Category Archives: #WhateverWednesday

#WhateverWednesday – Your Silent Pillar of Strength

Sam av

This is going to be an odd post, I think. Maybe even controversial. Definitely a little personal.

As you’ve likely noticed, I’ve been a little more sporadic than I have been since the new posting schedule. I have a lot going on, and so for the moment I’m going to overshare a little, because I think the underlying issue is important. It might sound a little horn-tooty, or tiny-violiny.

I’m an odd mixture of opposing forces, and chiefly among them is my ability to despise and love people in equal measure. I think the majority of humans are under-performing, rash, overemotional, melodramatic, insert-adjective-here. Most people seem to think that their life must suck the most, and all woe unto them is because the universe is against their capability of finding happiness.

At the same time, it’s the vast spectrum of human thought and emotion, and the endless capacity for compassion and evil, that makes humans so incredibly interesting…and at the deepest depths of my heart, I truly love everybody. It is within this love that I find my strengths. I am interested in understanding the motive behind the action, or the thought process behind the behavior. I want to understand what’s going on in a person’s mind or life that leads a person to act the way they do. (It’s incredibly useful for building characters, by the way, that are flawed in all the right ways.)

And so I pay attention. It’s one of my highest skills. I’m an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) analytical scientist who chooses her hobbies among the creative arts. Tl;dr – I’m a total weirdo.

I’m going through some shit right now. A whole lot of it. I know I posted a while back that I’m absorbing a lot of the responsibility for my mother. I’m also the main breadwinner and bill-payer for my family. My sister moved in. I have a roommate, a full time job, aspirations and hobbies, etc.

Now I don’t want to go too heavy into detail, because I dislike when people flap their drama out on the breeze for everyone to see. But I also have anxiety, and at times, if I’m not careful, it pretty much consumes my life. I self-manage it (no meds). So when I suddenly flatline on my ability to maintain composure, it all unravels pretty quickly in spectacular fashion, and recovers too slowly for my taste.

So let me share with you my day yesterday.

  1. I went to work. My job is at a blood bank, where I have some responsibility for saving lives. Today wasn’t so bad, all things considered. In fact, I had a fairly decent day at work and received some significant praise for a project I recently completed. Most excellent. Had the right amount of coffee. Felt a little silly and good.
  2. I received a phone call from my mother. I have clearance from the boss to answer calls related to my mother because of the recent hospital thing. My mother was upset because of several conversations she has had with other members of the family. I talked to her for a little bit, then promised to call her after work.
    1. I need you to understand that, at this point, every conversation with my Mom is mentally taxing. She’s at a severely rough point, mentally, so it always feels like talking her off the edge. I have to be particularly kind and particularly strong, and conversation is also not my strong suit. I don’t emote well.
  3. I went back to work.
  4. I received another phone call from one of the family members my mother had referenced in her phone call. We spoke for some time about the issues Mom is dealing with. It went longer than expected, so we decided to schedule a time to meet to discuss this at greater length.
    1. At this point, my brain was DONE.
  5. After work, I went downtown to play Pokemon Go for roughly two hours. Pokemon Go has become my solace, my floating island. Everything else goes from my mind when I play. I also get sunshine and exercise, both good things. It takes my mind off the issues I deal with on a daily basis. It’s good for me for stress relief.
  6. When my husband picked me up from downtown, he relayed a conversation he’d had with my sister re: Pokemon Go.
    1. You see, although I started playing first, there’s a drama unfolding in my house around the app. My sister started playing for the heck of it, and her boyfriend started playing soon after. They played together for a while, but her boyfriend is a hardcore gamer like the rest of us, so he quickly outpaced her and now she feels left out.
    2. At this point, I had had this conversation a total of four times in two days – once with her, once with him, once with my roommate about the currents of tension at home, and once with my husband about this new conversation.
  7. I freaked out and broke down in tears. I feel like the shepherd of happiness for literally everybody except for me. I am always the mediator in any conflict in my home, and everybody in my home has their defect, either anxiety or depression. One expresses it with tears, one with outbursts and storm-offs, and one with seething frustration you can feel in the air.
    1. Husband got understandably defensive. He had no idea what he’d just walked into. This, in turn, only made me feel worse.
  8. I called Mom back as I promised. She was in better spirits this time.
  9. I refocused on Pokemon Go and calmed down. I had a good Pokemon Go day and I had a lot to share.
  10. I quieted (it’s a long ride home) and suddenly remembered all the other issues. Money is tight. The house is a mess. My shoulders are tense as fuck. I’m overdue for a haircut. So is Brad. So I became a miserable heap of shit again. My husband rubbed my shoulders and took responsibility for all actions tonight henceforth (cooking, coffee, snuggles, etc).
  11. I came home and died on the couch. I told my husband I needed a moment and he started dinner and coffee to help me out.
  12. The roommate stepped in a flood of water. My husband had turned the faucet on for the cat (because she’s weird) and had left it running. It flooded the floor. A heated fight ensued as to whose fault it was. Husband had left the water running. Cat’s a weirdo. But also the roommate shaves his hairs into the drain, and it’s an issue we’d had in the past. All of the aforementioned reactions occurred, minus the tears, plus my third freakout of the day. Credit where credit is due: Roommate has been reading Crucial Conversations and did an admirable job of calming the fuck down.
  13. Putzed around on the internet. Read some news. Organized some Pokemon Go events. Wrote some blog posts. Had some coffee. Watched Naruto.
  14. The phone rang. Mom again. Apparently another member of the family must now uproot his life again because things didn’t work out.
  15. Returned to blogging and such. Midnight happened. I went to bed.

So what’s the point of the post? I just said I hate it when people throw their drama out for others to deal with, so what gives?

I’m not here to beg for your sympathy. I’m actually here to plead for the others in your life. Unless you are the life manager – and my heart is with you, if you are – someone in your life is managing a zillion micro-things that you aren’t even thinking about. They might never even be on your radar.

They do this naturally because they desire, above all things, for life to flow smoothly and for people to stay happy, and they know they understand how to do this better than most. A clean, organized living space. No forgotten things. Plans that are executed smoothly. It’s easier just to do these things than to put in the significant amount of effort required to ‘train’ someone to do this themselves. It has taken the Life Manager a lifetime to perfect these skills. No way is anyone else going to catch on in such a short span of time.

I have rarely, if ever, required assistance. Of course, I have a good family that would have my back if I needed it, but for the most part, I’ve been on my own. I’m independent and moderately successful. I broke into the middle class pretty much singlehandedly. I don’t need the help.

But there are people in my life – and in yours – that aren’t so savvy. You’re not better than they are, and they aren’t better than you. We’re codependent. I find some happiness in being the organizer. They’re happy to not be stressed about the details. And to people like me, it has become easier to tie up all of the loose ends and stay abreast of current events than to depend on others to do them for themselves. If we don’t, we know it means a bigger mess to clean up later, and that we’re 90% certain we’re going to end up cleaning it up later anyway because no one else even fucking cares.

So this is for that person in your life. There is someone in your life who is doing a billion things at any given moment – earning money, spending money, cleaning the house, caring for children, planning trips, fixing issues with the house, grocery shopping, running errands, making the stars align, rearranging their schedule so that no one else should be inconvenienced on their account (heavens no!), grooming the pets, keeping up on regular car maintenance and bills, mowing the lawn, ferreting a savings away to prepare for any unforeseen issue, thinking about tomorrow, looking for solutions to today’s problems, finding ways to make hurt people from today feel better, looking strong for the kids, hiding their own tears so that no one asks them about their day.

Somewhere in there, they find time to sleep, eat, and maybe enjoy fifteen minutes of legitimate peace and quiet.

Chances are, they’re so used to it they don’t even understand the magnitude of their miniature achievements and the profound meaning it has in the lives of others.

Notice that person that takes care of all the things. All too often, no one notices the exact moment when that person needs someone to take care of them. We take this person for granted. Find that person…and when you do, appreciate the hell out of them. They aren’t expecting you to, so you’ll totally make their day.

And in case you’re paying attention, the very best thing you can do for them is give them a real day off. Don’t run to them. Don’t ask them any questions. Don’t ask for help. Don’t force them to make decisions about things you can handle yourself. Don’t bother them. Don’t call them. Just give them a day to exist without interference.

If you like having your life managed, let the one thing you pay attention to above all others be the way that person is thinking and feeling. They’ll start to show signs of distress and they’ll probably keep it to themselves. Notice, and act.

Stress is the silent killer, it is said.

So take care of that person who works behind the scenes to be there for you. Take care of the person who helps you thrive. It doesn’t take much…just a hug, and a thank you, and a minimal amount of effort at exactly the right time.

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).


#WhateverWednesday Angels and Pharaohs

Frankie Av

I’ve been interested in world mythology for many years. I’ve researched and read about various myths, legends, ancient religion and cultural beliefs. Half of my personal library holds volumes on the subjects. Of everything I’ve read, I’ve always been most interested in Ancient Egypt and Angels. Neither should come as a surprise if you know me well enough. Both subjects have fascinated me from a young age. In fact, back in 1988 my aunt took me to the Gold of the Pharaohs exhibition in Edinburgh. I remember standing in front of Tutankhamen’s death mask, mesmerised. My aunt would take me to see other things in the exhibition but I always ended up back in front of that mask whenever there was a space for me to push my way in front. There was just something…otherworldly, about it. It was magical, steeped in something almost sensual. I understood this, yet I was only 13 years old at the time. It was almost as if the Pharaoh himself was staring at me, trying to tell me something important which I just could not comprehend. I still get shivers from the memory and hope to see the mask again some day. The only other time I felt that kind of yearning to know more, was when I researched angels.

It was while researching various religions and cultures that I became intrigued by angelic entities. There are many Gods and countless more deities and lesser gods in both ancient and current religious and cultural belief systems. Of them all, angels just appeal to me. People with wings who can fly! But then, they are not people. They are God’s weapons. The duality of angels is hard to reconcile but fascinates me. On one hand they are utterly perfect beings, romanticised as being large winged protectors with flowing robes and long hair. On the other, they are also God’s warriors, holy weapons who will slaughter if commanded. Cruel and relentless, they will stop at nothing and will slaughter innocents to carry out that which their Father commands. As I say, I find it fascinating. Do I believe they are real? Do I believe that the Gods of ancient Egypt were real? Well, it depends how you ask me the question.

You see, I believe in the multiverse theory. I believe that there is an Earth on which angels do indeed exist. Another where the Egyptian pharaohs and their Gods reign supreme. There are also worlds on which dragons exist, and ghosts and one in which the loch ness monster belongs to the dominant species. Because I often like to believe that if it can be imagined, it is because the knowledge of one reality slips into another and thus myths and legend are born. Fanciful? Yes. Does it surprise you that I have two books in the pipeline after Emergence; one about angels and one about the multiverse? Probably not. My imagination is big enough to imagine such things and allows me to bring them into existence through words and paint and digital ink.

It is my belief and knowledge framework which allows me to be creative. It allows me to question things, to muse over the deeper meaning of life and the universe. It even allows me to accept that in some reality, the answer to life and everything is in fact, 42.

The reason for this rather existential blog post is because I finally watched the last three episodes of the television show Dominion. A television show about angels, the end of days and a chosen one–of course it intrigued me. With strong characters, enjoyable story-lines, fantastic sets and effects and mostly awesome acting, Dominion was one of my favourite shows. Then it was cancelled after only two seasons. Having watched and fallen in love with many television shows cancelled before their time, I know only too well how awful it is for a show to be ended on a cliffhanger, never to be concluded. I feared this for Dominion and so refused to watch the final episodes. I decided to watch them yesterday and was as disappointed as I knew I would be. It didn’t just end on a cliffhanger, it ended on the mother of all cliffhangers. I just can not get my head around how such a great show with obvious reams of potential for a third season could be cut from the fans and viewers the way it was. I really should have known, I have experienced it before and it tears the geek heart from me.

But, what I have that others might not, is the ability to end the story myself in a way I find pleasing. I’ve done it before. I’ve made animations to finish off an unfinished television story. Written fan fiction just to get some closure on a show I have fallen in love with. Why? Because then my story-ending becomes a piece of the multiverse, therefore somewhere in the universe the characters and their stories continue, on another world where Michael and Gabriel and Alex continue to exist. It is most likely the same world from which the story originated, pieces of which slipped into our own reality to become the idea for a television show. A big huge circle of creation through the multiverse in which angels and demons exist.

Now, did I just write you all a strange short story for Whatever Wednesday? Or did I just tell you the absolute truth? Well, there are two dimensions where both are true. But in which reality do you currently exist? 😉

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


#WhateverWednesday – Pokemon: Why the Franchise Endures

Sam av

Yep, another Pokemon post. You may have noticed I have an obsessive personality.

Pokemon Cards: My First Pokemon!

I’ve been playing Pokemon since I was twelve years old. It all began when a kid on the bus was selling off his collectible cards. I got a handful of them for a quarter each. My first (and lasting favorite) Pokemon was Vulpix, a fire-type fox.

I found out later that the kid selling his cards was saving up to buy trading card game cards instead. They still looked cool, but could also be played as a game. The next thing I did in my journey to become the very best [like no one ever was] was to trade off all of my collectible cards (except Vulpix of course) for trading cards instead, and thus began my descent into madness. My first order of business? I got my hands on no less than thirteen identical Vulpix cards. Honestly, I just felt like all of them needed to belong to me.

I became pretty adept at trading cards. I knew the value of each of them and I knew what people’s favorites were, and at the tender age of twelve, I learned how to free other kids from valuable cards to give them their favorites instead. My thirteen Vulpix cards turned into two binders and a shoebox, and though my parents thought it was stupid, I got booster packs in every Christmas stocking for the next several years.

I knew that Pokemon was also a TV show (which I thought and still think is pretty terrible, honestly). At the time, I didn’t know it was also a game.

It was my next level of Pokemon Hell.

The Pokemon Games

The Pokemon games are more or less released by ‘generation,’ so this first one was Generation 1. And each generation has a brand new addition of Pokemon, a region (the world of the game) and several versions. The versions have very slight variations, and one of the variations was that you could only obtain certain Pokemon in each game, most notably the Pokemon often featured on the game’s cover, its iconic Legendary Pokemon.

So I borrowed Pokemon Red from a friend. Unfortunately, the save battery inside of it was dead, so the workaround was for me to stay up late playing and then leave it on overnight to pick up in the morning. Naturally, the next step was to buy a game, and I bought Pokemon Blue. Why Blue, you ask? Because that was the game that you could catch a Vulpix in. I bet you aren’t surprised.

I’m going to spare you on the minutiae of every generation and the associated games. If you’re already a Pokefan, I’ll just bore you. And if you aren’t, you’d just be bewildered. What I really wanted to talk to you about–the purpose of this blog post–is why the Pokemon games are so amazing despite what you may have heard.

The Game’s Premise

Before we begin, to be clear, when I say “The Games,” what I am referring to are the Nintendo handheld main plot games. I am not referring to Stadium, Colosseum, Pokemon Ranger or Mystery Dungeon, or any of the Pinball Games. I’m not talking about Pokemon Snap or Hey You, Pikachu! or any of that nonsense. When I speak of the games, I mean the game I am about to describe.

In the games, you take the role of a Pokemon trainer at the beginning of your journey. The professor, a local Pokemon expert, will explain everything you need to know: the world is inhabited by Pokemon (‘pocket monsters,’ creatures that are kind of like pets who also fight), we catch them and use them in battles, and they can be valuable partners and friends. You will then be given your first Pokemon and your mission will become clear. You should help the professor with his research by documenting every Pokemon you see (Catch them all!), and challenge the land’s eight gyms (where your Pokemon will fight other Pokemon), then defeat the Elite Four and become a Pokemon Master, the most elite class of trainer. Along the way, you’ll have to help people out, explore, find as many Pokemon as you can, and battle other trainers.

At the time of this post, we are about to be introduced to the 7th generation of Pokemon with the upcoming release of Pokemon Sun and Moon.

Why Pokemon is Still Fun After All of These Years

The number one reason I am still fond of the series after all of this time is that it maintains many layers of complexity. I tell people that the game is as easy or as hard as you want it to be. It’s a fairly simple matter  to travel from town to town, topple the gyms, beat the Elite Four, and call it a day. That part of the game you can defeat in perhaps thirty hours or so, give or take. So if that’s all you’re looking for, it’s a game that might be too simple, and one you can’t even fathom having lasted this long. You catch whatever you see, train them up, and win. Case closed.

But, you could complete the Pokedex, a task that requires you to observe every single one of the game’s more than 700 Pokemon. This is a task that Nintendo has made impossible to complete with any single game. To obtain the rest of the Pokemon, you’ll have to trade with other trainers with different versions. In some cases, you’ll need to move Pokemon from game to game as far back as the original Gameboy games. It’s way more difficult than it sounds, because the old systems are not compatible with the new systems. You’d have to transfer from a Gameboy game to a Gameboy advance game using a Gameboy Advance (which has both slots), from a Gameboy advance game to a Nintendo DS game using a Nintendo DS (which has both slots), and from the Nintendo DS to the 3DS using the wireless internet, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, legendaries in the distant past were almost impossible to get your hands on. The earliest versions of Mew were obtained only through attending a Trading Card Game tournament held by Wizards of the Coast.

You could try to become a competitive battler. Nintendo hosts online tournaments where you can face off against other real people. You might think you’re really good at this, like you know your type matchups better than anyone you know. Like you found the strongest Pokemon and you’re smarter than everyone else. I can promise you…if you feel this way and haven’t faced a real competitive trainer, you’re wrong.

The year Pokemon Black came out, I decided I’d try a tournament. The prize was some ultra rare, perfectly bred Cloyster to match the one someone else had used to wreck a tournament and some kind of item. I didn’t have any illusions that I’d win the tournament or anything, but I wanted to see how I rated against real people.

I didn’t win a single match.

Not even one.

I’d been playing for about ten years, and I couldn’t win in even one match.

It’s So Complicated…

I realized I had some things to learn. As it turns out, Pokemon are incredibly complicated creatures. It’s not as simple as having a high level and a killer move set. There are more important things:

  • IVs
  • EVs
  • Abilities
  • Natures
  • Impeccable breeding

I could have a full blog post on this, but there are other sites who have already done it better. I am going to explain it briefly, though, so you know just how complicated this gets.

  • IVs
    • IVs are hidden, permanent values for a Pokemon’s stats, like little boosters in the background. A great Pokemon will have maximum IV values in the stats you find important. You can’t change or control this…it’s kind of like a Pokemon’s DNA. However, you can breed for this. In the old games, it was really hard. It’s a lot easier now.
  • EVs
    • EVs are stats acquired through training. When you defeat a wild Pokemon, it will award specific EVs after the battle. For example, defeating an Audino will award Hit Point (HP) EVs. There is a cap on how many TOTAL EVs your Pokemon can gain, so you’ll want to focus only on the stats you find important.
  • Abilities
    • Each species has a small handful of abilities of which a Pokemon can have only one, and some abilities are superior to others. These abilities award certain advantages in a fight. For example, the ability Swift Swim will double your Pokemon’s speed if it is raining. Some of the abilities are incredibly rare and can only be obtained in certain, difficult to reach areas. However, you can kind of control which ability is passed down through breeding.
  • Natures
      Pokemon have exactly one Nature. A Nature is an innate increase and decrease in stats. A nature will increase one stat and decrease another. For example, the Timid nature has increased Speed, but decreased Attack. Nature can also be controlled during breeding.

Impeccable Breeding

Let’s take an example. Say I’m trying to breed a Ferrothorn.

See how it has an incredibly low speed stat? Chances of me attacking another Pokemon fast enough to go first? Slim to none. But Ferrothorn can also learn a move called Gyro Ball, and the greater the difference between Ferrothorn’s speed and the opponent’s speed, the more damage Gyro Ball does. So decreasing the speed stat is in our best interest. Ferrothorn is also ridiculously weak to Fire, so increasing Special Defense is a good idea, too. (Think of ‘special’ as synonymous with ‘magic.’ Attack and Defense refer to physical damage. Anything ‘magicky’ would deal with Special Attack and Special Defense).

So, we need to breed a nature that lowers speed and increases Special Defense. That nature would be Sassy.

We’d breed this Pokemon so that it had maximum IVs in HP, Attack, Defense, and Special Defense. Special Attack won’t matter…it’s too weak a stat to be worth investing in. We don’t want an IV in speed because it will weaken the strength of our Gyro Ball move.

We’d train this Pokemon to have Max EVs in our desired combination of Defense, Special Defense, and HP.

I prefer the ability Iron Barbs to Anticipation, so we’d go for that.

And finally, Ferrothorns main purpose is as a trap setter. Setting traps damages the opponent. We have choices: Stealth Rock, Spikes, and Toxic Spikes. Ferrothorn can learn all three, BUT, to do that, we have to strategically breed other species to pass the move down. I believe I had to use Dwebble/Crustle to do this.

This is why the Pokemon you used to win the plot portion of the game are almost always terrible. You fight whatever Pokemon appear…you don’t pick and choose. So the Pokemon you catch have random IVs and garbage EVs and random natures. But when you are ready to get serious, you can invest the time needed to breed the perfect champion of the battling game.

And don’t even get me started on compiling a team. With hundreds of moves to choose from and endless combinations of move sets, Pokemon teams, natures, abilities, etc…a team is a very personal choice. There are even different battling modes, with one of the more popular being that you can fight Pokemon pair against pair with two Pokemon fighting side by side against another, and some moves will damage your buddy Pokemon, too.

I’ve Already Gone Too Deep, Huh?

Suppose I better rein in my enthusiasm. So yes, I like to share the wonders of the Pokemon games with friends. At first glance, it’s a simple questing RPG where you collect and battle monsters. Beneath the veil, it’s a grinding, strategy fighting game and a monumental challenge for completionists.

As for me…

I’m a collector.

I love strategy.

And this game lets me have dogs and foxes that breathe fire and dragons I can fly around on.

And now, thanks to Pokemon Go, I get to dive even further into Hell. At first I thought I’d be a casual fan, but then I thought why not let it consume my soul instead? (Quotation not mine…but I don’t know the source).

I can’t abide the thought that there are still trainers out there better than me. How am I supposed to be the very best, like no one ever was, if I can’t even place in a tournament?

It’s a very difficult situation for me. *laughs*

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).

#WhateverWednesday Virtual Insanity!

Frankie Av

I have wanted a pair of VR glasses/goggles for along time, the ones which have tiny screens in each eye to give the impression of watching a huge screen. Every time I went to buy a pair, I talked myself out of it. As I do for most things before I buy I did a little research and discovered that the majority of people said they were not really worth their money. The screens lacked definition, poor colouring, lack of adjustments in some models and poor quality footage in display. Considering the price of some of the high-end glasses, I decided to wait until something better came out.

With the announcement of the Gear VR headset for Samsung, my interest in this personal  theatre experience was piqued again. Until three weeks ago, I had owned three different Samsung S3 mobile phones. I always felt they were the best phones on the market, so any time my mobile contract was due up, I’d just source another S3. Therefore I was genuinely excited to try out the Gear VR. Alas, it was not to be. When my contract ran out a few weeks ago, I decided to go for a different phone model entirely, one which does not fit the Gear VR.

So on the final day of our holidays last week, I decided to look for a VR headset with a universal fitting for any phone. The market is now flooded with such headsets, so much so that choosing one was difficult. Again, I did a little research on different models and unfortunately found that a great amount of them had positive views simply because the reviewer had been given the headset either for free or at reduced cost in exchange for a good review. Despite many saying that this in no way swayed their opinion, I was a little put off by the sheer amount of overly positive reviews on single items all saying the same thing: Got them for free in exchange for a review-they are great. So remember, even if an item has over 200 five star reviews, read them to find out if their view is biased in such a way. I eventually found a pair that was cheap as chips, with a universal fitting and available in a shop local to me so I was able to get them straight away without having to wait for a delivery.

The Stealth VR headset is simply a glorified Google Cardboard–as are most of these vr headsets. There are two lenses, both adjustable in focal and pupil focus. The difference from the cardboard version is they are much more comfortable to wear. The eye area is very well padded, the head straps are easily adjustable with large velcro pads. I had seen many models with built in headphones, but I own many sets of head/earphones so this model was perfect for me and cheap enough to try out. I also received a little pair of retractable headphones in one of my Loot Anime crates that go perfect with this model!

There are so many vr apps available on both Android and Apple, but the reason I wanted the headset or theatre glasses was so I could watch a movie or anime in bed without disturbing my husband with the screen brightness glaring him from a tablet or laptop. Of course, I have tried a lot of the apps and they are pretty amazing. Some are awfully glitchy, but the majority are very clever and do immerse you in an experience. These apps eat the phone battery and heat up the processor so much I had to stop using the headset to allow my phone to cool down. Then I discovered that this headset has a removable front especially to allow air circulation while using VR apps.  But, for watching movies–the very reason I bought the headset–it is absolutely perfect!

I ended up using one of my old Samsung S3 models so that I didn’t damage my new phone. Since it is the screen of your phone you see, the picture through the viewer is exceptional. It is crystal clear and highly coloured. There is no bending of the headset lense to misshape the view, and no loss of picture definition. But the S3 screen is not quite as good as my new Xperia, and as a result I can see tiny pixels on the S3 screen when viewed through the headset. I can not see the pixels on my Xperia when it is in the headset, but I don’t want to damage my new phone and the pixels are so tiny they do not ruin the experience at all for me.

I dare say that actual VR goggles, the ones I originally wanted, are much lighter on the face and easier to wear since they do not require a mounted phone. They will also look a lot neater than wearing the headset as to accommodate a phone they are built rather large. But these are very minor issues and for the cost and quality of the Stealth VR, I am more than happy to look like a complete idiot as they do exactly what I wanted and in comfort!

So if you are ever looking for a wearable VR item, do a lot of research on different models, find the right one for you. If you want to be able to play the actual VR apps, be mindful of the fact your phone will heat up inside a headset. Make sure the lenses are fully adjustable, otherwise you will have problems seeing the images and more than likely will suffer eye pain from constantly trying to focus.
If it’s just movies you want to watch? I recommend the Stealth VR or something similar. Cost effective, durable, lightweight, well constructed, highly adjustable and comfortable. It ticked all my boxes and are absolutely perfect for my needs 😀 I also recommend the Cardboard Cinema app, as it allows you to watch the movies you already own and displays them as SBS (side-by-side) format especially for VR headsets.

As for controlling your phone while it is in the headset, yeah, that’s not quite so easy. This particular headset and the vast majority of others do not have button controllers built in. I have seen bluetooth controllers which I might try, but first I am going to try a USB-to-go cable and a plug -and-play controller to see if that works. I have these items on hand, so no extra cost if it works! I will let you know if it does!

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

#WhateverWednesday: Pokemon Go Cures the Obesity Epidemic

Sam av

The moment we’ve all been waiting for has at last arrived–Pokemon GO! is now available in the App stores in the U.S.!

I can’t even begin to express how excited I was for this to happen. I’ve long thought that the pinnacle of Pokemon enjoyment would occur when we could find, capture, and battle Pokemon in our own environment. My first thought on this occurring was that we might one day achieve holograms. Actually, with the advent of Virtual Reality gaming just now firing up, that might not be that far off!

What is Pokemon GO!?

Pokemon GO! is a free mobile app (with optional microtransactions for items) developed by Niantic and powered by Ingress. Anyone who has played a Pokemon game knows that the general premise is that you capture and train Pokemon to battle, then fight other trainers and gyms to gain prestige. The object is to “Catch them all” and become a Pokemon Master, one of the best trainers in the world.

Now with Pokemon GO! you can find Pokemon around your house, in your city, out in the wilderness as far as you are willing to travel, and even on your desk at work. The variety of available Pokemon is based on your region and geographical factors–such as lakes and forests–and the quantity seems to be dependent on population.

Pokemon Gyms appear at large public areas such as universities and hospitals, and ‘Poke Stops’–like Pokemon Marts–appear at ‘places of interests’ like businesses and monuments.

Traveling is the only way to do well at this game, as you need to encounter Pokemon to gain experience, and Poke Stops are crucial to success. Furthermore, walking is the only way to hatch an egg.

Getting Started

You will be introduced to Professor Willow who will tell you how to play. Then, you get to customize your avatar, either male or female, to look and dress how you want. As with all Pokemon games, you will then provide your name and be given a starter Pokemon. Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle will be immediately available for capture, but you can only choose one. They will appear wherever you are. Bulbasaur for me was hanging out in my bedroom. A friend reported catching Squirtle as he was sitting on the toilet.

Once you’ve got that sorted, START WALKING!

What I Learned in My First Two Hours

My dream of being a Pokemon Master started with me suiting up appropriately. I wanted to feel like a real trainer, so I put on some shorts, some comfortable shoes, and a bandana. Last second I decided to throw on my Naruto Leaf Village standard issue headband as well. No reason not to feel like a badass whilst hunting for Pokemon. Then I stepped out my back door and hit the trail.

I don’t believe in reading the rules before I start a game. I just wanted it to feel like a new experience and learn as I went. I figured there’d be a ton of Pokemon in the wilderness behind my house. But I didn’t know how they would appear, so I just kept wandering around, waiting for random encounters. For a time, I attempted to follow the red and white compass, but it kept changing direction.

After about thirty minutes of this, I decided that Pokemon were next to impossible to find, and I decided to try heading for one of the other markers on the map. The game explained that the blue outposts are Poke Stops, and that I should stop there if I could. One of those was fairly close, so I started towards it.

And then I learned how Pokemon look on the map. And then things got interesting. I found several Pokemon in my subdivision. Then I went down the road and down a dirt road. Nothing there. Then I went to the golf course–JACKPOT! Then I went back to my subdivision where more Pokemon had appeared. I spent about three hours walking around catching Pokemon. Then I went back inside and sat down. Later, my radar picked up an Eevee (which I love), so I got up off my cozy position on the couch to pursue it. Apparently, Pokemon really enjoy my neighbors yard, so I sort of creepily floated outside the perimeter of his yard, hoping one would venture out far enough to let me catch it.

I can only imagine what it looks like…suddenly a bunch of couch-bound gamers are following their cellphones around, looking lost, then stopping and basically giving the appearance that they are photographing your house. Then they wander down the road a bit before doubling back to photograph your house again. At least, that is the way I looked, I’m sure.

What I’ve Learned Since That Day

You level up and evolve your Pokemon using species specific candies, which you get by catching a lot of that Pokemon.

You ‘Transfer’ Pokemon you don’t want so you can keep a low Pokemon inventory. When you do this, you get candy. To my knowledge, it’s the same as ‘releasing’ because you never see that Pokemon again.

Gyms appear at large public areas, like colleges and hospitals. There’s one in my town at the recreational center. I intend to own this soon.

When you reach Level 5, you can challenge gyms. As soon as you do this, the game will prompt you to choose one of three teams. Mystic (Blue, represented by Articuno), Valor (Red, represented by Moltres), or Instinct (Yellow, represented by Zapdos). When you defeat and ‘control’ a gym, your teammates can help you defend that gym by assigning Pokemon to it. Your teammates can train at the gym to raise its prestige. If your prestige drops to zero, when your gym is defeated, it is relinquished to the victorious team’s control. At least, that’s how I understand it so far…I will be challenging my first gym today.

My coworkers who play Pokemon GO and I have decided to join the same team. There’s a gym right across the street from work at the vocational school. We plan to control that gym.

I need a bike. As we traveled from home to work today, we ran through some areas that have different Pokemon. If you want to travel far and fast, a bike is the way to go. I don’t like the idea of driving…it feels like cheating and not in the spirit of the game.

My Progress

I wrote this blog post on July 8. At the time of writing it, I have 13 unique Pokemon and several over Combat Point 100. (CP100, a measure of Pokemon Strength). I’m not very tough yet, but we’re all new for the time being.

My Analysis

The game is still a little buggy, but it’s not too bad. The server has gone down a couple of times. I’m disappointed that there are fewer Pokemon in the wilderness than in the cities, as my fantasy involved me hiking and exploring forests to find wild Pokemon. However, the excitement about ‘going to see what’s out there’ as well as the competitive aspect with the gyms and other trainers is pretty awesome. Competition is a major driving force, at least for me. If I want to be good at this game, I have to get up, go find Pokemon, and walk. A LOT.

Also, Pokemon has retained its popularity over more than a decade. Anyone who has ever enjoyed the game probably already has the app, which you means you can be pretty secure in the knowledge that you’re not the only one wandering around right now looking lost, trying to find out where that Eevee is hiding.

I can’t wait to see where they are going with this. Team Battles, trading, and PvP fighting are supposed to be part of the game. Either they haven’t rolled this out yet and plan to or I’m simply missing something. When that does happen, I want to be ready for it.

But for now…my intention is to control all of the area’s local gyms. Team Valor is the team to fear. Mark my words. See you out there, Trainer!

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).

#WhateverWednesday Five Sisters Zoo!

Frankie Av


I love museums, zoos, places I can learn and experience things. I’ve never been a person who could go on holiday and spend a fortune just to lay by a poolside. I’d rather sit at home than do that! But then, I get homesick and I can’t stand hot temperatures. My brain just doesn’t work in the heat!!

When I am on holiday, I plan out days or time away at places where I can enjoy and learn things. Whether it is at a museum or on a boat trip, I find this a better way to spend my holiday time.

One place which I always visit whether I am on holiday or not, is the Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian. We visit the zoo frequently, usually monthly or thereabouts. What makes FSZ special is that they are a conservation zoo and often rescue animals which would otherwise be destroyed.

It started off as a very small place, with some reptiles, farm animals and such. Over the years it has grown into a place where rescued animals can live in peace with a new lease on life. Take for instance the three circus bears they rescued back in 2011. The three brown bears were rescued in Belgium from a circus. They had been living in terrible cramped conditions in cages barely large enough for them to turn in. A call was made by the rescuers to find the bears a home, and the FSZ put out the call to the public to raise money for them. And raise money we did, topping the £80,000 pledge. In 2012, Peggy, Carmen and Suzy were welcomed into a newly created two-acre woodland site. Companies from around the area donated materials and money to facilitate the bears arrival.

I have had the pleasure of seeing all of the bears during my frequent visits, and have seen a marked difference in their behaviour. I remember the first time I saw Suzy I cried. She was so lost and afraid looking, not used to such a huge place to live in. She wandered back and forth, pacing the housing area as if still caged in a confined space. These days, you can see her lazing around or playing. The three had also never hibernated before. The zoo updates on their facebook page often about the animals, and the bears now do hibernate in the winter, such is the great work the staff at FSZ carries out to maintain their animals safety and comfort. I always go to visit the bears when I go there, and every time I see one of them I can’t help but smile.

In 2014, the zoo put out another call to the public with the hopes of raising £150,000 to rehome four circus lions rescued from a french circus. These poor beasts had lived their entire lives in a trailer much too small for them. They were castrated and declawed as cubs. They look like females as they lack a male lion’s trademark mane as a result of the castration. But these are some of the biggest lions you are likely to see. The castration meant that hormones which usually went into the growth of the mane, instead contributed to their body growth. These guys are HUGE! Again, the public heard the call and money was raised in excess of the target. Another two acre site was put forward to house them and soon work began. We watched the enclosure being built over the months and could not wait to meet the lions which would have been destroyed if a home had not been found for them. In October 2015, the four lions were successfully rehomed in the zoo and quickly became a huge attraction. They are huge, lazy, layabouts and absolutely gorgeous beasts!

The Five Sisters Zoo is one place I will never get tired of visiting. On one visit I might not see the eurasian lynx, but the next I will. When I was there a few days ago, I saw they had an adorable armadillo I’d never seen before!  It is hard to pick a favorite animal in FSZ, but if I was forced to pick three, it would be the bears, the arctic wolves and the ruff necked lemurs. Of all the lemurs, the ruff necked are my faves! Enjoy some of the photographs I have taken from the zoo, and if you are ever in the area, give the zoo a visit 😀

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

#WhateverWednesday: Beer

Sam av

It’s Wednesday and I post what I want to, so let’s not mince words.

I like beer.


I am also a beer snob, albeit less of one than some. I do disdain the likes of Anheuser Busch, et al, and I’ll only mock you in good fun if you like it. For the most part, I regard commercial beer drinkers with what I imagine is similar in sentiment to the way adults condescend their children by professing to know what’s best for them.

I’m fortunate in that I live in Michigan. There are more than 150 microbreweries in Michigan, and 12 of them are in my hometown. Furthermore, the backyard beer scene is amongst the most robust I’ve ever seen. There are several different places that you can buy your own brewing supplies or take classes on how to get started. There are plenty of beer clubs for you to share in some tastings, if you desire. There’s even a huge hops farm (and several smaller ones in the area) on my drive home from work.

And though it’s slightly off-topic, it’s worth mentioning that Michigan has a prominent wine scene, as well (more than 100 wineries), and is also home to 16 identified distilleries (3 of those in my hometown).

My city is an oasis of booze. [and food]

The purpose of this post is simply to talk a bit about beer and highlight some of my favorites. And, I’m aiming this at beginners, so if you don’t know squat about beer, we can still be friends. And if you don’t even LIKE beer…don’t worry. I still love you. If you’ve never tried a microbrew, though, try to keep an open-mind. Microbrews come in infinite combinations of flavor. Chances are, there exists a beer that even you would love.

Beer Flavors – the Rundown

There are endless possibilities with what you can add to a beer to change its flavor, but there are certain major players to consider. If you’ve ever found yourself in a conversation about beer and been tremendously confused, lean in and pay attention. This is for you.

Beer has four major ingredients (credit):


Barley is a seed grain that looks a lot like wheat. Its natural germination and growing process is used to produce the sugar that will feed the yeast while it spits alcohol into your beer.


Hops are flowers related to cannabis and a member of the hemp family. Hops are often responsible for whether you love or hate a beer, in my experience. The hops have acid (which can make beer bitter) and oils (which add fragrance and flavor). If you’ve ever had a sip of a bitter beer that smelled like grapefruit peel, what you were tasting was the hops. Love of hops/hatred of hops is pretty much the number one thing that helps me direct a person to a beer they will like. Hating hops disqualifies more than half of the beers around here. In my opinion, it’s because the majority of brewers and beer snobs like me believe that hoppy beers are the imported organic free trade oily coffee beans of beer.

Hops come in many different varieties, and each has its own flavor profile.

Yeast is a single celled organism that feeds on sugars and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol as wastes. Yeast also has many different strains, and each produces different flavor.

In short, by changing the amount/variety of barley, hops, and yeast, as well as by adding other random ingredients (such as cherries, coffee, or chocolate), you can attain an endless variety of beer flavors.

Kinds of Beer

I like to classify with fewer categories if possible, but if you want an exhaustive lesson on the types of beer, you could try clicking here. I classify mine my general flavor profile as follows:

  • Light (Lager, White Ale, Pilsner, and the moose piss I generally refer to as ‘commercial beers’): these are easy to drink a lot of and fast. They tend to be pretty low in alcohol content and rather relaxed on flavor profile.
    • Recommended for people who claim to love that other garbage
    • Not recommended for people who claim to dislike beer
  • Amber (Ale, Amber, Oktoberfest, Brown): These tend to be middle of the road, semi-dark beers. They can be slightly toasty, slightly sweet, slightly hoppy depending on what you choose.
    • Recommended for people who like beer with flavor, but don’t want something overpowering or too strong, or new beer drinkers who are feeling more adventurous than the Light category. Also great for drinking in the autumn.
    • Not recommended for people who are past this point in the adventure, as they can often seem too weak or boring for exploratory beer connoisseurs.
  • Wheat (Blonde, Wheat, Belgian, Saison, Weisse): This is a broad category, but generally I throw anything in here that has more flavor than the lighter beers without the toasty or hoppy notes of other categories. This is basically the level-up of the Light category.
    • Recommended for honestly, just about everyone, especially during the summer months. These have great flavor, don’t tend to be too boozey, and are easy to drink a few without falling off your chair.
    • Not recommended for…I think this one is pretty safe for all levels of beer snob.
  • Dark (Stout, Porter, Dark, Brown): this is one of my favorite categories. Dark beers tend to have toasty, sometimes slightly bitter flavors, and often have underlying flavors of coffee or chocolate. They do tend to be on the heavier alcohol side and have full-bodied flavor.
    • Recommended for beer drinkers ready to graduate to Snob, coffee drinkers who also like beer, drinking in the winter time.
    • Not recommended for newbies, unless they’re the extra-courageous kind.
  • Pale/IPA (this is its own category, and it’s vast): this is the hoppiest of beers. IPA stands for “India Pale Ale,” and were so named because the hops were added to ales as a preservative for long journeys, to keep bacteria from spoiling the beer. Due to the hops, Pales and IPAs tend to be fragrant, floral, citrus types with notes of bitterness.
    • Recommended for true beer snobs
    • Not recommended at all for new beer drinkers. This is the surest way to turn off a new adventurer. The strong flavor and extra bitterness will coat their mouths. They won’t be able to remove the taste and hate you forever.
  • Spice (Hefeweizen, Holiday, Pumpkin, Ale ‘brewed with spices’): these can get to be pretty strange, but generally they’re pretty powerful. Common spices are citrus peel, ginger, coriander, lemongrass, juniper, saffron, cinnamon…You usually shouldn’t drink more than one, and that only in sips. They’re interesting, but pretty much monopolize all of your taste buds.
    • Recommended for people who love to try new things, people who love tea.
    • Not recommended for drinking with dinner, anyone who wants ‘a good, solid beer.’
  • Sour (also its own category): these can be hard to find, as they aren’t widely enjoyed. Just how it sounds, this beer has a sour flavor caused by special bacteria added during brewing.
    • Recommended for people with courage or who enjoy sour foods
    • Not recommended for new adventurers
  • Fruit: Beer brewed with fruit (such as cherries or raspberries) to give it a refreshing fruity flavor.
    • Recommended for people who don’t like beer or people who like fruity cocktails, drinking in the summer.
    • Not recommended for people who think fruity drinks are for little girls.
  • “Old” (English Ale, traditional Belgian ales, German beers): I call this one ‘old’ because these are typically beers that have stuck to traditional flavors and methods, preferring the classic, timeless ales rather than “gettin’ all fancy with it.” They tend to have smooth, easily drinkable flavors and not too much booze. These are comparable to something between an Amber and a Dark, but without being so offensive.
    • Recommended for just about anybody. Some I like, and some I don’t, but I definitely recommend trying them for yourself.
    • Not recommended for people who already know they don’t like this.

Important Note: If ‘Imperial’ ever appears in the name of your beer, be ready for amazing things. The amount of hops and/or barley may be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled in some cases, which increases the power and complexity of flavor and also greatly increases the alcohol content. These can sometimes be between 8-16% alcohol, so go easy on them.

They’re delicious, though, so be brave.

Now remember, once you get through all the categories and try all of the things, keep in mind that brewers like to have fun with their recipes and try new ones all the time. I’ve seen beer brewed with barleywine, smoked hops, chips and salsa, blueberries, mole (that’s moh-lay, not the animal mole), jalapeno peppers, spruce tips (I don’t recommend this one…it tastes like licking the dusty innards of an incense cabinet), and licorice, among so many other things.

Also, if you find a brewery you are particularly fond of, you can go to the actual brewery and try whatever’s on tap. That’s where you’ll find the experimental casks and get to try new things. There are also often specialty stores where you can “Pick-a-Six,” meaning you can grab an empty 6-pack box and choose 6 different kinds. Occasionally, I like to pick six new ones and just try them out.

You can also check out the different kinds of glasses from which you can drink them.

In case you are curious, I will share some of my favorites.

Top Five Favorite Breweries

1 – Short’s Brewing Company, Bellaire, MI

Short’s produces solid beers in every category, boasting more than 200 different brews. Since they’re local (for me), it’s pretty easy to find them on tap almost anywhere, as well as on the shelves of most grocery stores. A lot of restaurants have at least 3-4 of their brews on the menu. I have yet to try a beer of theirs that I didn’t like. Better yet, I have yet to try a beer of theirs that I didn’t think was special. They have better, more unique beers in every category than most of their competitors. I am never sad to see a Short’s.

Must try: Soft Parade, Huma Lupa Licious, Peachy Pom Pom (a sour beer! YES!), Good Humans

2 – Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, MI

Founders is my heart’s favorite, though I think Short’s bests them in terms of quality. I went to college at Grand Valley State University, only several miles from the brewery. Mondays are half off pint night. I learned a lot about beer while I lived there. I’m still thrilled to see a new Founders brew. Again, it’s incredibly rare for me to try a brew of theirs I don’t like in most categories.

Must try: Devil Dancer, Dirty Bastard, Cerise, Oatmeal Stout, Imperial Stout

3 – Victory Brewing Company, Downington, PA

I discovered this one as I explored the beers of Pittsburgh, PA. My brother and I had just discovered we shared an interest in beer, and we haven’t always been the best of friends. So I grabbed a six pack of almost all Victory beers and we tried them all out. We had a fantastic conversation about life and philosophical things, but also about how amazing these beers were. Another brewery that puts out almost nothing but solid taste I’m never sad to see.

Must try: Storm King, Dirt Wolf, Golden Monkey

4 – Rogue Ales, Newport, OR

This one gets the list because of the variety they offer. They put up solid options in all the major categories, as well as offering some oddballs that you just kind of have to try. It’s not rare for me to pick up something new with a Rogue label when I’m searching for an experimental pick-a-six. Similar excursions have turned up Voodoo Donut, Hazelnut Nectar, and Yellow Snow IPA.

Must try: Hazelnut Nectar, Dead Guy, Double Chocolate Stout

5 – The Filling Station, Traverse City, MI

Sorry, out-of-towners…this one is only local. The Filling Station doesn’t bottle and sell…yet. They’re only a couple of years old. They’re so good, though, that I simply must put them on the list. The Filling Station has around 15 taps at any given time, covering pretty much the entire spectrum of beer categories. They also have amazing flatbread pizzas that pair wonderfully with beer. The taps rotate constantly, so you’ll almost never see the same beer menu twice, but everyone I’ve ever taken to this place has said the same thing: “I love every single beer I’ve tried.”

Must try: impossible to pinpoint because they change so frequently, but my favorite might have been the beer that was made in whiskey casks. It was about 14% and tasted like the child of beer and whiskey.

Top Ten Favorite Beers

10 – Grapefruit IPA (Perrin Brewery, Comstock Park, MI)

9 – Devil Dancer Triple IPA (Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids, MI)

8 – Soft Parade (Fruit)(Short’s Brewing Co., Bellaire MI)

7 – Blood Orange Honey Wheat (Cheboygan Brewing Co., Cheboygan, MI)

6 – Cerise (Fruit)(Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids, MI)

5 – Iron Horse IPA (Mountain Town Brewing Co., Mt. Pleasant, MI)

4 – Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout (New Holland Brewing Co., Holland, MI)

3 – Mars, The Bringer of War double IPA (Bell’s, Kalamazoo, MI

2 – Huma Lupa Licious IPA (Short’s Brewing Co., Bellaire, MI)

1 – Storm King Imperial Stout (Victory Brewing Co., Downington, PA)

This was a particularly fun post for me. If you appreciated it, please share it with your friends or drop us a comment and let us know. Suggestions for new things to try also welcome! My favorites are super hoppy, high ABV stouts and IPAs, but I like just about anything. What’s your favorite?

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).

#WhateverWednesday A little Visit From Chaos!

Well I asked, and Chaos accepted! A little video from Chaos, with an opening clip from Sam to introduce our friend 😀 Chaos tells us of her stories and characters. She even does her own illustrations 😉

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

#WhateverWednesday: Elizabeth Haydon’s Symphony of the Ages

Sam av

I’ve had an exciting day.

Since I got the iPhone, I’ve been trying to avoid getting lost to the wilderness of apps and the Internet. It’s always been my issue with smartphones…that they’re just another way for people to dumb themselves down. In true Sam fashion, I’m rebelling. Instead of loading it with games and sitting on Facebook, I’ve been using my iPhone to try to make my brain better. I read the news and listen to informative podcasts, including two new subscriptions to mythology and writing podcasts.

However, I’ve lamented (ha…this is funny…you’re about to see why!) that I don’t have any books on my phone yet. The phone comes preloaded with iBooks, an eReader. But lately I’ve not been able to stomach the free books (I keep trying…they aren’t grabbing my attention). I don’t read enough because I’m just not finding anything all that interesting. I’ve been missing that feeling I get when one of my favorite authors releases the next book in my favorite series…a feeling so intense that I completely drop everything, clear my schedule, and shutter myself into my room to read.

I was talking just this morning to my boss about how I needed…SOMETHING…to put on iBooks, so that when I was bored somewhere I could read instead of playing Flappy Bird.

And then today I get this email…

“HEY SAM! One of your favorite authors released a new book! Hey, guess what! It’s a new book in one of your favorite series! Hey, you know what else?! It’s the LAST BOOK in that series! It’s the END! MAYBE MAYBE MAYBE it’s going to pan out the way you always hoped! WANT TO FIND OUT?!?! Oh, also? It looks like this:”


Me: “OMG email…are you fucking kidding me?! OF COURSE I WANT TO READ THAT.”

I couldn’t hit the purchase button fast enough. Gleefully, I perused the interwebs, wanting to read the synopsis and such. Then I read a curious little tidbit. “Book Nine of the Symphony of the Ages.”

Hang on.


Are there really nine books?


Have I read eight other books?

*counts in head*

No…I think it was six.





Conveniently, my vacation starts today. I’m going to read the shit out of these, I think.

Since this isn’t a #SundayReview, I’ll just give you the quick rundown. Basically the premise of this book is that this singer is fleeing her stalker and runs into a couple of unsavory characters preferable to her stalker, so she affixes herself to their party and uses them to escape. So they escape through this tree (like the World Tree, Yggdrasil), travel through the earth, and emerge on the other side.

Except the world as they knew it has been destroyed, and is completely different now. And they’re immortal.

It’s lovely…so well-written. And as you might tell by the title of the series, there is a lot of music woven into the words. I should probably reread the old ones, in fact, but in the interest of time I probably won’t.

I’m so happy to have books on my phone now. Hopefully, it gets me reading more!

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.


#WhateverWednesday Yu-gi-oh Figma Figure and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime!

A short review of both my new Figma Yu-Gi-Oh figure from Goodsmile Company, and a brilliant new anime: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress!

Music: Pinball Spring by Kevin McLeod at

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