Friday, December 31, 2010

10 for '10

I've spent 2010 reading and listening to all sorts of wonderful books. USA Today has just come out with their 10 favorite books of the year, so I've come up with mine. In no particular order (except the order I read them this year), they are:

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffinegger
Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Outcasts United by Warren St. John
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow
A Year in the World by Frances Mayes
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Cevalier

Happy new year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

London's Children During World War II

I was absolutely fascinated the first time, in London, I heard that children living in the city during World War II were sometimes sent to live with complete strangers in the country while their parents stayed behind, working and trying to live lives as normal as possible in the city. I bought two books on this topic while I was there, and I've just finished the first one, a memoir called Kisses on a Postcard: A Tale of Wartime Childhood by Terrence Frisby. I plowed right through this book on Christmas Eve (it's only about 200 pages in length). For what was a very scary time for the English (and much of the rest of the world) was an adventurous time for the seven year-old narrator who published this book in the form I read it in 2009. Frisby, a playwright, has worked with the Criterion Theatre (where I saw a play that I'll talk about in a later post). A musical theatre version of his story of the three years he spent in Cornwall was produced in 2004 at Queen's Theatre in London.

This was a wonderful book told from the perspective of a little boy who is sent off to the country with his brother to escape the bombing in London during World War II. The book details his adventures with other "vackies" and children who reside in Cornwall. Frisby develops a very sweet affection for the couple who fostered he and his brother for three years. The narrator reminded me in some ways of Frank McCourt's voice in Angela's Ashes, but with a much more positive and adventurous spin. It was almost as if Frisby didn't know the danger his parents were in and thought of his time with Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack as just a fun new chapter in his life. This is a really wonderful tidbit of history told from the perspective of a real person, and better yet, a child. I won't give the book away, but the ending is very satisfying and very sweet.

Sherlock Holmes

After watching Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams' recent remake of Sherlock Holmes, and listening to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on my iPod before going to London, I had a particular itch to visit 221B Baker Street, where today there is a Sherlock Holmes Museum. This fit in well with visiting the British Library and the Charles Dickens Museum, as there were pretty close to each other in the Bloomsbury and Marylebone sections of London.

It turned out to be what my traveling companion called "the British equivalent of South of the Border." However, it was a fun, if kitschy place to go. I enjoyed it, though I don't feel like I'll need to go again next time I go back to London.

What was really funny to me is that the museum is a recreation of Sherlock Holmes' house, and when you head up the stairs with your tour group, Dr. Watson greets you in the parlour. What threw me off, as I was expecting an in-character speech about, perhaps, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's life in the neighborhood, the popularity of Sherlock Holmes to this day, and any other historical tidbits about Holmes and Watson (Read: I was expecting to LEARN something). So, when Dr. Watson asked if I wanted to pose for a picture with him, I was completely caught off guard, and didn't even think to hand my camera off to someone else. My friend, though, snapped a picture of Dr. Watson and me, which I don't yet have a copy of. Once I do, I'll be sure to upload it. So, Dr. Watson was simply there for photos and not to answer any questions, which made me chuckle.

After the photos, we were free to roam the two or three floors of the home, set up like Doyle describes in the books. The top floor had mannequins depicting many of the short stories I had read, but they freaked me out a bit and I didn't take any pictures of them. I did, however, get this bust of Sherlock Holmes.

If you're planning to go to London and you love Sherlock Holmes, I would recommend going. If you aren't much of a fan, I'd skip this and go to something that you know you'll love. Anyway, I'm glad I did it, and I'm glad that every time I hear Sherlock Holmes from now on, I'll think of the cute little Dr. Watson who still makes me laugh. After I came back from London, PBS came out with a miniseries of Sherlock Holmes which I've heard great things about. I still haven't gone online to watch, but I hope I will soon.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Author Q&A: J. Randolph Cooper

I recently interviewed Atlanta writer and first-time novelist J. Randolph Cooper about his new book, Chattahoochee. He was nice enough to give me a review copy of his book, which I've read. A review is forthcoming in the next few days. 

Thoughts from a Bibliophile: What made you want to write this book?
J. Randolph Cooper: I’ve been interested in crime fiction and legal thrillers for most of my adult life. I wanted to write a book that was based around the places that I grew up around and to illustrate to the public the pressures of this line of work.

TFAB: What is your writing background?
JRC: Gee, not much. My background is primarily IT but much of my work over the last 15 years has been development of public-facing websites and thus the need for something that resembles literacy.

TFAB: Is this your first book? Do you have other books in the works?
JRC: Yes, this is my first book. I do have another one nearing completion that has more twists and turns.

TFAB: How do you view the changes in Craig [the main character] throughout the novel?
JRC: I love to see the changes in Craig, which mirrors many of us. I believe if there’s something you don’t like
about yourself, whether that be a character flaw or a trait that drives you (and others) nuts, CHANGE IT! Our problems sometimes seem insurmountable but if we write them down and think logically how to solve them (do you see the programmer in me coming out?) then we can change our lives in a positive way.

TFAB: What is your relationship with the Chattahoochee River like?
JRC: The Chattahoochee was our playground for decadence growing up. There was NOTHING illegal or immoral that could take place at the river because there was no law and no rules. Of course, nothing could’ve been further from the truth but that was the way we lived. The 70s were awesome!

TFAB: Where can one purchase your book?
JRC: The book is available in electronic formats only and may be purchased either via Amazon or Smashwords (for reader formats other than Kindle). The easiest way is just to go to and go from there.

TFAB: Where can one find more of what you've written?
JRC: The other writing that I’ve done has been as a food critic at

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Criterion

The friendly woman from the Globe recommended that my friend and I see a play at the Criterion Theatre (more about that in a later post) and eat beforehand at the Criterion Restaurant next door. I'm glad we took her word for it on both recommendations. The Criterion Restaurant, located in Picadilly Circus, was beautifully ornate. The food was great, but if it hadn't been I probably wouldn't have even noticed. It's that beautiful. The restaurant, which opened in 1873,  was where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, while sitting at the bar, came up with the idea for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. In recent years, Batman: The Dark Knight (seen it) was filmed in part here, and Russell Crowe's A Good Year was also filmed here (haven't seen it yet).

More Information: 
You can see interior photos of the restaurant on its website.
If you're on Twitter, follow them @londoncriterion.
Read a restaurant review.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

I'm finally getting back to more about my trip to London, and I'm promising that I'll have more London posts coming this week and next.

One of the highlights of the trip for me (in a trip filled with highlights) was seeing Henry IV Part 2 at Shakepeare's Globe Theatre. At first we were thinking of spending five pounds on a groundling ticket to get the effect of that; we changed our minds after all the walking we did that day. We paid 20 pounds instead for a front row seat and rented a cushion for the show. I recommend that route.

I have been lucky enough to study this play twice - once each in undergraduate and graduate school. However, it was the voice of my undergraduate Shakespeare professor whose voice I kept hearing in my head during the play, reminding me about the colorful personalities of each character and other little tidbits. It was such fun to see the play come to life right before my eyes in this historic place. The play was so much more bawdy than I remembered (or noticed from just reading it rather than seeing it performed), and much more comical than I remembered too. I wrote in my travel journal that night that it was the best play I'd ever seen; however, I hadn't yet seen the other two fantastic plays I saw later that week in London. Since those two, I'd have to rank Henry IV Park 2 as in my top five.

Perhaps the friendliest Londoner we met while we were there happened to be sitting behind us during the play and chatted with us during intermission and after the play ended. She clued me in on the little choreographed jig done by all the play's characters at the end. It was designed, she said, to be performed at the end of all Shakespearean plays per Elizabethan tradition, ensuring that even after a tragic play, audience members would go home happy. I never knew about that before and thought it was wonderful.

From the outside in the daylight.

Here I am, in all my English major excitement.

The set before the play started.

  The balconies and the sky visible during the open-air performance.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Wealthy Freelancer

I've just finished reading one of the best professional development books I've read (ever), and certainly the best one I've read this year. It's called The Wealthy Freelancer: 12 Secrets to a Great Income and an Enviable Lifestyle, and it's by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage and Ed Gandia. Some of the information given is just good business practice, and things I'm already doing. Much more of the book is great ideas of things I haven't yet thought of, and hints on handling all the snags that will eventually come the way of a freelance writer. My list of action items I created for myself from reading this book will take me a while to complete, but promises to be helpful. I'd even recommend that book for most any self-employed entrepreneur, writer or not, because there are plenty of helpful tips on cultivating client relationships, marketing yourself and getting the most bang for your buck out of a host of things.

I'm a member of the Freelance Forum in Atlanta, a professional organization which has been invaluable to me these past few years as I've been on my own or preparing to me. I was away on a family vacation this summer when one authors of this book, Ed Gandia, was the speaker. I don't like to miss any of the Freelance Forum programming, but now that I've read The Wealthy Freelancer, I know I missed a great topic.

If you're freelancing and you haven't read this book, it comes with my highest recommendations.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle

One of my book clubs met at my house on Monday night. Our book discussion was Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, which has turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year, and one of the best book club discussions I've participated in.

Here's how I reviewed it in Goodreads: "This book is both amazing and entertaining. It's told from the point of view of a daughter from a crazy, crazy family. I found myself laughing aloud at some of the ridiculous family adventures; then I'd catch myself because I remembered that these actually happened to this family, and then I couldn't believe how hard this family's lives were. This is definitely one of my favorite reads of 2010."

After our lively discussion about this family, their misadventures and every bizarre thing they experienced, I was motivated to start looking online to see what I could find about Walls, this book and Welch, WV, the town where much of the book took place.

Here are a few things:,_West_Virginia (Steve Harvey is also from Welch) (Video of Hobart Street. The family lived on Little Hobart Street. I'm not sure if these are the same streets exactly, but it gives you a good idea of what the town looks like.) (Interview of Jeannette Walls on Craig Kilbourne. She has a great laugh!) (Photos from Welch)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

KIPP Scribes

One of the things I love the most about being my own boss is setting my own schedule, making a work/life balance an easier thing than it might otherwise be. One of my favorite things I've gotten to do this year as a result of this is volunteering with KIPP Strive Academy and The Wren's Nest. If you're a recent reader, this program paired an Atlanta writing professional with a fifth grader to work together to write down a family story from each student. Then the stories were published in a collection and sold at the Decatur Book Festival. The program was enough of a success that it's going to happen again in 2011. If you want to check out this year's book, you can purchase a copy through The Wren's Nest website.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Oscar Wilde

I've mentioned before that I love audiobooks, and frequently listen to Librivox audiobooks on my iPod while training to walk half marathons. I just completed my latest one for my birthday about a month ago, and two of the things I listened to during the process were Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband. In both cases, these plays were read by a variety of voices, which  made them much more entertaining and easier to listen to rather than read. I followed this up last week by watching movie versions of both of these productions, which further helped these plays come to life for me. The casts on both versions I watched were great. The Importance of Being Earnest featured Colin Firth (one of my favorites - Mr. Darcy, anyone?), Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench. An Ideal Husband starred Rupert Everett again, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett and Minnie Driver. They were both fun to listen to and watch.

Family Discovery

It appears that serious readers have been a part of my family for at least 150 years. I've been working on some family research lately with some help from my mom. She has just come across a book at her house owned by my great-great-great grandfather, who signed his name in a book called Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution, published in 1856. I know enough from my research to know that my relative owned it near the end of his life, as he died from injuries sustained in a Civil War battle in 1864 in either Alabama or Georgia.

Never Give Up!

December 1st began Jimmy V Week, named for famed NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who led the Wolfpack to NCAA Tournament victory in 1983, and who died of bone cancer ten years later. A new biography has come out about Valvano this year called The Inspiration of Jimmy V: One Coach, 11 Minutes, and an Uncommon Look at the Game of Life. I haven't read it yet, but I want to. The book was written by Justin Spizman and Robyn Freedman Spizman, both Atlanta residents. These two You Tube links are my favorite clips of this coach (here and here). They are worth watching. And, Go Wolfpack!


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Holidays!

This morning my husband and I went to the Atlanta Christmas Parade, which was tons of fun. I snapped a few pictures that relate to this blog. In order above, they are 1) Wild Thing; 2) Cobb County Libraries; and 3) The Cat in the Hat. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In one of the book clubs I'm in, we've just discussed Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Most of us had never read it before, though we were familiar with the idea of the book. It made for pretty interesting discussion. If you haven't read it, it's short enough to be considered a novella, so it won't take you long to read. Luckily one of our book clubbers had her laptop with her, so we did a few YouTube searches to see what was out there on the book. John Barrymore's movie version from 1920 is available in its entirety. We discovered that a few years ago, David Hasselhoff acted in a Broadway musical based on the book. You can see a clip of him here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Churchill War Rooms

I came home from London with a pile of books to read, and I've just read the first one in the stack, From Churchill's War Rooms: Letters of a Secretary 1943-45 by Joanna Moody. I picked it up in the gift shop at one of my favorite London places: the Churchill War Rooms.

The museum is located very close to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Parliament and other British government buildings. Yet, during World War II, Churchill and many other government and military personnel hid out here, strategizing and planning for victory. The underground rooms have been left nearly as they were when the war ended in 1945. I was truly fascinated by this museum and all that took place here during those crucial years.

The Churchill War Rooms is located across the street from Saint James Park, which is just gorgeous, and from the museum and many places in the park, you can see Buckingham Palace (see above).

Letters of a Secretary caught my eye in the gift shop, and I've just finished reading it today. It's a conglomeration of historical information that supplements the letters back and forth between Olive Christopher, who was General Hollis' secretary, and her army officer fiance, Neil Margerison. The letters give great detail to what it was like to be a British citizen and working for the country during the war. Though, understandably, many top secret details are omitted, the letters do still offer great detail about travel abroad, the shortage of nylon stockings and fabric for making clothes, and many other day-to-day details. Lucky for us all, Neil and Olive enjoyed a happy marriage after the war ended, and Olive was consulted in the 1980s when the War Rooms were being readied for public eyes.

This was a very satisfying read, and I'm now passing it on to my dad. I'm still on the lookout, though, for a nonfiction account of what it was like to live and work as a regular citizen in London during World War II. If you know of something good, let me know.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Short Stories

Generally speaking, as a reader I've rarely gotten much pleasure out of reading short stories. I typically feel like I'm not as deeply invested with the characters as when I read novels, and I finish the story wishing it was longer and that I knew more about each character. However, I've surprised myself twice lately by really enjoying two collections of short stories.

Last week I listened to John Grisham's Ford County on CDs in the car. I've read a handful of his novels before and only really, really liked A Time to Kill and A Painted House, but found myself really enjoying this collection of stories. I think what I liked about them is that I felt like even though they were short stories, Grisham did a great job of making me feel strongly about each character right from the get-go. The characters are both Southern and believable. This doesn't happen as often as it should.

I've also slowly been working my way through the book I won on Facebook a few months ago from Algonquin, as I mentioned here. It's called New Stories from the South 2010 and it's really a pleasure to read. If you like this kind of thing, I think you should read it. Time well spent.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Celebrating the First Year

Today marks exactly one year since I left a job that wasn't working out so well to put all my energy into making freelance writing and editing my full-time endeavor. I was a little hesitant, as a year ago didn't seem like the best time to start a business, but it looked better than my alternative, which was going into an office everyday and working in a decidedly uncreative position where I just wasn't a good fit.

It's been an amazing year. I've gotten the opportunity to do things I never thought I'd do. My creative mind has been stretched and tested in wonderful ways. In just this year alone, I've teamed up with  companies that provide interesting products and services to write their marketing collateral, written for the nonprofit sector, edited a blog, provided social media services for a restaurant, written publicity pieces for a Vietnam War documentary, edited nonfiction manuscripts and academic journals, began coaching a first-time novel writer, written websites for a variety of companies spanning multiple sectors, and offered public relations writing consultation, among other things. My work has been all over the place and it's been wonderful.  

I've enjoyed my work, but also the freedom that comes with self-employment. I've been able to devote more time to this blog, read more and more deliberately, and travel to some great places (Wrightsville Beach, Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Nashville, Hendersonville, Oxford and Tupelo, Chicago, London and Bath, and plenty of trips back to my hometown, Raleigh). Never once did I have to submit a vacation request.

For all those people who have encouraged me this year, asked me how things are going, told someone you know about my business, sent some business or a referral my way, followed me on Twitter (@betsyrhame), not minded when I cancelled hanging out with you to work just a little bit longer, helped me with my website ( - Thank you, Lori!), invited me to a networking event, or any number of other helpful things, I appreciate you.

I'm very excited to see how things turn out. Here's to year two!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Help

I'm a magazine junkie. I have so many that I'm usually behind. Right now I'd love to be reading about Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes I might like to try, but I'm still working through the October magazine pile. One of my new favorite magazine subscriptions is Atlanta Magazine. It's a fun read each month, telling me all the places in Atlanta I should be eating and all the other great things the city has to offer that I should take advantage of.

I recently read the September issue and was pleased as punch to see a Q&A with Kathryn Stockett, Atlanta resident and author of one of my favorite reads this year, The Help. There is even more good news associated with this bestseller: filming for the movie has begun in Mississippi, Stockett is considering writing a short story prequel to her novel, and she's at the beginning stages of writing a second novel. Hooray!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Literary Trails of North Carolina

At long last, one of the follow ups to Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains has been published! For my birthday last week, my sister bought me Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont: A Guidebook by Georgann Eubanks. I've skimmed most of the book so far, but just can't wait to start checking things off as I have done in the past year or so in Asheville and Hendersonville, NC. At first glance, there are a lot of fun things to check out: the residences of Betty Smith (author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), all the authors living in Hillsborough (Lee Smith, Hal Crowther, Allan Gurganus, Jill McCorkle and sometimes Annie Dillard) and NC Central University where Zora Neale Hurston taught briefly, to name a few.