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

Sam av

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: Kalopsiad (Our Blog)

Sam av

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!


#WriteTip: Why Scrivener is the Best Thing to Have Ever Happened to Me

Sam av

I’ve been hyping this program for quite a long time now, and it’s TIME. It is time for me to tell you why I love this program so much.

Scrivener is a word processor (think like Microsoft Word) specifically aimed at novelists, though it also has its uses for journalists, bloggers, students, professionals, etc. For anyone that is planning on writing a long project, this program is indispensable. Of course, there are a few comparable programs out there, but for ease of use and ‘bang for your buck,’ my opinion is that Scrivener is King.

The reasons for this?

  • It’s incredibly easy to use
  • You can import existing files to start using it mid-project
  • It’s fantastic for chapter and scene separations
  • You can drag and drop entire sections in seconds
  • It will format your book for you for eBook, paperback, or other formats
  • It’s remarkably CHEAP for how powerful it is
  • You can get it 50% off for winning NaNoWriMo

How I Used to Write

When I first started writing, I, like many writers, started with Microsoft Word. But as you probably already know, Microsoft Office is very expensive. Furthermore, for writing novels it’s actually not very good. You have to become a formatting expert and know how to use pretty much every feature of Word, for starters. And, writing chapters is a total pain in the ass. Either you write the entire book on one document with section breaks – which bogs down the program and makes it difficult to use – or you make a new document for every chapter – which makes it difficult to edit, compile, etc.

My workaround was to combine the use of Word and Excel. I’d use Excel to do all of my planning and keep the novel organized, kind of like a map of the novel. And then I’d make a separate document in Word for each chapter. As I’ve said, this is a total pain. Google Documents made it slightly easier, as I could hyperlink my documents in the spreadsheet, so I could use it as a launch pad for the novel and go anywhere I wanted to fairly quickly.

Why Scrivener Blew My Mind

Scrivener was both of the things that I needed in one place. I watched a friend drag and drop a whole chapter from one place to another and my jaw dropped. I was already sold. She outlined the whole book with shell chapters, wrote the descriptions on the index cards marking each one, and then wrote within them. If I decide later that I want to move a scene, a chapter, etc, I can just grab that and move it – drag and drop. The sidebar containing the chapters became my Excel spreadsheet. The window for writing became the Word document.

Better yet, I could load up pictures to the Research section for inspiration, as well as upload or fill in sheets for every character and setting, which I was also using separate documents for in Word and Excel.

The Best Part, and Why This is Totally Worth the $40

Scrivener formats your book for you.

If you’ve never tried to format, it takes a ridiculously long time and a LOT of patience. Endless tweaking, just to get it to look right. Having a program take your words and doll them up for you is fantastic. It only takes a few seconds, and it will put my novel into whatever format I want, whether it be ebook or print paperback or just a PDF for sending to friends.


I have trouble with simple formatting features like setting a permanent font and page indents. It seems like mine differ from project to project. It’s probably just something I haven’t figured out quite yet.

Frankie and I have also run into some issues like setting ‘Gutter Margins,’ which are margins that are wider where the book’s spine would be. These are staggered, meaning some pages have a wide left margin and some have a wide right margin, and Scrivener will do them for you…but only if you have the Mac version apparently. Frankie runs Windows, so sometimes she and I find some differences in what we are dealing with, and my Mac version seems to be slightly superior.

I also have not quite figured out Front Matter, but after watching this video I’m going to end with, I think I have a lead on how to figure this out.


If you win NaNoWriMo, you can get this for 50% off. That’s $20. It’s so worth it. Some people don’t love Scrivener, but at least 90% of the people I talk to who have tried it are rabid fans of the program (myself included). I love how organized the program is, and how much of the more nitty gritty legwork the program will do for you, like formatting.

I highly recommend this to anyone who is starting to take themselves seriously. There’s a certain air of sobriety that happens when Scrivener boots up.

It’s like, “Yeah…I bought a program because I’m going to write the fuck out of this book and things are starting to get serious.”

Because you just bought a program whose sole purpose is for you to finish this thing. You’re going to love it, though. Sometimes I just boot this up and stare at it, admiring the raw beauty of it.

It’s not because I can’t think of what to write, I swear.

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 the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!

#SundayReview Westworld

Frankie Av


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!

Frankie Av

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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

Sam av

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 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!

#SundayReview: Song of the Sea

Sam av

Had a bit of a rough week. Still going through all of that lovely personal bullshit that finally just made me snap. That’s how my anxiety works. I’m fine…fine…fine…DECIDEDLY NOT FINE. And when I’m not fine, it becomes “rage passive aggressively and cry into a glass of bourbon,” followed by a couple of days of chocolate and wine and cartoons. Hopefully that’s the last of it, but I’m not feeling very optimistic about it. The problems that led to the anxiety issues are still definitely there, heaped on with a dose of absolutely zero emotional support.

Luckily, Family Video still has that thing where you can rent kids movies for free (but did you know that you can still get charged late fees? Because I didn’t.). My sister and I went there and grabbed a handful of tried-and-true Disney movies.

But while I was browsing, I found this:

Doesn’t that look just beautiful?

I don’t remember exactly what the back of the case said. After a perfunctory glance, I saw the word “Selkie” and thought  “Yep.” I didn’t remember what selkies were, but I knew they were in the realm of folklore and mythology, and that was absolutely enough for me to take it home for free. The internet says this, though:

Ben, a young Irish boy, and his little sister Saoirse, a girl who can turn into a seal, go on an adventure to free the faeries and save the spirit world.

Here’s a trailer!

The movie did not disappoint. Much in the same realm of children’s fantasy as Miyazaki and Takahata, this film is aesthetically gorgeous, family friendly, emotionally moving, and has the right amount of dark undertones.

In fact, my sister and I at one point had a discussion about how we, as a society, will spoon feed more chaos, depravity, hardship, and destruction to our children than we’ll allow our adults to experience. Odd, isn’t it? Consider films like James & the Giant Peach, where young James lives a life of absolute misery he escapes by some form of dark magic that puts him on a huge peach vehicle to hang out with giant bugs (Seriously…WTF?), or The Lion King, where a much-beloved father figure is betrayed and thrown to his death in front of his young son.

Song of the Sea begins with tragedy. My sister and I held each other (and our wine) as the train completely derailed. After a tale of Selkies, we googled what Selkies actually were. They’re a lot like mermaids and straight out of Celtic mythology (I’m sure Frankie knows them much better than I do!), but they’re also something like the Japanese Kitsune myth. Basically, they are magical creatures that can change their shape into that of a human. Females apparently make wonderful wives. But to capture one and make it your wife, you have to steal its skin and hide it. If it ever finds its Coat, it will leave you and all of its children and go back to the sea. Males, on the other hand, are insanely attractive and apparently prefer to comfort lonely fishwives.

Most tales of selkies are romantic tragedies. This one was no exception.

The story follows the story of a young boy who loses his mother, but out of that sadness, he gains a sister. She has no voice. Actually, for a long time he’s quite mean to her. I suspect it’s because he sort of blames her for the loss of their mother.

Some weird stuff happens (spoilers), and the two of them end up on a bit of an adventure together. They meet all of the characters of their mother’s stories, including fairies who have been turned to stone and the witch who did it. The plot follows Ben and his sister, Saoirse, as they learn about their heritage and how to save the fairies.

It’s beautiful, sad, and excellent.

And for me, this was an adorable introduction to a new mythology. I can always appreciate that.

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).


#SundayReview: Sam Dares Review the Book of Which We Do Not Speak and Gives an Opinion Few Would Dare RE: One Christian Grey.

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My inner evil writer (see what I did there?!) is sporting a Cheshire grin for what I am about to do. I’ve been, for the most part, keeping this opinion to myself. But, I haven’t had a good shake-up in a while, so I figured why not throw a wrench in the gears of the universe and see what happens?

This is a kinda-sorta review of Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s actually less of a literary critique and more of a rebuttal to one of the most popular criticisms of the content.

Also, it should go without saying, but this post may be NSFW.

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert in the BDSM lifestyle. I have, however, been the submissive in a relationship before, and I understand what I’d consider to be an above-average level of how this kind of relationship actually functions. Spoiler alert: it is not about sex (although that’s nice, too).

By now, most everyone has read, watched, or at least heard of Fifty Shades of Grey. But, if you haven’t, let’s bring you up to speed.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James. It is the first installment in the Fifty Shades trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM). Originally self-published as an ebook and a print-on-demand, publishing rights were acquired by Vintage Books in March 2012.

Fifty Shades of Grey has topped best-seller lists around the world, selling over 125 million copies worldwide by June 2015. It has been translated into 52 languages, and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time. Critical reception of the book, however, has tended toward the negative, with the quality of its prose generally seen as poor. Universal Pictures and Focus Features produced a film adaptation, which was released on 13 February 2015[1] which also received generally unfavourable reviews.


It was/is incredibly popular and shot straight to the top of the bestseller lists. Now, before I tear it apart in ways it’s asking for, I’m going to say two things:

  1. It is not well-written, but,
  2. E.L. James made a fuck-ton of money off this story. Full stop.

What I mean by these two statements is that this is simply not a good book. The grammar is terrible, the prose is cheap, the characters are cliche. But, despite all of its many, many flaws, the series was and still is crazy popular, and E.L. James is way richer than all of us. That’s it, guys…she definitely won the game. Let it be the shining example of success for those of you that think you have no talent. She got a publishing deal. She got a movie deal. Therefore, none of us really have the right to judge her skills in executing this novel.

But, because this is the internet, all of us have won the right to criticize and pretend we know what we’re talking about.

The reasons for this book’s rapid rise to popularity are:

  • Women have power/control and loss-of fantasies
  • People love to argue about that

That’s it.

We won’t go into Point #1. You all have your own level of expertise with this, as I do.

But as for Point #2…the prevailing consensus is that this is an abusive relationship. Critics of the book love to point out that Anna is beaten and abused and that she ‘clearly says no’ on a number of occasions. Christian is a creepy, abusive, controlling asshole who locks her up and tells her what to do.

“He pissed me off how he was so controlling and abusive!” –A Raving Fangirl

The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s entirely ignorant of what it means to be in a BDSM relationship.

I don’t want to make this blog post all about the intricacies of a Dominant/submissive relationship. What I will say about it is that if it’s not your thing, don’t claim any level of understanding about how it works.

The basic foundation of being in such a relationship is a consented shift of power and control. For an excellent portrayal of how this helps to balance people, watch the movie Secretary (Maggie Gyllenhall/James Spader). Gyllenhall plays a character whose issues plague her constantly so she can’t even handle her own thoughts. It elicits a sort of panic. Spader plays an OCD kind of character who has a need to set things in order. He barks an order and she focuses on that. It keeps her from the buzzing, aggravating mess of other thoughts that would otherwise dictate her feelings and her day. He feels better because his need to command is well-received, and he can see the results in front of him. It works. For them. If it doesn’t work for you, no one is bothered by that, either.

The other thing I will say is that relationships are as unique as the people in them, so there are differences for every couple, including the level of pain and the magnitude of the power shift.Some only have a slight shift – maybe she runs the daytime life and he’s the master of the bedroom – while some will go to full Master/Slave mode. Whatever they choose, it’s really still not your business, or mine.

So here’s the bombshell opinion I have that no one likes:

Christian Grey is the abused, not the abuser.

(And the world shrieks on its axis. The screams are deafening.)

Why on earth would I say such a thing? The Dominant in a relationship clearly has all of the power!

Yes, but no. Christian is the initiator of the relationship, and it is a relationship he understands. He’s been doing this for a long time, and it comes with a certain set of constraints. The rules are clearly laid out. There’s a contract involved. The rules are explained. Anna has time to question and consider before anything really starts.

The important thing to remember is that the rules outline the exact nature of consent, and it’s a set of rules that literally redefines the general premise of “No means no.” In this case, “no” does not actually mean “no.” They must instead use a new word. The reason for it is simple…during uber-freaky sessions of doing the no-pants dance, people say a lot of things they don’t really mean. “No,” “Stop,” “Dear Jesus” are several things they might not really mean. The concept of a “safeword” is a SCREECHING HALT NO. When the safeword flies, operations shut down. Immediately.

Yeah. Anna said “No” and “Stop.” She never threw the safeword. And then she blamed him for what happened next. He followed the rules and she didn’t, and she believes he’s at fault for it.

Dominants are incredibly protective and possessive. It is in their nature to have ownership of their partner and certain aspects of their partner’s life. They see it is as their ultimate responsibility to provide safety, shelter, and discipline.

In contrast, submissives often just want to be cared for. They want to be loved, petted, spoiled a bit, and protected. It’s a balance that works, if one gets so lucky as to find the right person to meet the need.

Anna doesn’t understand this relationship, and that is all of the problem.

Anna stops answering Christian’s phone calls.

Anna ignores him.

Anna runs away.

Anna taunts him and provokes him.

Anna tries to make him jealous.

These are all petty schoolgirl tactics that no submissive would ever do because it hurts the Dominant. It’s distressing to the Dominant. It is emotionally destructive. All this does is erode his or her confidence and hammer home the feeling that they have failed in their most important function. Furthermore, it consumes the Dominant with worry and concern for the safety and sanity of their partner. Every moment Anna is gone, Christian is likely panicking. This would send his anxiety into fits.

It gets worse. One of the worst things a person can do to their partner in a relationship is to insult their sexual preferences. It’s too personal, too intimate. This is often the last thing people share with one another – their deepest, darkest desires – for fear of rejection. For Dominants, they are often already self-conscious about this. It’s not an easy thing to come to terms with…the desire to cause another pain during sex. It only gets easier when they can come to understand that there are people who desire to feel pain during sex.

But Anna attacks Christian on this point repeatedly.

By contrast, Christian tries to warn her about his preferences, and gives her an out many times if it gets to be too much. He also makes many allowances. She is never actually trapped, actually forced, or actually abused. All of their interactions are according to the carefully laid out structure of a relationship they should never have had.

From my perspective…

Too few people care to understand the different power dynamic of this unique type of relationship. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone, but it’s easy to judge the behavior of others when they engage in actions that aren’t well understood. It is fair to say that Anna does not like a lot of what she’s getting into, but it’s not Christian’s fault. It’s Anna’s.

It bothers me that people are so quick to condemn Christian’s actions, but that few are critical of Anna or her behavior. She is emotionally manipulative and unwilling to make compromise. Christian strays from the bounds of relationships that he understands to try to accommodate her because he cares about her, but she is unwilling to do the same.

Now, that’s fine, considering it’s a hard line to cross if it’s not your thing. She shouldn’t need to feel pressured into doing anything she doesn’t want to.

But, to belittle and harangue a man for not magically transforming into the handsome, romantic gentleman she wished him to be is unrealistic. To punish him for that is abusive.

Abuse comes in more forms than the cane or the lash. You can build a person up with rough rope and a firm hand. You can tear them apart with words. Too few people recognize that until it’s too late and the defenses of their heart, soul, and mind lay in tatters.

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).