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: Rodham

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld

Pages: 421 Pages

Publisher: Random house

The Blurb

In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.

In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.

But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.

Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.

The Review

Rodham imagines a parallel universe in which Hillary Clinton did not marry Bill Clinton. It looks at how her life would have turned out if she hadn’t spent her life one step behind Bill and shadowing his political career. What could have happened if she stayed single, focused on her own career and maybe one day ran for president? Rodham is fantastic.

Obvioously, this is a fictional tale (massively covering my own backside here) but Sittenfeld has taken all the negative qualities of the supporting cast and painted them neon. Bill is a sex pest, Donald Trump supports Hillary but only in so far as he can gain from it, Hillary is a little wooden. It makes the novel really rather salacious.

Rodham is a fascinating look at the world of politics and about social change that has happened and that still needs to happen. It is entertaining because of how we view the world today and the differences that Sittenfeld has used to tell her story. Ironically, it is also the things that have remained the same that also cause us moments to pause and to chuckle. The juxtaposition of both sides of the coin really do make you wonder, along with Sittenfeld, what if?

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld is available now.

For more information regarding Curtis Sittenfeld (@csittenfeld) please visit www.curtissittenfeld.com.

For more information regarding Random House (@randomhouse) please visit www.randomhousebooks.com.

Title: Born a Crime

Author: Trevor Noah

Pages: 288 Pages

Publisher: Random House

The Blurb

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humour and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

The Review

I love Trevor Noah. I love how he approaches his political view points and how he uses humour to emphasise important arguments. It was due to this love of his comedic style that made me decide to read his autobiography Born a Crime.

In Born a Crime, Noah chronicles his life being a mixed race boy in Africa and how he felt certain privileges due to his being ‘not quite black enough’ and how through his experiences he is able to paint a picture of modern day racism.

Born a Crime is a fascinating read, especially if you are not familiar with the political situation in certain parts of Africa or political situations such as apartheid which personally I wasn’t very familiar with. So even if, like me, you only pick up Born a Crime due to the name of the author you are bound to learn something new.

Noah’s experiences are – at times – shocking, sometimes heart-warming but always painted with humour. I laughed a lot when reading Born a Crime.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah is available now.

For more information regarding Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) please visit www.trevornoah.com.

For more information regarding Random House(@randomhouse) please visit www.randomhousebooks.com.

Title: Us Three

Author: Ruth Jones

Pages: 336 Pages

Publisher: Random House/Transworld Publishers/Bantam Press

The Blurb

The new novel from Ruth Jones, author of the smash-hit, number one bestselling debut, Never Greener.

Meet Lana, Judith and Catrin. Best friends since primary school when they swore an oath on a Curly Wurly wrapper that they would always be there for each other, come what may.

After the trip of a lifetime, the three girls are closer than ever. But an unexpected turn of events shakes the foundation of their friendship to its core, leaving their future in doubt – there’s simply too much to forgive, let alone forget. An innocent childhood promise they once made now seems impossible to keep . . .

Packed with all the heart and empathy that made Ruth’s name as a screenwriter and now author, Us Three is a funny, moving and uplifting novel about life’s complications, the power of friendship and how it defines us all. Prepare to meet characters you’ll feel you’ve known all your life – prepare to meet Us Three.

The Review

What a heart-warming story. Lana, Judith and Catrin are best friends and have been since they can remember but when they begin to grow up and adulthood is on the horizon they inevitably begin to grow apart.

Told in a multi-perspective narrative form and during different time periods Us Three really does give the unique yet universal experience of belonging to a group of friends. Jones has captured the highs and lows of it perfectly.

I really loved reading Us Three. I loved the differentiation between the three main characters and how you didn’t have to work hard to figure out who was speaking – the character voices were so perfectly balanced for their personality. Jones makes it very easy for you to fall into their story. I also love that all you are kept on your toes throughout. You never see what is coming and when events do transpire your mind is blown how you didn’t see it all along. I was truly clueless as to where the plot was going but in the best possible way. Us Three can never be accused of being predictable.

Us Three is a brilliant novel that deals with the complexities of friendship and growing up.

Us Three by Ruth Jones is available from 3rd September 2020.

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

For more information regarding Bantam Press (@BantamPress) please visit www.bantam.press.

Title: The Panic Years

Author: Nell Frizzell

Pages: 288 Pages

Publisher: Random House/Transworld Publishers/Bantam Press

The Blurb

The Panic Years: something between adolescence and menopause, a personal crisis, a transformation.

The panic years can hit at any time but they are most commonly triggered somewhere between the ages of twenty-five and forty. During this time, every decision a woman makes – from postcode to partner, friends to family, work to weekends – will be impacted by the urgency of the one decision with a deadline, the one decision that is impossible to take back: whether or not to have a baby.

But how to stay sane in such a maddening time?
How to understand who you are and what you might want from life?
How to know if you’re making the right decisions?

Raw, hilarious and beguilingly honest, Nell Frizzell’s account of her panic years is both an arm around the shoulder and a campaign to start a conversation. This affects us all – women, men, mothers, children, partners, friends, colleagues – so it’s time we started talking about it with a little more candour.

The Review

I am 36 years old. Well, I will be 37 this year and so this book, The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell should, in theory, speak to me.

Nell Frizzell is looking at things that society deems important to a 30+ year old. Things like marriage, children, and early menopause. And whilst I have thought about those things they aren’t necessarily a massive concern. I can see the reasons why Frizzell wrote about them and I admire her candid approach – at times she comes across as a little cuckoo and obsessed with time running away from her – but I think for me personally I didn’t mirror her concerns. I think The Panic Years would be a perfect book for someone looking for reassurance – in particular about becoming a mum – but it didn’t resonate with me because I don’t necessarily want the same things as her.

The Panic Years is well written and I think more books like this are needed. Women need to have their voices heard on subjects that are generally kept quiet and hidden and it needs bold voices like Nell Frizzell and so I admire her greatly for her writing and her honesty.

The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell is available now.

For more information regarding Nell Frizzell (@NellFrizzell) please visit her Twitter page.

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

For more information regarding Bantam Press (@BantamPress) please visit www.bantam.press.