Friday, June 28, 2013

RRTI Summer Schedule

Hi Happy Readers of RRTI!

I wanted to keep you apprised of some slight changes you may have noticed around here. Summer is upon us which means, among other things, my husband is home! This is amazing news for the Rivera household, but it also makes the days fly by in a flurry of exciting "do nothing" days. I have noticed, in the past, that this has a direct impact on my blogging. Rather than beat myself up and berate myself all year about the epic fail of a summer turn out I had, I created a compromise with myself that I am happy with. During the summer months I will aspire to two to three posts per week (though I won't hold myself back from more, if it fits my schedule), rather than aspire to five posts a week (as I strive to do most of the year). This is a manageable goal and something that won't leave my husband feeling neglected. On that note, I didn't want you to feel like you were being neglected either, which is why I am sharing this personal negotiation with you.

How does your schedule change in the summer?
Is it schedule shift your are happy with, or is the winter a happier time? 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Prepping For Camp

I never went to summer camp as a child. We had a big swimming pool in our backyard and the rest of the neighborhood used us as camp. We used to jokingly call our house "The Vaiana Cabana" for all of its summer frivolity. When I was in college mom had the pool taken out in favor of a more practical two car driveway. I didn't argue as I knew I'd moving on in life soon enough and would have to find a home with a pool of my own.

Fast forward more than a decade later and here I am, in the same house with no pool to speak of and summer looming over me. I finally need camp!

Perhaps that's why I find myself so excited that Camp NaNoWriMo is back again this July! Next week I'll be packing up all of my idle time and shipping it off to writing land. Of course, this will probably slow up my reading a bit and, in turn, my reviewing, but hopefully not detrimentally because I have been enjoying it immensely!

Right now I am in the prepping stages. I'm gathering support in my virtual cabin with cabin mates from my online writing group as well as my "in real life" writing group. I am deciding what project I am going to work on for the month (I think I came to a conclusion on that front last night) and I am reminding my husband that the binge writing is on its way again.

Twenty four hours ago I had no idea what I was going to work on in July. Last night I pulled out my writer's notebook and began to free write. I'm excited by what it gave me. I came out of last night's work with two projects I want to work on! So now I'll just have to work out which comes first and hope I am up to the task.

I have participated in two other NaNoWriMos. I have two completed first drafts as a result. I was tempted to take this time to rework one of them. There are good stories buried under all the crappy writing, I just know it. However, through each process I have learned so much about how to approach this and I want to walk in to this project with those educated eyes. We'll see where it takes me. 

If you, too, are planning on taking the plunge into NaNoWriMo binge writing, let me know - the more the merrier in terms of support staff.

For now, I am going to do some more laundry and bake some writing brownies so I am free from distraction in July and full of sugary energy.

What do you think of these writing challenges?
Have you taken one on yourself? If so, what was the result of your commitment?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

MG Book Review and Giveaway - Tales From Lovecraft Middle School by Charles Gilman

Note: The book(s) written about in the following blog post were given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I must admit, with all of the reading I have done, I still have not gotten around to reading any H.P. Lovecraft (do not throw things at me!). However, if they are as fun and as imaginative as Charles Gilman's series Tales From Lovecraft Middle School, then it is high time I get my act together and read.

Last year, when I first received a copy of Professor Gargoyle to review, I was a bit skeptical. I thought to myself, This might be sute for kids, but I doubt I'll like it. I couldn't have been more wrong. The stories are fun, funny and creepy! As a massive Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I love the whole idea of monsters and demons finding their way into school with only a few "knowing" students understanding why or how to defend against them.

About the Story

The summer before Robert Arthur goes to middle school his neighborhood got redistricted. Now he's headed off to Lovecraft Middle School while the rest of his friends are going to Franklin Middle School. There's nothing he can do about it, but at least his new school is state-of-the-art. The school is brand new, high tech and built with completely recycled materials. But as Robert begins his classes, creepy stuff starts happening, his science teacher is extra weird and, of course, the only kid he knows in Lovecraft is the kid that's been bullying him for years!

Through the two books I have read so far, Robert is balancing the job of being the "new kid" in school with his battle against all the things he discovers about his mysterious school.  He's relate-able and not unlike another children's book character I remember loving so much that went by the name Harry.

My Review

I'm trying not to give any spoilers away, which is why this post turning out to be is so short.  Here's the thing: I love these books. They're the types of books that are fun to read and you just want to talk to other people about. I think kids will love the story and it's accompanying art that brings the monsters vividly to life. In addition, the entire presentation of these books is fantastic - every book in the series comes with a lenticular cover that shows the transformation of the bad guy(s) in that book from human to demon. I challenge any parent to walk into a bookstore where these books are on display to see if their kid can walk by without reaction.

I highly recommend these books to middle aged kids that don't scare too easily. The scare factor isn't too high, but it has its creepy moments and it is full of monsters at school. I think that's fun, and the ending of book two definitely took me by surprise giving me goosebumps. But, let's face it, I'm terrified of E.T. I understand that every reader has their own fear threshold. I think the basic litmus test is the covers - if you can look at these creepy covers without suffering weeks of nightmares, then you are ready to read Professor Gargoyle and The Slither Sisters.


Are you ready to jump in?  If so, I have an Advanced Reader's Copy of Professor Gargoyle  that I am willing to part with as well as a copy of the lenticular that is typically a part of the cover of the hardcover released books.

To enter this giveaway, log into the rafflecopter widget below and follow the instructions. There are many ways to enter (and some ways can be done over and over again!). Good Luck!
Unfortunately, this giveaway is open to US residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How To Enjoy Your Summer Reading For School

Was this you?

For at least a month the smell of freshly cut grass was streaming through your classroom windows. The kid with really bad allergies was a miserable mess (maybe that was you!). The sun shone into every single class, screaming at you that you didn't belong inside anymore and even your teachers started to notice. Classes were less serious, teachers were celebrating every last little thing, finding excuses not to teach - to show movies, go on trips and play games. The school year was ending: NO MORE TEACHERS! NO MORE BO--

Or maybe not. Your English teacher was hell-bent on destroying your freedom. Right as you were tasting the homework-free nights laid out before you, a sheet of paper was handed out. You thought it was going to be some sort of nonsense to keep you occupied for forty minutes when the teacher began to talk about your SUMMER READING LIST!

The walls crushed in around you. How many books do I have to read? Is this guy SERIOUS? This is supposed to be my time off!

You glared at the sad soul in front of you and thought, This guy has NO LIFE. He's not going to drag me down that depressed rabbit hole!

You and your friends made a plan. You divvied up which books had been turned into movies, which ones were the shortest and found out if the summer reading assignment really required reading. You decided it didn't. You're off the hook. No summer reading required. 
Before you tear up your summer reading list, I'd like to ask you to reconsider. Reading is cool. I don't know if it started with Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games or the super-racy 50 Shades of Grey, but somewhere along the line reading became cool again. But even more than that, your summer reading is The Perfect Parent-Friendly Excuse To Hang Out With Your Friends!!

Okay, okay - HOLD ON A SECOND! - Before you say , "Thanks, Nicole! I didn't think of that! I'm just going to tell my mom that Stacey and I are 'reading' this Saturday and go to the Mall instead!"

No. I will not be a party to this infraction and deceit!

There is another way!!

Throw Book Parties!
What I am suggesting is that you and your friends (you all have to read these books, right?) pick the same books from the list to read and start a summer book club. What does this mean?
You and your friends get together and have fun talking about stuff that you're doing together!

Here's how...
  1. Pick a book. Believe it or not, this might be the hardest part. You might still be dead set on reading the shortest book, while your best friend really wants to read the book that is going to be a movie next summer. Compromise. Or... dare I say it? Read both. OKAY, OKAY! You aren't ready for that kind of leap yet... I get it.
  2. Chop the book into sections that you and your friends can read in between meetings. If you don't love reading, you might want to start small with 20-30 pages per week (or smaller if you can still finish it before the summer ends), however, if you have to read more than one book this might not do.
  3. Pick your meeting spot(s). THIS is the fun part. You can rotate between your friends' houses if everyone's comfortable with that. Or, if you want to be really adventurous, here are some other places you can go to talk about books:
    • a cafe that serves yummy things
    • a pizzeria (oh YES!), or any other food establishment (I like food)
    • an ice cream parlor (okay... let's move away from food)
    • a bookstore or library (STOP yawning!)
    • while getting a mani-pedi (I know guys that do this too)
    • at the pool or BEACH 
    • at the park
    • the list goes on... if it is a place you can talk, then it is a place for your "meeting" (stop thinking of meetings as boring things and start thinking of them as parties)
  4. Pick the dates for your "meetings." This will all depend on how much you need to read and how fast you want to do it. It will also depend on any vacations your friends' families may have planned. You guys should pick the dates together to make sure everyone can make it. 
  5. Talk about the book. This is what you do at the "meetings" (in addition to laughing, snapping pictures of each other, and whatever else happens when this group hangs out). Things you can talk about are:
    • Do you like the book? (It's okay if you hate it.)
    • Does the cover do a good job of representing the story?
    • Were you surprised by anything or is this story way too predictable?
    • Which characters do you like? Which do you hate (and why)? Do you wish any of these people really existed? Do the characters remind you of anyone in real life? Do you have a book crush? (This happens to me all the time.)
    • Is there anything confusing to you? I can't tell you how many times a book was cleared up for me just because I talked to someone else about it!
    • What would you have done if you were in the main character's place?
    • Is this story believable?
    • What do you think will happen next?
    • You get the point, I think. Basically, talk about the book!
  6. Plan a book-end party. When you are done with the book(s), celebrate in your meeting. Also, if your summer reading assignment is a project of some sort (instead of a test when you return to school), why not work on it with your book buddies? This is not cheating. This is smart working. 
    The thing is, book groups are popular for a reason - it's fun hanging out with awesome people. Who's awesomer than your friends? (Duh! No one! ...except me, maybe). Stop thinking about your summer reading assignment as terrible homework and some sort of summertime torture, and transform it into an excuse to have fun.

    Book Party Rules: 
    Book groups are loads of fun, but all parties have some sort of rules. These aren't too bad, but I think they are important to making sure that your book parties don't turn into some sort of book drama:

    1. There should always be at least one copy of the book at a meeting. This is helpful when you want to talk about something specific, but can't remember it exactly. 
    2. The book group meeting time is devoted to book talk. I'm not saying that you are not allowed to stray to other topics (I think it would be impossible to stop you!), but you should devote at least 20-30 minutes to book talk. Then do whatever.
    3. Everyone has to read in order to come to the book club meeting. (**NOTE: Let all of your friends know about this rule beforehand so they don't think you are just trying to avoid them every time you have a book party!) This can be rough. Let's say you're planning a beach book party and your friend wants to come who is reading another book for the summer, or (GASP!) not reading a summer book at all - you have four choices:
      1. HARSH: Dear Dude, You are not invited.
      2. SEMI-HARSH: Dude, Borrow my book and read up to page 60, that's what we'll be talking about.
      3. COMPROMISE: Dude, Do you mind coming at 12:30, after we finished talking about our book?
      4. YOU ARE A PUSHOVER (this is usually me): Dude, be there at 12, but take a tan or jump in the water while we're talking about our book, okay? 
    What If None of Your Friends Think This Is A Good Idea?

     So let's just say that, by some miracle, I have sold you on this idea. You are super excited about reading at least one of your summer reading books with someone else, but when you ask your friends about it, they think you're nuts. It might happen.

    First of all, you are not nuts.

    Secondly, don't stop at your friends in your school. Maybe someone who isn't assigned the same reading wants to have a book party with you. Ask family members, teammates, or internet buddies! And, if all that fails...

    I love reading. I will be your book buddy. You can let me know in the comments section, or email me... whatever. Maybe we will get a group of Internet strangers to be the Summer Reading Book Club! Stranger things have happened.

    Whatever you decide, give books a chance... HAVE FUN and HAPPY READING!

    What books are on your summer reading list (assigned or personal)?
    For those of you who are beyond the binds of assigned reading - did you do your assigned reading in the past? Any great book memories? Any regrets?

    This blog post is dedicated to Brittany who is desperately trying to avoid her summer reading, but made the hilarious mistake of talking about it in my presence! ;)

    Friday, June 21, 2013

    Audiobook Review - Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

    Shop Indie Bookstores
    My younger brother started reading Escape from Camp 14 about a month ago. My brother is the type of guy who only reads nonfiction or military based stories. He's a former marine, current police officer and he is infused with a quest for global justice. He watches news channels and the History Channel incessantly, always questioning the actions of the past, the present and constantly demanding that we, as Americans, step up to do what is right in every corner of the planet. He was incensed by what he was reading in Camp 14. He called me daily, regaling me with horrific tales from its pages and demanding that I read this book. I told him I couldn't. I told him I wouldn't. I told him that it would just upset me.

    And then I thought about that. Was that a good reason for me to turn my back on the realities of the world around me? I decided it wasn't. I found the audiobook in my library (using the AWESOME OverDrive APP to download it directly to my iPhone) and borrowed it. I opted for audio for two reasons: (1) it takes me forever to read nonfiction, and (2) if it took too long to read I was sure I would walk away from it.

    When I was in high school we read Night by Elie Wiesel. Before that I had read Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl in middle school. Both terrified me. Both books made me question humanity. However, both of those stories existed in a past so  far removed from my life that I could live knowing it was a mistake we all learned from. I told myself that humanity knew better and that the global community would never allow something like that to happen again.

    I don't know if you have picked this up yet from reading my blog, but even at thirty-six years of age, I am still terribly naive.

    I am so happy I listened to this book. Although, "happy" doesn't seem to be the right word for a book that is so upsetting. Here's the thing... this book is an important read. This tragedy is going on right now on our planet and it is horrifying to contemplate. It is so easy to think that our world has progressed past such injustices when we live in cities whose major political battles are over soda sizes, but it is not. Right now, this very moment, there are people in political prisons in North Korea. Some of those people, like Shin Dong-hyuk, were born there and know nothing of our world - in fact they know nothing of their own country: they know only the prison. They know only hunger. They know only deceit, punishment and pain.

    About the Book 

    If you have not heard of Escape From Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, here is a brief description:
    North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. It is also armed with nuclear weapons. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin's Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. Very few born and raised in these camps have escaped. But Shin Donghyuk did.
    In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin's life unlocks the secrets of the world's most repressive totalitarian state. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence-he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden's harrowing narrative of Shin's life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world's darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.
    My Review

    In my opinion, Escape From Camp 14 is a must-read. Blaine Harden, who wrote the book and narrates the audiobook, does an excellent job of steeping Shin's story in facts about North Korea's politics, government and economy enabling readers to have as clear a picture as possible of what goes on behind the mysterious borders of North Korea. I appreciated the fact that Harden admitted his own skepticism about all of what Shin had to tell. His straight-talk reporting style of conveying this story provided a perfect balance to a story that is already full of enough drama and horror in its truth.

    Right now, Shin Dong-hyuk's story is one of a kind. There has been no documented case of a person who was born and raised in these camps escaping. There has been no one to tell this story. It has remained a dark and evil secret. Read this book. Tell others to read this book. This is not a secret that should be kept.
    Though I know not what to do, this book makes me think of this quote.

    Have you read Escape From Camp 14? What did you think?
    Have you ever shied away from a book because it was "too real"? If so, which book was it?
    Shop Indie Bookstores

    Wednesday, June 19, 2013

    YA Book Review and Giveaway: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

    Note: The book(s) written about in the following blog post were given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

    The first time I saw the cover of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children my skin crawled with creepy curiosity. This is one book whose cover begs you to take a closer look. Once you do, even a quick flip through the pages delivers even more mystery as it is filled with approximately fifty black and white peculiar pictures of children from the past. In fact, I never had such a response to an Instagram photo of what I was reading as I did when I first shared a shot of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children! Immediately, my friends were asking what the book was about, what I thought of it and if I could take a pic of the back cover so they could read what this book was all about for themselves. Ransom Riggs, the author of Miss Peregrine's, is a former film student who uses still photos to inspire a tale that takes its readers on a journey across the world and through time to a mysterious island and an even more mysterious home. 

    You know how sometimes there is a perfect time to read a book? Well, as I read Miss Peregrine's in these past weeks, Staten Island happened to be overcome with gray skies and unforgiving torrential rain storms. It was the perfect weather for reading this story. As Jacob, our protagonist, battled his own sadness and explored the boggy land of Cairnhorn, I felt as though Ransom Riggs' writing painted the scene so well that it poured out of the pages enveloping me in my own damp environment.

    Riggs does a great job of world building in Miss Peregrine's - the island, the home and even the surrounding waters filled with shipwrecks all came vividly to life for me and are, surely, what will keep me coming back for more when its sequel, Hollow City is released next January. However, overall, something was off for me. While Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was a good book, it is not one of my favorite reads of this Spring. With that said, I am highly anticipating the sequel, as I feel that what is amiss in this book is what befalls so many "firsts in a series" - there is so much to tell just to get the whole universe right.

    Other Versions Of This Book

    The Audiobook  
    This book took me a bit longer to read than most because of the aforementioned "perfect weather" for its reading. While the storms did wonders for the setting, they wreaked havoc on my quirky health.I wanted to finish Miss Peregrine's quickly so I could share it with you, so I checked my library for the audiobook. Awesomely, it was available. Even better - it was narrated by Jesse Bernstein (I am a super-fan of his from the Percy Jackson audiobooks)! While this wouldn't have been my first option for this book, since the pictures are so much of the story (the digital version was enhanced with a file of pictures), Jesse Bernstein is an incredible narrator and does the story justice.

    The Graphic Novel
    In addition to the printed version and the audiobook, I found out at BEA that there wil also be a graphic novel version released in October. Since this is such a visual story, this adaptation makes perfect sense. I received a sample chapter from BEA and I think it is great. The original photos are embedded within the story, and the only changes made to the original narrative are edits made for easier reading. I think they were wise moves as (from what I can tell from the first chapter) the action moves along quicker and is not overwrought with too many details.  

    My Review

    Overall, I think this is going to be an exciting series to follow. The ending of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children does leave me wanting more and I feel invested in Jacob's adventure. I am still slightly uncomfortable with the unique back story of Jacob's love interest, but this is something other readers have let go of easily. In anticipation of what is to come, (not only from this series, but also from the talented Ransom Riggs) I recommend Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It is a unique novel with pictures that will haunt you long after you close it's pages.


    It's time to share the goodies! If you are ready to dive into Ransom Riggs's new world, then I want to help you get there. In this week's giveaway you can win:
    • my (slightly battered) copy of the paperback edition of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children which includes an interview with Ransom Riggs, even more creepy photos and the first pages of Hollow City, the book's sequel, AND
    • the BEA exclusive excerpt from the Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children graphic novel by Ransom Riggs with art by Cassandra Jean
    To enter use the widget below. Good Luck!
    Unfortunately, this giveaway is open to US residents only. 
    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Monday, June 17, 2013

    Why Fiction Is Dangerous

    In celebration of tomorrow's release of Neil Gaiman's latest novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, I thought I would finally take a moment to share his thoughts from BEA on why fiction is dangerous.

    On the last day of BookExpo America 2013, Neil Gaiman held a panel and Q&A session called "Why Fiction Is Dangerous" It was one of the major highlights of my trip this year. After speaking to us, at length, about what inspired his two new books, Mr. Gaiman said, "So those are the two main books I have coming out and that has nothing to do, at all, with why fiction is dangerous." The audience laughed because, I suppose, they were as engrossed as I was with everything he had told us and had completely forgotten about the promise of this panel's title.

    While the rest of the talk was filled with laughter and frivolity, the crowds offered up a respectful silence interrupted only by murmurs of consent as Neil Gaiman told us why fiction was dangerous. He said,
    • "Fiction is dangerous because it lets you into other people's heads,"
    • "Fiction isdangerous because it gives you empathy,"
    • "Fiction is dangerous because it shows you that the world doesn't have to be like the one you live in, which is incredibly dangerous for the world."
    Neil Gaiman Why Fiction Is Dangerous
    In 2007 Neil Gaiman was invited to the first officially recognized science fiction convention in China. He was curious about the country's sudden embrace of the genre, so he pulled aside one of the party officials to ask, "Science fiction has been very much frowned upon and regarded as dangerous and subversive for a very long time in China... Why have you said yes to this?" According to Gaiman, this was the man's response, "In China we are really good at making things that people bring to us... but we don't come up with them, we don't invent, we don't innovate. We went to America recently and we talked to the people at Apple, at Google, the people at Microsoft and one of the things we asked all of these people who invent and innovate was What did you read as children? And they all said, 'We read science fiction. We read fantasy. We read this stuff and thought, The world doesn't have to be like the one we are in right now. We can change it.'"

    I sat there listening to Neil Gaiman and realized how beautiful danger can be. I understood how make-believe is the gateway to possibility and I remembered how closely linked imagination is to intelligence. Fiction is dangerous, in the same way our lives are: they are both unpredictable and take us down roads we may never have dreamed of traveling. 

    I was so inspired by this talk, I created a Facebook cover to share this sentiment with all my facebook friends. Here it is, in case you wish to do the same (you can click on it so you can see it clearly without the sidebar interruption):
    Fiction is Dangerous FB Cover

    What are your thoughts on the danger of fiction?
    How has fiction inspired you to think differently about your own world?

    Tuesday, June 11, 2013

    Audiobook Giveaway!

    While you are enjoying a summer of reading, don't forget my favorite way to absorb stories: through audiobooks! Four years ago this week, I was diagnosed with a condition that had the audacity to try and steal my vision. For nearly two years, the only type of "reading" I did was with my headphones. I will forever be grateful to the audiobook industry for the beautiful escape it afforded me while I lived in recovery. Until this day, I plug into an audiobook whenever I need to truly unwind, or when my symptoms dare to steal all other pleasures away (like last night, for instance).

    In celebration of my diagnosis and my first steps on my road to recovery, I would like to share the joy of audiobooks with you, thanks to Hachette Audio. At BookExpo America at the beginning of the month, the good people of Hachette Audio shared some free audiobook downloads with me to bring to YOU! And, yes, you read that correctly: I have downloads - that's plural - for this giveaway there will be THREE winners, so your chances are even better than usual that you will win this prize.

    Here's what each lucky winner will receive:
    1. The full audiobook editions of FIVE James Patterson Books for the whole family
    -Alex Cross, Run
    -Private Berlin
    -Second Honeymoon
    -I, Funny
    -Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life 

    2. A Sampler Download including
    -a full story, "Dentists Without Borders," from David Sedaris's new collection LET'S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS
    -the entirety of Lemony Snicket's wonderful THE DARK (read by Neil Gaiman)
    -and many more great excerpts from new audiobooks 

    Does this sound like something you might be interested in? Use the widget below to enter now:

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Friday, June 7, 2013

    Books Breaking World Records

    After a long day of battling the tropical storm today, I am pretty washed out in terms of writing, imagining or even just sitting upright in front of my computer screen. Even so, I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to share with you an awesome word record captured for YouTube all in support of a summer reading program.

    As I said on my tumblr page, it is my hope to one day publish a book of my own just so it can be a part of something awesome as this. I love its simplicity, its cause and the fact that no books were actually harmed in the filming.

    What other cool and unique things have you seen done in order to raise awareness of local programs?
    **SPECIAL NOTE: A huge "Congratulations!" goes out to Amy M. for winning this week's giveaway. RUSH by Eve Silver is heading all the way to Ireland! Look out for a new giveaway this week!**

    Thursday, June 6, 2013

    Randi Zuckerberg's 10 Upcoming Trends in Social Media

    Social Media isn't new anymore. It isn't the shiny new toy that only some people were lucky enough to get a hold of when it first came out. It's out there, everyone's involved (even those who have been trying to resist for so long) and now it is evolving. Which leads to a big scary question: Evolving into WHAT?

     At the BEA Bloggers Conference Randi Zuckerberg (yes that Zuckerberg - she's facebook family) presented what she has observed as ten upcoming trends in social media today.

    1. You Are More Than What You Write

    This was primarily geared toward bloggers, in recognition that while we started out blogging with a "niche" in mind, there is undoubted more to the writer than interest in that one topic. What's more is that Randi believes our audiences are interested in that back story, the "human side." Revealing to readers what causes you are in support of, for instance, is something that will probably increase popularity, even if it isn't exactly in your niche.

    2. Brands Are Now Media Companies

    This same comment was made at another panel at BEA.  All brands are becoming media moguls on their own. Randi presented us with a screen shot of the Red Bull Facebook page pointing out how they create, or curate, their own media content daily to keep their customers entertained. This may seem ordinary to you, but step back for a moment, think about that: Red Bull is a beverage company. They are supposed to focus on making DRINKS, not videos!

    3. People Will Pay For Premium Content

    With the over saturation of information on the Internet, it is oftentimes difficult to find the high quality something you are looking for. High quality, premium content has suddenly become quite valuable. So valuable, in fact, people are willing to pay for it. Whether you decide to transform your informative blog into an eBook people can purchase, or, if you are ready to design a course of instruction, then you can check out to host your course.

    4. More Signal, Less Noise

    This goes out to the curators. In other words, all of us. We each curate the stuff that is of interest to us. Those who come before us and have curated it already are godsends. Randi pointed to her favorite blog, Red Tricycle, which lists family friendly activities for her. Now she doesn't have to search all over the Internet looking for them herself, she just goes to one site that curated for her. Ask yourself: What can you be a curator of so that others can just seek you out?

    5. Images Speak Louder Than Words

    Don't worry readers and writers, I'm not saying that images replace words here, but in the big wide world of the Internet, they do stand out. Even if you are a writer, you need to embrace this. Get on Instagram and use some images to draw readers in. Post your links in the descriptions.

    6. Think Of Yourself As An Entrepreneur

    Randi said that even large companies are giving their employees some time to think this way during regular work hours. There is something rewarding about working for yourself and designing your own projects. The Internet is full of passionate people working on projects they are interested in.

    7. The @reply is the new autograph

    I can attest to this myself. I nearly flipped my lid last week when @neilhimself (Neil Gaiman) tweeted me. The same thing happened earlier this year when @realjohngreen (John Green) tweeted me. For the twenty seconds it took each of them to write to me, they knew I existed. This is the equivalent of the autograph experience. Take a screen capture of the event and you're golden! For those of you who are published authors, please don't undervalue the impact of a simple @reply to one of your readers!

    8. Gamification of Everything

    I've been on board with this for awhile. In my classroom, I tried to change as many things into a game for my students as I could tolerate. There were some people who would criticize me for this practice since I was teaching high school. They'd say my students were "too old" for that. Now I sit back and laugh as I see the APPs created for adults which reward you for going for your run or shame you when you don't go to the Gym.

    9. Video for Storytelling

    I am very new to Vine, but I can see the draw. You are put to the task of telling a story in six seconds. It is highly addicting to watch because you don't think you are wasting any time just watching six seconds of video, and it is fascinating to see what people do with it. One blogger said she made six second books reviews on her Vine account.

    10. Etiquette and Digital Detox

    As much as we all love the Internet, social media and all of hour connections, part of the evolution is recognition of the fact that there is a time and a place. We love our modern day conveniences, yet long for an unplugged life. There are hotels that will lock up your cell phones while you are on vacation (not sure how I would take pictures!) and other services you can hire to help your family with a digital detox. However you choose to do it, the fact is, if you are thinking about it, you are not alone.

    Wednesday, June 5, 2013

    IWSG: The Reality Behind The Fiction

    One of the amazing perks of spending time at BEA (BookExpo America), is the opportunity to meet authors, see them speak and to learn from them. Last week I tried to get to as many panels with authors speaking as possible. On this trip there appeared to be one main lesson the fates wanted me to learn: most fiction (if not all) is born out of reality. I suppose this is something I knew one way or another, but I had deluded myself in the sense of how much of a reality can still be alive in the words and worlds of a fictional tale once it is done.

    Sara Farizan is the author of a YA novel called If You Could Be Mine that is coming out this August. This will be her novel and while I have not started reading my copy of it, I am looking forward to it. It is the story of a seventeen year old Iranian girl, Sahar. Sahar is gay and has been in love with her best friend since she was six years old. The story centers around her family dealing with this reality, while also trying to protect her, in Iran where homosexuality is a crime, but sex reassignment is legal and accessible.

    When Sara introduced herself to the crowd who came to see her speak, she began with, "I'm super gay," and, as you may have already guessed, she is Iranian. Sara wrote the story of what could have been her own life if her parents hadn't moved to America. She went back to Iran to research the world she could have lived in and wrote what could have been her life story.

    When it came time for me to see the author I waited all week for, the lesson sang true again as Neil Gaiman spoke about the inspiration for his new novel, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. This was particularly compelling to me, as I tend to think of Mr. Gaiman as a fantasy writer. Again, the idea that works of fiction are based in reality is not one that is new to me, but when Neil spoke of the farm down the lane from his childhood home, the secrets his father kept from him and the family he always dreamed of writing about - all of these things that didn't just feel like the shadow of a basis for a story, but true stories in their own rights, I began to see how much one's reality can safely bleed into their work without it being memoir. I began to understand that one's story can mark the first steps in the "once upon a time..."

    I started to wonder why I have been working so hard to try and make stuff up. I began to wonder what about my ordinary life could be transformed into extraordinary fiction. Is there something in my past? Something I observed, or lived, that is waiting to be fictionalized?

    The answers to those questions are, of course: yes and yes. The bigger question this insecure writer has to ask herself, then, is, Am I ready to tell those stories? That is the hard part.

    I am nervous about diving into that end of the pool, but when I think of those I saw this week, I realize that this leap of courage can come at any moment. Sara Farizan is a debut novelist who used her life as inspiration for her MFA thesis. Perhaps she was brave enough because she didn't think it would reach a public audience. Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, has had this family in his head for years. He mentioned them in Stardust and The Graveyard Book before bringing their full story to life now. So I don't know if my reality will make its way to my fiction yet. I don't even think I am ready for it. However, I am worried that my fiction will continue to fail until the day I am courageous enough to fully embrace the reality that belongs there.

    When you are writing fiction, how close to your reality does your writing get?

    Tuesday, June 4, 2013

    YA Book Review and Giveaway - RUSH (The Game: Book 1) by Eve Silver

    This book went everywhere this week!
    Eve Silver's new YA book, Rush, is perhaps one of the most appropriately named books I have ever read. From page one, the action is high, the suspense is thick and the mystery is unfolding. The story eggs you on to keep turning pages no matter what else you may have planned to do for the day.

    In Rush Silver introduces us to a unique multi-ethnic protagonist, Miki Jones, who is thrust into a scifi universe while she is still trying to deal with the loss of her mother. Quickly, her alternate reality becomes more tangible than what she previously considered her "real life." It is difficult for me to write about this book without revealing spoilers along the way, but I will say that Miki, along with a team of teens also "pulled" from their reality, has been tasked with saving humanity from an alien invasion. The reasons why these particular teens have been pulled, the alien race that threatens humanity's destruction and the nature of the battles are all freshly unique to Silver's universe and, I think, will have wide appeal to both boys and girls.

    In addition to the thrill of the action throughout the story, Silver is masterful in capturing a budding young romance. The last time I think I felt so much longing for a first kiss to happen was with my own! I love that, in this YA novel, the build up to that moment was so vividly expressed throughout the pages. It was a perfect reflection of teen voice.

    My Review

    If it isn't already abundantly clear, I highly recommend this book. On Goodreads, I gave it the full five stars without reservation. For readers who enjoyed the Hunger Games, but who are ready to leave dystopian worlds behind, this is your next new read. The story combines scifi, gaming and romance as seamlessly as it lives in the world of most adolescents today.


    Rush will be released on June 11, 2013 (next Tuesday, so there are a couple of options for you to be among the first to read this book:
    • Go to a bookstore but, more specifically, if you have an indie bookstore near you, then go there and befriend your bookseller!
    • Order it online while still supporting the independent bookstores by using Indiebound to make your order.
    • WIN A FREE AUTOGRAPHED COPY FROM ME! As much as I love this book, I am willing to part with it to spread the love. If you want to enter to possibly win my autographed copy of Rush by Eve Silver, then enter unsing the RAFFLECOPTER widget below before Friday, June 7, 2013:
    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Monday, June 3, 2013

    What Are You Reading?

    When was the last time you asked someone, "What are you reading?" Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club thinks it's time we start asking this question again. It was a question that inspired an exchange that evolved into his best selling work when he asked it of his mother while accompanying her to her chemotherapy treatment. From that question, and the discussion that spurred, he and his mother began a two person book club that read over one hundred books together before she passed away.

    At the BEA Bloggers Conference, Will Schwalbe described his book tour for The End of Your Life Book Club as a crusade.  He said that we ask each other a ton of questions like "How did you sleep?" "Did you just cut in front of me on line?" and "Are you going to eat that?", but he wants us to start asking one other question a lot more often: WHAT ARE YOU READING? He wants everybody to ask everyone all the time. He told us  the following anecdote from his book tour to demonstrate the power of the question:
    One of the best messages I received from my book was from a woman I met who was a grandmother... who lived in Florida... and her grandson did not. And she described to me the following exchange:
    She said that when she called her grandson she would say, "What are you doing?" and he would say, "Nothing." She'd ask, "What are you watching?" he'd say, "Television." If she asked, "What did you eat?" he'd say, "Dinner." And when she asked, "Where are going?" he said, "Out."
    So she decided one day to ask him, "What are you reading?" There was a pause, and he said, "The Hunger Games." So what she did was that she went to her local bookseller and she bought The Hunger Games and the next time they spoke on the phone, they talked about The Hunger Games. And they were no longer a grandmother and a grandson, they were two readers embarked on a journey... She said that one simple question, "What are you reading?" transformed her relationship with her grandson. (Will Schwalbe, BEA Bloggers Conference May 29, 2013)
    I must admit, when Will told this story last Wednesday, I actually teared up. I believe in the unifying nature of reading. I believe that is what made the Twilight series so incredibly powerful - not just the story, but also the ability to be "on the same page" (so to speak) with so many other people. While the same might be said for shared conversations about television shows, or blockbuster movies, there is something much deeper and more intimate about the conversations we can have surrounding books.

    With that said, I'd like to join Will's crusade. I am asking you today: WHAT ARE YOU READING? And, in an attempt to get this conversation started, I will answer it as well.

    What I Am Reading
    While I am currently buried in books (thank you BEA!) and I have started a number of them, there is one that I am focused on finishing first. It's Rush by Eve Silver which will be released on June 11th. Rush is a YA novel with wide appeal for both boys and girls.

    The protagonist, Miki is an Asian American teen dealing with the death of her mother before she is thrust into a scifi parallel-type universe of her own. She is tasked, along with a team of other teens "pulled" out of their real lives, with battling a creepy alien race known as the Drau. As Miki gets thrust in between her ordinary real life world and her action-packed mysterious alter-life, I am fully engaged. In her real life she and her father battle with the realities set in by grief and she and her friends talk about boys, crushes and the hot new guy in school. When she gets "pulled" out of her real life there is no time to worry about any of that! She is fighting for very survival, while trying to figure a way out.

    This book has been so much fun so far. It is a real page turner and I can't seem to stop talking about it. I'm still just as confused as Miki about what is happening to her right now, but that is so much of the fun. Pair that with the tension of what seems like a YA requirement: a love triangle, and  I am set. I look forward to hearing what other people think about this book when it comes out next week, but in the meantime I am just enjoying the ride myself!

    What are YOU reading?

    Saturday, June 1, 2013

    BEA 2013 - Time to Pay It Forward!

    Have I told you how much I love you? Yes, you, reading these words right now on Rivera Runs Through It. If it were not for you, not for this blog, there would be no way for me to have experienced the magnificent weekend I just did at the BEA13 (BookExpo America 2013) in the Jacob Javits Center.

    With that said, I understand that I owe you. BIG TIME.

    It's coming. Very soon. In the form of book reviews, book giveaways and sharing of knowledge bestowed upon me over the last four days.

    I hope you're ready.

    I wish I was ready to start right now, but as I am exceedingly grateful that my body did not freak out at all during the hours of the convention as I feared (we had a couple of flare ups at night, at home, but - hey - I'll take it), I owe my body too. A long night of lazy morning Sunday kind of rest.

    But, Cynthia, who commented on the blog yesterday pointed out, I need to share pictures as well. To keep you sated for awhile, here is a link to my Instagram account (I'm fairly new to Instagram) where I tried to share as much as possible while at the convention this week (I only wish I thought of doing this sooner!): Instagram

    I hope you enjoy that for now. I know it isn't enough. You deserve so much more. You should check out the pictures to see what's on its way! Happy reading. Happy writing. And, as always, thank you for reading Rivera Runs Through It!