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Review Copies, Owned Copies, And Balance

A photograph of The Headmaster's Wager and The Eighth Wonder which were sent to me, and Eleanor & Park which I own myself

Sorting through my posts a while back, organising my editorial calendar, I noticed how many reviews I hadn’t posted lately, and also, that of those I had posted, there were many for books I’d been sent. On average I’d posted fewer than one review a week, very different to my pre-calendar days, though that was in part due to an abundance of other writing topics. Less pleasing to me was the number of reviews of sent books versus those owned or borrowed – about 70% sent.

That percentage was something I could work with. It had just been a case that I’d had a lot of review copies lately and read them one after the other. I did have reviews for owned books but those were scheduled later on due to publishing dates as well as my preference to ‘first come first serve’ my reviews. I started wondering if this was okay, if having many sent book reviews in a month was okay. It kind of had to be at that point but I made a mental note not to do it again.

Do you think/feel there’s a balance that should be struck between review copies and owned books? This is a question requiring personal answers, particularly because bloggers all blog in their own ways. Some only review books publishers send them, others only older books, some library books, and that’s their ‘thing’, but what’s your personal preference as a blog reader? For me in terms of my blog it’s 50/50 but timing does play a part.

Your thoughts?

Rachel Elliot – Whispers Through A Megaphone + GIVEAWAY

Book Cover

It’s no good keeping it all to yourself.

Publisher: Pushkin Press
Pages: 342
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-992-91826-2
First Published: 26th August 2015
Date Reviewed: 22nd August 2016
Rating: 4/5

Miriam hasn’t left her house for three years. All her life she’s been dealing with the effects of her mother – first as it happened as a child, then the repercussions as an adult. She’s also suffering from a worry over her ‘feral’ reaction when someone attacked her. But now she wants to leave the house. Ralph’s been married to Sadie for sixteen years but it’s not a happy marriage; there is something amiss with Sadie and she’s always on her phone. One day, thrown a birthday party he doesn’t want to have, Ralph decides to leave.

Whispers Through A Megaphone is a witty book about healing and living life with its various neurotic aspects.

Jilly Perkins was a genius. Ralph wanted to tell her this, but she hated compliments. They filled her with wind and suspicion.

Elliot’s story is one that’s based in reality with a bit of a bizarre twist that one could say has been added in part to make it easier to relate to. Beyond Miriam’s stay in her house the narratives, numerous on occasion (Elliot details a few strangers every so often, all with their own quirks), and situations are easy to relate to and because of this the humour and skewing slightly towards the extreme mean the book remains light and nice to read instead of bogged down, depressing.

Because the subjects are depressing. The abuse Miriam experienced at the hands of her mother is painful to read and something that happens a lot in our world. It’s affected Miriam to her core; there’s a constant voice in her head that she recognises as her mother’s. Miriam whispers because her mother hated hearing her and threatened her with atrocious punishments. But she’s always been aware of what’s outside her mother’s clutches – in leaving the house and meeting people she knows it’s potentially going to take some getting used to. This is what happens when a child is abused, says Elliot.

Alongside healing, regret is one of the subjects. Ralph’s wife, Sadie, has spent their marriage pushing back memories of her time at university, at the almost-relationship she had with Alison, wishing she’d done things differently, and for lack of anywhere to go, her grief has spilled into all other aspects of her life. She blogs and tweets almost compulsively, telling everyone about what’s going on at home and including things about her husband whose patients (he became a Psychoanalyst to please Sadie who didn’t like him gardening) are following her. She has developed a crush on her best friend who is already married. She is what people would call ‘high maintenance’ – Elliot shows there’s generally a reason for neurotic personalities. The family is very normal in their dysfunction.

The writing is nice; it’s short, snippy, always to the point. There’s a lot of white space during the many dialogues because the lines are often just a few words long. The pace speeds up during some narratives, Sadie’s, for example, and then back down for Miriam, but it’s never slow. There are some tweeted sections to give you a good idea of Sadie and a brief look-back at the lives of periphery characters. The only difficulty here is when the narrative moves back in time; it’s not always easy to tell what period you’re reading about. It can also be hard not to see Ralph and Sadie with heads of white hair though they’re said to be in their 30s.

This is a book that doesn’t necessarily go the way you think it will. It has an ending of sorts but it’s far more about the exploration. It’s quite clever really, this book that’s about the absolute everyday, looking into the smallest of smallest details – it’s an ‘ah ha’ sort of book, Elliot’s keen sight for what’s behind the surface and her way of interpreting it for us. She says what we often know deep down but have trouble connecting to other aspects of our lives.

Joe Schwartz was the first guest to arrive. He was early, nervous, drenched in aftershave.
Stanley answered the door.
“You look amazing,” said Joe.
“Thanks,” said Stanley, his nose twitching. He hoped he wasn’t allergic to Joe. It was too early in their relationship for hypersensitivity, aversion, turning into his parents.

Whispers Through A Megaphone shows that one shouldn’t be afraid to speak up, that it’s in keeping quiet that regrets are formed (obviously it’s a little different in the case of abuse). It’s a lovely book that uncovers a lot in a short period of time, wading into tough waters whilst remaining something you want to go back to.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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I have one copy of this book to giveaway – let me know in the comments if you’d like to be in the running. You have until Monday morning, BST, to enter.

Next Stop Procrastination #9

A photograph of Irving Bacheller

Today we’ve someone else’s article about Daphne Du Maurier’s jealousy because I’m definitely writing too much on that topic – and this one I’ve found is very interesting; we’ve a brief piece about Irving Bacheller’s work which I found whilst researching my discovery post; and some great stuff from The Toast which Mallory Ortberg has sadly stopped updating but is leaving online for further perusal. I’m liking this current format, fewer posts, more links in them. What do you think?

Ever wondered about the woman Daphne Du Maurier was jealous of?

About three of the houses Daphne Du Maurier used as inspiration.

A photographer writes about finding a rare edition of Irving Bacheller’s most famous book.

Google search tricks you may not know about.

Questions and answers with Ursula Le Guin.

Yay to a female scientist on Scottish banknotes, says York University, let’s have more.

Author Nicola Cornick discusses the historical Bluestockings literary group.

Lesser known old coming-of-age novels.

A hand-painted feature film about Van Gogh’s paintings.

In defence of literary conflict.

What makes a book a classic? asks children’s’ publisher Scholastic.

Out with the newer and in with the older: An abandoned Walmart is (or was at the time – I’ve included this for interest rather than breaking news) America’s biggest library.

On the rise of literary tourism.

Baffled by all the lights and darks? Here’s a guide to coffee roasts.

When a girl’s fiancé dumped her a month before the wedding she couldn’t cancel the reception so she threw a party for homeless women and children instead.

Should fiction be timeless?

I wrote the accent: a black writer on urban romance.

A literary pilgrimage to the Jane Austen Centre.

We often look at our shelves and feel bad about all the unread books but here’s a thought: unread books are more valuable to our lives than read ones. There’s this article, too.

Any links you’d like to share with us?

Dan Richards – Climbing Days

Book Cover

Almost every mountain.

Publisher: Faber & Faber
Pages: 322
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-571-31192-7
First Published: 14th June 2016
Date Reviewed: 15th August 2016
Rating: 5/5

Dan Richards discovers his great-great aunt by marriage, Dorothy Pilley, was a well-known mountaineer in the early 1900s. He sets out to find out more, staying in Cambridge to read the letters and articles left there by his aunt and her husband, Ivor, interviewing friends and family, and making various journeys of his own to cover the routes taken all those years ago.

Climbing Days is a humorous and intelligently written book that blends biographical history with a personal journey and nature writing. For its mix of subjects and the overall tone, it has wide appeal.

The book sports history in abundance. Richards spends a good few chapters sharing his research and the day to day of his time in Cambridge before he goes on to detail his own climbing ventures, adhering to his own chronology to set the scene. This means there’s a lot to get through but it’s peppered with anecdotes; the pace is swift. When it comes to Dorothy and Ivor themselves, the author favours subject over timeline, sectioning his text by mountain climbed. Richards writes from his own interests, telling the stories from a certain viewpoint with the result that you feel you know the couple very well. And he’s big on facts, using quotations liberally so you’re always hearing the thoughts of others.

As a reading experience it’s a delight. Richards’ style is friendly and inviting. There are footnotes aplenty, sometimes for reference purposes but mostly because the larger story surrounding the one being told he finds too good to leave out:

My mother’s Scottish grandmother, Margaret Greenland, was also famous for wearing a hat but she wore hers whilst she did the housework so that, should anyone come to the door, she could claim that she was ‘just on her way out’ and so not have to invite them in. She was a great exponent of ‘You’ll have had your tea’ as well, I’m told, from earliest afternoon onwards.

The writing is incredibly readable with the sort of attention to detail that means errors are few. It’s got that literary factor, good language, and articulation that at times may require a dictionary but never suggests the author used a thesaurus – there’s no pretentiousness here.

I picture the Pinnacles assembling – travelling to North Wales by train and motor car, collecting each other like raindrops on a window pane.

A lot of learning is part and parcel to the reading experience. Much of the studious detail is down to Ivor’s career in academia. Want to know why we as students in school and university have those difficult, often annoying exams in which we must study poems without knowing the context or who the poet is? Ivor Richards. Author Dan includes his own schooling, his time following the exam structure without knowing he was related to the man who created it.

‘In those days, even up in the Lakes, a girl couldn’t walk about a village in climbing clothes without hard stares from the women and sniggers from the louts.’1

Naturally there’s a lot of focus on women and independence. Women were not allowed to venture up a mountain alone so Dorothy’s younger brothers had to learn to climb. She left them far behind her when the time came. There is information about the first ladies’ climbing clubs, one of which Dorothy co-founded. And there are the blue prints for Richards’ 21st century follow-up journeying – Dorothy’s memoir, the original Climbing Days.

The climbs themselves see Richards travel to The Dent Blanche, The Lake District, and Barcelona among other places. Not a climber by nature, there are technical details included but a lot more about the room for error and danger, about training, and the process of climbing when you don’t know what you’re doing, all contrasted with Dorothy and Ivor’s passion and competence in a time when there were fewer safety measures.

It is Richards’ passion that makes Climbing Days what it is, that creates the broad appeal and enjoyment. There are no big surprises, no plot-like thrills, just that overall pleasure of reading, of the slow progress of the journey. It’s both escapist and anything but.


1 Taken from Pilley, Dorothy, ‘The Good Young Days’, Journal Of The Fell And Rock Climbing Club, no. 50, Vol. 17 (III), 1956; cited on page p.67.

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What Affect Does Hitchcock’s Changing Of The Ending Of Rebecca Have On The Story?

A screen shot of Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier as the heroine and Max in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

Screen shot from Rebecca, copyright © 1940 Selznick International Pictures.

You can rest assured this will be the last post on this book here for a long time, if not forever.

In the film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s book, Max does not kill Rebecca. He talks to heroine in the boat house but doesn’t say he did it. This difference to the book was made because at the time films could not show a criminal getting away with the crime.

You’d be forgiven for not noticing the difference, I think – this sounds weird when you consider I’m all for adaptation fidelity – but what Hitchcock does is make his film as near as possible to the original as he could.

I want to look at the affect this change has on the story. Crucially, in not having Max kill Rebecca, the film does not make him in any sense a bad person, it preserves his good name entirely. Whilst it could be said that Max, in the book, in killing Rebecca is no better than her, is worse than her, the same can’t be said for Lawrence Olivier’s Max. Of course we don’t necessarily see ‘book’ Max as bad – Du Maurier presents a man deeply upset, ashamed, and if we view Rebecca as horrible a person as Du Maurier wants us to then we can say Max killed Rebecca without really thinking it through, that he was not fully competent at the time due to what Rebecca had done. And the element of jealousy makes Max not seem so bad a person. That jealousy is very pervasive, Du Maurier good at manipulation.

To get rid of the kill as Hitchcock does is to preserve Max’s name and as only the heroine, in the book, knew of the killing, we can say it is to preserve his name for us, the readers and watchers.

As far as the film goes with its difference, Max comes across as better than Rebecca. He’s clean, done nothing wrong. He’s a proper good guy, more of a hero than book Max could ever be.

What the change does, though, away from this, is that it affects the sense of jealousy and the sense of revenge in the story. Yes, it could be considered a good thing because of what I’ve said above, but in toning it down it diffuses the pressure behind the idea that Du Maurier wanted something done to Rebecca to make up for the problems. Given what we know of the real life background – Du Maurier’s jealousy of her husband’s first fiancée – we can see a want for something to happen, for Du Maurier to want to do something to change things and the way she feels. Max killing Rebecca is over the top but, given artistic license, it works. In a way, when considering the book, and the film’s change, it changes our thoughts of Du Maurier, too.

Considering Du Maurier’s worry that her book had caused Jan Ricardo’s death we could assume the film change was welcomed by her.

In a way, the change seems a small thing, especially as it doesn’t change the general outcome, but when you think it over, it does do something to the way we perceive Max and perhaps the way we view the book’s themes, too.


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