Keli Gwyn
Meet the Reviewers: Julie Graves

I’m honored to feature Julie Graves. She posts reviews at her fun site, My Favorite Pastime.

Julie was born and raised in my home state of California, but she’s lived in Oklahoma the last eighteen years. She spends her days with her sweetheart of thirty years, who retired three years ago. Before she retired herself, Julie worked as a library assistant, first in an elementary school and later in a middle school. Although they’re Empty Nesters now, Julie and her husband raised two beautiful daughters. Their oldest daughter is married to a youth pastor, and they have three children. Those grandchildren make Julie’s “eyes sparkle.” Their youngest daughter works as a manager at a Barnes and Noble store. It’s clear a love of books runs in the family.

I asked Julie three questions about her reading and review process. After that, you’re in for a treat, because you get to learn three fun things about the woman behind the reviews. And don’t miss Julie’s giveaway at the bottom of the post.

My Favorite Pastime”=

Reading and Reviewing

You’ve reviewed hundreds of novels.
What makes a story stand out and become one of your favorites?

So many things contribute to making a story stand out and become a favorite of mine. If a story grabs my attention from the very beginning, it has a good chance of becoming a favorite. If I connect with the characters in some way, that helps. If there is a strong spiritual aspect (in the Christian books I read) that is believable and offers redemption of a favorite character, that story becomes a favorite. If I remain engaged throughout the entire story and don’t want to put the book down until the end, that book becomes a favorite. If I think about the story for a while after I finish and I miss the characters, it becomes a favorite.

I have to say that I also like a polished story. If there are a lot of editing issues, even though I may like the story, it probably won’t become a favorite for me because those types of issues take me out of the story and disrupt the flow. Does each story I read have to have ALL of those elements to become a favorite? No, each story is unique in some way and has the potential of becoming a favorite.

If there’s an aspect of a story you don’t care for, you address it, but you do so with kindness and respect. How do you balance a reader’s desire for an honest review with your heart for the author of the work?

Such a good question! I’ve struggled with this off and on throughout my blogging experience. I have written some scathing reviews (when I first started blogging) that, when I look back, I think how awful that was of me to say. The more mature (older) I have become, the more I have learned that there are ways of saying things that aren’t hurtful but do get the point across and offer an honest opinion. I don’t feel the need any longer to tear an author’s work apart.

I’ve kind of adopted the policy that if I don’t like a book then it is okay to set it aside. I don’t need to rip it apart in a scathing review. Honestly, I’ve seen too much of that, and over the years I’ve decided that I’d rather not review a book than go for the jugular of an author who has put their blood, sweat and tears into a book. Not every book is for me, not every book is going to be my cup of tea, so when one isn’t, I set it aside. Again, there are ways of saying things without attacking, and I think that comes with age, experience and, dare I say, wisdom?

When and where do you do most of your reading?

A fun question! I have a book with me pretty much wherever I go. I have a Kindle and I have the Kindle App on my phone. So I can read anywhere! My most favorite place to read is in bed. That is why I love my Kindle so much! Before I had a Kindle I couldn’t read in bed because my husband would go to bed early and no light could be on. NOW I can read as long as I want, and the light from my Kindle doesn’t disturb his sleep. So I do most of my reading at night from about 8-11:30 or so.

I try to read some during the day, but I get distracted with other things and can’t concentrate as well as I can when everything is quiet. With the Kindle App on my phone, I can read when I go to appointments, when we are sitting and waiting to pick up our grandchildren at school or basically any time I have time on my hands but am not at home.

Julie Graves

Three Fun Facts About Julie

I’ve always thought working in a library would be a lot of fun. What did you enjoy most about the library assistant positions you’ve held? What did you find the most surprising?

I loved interacting with the students. I loved connecting with them over a good book. I loved recommending something that I knew they would love and then hearing back from them that they actually did love it.

I worked in both an elementary library and a middle school library. The thing I loved about the elementary library was the little ones coming in and hauling out these HUGE books that were almost too big for them to carry. Most weren’t interested in a novel, most were interested in the non-fiction picture find books or information books.

When I was at the middle school, I loved that it was like talking to adults. I could tease them, I could be sarcastic with them, and they would “get” me. The thing I found the most surprising was the fact that not everyone wanted to read. I started reading books on my own when I was ten and loved it, but there were students who hated reading. I just couldn’t understand that. I still don’t understand that. I recently had an adult tell me that he has read maybe two books in his entire lifetime. Wow! Just wow! People like him are missing so much!

I noticed on Facebook that you like to bake and recently whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. My husband and I met over a plate of his chocolate chip cookies–without nuts, so this particular cookie holds a special place in my heart. Do you bake yours with or without nuts? What other sweet treats do you like to make?

Well, I do like nuts in my cookies, but I usually don’t put nuts in them because I save the pecans I keep in the freezer for other desserts. Nuts are really pricey! So, no nuts in the chocolate chip cookies. When I bake for Christmas, I use nuts in different types of cookies. Usually pecans because I’ve found they are milder on my stomach than walnuts.

Our oldest daughter and her family come over for dinner on Thursday nights, and I’ve been trying out different desserts. Last week I made mini lemon pie desserts. I used lemon curd and then lemon pudding mixed with cool whip as filling. They turned out yummy. I had some leftover shells, so I whipped up some chocolate ganache and put that into the cups. YUM!

I’m always finding recipes on Facebook for different desserts and different meals to try. At one time, I maintained a blog of things that I had cooked, but I don’t do that anymore. I do make a menu for the entire month and incorporate desserts throughout.

At Christmas time I wear myself out baking. Each year I say “this is the last time,” but then the year rolls around, and I start all over again, because my family and friends start asking me to make different things for them. My favorite desserts have chocolate in them. I know you gave up chocolate years ago, Keli, I wish I had your willpower!

I discovered that you are a huge fan of a certain spy who is known by his name as well as his number. Yes, that would be “Bond, James Bond,” aka 007. Just how gone on him are you, and when did this fascination with the famous fellow begin?

This made me laugh! I do have a rather addictive nature, so series of books and series of movies are two of my addictions. Yes, I’m a huge fan of the Bond movies. In fact, I have every one of them except for the newest one, which I think is Spectre. This collection was started this last Christmas when our son-in-law bought my husband three of the older Bond movies starring Sean Connery. Then it just snow-balled from there because, of course, I had to get more, and then it became an obsession to collect all of them.

Actually there have been six men who have portrayed James Bond over the years, I think. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig. As far as being “gone” on any of them, I would have to say that Pierce Brosnan was my favorite Bond. But that is only because I’ve had a crush on him since I was a kid and he played Remington Steele! Ha! Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig are my least favorite Bonds. I’ve always loved spy-type movies and books and had seen a few of the Bond movies while growing up, but now I have seen all but the last three with Daniel Craig.

Julie’s Question for You

Is there a movie series or book series that you have become fascinated with that made you just HAVE to collect the entire series?

• • •

Connect with Julie on Facebook and Twitter.
Visit her at her blog, My Favorite Pastime.

• • •

Julie’s Giveaway

I’m honored that Julie has chosen to give away
a print copy of my latest release, A Home of Her Own.

Use the Rafflecopter entry form below.

Giveaway ends Sunday, April 25 at 12 a.m. PDT.

Winner to be announced here on April 27.

Must be 18 to enter. International OK. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Keli Gwyn
Real-life Romance with Lindsay Harrel: Special Serenade

I’m delighted to have Lindsay Harrel as my guest today. She’s a talented writer, an awesome singer, and a very nice person. When I heard about her husband’s musical gifts during two milestone events in her life, I asked her to share them. Enjoy this heartwarming story of real-life love from Lindsay. . .


I’m a singer, and I always imagined marrying someone musically inclined.

And it happened.

You see, my husband Mike plays the clarinet. He’s so good he got a college scholarship for it and got to play with the Phoenix Symphony when he was a sophomore in high school.

But he never sang in public. Except, of course, in church.

I’d sit next to him while we were dating, and sometimes, I’d just close my eyes and listen to this man—who I was growing to love—worship God. I really liked his baritone/bass voice, but when I told him that, I think he was embarrassed, because he didn’t think he was much good.

Fast forward to the night he proposed.

It was a beautiful July evening. Full moon. Cloudless. Warm. He took me for a “walk” and we ended up on a little wooden bridge on the edge of a golf course. No one around. He’d decorated the bridge with candles and roses.

I wasn’t necessarily shocked he was proposing, but I was shocked at how he did it.

He got down on one knee and sang “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera, one of my favorites.

Yeah, I was a mess of tears. Just to hear a man declaring his love for me in such a way, when he knew I cherished singing and that song in particular—that was one of the most romantic things he could have done.

But that wasn’t the end of his serenade.

Lindsay and Mike Harrel 1

Fast forward again, this time to our wedding. The whole day had been beautiful—beautiful ceremony (where I walked down the aisle to a violin and piano rendition of “All I Ask of You”), beautiful first dance, beautiful toasts, and lots of fun dancing.

The reception was nearing an end, and suddenly, Mike pulled me onto the dance floor and plopped me into a chair. A friend of ours had his guitar, and Mike sat opposite me.

And he started to sing, this time a song by Steven Curtis Chapman I’d never heard—“We Will Dance.”

Go listen to it and you’ll get a glimpse at how incredibly romantic my husband was to sing it to me.

LIndsay and Mike Harrel 2

But the most romantic thing about it all?

He didn’t consider himself a singer. He didn’t think he was good.

But there, in front of 150 people, he sang to me anyway.


Lindsay’s Questions for You

Have you ever been serenaded?

Do you and your special someone have a special song?

If you aren’t married, what is one of the most romantic songs, in your opinion?


A Little More About Lindsay

Since the age of six, when she wrote the riveting tale “How to Eat Mud Pie,” Lindsay Harrel has passionately engaged the written word as a reader, writer, and editor. Lindsay lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband of six years and two golden retriever puppies in serious need of training.

Visit Lindsay’s blog, “like” her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter


Lindsay’s Published Anthology Piece

Falling in Love with You

41 Real Love Stories Guaranteed for a SmileFalling in Love with You

Where did you first meet the person you fell in love with? The person with whom you could be totally you? Or do you still dream of that magical moment, when you know you’re in head-over-heels, dancing-in-the-rain kind of love?

Fall in love again…or for the first time…with 41 of the sweetest real-life love stories collected from across the globe. They’re guaranteed to make you smile.

Lindsay’s story tells more about how she and Mike dated and fell in love—that is, when friendship wasn’t enough.


Win a Copy of Falling in Love with You!

To enter the drawing, leave a comment by Wednesday, January 16, answering one of Lindsay’s questions above. Be sure to leave your email address when prompted so I can contact you if you win.

I’ll post the winner’s name here and in a comment.

Congratulations to the winner: Ganise!

No purchase necessary.
Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to number of entrants.
Prizes will be mailed to U.S. or Canadian addresses only.
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Keli Gwyn
Visit with Author Catherine West

It’s my pleasure to host Catherine West, my agency mate and friend. Her latest novel, Hidden in the Heart, was released by Oak Tara Publishing in September. The story deals with adoption and the search for one’s birth parents and has already received a number of glowing reviews.

Cathy is an island girl who hates sand. But she loves living in beautiful Bermuda with her two college-aged kids—when they’re home, her pediatrician husband and rambunctious Border collie. Educated in Bermuda, England and Canada, she holds a BA in English from the University of Toronto.

When she’s not writing or reading, you’ll find her in the garden with her roses or tending her orchids. Catherine volunteers with Bermuda Riding for the Disabled. She loves to shop and takes frequent trips to the US to satisfy the craving and fuel her Starbucks addiction.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s learn a little more about Cathy. . .

We’ll start with an easy one:
What’s your beverage of choice at Starbucks?

Haha! Well, since we don’t have Starbucks in Bermuda, I beeline for it as soon as I get off the plane wherever I am! I am partial to Caramel Macchiatos, and I also love Pike’s Peak.

I’ve noticed on Facebook that you travel a good deal. Do you travel light, or are you a pack-everything-you can-possibly-squeeze-in type of person?

Yes, we seem to be traveling a good deal this year! Unfortunately I do not have the ‘pack light’ dna anywhere in my body. I wish I did! I always end up bringing far too much wherever we are going. I try, but I think it’s a lost cause. And then of course if I do any shopping, I have more to pack!!

I see that you’re a dog person. What’s the most amusing thing that beautiful Border collie of yours has done?

Ah…he’s pretty amusing, that’s for sure! Let’s see…when he wants a treat, he’ll just launch himself into doing every trick he knows, one after the other – it’s pretty funny to watch! He is also a little OCD – we have outdoor fans on our patio and he loves to run back and forth after them if they’re on. They don’t even need to be on, we just have to say “Get the fan!” and he goes nuts!

Your story deals with the search for a birth parent and is based on your own experience. When did you embark on your search for your birth mother, and what were the most rewarding aspects of it?

Yes, the book is loosely based on my own experiences. I learned a lot about myself during that time. I discovered I had a lot of unresolved feelings, and emotions I didn’t even know I had, surrounding my being adopted. Finally finding peace in who I am and where I came from was the most rewarding thing, but more importantly, the process made me draw closer to God and I realized that while it is good to know my biological history, who I am in Him is what’s going to matter in eternity.

And now to end with a glimpse into your world. If we were to look around your living room, what would we learn about you?

I like color! Deep greens, butter yellows – I love art and pottery and glass, and we have a lot of it all over the house! My living room is actually the one room that’s pretty much always tidy, so that’s great! Look into my study and that’s a different story!!

Cathy’s Question for You

During my search and reunion journey, I was faced with many difficult situations, and sometimes it was all I could do to cry out to God to help me keep going. He came through in a big way for me and provided me with miracles I could not even have imagined. Have you ever had a time where you cried out to Him in desperation? What happened?

Win an Autographed Copy of Hidden in the Heart

To enter the drawing, leave a comment by Sunday, October 21st. Be sure to leave your email address when prompted so I can contact you if you win.

I’ll post the winner’s name here and in a comment.

Congratulations to Joanne Bischof, winner of Cathy’s book!

No purchase necessary.
Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to number of entrants.
Prizes will be mailed to U.S. or Canadian addresses only.

Learn About Hidden in the Heart

Everything Claire wants seems to be beyond her reach… After losing her mother to cancer and suffering a miscarriage soon after, Claire Ferguson numbs the pain with alcohol and pills, and wonders if her own life is worth living.

Adopted at birth, Claire is convinced she has some unknown genetic flaw that may have been the cause of her miscarriage. She must find a way to deal with the guilt she harbors. But exoneration will come with a price.

With her marriage in trouble and her father refusing to answer any questions about her adoption, Claire begins the search for her birth mother. For the first time in her life, she really wants to know where she came from. But what if the woman who gave her life doesn’t want to be found?

• • •

To learn more about Cathy and her books, visit


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Keli Gwyn
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