Monday, August 3, 2015

Monarchs Book Review

Disclosure: I received this e-book for free to review, but I was not paid for the review itself, nor will I receive a commission should you choose to buy it.

I was recently approached to do a review of the e-book, Monarchs, by Alex Chu.

The book follows a man from Belleville, Logan Weidman. He worked as a customer service employee at a furniture company, and was miserable. One day, he received an e-mail from a mysterious organization of wealthy, powerful people inviting him to join.

They promised him riches beyond his wildest dreams, if only he made a human sacrifice. After some soul searching, he went along with the plan and the story followed him from there.

I personally enjoy these kinds of books. Secret societies, shadow organizations and conspiracies have always interested me, and I was hoping for a fun story with this one.

As I read, though, I grew more disappointed with it. Put simply, it needed more time on the editing table.

There were wording issues, like repetition and improper usage, flat characters, unnecessary scenes and words that don't exist in the English dictionary. I found myself just wanting to be done with it by the time I was about halfway through.

That said, there were a few scenes that were pretty well done. The life of a customer service rep, for example, was spot on, and a couple of the murders were described decently.

Overall, I didn't care for the book. As mentioned before, it could be much better if edited properly. Scenes should be cut, wording changed, dialogue made more realistic and characters fleshed out.

If the publisher put out a new edition after combing through this one more thoroughly, it may be an enjoyable read. This one, while fast, didn't hold my interest well at all.

Feel free to check out my video review for a little more info on the book and some specifics of what I didn't care for.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Fictioneers: Drive the Darkness Away

Not quite as lighthearted as past contributions. It should be noted that I have no addiction problems (unless you count coffee), but that's the first thing that comes to mind when I see those bottles.

Thanks, as always, to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting Friday Fictioneers.

PHOTO PROMPT © G.L. MacMillan.
Genre: Uh...speculative fiction? I guess? I don't know.
Word Count: 100

Drive the Darkness Away

     Tap, tap.
     A little powder here, a little liquid there brings light to a dark world. Just a little spark to burn away some of the smothering void. But just a little.
     For now.
     Tap, tap, tap.
     A little more won’t hurt. Will it? The spark isn’t as strong without the extra. The darkness is twice as heavy, and it just won’t go away.
     Tap, tap, tap, tap.
     The spark is a bright light now. It drives the darkness away and the world is brilliant again.
     Until it’s too bright.
     The darkness is back, but now it’s here to stay.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Sculpture Garden

I've lived in this state for about 15 years, but there are still quite a few things I've yet to see. This year, I'm changing that. That's why I roped a friend of mine into wandering the Sculpture Garden run by the Walker Art Center with me on Monday.

That horse isn't made out of wood, by the way. That's bronze.

I know, right? I didn't believe it, either, until I looked for the hidden welding.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

3 (Almost) Free Outdoor Things To Do In The Twin Cities

In Minnesota, we love our outdoor time. Those of us who can't handle the wicked winters rely on warmer weather to get our time in nature. These are my three favorite mostly free summer, spring and fall spots.

Mississippi River, Summer, 2015
North Mississippi Regional Park
One of the coolest parts of this area is the fact that so many parks are directly connected by biking and walking paths. You can get to this park by walking along the Shingle Creek hiking path, or you can take the exit from I94 W by car. Parking is free.

This park has a splash pad and playground, as well as a variety of walking paths that loop through prairie, give beautiful views overlooking the river and leading directly to the shore. Along the way, you can find natural springs and see where the large local creek joins with the river.

You'll also find the Kroening Interpretive Center which also has free admission. This center hosts a small, but educational selection of historical, science and nature displays. It also has a little room of live animals, including local turtles, toads, frogs and a corn snake.

It also has backpacks full of educational materials you can rent for free to take with you in the park. The backpacks are geared towards different aspects of the ecosystem.

We wandered around with the insect one, which included two nets and containers to hold the catches as we identified them with the enclosed books.

Although they're free, an adult does need to exchange their license or car keys to help prevent theft.
Minnehaha Falls, summer, 2011
Minnehaha Falls
These falls are a sacred site to the local Native American population, and should be treated with the proper respect. However, they are open to the public, and it's not hard to see why they hold such cultural importance.

This area is steeped in history. After the settlers arrived and set up shop, they were part of a limestone mine. The material pulled from the area was of high enough quality to be shipped all over the country.

Eventually, the mine shut down, and the area's natural beauty was touted as having great health benefits. This attracted people from all over to reap these benefits.

Since then, it's become a beloved local park. The falls are visible from a lovely stone bridge going over them, and from landings separated by staircases. Once you get to the lowest level, you can then cross over the creek to view the falls from above and walk along hiking paths to the Mississippi river.

Watch out for the romanticized statue of Hiawatha carrying Minnehaha over the creek, Lyndon B. Johnson's footprints immortalized in cement and Chief Little Crow's mask. There is also a restaurant, a nearby Dairy Queen and other monuments scattered throughout the park.

Some people hold their weddings there for the gorgeous pictures the scenery offers, so you may run across a wedding party or two.

You can get there by Light Rail or car. There is metered parking available, as well as paid lots, but if you don't mind walking, there's a free lot tucked out of the way.

I like going to the falls on a regular basis, because they change over time. The limestone is soft enough that the falls themselves carve it into different shapes.
Como Park Conservatory, 2006
By RxS at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
I haven't been to Como Park in a number of years, but it's still one of my favorite spots. Unlike the previous two parks, this one is not located in Minneapolis, but in St. Paul.

In addition to the sprawling trails, this park boasts a small zoo, carousel, enclosed conservatory and a few smaller outdoor gardens. Because there's so much to do in this park, it can take several visits to appreciate everything in it.

The conservatory looks different from year to year, because of how plants grow, as do the outdoor gardens. There are sometimes births and new animals in the zoo, as well.

I've only gone to the park by car, but parking is free. You can also get there by bike or bus.

While admission is free, a small donation of $3 per adult and $2 per child is encouraged to help with care of the animals and upkeep of the grounds.

These parks are all open in the winter for those who enjoy the cold weather, but I prefer to get my outdoor time in when it's warm outside.

If you ever find yourself in the Twin Cities area, try fitting these destinations into your schedule.

Monday, July 20, 2015

How I Pay Less Than $30 On My Cell Phone Bill

Disclaimer: If you choose to join Ting through my referral link, I will receive a credit on my account.
My home-screen has since changed, but I dig this phone.
If you're anything like me, you're always on the lookout for new ways to save
money. One of the biggest money leaches I've found is the cell phone bill.

It's easy to pay hundreds of dollars a month for one phone. Because of that, I've hopped around services. I've gone with big providers T-Mobile, AT&T, and smaller ones, like Virgin Mobile and Earthlink. Almost a year ago to the day, I stumbled upon Ting Mobile.

The base fee per phone with Ting is only $6, and it's pay as you go, so you're not paying for service you don't use. What caught my interest is how low the usage prices are.

They break voice, messages and data into categories.

Here's the break down for voice:

1-100 minutes - $3.00
101-100 minutes - $9.00
501-1000 minutes - $18.00
1001-2100 minutes - $35.00
2100 + minutes - $35 + 1.9 cents

Messaging, voicemail, 3-way calling, hotspot and other services are all free.

If you already have a compatible device, you can bring it over when you sign up for the service. I bought one, because when I signed up, I only had an eight year old phone. From what I've seen, their prices are on par with independent retailers.

Since getting this device, my highest bill was $26.44 after taxes. Over the year I've had this phone, I've been involved with two weddings, a convention and a camping trip to the middle of nowhere. My usual bill is usually under $20.

I can easily hook up to WiFi networks, so my data usage is always very low. That's a feature offered by most of the phones they carry. Currently, they have Samsung (including the pretty S6 Edge - must...resist...), Apple, Motorola and a few smaller brands. My current phone is the Samsung Galaxy S4, and it continues to serve me beautifully.

Coverage was a little spotty in some places, but it was better than some of the other networks I've been a part of, and the customer service has been far better than anything I've dealt with from other companies.

A few other things to note:
  • They offer the chance to donate to select charities.
  • You can bring your phone number with you - great for people like me who have trouble memorizing numbers.
  • NO CONTRACTS. NO CONTRACTS. NO CONTRACTS. If you want to cancel, you won't need to pay ridiculous cancellation fees.
  • You can have control over how many minutes, messages and megabytes of data are used per device.

If you're interested in checking it out more in depth, please click this referral link. If you sign up through that link, you'll either get $25 off of a new device or a credit towards your first bill on your account - your choice!

Always a good thing, right?

This device even helps with knitting.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Fictioneers: Everyone's a Comedian

My fiction skills are so rusty! I've been writing too much about the real world.

Good thing Friday Fictioneers is still a thing. Thanks, as always, to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting!

PHOTO PROMPT- © Sandra Crook
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Word Count: 100

Everyone's a Comedian
            “If these walls had ears,” Lee murmured as he pressed a palm to the ancient building’s wall.
            The young boy at his side stopped between the large man and the redhead on his other side. “What if they had ears?”
            “Well, they’d have some interesting stories to tell. This is an old part of town, Kage.”
            “Wouldn’t they need mouths then?” Di grinned at Lee’s face palm.
            A grin spread over Kage’s face. “Yeah, and eyes, ‘cause how would they know there was anyone there to talk to?”
            Lee sighed and started walking again. “I can’t take you two anywhere.”