Sunday Book Club! Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan

Hello again!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts this month, I’m somewhat revamping the blog in terms of what content you see & when you see it. I usually do random “Book Reviews”, but as I’m now trying to give myself & my readers a more reliable schedule, I’m renaming those posts – “Sunday Book Club”. You’ll be getting a book review every other Sunday & I’ll try to tell you what the next Book Review will be so you can read it beforehand. Well – that’s the plan if I can keep up! Also, please hit the FOLLOW button to get email updates when I create new posts 🙂

Get comfy & keep reading to see my thoughts on “Helen Keller in Love” by Rosie Sultan. I thought a book about love (…kind of) would be perfect for February. I hope you all had a great Valentine’s Day & hopefully you have a better love life than Helen Keller…

Initial Thoughts:
I found this book at the $1 Store of all random places. I’ve found surprisingly good books here before & the reviews were positive so I decided to give it a chance. I knew nothing about it, other than it was Historical Fiction with a bit of Romance – obviously. I was intrigued at the idea of someone taking the life of a famous woman & imagining what shenanigans she would’ve gotten into, especially since Keller is often thought of as a child hero or incapable of living a “real” adult life.

Plot:
“Helen Keller in Love” is about exactly what it sounds like – Helen Keller’s love life. Specifically, her forbidden love affair with her temporary tutor Peter Fagan. Fagan steps into the famous Annie Sullivan’s tutoring shoes when she’s diagnosed with tuberculosis. Keller & Fagan fall in love very quickly Keller’s mother & Sullivan forbidding the romance, among other odds. The story follows their relationship, gives some background on Keller’s life, & explains how even with this great love…she still ends up alone. I noticed there were Helen Keller facts/stories that I remember learning in school that were changed in the book. The author, Rosie Sultan, supposedly did a ton of research while writing this, so I’m not sure if she took artistic liberties or if maybe what I learned in school has since been determined untrue…? I don’t want to spoil anything more, so I’ll leave it at that!

Characters:
Helen Keller – Most people admire Keller for her hard work & determination to overcome her disabilities in a time when the rest of the world didn’t understand her & we didn’t have the technology to help as we do now. With that being said, it’s almost uncomfortable to see this other side to her personality. She is extremely man hungry & eager to break the rules. I understand she must have felt very sheltered, lonely, & misunderstood, but she acts like a bratty teenager trying to be a rebel, hang out with the bad boys, & get into trouble. She’s the good girl trying way too hard, she’s Sandy trying to fit in with the Pink Ladies – sometimes you just have to know your place & strengths. Some people are meant for that rebel kind of life, & some are meant to walk the straight & narrow. Again, I guess it’s understandable given her situation but my god, it’s pretty annoying.
Peter Fagan – I’ve never heard of Fagan before, so I have no idea what his real characteristics are reported to be by history. In Sultan’s story, he’s a bad guy. I can’t give too many details because I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say this, if you’ve ever heard the sayings/concepts of, “People will tell you who they are. Just listen.” or “If someone tells you, ‘I’m a jerk’, even if it’s as a joke – they are telling you who they are!” That sums up Fagan. He told Keller the kind of guy he was several times, & she even admits that she didn’t listen.

Quotes:
– Pg 53: “With Helen, I have found someone who will love me completely – and can never leave.” – Annie Sullivan
CREEPY, but that is the nature of Sullivan & Keller’s relationship. Sullivan was so emotionally dependent on Keller, it ultimately crippled their relationship – in this story.

Overall:
While I didn’t love the portrayal of most of the characters, I found the story entertaining, like a bad soap opera. I’m curious as to why the author chose to write the ending the way she did, although, it may have been based on fact. I appreciated Sultan’s supposed huge amount of research but it was kind of lost on me because I don’t know enough about Keller to separate most of the fact from fiction. It would be too easy for people to take this book & assume everything is fact – unfortunately I’m not sure how to remedy that without people taking more of an independent interest in Keller.

Rating: C
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book. It earns points because I appreciate the research that went into it, & it wasn’t horribly written, but overall it was somewhere along the lines of a trashy beach novel. Not a ton of substance, just a portrayal of a great woman in history reduced to a horny, whiny, crybaby. If you’re interested in the characters, or enjoy being a sympathetic shoulder to cry on for your friends, maybe you’ll be able to sympathize with Keller, but I couldn’t.

Have you read or even heard of “Hellen Keller in Love”?  If so, what are your thoughts? How did you feel about the way Keller was portrayed? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club is March 6th & the book is “ROOM” by Emma Donoghue.

Vlog #5 – Filoli Gardens

Hi everyone!
I know it’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted something 😦
As I explained in my Short Hiatus post, I’m not currently able to post as much but I have an important announcement to make pretty soon that will explain everything. However, in the meantime, I am working on stuff when I can – so without further ado!

Please join me on my trip to FILOLI Gardens in Woodside, California!
This video is an extremely quick sneak peek of what I saw during my tour. Each docent has their own connection to the property and presents the tour with their own flair. My docent was really interesting & provided a lot of rich detail & fun stories! However, I felt that it was unfair to FILOLI & my readers/viewers to simply piggyback off my tour, so I turned off the audio. My goal is to pique your interest with some footage of the beautiful house & grounds, then hopefully you will be inspired to visit or do research yourself!
Bottom line:

  • If you’re at all interested in history, this is the spot for you! FILOLI Gardens is a registered California Historical Landmark & on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • If you’re familiar with the Winchester Mystery House, also located in Northern California, this MAY be the spot for you. The WMH is known to be haunted/spooky, with an aura of great mystery surrounding it. FILOLI Gardens is similar in the sense that you’re being allowed access to an estate built in another time, but there’s no spookiness or mystery to be solved. It’s basically one big history lesson about the families that lived in the house & the time period they lived in.
  • If you like nature &/or architecture, this is the spot for you! FILOLI Gardens features a country manor, lush landscapes, & beautiful gardens on over 650 acres worth of land.

    I hope you enjoyed my mini tour! What do you think? Will you be making a trip to FILOLI, or have you already visited? If you’re interested in visiting, please visit the FILOLI website – here for more information. Thanks for reading 🙂

    Thank you to Kevin MacLeod for providing music for this vlog!
    Please click the links below to support him!
    Breaktime – Silent Film Light by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
    Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100302
    Artist: http://incompetech.com/

Book Review! The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

Hi everyone! Today I will be reviewing a novel called “The Duchess” written by Amanda Foreman. This is a pretty hefty book, clocking in at almost 400 pages with about 40 pages of Notes in the back. To keep the length of this post down, I tried to keep the re-telling of the story to a minimum and spoilers at bay. This is basically exactly what my notes were as I read. Without further ado…

Initial Thoughts:
Foreman wrote this biography based on her doctoral thesis & is supposedly the only person to have ever turned their thesis into a best selling biography.  I thought this was commendable as I’m considering going to Grad school, but the idea of having to write a thesis is very overwhelming. I admire Foreman’s dedication to her education and her passion for the topic. I wanted to read this to get an idea of what a thesis looks like and I wanted to find out more about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. I had seen advertisements for the film, “The Duchess”, many years ago when it was released and thought the plot seemed intriguing, but wanted to read the book first.

Plot:
“The Duchess” is the biography of Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, circa 1774. She was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Princess Diana of Wales and was just as big a celebrity. The biography, obviously, tells the story of Georgiana’s life and the dichotomy of her public and personal life. From the outside looking in, Georgiana had it all, money, fame, and popularity. Inside, she was a deeply unhappy woman, plagued by years of insecurity and people pleasing that led her down a dark road of addiction and misfortune. It’s pretty interesting how popular and involved in shaping history she was, yet I’ve never learned about her. Foreman addresses some reasons that shed light on how history has been RE-WRITTEN by our ancestors and we’re not always getting the full story about how things happened. I guess this bio is good for conspiracy theory fans too, haha!

Characters:
– Georgiana Spencer Cavendish is obviously the main character. We share a birthday, June 7th, woo hoo! separated by a few hundred years. When her father died he left behind a fortune that today would equal $74 million, so she was certainly well off and used that money to educate herself in several avenues. Georgiana was like 1700’s Barbie, she did everything. Not only was she involved in politics, fashion, etc, she was a published author, and also “…an amateur chemist & mineralogist of note…” (p 269), among other accomplishments. She openly participated in political campaigning even though it brought her much negative attention. For every person that admired her involvement, there was someone else smearing her name. Despite her wealth, education, and popularity, you have to feel bad for this woman’s personal life. Her husband had a child by a mistress before he & Georgiana were even married. Their marriage was a train wreck, they both cheated, had children with other partners, and came very close to divorcing which was practically unheard of then.
– The Spencer, Cavendish, and other popular families of the time remind me of the Kardashian family. Super wealthy, spoiled, the center of attention and scandal, involved in each other’s business – & that’s just the way they wanted it.

Quotes:
– A passage on page 153 shows how attacks on women haven’t changed much in hundreds of years. It lists specific reasons Georgiana was so heavily criticized by certain members of the public for her political involvement. She was criticized for bringing “her own personality to the campaign in an era when the only women who had public personas were actresses & courtesans…”. There were also double standards between her and male campaigners. For a male to associate with the common people and treat voters as equals earned him the title of “Man of the People”. When Georgiana did the same & earned the title, a “Woman of the People”, it meant she was a whore.
– In a way, the reader never really gets to know Georgiana because everything she did was scrutinized & she had to act a certain way. For example, in a one letter, she writes about how the last few months were the best of her life, then at the end of the letter she complains that she’s never been sadder (p 273). Her emotions ranged so wildly, it was hard to tell how she genuinely felt or if she was just acting.
– P 382 gives a very inspiring and flattering description of Georgiana, listing all her accomplishments and contributions to society. She should be proud to be remembered that way & you can clearly see why Foreman was so passionate about her.

Overall:
– This biography is not for everyone. It’s certainly not light reading for most. I found it hard to keep track of the family trees, relationships, and the timeline of Georgiana’s life. There are huge sections of history information, and while I understand its inclusion, it’s not what I wanted to read about. I wanted to get to the juicy stuff about Georgiana!
– Another aspect of the book I found hard to follow were the footnotes. The print was super small and you had to find the correct footnote that corresponded with the number in the main text – it was a lot of back and forth reading of small print. Why not just include the footnote in the main text? I figured that’s the way a thesis is set up, but I’m not sure.
– While the historical content did become overwhelming, I did enjoy learning about the way women’s rights and family dynamics have changed, or not, since Georgiana’s time.

Rating: B-
Honestly, this book didn’t do much for me because I was more interested in the woman, not the time period and you get “too much” of the latter. I can’t fault Foreman for that, she did an amazing job doing her research, I just wasn’t terribly interested. As I mentioned above, this biography is best suited for someone that has a genuine interest in the time period and political happenings within it, not solely interested in Georgiana’s life. I gave it a low B because I admire Foreman’s work, but I couldn’t get past the abundance of historical material rather than focus on Georgiana’s personal life, so the story didn’t really grab me. I feel like I would be more interested in the film version of the bio which of course will be highly sensationalized to grab viewer’s attention.

Have you read “The Duchess”? Have you ever heard of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire? Please share your thoughts on this review or the biography in the comments down below! As always, I welcome any and all book suggestions you might have – until next time, hit that FOLLOW button on the top right to stay updated with all my posts!