Review | The Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven

Unbelievably charming. 5 shining Hollywood stars.

The Moon's a Balloon by David Niven - autobiography cover

The blurb:

One of the bestselling memoirs of all time, David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon is an account of one of the most remarkable lives Hollywood has ever seen.

Beginning with the tragic early loss of his aristocratic father, then regaling us with tales of school, army and wartime hi-jinx, Niven shows how, even as an unknown young man, he knew how to live the good life.

But it is his astonishing stories of life in Hollywood and his accounts of working and partying with the legends of the silver screen – Lawrence Oliver, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward and dozens of others, while making some of the most acclaimed films of the last century – which turn David Niven’s memoir into an outright masterpiece.

An intimate, gossipy, heartfelt and above all charming account of life inside Hollywood’s dream factory, The Moon’s a Balloon is a classic to be read and enjoyed time and again.

My take:

I don’t read as much non-fiction as I feel I should, particularly biography and autobiography. So I was stepping outside my comfort zone when I picked up David Niven’s autobiography, taking a chance on it mostly because I’ve always found him charming in films (A Matter of Life and Death is one of my favourites).

And I’m very glad I made the effort because The Moon’s a Balloon is absolutely cracking. “Gossipy” doesn’t do this wonderful series of tales justice. Niven does apologise in the introduction for the name dropping that is to follow and he is not building up false expectations. Every time you think he can’t possibly name a bigger star, he does. Then when he can’t name anyone further up the pecking order of Hollywood royalty he’s rubbed shoulders with, he drops in real royalty and chats with Winston Churchill just for fun.

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Review | Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen by Greg Jenner

As meticulously researched as it is entertaining. Top stuff! 5 stars.

Dead Famous by Greg Jenner book cover

The (much shortened by me for the sake of brevity) blurb:

In this ambitious history, that spans the Bronze Age to the coming of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Greg Jenner assembles a vibrant cast of over 125 actors, singers, dancers, sportspeople, freaks, demigods, ruffians, and more, in search of celebrity’s historical roots. He reveals why celebrity burst into life in the early eighteenth century, how it differs to ancient ideas of fame, the techniques through which it was acquired, how it was maintained, the effect it had on public tastes, and the psychological burden stardom could place on those in the glaring limelight. DEAD FAMOUS is a surprising, funny, and fascinating exploration of both a bygone age and how we came to inhabit our modern, fame obsessed society.

My take:

I don’t read anywhere near as much non-fiction as fiction. This is simply because I can never read it as quickly and I often find my attention sliding away from the page. However, I really wanted to read Dead Famous because I’m a fan of Greg Jenner, particularly his BBC Podcast, You’re Dead to Me (it’s on BBC Sounds, please check it out, you won’t be sorry).

Jenner excels at making history accessible, entertaining and often funny. I chuckled many times while reading Dead Famous and once laughed out loud at such volume I made my kids jump! (It was at a particularly hilarious pun, if you’re wondering).

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Review | Eureka! by Peter Jones

Does what it says on the cover! 4/5 stars.

Eureka Everything you ever wanted to know about the ancient greeks but were afraid to ask

The blurb: The Ancient Greeks gave us our alphabet and much of our scientific, medical and cultural language; they invented democracy, atomic theory and the rules of logic and geometry; established artistic and architectural canons visible to this day on all our high streets; laid the foundations of philosophy, history, tragedy and comedy and debated everything from the good life and the role of women, to making sense of foreigners and the best form of government, all in the most sophisticated terms.

In Eureka! Peter Jones, author of Veni, Vedi, Vici, tackles the gamut of Ancient Greece from the Trojan War to the advent of the Romans. Along the way he introduces the major figures of the age, including Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Euclid and Archimedes. Exploring Greek myths he provides a glimpse of everyday life in ancient times and shows us the very foundations of Western culture.

My take:

This post may be more about me and my relationship with non-fiction than this specific book and for that I can only apologise.

I try to read at least 2 non-fiction books a year. I’m aware that 2 is a low number, but I tend to struggle with non-fiction. I find my attention wanders, mostly because I read far slower than I read fiction.

Firstly, all credit for me having found and read this book must go to my local library. Their display stands of interesting non-fiction books are the main reason I ever pick up non-fiction.

In a nutshell, my review of Eureka! would be: if you have any interest in knowing about the Ancient Greeks, and would like the information in an easy-to-digest format, then I can’t recommend this book enough.

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Review | Spectacles, A Memoir by Sue Perkins

Little did I know, when I picked Sue Perkins’ memoir up in a charity shop a month ago, just how topical it would be to feature this book now!  4 stars.

Spectacles by Sue Perkins

The blurb: When I began writing this book, I went home to see if my mum had kept some of my stuff. What I found was that she hadn’t kept some of it. She had kept all of it – every bus ticket, postcard, school report – from the moment I was born to the moment I finally had the confidence to turn round and say ‘Why is our house full of this shit?’

Sadly, a recycling ‘incident’ destroyed the bulk of this archive. This has meant two things: firstly, Dear Reader, you will never get to see countless drawings of wizards, read a poem about corn on the cob, or marvel at the kilos of brown flowers I so lovingly pressed as a child. Secondly, it’s left me with no choice but to actually write this thing myself.

This, my first ever book, will answer questions such as ‘Is Mary Berry real?’, ‘Is it true you wear a surgical truss?’ and ‘Is a non-spherically symmetric gravitational pull from outside the observable universe responsible for some of the observed motion of large objects such as galactic clusters in the universe?’

Most of this book is true. I have, of course, amplified my more positive characteristics in an effort to make you like me.

Thank you for reading.

My take:

For those of you who don’t live in the UK or haven’t come across shows like The Great British Bake Off, Sue Perkins is a TV presenter and one half of a comedy double act with her best friend Melanie Giedroyc. Their style of comedy is witty, whimsical and sometimes a little offbeat. And if you know who Sue Perkins is and find her funny at all, you’ll enjoy reading Spectacles.

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Review | A Force to Be Reckoned With: A History of the Women’s Institute by Jane Robinson

Interesting, but only occasionally fascinating. 3 stars.

A Force to be Reckoned With A History of the Women's Institute by Jane Robinson

The blurb: Everyone knows three things about the Women’s Institute: that they spent the war making jam; some of their members were those sensational Calendar Girls; and that slow-handclapping of Tony Blair.

But there’s so much more to this remarkable movement. With a growing membership of 200,000 women of all classes, religions and ages, it has come a long way from its early meetings. Founded in 1915, it counted among its members suffragettes, academics and social crusaders who discovered the heady power of sisterhood, changing women’s lives and their world in the process.

My take:

This book was perched on one of those devilishly tempting library display stands and caught my eye as I was on the way to check out the books I had actually gone to the library to get. Apart from having watched (and enjoyed very much) the movie Calendar Girls and having a vague awareness of their existence, I knew nothing about how the Women’s Institute or how the organisation came about, so I thought “why not?” Besides, I do try to remember to read non-fiction occasionally.

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Review | 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff

One for book lovers and those who enjoy period fiction. Please take a couple of hours to enjoy this short gem! 4/5 stars.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff

Firstly, and most importantly, I must mention that Lindsay at Bookboodle and I read 84 Charing Cross Road as a readalong, chatting on Twitter as we went. Although short, this is a great book to share with fellow book lovers and doing a “joint” read was great fun. Thank you Lindsay for suggesting it 🙂

What it’s about: from 1949 to 1969, New Yorker Helene Hanff was in correspondence with the staff of Marks and Co, a second-hand bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road in central London. 84 Charing Cross Road is a selection of this correspondence which documents the growth of trans-Atlantic friendships and mentions many wonderful and wonderfully obscure books.

My take:

I got the 1981 edition of the book (pictured above) which contains both 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. The second book is very much a follow up to the first and they are both quick reads. I would recommend you read them together.

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Review | Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please is often laugh-out-loud funny and touchingly honest. If you’re already a fan of Poehler and her work, you’ll enjoy it very much. The rest of us will be entertained and amused, but will probably near the end itching to get back to some page-turning fiction.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler book cover

The blurb: In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.

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