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?

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

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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
Meet the Reviewers: Kav at Best Reads

I met Kav when she posted a review of my book on her blog, Best Reads. She has such a fun way of writing a review that I read more of hers, was impressed, and added her site to the Christian Book Reviewers page on my website. I zapped her an email and asked if I could introduce my newfound book-loving friend to you, and she made my day by saying yes.

Kav is a Canadian who has a job any avid reader would love: library technician. As you might expect, she loves to read, having recently developed a love of inspirational fiction. She also enjoys writing, painting funky furniture, cooking Vegetarian meals, and supporting environmental concerns, including supporting local farmers and artisans. And she has a thing for chocolate, especially fair-trade Cocoa Camino and white hot chocolate.

I asked Kav 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.

What led you to start reviewing books on your blog? When did you post your first review? What can your visitors expect in the future?

I started up by accident! I worked at a school board central library at the time and I was in charge of the novel studies and literature circles that rotated around the schools. I found I spent a lot of time helping teachers decide on what novel set they wanted to use because there wasn’t an easy system in place for them to browse through. So I had the idea of making up a blog for our sets. Every title had a new entry and I could label them by subject and grade. Made my life so much easier! So, what does that have to do with my starting a blog?

Well, about the same time I started reading Christian fiction exclusively and, since I’m an aspiring writer, I wanted a way to keep track of the books I read and note the strengths that I wanted to emulate in my own writing. Since I liked the way my novel study blog looked, I thought it was the perfect venue for my Christian fiction tally. I had no clue what I was doing though – no idea that you could keep a blog private – so I created my blog for my own use and blithely posted away thinking that I’d go unnoticed in the grand scheme of the bloggersphere.

Only one day somebody posted on my blog. And then I got some followers – new friendly little faces peering out at me every time I logged on. At first I was mortified because my ‘reviews’ weren’t so much reviews as little unformed sentence snippets meant to prompt my memory and encourage my writing skills. But I rallied and started posting actual reviews and ta-da – here I am!

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

First off, I don’t review books I don’t like, if at all possible. I only review for one publishing group – Baker Publishing through Graf-Martin – a marketing company here in Canada. I’m given an opt in selection of books to review each month so I’m careful to pick titles, author and genres that interest me. Sometimes though, a book and I don’t click but I’m still obliged to review it. When that happens I’m careful to highlight the positives and offer gentle observations about other areas that I had issues with. I also try to coach those comments with ‘me’ sentences, so it’s clear that I’m not criticizing the author but commenting what I personally like and dislike. Hopefully I achieve a balance.

The other books I review on my blog are ones that I have purchased myself. If I love them, I review them. If I don’t love them, I don’t review them. Easy peasy.

When and where do you do most of your reading?

I do most of my reading on the bus…or standing at the bus stop waiting for the bus! I have a long commute to and from work. I’m in transit between three and five hours a day depending on the weather and traffic and if the buses are running on time (which they usually aren’t!) It would be unbearable if I couldn’t be carried away in a story! I also like to read in bed for a wee bit before lights out…and sometimes when I eat because I live alone …well, with my wee laddie Simba (a sheltie) but he’s not known for his stimulating dinner conversation. 🙂

And speaking of my boy-o – this is his picture in place of mine.

I’m terribly camera shy and take horrible pictures to boot – so not a good combination – so I rarely have my image captured. Except on my bus pass which makes me look like an unrepentant hatchet-murderess! Best I don’t scare your readers, so Simba is my stand in. We really look a lot a like – if you shorten the nose, smoosh the ears down a bit and of course mine don’t tip over like that. Oh, and my eyes are hazel not brown. And I wear glasses and Simba doesn’t. His face is black, but mine is white. I’m not as furry as he is either. And my tongue isn’t as long as his. And my nose doesn’t twitch at the faintest scent of squirrel. But other than that, we’re pretty much carbon copies. They do say that people who live together grow in likeness over the years. 🙂

Three Fun Facts About Kav

It must be way cool to spend time in a library and get paid for it. What are three aspects of your job you most enjoy?

Buying books. Reading to kids. Creating bulletin boards.

Painting funky furniture sounds like lots of fun. What’s one of your favorite projects so far?

My favourite project to date was painting an Adriondack chair for a teacher’s retirement gift. She loved Kevin Henke’s picture books so I put all these little mice scurrying around all over it with Chrysanthemum on the back center.

I usually pull old abandoned chairs from the garbage and spiffy them up with glue and paint. Very artsy crafty style. Polka dots and stripes, tons of colours – no two chair legs look the same! Mary Engelbreit is my inspiration.

I also painted a full set of chairs for one of the school libraries I worked in. Each chair was a different book character. That was a HUGE project! Took me all summer!

Chocolate lovers unite! If you won an all-expenses-paid chocolate sampling trip to any place in the world, where would you go, and why?

This is going to sound strange but – Ireland. For a bunch of reasons. First, I was born there and I love the country! Secondly, I lived there for two years after school and rented a flat in an area of Dublin close to a couple of candy factories. The air was permeated with the smell of melting chocolate and my landlady used to bring ends of all the best chocolate bars home at the end of her shift and she’d share them. Blissful sigh. So whenever I think chocolate, I think of Ireland.

Kav’s Question for You

If you were a dog, what breed would you be? And why? Or if you’re not a dog lover – what animal do you most identify with and why?

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Keli Gwyn
Meet the Reviewers: Rina

I’m honored to feature Rina of Rina’s Reading. I met her during my book release blog tour and am impressed by her reviews as well as her fun Top Ten Tuesday reading-related posts and her Waiting on Wednesday posts spotlighting upcoming books.

Rina earned a Master’s degree in Library Science and is currently working as a school librarian in Africa.

I asked Rina 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.

Reading and Reviewing

What led you to start reviewing books on your blog? When did you post your first review? What can your visitors expect in the future?

In the fall of 2011 I started wondering what I could do to fill my time, would look good on a resume and maybe earn me a couple dollars. I looked into online businesses but nothing appealed. During that time though I discovered book review blogs and thought I might enjoy that since I love to read and share good books. Around November I started writing reviews of books I read and then in January of 2012 I started the blog. It’s been really fun to discover other book review bloggers, make friends with a few, and start participating in giveaways and memes. I haven’t earned any money but I have gotten several free books to review and that’s equally nice if not better. 🙂

I am a bit in transition at the moment since I finally have a job as a librarian (and it’s in Africa!) but I do intend to keep up the blog. I think I’ll continue to sporadically do the Top Ten Tuesday meme (it’s a lot of fun but takes a while usually to think of the right books and then format it) and the Waiting on Wednesday and Book Blogger Hop memes are both easy to schedule ahead of time. Hopefully in a week or so I’ll start posting a book review or two each week. My computer is having lots of problems since coming to Africa so that’s something I need to fix first.

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

I usually read books I like and enjoy but there are times when I wish the author had written things a bit different. No story will ever satisfy everyone. I always try to find something to praise about the author’s work and if/when I do criticize a bit or warn about excessive kissing, etc. or mention something I didn’t like then I try very hard not to write it against the author in any way.

Earlier this summer I read an interesting article about writing good reviews and how authors feel about the reviews, and one thing the article suggested was not even using the authors name in the body of the review. A critique or caution should never be directed against an author but rather serve to guide the reader to the book that is right for them.

When and where do you do most of your reading?

Before getting this job and moving to Africa I did most of my reading in bed late at night. If I start reading in bed I usually can’t put a book down until I finish it. There were many nights I didn’t turn my light off until 2 am or even 3 am. 🙂 Once or twice maybe even 4 am but don’t tell my mom that. 😉 (She’s going to read this though.)

Now I do most of my reading in the afternoon after school or in the early evening. The elementary students here really like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Judy Moody, and The Magic Tree House books. None of which I’ve read, so when the server was down one afternoon I read those. We are near the equator and the sun sets around 6pm and rises around 6am. And it’ll be this way year round! So by 9 or 10pm it’s been dark for 3-4 hours already and it feels really late. That, plus the fact that I have to be at school by 7:30am means I won’t be staying up late reading anymore.


Three Fun Facts About Rina

Since you’ve recently moved to Africa, I’m sure there have been some adjustments. What things from back home are you missing, if any? What cool new things have you discovered in your new place?

I’ve only been here three weeks so I’m not missing too much yet, although the milk tastes funny here and my stomach is still adjusting to the food and water. I know I’ll miss snow and cold weather in December/January. And I’ll probably start missing having a variety of sliced cheeses and lunch meats – gouda is the only locally produced and thus reasonably priced cheese. But the bread is good and there’s a great bagel place. 🙂

A cool thing about this area is the weather. It is perfect. Even though we’re near the equator the elevation is high enough so that it’s not too hot and not too humid. It is the dry season right now, so I don’t know what the humidity will be like once the rainy season starts, but for now I’m really enjoying the weather.

I saw that you love reading fairytale retellings, so I’m sure you’re well versed in fairy tales. Which fairy tale heroine are you most like, and why?

I do love fairytales and fairytale retellings. But I’m terrible at answering those types of questions. Let me think…I guess Beauty since in some versions she really likes to read and she has brown hair. I really like to read and I have brown hair too.

If we took a peek in your clothes closet, what would we learn about you?

That I love blue and green. So many of my clothes are those colors.

Rina’s Question for You

 If you could travel to any place in the world where would it be and why?

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To learn more about Rina, “like” her Facebook group page,
Rina’s Reading, and follow her on Pinterest.

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Keli Gwyn