My Top 5 Books of 2020.

2020 was certainly a year in which books were a huge part of my life, with that want for escape and learning being needed more than ever. With that said, here are the top 5 five books that helped me survive the odd year that was 2020.

Diversion to Urasha by Laura Hopgood.

Diversion to Urasha was the perfect escape into a captivating world of Sci-Fi adventure. I become lost in the beautifully crafted story last summer, and look forward to reading more this year.

“I recommend Laura’s work to anyone that wishes for an easy read and a quick escape from reality. She is a talented individual, that writes with emotion and heart.”

Hope Quest (Book 1): Blackbird by Melanie Ever Moore.

Another amazing escape, but this time into something much darker. This is another series that I look forward to returning to this year. 

“Hope Quest: Blackbird is stylish, darkly-elegant and beautifully delivered.”

Happy by Derren Brown.

I found this book at a difficult time last year. It helped me change my mind set completely, and put me on the path that I am now. Through it, I found my interest in philosophy. Books are powerful things…

“This book will have you questioning much about your life, but then if you picked it up for the reason I did, you have probably already begun questioning. It is through questioning ourselves about our situation and choice that we can make change, and this book is a perfect stepping stone to that longer journey of discovery.”

The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday.

…and this book fortified that interest in philosophy. Stoicism is not just an interesting philosophy, but a powerful state of mind that is applicable to everyday life. I am returning to The Daily Stoic this year, as well as picking up some more Ryan Holiday to read.

“If you heed its teachings, I believe that it has the potential to change the way you think about life and its challenges. It could make you stern and resolute in the face of any situation. It will help you find serenity and peace of mind in the chaos of this modern world. I will be re-reading this for years to come and will continue to use it for references and my morning meditations.”

Quiet by Susan Cain.

Wow. Just wow. This book empowered me to a whole other level. I’d always struggled with my difference, but Quiet brilliantly highlighted the strengths in those differences.

“Quiet is an incredible book. It was called the most important book published in a decade, and I completely agree. I say this book left me speechless, and it did at first, but after absorbing so much information, I find myself with a lot to say on the subject. Quiet is a book that spoke to me on many levels, and is a book that should be read by most.”

All of these books were worthy of a 5/5 rating from me. You should go check them out!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book Review: Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson.

Ever read a book that forced your hand to write notes on everything that just didn’t sit quite right with you? This was that book. So, buckle up, because this is going to be more of an analysis than a review.

The premise: Written by a consultant and communications expert, Surrounded by Idiots is an attempt at separating human behaviour into four personality types, each given a colour. Red’s are the leader types. Yellow’s are the creatives. Green’s are the passives. And, finally, blue’s are the logical. There’s a lot of descriptors that go with each one, but I’ve simplified it for you, so you don’t need to read the book.

The conclusion: we’re not actually surrounded by idiots, and you will only probably think so if you’re red or yellow (the extroverted… although I don’t recall Erikson using the word). And, of course, you need a versatile group of individuals if you want to get a job done.   

I’ll begin by saying that this took me a long time to read. Not because it was hard to understand or poorly written, but because it wasn’t overly interesting or entertaining. It was in fact relatively well written. I cannot fault the writing style of Erikson, his deliverance of his thesis or his attempt at humour (I’m sure it was amusing to someone out there). That may seem very bold of me, but allow me to explain some key points here:

This book could have easily been translated into just one chapter. It’s just very very repetitive. The problem is that the premise is a very simple one and can be explained simply. Instead, we have multiple explanations of the same subject (albeit, in slightly different scenarios) and many examples that are drawn out.

Much of Erikson’s research seems to have taken place in a working environment, and this is an issue for this behavioural model. The main reason being that the majority of us show a different behaviour in a working environment. As a learned behaviour, we fall into a “personality” that the job requires. As an ambivert myself, that has worked in a varied selection of job roles, with diverse groups of individuals, I can confirm this. I have adapted to roles because that was needed for the role. As a manager, I would be an extroverted leader (Red). As a writer, I would be introverted; passive, logical and creative (Green, Blue and Yellow). As a customer care assistant, I would adapt to the customer, and probably combine all of those traits. So, did I crack the code of human potential before I read this book? Of course not… adaptive and learned behaviour is very normal.    

And this is where Erikson’s formula falters, as he proposes, “No one has four (of these traits).” I counter propose with; we all have these four traits, or colours, or behaviours. We are adaptive creatures. We learn from experiences and events, and are able to emulate behaviours that are required, from other individuals or groups. There are far too many layers to the human psyche for us to be able to categorise it into four behaviour types, and few before Erikson have tried. For example, Hippocrates with the four temperaments and the Aztecs with the four elements. Sure, it made sense for the ancients to try to make assumptions of human behaviour or psychology in a simple form, but we have so much more understanding now, and still have much more we can learn.

I could probably go deeper into this subject and book, and might one day, but for now I will conclude this review. For the fact that is written in a way that could be read, I give this book 1/5 stars. This might seem harsh, but for a non-fic book, I learned or gained nothing in return for my time. If you want to read an interest insight into the human psyche and behaviour, I would recommend reading Quiet by Susan Cain instead.  

Rating: 1 out of 5.

(I’m not going to add a “buy here” link for this one, instead it will take you to Quiet by Susan Cain.)

Buy here!

Game Review: Assassin’s Creed- Valhalla.


It’s finally here!
Beautiful. Brutal. Epic. Ambitious. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is everything I hoped for and more.

Beautiful. From the snowy and mountainous lands of Norway, to the forests and castles of England, this game is breathtakingly beautiful. As with all Assassin’s Creed games, you can see the amount of detail and research that has gone into each location. You can spend hours taking virtual selfies in photo mode, amongst some of the most stunning in-game landscapes you have ever seen.

Brutal. The combat in this game is simply and utterly brutal. There are limbs flying and heads rolling, and more spear impalement than you will ever need (I’m just joking… it never gets old). Much like its newer breed of predecessors, Origins and Odyssey, Valhalla uses a more RPG-like combat system, and this is emphasised with its new use of a stamina bar. This adds a different level of skill and concentration to your combat encounters and boss battles. All this, along with an incredible new set of skills, make for a fluid and fun system of melee, that will have you slaying for days. But fear not, you can still assassinate your foes with the use of the iconic hidden blade or take down your enemies from afar with a bow. Valhalla has truly dialled in with its “play your way” system, and its immense skill and upgrade tree truly reflects this.     

Epic. This game is set after the times of Ragnar Lodbrok; a historic character whom you may or may not know of because of the series Vikings. Along your journey, you will meet many myths and legends from times long past. My favourite so far has been the bloodthirsty Ivar, son of Ragnar. He’s hilarious… for all the wrong reasons. Then there was the encounter with Grendel, from the legend of Beowulf, which has managed to leave a lasting impression with a story that I was already very familiar with. And, simply, Asgard! We get to wander the lands of the gods and walk among them, completing quests and doing battle with the Jotunn… with a story line that I am pretty sure is leading to Ragnarok…       

Ambitious. It’s big… like, really big. While not feeling as overwhelmingly packed as Odyssey, I would say that Valhalla is equal to its scale and content. And despite its scale, aside from a small issue of screen tearing on the Xbox, this game runs very smoothly (Xbox one). Although, on current gen, loading times have been reported to be a problem. I’m sure Ubisoft will remedy these annoyances in the form of a patch, but for now I have not found the game to be in any way unplayable.

This is just the beginning of my journey in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, and I am sure that I am going to be spending a while on it, absorbing every bit the game has to offer. Having played all of the series before it, and finishing most, I can confidently say that this is the best one yet. They have incorporated the old and the new, and added even more. I shall return here in the near future, with a game complete and a saga to tell.

Game Review: Hellblade- Senua’s Sacrifice.

“No game has ever hit me quite as hard as Senua’s Sacrifice.”

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a dark tale of epic proportion. Following the journey of the Pict warrior, Senua, we are led on an intense path, as we make our way through the lands of monsters and gods. Upon her belt is the head of the one she loved, Dillion. He is the reason that she is in such a place. To save his soul, Senua must succeed in the challenges of the rulers of Helhiem, and reach the goddess of death herself, Hela.     

I will never forget the intro. Never. It was perfect. In a single scene it manages to encompass everything that this game is. Dark and disturbing, yet strangely beautiful and intriguing. We begin this journey making our way down a river. Calming, you may think, but then the voices start. Senua is disturbed by her inner demons, who constantly speak to you throughout the game, as they warn and mock in equal parts. This experience is greatly intensified with the use of headphones or surround sound, although I imagine that this could be too much for many. You have been warned!  

Graphically, Hellblade is very impressive. The pallet of dark colours are often offset with a vibrant and otherworldly glow, usually coming from the sword of Senua or her mirror when it activates in combat. The settings are usually of ruin, scattered with morbid scenes, but then, occasionally, these are juxtaposed with a scene that is absolutely beautiful. The scene that immediately comes to mind are the flashbacks of what I assume represents Yggdrisal. The art of the characters that represent the gods, and what will serve as the boss fights, are incredibly well done and suitably terrifying, as are their minions. Couple all this with an atmospheric soundtrack, on-point sound effects and the voices, believe me when I say that Senua’s Sacrifice is one hell of a ride.  

Gameplay wise, Hellblade is simple, yet deep. This game is a balance of combat and puzzle, although you will find more puzzle than combat. For all of you button-mashing-action game fans out there, this game may not be for you. I feel that the combat in this game is more for substance than anything else. However, it is perfectly executed for its means. You can feel the intensity of the arena like combat sequences. You can dodge and parry, and there are even combos to discover, and mastering all of these elements are completely necessary, as boss fights can prove quite the challenge. This formula slightly reminded me of a toned-down Dark souls. The puzzles are where this game absolutely shines. Integral to its story telling, each puzzle is an ingenious interaction of discovery. From world warping portals, to finding forms of rune among nature or cleverly placed objects, while not overly challenging, they are brilliantly designed. One final thing to note on the gameplay front is how different Hellblade is to many of the mainstream titles out there. By many standards, this game is linear, however, this is not a criticism. By removing the need to explore a vast amount, you can really focus on the story that is being told here, and everything that Senua is experiencing… including those demons of her mind.           

Intense is a word that sums this game up, and it is something that it does very well. You can feel the panic as Senua’s reality around her begins to burn, and you must find a way to escape. You can feel that adrenaline rush as Fenrir is stalking you from the shadows, and you must find the light before he strikes. As well as these tasks, we are hit with the voices of doubt and a finite amount of lives. That’s right… if you die too many times in Hellblade, the rot spreads through Senua, and it’s game over for you. You lose all of your progress. This mechanic adds so much more intensity to the game. For me, it made me pay more attention to every step. I assessed every battle that little more closely. And, when I did die, I planned out how I would play differently so that it wouldn’t happen again. This game makes you pay attention, and it does so in that very clever way.     

And, you know a game is going to be this intense and effective when the first person the developer’s credit is a mental health advisor. Clearly, much research was done into the conditions of a person suffering from psychosis. We assume that this is an ailment that Senua is suffering from during the course of Hellblade. The voices. The Hallucinations. Is she truly wandering the realm of the gods? Certain flashbacks would make it apparent that we are not, and it is the creation of a disturbed mind.  It’s clear that there has been much trauma in Senua’s upbringing and general past, and so the death of her beloved Dillion was the event to completely unbalance her mind. The ending also adds a lot of credence to this, although I will not spoil why…  

I will end this by saying, simply; No game has ever hit me quite as hard as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It is a masterpiece. Every gamer needs to play this game, and experience this unsettlingly beautiful creation. You may not love it, but you will appreciate how clever it truly is. Will you endure the challenges of the gods? Will you endure the voices, whilst battling the minions of Helheim? I did, and I cannot wait to revisit the mind of Senua in Hellblade 2, which should be with us in the near future. Go check out the trailer if you haven’t already!

Swiftly entering my list of favourite ever games, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice gets a 5/5 from me.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book Review: Hope Quest (Book 1): Blackbird by Melanie Ever Moore.

Firstly, this book was not what I had first expected, and I mean this in the best possible way. I like to be surprised as I make my way through a book, and this beautifully written tale is certainly in no short supply of surprises. I was utterly gripped by the darkness of the story. I was captivated by the well thought out and interesting characters. I was enthralled by Hope and her power to wield the stars.

Secondly, on a more personal level, this book and its characters made me reflect so much on my younger years. The long black hair. The band shirts. The gigs. The loud and heavy music. (Yes, I was a metal head. Please… feel free to imagine how I looked in those days.) They were fun times. This may seem like a bit of a tangent, so allow me to get to my point; Melanie does very well to describe the scenes and settings that I am very familiar with. It was nostalgic for me. It was almost like I was back there, probably seen diving into a mosh pit somewhere.   

Within the story is woven a few disturbing subjects. You have been warned, but believe me when I say, they are masterfully placed and impactful to the plot. They made me pay close attention to each character. They made me feel involved in their backstory. These plotlines were not placed for simple shock factor, as I find many authors doing. It was darkness, with purpose.

Hope Quest: Blackbird is stylish, darkly-elegant and beautifully delivered, and for this I give it 5/5. I can’t wait to get stuck into book 2!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Buy here!