas oozes – lasts forever.

Behind the Sequins is a brilliant read and a must for any fan of Strictly.

Behind the Sequins: My Life by Shirley Ballas is available now.

For more information regarding Shirley Ballas (@ShirleyBallas) please visit her Twitter and Instagram page.

For more information regarding Random House (@penguinrandom) please visit www.penguinrandomhouse.com.

Title: Let’s Do It – The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood

Author: Jasper Rees

Pages: 368 Pages

Publisher: Trapeze

The Blurb

‘I was born with a warped sense of humour and when I was carried home from being born it was Coronation Day and so I was called Victoria but you are not supposed to know who wrote this anyway it is about time I unleashed my pent-up emotions in a bitter comment on the state of our society but it’s not quite me so I think I shall write a heart-warming story with laughter behind the tears and tears behind the laughter which means hysterics to you Philistines…’

From ‘Pardon?’ by Vicky Wood, Aged 14. Bury Grammar School (Girls) Magazine, 1967

In her passport Victoria Wood listed her occupation as ‘entertainer’ – and in stand-up and sketches, songs and sitcom, musicals and dramas, she became the greatest entertainer of the age. Those things that might have held her back – her lonely childhood, her crippling shyness and above all the disadvantage of being a woman in a male-run industry – she turned to her advantage to make extraordinary comedy about ordinary people living ordinary lives in ordinary bodies. She wasn’t fond of the term, but Victoria Wood truly was a national treasure – and her loss is still keenly felt.

Victoria had plenty of stories still to tell when she died in 2016, and one of those was her own autobiography. 

‘I will do it one day,’ she told the author and journalist Jasper Rees. ‘It would be about my childhood, about my first few years in showbusiness, which were really interesting and would make a really nice story.’ 

That sadly never came to pass, so Victoria’s estate has asked Jasper Rees, who interviewed her more than anyone else, to tell her extraordinary story in full. He has been granted complete and exclusive access to Victoria’s rich archive of personal and professional material, and has conducted over 200 interviews with her family, friends and colleagues – among them Victoria’s children, her sisters, her ex-husband Geoffrey Durham, Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Dawn French, Anne Reid, Imelda Staunton and many more. 

What emerges is a portrait of a true pioneer who spoke to her audience like no one before or since.

bVictoria Wood is one of Britain’s best loved comediennes. I say ‘is’ because whilst she passed away she is still lauded as one of the best by both her peers and her audience today. She gave us such gems as Acorn Antiques, Two Soups and of course Let’s Do It – The Ballad of Barry and Freda (still one of my all time favourite things ever) however behind the camera Victoria Wood was an intensely private person. Those who knew her well tell us all about the person behind the performer in this in depth and wonderfully written biography.

The Review

Victoria Wood is one of Britain’s best loved comediennes. I say ‘is’ because whilst she passed away she is still lauded as one of the best by both her peers and her audience today. She gave us such gems as Acorn Antiques, Two Soups and of course Let’s Do It – The Ballad of Barry and Freda (still one of my all time favourite things ever) however behind the camera Victoria Wood was an intensely private person. Those who knew her well tell us all about the person behind the performer in this in depth and wonderfully written biography by Jasper Rees.

I should start by saying that Victoria Wood is not glorified in this biography. In fact, some of the more unpleasant facets of her personality are highlighted – in particular her grueling work ethic that she expected others to adhere to and also making her friends the butt of her jokes. However, all of those who worked with her are quick to say how talented and how generous she was with her comedy, often relegating herself to the lesser role and giving the more memorable zingers to her fellow cast member. Jasper Rees paints a picture of a woman who knew she had the power to make people laugh and she knew what she wants from her work and her fellow colleagues. He has taken the life of a brilliant woman and brought her back into the public conscience.

Whatever you think of Victoria Wood it is inarguable that she pathed the way for women in comedy and that her humour had a firm finger on the pulse of contemporary Britain. It is no wonder she is still adored and sorely missed.

Let’s Do It: The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood by Jasper Rees is available now.

For more information regarding Jasper Rees (@JasperRees) please visit www.facebook.com/fredaandbarry

For more information regarding Trapeze (@TrapezeBooks) please visit www.instagram.com/trapeze_books/

Title: Just Like You

Author: Nick Hornby

Pages: 368 Pages

Publisher: Penguin

The Blurb

The person you are with is just like you: same background, same age, same interests. The perfect match. And it is a disaster. 

Then, when and where you least expect it, you meet someone new. You seem to have nothing in common and yet, somehow, it feels totally right.

Nick Hornby’s brilliantly observed, tender but also brutally funny new novel gets to the heart of what it means to fall surprisingly and headlong in love with the best possible person – someone who is not just like you at all.

The Review

Set against the backdrop of Brexit Britain Lucy and Joseph meet, start dating and become an unlikely couple. All so simple so far, however when they come from two completely different worlds the cracks start to appear. Joseph is a 20something aspiring musician and doesn’t really have a focus in life whereas Lucy is in her 40s, a divorcee with two children. Their lives seem so completely different that it is hard to see just how they could possible work in partnership.

I really enjoyed Just Like You. It was an interesting concept that has been explored paralleling the difficulties of a Brexit society. The time setting shows just how disparate and divided society is and because of this the relationship barriers between Lucy and Joseph appeared more realistic. It was especially frustrating when you empathised more with one character (for me, Lucy) when Joseph didn’t seem to have formed a view point on certain contentious topics. This cleverly showed the distance between age and experience between the two characters. However, you did kind of root for them as a couple. Even with their differences they seemed better together than apart.

Just Like You ends in a really positive and hopeful way with you enjoying the possibility that a world entrenched in diversity can still come together.

Just Like You by Nick Hornby is available now.

For more information regarding Nick Hornby (@nickhornby) please visit www.facebook.com/nickhornby.uk

For more information regarding Penguin Books (@PenguinUKBooks) please visit www.penguin.co.uk.

Genre: YA Fiction/LGBTQIA+

The Gist: A bunch of superstitious theatre students put on a performance of Les Miserables.

Short Review: A delightful young adult fiction that celebrates the love of theatre, falling in love and the growing up.

Long Review: Aspiring stage manager Melody McIntyre promises her crew that she won’t fall in love during their upcoming performance of Les Miserables because they are worried that it is bringing on a theatre curse. However, when popular student Odile Rose starts showing interest in Melody McIntyre her resolve begins to crumble. However, when strange and unusual things begin to happen during the performance rehearsals Melody starts to believe that the curse is real.

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre is a great read. It doesn’t try to be anything other than it is. A fun theatre romp that looks at the love lives of teenagers. One aspect of the novel that I really appreciated is that LGBTQIA+ relationships are central to the plot however Robin Talley does not emphasise this as an issue. I think more YA novels need to have non-heteronormative relationships at the heart of their stories without it being the main point. It shows that LGBTQIA+ relationships are the norm. By taking away what she my see as an issue Robin Talley has moved the goalposts to where they should be for other authors writing fiction with LGBTQIA+ relationships at the heart of it.  

A fantastic read. Be warned though, you will be singing the soundtrack to Les Miserables for days afterwards – I don’t see how that is a bad thing. 

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley is available now.

For more information regarding Robin Talley (@robin_talley) please visit www.robintalley.com.

For more information regarding HQ (@HQStories) please visit www.hqstories.co.uk.

Genre: YA Fiction

The Gist: The sequel to the novel Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman.

Small Review: Knife Edge focuses on Jude’s story directly after Noughts and Crosses and we see how the main characters have developed and changed. Jude’s aggression and desire for revenge has intensified in this explosive sequel.

Big Review: I really loved Noughts and Crosses. I read it recently as part of the classroom curriculum for year 9 and have shoved it into everybody’s hands since then because it was just brilliant. 

The sequel, Knife Edge, whilst not as impactful as Noughts and Crosses however it was fantastic to be reunited with the beloved characters again and seeing how they had developed since the first book. 

When we are reunited with Jude we see that he hasn’t learned from the consequences of his involvement with the LM (Liberation Militia) and is currently in hiding and away from his fellow resistance fighters. He is out for revenge and is determined to make everyone pay.

Meanwhile, Sephy has had to grow up and do it fast. She needs to start looking after herself and her family and she is doing that without the life of privilege that she is used to. She is still reeling from her experiences and she is suffering mentally. 

Where Noughts and Crosses had the shock value, Knife Edge is a lot more grown up. More real life dramas are being dealt with and we see new dimensions to the characters.

It is honestly such a good series and I think this book was needed to set up the rest of the series. I cannot wait to read the rest.

Knife Edge by Malorie Blackman is available now.

For more information regarding Malorie Blackman (@malorieblackman) please visit www.malorieblackman.co.uk. 

For more information regarding Penguin (@PenguinUKBooks) please visit www.penguin.co.uk.