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Autobiography and Biography

**BLOG TOUR** What Nobody Knew by Amelia Hendrey

Abandoned by her mother at the age of three and left with her violent father and stepmother, Amelia had what can only be described as a horrific start in life. What Nobody Knew is the author’s own heartbreaking story, from her incredibly traumatic beginnings to her brave survival and, hopefully, happier life.

First of all, I need to start by saying that due to its content, this book may not be for everyone. Dealing with subjects such as child and domestic abuse, rape and abandonment, What Nobody Knew is a harrowing and, at times, difficult read. It’s not, however, sensationalised in any way, and is an honest account of the author’s upbringing.

Throughout the book, I had overwhelming feelings of anger directed towards the adults in Amelia’s life. She truly had no one to turn to and was let down constantly by those who had the power to do something about what she was enduring. Her numerous injuries, some of them requiring hospital visits, should, surely, have had the alarm bells ringing and yet this poor child continued to stay in the family home with those who were responsible.

What I found most fascinating about this book was the inclusion of actual documents from when concerns had been raised. This helped to highlight how little had been done for this child, the authorities seemingly intent on placing the blame firmly with the child rather than investigating the true cause of her behaviour and injuries. The more I read, the more frustrated and angry I became – how could they let this happen?

Being taken away from the family home can be traumatic for any child, but in her case, this provided one of the few high points for Amelia. Boarding school gave her the opportunity to live life as a ‘normal’ child and it was heartwarming to see her developing a close friendship with one of the other girls, doing things that girls her age would do. Of course, this couldn’t last, and it was devastating to think that she was send back to her home, and her abusers, each school holiday.

You would be forgiven for thinking that these events happened a number of years ago, but it is shocking to see how recently this all occurred. Neglect like this should never be allowed to happen again and I applaud the author for having the courage to tell her story.

With thanks to Amelia Hendrey and to Sarah Hardy from Book On The Bright Side Publicity & Promo for organising the blog tour.

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Teacher, Teacher! by Jack Sheffield

The year is 1977 and Jack Sheffield has just started a new job as head teacher at Ragley Primary School in North Yorkshire. Teacher, Teacher! is the story of his first year in the post, showing how the young, inexperienced teacher deals with the staff, parents and pupils along with the numerous colourful characters of the local village.

Although I mainly read crime and thriller books, occasionally I like to venture into something a little more light-hearted so when I saw Teacher, Teacher! on The Works website, it looked right up my street. As someone who grew up after the time the book is set but remembers primary school with fondness, I looked forward to the book taking me right back to simpler times. As someone who works in education, I was also intrigued to see how schools today compared to Ragley in the 1970s.

Teacher, Teacher! is filled with laugh out loud moments from a cast of larger than life characters. A vivid picture has been painted of life in the school and it was easy to imagine people such as Ruby, the caretaker, and Mrs. Brown, the parent nobody wants to speak to at parents’ evening. There were numerous amusing tales of events such as the school camping trip and sports day – all before the days of health and safety and risk assessments!

The book also has its more poignant moments, the standout ones for me being Jack’s visit to a local special school where he spent his time dancing with a severely disabled child who could only ‘dance with her eyes’. This was a truly beautiful scene. I also enjoyed reading about Ping, a Vietnamese refugee who spent a short time at Ragley school. Both of these stories showed how important a nurturing environment is to children – a stark contrast to the current trend of testing and reducing children to statistics.

Teacher, Teacher! is a heart-warming read and I have already purchased the next in the series.

A Better Me by Gary Barlow

During the 1990s, Take That were the boy band. Sell-out tours, number one singles, adoring fans – they had it all. After they decided to call it a day, everyone expected the career of lead singer and songwriter, Gary Barlow, to go from strength to strength, but this was not to be the case. Finding solace in food, Gary became a virtual recluse, tired of the endless jibes at his expense. A Better Me chronicles the battles with his demons, from his lowest times to the present day where he is happier than ever.

As someone who remembers Take That from the days when they used to tour shops and who still enjoys going to their tours today, I was really looking forward to reading A Better Me. If you are looking for a ‘warts and all’ tale of life in a boy band, then you are going to be sorely disappointed. This is very much Gary’s story – not the story of Take That – and it is one of humour, sadness but, above all, honesty.

As the title suggests, this is about how Gary changed his life for the better, be it through his battles with his weight or his mental health. What comes across throughout the book is how, despite his wealth and his happy family life, he could not find peace within himself, turning to food to fill the void when his solo career did not go how he had hoped. I daresay a lot of people will be nodding as he discusses the numerous diets, some more bizarre than others, that he tried in order to lose weight.

It was fascinating to read his take on the breakdown in his relationship with bandmate Robbie Williams, and he deals with this particular part of his life with brutal honesty. Similarly, he addresses his well-publicised tax avoidance – something I thought may have been omitted.

Gary deals with the well-documented loss of his stillborn child in a sensitive, honest way. I can understand why he had reservations in including this traumatic part of his life, but I feel that he made the correct decision in writing about it. If just one person going through the same thing finds it comforting, then it has been worthwhile.

A Better Me is a brutally honest take on the life  of one of the country’s foremost songwriters and is one that I’m sure all Take That fans will love.

**BLOG TOUR** Full Metal Cardigan by David Emery

Full-Metal-Cardigan-Front-CoverFull Metal Cardigan is the first book from David Emery, detailing life as a social worker. While this is certainly a serious profession, it has also had its lighthearted and downright bizarre moments, many of which are recalled in this comical yet no-holds-barred look at life in social services.

They (whoever they may be) say that you should laugh in the face of adversity and it’s fair to say that David has found humour in some very dark places! Although he has faced some very dark events in the course of his job such as attempted suicides and physical attacks, he has clearly kept his sense of humour throughout, the numerous tales that had me laughing out loud being testament to this! From stories about being an unwitting driver to a drug dealer to nearly aiding a client on a one-way trip to Dignitas, Full Metal Cardigan provided laughs from beginning to end.

It must be remembered, though, that despite the funny stories, working in social services is not easy and is a profession that comes with a huge amount of responsibility. I have much respect for David and his colleagues, especially when reading about the lengthy working hours and amount of personal danger they are placed in. Not a job I would enjoy!

I really enjoyed Full Metal Cardigan and if you are looking for a quick, light-hearted read then this could just be the book for you!

With thanks to Fledgling Press for my ARC and to Kelly at Love Books Group for organising the blog tour. take a look at the rest of the blogs on the tour:

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**BLOG TOUR** Trafficked Girl by Zoe Patterson

Today, I am so pleased to be one of the blogs featuring on the tour for Trafficked Girl by Zoe Patterson. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

When she was taken into care at the age of 13, Zoe hoped that her life was about to take a turn for the better. Abused at home from a very young age, Denver House was a fresh start, away from the physical and emotional violence she had experienced. Little did Zoe know that her life was about to go from bad to worse as she found herself being bullied by older girls who forced her into going to ‘parties’ which were actually further ways of abusing her. Soon, Zoe found herself being trafficked around the country with no one in authority willing to help put a stop to it. Trafficked Girl is the story of a girl who truly experienced rock bottom yet managed to fight back.

It is hard to read a book like this without asking the question, ‘How was this allowed to happen?’ The quote at the start of the book is actually a dictionary definition of the word ‘care’ and this is precisely what Zoe never managed to experience. From being physically and mentally abused by her mother and sexually abused by the older men she was forced to spend time with, Zoe really had no chance in life whatsoever. Perhaps what really sickened me the most, however, was the attitude of those who were tasked with her protection. How could the police turn a blind eye to what was going on? How could the staff of Denver House be so blasé about what their charges were doing? How could social services not put a stop to what was, seemingly, happening in several authorities at the time? The list of questions could go on.

In recent years, there have been countless stories that have emerged about the failings in the care system and while these are horrific to read, hearing the words of one of the children actually involved gives you a whole new understanding. My heart went out to Zoe as she moved from place to place, each time hoping that this would be where she would finally belong. It was also quite poignant to see how, despite her mother’s abuse, she still tried to keep contact with her dysfunctional family only to find herself still the subject of ridicule.

Trafficked Girl shows how all it takes for someone to turn their life around is the trust and belief of another person, this person being Pam, who took Zoe under her wing and gave her the strength to fight back and take on the system that had failed her repeatedly. It was thanks to Pam that Zoe is now able to take steps towards moving on in her life and, although the memories of her past will probably remain with her for ever, she is now in a position to achieve the things she always wanted but was never able to.

It has been a long time since a book has made me so angry and I applaud Zoe Patterson for having the courage to tell her story. Trafficked Girl is a highly emotive read on a subject that should never be brushed under the carpet. These children, now adults, deserve their justice.

With thanks to Rosie Margesson and Harper Collins for my ARC.

Take a look at the rest of the blog tour:

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Member of the Family: Manson, Murder and Me by Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman

51wTNZH99oLWhen fourteen-year-old Dianne Lake encountered the enigmatic Charles Manson and his ‘Family’, little did she know the huge effect it was going to have on her life. Now, fifty years later, Dianne is telling her story – a first-hand story of her experiences with one of the most heinous characters in American history, and what a story it is…

Over the years, I have read several books about Charles Manson, including one written as a result of interviews with the man himself. Where this book differs, though, is that it is affording us a first-hand account of someone who lived through the free-love era of late-1960s America as part of Manson’s ‘Family’.

The first third of the book details Dianne’s early life, which was far from conventional. Born into a seemingly typical family, secrets begin to rear their heads and soon, her parents make the decision to ‘drop out’ of normal society. This action set the tone for the rest of Dianne’s life, as they moved from place to place, taking drugs and living in several communal habitations. When she made the decision to go it alone, I found it hard to remember that she was only fourteen at the time. It was clear to see that she craved some normality and would have loved to have had the opportunity to attend school and make something of herself. The actions of her parents, though, were the first steps into pushing her towards Manson.

When we finally meet Charlie Manson, there is no immediate indication of what is to come. Initially, Dianne gets what she yearns for – a family who look out for each other. As time progresses, though, Manson’s true nature begins to emerge and it is interesting to read that, with hindsight, Dianne wished that she had noticed these signs and got away whilst she had the chance. Such was Manson’s pull, though, and the fact that she felt she was in love with him, she remained in his clutches until he was arrested. It was difficult to read about the abuse she endured during her time with the ‘Family’ and how her skewed idea of what was normal didn’t give her the impetus to run away.

If you read this hoping to find out more about the Tate/LaBianca killings, then you are going to be disappointed as this is not the purpose of the book. Dianne was not part of the atrocities but became aware of them after the fact. Repulsed by what she found out and realising the true nature of the man she adored, it became a relief when they were finally picked up by the authorities and she could start to remove traces of the cult from her life. It was pleasing to read how Dianne managed to turn her life around, thanks to the kindness of a police officer and also how she found happiness with a husband and the real family she had always longed for.

Member of the Family is a fascinating, well-written read and I sincerely hope that Dianne continues to live a happy life, free from memories of the past.

With thanks to Rosie Margesson and Harper Collins UK for my copy of the book.

 

Only Fools and Stories by David Jason

downloadIn his first book, David Jason told us about his life so far, from his time growing up at Lodge Lane, Finchley to the TV actor we all know and love today. In this, the follow-up, he tells us more about the characters he has portrayed from Granville in Open All Hours, Frost and not forgetting Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter from Only Fools and Horses.

I am a huge fan of David Jason and over the years I have loved his portrayal of some of the most iconic characters on British TV, my favourites being the aforementioned Del Boy and Detective Inspector Jack Frost. I’ve also always had a soft spot for Blanco from Porridge and was pleased to see him referenced in this book. Only Fools and Stories is a delightful behind-the-scenes look at all of these programmes featuring numerous tales that I had never heard before. It was satisfying to read about the genuine friendships that developed on Only Fools and Horses and I enjoyed the stories of practical jokes played on other members of the cast.

It was interesting to see how the different characters came about and his role in developing them. I was disappointed to read that there was potentially a Frost spin-off in the pipeline, featuring the retired detective as a private investigator, but that it never materialized. I would have loved to have watched Frost’s continuing development.

One of the things I enjoy about David Jason’s style of writing it that it is easy to imagine his voice as you read the words. This made it a very entertaining read and a perfect follow-on to this previous autobiography. I just hope that he continues to entertain us for years to come, providing him with enough material for a third autobiography.

Walter Dew: The Man Who Caught Crippen by Nicholas Connell

51z4a1hexblPerhaps most known for his transatlantic chase to apprehend the suspected murderer Dr. Crippen and his alleged accomplice Ethel Le Neve, Walter Dew: The Man Who Caught Crippen tells the story of the detective’s humble beginnings to his retirement from the police force after almost thirty years of service. Containing original research and excerpts from Dew’s own biography, Nicholas Connell gives a fascinating insight into one of the twentieth century’s most notorious criminal cases.

As someone who has an interest in nineteenth and early twentieth century crime, this book begged to be bought when I saw it at a local bookshop. I had also wanted to read more about Walter Dew after reading the fictional The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey. I have read many books of this genre and find that, sometimes, there can be too much emphasis placed on quoting trial transcripts ad verbatim. This was not the case here and I found this book a very easy yet informative read.

Although much of the book is taken up, understandably, by the Crippen case, I was pleased to see that there was also a large section devoted to Dew’s involvement in the Jack the Ripper investigation. Dew’s recollections of being one of the first policemen on the scene of the Mary Jane Kelly murder were absorbing and gives readers an awareness of how horrific it must have been to witness what he did.

I was also pleased to see a little cameo role for the pathologist Bernard Spilsbury – a personal favourite of mine!

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in true crime.

The World According to Danny Dyer: Life Lessons from the East End

41nk2ofpkdlNow a household name playing Mick Carter on Eastenders, life hasn’t always been a bed of roses for Danny Dyer. Born in Custom House, in London, Life Lessons from the East End gives us an insightful look into what it was like growing up in an area where becoming an actor was not exactly top of everyone’s career choice list.

More a collection of stories and anecdotes than an autobiography, it is hard to read this book without hearing the voice of the man himself due to phraseology being used. For those not able to translate the Cockney rhyming slang throughout the book, a glossary of terms is provided at the back! Danny is very forthright with his opinions and while some of them may not be to everyone’s liking, he certainly makes a lot of sense on a great many issues.

I found this a very funny read with quite a few genuine ‘laugh out loud’ moments. Danny comes across as a very normal, down-to-earth man and while the liberal use of profanities may offend some, if you are reading this book you must surely know what language to expect!

An enjoyable read.

 

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