A New Decade

April is coming to a close in yet another year, this one filled with nearly as many surprises as the last. Hopefully the first four months of 2021 have gone well for all of you. I can honestly say there have been some pretty interesting changes come about so far this year, not the least of which is my entrance into the third decade of my life on this big blue ball.

That’s right, last weekend I celebrated my birthday and the start of my 30th year of life. It hardly seems possible, if I’m being honest. I don’t feel a day over 75… wait? But seriously, I feel like 30 years old is a pretty good milestone. I don’t feel like I should be that old, though. I still find myself looking around for an adult when I have a question about something I’m working on, only to realize I am the adult. Nevermind that I typically know the answer I’m looking for anyway, my brain doesn’t want to accept that it has pondered life’s larger questions for three decades already.

I was able to celebrate my birthday in a pretty fantastic way, thanks to my amazing wife. We got some great food, and I got some fantastic gifts (not the least of which was the full series of “The Office” on DVD with more than 15 hours of extras) and we spent the actual day of my birthday enjoying the Flower and Food Festival at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tn. Arriving shortly before the park opened, we spent the entire day celebrating great rides, delicious semi-international cuisine, and wonderful Appalachian culture in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was definitely a day to remember.

All of that got me thinking, of course, about just what sort of wonderful memories I had created throughout the day and my life, and what others I would still be able to create within my life span. There are a lot of things I want to do in my life. Plenty of travel, cruising, writing, exploring nature, and having a fantastic life with my wife. Frankly, continuing to think about the things I want to do is making me quite excited for the years to come and what they will hold. But it is also making me beyond thankful that I have had the opportunities I have had already in this life.

I have seen a lot of things in my short 30 years (ouch, saying it that way kind of stings a bit…) and I have accomplished a fair bit as well. As of now my books are being sold, not only by me personally and on Amazon, but in several local stores as well. I have created a page for those locations here, to make it easy to find!

That being said, I have to admit I have been struggling recently with feeling like I have truly accomplished anything in my life. Between receiving more rejections than I care to admit on my recent agent queries for Maverip and seeing fluctuations in my sales for Moonlight and Tales of the Mysterious and the Macabre, it has been a touch and go situation for my own positivity lately. My wife has done an amazing job reminding me that I have plenty to be proud of and feel accomplished for, however. As of this writing, my books are being sold in 3 book stores and 3 local boutique and general store type locations. It’s kind of hard to believe, but I do fully appreciate the magnitude of that figure. To know that there are people in two states able to physically walk into a store and see my work on the shelves of a store is a fantastic feeling.

I plan to continue trying to expand my distribution to new locations and continue writing and publishing more work as well. Mainly, with this post, I just wanted to take the time to encourage you all and remind anyone reading that, no matter how old you are or what stage of life you find yourself in, you have unlimited possibilities for what you can accomplish. You might not have achieved every goal you wanted to achieve, and you might not feel like things are going exactly as planned, but the only way to change that is by not giving up. Believe me when I tell you I know it is not always easy, by any means, but it is definitely worth it. One day soon you will look back at when you didn’t think these things were possible and you won’t believe how much you have done!

As a tip for those days where you feel you haven’t accomplished anything worthwhile – because they will come, believe me, I recommend removing yourself from the situation for a moment and looking at your work with an outside view. Look at the creative works you have completed, especially if people are paying money to enjoy them and are talking about them in a positive way. Take a moment to truly examine the magnitude of what you have done. Look at the personal goals you have achieved and the things you have to hold dear. Frankly, seeing it in that light may well make you more proud than you ever thought you would have a right to be. From there, I recommend setting realistic goals to look back on later. Finish that chapter, that painting, complete the edits you have been putting off. It will make a difference, which may well be the thing that continues to inspire you and help you believe in your work and yourself in the long run. I am always available to help with encouraging and inspiring, too. Don’t hesitate to talk to me about the ongoing frustrations of being a creative in this climate – believe me I know!

Keep your eyes open for more news coming up, and enjoy every minute of your lives. Another year will be starting before we know it!

To the Top of the World

Hello there! As we prepare for some lovely travel experiences this year, we would love to share a short tale of our trip to, well, not the top of the world, but to the second highest peak in the state of Virginia. Whitetop Mountain, that colossus who thrusts his mighty peak up to a whopping 5,520 feet above the Commonwealth of Virginia, offers multiple hiking trails, nice picnic areas and photo opportunities, and an astounding view of three states. The view alone includes a good chunk of the Blue Ridge Mountains, beautiful farm land and mountainous wonder as far as the eye can see, and brings the sky so close you feel you could reach out and touch it. Whether you want to see Virginia, Tennessee, or North Carolina, you are in luck on Whitetop Mountain.

We started our journey, as many would, coming in off Interstate 81 at the edge of Chilhowie and driving past some beautiful farmland, climbing ever higher on state maintained roads until we reached the gravel turnoff to our destination. Immediately the thick forest closed in on the road and we rolled down the windows to breathe in the fresh air that, honestly, brings me so much joy I can never get over it. The higher we climbed, the rougher the road became, but we made it over the worst of the conditions and finally broke free of the forest to see the first of the vast views the site has to offer. Looking out over the farms and forest that surround nearby Grayson Highlands State Park (a visit for the near future we hope) we felt the awe of the height we had achieved already.

The main parking area, just short of the peak, was our destination, so we carried on up the mountain, watching as the view just got better and better. Once we reached the parking area, we were eager to get out and get our adventure moving. Despite the warm weather the air was obviously much cooler at such a high elevation, which probably helped some in the long run.

Right away we made note of just how close the sky looked to us, how intense and beautiful the clouds were, and how far we could see thanks to the clarity of the day. Amanda and I, no stranger to mountain and forest hiking, made our way through a short forest path that gave us some lovely views of the flora and fauna of the high elevation, with thick pine and brilliant green ferns galore, it was like falling into an ancient wilderness. As multiple signs will tell you on your way up the mountain, Whitetop is really its own ecosystem. There was no shortage of lovely flowers, brilliant colors, and the scent of deep forest air to enjoy high above the nearby towns and cities. As we trekked our of the forest again, we saw our immediate destination in a rock and grassy outcropping a little further down from the peak.

It was a relatively easy hike down, the shin-high mountain grass blowing gently in the cool breeze with giant cottony clouds floating just out of reach overhead. The sun played on the grass and stone as we approached our area of interest. We could see for miles, the gorgeous haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains standing broad in the distance. The clouds sent enormous shadows scurrying over the land below as they played across the bright blue sky, the colors of the world around us shining in mesmerizing clarity as we snapped pictures at first, and then just paused to admire the beauty. We explored the outcropping for a while, sidling through the tall grass, climbing stones for better views, and just breathing in the air high above the every day world.

The hike back to the vehicle was a bit exhausting once we were ready to leave. We quickly got a bit warm as the breeze died down. Thicker, darker clouds moved mercifully over the sun as we climbed back up the mountain and got closer to our return to reality. With what seemed to be a potential for a nice summer storm, a lot of the people who had been enjoying the mountain’s sublime beauty began flocking to the parking lot as we were. Many people were leaving as we reached our vehicle, taking one last look at the scenery and getting one last breath of fresh air before we started our return to the lowlands.

In short, Whitetop Mountain is an incredible destination for anyone with a passion for beautiful scenery. It can be a bit of a daunting drive, sitting at around 40 minutes outside of Chilhowie with some pretty quick changes in elevation, but it is absolutely worth the wait. While there aren’t attractions per se, there are several places to rest and take in the beauty of the natural world around you, which is honestly something we could all stand to do every now and again. We would highly recommend this trip, and hope if you all take the time to go here you will share your experiences as well. A word of caution we can offer is to remember to take account that however far you hike down the mountain, you have to come back up! It’s easy to become enraptured by the beauty of this incredible place, but don’t exhaust yourself to the point of misery. That’s no good for anyone!

With warm weather hopefully here to stay, we hope to have plenty more adventures to enjoy and share with you all, so keep your eyes open for the future posts. If you have a suggestion for a place we can go or an adventure we can leap into, share them with us! Check The Mathews Experience out on social media for more pictures and some videos of our adventures!

Celebrating Christmas in the Smokies

Hello everyone! I hope 2021 has been a great adventure for everyone so far. One thing we want to be able to do with our travel and lifestyle series here at The Mathews Experience is discuss some of the great adventures and fun times we get to have. Of course, with the current climate, work, the seasons, and general lack of time, travel just hasn’t happened much so far this year. So, to remedy that, we want to take some time to talk about some of our past adventures. The most recent one we had took us to one of our favorite places in the world; the Great Smoky Mountains!

Amanda and I left from our mountain home around the middle of December and went to our mountain home away from home to celebrate the Christmas season and get a nice break from everyday life. The trip began with a fantastic drive, with plenty of great holiday music and fun conversation. Once we arrived in the Smokies we were immersed in the season, with lights on every available space they could be strung or placed, and holiday music coming from every speaker in existence. Despite not having a fresh blanket of snow on every surface we looked at, it was a Winter Wonderland.

While on this trip we found ourselves staying on the Gatlinburg parkway, so close to most of the attractions we were interested in we didn’t even move our vehicle to get to most places. Walking on the parkway was an enjoyable experience. There was quite a crowd most of the time, but the vast majority of people we saw were wearing their masks and making at least some effort to maintain distance from anyone they weren’t with. From the smells of food coming from every restaurant, to the sounds of Christmas, and the decorations surrounding us, we were definitely greeted by that mountain holiday feeling we were looking for.

While trying to cram as much Smokies experience as we could in our short trip, we decided to go to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and see the fish and fun there. We managed to arrive at a time when the aquarium was almost empty, and were one of the few customers wandering the aquatic wonderland. The whole place was decked out in holiday decorations, with ornaments and lights everywhere, even in several displays. It was very easy to take our time and look at all the various exhibits without being rushed – or being held back by crowds. This was, perhaps, one of the most peaceful aquarium trips either of us had ever experienced. The only down side being that we did not get to see the beautiful Green Sea Turtle, Sally, despite making our way through the Shark Tunnel twice. No matter! We saw plenty of awesome sea life, including a couple of baby Bonnethead sharks, so our trip was a great one.

Not to play favorites among the Ripley’s attractions nestled into the foothills of the Smokies, we also made our way to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum to see the wonderous exhibits there. This attraction also did not disappoint. Though a little more crowded, most everyone in attendance was sure to maintain a respectful distance and be cautious with their masks, which is something you really can’t be too careful with during such a time. The displays, however, were a little surprising in that some of the interactive ones were still uncovered and in working order. Some of the more hands-on ones were, of course, roped off or closed to the public, but there were several exhibits that had a button or switch you could use to turn this light on or uncover that bizarre fact, etc.. and several of them were nowhere near a sanitizing station. We also did not notice many employees coming by to clean as often as we would have expected, but we were more than prepared with our own wipes and sanitizers. None of that took away from our trip, but it was worth noting. The entire museum was enjoyable to us, particularly the large matchstick model of Hogwarts, and (for me at least) the shrunken head exhibits and the Devil and the Damsel rotating statue, based on the German epic poem, Faust.

The highlight of our trip, and reason behind it, was Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas. The day started with a nice breakfast at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp and such a massive amount of food that much of it went home with us. The quality of the meal was very good, and the environment, made to look like a novelty lumber camp of the 1800s, was quite appealing to me. From there we made our way to the park to bask in the down-home holiday traditions of those amazing mountains. From the second we got to the entrance to the park we felt the spirit of the holidays and the happiness of the park everywhere. Despite the cold, we were in awe at the millions of lights and fun displays that adorned the buildings and trees, filled the windows, and lit the park with every color imaginable. We started our Dollywood experience with a classic ride through the mountains on the Dollywood Express. Once a free for all, now the conductor requires tickets to board the train, which you can get from an employee for pretty much any scheduled time through the day. We felt this was a definite benefit and a way to, hopefully, help people maintain distance by limiting the amount of people who climb aboard the old passenger train.

Following along behind that old steam engine, we got to see the massive park from all angles, catching glimpses of rides in progress, lights on display, even the newer developments that are almost always happening these days. It was a great, if frigid, way to start our Dollywood day. Most of the rides we wanted to go on were either down due to the weather, or had some very long lines, but we were able to cover nearly every inch of the park – and I’ve got the photos and video to show it! We were very impressed by the level of professionalism shown by the in-park retail locations and restaurants, many of which seemed to have one door designated as an entrance and another as an exit only, which kept the lines of customers flowing in one solid direction for the most part. We stayed in the park from opening (around 2) until after dark, loving the lights and the holiday celebration, but absolutely wore ourselves out walking around the park. Between grabbing a bite to eats at Red’s Drive-In and finishing our day by buying a little Dolly-approved merchandise, the park was absolutely fantastic. With the changes that take place from one year to the next, I think we will be happy to return year after year to see the wonderful Christmas displays and experience the warm Christmas spirit.

One of the last things I must mention about this trip was our great dinner at Dolly Parton’s Stampede. It had been years since either of us had ever been, but the show did not disappoint. This was one of the few places we ran into people who were a little reluctant to follow mask regulations, but it did not ruin our experience by any means. With a fantastic four-course Southern meal and a heart-warming show filled with positive messages and good, fun comedy, it was a great night for us. Overall, the trip was one that we will not soon forget and will hopefully only improve upon as years go by.

January is nearly over, which means we will hopefully have some warm weather to travel by soon, so keep your eyes open for more content. Follow our social media pages, and see the flashbacks of our past trips continue to roll out as we prepare for plenty of new adventures. In the meantime, feel free to share any great experiences you all have, or places you suggest we add to our list!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

Merry Christmas, everyone!! I know this year has been difficult, and the holidays can sometimes be stressful, but I hope you will all take the time to cherish the good things today and every day for the rest of this year – no matter what holidays you celebrate (or don’t).

Personally, I have had an excellent Christmas with my wife here in our snowy mountain home. I am beyond ecstatic that our first Christmas as husband and wife has been a white one and a happy one. All things considered, the blessings we have been able to enjoy this year have given me so much to be thankful for.

Our Christmas adventure has shown us a lot of excitement, a lot of smiles, and a lot of joy- and it isn’t over yet! Tomorrow will be yet another happy day of celebration for us. I know a lot of people haven’t been able to celebrate with their loved ones this year, and many traditions have been put on hold or altered to meet the current state of affairs, but I hope everyone has been able to draw a bit of joy from the holiday. With luck next year will bring a return to the things we have enjoyed in the past, hopefully with an added sense of appreciation and love for those traditions.

Whatever your holiday brought to you, however you were able to celebrate, I sincerely hope love and peace met each and every one of you. Do your best to enjoy the rest of this day and this last week of 2020!

The Mathews Experience

Hello, everyone! I have some very exciting news that I am ecstatic to announce here. My incredible wife and I have decided we are going to start sharing some of our awesome adventures both here and on social media platforms. We absolutely love going on exciting adventures, visiting new places, trying new products and just generally enjoying life. Often we find ourselves looking at the advice of people who have been to those places or tried those products before us to see if there are any helpful tips that may assist us in enjoying ourselves that much more. So we thought, why not try to offer the same advice and assistance to others?

We will focus mainly on our travels and our love of the Appalachian region to begin with, with most of our posts centering on events or attractions in that region. I may occassionally do a retro blog about something we have done in the past just to help provide information about those areas or events, so keep your eyes open for those as well! Amanda and I really love our life and the awesome things we get to do and the places we get to go, so we are very excited to have an opportunity to share tips on ways to make the most out of life with anyone who is interested in hearing what we have to say.

I hope to get these posts going fairly regularly ASAP. Of course, not a lot of travel has happened this year, with COVID-19 running rampant the world over, but we will have plenty of content for anyone who is interested. We have a ton of ideas lined up for the future, but we are also eager to hear what you all may be interested in. Is there a place you’ve thought of going, but aren’t sure if it will really be up your alley? Or is there an event you’d like to attend, or a product you’d like to try that you just aren’t sure will work for you? Feel free to suggest it to us and we will add it to our list. We would love to have as much interaction on this as possible, and we look forward to hearing what each and every one of you has to say.

I also want to make sure I’m clear that, in addition to the blog posts and social media posts we will be making, we are also going to start vlogging a number of these expereinces, and we would love to have you all join along in that. For anyone interested, the link to our YouTube channel is; https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChAKcKB7kPH0GQA1Q4uAV3w

Our Instagram link is: https://www.instagram.com/themathewsexperience

Our Facebook link is: https://www.facebook.com/themathewsexperience

You can also find us on Twitter at: https://www.twitter.com/mathewsxprience

Our TikTok link is here, too https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMJp4bn1Q/

Moonlight and the Holidays

Greetings, all! We are less than a week away from Christmas and several other end of the year holidays and life goes on here in the mountains. I have been writing much more lately than I did for several weeks throughout the earlier parts of the year, and I am very pleased to announce that my Appalachian werewolf novel, “Moonlight” is officially live and available for purchase internationally!

This novel, telling the story of a young man who moves to the Great Smoky Mountains and encounters a creature he never believed could exist, has been a pet project of mine for about five years. I wrote the original version of the novel in less than 3 weeks, putting pretty much everything else aside and immersing myself in the world I was working hard to create. I did research on countless versions of the werewolf legend, Appalachian myths and customs and so much more. To say I let the story take over my mind for a bit may be an understatement.

Once I had finished the book I decided to tear it apart and edit it from beginning to end before sending it to beta readers. Needless to say the story gained a life of its own. Over the last five years it has changed several times and has developed beyond my original idea into something that still surprises me on occasion. I am beyond excited to be able to present this novel to anyone who is interested, and I have set up a couple of different ways to purchase it. Of course, there is the classic Amazon purchase option here, which should allow anyone to purchase the book internationally. In addition to this, I have set up a secure purchase link that allows anyone with a U.S. address to purchase a copy of the book directly from me, with a chance to purchase either a plain or autographed copy. You can find both of those options here. I am also in talks with several local shops and vendors to host the book on their shelves and help promote local work, which absolutely thrills me. I will be happy to share more on that ASAP!

I can’t thank everyone enough for the immense outpouring of support I have gotten since announcing the release of this book. I hope you will all consider purchasing the book, and for those of you that do, I hope you enjoy the read. It is quite a journey, if I may say so. Please share this with anyone and everyone you think may be interested in such a book, and help get this one to an all new audience!

10 years

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope life is flowing smoothly as schools are let out and summer heats us up. Things are going fantastic in some aspects on my end. Recently I worked with a local craft retailer and now my book (https://amzn.to/2KLRvsY ) is available in a real brick-and-mortar store in my hometown! The store, Between Friends, is located on Main Street in Tazewell, Va., so, if you’re ever in town and want to pick up a signed copy of my book, make your way there!! Of course, if you’re interested in a signed copy and don’t have the means to go to the store, reach out to me!

This year is something of a monumental one for me. Not only do I have my first print work available for purchase, but this year marks the 10 year anniversary of my high school graduation. Specifically Sunday, June 9, I had officially been out of high school for ten years. And it has been quite a whirlwind decade. I went from being a high school kid with dreams of published works, to being able to say my book is for sale in a local retailer, for one. For another, I went from thinking I knew something of the world, to being more than willing to admit there are still tons of things I would love to learn. But, most importantly, I’ve found the love of my life, I’ve learned countless life lessons, and I have an idea of just who I want to be when all is said and done.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching in my day and I’ve tried a lot of different career paths in the last ten years, and I’ve landed right where I am. In high school I was very stubborn and had little on mind besides my writing. Ideas and inspirations for teaching and other jobs would come into my mind and I would close the door on them. I wanted nothing more than my novels. By all means, that is still something I want for myself. The idea of being able to support my lifestyle and my family solely with my writing still brings a tear to my eye, but it has taken some focusing to really figure out the specifics. I find myself desiring to teach, to live an awesome life, and to enjoy every waking moment I have available to me. But it took some navigating to figure out.

I went for multiple jobs, in multiple places, and I still find myself returning to the desire that is deep-rooted in my heart. With each venture that I try, I find myself drawn more to teaching and to writing, and I remind myself time and time again of the days all those years ago when those were my dreams. I am one step closer to achieving those dreams each and every day, and in times of doubt that is what I try to look at. Basically what I’m getting at is I’ve fought tooth and nail – with the outside world as well as myself – to become the man I’ve wanted to be. I’ve considered my dreams and my destiny and everything else, and it always brings me back here. I may not have achieved my total dream yet, but I’m on the way. Ten years after I left high school behind, I’m almost where I imagined I would be.

So my message to all new graduates, or to those old ones who may have lost sight of their goal; don’t give up. Don’t put your dreams aside. Chase them until you can’t anymore. Nothing is too fantastic, too far-fetched. Nothing is impossible. You may have just been turned out in the “real world,” but that doesn’t mean you should hesitate for even one second to make it your own. We’re given a purpose on this earth. It may take some of us a while to reach it, or even to figure it out, but at the end of the day it’s there. You’ve just got to go for it.

Apply for that job you don’t think,you’re qualified for. Reach for the goal you don’t think is quite withing reach. Take the leap, even if you’re not sure where you’ll land. Even if you don’t reach your goal right away, you’ll be closer than you were. No one should live a live that doesn’t make them happy. Some of us may have to struggle to get there, but it’s worth it. After all, if we never felt pain or strain, how would we recognize peace when we finally reach it? Put aside the worries, doubts, old days, and old things that hold us back and keep us from making our dreams a reality. Whatever you’re going through just make sure you have a goal in mind. No matter how great or small that goal may seem, go for it. Don’t give up. If you feel like it’s your destiny, your purpose, your heart and soul’s desire – chances are it is. And it could be exactly what you’re made for.

No obstacle or dream is too big. What do you want to do no that you’ve put the old days behind you? Feel free to reach out and share!

This is the Endgame

Hey there, friends and fans! I have to start by saying; don’t worry, there are no spoilers here.

As a lifelong Marvel fan, this movie was an absolute dream come true. From the moment I saw the very first Avengers movie come to life on the big screen in college, I have been awaiting this biggest Marvel masterpiece and, I’m ecstatic to say, it does not disappoint. It was even cooler for me because I got to see the film on early release on my birthday. Talk about a gift!

If you are a fan of superhero films, this is definitely a must-see. Bringing these characters together after such a devastating ending to “Infinity War” really allows you to feel what they’re feeling. You get the anger, sadness, hopeless desperation that was left after the events from last year’s film.

I feel situations like this, on screen or in a comic book panel, really allow you to feel the humanity of those individuals who often feel so much more elevated than us. It helps us rememeber that bad things can happen, no matter how hard we try or what skills we have. Basically, it allows us relate to these characters and remember why we love them.

This film is no different. We get to see insight into what happens when those who seem to have a higher chance at beating any obstacle get a taste of the opposite. I feel like the best thing about the film is exactly that. At the end of “Infinity War” we saw the humanity in each hero, the true feeling of what makes them human and bridges the gap between what they have become over what some of them once were.

“Endgame” is a three hour adventure into a world that we have followed for more than ten years and 21 trips to the theater. It’s the longest Marvel universe film yet, but it doesn’t feel like it. I was pleasantly surprised that the movie flowed incredibly and gave me nearly everything I could have asked for.

If I say much more I will be in danger of spoiling something, so I’m going to wrap this up by saying this movie was the perfect bow on the gift that has been Phase 3. I am beyond excited to see what Phase 4 has in store for us. As far as emotion goes, “Endgame” is full of it. I wasn’t positive what was going to happen, but my theories did not prove correct. Did yours?

If you haven’t seen the film yet, stop waiting. Go see it. If you aren’t caught up on the other movies watch “Civil War” and “Infinity War.” Everything else will fall into place. Make sure to go see it. Enjoy every minute. But whatever you do, don’t spoil the Endgame.

After you see it, be sure to stop by and let me know what you think!

Fallout 76 and Appalachia

Reclamation Day has finally arrived! October 23 has come and gone, and Vault 76 officially opened to show us dwellers just what post-apocalyptic West Virginia looks like. In case you haven’t followed the series, the latest Fallout game, which puts players in various parts of the U.S. (and occasionally an alien vessel) years after nuclear bombs have laid waste to the world as we know it, began B.E.T.A. testing last night.

In addition to being set far in a 1950’s-esque future, with strangely advanced machinery, and a renewed hatred of Communism, the Fallout series presents players with a myriad of radiation-altered enemies; humanoid, robot, and animalistic in nature.

The latest game, Fallout 76, allows players to leave their respective nuclear fallout shelter, or vault, about 25 years after the bombs fell. That’s about 200 years earlier than any other Fallout game so far. That’s one of the most exciting things about this game, for me. With such a short time frame after the war, we’re not only going to see things that haven’t had as much time to readjust, but we’re going to be in an area that hasn’t yet been explored by the games. This game is also completely different, in that it’s an entirely online platform. You’re playing on a server with a limited number of other people, but all other human interaction is actually via other players in real time. Of course, you can go off on your own and explore, but you’re encouraged to build teams and play as a unit.

After playing the four hour B.E.T.A. (Standing for Break it Early Test Application), I’m pretty impressed by the game so far. When it comes to game play and the general feel of the game, this one compares to part 4 for me. I feel the graphic engine upgrade has done a lot for exemplifying the beauty of West Virginia, an area I’m very familiar with, having grown up half an hour from the border. Movement in the game was pretty similar to previous ones, as is the “junk” you pick up through the world that assists you through the rest of the game. One new and interesting thing is the Pip Boy graphic, which can now be transferred from your arm module to lay over the screen in a hologram-style opaque screen. This makes the real-time gameplay a bit easier, since you can see the enemies around you.

Another factor that helps with the real time gameplay is that you have to eat and drink regularly or you’ll get dehydrated and starve. There are countless opportunities to pick up food through the world, including stripping meat from the animals you kill, but the new thing here is- it all spoils. If you get some meat from the doe you killed and don’t eat it for a certain period of time, it rots. At that point it can still be eaten, but it has a significantly increased chance to give you diseases and radiation damage.

Speaking of radiation damage, that’s another difference. Before if your radiation level got too high, you’d have some slight side effects, but usually nothing too noticeable during gameplay. In this game there are increased chances for radiation-influenced disease. One example I saw last night was during a fight with some feral ghouls. During the fight I saw the notice that I’d taken increased rad damage, and then every few seconds during the fight myself and the area around me would burst into flames. After taking some meds to lower the radiation levels I got the notice that I had recovered from an “unstable isotope” illness. This makes me very excited for what other possibilities await in that area.

As far as creatures to battle, I ran into a lot of ghouls, of course, a group of supermutants, some protectrons and other robots, but in this game there are some new and interesting creatures. I ran across a few supersized ticks, a couple of three headed opossums, and a new robot. But the most interesting thing I encountered was the Scorched. I just played in a few areas of the map, and for a limited time, but what I saw was; Scorched are everywhere.

Looking like a case of sunburn gone bad, the burnt-skinned creatures appear to be covered in glowing embers and growing green lesions all over their bodies. There are research areas dedicated to the creatures that give you some more details, but I can say they can be brutal if they gang up on you. Violent, vicious, and hard to see in the dark, they use weapons and can have a pretty decent health. They also move quickly and can sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.

One thing that has returned, but altered, is weapon and armor degradation. In previous games (except 4) your equipment would break down and eventually become unusable, but you could grab another of the same item and combine them to fix it. With this game, if something breaks, you have to have junk and go to an armor or weapon bench to repair it. That adds a new and interesting element to the gameplay and gives you an increased need for a good melee weapon as well. Leveling up is also a bit different, this game offering you perk cards rather than a perk map. You can only have certain cards active at a time, which allows you to build and change your character’s effectiveness in different areas for different things, and depending on whether you’re on your own or part of a team.

Overall, my first experience with Bethesda’s version of West Virginia has been a positive one. It was very interesting for me to explore the digital version of areas I’ve frequented in my life. I was able to cross the damaged New River Gorge bridge, see areas I’ve driven through countless times, and search Point Pleasant for the mysterious Mothman. Although I didn’t find him, I did harvest some of his eggs, so I have hope for his presence in the game. I also find myself wondering if the presence of what appeared to be drones in the sky just outside of Point Pleasant has anything to do with him. Point Pleasant lies on the edge of the map and I witnessed what appeared to be two drones flying over an area just beyond the edge of the map. Maybe that’s an area we’ll see opened in the future?

I’m very excited for the next B.E.T.A. session to open, and I very much hope I can join it. In the meantime, I hope you’ll all purchase the game if you haven’t already. I would love to build a team with you guys to explore the wild and wonderful West Virginia wilderness! I’m putting one of my gameplay photos as the cover photo here, and I may share a couple others on social media if you want to check them out. I may make some other posts as the official full game release approaches, so keep your eyes open for that. And if you do have access to the B.E.T.A., keep your weapons ready and share your experiences with me!!

Harry Potter and the 8-book review

Hey there friends and fans! It’s the end of May and, as promised, here is the first in a new kind of review for me. I apologize for being a bit later than intended, but between work and some personal challenges, here we are. Without further ado, let’s jump right in! Obviously, the appeal of the standard review isn’t something I can completely drop when a book particularly calls to me, but this has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. In case you’ve had your head in the sand, I’m talking about my review of the Harry Potter series in its entirety. As someone who grew up with J.K Rowling’s amazing books (although I admittedly didn’t join the celebration until the release of the third book) I have been incredibly influenced by the ideas and art within them. My style, my interests, even some of my own moral ideas reflect some of those exhibited by The Boy Who Lived and his closest friends. One reason I wanted to do this review, aside from having an excuse to talk about them, was to make myself buckle down and read the series from beginning to end again. The last time I read each book in succession like this was immediately after the release of “Deathly Hallows,” and, after doing it again, I think I see why. I’m pretty sure my brain was saving me once again from the pain of having to deal with the end of this amazing series. However, in this instance I also had “The Cursed Child” to stave off the ‘ending pains.’ As a side note, since this book comes so long after the originals and acts as a very different sort of book, I’ll probably set up a separate paragraph about it as well.

To begin, this series is about Harry Potter, a young wizard who was attacked by the most powerful Dark Wizard who ever lived. Potter, after being raised by muggles (non-magic folk) for 11 years, is thrown into the wizarding world and his own fame with no knowledge of any of it. The series follows Harry’s footsteps through his 7 year tenure at Hogwarts, where he and his friends must face typical teenage angst, learning the facets of magic, and the return of Voldemort, who still wants nothing more than to see Harry dead.

As I said, I fell into this series at a young age and I was instantly hooked. From the first paragraph J.K. Rowling drives you into this fantasy world that, despite the silly antics littering the pages, is almost entirely believable. Even now, more than a decade later, I love reading about Harry’s adventures and his education at an antiquated, unusual, and wonderful school. The characters were, for the most part, incredibly relatable to me. I was very impressed to find out that this was still the case after all these years. As I read into these characters I found myself understanding their conflicts, their sadness, and their excitement.

One of the strongest things Rowling presents, in my opinion, is the threat of darkness that surrounds Voldemort’s return. Every one of his followers we are introduced to is more dastardly than the last – despite the blatant incapability of some of them. Harry’s link to his would-be murderer is something that, even at the end of the seventh novel, feels like it is much deeper and more involved than we could ever understand. This idea is, of course, further explored in “The Cursed Child,” but more on that later.

One of the things that continuously interested me with this series – even more so at this point in my life and the state of the world – was Rowling’s continued incorporation of the necessity of equality, between sexes, genders, sexualities, species and races. Time and time again our main characters (particularly Hermione) find the mistreatment of anyone who is different from the pure-blood, magical standard in the wizarding world deplorable. Organizations are started (S.P.E.W. – not spew), punches are thrown, spells are cast, and lives are lost in the name of equality. I love the repeated examples that show all species and races and sexes should have the same claim to the world and its happiness. Rowling doesn’t back down from bringing these issues to the forefront of the novels in many different ways, and I think the story and morals are all that much more important because of it.

Harry’s coming of age was something that made many of my generation feel a little less alone, a little stronger, and a little more at ease about our own lives. Rowling’s tale reflects some of the difficulties that can face all of us as we enter adulthood – with the hopeful exception of a murderous psychopath chasing you through your life. So many of us bonded incredibly with this tale, feeling the characters experience some of the same things we all felt, facing some situations we were familiar with, and it showed us all that everything would be fine. After all, if a 17 year old can handle battling most of the wizarding world and coming toe-to-toe with the most powerful wizard alive, we can surely handle high school, right?

Rowling’s nonchalant style throughout much of this saga makes the books very easy to read. Her often lighthearted approach at even the most difficult situations helps drive these novels home and make them stick with us long after we’ve closed the books. The saga is so immense and full that I’m not sure I have a favorite part, or even a favorite book, although I think “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Order of the Phoenix,” and “Deathly Hallows” are steps above the others for me.

Overall, I’m not sure there are many things I don’t like about the series. I would like to see more of Harry’s story played out. I would really love Rowling to write a book about the events before Harry’s birth. A nice long exploration of Dumbledore’s past, the true story of Voldemort’s rise to power, background on James’s family. Of course these things have been touched on in various ways since the original novels.

When it comes to “The Cursed Child” I had a good deal of inner conflict when reading the work. I was very excited to see the script released in novel format, and I would love to see the production, and I do think it could be a great movie. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, as this was my first reading of the book, even though I preordered it and have had it for well over a year. This continuation of Harry’s tale, bringing his family into focus and revisiting events of his past was a wonderful idea. I had a good deal of trouble relating to the adult Harry and his son, Albus, at first. I found the boy to be quite impetulant and much more like a Malfoy than a Potter, and I thought Harry did not feel like the same person he was in the series. As the story went on I did relate a bit more the characters, and I admittedly do enjoy the idea of Hermione as Minster of Magic. I won’t mention too many more spoilers here, because a good deal of people have missed the book. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the continuation, but still would have loved more mention of the past events of the wizarding world.

Overall, this series is by far one of the best things I’ve read in my life – and, believe me, that list is NOT a small one. The wizarding world continues to have immense appeal to me, particularly in that they have little to no need of the technology that continues to drive this world forward and diminish our connection with the universe. The continued use of quills and lanterns, a lack of trivial things like television and video games, and the obvious embrace of the natural world still warms my heart, too. But what did you think about it? Do you love the series, do you hate it? If you’d never read it before, how did it hit you, and if you were returning to the books did you still find yourself interested in the story? What, if anything, changed for you? Share your thoughts in the comments and share this as far and wide as you can to get plenty of people involved! For me Harry Potter was, and is, truly an inspiration. The laughter, the tears and the passion that filled these pages will never die and I am exceptionally glad that I can always turn to them. I am proud to have grown up on them. I will be happy to pass them on to future generations. Always.