Book Review: The Life of P.T. Barnum, written by himself

I have spent a large proportion of this year trying to shoe horn books I’ve been given into categories in my reading challenge – but I decided I needed to try and tick off some of them properly – as broadening your reading is surely the main reason for doing a challenge such as this?

The very first category is ‘A book made into a movie you’ve already seen’.  I – along with most of the world – have recently seen The Greatest Showman – and loved it.  In fact the soundtrack has become the Price family soundtrack of the summer, as it’s something everyone from my 46 year old husband who doesn’t like some of the kids rap music, down to the 6 year old who knows ALL OF THE WORDS – will listen to.   But back to the film, I did wonder how much of it was true – and what bits of his lifestory were missed out as it was only a standard feature film – so I thought reading about Phineas would be great fun.  I saw on Amazon that he’d written an autobiography, so thought I’d try that.

P T Barnum


Here’s the (somewhat cynical!) blurb from Amazon:

“For more than fifty years, Phineas T. Barnum embodied all that was grand and fraudulent in American mass culture. Over the course of a life that spanned the nineteenth century (1810-91), he inflicted himself upon a surprisingly willing public in a variety of guises, from newspaper editor (or libeler) to traveling showman (or charlatan) and distinguished public benefactor (or shameless hypocrite).   Barnum deliberately cultivated his ambiguous public image through a lifelong advertising campaign, shrewdly exploiting the cultural and technological capabilities of the new publishing industry. While running his numerous shows and exhibitions, Barnum managed to publish newspaper articles, exposés of fraud (not his own), self-help tracts, and a series of best-selling autobiographies, each promising to give “the true history of my many adventures.”   Updated editions of The Life of P. T. Barnum appeared regularly, allowing Barnum to keep up with demand and prune the narrative of details that might offend posterity. The present volume is the first modern edition of Barnum’s original and outrageous autobiography, published in 1855 and unavailable for more than a century. Brazen, confessional, and immensely entertaining, it immortalizes the showman who hoodwinked customers into paying to hear the reminiscences of a woman presented as George Washington’s 161-year-old nurse, the impresario who brought Jenny Lind to America and toured Europe with General Tom Thumb, and the grand entrepreneur of the American Museum of New York. Above all, it ensures that Barnum would be properly remembered . . . exactly as he created himself. ” 

Obviously as I started the book I couldn’t imagine him looking like the photo on the cover of the book – he had to be Hugh Jackman!


Initially the book talked about Barnum’s childhood – there was lots about his family, school friends and quite a lot about his local church.  In the film his Dad was a tailor – and whilst that was referenced in the book – his Dad had lots of other jobs too.

It’s written in quite an amusing style – which feels weird when you know it was written almost 200 years ago – and it is quite evident that Barnum loved telling a tale (and bigging his own part – I’m sounding as cynical as the blurb now!!)

What I found odd was the story of Barnum’s wife in the film makes great play of her family being wealthy and him taking her away from this and her parents looking down their noses – but in the book, Charity was the daughter of a tailor herself – and her parents didn’t live in a big house.  It seems strange that the film-makers took such a different tack.

I  have to say from about 35% through the book I started to tire of Barnum’s almost diary aspect of the story – and the tricks he played on other people, or other people played on him.  How much money he made, what the expenses were.   It just felt quite repetitive.  A lot was also made of his religious upbringing and how the church featured in his every day life – which wasn’t referenced in the film at all.

Just when I thought I might give up (which I HATE doing – but life is too short for dire books) it was the bit where they do a tour in the UK for Queen Victoria.  Now, in the film it’s a real ensemble trip – but actually it was for General Tom Thumb.  But – not only did they go to London, but they also came up to Birmingham – where I live!  There was quite an extended passage about Stratford upon Avon – and visiting the various Shakespeare houses / churches – and then about going to Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle (which was already a ruin in the mid 1800s!)  It talked about the road from Warwick to Coventry having the most beautiful views of any stretch of road in England! Now I’ve driven the A46 many times, and have never really been bowled over by the vistas – but it was still great to read about areas I know well – and actual buildings I have been in too. It really caught my imagination again (phew!)

Barnum then mentions he tried to buy Shakespeare’s birthplace to have it shipped to the US but was thwarted by locals buying it instead. I can confirm it’s still in Stratford as we visited last year!

Lots and lots is made of Barnum’s vow of temperance – and how he persuaded many others to take the pledge. Something else overlooked in the film completely (in fact I can remember him and Zac Efron dancing about with beers!)

Introducing Jenny Lind to the masses is discussed – but unlike the film, he wasn’t caught in a compromising photograph causing marital strife – or did he just chose to omit this from the autobiography??

His family are barely mentioned at all until the very final chapter – and even then it’s only to give the details of his 4 daughters.  There’s a 7 year age gap between the first 2 (who were much closer in the film), and then a daughter who died as an infant, before a 4th that survived.

All in all this is not the best book I’ve ever read – but interesting to read something written in the 1850s.  The film clearly took total artistic licence – which I guess isn’t a surprise – but I’m still not sure what was true and what was Barnum spin!

But at least I’ve ticked off ‘A book turned into a movie you’ve already seen’ from my 2018 Reading Challenge.













Book Review: Why Mummy Swears by Gill Sims


Why Mummy Swears

I ADORED the first book by Gill Sims – ‘Why Mummy Drinks’ when it came out last year – and so have been eagerly anticipating the sequel.  I have been stalking Netgalley in an attempt to secure a copy – not because I wanted it for free, hell no, I’d have paid double to get my hands on it – just to get it as soon as possible!  So I was DELIGHTED when I saw it pop up and did a proper happy dance when they approved me for an advanced review copy.

Here’s the blurb:

“It’s every parents’ nightmare – the start of the school holidays – and instead of sitting in the sun, reading a book over a cold, crisp glass of Pinot Grigio, Mummy has two bored moppets to attend to. After frantically booking sports camps, child minder slots, not to mention time off work, Mummy is exhausted. But this is only the beginning…

After being dragged to join the school’s PTA in the new term by an annoyingly kind-spirited neighbour, Mummy is stuck with organising the Christmas Fayre and pleasing all the overly disapproving parents. In combination with getting to know her father’s surprise new glamorous (and much younger) wife, and being forced to spend more time with her narcissistic mother, life isn’t cutting her much of a break. What more could possibly happen?”

So this picks up a couple of years down the line from the first book and puts us back into the lives of Ellen, Simon, Jane and Peter.  (I should point out I’ve had massive issues writing ‘Jane and Peter’ when ‘Peter and Jane’ is so much more familiar an order.  However, my brain INSISTS that children are listed in age order.  If my own children co-ordinate their joint writing of a card – to a grandparent or other family member – woe betide them if they don’t do it in the correct order.  I also have to check the children in ascending or descending order at bedtime – as to randomly skip between the 4 would bring a plague on the house over night.  I realise I am digressing somewhat – a bit like Ellen in a job interview #injoke)

There was definitely no ‘difficult second album’ about this book – it was a corker right from  the start

It is fabulously written – and just so true to life in so many ways.

The bits about the PTA are spot on – when I was on the committee (back when my first two kids were young, by the time it was the second two, my husband threatened divorce if I recommitted!)  the husband did ask if we could buy ourselves out with a donation rather than have to keep spending hours volunteering and not seeing our own children at events.  Although I also remember getting hideously drunk with a very good friend at a summer fayre (yes, why is it fayre not fair?!?  I thought that was just our PTA – but seemingly this is a national phenomenon) and being left in charge of the carousel – and not having a clue how long each session was.  #dizzykids

Also the whole working Mum shizzle.  My husband is brilliant, totally hands on, great Dad – but still the day to day kids admin, the who needs to be where and when, the how we sort out holiday cover all falls to me.  Admittedly I’m a total control freak and would probably stress even more if he was in charge – but still, from what I see with most of my friends, it always falls at the mother rather than father’s door.

The additional characters around the central family are great – and you can see so many people you know in it! As with my review of the previous book – I am naming no names – unless you bribe me with gin.

As the title would suggest – there is some fruity language – but I’m guessing you wouldn’t even consider this book if that was an issue.  I can imagine a significant number of ex PTA chairs that I know wishing they’d used some of the risque language in emails to parents as happens in the book!!

Now – I broke one of my cardinal reading rules, and abandoned another book part way through to read this – I felt like I was being unfaithful to the other book – but #whatevs. I also have no clue where it will fit into my 2018 Reading Challenge – but frankly, I don’t care!  It was FABULOUS.  I was also very excited when I got to the acknowledgements (yes, I am that sad, I read those too) to find out that a friend and colleague of my lovely book industry insider friend was an editor for this – so now I can practically claim to be Gill Sims’s BFF. #weirdstalkerreviewer

A HUGE thank you to Netgalley for letting me get my paws on this a month early – and for everyone else, get your pre order in on Amazon now, you will not regret it!


Book Review: The Wives (or “When Life Gives You Lululemons” if you’re reading this in America!!) by Lauren Weisberger

I was very kindly lent a proof copy of this by my friend who works in the book industry – she is a star!  But what with her dealings – and Netgalley – I keep reading books that I can’t immediately review, as blog posts are embargoed until nearer their release date.  It is severely hampering my blog stats – but never mind, come the summer, I’ll have a plethora of posts about new books!!

This is the latest book by The Devil Wears Prada author Lauren Weisberger.  It’s been released as The Wives in the UK – but as When Life Gives You Lululemons in the US.  I guess the difference is because that specific athleisure brand isn’t as omnipresent in the UK as it is the other side of the Atlantic.

The Wives

Here’s the blurb – whatever the title!

“Emily Charlton does not do the suburbs. A successful stylist and image consultant to Hollywood stars, she cut her teeth as assistant to legendary fashion editor Miranda Priestly in New York. But with Snapchatting millennials stealing her clients, Emily needs to get back in the game – and fast.
She holes up at the home of her oldest friend Miriam in the upscale suburb of Greenwich. And when Miriam’s friend, model Karolina Hartwell, is publicly dumped by her husband Graham, a senator with presidential ambitions, Emily scents the client of a lifetime.
It’s not just Karolina’s reputation that’s ruined. It’s her family. And Miriam and Emily are determined he won’t get away with it. First they’ll get Karolina’s son back. Then they’ll help her get her own back. Because the wives are mad as hell . . .”

Now whilst I’ve read and watched The Devil Wears Prada – it was a long time ago, and so I didn’t really come at this with any preconceived ideas, other than Emily looking like Emily Blunt and Miranda Priestly looking like Meryl Streep and being a bit of a cow.  (Clearly I found it memorable!!)

I immediately liked the 3 main characters – all very different, which made it interesting.

Having young kids and having previously worked in a similar type of job, I guess Miriam was the one I could relate to most (I’m not an ex supermodel or stylist like the others!!!) but that didn’t mean I didn’t like the others too.

Possibly my favourite quote was American Girl dolls being the cocaine of the kindergarten generation – so true!! And we only see a tiny portion of it living this side of the Atlantic – my 6 and 7 year olds would think they’d died and gone to heaven if they went into one of the US stores!!

Whilst the storyline focusses on Karolina’s marriage ending and losing her step son – the other characters also have significant things going on in their own lives, and all of the stories intertwine.

I really enjoyed the book – and devoured it in just a couple of days.  There are a couple of minor niggles (such as the word asinine was used 3 times in the first chapter or two, which felt a bit odd – like maybe the author had just discovered it?!) but overall it was an easy, escapist read.

The final chapter seemed a bit random – almost as if it would be a scene after the final credits started rolling of a film – but it’s left the story set up for a sequel at some point in the future.

But overall, a fun escapist, easy read that I really enjoyed.

This will slot into my 2018 Reading Challenge as a book set it a country that fascinates you – as I enjoyed the US references (and I’m desperately trying to shoe horn everything to tick off categories!!)















Book Review: The Songs Of Us by Emma Cooper

The Songs of Us.png

This is another book I saw reviewed in a magazine and then actively sought an advance review copy on NetGalley.   And I was so pleased I did – this book is FAB-U-LOUS.  I think it’s my favourite read since Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – and that is saying something.

Here’s the blurb:

“If Melody hadn’t run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn’t be left with a condition that makes her sing when she’s nervous. And she definitely wouldn’t have belted out the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ in assembly at her son’s school.
If Dev hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life’s heart.
But if they hadn’t seen the missing person report that day, they might never have taken the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be ‘Us’.”

Melody is a single Mum – trying to do the best for her 2 children – but with the added complication of a condition that makes her sing songs when she’s nervous.  The eclectic mix of songs she chooses is just brilliant – and the fact she doesn’t get the lyrics right all of the time is amusing and endearing. Both Flynn and Rose have ‘complications’ to deal with – linked too, or probably because of, their father’s disappearance – but all wrapped up in your standard teenage angst.  I thought this particularly well observed and written (mostly because of having teenagers myself!).

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away – and there is a HUGE plot change in the middle that takes the wind out of your sails – but it only adds to the amazing roller coaster the book takes you on.

Whilst the major plot lines revolve around the immediate family – the peripheral characters are also really important and fundamental to the story line in lots of ways.  It was good to see how their stories panned out too.  How people deal with a crisis can be so different – and whilst you can see that, for example, Melody’s Mum has the best of intentions – she does like any crisis to be firmly centred on the impact on her rather than the main protagonist for that specific issue.

I really didn’t want to put this down – even though the final 15% had me weeping LOADS – but it is great.  It’s written well – but not in a ‘I’m a really high brow novel’ kind of way – but in a ‘fun, clever, witty, emotional, entertaining, but still written with eloquence and care’ kind of way.  I can also definitely see this being made into a film / TV series – the soundtrack would be immense!

I’d decided to slot this into my 2018 Reading Challenge as A Book About Mental Health – but is it???

The Songs of Us is published in September – but you can pre-order a copy now.  Thank you Netgalley for my copy.

ETA – have just seen you can download it for Kindle NOW – and it’s only 99p.  DO IT, you won’t regret it!!! 

ETA (again!) – there is a Spotify playlist that goes with the book which is a) brilliant and b) reminds you of the bit of the book where each track appears, which is just lovely!