Educated by Tara Westover

This is a book that I had seen around for quite some time and I had been intrigued about it. So, when a friend offered me the chance to read this memoir, I jumped at the chance.

This book was such a fascinating memoir, it really opens your eyes to the difference that can so easily be established around the world. How religion, politics and education can so easily be manipulated, misunderstood and used as excuses and reasons for behaviour that many of us may find strange and unusual.

There has to be praise for Tara Westover for being brave enough to share her story. But this journey has made her who she is and has spurred her on to become the woman that she is. This memoir, at moments, is absolutely heartbreaking as you can see how Tara Westover struggles with the conflicting ideas she has developed about the importance and opportunity that education appears to be offering, yet her family appear to not accept it at all. However, when she realises that education is probably the only way she will break the cycle of how she is living, she does make a brave decision to embrace education rather that continue to live as she has.

It is a little difficult to review what seems like such a personal memoir (although it has been shared with all the readers, of course).

Making It by Jay Blades

Have you ever seen a more perfectly titled book? I mean, as Jay Blades is the presenter of ‘The Repair Shop’ and a furniture restorer, he is definitely used to making it.

Jay Blades has become quite a TV star in recent years. As the warm-hearted presenter of ‘The Repair Shop’, alongside presenting a programme supporting people in developing their craft skills in his workshop, with the occasional history programme, and sharing his struggles in learning to read, he has built up quite the fanbase throughout the generations.

Yet, life has not always been plain sailing for Jay Blades, and this autobiography takes us chronologically through his life and his struggles. He does not hold back or sugarcoat any of his past; he tells his story with honesty and shares how he learns from his actions of the past. However, it does make for an emotional read when you realise how easy it can be for some to end up on the wrong path and how, sadly, society did not always welcome with open arms those that it did not see as having the ‘right’ to be in the country.

But Jay Blades has never let anything hold him back, even when he has a breakdown, which he talks about with real honesty. He accepts the help that is around him and the kindness of practical strangers, taking this as a chance to make a fresh start and rebuild his life. And there is an important lesson here for all of us as he makes it clear that it is so important for all of us to talk, understand when we are struggling and ask for help, but especially for men to ensure that they do this, as there is such a ridiculous stigma, still, that seems to stop men from talking about emotions and feelings.

As with all memoirs, to get the full experience, you need to read this book for yourself. I really do suggest you do, because there are so many important stories amongst its pages and, if you are a fan of Jay Blades, you will be a fan of this book.

Everything is Everything: A Memoir of Love, Hate and Hope by Clive Myrie

In October, I was lucky enough to attend Stratford Literary Festival and hear Clive Myrie talk about his new memoir. This was a book that was already on my radar as I have a lot of respect for Clive Myrie as a journalist and television presenter (he was definitely the correct choice for Mastermind). He was also a very nice man when I was lucky enough to meet him after his talk; just a lovely gentleman.

This memoir is an absolute joy to read, and I think it proves that Clive Myrie presents his real self in his life and work. I cannot recall all the stories that appear in a memoir; I mean, then you would not need to read it. However, for me, I enjoyed this because it is a memoir rather than a celebrity autobiography. The majority of the stories are sparked by something in Clive’s childhood or work life, and then it interweaves with events from history or a commentary of events on the world stage (and Clive Myrie has certainly been present at some of them).

This is about the experience of growing up in Bolton as a child of a couple who were from the Windrush generation. It explores the impact of this start in life, for him as a young boy, his parents as they start again in Britain, and his older siblings as they come to join the family in Britain. But it also takes us further, as it looks at the events that Clive Myrie has reported on, the parts of the world he has lived in, and how these experiences have shaped him and his view of the world. There is warmth and humour amongst these pages – but also there is commentary on some of the injustices in the world that we still have based on someone’s race; something you hope that, in the modern world, is no longer an issue, but – as we all know – sadly, it is. There were moments when I found this read incredibly moving; you go through so many emotions as you read this book and it is definitely something that any reader will finding thought-provoking.

I could not put this book down, as it is so beautifully written and is full of so many fascinating stories. This is a book for anyone who is a fan of memoir – not just those who may be a fan of Clive Myrie, but for those who have an interest in social history, political history and the general world that we live in.

Jojo: Finally Home by Johannes Radebe

Any Strictly fan needs to pick this book up – right, that is my blog post done.

Of course I have more to say than that, but it is going to be very clear that I loved this book. I am a fan of Johannes Radebe, as a professional on Strictly he is one of my favourites. He always comes across as such a genuine and kind-hearted soul, who has broken down barriers on the show dancing as a same-sex couple with John Whaite in 2021, as well as having danced male partnerships in some of the professionals dances.

This book takes us from Johannes’ childhood right up to date. And it is like sitting down, listening to a friend and having a chat. Johannes grew up in South Africa, not always having an easy childhood, as he grew up in a society that was not as accepting and liberal as he deserved. Dance became a salvation for Johannes, something that he truly loved and allowed him to express himself. Something that took him away from the turbulent family life due to his father’s actions. As, Johannes grew up he worked hard and carved out a successful dancing career that first of all took him across South Africa, across the world and has landed him in London – a place that now feels like home.

There are moments that brought a little tear to my eye, but also moments that have you cheering Johannes and his supporters along. It is such an honest memoir of his life and career: seeing how Johannes blooms to become the figure that we will know and love from Strictly Come Dancing. And an icon and strong voice amongst the LGBTQ+ community.

Playing Under the Piano by Hugh Bonneville

I saw a review on a book-related app which stated that this book was ‘too actory’. I have to admit that this made me giggle, as I am not sure what you would expect from the memoir of a British actor.

However, I did not find anything about this book a negative reading experience. In fact, I agree with the quote on the front from Celia Imrie (another National Treasure) that this book is ‘deliciously witty’. It is, in fact, an absolute joy to read, especially for anyone who has an interest in British theatre, TV and film, and those who have graced each of these areas.

Hugh takes us through his journey to becoming an actor, from his childhood to his life on the stage and his time in some of our nation’s favourites, such as Downton Abbey. He shares stories from his family as well as from his professional experience and, at moments, I found myself crying (rather awkard, as at one moment I was reading this book on the train on the way to work) as he shares the loss of his mother, brother and father. Hugh Bonneville writes with such charm, passion and emotion that this memoir is very difficult to put down.

I am not sure it is possible to fangirl as you read a book, but I loved reading about his encounters with some of my favourite actors such as Dame Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent and Iain Glen (to name but a few). And, as someone who enjoys seeing as many Royal Shakespeare Company productions as possible, Hugh Bonneville’s time with this company was something that I found particularly interesting.

If you have an interest in British theatre, actors, films (and a little bit of TV), and what really happens behind the scenes, then this is the book for you. It may be ‘actory’, but that is exactly what you need it to be – and it is a gem of a memoir that I will return to read little snippets of, because there are so many delightful anecdotes amongst its pages.

No Shame by Tom Allen

I am finding so many treats as I shop my shelves that it is making me wonder why (like all bookworms – and Nemo’s good friend Dory) I can be distracted by new shiny books when there are some absolute gems on my shelves that I have ignored for some time.

I am a fan of Tom Allen, and his dry and unique sense of humour. I have heard him speak a few times about his memoirs/autobiography and, now that the second has been released, I thought it was probably about time that I read the first. Although, in my defence, this has only been on my shelves since the end of November, so it has been picked up pretty quickly.

I adored this book. It is full of charm and wit, as you would expect from Tom Allen. But it is also very honest, and Allen really invites you to see some of the struggles that he faced growing up as a gay man in surburban Bromley. I enjoy that this is not just a chronicle of his life, but that he selects the stories he wants us to hear about his journey through life from boy to young man – and award-winning comedian.

You will laugh out loud as you read this book (quite a choice for me to have read on a train journey to London), and it will break your heart at times as the young Tom Allen struggles a little with his place in the world. But, also, for the clear love that there is between him and his parents, showing unconditional love for their son, even if he did not always realise that everything would be okay after all.

As my first piece of non-fiction of the year, I feel that it was a great choice, as I have been blessed with another well-written and engaging read that I was looking forward to picking up at each opportunity that I had to read. And, as Tom Allen is a contemporary of mine, it was nice to share some of the same nostalgia for Sony Discmans and swimming pools getting their wave machines, and that seeming like the most exciting thing ever. I would definitely like to read Tom Allen’s second book – but first I must continue my quest to get the to-be-read pile down.

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

The lovely Miss W sent me a copy of ‘When Stars are Scattered’ as a little treat a little while ago and, as it was a book that had been on my wishlist for quite some time, I was so excited when it arrived.

I absolutely love a graphic novel; they are just another beautiful way to enjoy reading. And they can be a perfect genre to tackle some harder topics, and this is exactly what ‘When Stars are Scattered’ does. This is even more special, as it is the story of Omar, who is one of the authors of the book.

Omar and his brother are living in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya, as they have escpaed the war in Somalia. With just each other, and their new foster mother, Omar is focused on looking after his brother Hassan, who is nonverbal. Life is hard for the boys, but one day Omar is giving the opportunity to go to school and possibly have the chance to give himself and his brother a better life in the future – although he knows the path will be a long one.

Beautifully crafted through words and pictures, we follow Omar and Hassan as they navigate the challenges that they face in Dadaab. As well as finding out about the experiences of some of their friends, and how a little kindness can inspire some to fight for the chance to change their future – and maybe the futures of others.

Although this is a book for older middle-grade readers, this is a book that readers of all ages should take the time to read, as this is a book with a heart – and a very important message. It causes us to reflect on the privileges that so many of us take for granted, and how showing a little kindness can go a long way.

This book has been added to my automatic recommendation list, so, if you can, pick up this story and give it a read. I am sure you will love it.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

This is a book I am ashamed to say has been on my shelf for quite some time. I had meant to pick it up for ages, but I just never got the chance. However, 2021 was the year – and what a fantastic read it was.

Michelle Obama is a woman who I have admired for a long time. She has always just seemed to present herself in such a calm, professional but determined manner. Someone who appears as truly supportive of her husband and, of course, loves her family. I am so pleased that, as I read this memoir, that is exactly who Michelle Obama is.

This book tells us about Michelle Obama’s childhood in Chicago and the determination she had to go to university and gain a career for herself. It is clear how her early life influenced her values and attitudes as she met her future husband and started a family of her own.

We learn about her life as First Lady, as her husband Barack Obama takes the role of American President for two terms. It is clear that she keeps her values at the front of everything she does and always works to contribute as positively as she can to a country she loves.

As a teacher, it really struck me how highly Michelle Obama regards education of all kinds, but especially education of girls all around the world, to ensure that they reach their full potential.

This book is a really inspirational read. Michelle Obama writes in an engaging manner with warmth, emotion and charm. I really don’t know why I waited so long to read this book – so, if you have ‘Becoming’ on your shelves, pick it up because it really will be a highlight.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

Again, I am late to the book party. ‘This is Going to Hurt’ has been all over the book world since it was published, however I was never sure it was the book for me. Yet I gave in and decided to give it a go. My word, it really is a book for me.

Adam Kay has shared with the world his diaries from his medical days. His own secret diaries from his shifts on the front line working for the NHS. This is one of the most revealing books about life on the hospital wards that you are likely to read.

There is such humour in the writing (not sure it is always intentional) some moments of horror (especially if you are squeamish) and real heartbreak. In fact, never has a book had quite such a powerful ending.

What is clear about this account is that it has not been written to name and shame the NHS. However, it does show the frustration that Kay felt working in such a profession that is being forced to survive in such difficult circurmstances thanks to outside factors. It is obvious why so many are forced out of such careers, despite their best efforts.

This is a book that I hope mamy of the readers in the UK – and maybe even the world – will pick up to educate themselves and raise their awareness of the medical world.

Have you read a memoir that is like an education?

Spectacles – A Memoir by Sue Perkins

A good memoir is one you can relate to. Where you read some of the tales and they trigger some of your own memories. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not expect to have the life of a celebrity or a historical figure, but when they talk about the real world you realise that everyone’s paths are not so different.

Sue Perkins is probably most recently recognisable for hosting the real ‘Great British Bake Off’ (oooh yes I went there), and her memoir is just as real as she appears on TV. I was laughing from page one and reading snippets out to my poor holiday companion Miss W (who has read the book, so probably didn’t need to hear it at 10 o’clock at night). I could hear Sue’s voice telling the every tale and there was a really natural flow to the words. And, again, the tales told were honest and relateable. One anecdote about Granny Smith really struck a chord with me – reminding me of my very own family.

However, Sue Perkins does not shy away from the darker side of life and some struggles, but it is all told so naturally and with no sugar coating, and no over-dramatic adjectives, that you simply quietly empathise and have a little think.

Another reason I found reading this a joy is that this is the same copy read by ‘Hayley From Home‘ and ‘Adventures with One of Each‘, as we love to pass books along. So, thank you Sue for bringing us joy on TV (often with Mel) and sharing that little bit more with us too.