Category Archives: #SundayReview

#SundayReview: The Underachiever’s Manifesto by Ray Bennett

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There I go again, reading nonfiction.

My boss gave this book to my husband. At first, I’ll admit I was a little pissed. I mean, look at this book:

All I kept thinking was, great, here’s a good ol’ boy telling my husband how to get away with being a lazy ass, which he already is.


As it turns out, it’s not quite what it looks like. It is, but it isn’t.

This is a tidy little book you can read in 20-60 minutes, and it’s basically about not taking things too seriously.

The Ten Commandments of the Underachiever:

  1. Life’s too short
  2. Control is an illusion
  3. Expectations lead to misery
  4. Great expectations lead to great misery
  5. Achievement creates expectations
  6. The law of diminishing returns applies everywhere
  7. Perfect is the enemy of good
  8. The tallest blade of grass is the surest to be cut
  9. Accomplishment is in the eye of the beholder
  10. The 4% value added principle

It was an interesting little read. Much like with Crucial Conversations, though, I feel as if I know the principles, it’s just a matter of applying them. The basic principles of the book are these:

  • Don’t over-invest so much in achievements. Take the time away from your pursuit of achievement to enjoy life, spend time on your relationships, and pursue personal happiness. To ignore these things in the pursuit of accomplishments is to ruin one’s own life. In the scheme of things, our footprint on the world is a tiny thing and few people actually care what we do, whether we succeed or don’t, so don’t be miserable while you are here.
  • Being an overachiever makes people hate you and it only makes you crazy as you keep trying to achieve.
  • Being awesome in the work places only means people will try to take advantage of you and you’ll basically work yourself to death for attention.
  • Expend the proper amount of energy on the right things; that is, the things that will return the most personal reward and overall improve your life. Maybe don’t kill yourself over a deadline, but make sure you get enough sleep and do take the time to sit and have a beer with a friend, even if you’re late finishing a project on time.

I mean, in the overall scheme of the world…how great of an effect does each of us have on it?

How I Interpret This Book

I already feel as if I am doing a lot of this in my own life. My father started preaching some Alcoholics Anonymous tenets to me some years ago. “Expectations breed resentment.” Letting your happiness hinge on whether or not something goes right just sets you up for a ruined day. That statement rather changed my life. “God help me accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” In AA, this is known as the serenity prayer. It’s critically important to keep in mind as you walk about in the world. Can you change it? Can you control it? Because most things, we cannot. The one thing we are in control of is our attitude and our reaction to such adversity.

For example, I cannot change the terrible decisions my mom continues to make. She’s autonomous. She will have to fix this herself. What I can do is seek to control the pain it is causing in me. I can let go, and I’m working on that.

I have goals set for 2017 to dial back my work stress, learn to say no more, relax, and pour more into writing. Yeah, I want to achieve book completion, but really want I want out of that is the joy I get from creating. Writing balances me.

Furthermore, I think that Writer Sam holds true to all of the commandments in the Underachiever’s Manifesto. I know I’m not in the top 5%, and no amount of effort is going to put me there. Some people are just more gifted than me, more practiced than me. I’ll just keep doing my best and be happy that anyone is reading what I write.

I don’t have expectations about how my book is going to sell. It’s just there in case someone wants to read it, and occasionally I like to remind people of that. I have a job that pays me pretty well, so it’s not like I need the money that badly. I write for me, and I write for you. I don’t write for profit. Profit is just a nice little bonus once in a while. It is my true belief that most everyone that reads my books will enjoy them. That is why they exist. I believe by me NOT pushing them, my actions speak to that.

I think everybody should read this book. It takes almost no time at all and is briefly brilliant at providing a little dose of perspective.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in printand short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out our #SundayReview category to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!


#SundayReview: Salt in the Water by J. Ray & S. Cushaway

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I have about a billion books in progress on my reading list. It’s kind of cool because it means I am reading a lot more than I used to, but it also means I finish pretty slowly. But if I don’t finish, I don’t get to write reviews! BUMMER.

I knew pretty early on that I WANTED to review this one, though, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to finish it. It became my commute book, and I read it on my half hour to and from work (my roommate drives us in). And last night, I finally finished.

A while back, I mentioned I was invited to be a part of a Book Launch Party. It was my first one, and I was tickled to have been included. As part of the event, I was given this free copy of Sarah Cushaway’s debut novel, SALT IN THE WATER (Lesser Dark: Book 1).

How I Found This Little Gem

Sarah is a Traverse City author. Whenever possible, I like to be able to help out my peers. We support each other when we can, through NaNoWriMo and beyond. So when she gave me her book, I was thrilled. I haven’t met a lot of TC authors who write fantasy (which is pretty much all I will read). However, it was a little slanty-like from my usual fare. I warned her of this, as I have found it increasingly difficult to enjoy fantasy lately. It all starts to look the same after a while, and I quickly get bored and put the book down.

Sarah assured me that this would be a little different. SALT IN THE WATER is a “Weird Western,” a subgenre that takes elements from Westerns and combines them with another. This book is basically a fantasy novel set in a fictional border town. I was intrigued enough to give it a shot, but Western isn’t really my thing, either, and I went into the book skeptical. What I love about fantasy is how far removed it is from the modern world. I don’t want to be anywhere near it.

But, for friends and fellow TC writers, I’ll try my damndest. Represent.

The Plot

The blurb for this book is as follows:

There are a thousand ways to die in the desert—desperate outlaws, deadly predators, murderous elements, and betrayal. . .

Kaitar Besh, a veteran scout as legendary for his cynicism as his skills, is ordered to brave the deadly Shy’war-Anquai desert one last time. Escorting Leigh Enderi—a greenhorn Enforcer with a reputation as shady as his own—he soon realizes the ghosts of his past have come to haunt more than his nightmares.

When the mission breaks down in the wake of bitter hatred and mistrust, even Kaitar’s fabled skills may not be enough to bring them home again. Stranded in the red wasteland without contact, food, or water, they uncover a betrayal that could bring all they hold dear crumbling to the dust. . . and tear down the wall of lies surrounding them.

Basically, the plot follows a small group sent to investigate the disappearance of a fellow Enforcer, and while they are tracking him in the desert, conflict happens. Meanwhile, all around them is a multilayered battle over territory, and power and authority is shifting hands. Of course, when you’re isolated out in the desert and cut off from communications, it’s kind of hard to keep your finger on the pulse of politics, so nasty surprises abound.

It reminded me quite a bit of Mad Max. Water is important. Whoever has it is king. There are guns and sand rovers. And somewhere in the desert there are sand pirates who will kill you and take all of your stuff, and maybe eat you. Not to mention the desert is dangerous anyway.

What I Liked

Sarah was right. This is a bit of a departure from typical fantasy fare. Actually, it has a little more science fiction in it than I was expecting.

There are multiple races, and they generally hate each other. There are the usual humans and races of sentient humanoids collectively referred to as Enetics (although to be fair, one of the Enetic races is basically velociraptors called Threk, which I am totally fine with). There’s a universal mistrust of Enetics that’s strikingly relevant to the modern age, although there are some that are able to look past that. The border town of Dogton keeps quite a few Enetics employed, for which the city’s leader is given a lot of shit.

I quite enjoyed the interactions between the races. There’s a deep hatred between Leigh’s people and Kaitar’s people, the Sulari and Shyiine, respectively, which causes a lot of strife as they travel together, despite the fact that neither of them are particularly fond of their own people. Both of them have some deep issues and neither of them ever want to talk about it until they want to fight about it.

I love the Shyiine. The two that appear in the story, Kaitar and Senqua, are both entertainingly pissy. Kaitar is like a harassed school chaperone. He’s out there like, “Don’t touch anything, don’t lick anything, don’t wander off” but no one wants to listen to him. He’s used to being on his own, so having to keep two other people from getting themselves killed is exasperating and amuses me. Senqua is a greenhorn scout paired up with a total drunk. She’s a constantly boiling over fury because she wants to learn and basically has to figure it all out on her own. I get the feeling that at some point her mentor was better to her, but now she’s disgusted. It has created this interesting dynamic where she won’t let him drink himself to death and is oddly protective, even though she is constantly bitching, like she can’t help herself.

I love irritable characters. And SALT IN THE WATER has tons of them. I was also quite fond of Zres, but I’ll leave him for you to discover.

It’s often difficult when writing such a large cast of characters to keep them all separate, different, and interesting, but this book absolutely nails that. There are plenty of unique character-character interactions. A book is supposed to make you feel like there was a story before this and there will be a story after it, and maybe there is more story running in the background. It’s supposed to be real, like you’ve landed smack dab in the middle of everyone’s personal dramas. This did not fail to deliver on that.

What I Didn’t Like

Surprisingly little. Usually I’ll have some kind of complaint about writing style and believability of character development, maybe worldbuilding, but nah.

If anything, I’m left wanting to know more about Kaitar’s past. There are little bits and pieces in flashbacks and nightmares but not the full picture. There keep being hints at some kind of dark, horrible secret from his fighting pit days. I get the feeling it’s all in the second book (which has yet to be released), but I was impatient for it now. Same with Leigh’s backstory. There’s a little of it.

And I really, really want to know who Verand was, really. In this book he’s sort of a shadow of his former self but he was apparently a pretty big fucking deal.

Oh, and maybe it was the copy I received or something in formatting translation to my MOBI reader on my phone, but there were quite a few missing periods. I’m smart enough to figure out when a sentence ends. It wasn’t even distracting enough to slow me down, but worth mentioning I suppose.


I’m definitely looking forward to book two. It’s called GHOSTS IN THE GLASS.

I have no idea when it’s released, but I follow Sarah on Twitter and I’ll be looking out for it.

SALT IN THE WATER was a great detour from my usual book fodder. I kept snorting and laughing out loud at some of the arguments the characters had and I couldn’t stop telling my roommate about what was going on. I’m trying to get him to read it now.

This book is free. You should totally pick it up. And then review it, because that’s what you do to support the artists that you like.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in printand short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out our #SundayReview category to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!

#SundayReview: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

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Today, I bought my first audiobook. Soon after, I bought the second. I’ve been working on my set aside love for reading. 2016 was better for that. 2017 is going to be even better. Part of my effort in fixing the deficiency is where I put books. I have books in every nook and cranny now. One by the bed, one in the bathroom, one at work for my breaks. Last year I bought my first smart phone, and I put books on my phone for when I get stuck places.

This year, I’m trying to expand into audiobooks. It lets me ‘read’ when I would be otherwise unable. I travel a lot for work, going 2-4 hours each way for meetings. I go to Iowa once a year and Chicago once a year. Audiobooks presented a logical choice. Add that to my growing distaste for the radio and my utter disgust for the state of politics.

I should have done this sooner, honestly.

I’ve been eyeballing The Slow Regard of Silent Things for quite a long time now. Honestly, the only reason I haven’t bought it already is solely because it’s short. The price tag on books being what it is, I didn’t want to shell out for a book I could finish in an hour. But I spend my book profits on non-practical things, so slightly expensive short books might have been something I would buy. I put Slow Regard in my shopping cart a few times, and then I took it back out.

This morning, the first Audiobook I downloaded for my two hour drive was The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, another compendium of awesome I haven’t had the chance to read yet. Unfortunately, being 16+ hours long made it a long download, and I wasn’t going to be able to finish downloading it before I hit the road this morning.

It was the perfect moment for rash decisions.

Because I NEEDED a book on this drive, and I was already going to be late for my meeting. Suddenly, a 60 page novella didn’t look half bad. So I threw my hands in the air, said “Fuck it,” and shelled out the $15. It’s a three and a half hour audiobook. Perfect.

I downloaded Slow Regard this morning. I have already listened to it THREE TIMES.

It is breathtaking.

Patrick Rothfuss opens the book by telling you it’s probably a bad idea to buy it. Which is brilliant, because it already has the listener quirking an eyebrow and paying very close attention. Why does he even think this?

Slow Regard breaks every rule. It’s too short. It has no real plot. No real conflict. Very little dialogue. One character. It’s…what most people might consider tedious. Nonsense. Without purpose. It’s part of and yet not part of his popular series, The Kingkiller Chronicle, in that it concerns one of the books’ minor characters. But it doesn’t add anything to that plot. It doesn’t advance the plot. You don’t see the main character at all. And it is for these reasons that he cautions the prospective buyer to really think about their choices here.

This is, as he points out, a strange tale. A bit…different.

It’s about a girl, Auri, who lives beneath the university in a place she calls The Underthing. She is a free spirit. In a lot of ways she reminds me of characters like Luna Lovegood, Radical Edward, or Tersa from the Black Jewels trilogy. Something in her is not quite right. A little broken, but not altogether unhappy.

“To be so lovely and so lost. To be all answerful with all that knowing trapped inside. To be beautiful and broken.”

She lives in a world all her own. She sees things in ways others do not see. Mundane objects are personified. They have feelings. They might suggest or say things. All of them are special in some way.

“There was a door, but it was terribly bashful, so Auri politely pretended not to see it.”

She travels around the Underthing, usually running and barefoot, to set things in their proper place and search for proper gifts for ‘him.’ It is obsessive and yet sweet. Objects might be fickle and change their minds about things. They might become angry and want to be moved. They might be restless and need to be used. Some become ‘free to go,’ and can be taken. But Auri would never take something that is not ready to leave, even if she wants it very badly for herself.


What I find intriguing about Auri the most–because I have read the books–is how the true power of Auri is hinted at, only just, throughout. She used to be, I gather, an incredibly talented student at the university until something happened that dramatically changed her life. She mentions the Masters often, remembering lessons from chemistry. Sometimes, she throws in a bit of knowledge about chemicals and their uses. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, the words hitting like a sledgehammer when they happen. She’s traversing tunnels, obeying the fickle whims of buttons and kissing snails, and then she thinks about iridium, or identifies the materials that are used to make a thing.

What makes this audiobook so particularly charming, in my opinion, is that Pat has taken it upon himself to be the narrator. Yes, he is reading his own book to you. Personally, I love that. It means he is telling the story exactly the way it is intended to be told, with the right pauses and emphases and everything.

I listened, more intent on this story than any story I have read in years. I sighed and swooned at the words. They are the loveliest of words. I appreciate the made-up words like ‘answerfull’ and how many adjectives inanimate objects can feel. Like ‘thuggish and terse,’ or ‘garrulous and bawdy.’ It might sound strange…but I could understand how she feels. Childlike. Oh, what a restless key, so in want of a lock! Yeah. That actually makes perfect sense. Keys should want locks. Or how she hesitates as she considers things (Maybe…but no. No, she knew better than that.)

When the book ended, I kept listening. I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I could have listened to this for many more hours than three and some.

Much to my beleaguered sadness, Pat used the end of the book to, in a way, apologize again. He tells the story of how he broke down to a friend (Vi) about how he thought his own story was a mess and how he couldn’t publish it. But his friend loved it, for the same reason I love it and so many others seem to as well. This is a story for us. For the artists who appreciate playful tales that just needed to come out. For a chance to sit in quiet awe and praise a brave work that breaks all of the rules and doesn’t apologize for it.

For being itself.

“It was wise enough to know itself, and brave enough to be itself, and wild enough to change itself while somehow staying altogether true.”

I keep talking about Pat because he is a wonderful human, and it bums me out that he ever feels like his words are simply not good enough to be shared. In his end note, he talks about his friend’s words and how they struck him as one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to him. About how someone else is already writing those books for other people who like books that have all of the things. THIS book is for people like ME. Actually, what she said was:

“Fuck those people. Those people have stories written for them all the time. What about me? Where’s the story for people like me?”

When he said this in his endnote, it hit me. Hard. Because that’s how I feel, all the time. I like to experience the unfiltered things that come straight from the heart of an artist. The raw, unrefined love that pours out onto a page when no one is watching. The art an artist makes for themselves, just to look upon and think, “Yeah. This is what I wanted to do all along.” But they don’t because they’re so focused on thinking about what everyone else wants that they set their own desires aside for a ‘later’ that never comes.

THIS is why Pat wrote it. And then when he did it, he knew that people would hate it. And some of them did. He was right about that.

But some of them didn’t. Some of them loved it.

“…one comment people have made over and over again and again, phrased many different ways, is this:
‘I don’t know what other people will think. They probably won’t like it. But I really enjoyed it.’
It’s strange to me how many people have said some version of that.”

This soared straight to the top of everything, guys. This just became my number one. It’s so perfectly lovely, so shy, so okay with itself. It’s a tiny piece of beauty that was created just so it could be. Something that existed just because it needed to. 

This is what I scream about every time I come here. Do the things. Do the things you want like no one is hovering over you. There’s a time and a place for rules. This isn’t one.

He ends the book with something I usually find sickly-sweet and fake, but because it is Pat, I know he absolutely means it.

This story is for all the slightly broken people out there.
I am one of you. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me.
Pat Rothfuss

I cried. After all those lovely, gentle words and the passionate account of how drunken Pat confessed that he thought people would just be purely pissed, and then this…yes, I cried. And I smiled because I was crying.

And then I did something I have never, ever done, not even once.

I restarted it from the beginning. Immediately.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out our #SundayReview category to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!

#SundayReview: Kalopsiad (Our Blog)

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Every now and again, Frankie and I sit down and talk about how the blog is doing, and where we want to go with it. Today, we’ve decided to discuss this with you through this video. Seems appropriate, as it is a kind of review.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out our #SundayReview category every Sunday to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!


#SundayReview Westworld

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Hopefully my review tonight will be as enigmatic as the show I am reviewing as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. No spoilers here!

The often overused term; mind-f**k, is the perfect term for the television show, Westworld. Based on the 1973 movie of the same name starring Yul Brynner, the series is a science fiction thriller which takes place in a high-tech amusement park. The park is populated with human-like androids with which rich people can do whatever they please while living out fantasies in a western back story. Their creator is played by Anthony Hopkins, who comes across as both sinister and disconsolate. There’s what could be a glitch in the system and some of the androids appear to be becoming sentient.

We follow the lives of a few androids and humans, key players in the park as well as newcomers there for some fun. Throughout the show you get the feeling that something is undeniably wrong with humanity. That some would revel in a fantasy of brutalizing, raping and killing others, is deeply disturbing and yet something which happens in reality all too often. You can’t help but feel sorry for the androids, especially those who have gained insight into their lives and the outrageous actions carried out on them by humans. With technology now at the point where some parts of the story are credible, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

The opening credits alone are jaw dropping.

It is raw and gritty, with violence, nudity and sex scenes which make complete sense to the concept, not used as a ploy to get viewers. It is intelligent and well crafted with a story which moves along smoothly and always grabs the attention. It’s rarely boring and always thought provoking. You never quite know all the humans or all the androids. You keep double guessing yourself as to which is which. Then someone who you thought was one turns out to be the other!

Every week there is a blinder of a twist that you just don’t see coming. You spend the week thinking you have it all figured out, then the next episode turns what you thought on its head. There are twists within twists, and every week I end up staring at the screen as the credits roll thinking…wow….mind…blown…..!


It has been a long time since I watched a television program which made me think as much as Westworld does. Nothing is ever quite what it seems. Next week is the series finale and already my mind is blown. What else they can throw at us I don’t know, but it’s sure to be fantastic whatever it is! If you haven’t watched it yet, get watching!

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE



#SundayReview Halloween Film Time!

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Happy Halloweeeeeeeeeen! Thought I’d pop in one of my 20 pairs of special FX contact lenses and make myself up for the occassion! It’s Halloween time again and when better a time to have a review of my favorite Halloween movies?!
I like clever things and funny things and super spoooooky scary things, but when it comes to Halloween movies, I am definitely not a horror or gore lover. Which is why this list doesn’t have the usual slasher movies or the likes. What I do have, is a choice of movies that I often watch at this time of year.

10) Beetlejuice


Despite being made in 1988, Beetlejuice has not lost any of its spooky magic. I absolutely love this movie! It’s funny, daft, has great cast, a great story and brilliant atmosphere!
A couple who died in a car crash find themselves haunting their own home. When people move into their *vacant* home, they take steps to frighten them away! In comes Michael Keaton in the form of Beetlejuice; a devious ghostie who says he can get rid of the new guests–but is his help worth the trouble?!

9) The Frighteners


The 1996 Michael J Fox movie has long been one of our favourites. It has just the right amount of comedy, spookiness, and cleverness to make this into my top ten. After the death of his wife in a car crash, a man claims he can communicate with the dead. But things get too real when supernatural events begin to happen around him!

8) The Lost Boys


Kiefer Sutherland did for The Lost Boys what Robert Pattinson did for Twilight. But, The Lost Boys is a far better film and concept! The 1987 film revolves around two brothers who move to a new town, only to discover the place is infested with vampires! MUAHAHAHAHA!!

7) Alien Quadrilogy


Yes it is four films in one spot, but they deserve to be watched in a marathon! Alien has to be one of the most freakiest movies of all time. The quadrilogy began in 1979 and freaked the f**k out of me and many others worldwide. With the tagline; “In space, no one can hear you scream!” it was always set up to be a terrifying experience. I once had a nightmare where I was chased by a Xenomorph! The Alien movies get so deep under your skin, you remember them for a very, very long time!

6) Spirited Away


Perhaps an odd choice for Halloween, I think that Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away should be included in any Halloween movie list! A ten year old child sees her parents turned into pigs then is forced to serve all kinds of things in the spirit world? Yeah, that is spooky enough for me! XD It is entertaining, fascinating, funny and cute, with darker things to munch over as you watch the amazing animation skill of one of the greatest animes ever!

5) The Shining


Many times over the years I have suffered writer’s block. Many times I’ve thought about retreating somewhere to help it pass. But in the 1980 film, Jack Nicholson’s character finds more than relief of writer’s block! He finds all kinds of crazy shit and descends into a psychotic episode which is remembered most for the phrase; “Heeeeeeeeeere’s JOHNNY!” One of the most atmospheric and psychologically terrifying movies of all time!

4) Shaun of the Dead


No Halloween movie list would be complete without a mention of the 2004 comedy horror, Shaun of the Dead. I’m a huge fan of Frost and Pegg and this movie was simply sublime. The laughs, the choice of music, the gore, the utter stupidity. Shaun has to be in a top ten list, because Shaun is one of the best zombie apocalypse of all time. And I hate zombie movies, so that’s saying a lot!

3) Nightmare Before Christmas


Tim Burton’s 1993 movie can be confusing to categorize. Is it for Christmas or Halloween?! I like to watch it during both times. It is satisfyingly spooky while also being endearing and charming. The Pumpkin King, Jack, discovers Christmas and wishes to take part in the celebrations at the cost of Christmas itself! One of my all time favourite animations, Nightmare is one of the best Tim Burton has ever made!

2) Queen of the Damned.


I was always going to be conflicted over the number one slot. In the end I had to decide which of these two films made the biggest impact on me. To be honest, both did and both deserve to be in the number one slot. But if we speak of things which have affected me the most, I’d have to place Queen of the Damned at number two.
To me, this movie–while slated by the readers of the original books– is one of the best vampire movies of all time. I never read the books, I’m more of an action reader than a spooky/horror reader. But when it comes to films, this is one movie which I could watch every day of the week and never get bored.
Released in 2002, is follows the legendary vampire Lestat, and his rebirth into the world as a rock band vocalist. His music reawakens the queen of vampires, Akasha, and one of the most beautiful vampires I’ve ever seen. Akasha is played by the beautiful Aaliyah, who tragically died in 2001. It is Aaliyah’s portrayal of Akasha which made me fall in love with this movie. So sensual so cold and indifferent, so fucking beautiful in her cruelty. This movie is so brilliantly filmed and has scenes of such intensity that it begs for more attention than it was initially given. I think it shameful that the movie was given such a beating, although I understand why lovers of the book might be angry over it. But as a stand alone movie which is how I watched it, it is phenomenal.

1) Donnie Darko


This 2001 film is one film which has stayed with me since I first saw it when it first came out. It is very intelligent, so much so it puzzled many a viewer into slating it. But Donnie Darko has become a cult classic because of that intelligence. For those with little imagination, the film can seem confusing and often perplexing. But what DD does is open the mind to things outwith our own reality, to alternate timelines or even timeline divergence. It makes you think, makes you question things. The story follows Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Donnie, as he looks for answers to his visions of the end of the world. There is a huge creepy-assed bunny called Frank, who haunts Donnie throughout the film, strange and unnerving. If ever there was a movie which made you think more after watching it than trying to figure it out during it, Donnie Darko is the one. It makes you question reality and your perceptions of reality. I love this movie so much I actually made and wore a costume of Frank the Bunny!


As for television shows to watch during the Halloween period, there is the usual Supernatural and such. But, consider the less well known BBC series; Sea of Souls. This was a program created back in 2004 with a three series run. While the characters never outright tell you that something particularly supernatural is happening, as a viewer you get to see things and make your own mind up. Very clever, often spooky and well worth a watch! I have the DVDs and often rewatch, although season 3 was never released on DVD 😦


And there you have it, the Dragon’s Halloween movie list. This week sees the start of NaNoWriMo, so I wont be around as much as usual. I plan to get Emergence finished for the end of Nano, but I will update the blog as often as I can. To all taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, good luck!!

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi  MALEVOLENCE

#SundayReview: STIFF by Mary Roach

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In the spirit of my new NaNo novel, MORTY, I figured now would be a wonderful time to share one of my favorite books.

STIFF by Mary Roach is one of my atypical nonfiction recommendations. Generally speaking, I read and write only the fantasy genre, but this book intrigued me. I first saw it when a classmate was reading it, and she were more than happy to tell me all about it.

Mary Roach is an American nonfiction author specializing in popular science and humor. She has a degree in psychology and never intended to make a career in science, but found the topics to be far more interesting than pretty much everything else. In reading STIFF, I appreciated her lighthearted nature. The book is an easy and entertaining read, and sneakily educational.

STIFF is a study on the afterlife of cadavers. Basically, Mary Roach spent a lot of time investigating what happens to human bodies that have been ‘donated to science.’ Far above and beyond organ donation, cadavers are incredibly important to studies involving death or the human body.

It’s already an easy sell.

I was already planning on donating my body to science. I’m one of those practical people that is more horrified of letting something valuable go to waste than I am concerned about how my body is used after I die. After reading this book, I can now rest easier at the prospect of death just fantasizing about how mistreated my remains will be post-mortem.

Obviously, some cadavers are used anatomy labs. Anatomy and physiology students use cadavers to learn about the parts and systems of the body.

But how about these other uses?

  • Cadaverous heads used for cosmetology
  •  Being dropped off of incredibly tall buildings to see how bones break and blood spatters
  • Testing explosives
  • Rotting in an open field to determine decay times

So yeah. By the way, I’m really morbid.

STIFF is one of the most unique and interesting books I have ever read. It satisfied my morbid curiosity and my geekiness. Definitely worth a read!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out our #SundayReview category every Sunday to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!


#SundayReview Lee Child and Jack Reacher

Frankie Av

I apologize for the fact this was not uploaded yesterday. I attended a family get together and then I displaced a bone in my wrist and had to reset and rest it. It’s fine, happens quite frequently as I broke my wrist a few years ago. I popped the bone back in and wore my splint for the rest of the day. It’s all good now! XD Anyway. This week I’d like to review the book Worth Dying For by Lee Child. Actually, it’s not really just a look at that one book, more a review of Jack himself.


Author, Lee Child, created Jack Reacher as the lead character in a long running series of action novels. Next month will see the 21st Jack Reacher instalment–Night School, and I can’t wait to read it! Two of the books have been made into major movies, the first entitled Jack Reacher was based on the novel, One Shot. The second, due for release this month, is based on the book Never Go Back and is one of my favorite stories of the Jack Reacher series. While some dismiss the movies because they can’t accept Tom Cruise as Jack, I rather enjoyed the first instalment. As I often do with the books, there are some things you have to just believe, in order to enjoy them to their fullest. I bought all the books in paperback then replaced them with hardbacks when I fell in love with them, and Jack.


Jack Reacher is an ex military cop. He served his time in the army as his father did before him. Blessed with a large athletic build and lightning reflexes, he is a stubborn man–one who seldom does anything outwith his own decision. He is a drifter, a traveller and he never stops roaming and hitchhiking across America. He goes to places which interests him then moves on to the next–but, not before finding trouble somewhere along the way. He has very few belongings, no bags or cases travel with him. The clothes on his back are never laundered, they are replaced with brand new store bought items when he feels they need replacing–usually after a few days wear. He stays wherever he can get a room and isn’t too picky about where he lays his head so long as there is a constant flow of good, strong coffee.


No matter in what situation Jack finds himself, he always has a way out of it. Whether he is picked up by police or lands himself in the middle of a gun fight, Jack just needs to use that intelligent brain of his and brute force to find a way out of the situation. He has faced many a villain in his time. From mob bosses to serial killers, Jack has met and fought them all. He has survived bullets, bombs, crashes, falls, beatings and breaking of bones. The guy has scars all over his skin, one of which was caused by another soldier’s jaw bone which ripped open his stomach when the soldier was blown up in a bomb attack. Seriously, Jack is like the Wolverine of the Lee Child universe–you can beat him up, blow him up, and he will heal and come back angrier and stronger than before. He fights like a titan, delivering punches which could potentially tear the head off a person in reality. For many of the books, you have to regard Reacher–not as a man–but as a superhero, a man with preternatural powers and therefore read the books with some suspended judgement as they can at times be so out there in terms of believability. But this is what makes them so fun.

Lee Child created a character who is more human than any other human. Stronger and more capable than anyone he ever meets. He senses injustice like a dog smells food and often feels such righteous indignation over situations he stumbles over that he places himself in danger to right all wrongs. The man is larger than life and bigger than most. A monster to some and a warrior angel to others.

But Reacher is still human and that is where the best of the books comes in.

The reason I chose Worth Dying For, is not only because it is one of my favorites, nor even because it’s one of only four in the series within an actual story arc, but because we get to see a slightly less God-like version of Jack.


In the book previous–61 Hours– Jack was injured so badly he can barely use his arms. It was a miracle he survived that book at all. He is tired, worried, looking for a place to rest and recuperate. He meets a doctor in a bar of the new town he visits. The doc is stinking drunk when he receives a call from a woman who has a nose bleed. After saying he won’t attend, Reacher reminds the doctor of his moral obligation and oath as a practitioner, then eventually drives the man to the patient in the doctor’s own car.

So begins one of the darker Jack Reacher books. The villains in Worth Dying For are not clearly defined to begin with. We know they are bad in the way they treat the town’s folk. Selfish and vengeful for some misdeed handed to them many years previous. And they have the town’s folk fully controlled, with contracts and threats and their army of pumped-up bad boys.

Jack should just walk away, this is none of his business and he is in no condition to fight. But then, Jack often inserts himself into other people’s lives and business. How he gets away with it, I don’t know. He just does. Maybe he is just there at the right time and people accept his help because at that particular point in their lives they are on their last nerve and have nothing left to lose.

It takes Jack a while to uncover the truth, and when he does, it is a real doozy. Unlike most of the other Reacher novels, Worth Dying For has a truly dark and seedy tale. It is a tale which many people face every day, and one which everyone prays they never encounter. By the end of the book I held a new appreciation for Jack. I felt chills down my spine at what he had uncovered. It’s not often a book can make me question humanity in the way this one did. There is only one other of the Reacher series which affected me so much–Make Me, another one of my faves.


Both these books took us to a whole other level of evil and Jack found himself almost over his head in trouble. His thought process is unquestionable, his righteousness undeniable, but he is not the larger-than-life unconquerable hero in either of them. He gets hurt, he hurts back. He falls behind then struggles to catch up. He makes mistakes and he makes others pay for them.

Jack is human, and not always a very nice one, nor a very healthy one. It’s almost sad to see Jack in such a way, but he really isn’t a nice guy. I certainly wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of an argument with him. So why do I like him so damned much? Why do the Jack Reacher novels sell so well? Why do so many love Jack and wish he was real?

Because, Jack is a superhero. He is larger than life. And no matter how unbelievable the stories might be, we need him to be the hero. Everyone loves a hero, even one as broken and damaged as Jack Reacher. Perhaps it’s because we wish there were more folk like him. Travelling warriors who will make wrongs right, and put the baddies out of commission. Like a larger, dirtier, better and human Littlest Hobo, (if you remember the old tv series) Jack just makes things, right. A large brutish thug with questionable morals who does the business no one else will dirty their hands with. A hero. A superman. This is why we love Jack Reacher so much, and why when a new book or movie of the series is about to be released, we all scramble to reread the books in time to catch up. 😉
You can read more about Jack and his creator Lee Child here on the official site. If you are interested in reading any of the Reacher series, I recommend starting with the first; Killing Floor. It is a good introduction to Jack, and you can travel with him as he wanders America in search of some sort of peace.

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE



#SundayReview Sometimes Being Stubborn has its Drawbacks…Hawaii Five-0 Proves the Point

Frankie Av

I am known for my stubbornness when it comes to new shows and books etc. I have this ability to be completely unfazed by the hype, to the point of purposely not watching or reading a thing out of pure spite. I have no idea why I do this, I just know that I do.  Sometimes I reverse my decision only to arrive at the party too late, sometimes by years.

Take for example Naruto. Now, this is one of the best manga and anime series ever made. I used to scoff at the cosplayers who turned up to conventions with these bands on their foreheads, because at that time I had no idea what they meant.

What are they supposed to be? Ninjas or something?!

It became so popular that I had to look up what these people were watching. When I got my first glimpse of Naruto, I laughed. How the hell could so many be so entranced by something so cliched? Ninjas?! What could possibly be so entertaining about ninjas?! So I had no more to do with it– for YEARS.

Then, a couple of years ago, I had nothing to watch or read one night and came across Naruto once more. I decided to read the first manga volume out of pure boredom, hoping it would send me to sleep. I read four volumes that night and got no sleep whatsoever. Completely hooked, I became Naruto’s biggest fan, searching the internet for fan groups and art and anything I could feast my eyes upon. I bought the manga, the anime, filled my shelves with figures from the series. Of course, Naruto manga is now finished; I arrived to the show not long before the end. It was through Naruto that I met Sam, and the Dead Pete Society was formed.

I recently had much the same experience with a show on television–namely the Hawaii Five-0 reboot.  I had a conversation with a friend a while back which went something like this:


That conversation was a few years ago. Hawaii Five-0 has been on the go since 2010, so I am six years late on this one. A week ago I was waiting on the postman delivering my new wrist splints, bored to tears as I hate waiting on anything. I popped the tv on, flicked through a few channels then had to answer the phone. By the time the call ended there was something else on the tv. I caught sight of a lovely car,  a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, and it looked a sweet ride. While I may not have a thing for leering over hot men like my friend does, I do have a thing for a good looking machine. Mostly aircraft, but cars do it for me too.


The car which piqued my interest

So I settled back on the couch and kept watching, wondering what other good looking machines might show up. It cut to break a few moments later and imagine my surprise when I saw it was actually Hawaii Five-0 I was watching.

So I stopped watching, jumped into the Sky planner to see if they had the series on Box Sets. They had complete season one on Box Sets and so I downloaded them and started at the beginning.

That first episode hooked me immediately. There was something about it that was so different to what I imagined this show would be like. I thought it would be all jiggly-boobs on the beach and surfer dudes showing off six packs with the occasional catch-the-villain thrown in to keep the flavour of the original show alive. It wasn’t just a sex-on-the-box type of show at all, it actually had a story. It was clever, it had angst, it had a villain you wanted to know more about and a broken hero you just wanted to hug. And that was just the first episode.

Considering my favourite characters, it was actually obvious I would fall in love with this show. I love Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. The lead character of Hawaii Five-0–Steve McGarrett–, is a similar hero.


The two leads are also perfect together. Their conversations are usually snarky and make me laugh. They hate each other but love each other and all you want to do is bang their heads together and tell them to stop the bickering. Of course there are cheesy parts, the occasional cringe-worthy episode and it has its fair share of filler eps. 

I forgot the postman that day and ended up watching six episodes in a row. By the end of the last episode I booted up my computer and read as much as I could on the show. How long has it been running for? What are the odds of it carrying on? Will it be cancelled on a  gigantic cliffhanger, forever doomed to never truly finish like so many of my favorite shows?

Well, so far so good. There is a seventh season which just began airing in the past couple of weeks. There are rumours this might be the last, but that’s okay. Why? Because if the writers know it will be the last, there is a chance of them ending the story properly.

I called my friend the other day, and the conversation went a little like this:


Something tells me my friend and I are a lot like Steve and Danno…

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE



#SundayReview: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Sam av

For starters, let me begin by saying that nothing makes me feel more like an amateur than to publish my feelings on my favorite authors. I have this deeply rooted fear that one of them will read this and dismiss my review as inadequate. I don’t get as in depth with these as many review blogs. Honestly, all we’re trying to do with this blog is have a little fun and be people with all of you other people. I’m not a literary expert, and I don’t want to pick apart a novel or spoil the whole thing.

Glad we got that out of the way.

I found the Name of the Wind in a random and interesting way. I was perusing the book store, naturally gravitating toward my favorite section–sci-fi and fantasy, of course–when an odd and friendly woman interrupted my thoughts to ask if I needed help. I started to talk to her about how I was just browsing. She started to pick my brain about what I had enjoyed in the past. She asked if I had read anything by Patrick Rothfuss. When I confessed that I hadn’t, she got very excited and tugged me away to one of the displays. Based on what I had told her of my reading list and what she had said of hers, I was enthusiastic as well.

I walked out of there with eight books. When I got up to the counter and let them spill from my arms, the cashier and I exchanged a look. I told her I got, “[NAME]’d” (I wish I could remember that lady’s name…alas, my memory is terrible). The cashier chuckled and shook her head and totally understood.

I get tired of reading the same old tale over and over again, and the fantasy genre is thick with sameness. The Name of the Wind offered me something different. Refreshing. Almost real.

First impressions:

Love the cover.

The prologue is incredible. It’s poetic, yet grim. It sets the tone for the entire novel, and the writing is so fantastic that it had me excited right away. I found a brilliant writer. Yesssssss.

It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music .. . but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.

Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. They drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing this they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one. It made an alloy of sorts, a counterpoint.

The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. And it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.
The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things.
The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.

I mean…wow. What a way to begin a book.

What I Like

Another aspect that makes this book unique is something trifling and odd. It is written in two perspectives. There are times when it is written in third person, and times when it is written in first. It’s in third person during the book’s present timeline. The main character is telling his story to a traveling chronicler. When he is telling his story, it is in first person. Each book is a single day’s worth of storytelling. It’s intriguing…it’s two novels wrapped in one. I can see it in my mind’s eye like a classic film, much like how the Princess Bride was filmed, pulling in and out of the narrative but in a way that isn’t jarring.

I’m sure that they exist, but I don’t recall seeing books that shift between first/second/third person perspective. I find this decision from the author be be bold and impressive, though surely to him it was a move that just made sense.


I appreciate Kvothe’s flaws as a character. Kvothe is a young man with driving ambitions who doesn’t always think things through. He wants to have the power of Naming, and he wants the girl. Anything he has to do to earn them both is considered worth the consequence, even if he gets into some trouble along the way. I also appreciate how he sometimes has trouble refraining from making emotional decisions. He can be struck by the urge to get even and acts in the moment.

Despite his impetuous nature, he is brilliant and has natural talent in many skills. He is also generally kind and empathetic. Kvothe is a great character…easy to relate to and interesting to follow.

I also love the minor characters, particularly Auri and Kvothe’s friends. They were well-developed side characters that could probably have their own books. In fact, Auri got one.

I haven’t read this yet, but I know I need to.

What I Didn’t Love

Denna. I just don’t like her. I don’t like the way she plays her schemey games. I don’t like her use of subtlety and expectation. I don’t like how she disappears and reappears like no one’s feelings matter but her own. She strikes me as very selfish and unkind.

I’m sure that for the setting and her chosen life pathway, her behavior was probably smart and entirely appropriate. She has done a great job of remaining independent.

I just don’t like her. She’s the kind of woman I might have hated if I’d met her.


I loved The Name of the Wind because it provided me with a new and refreshing take on the fantasy genre. There wasn’t this massive grand scheme to fight the forces of evil. There wasn’t a Chosen One, overpowered magic, sword & sorcery. This book reads like fantasy that’s a real place. It’s just a kid who is trying to be somebody and isn’t ever sure that’s working out. It’s written beautifully and honestly.

Furthermore, since reading it I’ve learned that Patrick Rothfuss is a lovely person who cares deeply about the world and the people in it. I’ve mentioned Worldbuilders before, but I’ll bring it up again when the fundraising kicks into gear.

I definitely recommend this book. Currently reading its sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear. Loving it so far. Hopefully I can write up that review soonish.

Thanks for reading!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out our #SundayReview category every Sunday to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!