Title: Hungry

Author: Grace Dent

Pages: 304 Pages

Publisher: Harper Collins

The Blurb

From Frazzles to Foie Gras: a memoir of wanting more.

From an early age, Grace Dent was hungry. As a little girl growing up in Currock, Carlisle, she yearned to be something bigger, to go somewhere better.

Hungry traces Grace’s story from growing up eating beige food to becoming one of the much-loved voices on the British food scene. It’s also everyone’s story – from treats with your nan, to cheese and pineapple hedgehogs, to the exquisite joy of cheaply-made apple crumble with custard. It’s the high-point of a chip butty covered in vinegar and too much salt in the school canteen, on an otherwise grey day of double-Maths and cross country running. It’s the real story of how we have all lived, laughed, and eaten over the past 40 years.

Warm, funny and joyous, Hungry is also about love and loss, the central role that food plays in all our lives, and how a Cadbury’s Fruit ‘n’ Nut in a hospital vending machine can brighten the toughest situation.

The Review:

People will know Grace Dent as the no-nonsense northern food critic often seen on Masterchef or panel shows. If, like me, you are a fan of Grace Dent, you may have read her previous work about trying to leave Twitter – I love you, Dent, but it didn’t stop me using it. If you are a fan you may have recently picked up her autobiography – Hungry and if you are not a fan then you should, most definitely pick up a copy of Hungry.

Grace Dent has lived a very normal yet inspiring life. You could call it a rags to reasonable income story (I think even Dent would stop at saying riches) but it hasn’t fallen into her lap. Yes she has had some lucky breaks but all of her chances seem to have been born of hard work. She has put in the graft. As a fellow northerner you see an unwavering sense of “you get what you work for” mentality. An innate life ethos that comes from being working class and it is a mentality to take pride in.

The title Hungry is very fitting. Every time Dent mentioned a food staple from her childhood my mouth filled with saliva and reading the book left me with a hankering for Findus Crispy Pancakes – I’ve not been able to find them, I’ve had to settle for Bird’s Eye.

Overall, Dent uses food to show how the staple of our everyday lives combined with the love of our family creates a sense of comfort and how evocative food can be at drawing out memories.

A wonderful autobiography.

Hungry by Grace Dent is available now.

For more information regarding Grace Dent (@gracedent) please visit her Twitter page.

For more information regarding Harper Collins (@HarperCollinsUK) please visit the Twitter page.

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.

Genre: Autobiography

Gist: An autobiography of the prolific punk poet John Cooper Clarke

Small Review: John Cooper Clarke takes you on a guided tour of his life and the things, people and places that shaped him into one of the best loved poets of the punk generation.

Long Review: Poetry and I have a difficult relationship. I like learning about poetry, the nuances and the cleverly picked phrases. I love playing Where’s Wally with poems – find the metaphor, spot the simile detour relationship never really went beyond that which is strange because I love music and essentially lyrics are just poems to music. I digress. 

However, every so often I find a poem that I just love. For me, one of those poems was I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke. It made me curious, I started reading other poems by him and I kind of fell for his clever use of rhyme and unusual emphasis on syllables. Yep. I really liked it.

I was really excited when I found out that he was going to be releasing an autobiography. His crazy and random tales from his crazy and random life. I couldn’t wait. I listened to I Wanna Be Yours on Audiobook. I wanted to hear how John Cooper Clarke told his stories. Would they be like his poems? Would I be totally mesmerised and engaged. The answer to both of those questions is yes. His lyric style does not end at his poetic outputs. I genuinely feel that his lyricism and enunciation would be like having an every day conversation with John Cooper Clarke.

Some of the stories John Cooper Clarke tells are enough to make any punk fan toe-curlingly envious. I know I was as I read it. I wanted to have the experiences that he had. I wanted to be living that roguish lifestyle and see the things that he had seen, the performers that he got to see. I didn’t live through that time period but I did get to experience it somewhat vicariously through I Wanna Be Yours. This is definitely a book that needs a reread.

I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke.

For more information regarding John Cooper Clarke (@official_jcc) please visit www.johncooperclarke.com.

For more information regarding Picador (@picadorbooks) please visit www.panmacmillan.com.

Genre: Autobiography

Gist: An autobiography centred around Sofie Hagen’s battle with other people’s opinions about her weight.

Small Review: Sofia Hagen’s memoir is a funny memoir that gets people thinking about how the world is created for ‘skinny’ people and how those of a certain size are not catered for and how the assumption that if you are bigger you are unhappy rather than thinking that their is just more to love.

Long Review: I won’t lie to you. Before reading Happy Fat I had never heard of Sofie Hagen (sorry). I saw the title of her book and I was intrigued. I have struggled and battled with my weight for years. Strangely, I know I am not big and I know that there are others who would like to be my size but the grass is always greener, isn’t it?

What Sofie Hagen proposes in her memoir is that you should love who you are and not get bogged down in what other people think of you. That you should have the courage of conviction to know who you are, what you want and what you like. 

Sofie Hagen does pose the theory that the world is not created for bigger people: small seats on aeroplanes, extended seatbelts for the bigger person, small seats in theatres. She shows how the world isn’t inclusive for a certain strand of people. It is actually quite sad. 

There are moments of comedy genius in this book but there are also moments of real sadness. You do go on a bit of a journey in this memoir. It is most definitely worth a read.

Happy Fat – Taking Up Space in a World That Wants to Shrink You by Sofia Hagen is available now.

For more information regarding 4th Estate (@4thEstateBooks) please visit www.4thestate.co.uk.

Title: The Little Big Things – A Young Man’s Belief that Every Day Can Be a Good Day 

Author: Henry Fraser

Pages: 192 Pages

Publisher: Seven Dials

The Blurb

The memoir of the year by Henry Fraser, motivational speaker and mouth artist with a foreword by J.K. Rowling.

Being challenged in life is inevitable, but being defeated is optional…

Henry Fraser was 17 years old when a tragic accident severed his spinal cord. Paralysed from the shoulders down, he has conquered unimaginable difficulty to embrace life and a new way of living. Through challenging adversity, he has found the opportunity to grow and inspire others.

This book combines his wisdom and insight into finding the gifts in life’s challenges, and will resonate with anyone facing an obstacle, no matter how big or small. It includes Henry’s thoughts on how to look at the right things and avoid the wrong, finding progress in whatever you do, and acknowledging and accepting the darkness when it comes. Right at the heart of Henry’s inspiring philosophy is his belief that every day is a good day.

(Goodreads Blurb)

The Review

At the age of 17, Henry Fraser went on his first ‘lads holiday’. On this holiday his life was changed forever the he accidentally severed his spinal cord and was left paralysed.

The Little Big Things is the story of his journey of recovery from his accident. I can honestly say that this is one of the most inspirational books that I have ever read. It is an open and honest account of Fraser’s feelings during and after this life changing event.

The Little Big Things is a story full of hope. It is a book that should be given to anyone who is having a moan at the small and inconsequential things that happen to them. It will uplift you and at once remind you just how lucky you actually are.

The Little Big Things – A Young Man’s Belief that Every Day Can Be a Good Day by Henry Fraser is available now.

For more information regarding Henry Fraser (@henryfraser0) please visit www.henryfraserart.com/art/.

For more information regarding Seven Dials (@SevenDialsBooks) please visit www.orionbooks.co.uk.