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
Meet the Reviewers: Casey Herringshaw

I’m honored to have Casey Herringshaw as my guest. A talented writer of women’s fiction with romantic elements, Casey also reads and reads and reads… She posts thorough but thoughtful reviews on her blog, Writing for Christ–The Audience of One. Not only that, but she’s got a BIG heart and the gift of encouragement, blessing authors at every turn.

I first bumped into Casey online and was impressed with her caring personality. I learned more about her when she was my guest at Romance Writers on the Journey (my former blog) last year. And then I met her in person at the 2011 ACFW conference in St. Louis and was captivated by her charm, enthusiasm, and effervescence. Casey is a gem!

Casey lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people. Taking the words and stories God has placed on her heart and putting them on paper is one of her highest passions in life. She’s a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She began devouring books as soon as she could make out her first words.

I asked Casey 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?  How has the site changed over time, and what can readers expect in the future?

In the beginning… Oh, maybe I should keep this to the short version, hmm? I started reviewing books shortly after I started my blog. It just seemed to make the most sense: have a blog; will review books. I started reviewing my own copies or borrowed library books, and then I learned—GASP—publishers will actually give you a book if you promise to review it. What a novel idea (pun intended)! My first review was of Sandra D. Bricker’s Love Finds You in Holiday, Florida on November 25, 2009.

I hope I’ve grown as a reviewer and can be trusted to give an honest opinion to my readers about the books I’m reviewing, but do so in a godly, Christ-like spirit. I’ve gotten pickier about the books I choose to review, which is a big change for me. I don’t accept every book coming my direction and try to be understanding of both my and my readers’ time.

The future? I don’t know! I love what I’m doing now, but I want to bring in more author interaction on my blog. I covet conversations and love to start them between authors and readers on my site.

As I said above, your reviews are thoughtful and thorough, but you’re truthful at the same time. How do you balance a reader’s desire for an honest review with your heart for the author of the work?

Ah, that’s a tough issue and one that took me a long time to figure out. My readership expects a solid, honest review. They might not agree with me, but hopefully they will look at other reviews before deciding to read a book and not take my word alone for the quality of a novel.

My biggest decision in my reviews is not to mention the author’s name. Good or bad, I won’t mention the author’s name (except on rare occasion), because I believe that once the book has left the author’s hands, it is no longer their “baby.” It is no longer attached to them as a person. It’s gone; it’s separate. I won’t defame the name of the author or make the comment that “this author can’t write,” etc. I want to give my readers an honest review, and I don’t want to make an author feel bad just because I didn’t happen to like their book.

When and where do you do most of your reading?

Everywhere! On the exercise bike. In bed. In the house. And today: in my car on my lunch break. I’m not ashamed to read anywhere. I have a reputation at my orthodontist (who I rarely see, but once every two years or so now) that I always bring a book with me. I like that reputation. 🙂

Three Fun Facts About Casey

You’re the epitome of a wholesome gal, one who thrives on faith, family, and the freedom that comes from life on your rural farm. I’m guessing, though, that hidden in there somewhere is a love affair with something that might not be entirely good for you. What is your guilty pleasure? Copious amounts of chocolate? Heaping bowls of ice cream? Or perhaps piping hot slices of pie fresh from the oven call your name on a regular basis? Am I close?

My guilty pleasure? Oh Keli, I’m too pure for a guilty pleasure… *grinning behind hand* …Brown Bottom Cupcakes.

GASP! I said that out loud? I wasn’t supposed to.

Basically it’s chocolate with cream cheese in the middle and cream cheese frosting on top. Oh. My. Goodness. Don’t even tempt me. I will not survive. Anything cream cheese is a lip-smacking delight for me.

Cheesecake will pretty much buy you anything from me.

I’ve heard about you dancing on your chair during the My Book Therapy Pizza Party at the ACFW conference. That story is now legendary.  What I want to know is what stories your relatives like to tell about you at family gatherings. You know what I mean. The kind of stories that make you cringe—or laugh overly loud to conceal your true feelings.

I’d rather that story not be infamous or legendary or anything in between. Ha!

Which one? The story where I screamed my fool head off when I was being potty trained? Or turning the knob on the music up loud so I could dance? (I sense a theme here…:-)) Or putting the biggest bucket on my head and the smallest one on my fist?

Or how about the perfectionist in training? If I saw anything out of place—anything that didn’t seem right to me or wasn’t where I thought it should be—I would stand in front of said object, point and grunt. Until such time as one of my parents fixed the misplaced object, then I would be happy.

Hmm. I might have lost a bit of that over the years… 😉

OK, since I was kinda tough on you with that last question, I’ll end with an easier one. You read and write, but you also knit and bead. When did you take up these hobbies, and what are some of your most memorable creations?

I’ve been knitting for about eight years now…but my favorite project was probably my first pari of socks for my mom (which ended up being too small and knitted backward—all in the way you hold the needle. ;-)) that won Grand Champion at my local fair one year. I’ve had a couple sweaters go to the State Fair and in my senior year of high school had the chance to model my sweater at the 4H State Fashion Review. That was a great memory!

My jewelry, which you can see at Bugs Beads, I took over from a local gal when her daughter left for college. I get the most excited when I hear how my customers love my jewelry. I had one lady show me the bracelet she never took off. The wire was wrinkled under the beads, the silver was badly tarnished and the clasp had been wrenched more than one time during manual labor. And it never once broke. That mangled bracelet made me smile. And the customer did, too, when I returned it to her shiny and fixed. 🙂

Casey’s Question for You

Think of your favorite of favorites novel…Christian or otherwise. Would you want to walk a mile in that character’s shoes, even for just one day?

• • •

Connect with Casey on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Visit her personal blog, Writing for Christ, and her group blog, The Writer’s Alley.

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Keli Gwyn
Meet the Reviewers: Renee Chaw

I’m honored to feature Renee Chaw, aka Steeler Girl. She posts reviews at her fun site, Black ’n Gold Girl’s Book Spot. Last week she celebrated her blog’s third anniversary.

Renee loves to read. No surprise there, right? She says she’ll take a good book over TV any day. She has a B.A. in history, a degree she chose based on her love of the Victorian era and historical romance. She has a fondness for vintage jewelry and antiques and is quite passionate about watching football games, especially if “her” Steelers are playing. She’s a car aficionado and has been since fourth grade, when she started a scrapbook devoted to Barbies and classic cars. She would prefer going to a car show over visiting the mall any day of the week. In her own words Renee says, “I’m not your average girl.” I’d agree. Renee is one cool gal, and I’m happy to have her visiting today.

I asked Renee 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

When you began blogging three years ago, what was your vision? How has the site changed over time, and what can readers expect in the future?

When I started blogging I really had no idea what it was going to be like. I have always loved to read, but I really didn’t have anyone to discuss books with other than one or two friends over Facebook or through G-mail chat. The fact that I have almost 300 blog followers who love books as much as I do is crazy (in a good way, of course), and I live for the great comments and encouragement I get from other readers and bloggers. Who woulda thunk it that there are so many people in this world who have almost the same taste in books as I do?

When I first started blogging I had no idea about post format, blog backgrounds, review criteria etc., but I had a few great friends who helped me out. I really think the looks and content of my blog have evolved nicely, and I hope to continue improving it as time goes by. I definitely can say to readers, expect more book reviews and more giveaways! I have received so many review requests for great looking books that I just can’t pass up! It’s really tough for me to say no to a book LOL!

My goal is to host more authors on my blog this year. I think it is critical to get the word out about authors whose books I love and to spread the word about new authors. I know how hard an author works to get their book published, and I want to help in anyway I can.

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?

Wow great question. When I don’t care for a book it is so difficult to write a review for it, and sometimes I don’t want to do it. I hold authors in the highest regard, and like I said in the previous comment, I know how hard they work on a book–they pour their heart and soul in it, so to me if I have to write a negative it kills me. It’s like telling someone you don’t like their kid! I almost always can find something that I like in a book, and I will say so in hopes that I can balance the review out and not step on too many toes while at the same time staying true to myself and my readers.

When and where do you do most of your reading?

Hahaha I read ALL the time! I’m unemployed right now, so I can read pretty much whenever I want. Of course the housework and pets call my name so usually, IMO, the best time to read is at night when everyone else is in bed and there is some peace and quiet! Now that I have a Kindle Fire, nighttime reading is even better…gotta love that LCD backlit screen! The only place I don’t read is in the car. Me + book in car = disaster of the yuckiest proportions. LOL

Three Fun Facts About Renee

I know you love the Steelers, but I don’t know how long you’ve been a fan or how far you’ll go to support your team. When did you fall for the guys in black and gold? What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to cheer your team to victory?

Okay Keli, you are not from this area if you asked that question LOL! I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, so I pretty much came out of the womb cheering the Steelers. Seriously, my newborn cries sounded like “Here we go Steelers, here we go!” Hahahaha.

I’d say the craziest thing I’ve ever done to cheer on my guys is to make posters to decorate the house for the Super Bowl. I remember when the Steelers played the Seahawks and I made a poster of a busload of Steeler players running over a bird…gruesome I know but they did win so maybe the poster was good luck.

I’m married to a guy who’s owned his classic MGB roadster since 1970, so I’ve seen how into cars a car person can be. I also know that classic car people have dream cars. What are yours? (I figure there’s more than one. 🙂 )

Keli I’m hiring you the next time I host an interview on my blog. You ask THE best questions. I’m a Mustang girl through and through, so get me any classic ‘Stang or even one of the awesome new Cobras or 5.0s, and I’ll be a happy camper. For those who’d like to see some of my faves, I have a board on Pinterest devoted to cars.

You describe yourself as being somewhat of a tomboy, but I noticed you like vintage jewelry and antiques. How often are you able to add new items to your collection? What are some of your favorite finds?

I do really love the watch pins that the ladies wore in the early 19th century through the early 20th and would LOVE to have one someday, but for now I collect old postcards and schoolbooks since they’re less expensive for a girl whose on a tight budget like me. The best thing in my collection right now is an old schoolbook that belonged to a local girl. I posted pictures of it on my blog a few years ago of some of the things that were written in the book that make it sooo neat! If you’re interested in the pics go here.

Renee’s Question for You

The question that Keli asked me about things that I like to collect has me thinking about books. I would like to know if money was no object what first edition book would you buy? Since I’m a Pride and Prejudice fan I’d definitely spring for a first edition of that book which I believe came in 3 volumes. Can you imagine having THAT in your library? *sigh*

• • •

Connect with Renee on Twitter and Goodreads.

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Keli Gwyn
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