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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

April 26, 2012

Tips on Thursday: Picture It

Photo by Chris Looney

A picture is worth a thousand words. We were taught this in grade school. I vividly remember a school writing lesson involving a landscape photo. The photo above of my dog Schatz is worth 1,162 views garnered over 3 days (but most where achieved the first 24 hours as I linked to it at Now, with Pinterest there is even more interest in photos, pictures, graphics, whatever you want to call them. See the Top 5 Most Repinned Items on Pinterest here.

A blog needs to be visually appealing. While layout and design are important, but it is the content or post that needs to be the focus.  What images are you using within your post. I hope every blogger is at least including a picture of the book cover. You can easily link to the book covers at Goodreads or any affiliate bookstore programs, if the author/publisher does not send you a jpeg. But there are so much more you can do to make your post visually stimulating to your readers which in turn will increase readership. Also you might find Pinterest is a new traffic referral to your site.

What images should you include? A popular choice of late is the infographic. You can find a multitude on the web to include (while most usage on a blog will fall under the fair use clause, please check the websites reprint policy and properly attribute - link back - any infographics you borrow). I used to find the infographic below which was created by Goodreads. also has a create function so you can create your own infographic.

If you have a penchant for photography you can include your own photos, like I did with my post about You Are What You Wear by Jennifer Baumgartner.

I pinned the above picture to my Helpful Tips board at Pinterest and had one of my highest repins/likes for a pin (which translated into 35 hits to my blog within a few hours of pinning). Food, crafts, and home are some of the highest viewed, liked, and repinned items on Pinterest. If you can tie into a book, then use it as a marketing tool.

You can include photos of places or objects that are significant to the book you are reading. If, like me, you need some help gathering photos of items not locally found or not easily photographed by yourself, I use and Zemanta for getting images for my post. Both and Zemanta provide the correct attributes and licensing info for you to legally use the images on your site. Check out my posts (here and here) for Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman by J. B. Lynn to see how I used photos from PhotoPin.  I also ask authors to send photos if they wish to include in their guest posts.

A word of caution. Don't go overboard with graphics as they can be distracting as well as use up a lot of bandwidth. Free hosted blogs (Blogger, and some self-hosted servers have limits on the amount of bandwidth you can use. Also, blogs which are heavily loaded with high resolution photography can be slow in loading.

A graphic or two, when used wisely, can transform a word heavy good post into a highly visual great post.

Your Turn: Do you use pictures/graphics in your post? What kinds of graphics do you like to use/find most helpful in a post? Are they pictures/graphics you made or ones you find on the web?

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April 24, 2012

Entertaining: Temptation

Temptation by Douglas Kennedy
ARC, 320 pages
Published April 2012 by Atria Books
ISBN13: 9781451602104
Read February 2012
Get it: Goodreads, IndieBound, Powell's Books, Amazon

From the opening line, you know something bad is going to happen. The entire time you are reading, you are just waiting for the "other shoe to drop". You know it will and can even see it coming, but you won't realize how bad it is until the shoe drops. And oh my what a huge shoe it is.

Douglas Kennedy is a wonderful storyteller. This book breezed by for me and I'm not a fast reader. I was worried because the chapters were so long, but it flowed so well that I would become totally immersed in the story.  

While reading Temptation I could never put my finger on why I was so drawn to it. When I read the summary and saw the cover of a previous edition, I thought it was a modernized The Great Gatsby. It does have a sheen of glamor that glosses the surface of the scandal. I'm not a Hollywood gossip tabloid reader, so I wasn't overly drawn to the scandal. And before you start thinking typical Hollywood scandal, let me stop you right there. David is a script writer, so not the celebrity scandal you think. However, he does possibly commit the worst crime a writer can (and no it wasn't killing off your favorite character). It is the type of crime that gets one blackballed.

The combination of Kennedy's excellent storytelling and relateable characters drew me to the story. Notice I didn't say likeable. Some of the characters aren't really likeable. And this might be a point I struggled with. I wanted to like David. I always root for the underdog and immediately I was rooting for David. But he cheats on his wife, that doesn't tend to be the kind of people I like. But I definitely didn't like his wife, which in a usual situation I would be on the wife's side. So my character loyalties were all topsy turvy.

While reading Temptation, I participated in a chat about whether a book needs a purpose other than entertainment. If you think about it, out of all the forms of entertainment, books are almost always thought to provide more than entertainment. Before reading Temptation, I would have said books expand one's horizon, provides thought-provoking content, and a slew of other "purposes". Reading Temptation was purely entertainment. And perhaps it was this paradigm shift that left me unsettled at the end.

I thought that the story would be a moral lesson of sorts. Is it our bad choices that lead us to a given point in life? Or are there outside factors? Can we own up to our bad choices or will we always look for the scapegoat, the one to point a finger at as the cause of all the problems? These questions could have easily been addressed by the story and were touched on. The story definitely made me think of these questions.

When I read a book, I like to know at the end that the characters will be okay. I'm not sure if David learned anything or if it will just be business at usual. I had hope that he would be fine, but an interaction with a studio higher up had me wondering if it was false hope.

I could go on about why the ex-wife irked me, the stupid, idiotic things David did, or the creepy Phil that anyone with half a brain would know to stay away from. But that would take away from the good feeling of having read something purely for entertainment. While there was a bit of doom and gloom, there were light moments. If nothing else the ridiculousness of how everything spins out of control will have you laughing loudly (I scared my dog at one point because a line just hit me as funny. And not that it was particularly funny in itself, but it indicated how far things had spiraled out of control.)

If you are looking for something "fluffy" that isn't romance, but still just a fun read pick up a copy of Temptation.

Your turn now: What is the biggest crime a writer can commit? Does a book need a bigger purpose than just to be entertainment? Why or why not?
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April 23, 2012

W!n Helen Keller in Love

When I posted I received Helen Keller in Love in my mailbox a few weeks ago several people expressed interested in it. Well, here is your chance to win a copy.

Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 2012 by Viking
ISBN13: 9780670023493
Find it: Goodreads, IndieBound, Powell's Books, Amazon 


A captivating novel that explores the little-known romance of a beloved American iconHelen Keller has long been a towering figure in the pantheon of world heroines. Yet the enduring portrait of her in the popular imagination is The Miracle Worker, which ends when Helen is seven years old.

Rosie Sultan’s debut novel imagines a part of Keller’s life she rarely spoke of or wrote about: the man she once loved. When Helen is in her thirties and Annie Sullivan is diagnosed with tuberculosis, a young man steps in as a private secretary. Peter Fagan opens a new world to Helen, and their sensual interactions—signing and lip-reading with hands and fingers—quickly set in motion a liberating, passionate, and clandestine affair. It’s not long before Helen’s secret is discovered and met with stern disapproval from her family and Annie. As pressure mounts, the lovers plot to elope, and Helen is caught between the expectations of the people who love her and her most intimate desires.

Richly textured and deeply sympathetic, Sultan’s highly inventive telling of a story Keller herself would not tell is both a captivating romance and a rare glimpse into the mind and heart of an inspirational figure.


“With empathy, imagination, and vivid sensory detail, Rosie Sultan’s HELEN KELLER IN LOVE gives voice—and scent and touch—to an iconic American heroine during a little known chapter in her life.”

—Jane Mendelsohn, author of I Was Amelia Earhart

“In this richly imagined and moving novel, Rosie Sultan brings alive the history of Helen Keller—the brilliant, miraculous creature who stole the heart and sympathy of the world—while also exploring how she must have felt as a woman: the loneliness, longing and great vulnerability. The result is a vivid, sensuous portrait full of sound and vision.”

—Jill McCorkle, author of Going Away Shoes

“HELEN KELLER IN LOVE is involving, passionate, and deeply felt. It tells this little-known, remarkable story with a loving heart, beautiful language, and great commitment to its heroine. Helen Keller was a woman with blood in her veins—this book makes you feel it.”

—Martha Southgate, author of The Taste of Salt

About the Author:

Rosie Sultan earned her MFA at Goddard College and won a PEN Discovery Award for fiction, on the nomination of historian Howard Zinn. A former fellow at The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, she has taught writing at Boston University, the University of Massachusetts, and Suffolk University in Boston. Her short story "Blue is Your Color, Dear" appeared in Other Voices. She lives with her husband and son in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Visit Rosie Sultan online 

Q&A with Rosie Sultan:

What triggered your interest in Helen Keller's life, particularly her private life?
I've always been fascinated by Helen Keller. I read my first book about her when I was in the third grade, and I've read almost everything about her since. A few years ago I read a new biography of Helen: toward the book;'s end a short chapter - maybe six pages long- said she had a love a affair at age thirty-seven with a twenty-nine year old journalist from Boston. I couldn't believe that Helen Keller had a secret love affair; I couldn't believe she had defied her family and tried to run away with him and I couldn't believe the chapter that told that story was six pages long! I put the book down and said, "There's story here. I'm going to tell it."

In conducting your research in Helen Keller, her family, and inner circle, did you come across any places or documents that were particularly noteworthy? Or, say...shocking?
Yes, absolutely. I found some articles in the New York Times that surprised me because in them Helen protested the United States entering World War One. In biographies I found that the public who attended her speeches against the war revered her courage. They mobbed her after her speeches and even took the flowers off her hat. Other surprises were that at the turn of the century Helen supported Margaret Sanger and the use of birth control and she gave her support to the NAACP. Her southern family was scandalized.

Helen is a very independent thinker, yet, based on her disabilities, she's very dependent on those around her. What was it like writing a character with such a complex dynamic?
What was it like to write about her? It was thrilling. I discovered that she's not the person we all thought we knew. I got to bring to life her many dimensions: Helen was a public figure, an author, a daughter, a sister, an activist. And I go to bring alive her secret desire for love.


Viking is giving away a hardcover copy to 1 lucky reader of Girl Who Reads. It can only be sent to a US or Canada address.