Blog Tour Review: Haunting the Deep by Adriana Mather

Haunting the Deep (How to Hang a Witch, #2) by Adriana Mather

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Series: How to Hang a Witch, #2
Publication date: 10/03/2017
Source: Publisher

The Titanic meets the delicious horror of Ransom Riggs and the sass of Mean Girls in this follow-up to the #1 New York Times bestseller How to Hang a Witch, in which a contemporary teen finds herself a passenger on the famous “ship of dreams”—a story made all the more fascinating because the author’s own relatives survived the doomed voyage.

Samantha Mather knew her family’s connection to the infamous Salem Witch Trials might pose obstacles to an active social life. But having survived one curse, she never thought she’d find herself at the center of a new one. 

This time, Sam is having recurring dreams about the Titanic . . . where she’s been walking the deck with first-class passengers, like her aunt and uncle. Meanwhile, in Sam’s waking life, strange missives from the Titanic have been finding their way to her, along with haunting visions of people who went down with the ship. 

Ultimately, Sam and the Descendants, along with some help from heartthrob Elijah, must unravel who is behind the spell that is drawing her ever further into the dream ship . . . and closer to sharing the same grim fate as its ghostly passengers.

Haunting the Deep is the follow up to How to Hang a Witch which follows Sam on another ghostly mission to break a spell that could quite possibly send Sam to watery grave. Anything and everything Titanic related intrigues me and the fact that this book follows Sam as she tries to navigate the mysterious workings that kept luring her onto the Titanic was just as spellbinding. Mather continues to impress by magically weaving a fascinating tale which was inspired by her own relatives surviving the voyage.

This book kept me immersed in its wonderfully woven mystery and never let go. I couldn’t put this book down no matter how many times I knew I needed to get some sleep before work. I couldn’t be more satisfied with how everything unfolded in this book. It was so great to live and experience with these characters. Fans of How to Hang a Witch will be thrilled that this book is just as captivating.

Haunting the Deep is a great follow up to How to Hang a Witch. The history, the magic, and yes the ghosts are just as enchanting. I would recommend this book to readers of all ages! It’s just that impressive!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Check out the book trailer!


Traveling West Virginia – Hawks Nest – New River Gorge Trail

We don’t do as much traveling as we used to. But we recently took a day trip to southern West Virginia.

Our first stop was Hawks Nest State Park. If you have traveled there before, you know where they get the expression half the fun is getting there – that is unless you are prone to motion sickness. If you are, then I would advise you to sit in the front seat of the car.

We have been to Hawks Nest many times, but this is the first time we ever rode the tram down to the river.

We wanted to ride the jet boats, but they were all booked up.

 So we did the next item on our list. We went on a hike. My husband has a bad knee, so he didn’t go with my son and me. He loves to talk, so he stayed and talked to the tram guys.

The hike was beautiful – a path filled with large rocks, rhododendron, foot bridges, caves, snakes . . .

Of course, my son had to climb up onto the first big rock we came to. Boys will be boys.

And speaking of snakes. This is where I encountered a baby snake wriggling under my shoe. I didn’t stay long enough to see what kind he was, but he wasn’t a black snake.

On the way back down the trail on this neat little foot bridge.

Our next stop was at a trail we had never walked on before. You drive over the New River Gorge Bridge, which is an experience I never tire of, and then travel a local road to a set of trails that take you to a great place for a photo op of the bridge.

I never took any pictures along the trail because we were in a hurry. We even sprinted in a few places. I never walked a trail so fast in my life. It was late and given the length of the trail we were going to be walking back in the dark. Thank goodness for cell phone flash lights!

The first mile and 3/4 was a fairly easy walk. But the last 1/4 mile was a heavy breather. This is approaching the end of the trail. And believe me when I tell you the view was well worth the huffing and puffing. 

This was as far out as I would venture. My son said that I couldn’t fall off unless I just walked off the edge. I said different — You could trip. You could slide. You could get woozy. So I played it safe.

We still got some great pictures. My son even took a few selfies.

After enjoying the view and taking a bunch of pictures, we started back. And yes, it was in the dark. I kept imagining encounters with wild animals, but none appeared.

My son said, “If we see Big Foot, shine the light while I take the picture.”
I told him, “Please make it a clear picture.”
For some reason all the pics people take of Big Foot are blurry. 😊

Press this link to a list of trails in the area. I would like to try them all out. The name of the trail we took is the Long Point Trail.

 Hope you enjoyed this Traveling West Virginia.

Have you ever been to either of these places?

If not, I hope you get to visit some day.

How Ubuntu didn’t destroy my MacBook

This time, anyway.

In the past few days I’ve bitten the bullet and installed Linux on my primary machine. Before I’d only been dipping my toe in Ubuntu (and its close friend, Linux Mint) by way of virtual machines. But now I’m positively swimming in it. Swimming, and only occasionally treading water.

Why was I so hesitant to install Ubuntu? My reasons are as follows:

  1. Lazy.
  2. Too chicken.
  3. Pretty sure I’ve seen “triple-booting” listed as a symptom of madness.

But most importantly: 4. Last time I tried that, Ubuntu possessed my MacBook and transmuted it into something demonic.

The Ubuntu of yesteryear

When Linux was still – to me at least – new (and, well, not shiny) I decided to install Ubuntu on my MacBook. This was Ubuntu 8.04 or 8.10, I’m not sure which. Either way it was a huge mistake.

The screen was squished, the mouse impossible to use, and the brightness totally unadjustable. The wireless card was a hopeless case, and the graphics drivers even more so. I think I remember the fans not working, either, though that might be the memory’s tendency to dramatize. It was, in short, a disaster, turning a once-tolerable laptop into a blindingly bright and blisteringly hot deathbox.

Since the incident, I’ve been far more cautious about what I install Ubuntu on. This may seem a strange idea to some people, especially those new to Linux. “What, you don’t install it on every machine you touch?” I hear you asking. No. It’s unstable, it’s dangerous, and above all it is ugly.

There, I said it. I like brown, but really – too much brown.

But then Ubuntu 10.04 happened.

The Ubuntu of today

Knowing full well what I was getting into (this is always a lie when it comes to computers) I had my MacBook hooked up to an external monitor, an external mouse, an external keyboard, and an external drive. If there were any chances being taken, they weren’t here.

And then it worked beautifully. That’s probably some kind of irony, but I was too busy wondering what the hell just happened to categorize it.

Out-of-the-box: Touchpad support, button support, graphics support. It took only the installation of one single other package to be able to adjust brightness. There aren’t any fan problems, the wireless card worked after plugging my MacBook directly into a router and downloading the drivers (System -> Administration -> Hardware Drivers). It is mind-blowing. (Oh, and it looks like a real operating system these days, so that’s always a plus.)

So what I’m saying here is this: if you have a MacBook of any kind and you’ve been afraid to Linux it up, don’t be. Find your MacBook model in this list and be amazed at what Ubuntu can do these days.

The Ubuntu of tomorrow

Okay, so this has been a terribly optimistic post – possibly because my head is still reeling at the amount of MacBook support that appeared seemingly out of thin air in the past year. But there’s still work to be done.

For one thing, the touchpad is… weird. Not much more weird than it is running Boot Camp for Windows, but still weird. It’s extremely sensitive, but if I use traditional mouse utilities to decrease the sensitivity even a little it detects only one tap out of five. And supposedly Ubuntu shuts off your trackpad whenever you’re typing, but this is only true if you’re typing without any breaks whatsoever, and I can’t find a way to customize the wait time between “touchpad off” and “touchpad o– hey, where’d that paragraph go?”

For another, the battery life sucks. I can’t figure it out. Especially since I can dim the screen in Ubuntu far more than I can in Windows. Go figure?

Still, it’s a comfortable experience with an external mouse and the touchpad shut off. And that’s good enough for me – I’ve moved from virtualizing Ubuntu in Windows to virtualizing Windows in Ubuntu. It’s not my OS of choice when I’m going mobile, but if I’m just sitting plugged in somewhere, hell yeah Ubuntu.

In summary, thanks Ubuntu for being awesome. Now I can get back to writing!

Solve the right problem

“A great solution to the wrong problem will always fail,” says Nielsen Norman Group’s Sarah Gibbons in her three-minute video on “User Need Statements in Design Thinking.” Nielsen Norman Group consults on website usability. However, much of what Gibbons discusses applies to other written materials, too.

User need statement

Gibbons defines a user need statement as “An actionable problem statement used to summarize who a particular user is, the user’s need, and why the need is important to that user.” Understanding this information will help you write better communications of all kinds. That includes blog posts, articles, white papers, and even emails.

It interested me that she spoke about the need to empathize with the user.

More resources

If you prefer to learn from written materials instead of video, check out Gibbons’ article on “User Need Statements: The ‘Define’ Stage in Design Thinking.”

To learn about my approach to understanding your audience, read my blog post on identifying “What problem does this blog post solve for them?” and my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 

The image in the upper left is courtesy of Free photobank torange.biz [CC BY-SA 4.0].

The post Solve the right problem appeared first on Susan Weiner's Blog on Investment Writing.

BEANSTALKER and OTHER HILARIOUS SCARY TALES by Kiersten White / Book Review #BeanStalker

By: Kiersten White
Published by: Scholastic
Released on: July 25th, 2017
Ages: 8 & up
Purchase Links
Add it to Goodreads
Rating: 5 Owlets
An arc of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review

What about, once upon a time, a bunch of fairy tales got twisted around to be completely hilarious, a tiny bit icky, and delightfully spooky scarytales; in other words, exactly what fairy tales were meant to be. Grab some flaming torches, maybe don’t accept that bowl of pease porridge, and get ready for a wickedly fun ride with acclaimed author Kiersten White and fairy tales like you’ve never heard them before.

Snow White is a vampire, Little Red Riding Hood is a zombie, and Cinderella is an arsonist — and that is only some of the mayhem the reader will find in this collection of fractured fairy tales.

A laugh out loud debut middle grade book from one of my favorite YA authors. Kiersten White has created my favorite mix of fractured fairytales and nursery rhymes to date! I loved the way she intertwined, and interconnected so many classics, and the spin she gave each one. If having vampires, zombies and stepmothers isn’t enough to entice you, the illustrations, and the narration will be. 

This is the perfect blend of fairytales and nursery rhymes. Who knew you could combine stories like Snow White, The Princess and the Pea, Jack & Jill, The Dish and The Spoon, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack Be Nimble, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Stepmother. White’s intertwining of these stories was awesome! Numerous times while reading this book I wondered how White was able to pull this off so well. 

The narration in this story is my favorite part of the entire book. Talk about sassy! The narrator definitely stole the show in this book. It’s what made this story so much fun to read. It’s not just their self awareness that makes the narrator so appealing either. The narrator would make a great language arts teacher. Numerous times in this story the narrator points out the homonym and homophone words that characters miss. Like The Princess and The Pea. Let’s just say it’s not, well, you wouldn’t want to sleep on that mattress. This narration definitely makes for the perfect, hilarious, read aloud. 

This book is a must read! It’s equal parts hilarious, and spooky, though it is way more hilarious than spooky. It’s spooky in the best way possible, because some of these characters are not the sweet, innocent characters we all grew up reading about. The spooky twists come from some of them being vampires and zombies. This may be written for middle grade readers, but it will definitely be appealing to all readers ages 8 and up. Including adults. It was part of my Halloween read up earlier this week, but this is one book that can be read all year long. 

Describing an interview-based assignment to writers

Recently a company contacted me to write an interview-based post for its blog. I’ve often done this for blog posts that show off the expertise of the company’s staff. However, what was unusual about this request was that I’d need to interview experts outside the company for the post. The need to find external experts makes an interview-based assignment more time-consuming and less attractive to writers. It’s more like writing a magazine article than a typical content marketing piece.

I learned later that the company’s marketing director had omitted an important piece of information when it described its interview-based assignment. It could have reduced my qualms about accepting an assignment requiring interviews of external experts. I describe it below.

The challenges of using external experts

Using external experts is challenging for two reasons.

First, it takes time to find and schedule them. If the writer doesn’t know relevant experts, a good deal of networking may be required to find them. That’s especially true if there’s no trade association or other group where such experts gather.

Scheduling can be more challenging than when working with a company’s internal experts. Internal experts are motivated to participate for the good of their employer (though they still can be challenging to schedule, but that’s another story). External experts don’t feel a pressing need for your company to succeed at its marketing.

Second, the experts may not wish to use their expertise on behalf of the company that’s your client. It’s generally less prestigious to appear on a corporate blog or in a corporate magazine than in a publication that’s perceived as independent. Also, the expert may worry about appearing to endorse the products or services offered by your client. On the other hand, some corporate publications don’t quote experts by name. That’s even worse because the expert gets no visibility in exchange for sharing insights.

The missing information

After I turned down the interview-based assignment, I learned that the marketing director had unwittingly withheld a piece of information that would have made it more attractive. He told me that he planned to find experts for the writer. That was potentially a big timesaver for the writer.

Of course, just naming experts isn’t enough. For the reasons mentioned above, experts may not want to help a corporate publication. However, if you’re a marketer assigning articles, and you can promise cooperative sources to your outside writers, that’s a big plus. Don’t hide that; feature it!

Of course, there’s other information that writers will seek, including:

  • Your topic, defined as specifically as possible
  • Pay
  • Word count
  • Place of publication
  • Target audience and why they’ll care about your topic
  • Your timeline and editing process

When you provide complete information up front, you’ll get a more realistic price from your writer. Also, the entire writing and editing process will go more smoothly.

The post Describing an interview-based assignment to writers appeared first on Susan Weiner's Blog on Investment Writing.

A modern fable: Where the Product Owner role came from

This story is a fictional account of how the Product Owner / Customer role may have come about. It’s purpose is to illustrate why so many companies have so many problems with this role.  After the fable, the article continues with some examples showing what some companies are doing differently.

Once upon a time there was a team implementing software. They had just been staffed to a new large project which would be released as a series of releases. They met with the Business Analyst to learn the requirements of the first release. They developed a solution, then showed it to the Project Sponsor. The Project Sponsor was not happy. “This is not what I want”, he said. “You will have to redo these 3 parts completely.” And so the team reworked those parts, showed them to the Project Sponsor, and life was good.

The team started the next release, and the same thing happened. The Project Sponsor liked some of what they did, but other parts they had to completely rework.

One day when the Project Sponsor was not happy, the team said in frustration, “If you are not happy with this then come and sit with us and show us just what you want us to do”. The Project Sponsor agreed and sat with the team for a couple of days until the problems were fixed. Everyone was happy.

The team said, “This worked so well, come and sit with us all the time and tell us what to do.” The Project Sponsor said, “I cannot possibly do that, I have another job”. So the team said, “Then send us someone you trust completely to tell us what to do and agree that if our work is acceptable to that person then you will also accept the work.” The Project Sponsor agreed to do that for the next release.

The Project Sponsor sent one of the best of his staff to sit with the team full time for the whole release cycle. This was just as good as having the Project Sponsor sit with the team. When the Project Sponsor saw the finished work, he was happy.

The team said, “This is the way we should always work. There should never be someone between us and the Project Sponsor, though having one of his best people worked out.” And the Project Sponsor thought, “This is not sustainable. I cannot give up my best people forever”, but he said nothing because everything was in fact working for this project and he would worry about how to address the issue later on a different project.

That team was led by someone influential in the software development community, someone who did a lot of writing and speaking at conferences, and so the word spread. Teams with the same frustrations embraced this model and insisted on it with their Project Sponsors. A short term fix born out of frustration and immediate need, that was not grounded in root cause analysis, became a recommended solution for everyone.

Unfortunately, this story did not have a happy ending. When that project was finished and the product released to end users, they rejected it. It did not meet their needs. One thing the Business Analyst had done was work with the end users, so by removing that person from the team, there was no one looking out for the end users. The Project Sponsor and his staff were not in touch with actual end users and their needs. Ultimately this project was a failure that wasted millions of the company money.

This model of the customer sitting full time with the team, that was an impulsive solution to the problem of the team having to do rework due to the Project Sponsor being unhappy with the results, introduced two intractable problems:

  1. It is not sustainable for the business to remove Project Sponsors or members of their staff from their day-to-day work to sit full time with an implementation team to tell them what to do.
  2. It removes the voice of the end users from the project (UX as it exists today is too much about design and not enough about the actual human beings using the product. It is insufficient.)

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What is needed is a determination of the root cause of the initial problem and fix that.  Since this is a fable, we can only guess at the root causes. These are some things I have seen in my career that have caused exactly the problems described above:

  • The Project Sponsor changed their mind at some point and did not communicate the new requirements to the Business Analyst.
  • The Business Analyst spent too much time with the end users and did not cross check the information with the Project Sponsor.
  • The Business Analyst was not trained or know how to do the role.
  • The development team ignored what they were told by the Business Analyst.
  • The development team did not review documentation provided by the Business Analyst.

I am seeing a number of different approaches to resolving these issues.

Microsoft recently published some articles about the 5 year Agile journey they have been conducting in their developer division. They have found they need 2 Program Managers for each team of about 10 implementers. (A Program Manager combines the responsibilities of Product Manager, Business Analyst, and Product Owner.) This allows each one to spend half their time on the work they need to do on the business side and half their time with the Agile team.

Menlo Innovations does custom programming. Their customers are other companies.  The customer is not on-site, the users are not on-site. Menlo has High-Tech Anthropology teams who coordinate the work between the customer, end users, and their own XP teams. Each XP team has a pair of Solution Anthropologists working with them.

A lot of projects still have a traditional Business Analyst role. But they understand that they have to train and mentor their Business Analysts. They do not just put any warm body in the role if they want that person to be effective. They typically train their Business Analysts in a broad range of skills, including things such as mediation, negotiation, and effective communication.

I just talked with a Business Analyst today who recently got a top award from her company for effectively negotiating the requirements and release schedule between the business unit that was the customer, the actual end users, and the Agile IT team implementing the solution. This was a very tricky situation, and she was personally credited for making it work to everyone’s advantage.  She is highly trained in not only Business Analysis but also in Sociology and Leadership.

In all three of these examples, the team is not getting input from one person (the customer, the Product Owner). Rather the team is getting input from the customer and many, many users filtered through one or two people who directly interact with the team.

At Microsoft, the Program Managers are responsible for being closely in touch with the market and the end users, and they bring that knowledge with them when they sit with the team. The same is true of the Solution Anthropology teams at Menlo and the well-trained experienced Business Analysts I meet.

We do not have to remove a business SME or Project Sponsor from their full-time jobs to make Agile work. We need to provide trained, experienced people who know how to negotiate the best results for the customer, the users, and the teams who implement the solutions.