Guest Review: Helen Keller in Love, by Rosie Sultan

A review by Jessica Pruett-Barnett

Helen Keller in Love,
by Rosie Sultan
April 26, 2012
Viking Adult
256 pgs

I first learned of Helen Keller's life beyond the famous “Water” moment (documented famously in the play and movie The Miracle Worker)through the book Lies My Teacher Told Me (by James W Loewen). Her then (and now it seems, based on the newest legislation coming from various states in the USA) radical views have seemingly been erased from the collective conscious, although she was a major voice for the legalization of women's suffrage, birth control, and other causes, speaking in rallies and on vaudeville stages across the country. When I received Helen Keller in Love, by Rosie Sultan, I immediately started it because Helen Keller's love life was something I had never read about. After reading Helen Keller in Love, I wish that still was the case.

Helen Keller in Love begins with Anne Sullivan, longtime companion of Helen Keller, becoming incredibly ill. To help Helen with her speaking engagements, read the papers, and do everything else that Helen can't do by herself, she hires Peter Fagan, an ex-employee of Anne's estranged husband. Helen quickly falls in love with Peter, eventually attempting to marry him, but her family and Anne put a stop to it.

I couldn't help but make comparisons to the Twilight series when reading Helen Keller in Love. Helen Keller, instead of being a strong woman of 37, acts like a dumb teenager. She risks throwing away her entire life for a man that she barely knows, that she knows already has a fiancee. Sultan's Helen has no depth, no dreams, no personality outside of barely defined Peter. I think I was supposed to relate to their love and root for it, but as an adult I cannot relate to the whiny self pity Helen feels for herself because her good friend and family are looking out for her best interests.

As a side note, Sultan sometimes forgets that her main character is both blind and deaf. Helen Keller in Love is told entirely in first person (Helen) and many details are given that Helen could not have known. Also, Sultan doesn't seem to factor in time, particularly in how long it takes to finger spell. Some moments have Helen holding conversations (through finger spelling) simultaneously with movements like getting dressed, which would be a near impossible feat to pull off and are jarring to read.


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten All Time Favorite Characters in Books

As always, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish.

Choosing a favorite character is like...choosing a favorite parent. I don't even know if I can do it...I mean I know the ones I love best, but it feels like a betrayal to say that some of these are better than their siblings. Like picking one aunt over the other...it's kind of distressing. But I'mma try...and hopefully these characters' rivals will not crawl out of their books and murder me. For fairness' sake, these are in alphabetical order, but there is no other order assigned to the list. I refuse to give any reasons other than these characters raised me and I cannot imagine my life without them.

Anne Elliot (Persuasion, by Jane Austen)

Athos (The Three Musketeers, et al. by Alexandre Dumas)

Briony Tallis (Atonement, by Ian McEwan)

Dustfinger (The Inkheart trilogy, by Cornelia Funke)

Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas)

Edward Rochester (Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë)

Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)

Ivan Georg (A Novel Bookstore, by Laurence Cossé)

Mattimeo (Mattimeo, by Brian Jacques)

Sir Walter Elliot (Persuasion, by Jane Austen)


Monday Mailbox 4/23/12

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Cindy of Cindy's Love of Books.

Making up for last week with three new books this week!
I also reviewed one book this week. Check out my review of Nick Dybek's When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man here.

A Small Fortune, a novel by Rosie Dastgir
ARC from Riverhead Hardcover
On sale date May 24, 2012
I'm told that Ms. Dastgir is half Pakistani, half British and the book explores the complications of a Pakistani family living in London

Pale Male and the Infertile Girl, a novella by Clark Casey
Review Copy from Some Dead Trees Press
Released August 2011
The first piece of fiction to take the chronology of the famous hawk's nesting and eviction from 5th Avenue , the novella focuses on a fictional couple who inherit the apartment with the windowsill on which the hawk nests. They are unable to have children and are forced to watch as the hawks proliferate above their bedroom window while their own private crisis unfolds.

Radiant Days, by Elizabeth Hand
ARC from Viking
Released April 12, 2012
From what I understand, this book is kind of like art and poetry meet The Lake House (the film with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock).

What books did you receive last week??


Review: When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man, by Nick Dybek

When Captain Flint Was
StillA Good Man

by Nick Dybek
Riverhead Hardcover
April 12, 2012
320 pgs
Modelled after Robert Louis Stevenson's morally ambiguous Treasure Island, Nick Dybek's debut novel When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man centers around a modern day Jim Hawkins named Cal whose father, an emotional stranger to him, makes his living fishing off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea. The title is an allusion to Captain Flint, the pirate captain whose treasure is sought in Stevenson's book. When Cal was younger, and his father would be home only a few months of the year, they would read Treasure Island together and then invent stories of what Captain Flint may have been like before he embarked on a life of piracy, debauchery and murder.

Cal has spent all of his fourteen years living on the fictional and symbolically named Loyalty Island, in a community that relies entirely on the king crab season. When the Island's wealthy patriarch John Gaunt dies suddenly, and the fishing business (all of it, the boats, the tarps, the nets, the pots, everything) are willed to his son Richard, the men of the community band together to ensure that the season will commence as it always has. When it does, Cal is left behind as usual.

But this time it's different. This time, the men of Loyalty Island have left behind a secret which, if discovered, will tear the community apart. As anyone familiar with Jim Hawkins' eavesdropping ways may have predicted, Cal discovers that secret, and the period that follows this discovery is a nicely crafted coming of age story.

The imagery in Dybek's prose is hauntingly beautiful, and his incorporation of music and musicality in the story definitely lend themselves to that beauty. Sometimes the metaphors are a bit overwrought, and at other times the presence of the author can be a bit much. We're meant to understand that Cal is telling this story from many years after the events of the novel, but sometimes it comes across more as Dybek telling the story than anyone who might have lived it. That said, Dybek's storytelling skills seem to come naturally and remind this reader that some stories are never just stories.


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Tips for New Book Bloggers

As always, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish.

1. Post Regularly
If you want to keep an audience, keep posting.

2. Write About What You Know
Increase your comfort level and expand your boundaries slowly. Start with what you're most comfortable writing about, and then gradually work up to older stuff or newer stuff, whatever you want your subject to be.

3. Write About What You Own
Start with books you already have, whether you've already read them or you're reading them specifically to review them. The more you review, the more publishers will be eager to offer you copies for review.

4. Request Review Copies
After you've got some material already posted, shop through the online catalogs for publishing houses like Penguin and Random House. Get some ideas, and email the appropriate imprint's publicity department. Including links to some of your best or favorite reviews already posted on your blog is often helpful.

5. Know When To Say No
Sometimes I think the only thing I love more than books is free books. But you've gotta know when to say no. Once you get in with certain publicists, they're going to send you a blast for each of their new books. Say yes, and say yes often, but keep in mind that they want to get the books out there for marketing purposes - they want reviews posted around the time that the book is being published. If that's not a deadline you think you can meet, do both you and them a favor, and say no. 

6. Meme
There are a lot of book blogger memes out there...multiply that by about a thousand and that's how many book bloggers there are competing for the same audience as you are. Find the memes that suit you (for me, it's Monday Mailbox and Top Ten Tuesday), and keep them up from week to week. It's a great way to get people to read your blog and to stick with reading your blog. And it'll keep your posting regular. Don't be afraid to be social.

7. Keep Track of the Books You've Reviewed
Both LibraryThing and GoodReads can be very very helpful AND give you more visibility. 

8. Everyone's a Critic
Don't be afraid of your own opinions. You have them. Express them. The book publishing industry is a criticism-driven one, just like every other kind of art. Your opinions will not always be popular, but that's kind of the point. But just as you want your opinions to be respected, be sure to respect others' as well.

9. Accept Recommendations
But do not feel obligated to stick to them. Everyone and their mother is going to recommend the next best book for you to read, but that doesn't mean you have to read it. Just as with publicists and their review copies, it's okay to say no.

10. Social Media is Your Friend
I can't explain it, and I don't know how a lot of it works, but using things like Twitter and Facebook and NetworkedBlogs and some other things that, again, I don't know how they work, these things can be very helpful to increasing your traffic and expanding your audience.


Monday Mailbox 4/16/12: Anyone want some Star Wars books?

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted all this month by Cindy of Cindy's Love of Books.

Would you believe it - another week, and no books. Depressing, I know. 

Exhibit A:
Star by Star, by Troy Denning
However, I would like to give away some books.

My uncle gave me these a few years ago, and I read two of them... I feel kind of bad for not having read all of 'em, but I feel even worse not having read the rest of the series, which would have helped inform the ones I did read. 

These are all from The New Jedi Order (Lucas Books/ Del Rey). According to the Star Wars Novels Timeline (yes, they need it, there are so many goddamn Star Wars novels out there), these are all from the same era (25-30 Years After Star Wars: A New Hope) and, according to that timeline (circa 2003), these are almost consecutive. 

Exhibit B:
Dark Journey, by Elaine Cunningham
I've got five consecutive novels, then I'm missing two, and have three more that follow that so...you know...it's almost like having a full set. Of something. 



They're all in okay condition - the spines are all cracked from reading, but they're intact. If anyone would like some or all of these, please email me at laurs@theliterarygothamite.com before Thursday, April 19th. 

After that, they're going to that place where books go to die - the lending library at my office.
Exhibit C:
Enemy Lines I
Rebel Dream
, by Aaron Allston
Exhibit D:
Enemy Lines II
Rebel Stand
, by Aaron Allston
Exhibit E:
Traitor, by Matthew Stover
(this is where the break happens... apparently I'm missing Destiny's Way and Ylesia)

Exhibit F:
Force Heretic I:
, by Sean Williams & Shane Dix 
Exhibit G:
Force Heretic II:
, by Sean Williams & Shane Dix
Exhibit H:
Force Heretic III:
, by Sean Williams & Shane Dix


Review: The Truth of All Things, by Kieran Shields

The Truth of All Things,
by Kieran Shields
March 27, 2012
416 pgs

In 1692, five men were executed for the practice of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. One of those men, a Reverend George Burroughs originally of Portland, Maine, was accused not only of witchcraft, but of having murdered his first two wives. Two hundred years later, a madman seeking revenge (or something even more sinister) has claimed Burroughs has their master and is leading the police on a ghost hunt across New England. Deputy Lean, assisted by Perceval Grey—as Holmsian a tribute as there ever were—and American Civil War veteran Dr. Steig, race against time to find the killer, end his spree, and maybe even avert a crisis of epic religious proportions.

All of this makes for an interesting concept, but the execution is a bit fatiguing. At times it can feel like there are too many characters to keep track of their personal lives, lives that are often not fully explained and are left as loose ends once the mystery is solved. This is clearly a well-researched novel, and I love a good Salem Witch Trials reference, but all of that research and all of that information seems to clog up the process. What author Kieran Shields is trying to allude to is in direct competition with the actual plot, making the whole thing feel rather forced.

As a veritable Holmes, Grey’s methods and idiosyncrasies are well-illustrated and entertaining but his background, shrouded in a sort of mystery from the other characters, is also somewhat clouded over for the reader, making him a bit unlikeable. Even Deputy Lean, whose measured demeanor enlivens his character, is somewhat unlikeable when the author neglects to flesh out his background. As a mystery novel, this practice of keeping the reader guessing is acceptable, but you can't have drama without characters who are driven by something more than the plot at hand, and it's that something more that seems to have been forgotten.


Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books That Were Totally Deceiving...

...those covers or titles that don't fit the books, a book that was totally different than its summary, or those books you thought were going to be fluff that turned out to be more serious etc etc...

As always, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish.

Okay so most of these are going to be Austenesque books because I'm often surprised by the craft that goes into them...

1. Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos
This was the most surprising book of 2011 for me. I couldn't believe how good it was considering it was a romance novel in the modern-woman-loves-Austen vein. 

2. The Toy Collector, by James Gunn
Cute cover, but not as funny as I'd expected it to me. Less fun, more damaged psyche. 

3. Willoughby's Return, by Jane Odiwe
It was neither dry nor tawdry...one of those perfect Austen follow-ups that you don't expect.

4. Children of Paranoia, by Trevor Shane
If I hadn't received this as an ARC, I would not have read it. The cover doesn't appeal and the blurb on the back does not appeal, but dammit it's a good book.

5. Silver Girl, by Elin Hilderbrand
I was expecting somewhat tawdry romance, but it was actually a pretty solid narrative.

6. Pemberley Ranch, by Jack Caldwell
An adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that took other Austen books into account as well. Well-written, funny, and also really-well done as a work of historical fiction.

7. Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy
Short stories that never quite take off. The cover looks cool, but what's inside was mostly boring. 

8. Changó's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes, by William Kennedy
I think the cover is beautiful but, after having read the novel, I don't get the cover. 

9. Fezariu's Epiphany, by David Brown
I feel like the cover makes the book look like it's gonna be way better than it actually is. 

10. Kama Sutra, attributed to Vatsyayana

This seems silly, but it's not. The cover is representative of what the actual Kama Sutra is not, it's representative of the commercialization of the Kama Sutra, but the inside of this edition is all basically ways to trick someone into having sex with you. 

Don't forget to vote for The Literary Gothamite in the Independent Book Blogger Awards on GoodReads (in the Adult Fiction category)!

Independent Book Blogger Awards
Vote for The Literary Gothamite for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!


Monday Mailbox 4/9/12

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Cindy's Love of Books

Three books this week! Three! And there's a giveaway!

The Mercury Fountain, by Eliza Factor
Received this novel via LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. It came out at the end of February. Unfortunately it wasn't sent to me until this past week, so the review's gonna be a little delayed.

Valley Boy, by Jack Remick
This is the second book of Remick's California Quartet from CoffeetownPress. It comes out on 4/30/12 and it was sent to me as an ARC by the publisher so that I could kind of give Remick another shot. The first book in the quartet (The Deification) was less than successful in my opinion. But since this book has a different set of characters and a somewhat different setting, I'm willing to give it a shot.

Helen Keller in Love, by Rosie Sultan
Due out on 5/1/12, this novel "tells the story of an overlooked moment in Helen Keller’s otherwise well-documented life: her first love. Based on a note found in the Helen Keller Archives at the American Foundation for the Blind, Sultan weaves together the details of Keller’s brief but deeply-felt romance with her secretary Peter Fagan." Sounds interesting, no? 

The Literary Gothamite and Viking are giving away a copy of Rosie Sultan's Helen Keller in Love. Fill in the contest form to be entered. The contest is open to US residents until 11:59PM on Saturday April 21st. You may only enter one time, but you can get an extra entry by linking the giveaway on Twitter (just make sure you mention @lalalalaurs)! 


Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books to Read in a Day

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted as always by the girls over at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Top 10 books to read in a day. Now I'm a fairly fast reader, but so often my days are broken up by work or other things, that some relatively short books even I can't get through in just a day. But here are a few that I probably could:

1. Jane and the Damned
by Janet Mullany
Jane Austen is a vampire. Quick read, fun subject, vampire ass-kickage. It's pretty awesome. 

2. Being There
by Jerzy Kosinski
Satire. 140 pages. Even if you've not seen the film, the book's rather funny. 

3. French Leave,
by Anna Gavalda
A short novel about sibling love and rivalry.

4. The Cement Garden
by Ian McEwan
It's 153 pages, it's creepy, and it's fantastic. 

5. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
by Lauren Willig
The first in the Pink Carnation series, this is a quick read...actually all the books in the series are quick reads, I think. But this one is my favorite. It sets everything up for the others without being too expository. And, you know, you need some not-too-trashy-trashy romance now and again. 

6. The Davinci Code
by Dan Brown
I may or may not have read this overnight in about six hours. If I could do it, you could too. 

7. Peter and the Starcatchers
by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
If you've not read this series yet, you should definitely start at the beginning. This one might take a little longer, but not if you do it on a rainy day when you've got nothing else to do. 

8. An Assembly Such as This
by Pamela Aidan
My favorite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, this is book one of three. It's the shortest and probably the quickest read of the three. 

9. The Book of Three
by Lloyd Alexander
The Black Cauldron might be a little shorter (and certainly stands on its own just fine), but I think The Book of Three is a quicker read, and it sets the rest of the series up...and I happen to just like it better, too. 

10. The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux

Nothing like reading a classic in one day to make you feel accomplished. 


Monday Mailbox

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Cindy's Love of Books.

I'm afraid this week I received....no books.

But I know there's one on the way this week (huzzah!), 
and a friend did lend me his copy of 
Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus (bonus!).
I cannot lie. This cover is pretty freaking neat. I love the craftiness of the paper image...I mean it looks like a clown all sprawled out, but it's tents and a clock...it's just really cool. And I'm also sort of in love with the style of that curly design on the arm. Sidebar: the clock face makes it look like the "It's a Small World" evil clock boss at the end of that level of Epic Mickey, minus the scary crushing arms. /nerd talk.
In other news, the winner of this month's The Truth of All Things giveaway was 


Stay tuned, as there will be a new giveaway announced very shortly!