Title: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Creator: Ninja Theory
Genre: Mental Illness/Dark Fantasy
I like to throw a different type of review into the mix every now and then.
I recently played Hellblade, a game that explores the darkness in mental illness. Senua is a troubled girl who has lost her lover and journeys to Helheim to save his soul from the goddess known as, Hela. Senua is a pict warrior, who learns about Norse mythology from invaders and believes that through conquering their gods/goddesses she can bring peace to her love.
I don’t want to reveal too much more about the story because this is a game that is best experienced with knowing little of what is to come. Suffice to say though that this was an intense, anxiety inducing experience, that left me drained and on edge. However, there was beauty and learning that coincided.
I give major kudos to the Ninja Theory team for the conception and creation of this masterful game and story. It shows to the best of its ability, what living with psychosis might feel like, sound like and look like. This was not just a game, it was an immersive journey that sets the bar higher for all others to follow.
You can play the game on multiple formats, including PS4, Xbox One and PC.
I played on PC and purchased my copy through Steam.
Synopsis: From the makers of Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DmC: Devil May Cry, comes a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness.
Set in the Viking age, a broken Celtic warrior embarks on a haunting vision quest into Viking Hell to fight for the soul of her dead lover.
Created in collaboration with neuroscientists and people who experience psychosis, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will pull you deep into Senua’s mind.
Title: Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Romance/Historical Fiction/Fantasy
I read the first book back in January of 2016 and loved it. I immediately plunged into the second book, but it took me three years to finally finish it. I have started and stopped the first two hundred pages ten times now. I kept checking it out from the library, but having forgotten what I read had to keep restarting. Finally, I broke down and bought the book, because I obviously needed to read at my own pace and not be rushed by library due dates.
Why did it take me so long? I’m not sure. As a self-confessed Scottish cultural nerd, one would think I’d have read the whole series by now. I like to read several books at one time, so perhaps it’s because this book was a huge time commitment. I prefer my books within the three hundred to four hundred page range and this was over nine hundred pages. And I’m not the fastest reader, especially when there is tons of detail.
I wasn’t sure the exact point of this story for most of the book. It seemed to be a rather long and drawn out political dinner party that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. And oh my lord, how many times do we need to talk about nipples! Claire’s nips were hard constantly. It was over the top and quite frankly unrealistic.
However, even though it was rather slow and inactive, I still enjoyed it. The characters are all lovable and even the villains have a certain repulsive draw. In addition, it’s an incredible historical journey.
I kept Googling the historic references so that I could fully embrace the story. Reading this series has helped me understand other Scottish themed entertainment that reference Scottish wars and political parties.
For example, I was watching reruns of Monarch of the Glen this past weekend. It was a popular family drama/BBC show that highlighted modern/fictional Lairds of Scotland. While watching it, I realized how much more I was understanding. While cast member Hector MacDonald played toy battles with his friend Kilwillie, I suddenly was able to follow along as they discussed the wars they wanted to reenact. These were conversations I previously ignored, but now I understand there cultural significance.
It is a slow climb through this series, but I am finding the journey worth it. I am learning history and loving how the characters are evolving. It might take me ten or fifteen years to finish the series, but I know I will keep plugging along. Gabaldon has created such a rich and vibrant tale that truly captures the imagination.
You can find the story on Amazon in many different formats. I went with the Mass Market Paperback because I’m a cheapskate.
Synopsis: With her classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters—Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser—delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful sequel to Outlander.
DRAGONFLY IN AMBER
For twenty years, Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to the mysteries of Scotland’s mist-shrouded Highlands.
Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as shocking as the events that gave it birth: the secret of an ancient circle of standing stones, the secret of a love that transcends centuries, and the truth of a man named Jamie Fraser—a Highland warrior whose gallantry once drew the young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.
Claire’s spellbinding journey continues through the intrigue-ridden French court and the menace of Jacobite plots, to the Highlands of Scotland, through war and death in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.
Title: The Earth Dwellers
#4 in the Dweller Saga – #7 in the Dwellers/Country Saga
Author: David Estes
Genre: Dystopian/Young Adult
Finally! After several years I have finished this series. This installment, which is really the final installment of two connected series was the big finale. It had all the expected plot points and tidily summed up the entire saga.
It was entertaining and fast paced, but I am so glad it is done.
It became somewhat of a chore to get through this book. I was constantly checking how far I had read and watching the clock, which is never a good thing. The series had just gone on too long and I needed the ride to be over.
I found the ending was a bit drawn out, with the author trying to make sure all the characters individual stories were resolved. As a reader, I appreciate this, but I skimmed most of the final pages.
While I enjoyed the series as a whole, I felt there was one or two too many installments. I still would recommend it because it was different and creative, and for the most part I liked the series.
If you are a literary snob then you might not like the series, but if you like dystopian fiction that comes with an imaginative flair then you might find it fun to read.
You can find it on Amazon in Kindle and paperback format.
Synopsis: The Earth Dwellers is the 4th book in BOTH The Dwellers Saga and The Country Saga. The author recommends that BOTH series are read in their entirety before reading this book (The Moon Dwellers, The Star Dwellers, The Sun Dwellers, Fire Country, Ice Country, Water & Storm Country).
Your favorite Dwellers and Country Saga characters come together in this epic seventh book!
As President Borg Lecter threatens to annihilate the Country tribes in order to expand his glass-domed empire, Adele ventures into the belly of the beast. Her only hope of survival is the consolidation of Dwellers and Country power before it’s too late.
Former demagogue President Nailin is eliminated, yet civil unrest infects every alliance. To save Adele, President Tristan faces his greatest challenge yet: unifying unfriendly Dwellers in the Tri-Realms to raise an army against Lecter. Meanwhile, Dazz must convince the Ice Country leaders to march with Siena and the Tri-Tribes on the gates of the Glass City.
The world sits on the edge of a knife. Will Adele, Tristan, Dazz, and Siena defeat Lecter and his army of killers before the Glassies wipe them off the face of the Earth?
Title: Fountain Dead
Author: Theresa Braun
Looking for a haunted tale that will keep you up at night? Imagine having your reality supplanted with evil and benign spirits warring for your attention. This is a story that explores the dark side of revenge and the heartbroken cries of the dead.
This story has been calling me for several months to read, but since it’s horror I had to push myself a little more to pick it up. I will start by saying that horror is not my preferred genre and that may sometimes sway my interpretations/enjoyment. It’s not that I don’t like horror, it just takes a particular writing style/story to really pull me in.
I have read Braun in the past, and I anticipated that I would enjoy most of the story, which I did. The beginning was slow though, interesting, but slow.
I enjoyed the switching between timelines and felt it helped carry the story and enhanced the mysterious history of the house and the specters, which are the main antagonists. About fifty percent into the book, the story-line began to pick up speed and I found myself getting sucked in. I finished the last half of the book in one sitting.
Additionally, the fact that the main protagonist is gender fluid was a nice change of pace. It was refreshing to read a story about a teen struggling and finding his sexual identity.
However, I like endings that have a firm resolution and this one did not. I also have some unanswered questions.
If you crave happy endings with nice bow-ties, then you might be disappointed. I will say the ending fell flat for me and I was a bit grumpy. It was not the ending I wanted.
I recommend this story because Braun is a good writer and the story was compelling. Even though the ending left me bereft, it was still a haunting tale that will leave you on your toes. And I am confident many readers will appreciate her finale.
You can find the story on Amazon in Kindle format and in paperback.
Synopsis: Mark is uprooted from his home and high school in the Twin Cities and forced to move with his family into a Victorian in Nowhere-ville. Busy with the relocation and fitting in, Mark’s parents don’t see what’s unfolding around them—the way rooms and left behind objects seem alive with a haunted past.
Of course, Mark keeps his ghostly encounters to himself, all the while sinking deeper into the house’s dark, alluring, and ultimately terrifying history. As romantic entanglements intensify, the paranormal activity escalates. Past and present come together. Everything is connected—from the bricks in the walls to the hearts beating in their chests, all the secrets of Fountain Dead are finally unearthed.
THE LADY BEHIND THE STORY
Theresa Braun was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and has carried some of that hardiness with her to South Florida where she currently resides with her two fur babies, who are her creative sidekicks. She enjoys delving into creative writing, painting, photography and even bouts of ghost hunting. Traveling is one of her passions—in fact, her latest adventure took her to Romania for a horror writers’ workshop where she followed in the steps of Vlad the Impaler. She writes horror fiction and the occasional romance. Oh, and she likes to guest blog about writing, television shows, movies, and books, mostly in the horror genre. Her short story “Shout at the Devil” appears in Under the Bed Magazine, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Hindered Souls, and “Dead over Heels” is soon to be published by Frith Books.
CONNECT WITH THERESA
*We received the story for free in exchange for an honest review
Title: The Caller (Shadowfell #3)
Author: Juliet Marillier
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
The Caller is the final conclusion to the Shadowfell series. Within its pages we fight alongside Neryn, as she summons the courage to battle tyranny and violence to bring a better world into existence.
The finale was just as good as the previous two books. Readers get what they want — a bit of magic, a bit of love and an ending that satisfies the journey readers have been on.
Marillier is an excellent storyteller that understands relationship building and patience, as well as magical world-building. Her stories often combine folklore twists with a romantic edge.
Her protagonists are always likeable, though a bit familiar. I always come back to her in the end, because no one does the fae world like Marillier.
If you are interested in reading more, check the book out on Amazon.
Synopsis: In the final book in this gripping, romantic fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore, and Shannon Hale, the band of rebels reach their climactic confrontation with the king.
Just one year ago, Neryn had nothing but a canny skill she barely understood and a faint dream that the legendary rebel base of Shadowfell might be real. Now she is the rebels’ secret weapon, and their greatest hope for survival in the fast-approaching ambush of King Keldec at Summerfort.
The fate of Alban itself is in her hands. But confidence is stretching thinner by the day when word of another Caller reaches the rebels: a Caller at Keldec’s side with all of Neryn’s power and none of her benevolence or hard-earned control. As the days before the battle drop quickly away, Neryn must find a way to uncover—and exploit—her opponent’s weaknesses. At stake lies freedom for the people of Alban, a life free from hiding for the Good Folk—and a chance for Flint and Neryn to finally be together.
Title: Raven Flight (Shadowfell #2)
Author: Juliet Marillier
Publisher: Knopf Books
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult/Dystopian
This story continued the Shadowfell trilogy and Neryn‘s journey to learn to control her canny powers. It was just as good as the first installment, though there was not as much romance action in this one.
Her stories are always hard to put down and full of magic and earthy wonders. She is a master at incorporating the fae into her tales. I always find her stories enthralling and feel close to her female protagonists — Neryn included. Her protagonists are always people you want to be or hope you are capable of being.
However, one complaint is that her protagonists and their love interests are always kind of the same. The setting and the struggle may be different, but the overall personalities and identities transfer from one story to another. It is one of the reasons I don’t read her all year long. But I am always happy to come back to her writing because I still love the world and the story-lines she creates.
If you are a fan of earthly magic and young love, then this story may be for you.
You can find the story on Amazon in Kindle format for $9.99 and in paperback for $9.11.
Synopsis: Neryn has finally found the rebel group at Shadowfell, and now her task is to seek out the elusive Guardians, vital to her training as a Caller. These four powerful beings have been increasingly at odds with human kind, and Neryn must prove her worth to them. She desperately needs their help to use her gift without compromising herself or the cause of overthrowing the evil King Keldec.
Neryn must journey with the tough and steadfast Tali, who looks on Neryn’s love for the double agent Flint as a needless vulnerability. And perhaps it is. What Flint learns from the king will change the battlefield entirely—but in whose favor, no one knows.
Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Genre: Fantasy/Magic Realism/Horror
I don’t think Neil Gaiman is capable of writing a bad story. He’s a master wordsmith and this story was just another in a long line of amazing tales he has created.
I was spellbound while I read this over the holidays. It was a true page-turner, that kept me guessing as I delved into the world of a young boy who makes a tiny mistake. A mistake that sets him down a path of darkness.
A tale of the power of the triple goddess that will leave you guessing and wanting to cross the borders of the page.
It was a wonderful treat to read and it will stay with me for years to come. It was personal, emotional and enchanting.
You can find it on Amazon in Kindle format for $11.49, in paperback for $10.77 and in hardback for $15.62.
Synopsis: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
Title: They Who Fell
Author: Kevin Kneupper
Kevin Kneupper gained my respect this past year when he used his skills as a former lawyer to take on the Cockygate war for all writers. Even though I am not a writer, I appreciate this as a lover of stories. If you are unfamiliar with Cockygate, learn more here. Essentially, no one should have the right to copyright a word that is common in the English language and used prolifically by all authors. I followed the Twitter war that raged, and then I jumped for joy when Kneupper and fellow word protecting volunteers took on the battle and succeeded in their efforts. I actually became stressed out that a writer would do this to their fellow colleagues. I couldn’t believe the arrogance of Faleena Hopkins, the antagonist in this real life tale.
So, as you can see, I bought his first novel to show support to him. As a result, my respect has grown even more. Not only is he a word warrior, but he is also a wordsmith.
They Who Fell was an enchanting tale about an alternate reality where Earth is occupied by fallen angels. The angels in this tale are no where near angelic and can be quite cruel in their mastering and enslavement of the humans who remain post-fall.
I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Jana, a slave girl to the angels. We follow her on her path to survival. The plot points that took place in the angel’s home were the most intriguing and spellbinding to read. I felt connected to these characters and felt their suffering. I spent much of the book eager to get back to this part of the story-line. Additionally, I enjoyed seeing the various sides and personalities of all the imperfect angels.
The parts of the story that follow the humans that remain on the surface of Earth, were more of struggle for me. There are four main human warriors the story follows in this section, and I never felt quite connected to any particular one. As a result of this, I had trouble seeing their individuality. However, their personas became more prominent as the story unfolded. By the end of the story, I saw their purpose and welcomed them as prominent characters.
Overall, I was quite impressed by this story and look forward to continuing the series.
If you enjoy stories about the good and the bad side to everyone and perceive the world with grey colored glasses, then I think this tale will delight. It has cruel and unfair violence, a pinch of forbidden romance and brave souls who fear more the prospect of being caged over meeting their maker.
Synopsis: They say that long ago, there was a rebellion in Heaven. That an army of angels sought to seize the throne, and were cast down into the pits of Hell in punishment. Those are the affairs of angels, and everything would have been fine if they’d kept them to themselves. But there’s been another uprising, and another Fall. Cast down to Earth, the rebel angels ravaged the globe in an orgy of sin and violence as they indulged in their newfound freedoms. Their new home is the Perch, a black, towering monstrosity that blights what’s left of the New York City skyline.
Life inside the Perch means you watch your tongue, if you’re a servant. Jana has lived there since she was a child, and now she’s found herself thrust into the middle of angelic politics. Some of them want to torture her, just for the fun of it. Others say they want to protect her. And Rhamiel, a charismatic and powerful angel with one of the few faces that wasn’t burnt and scarred by the Fall, is relentlessly pursuing her affections.
Life outside can be just as dangerous. Strange things fell with the angels and wander the countrysides. The roads are filled with Vichies, cringing humans who’ve thrown their lot in with their oppressors and won’t hesitate to take advantage of the weak. But some are still fighting, including William Holt. He leads a small cell of fighters, searching for a way to strike back against the angels without getting themselves killed in the process. And all around, the fallen angels inflict their savageries on the dwindling remains of humanity, enjoying every vice they’d been forbidden during their long centuries of service.
They Who Fell is the first book in a trilogy.
Title: Money Shot
Author: Christopher Rowley
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Pulp/Science Fiction
This is the last installment of the Netherworld series by Rowley. It was a fast paced, action packed ride that takes the reader down an alternative reality that might not be too far off from our near future. A world where manufactured and natural born humans find love. And a place where rulers wish to suppress and control the populace, instead of embracing and representing.
The story is short and just continues from the first two installments. It wraps up nicely and is a good escape story where you don’t have to think too hard. It’s a fun read that never gets dull.
Synopsis: Detective Rook Venner was a successful investigating officer for the Hudson Valley Police Departmentâ€”until the General Sangacha murder case came across his desk and his world exploded.
Now after being dragged through hell and back, Rook is on the run with Plesur, a Pleasure Model who is the one eyewitness to the murder. Plesur carries a secret in her brain that terrifies the powers-that-be. A secret that they will do anything to destroyâ€”even bring in a Tactical Robotic Regiment to track Rook and Plesur down and annihilate them.
The only choice the two have is to locate the coordinates that were planted in the pleasure modâ€™s head to the isolated mountain ridge where it all began. Deep underground, in a warren of machine halls and ice caves, something so horrific is happening that just knowing three code words is enough to get you killed: Operation Taste Imperative.
Rook and Plesur have no way back and no way out. If they want to survive and have any kind of life together, they must uncover the terrifying secret that lies deep inside the mountain.
Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
I started this novel over a year ago and have been steadily reading a little here and a little there. It is a quiet novel where not much happens, but what does happen changes peoples lives. One choice is made that devastates a town and two families.
I don’t read a lot of general fiction anymore, so it was a nice change of pace. A tale of familial love that does not recognize blood ties, but instead recognizes the needs of a child and the desires of two mothers.
It’s a sad tale, but a real one. For being Stedman’s first novel, it is spellbinding. An infant is claimed by the lighthouse keeper and his wife one night, but she belongs to another. There are no happy endings here, instead there is heartache, love and forgiveness that shreds every page of this story.
If you are looking for a tale that reflects reality and contains within it a treasure trove of emotion then this story will captivate you.
Synopsis: A captivating, beautiful, and stunningly accomplished debut novel that opens in 1918 Australia – the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife who make one devastating choice that forever changes two worlds.
Australia, 1926. After four harrowing years fighting on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns home to take a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.
M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written debut novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.