Reading Review of 2021

In this post, I list and briefly review all the books I read or listened to in 2021. These are in order of how they were consumed. Since I’m doing this retrospectively, some of my recollection about the books may be hazy, but my only real goal is to vaguely convey how much I enjoyed each work.

Resistance Reborn

This book fills in the void between Episodes 8 and 9 where Poe, Leia, and the other surviving rebels rally around the galaxy looking for allies to help fight in the resistance.

I enjoyed it at the time. In retrospective, it was a little forgettable compared to other books I read this year. It’s nice that it revisits some characters we’ve met in both the movies and the other books. I’d recommend it for any Star Wars fan.

Thrawn: Treason

Thrawn starts off with an interesting mystery. Using his keen intellect, it leads to a bigger conspiracy. We get to see more Chiss, and we revisit Eli, which was nice. I really enjoyed this book, and thought it was a great read. Highly recommended.

Tarkin

Tarkin gives us a look at what shaped Tarkin into the character we meet in Episode 4. It gives us back story about where he grew up, and how his childhood shaped his story. I thought it was reasonably interesting, and think any Star Wars fan would enjoy it.

A Boy and His Horse

I read the Narnia novels in the now current order which is in-universe chronologically, and not in the order of when they were written, which in retrospect, I think is wrong. This book follows a story that takes place entirely while the children are ruling Narnia in the first book. While it was a fine story, I was disappointed to not get the next part of the story with Peter, Susan, or Lucy. I’d recommend it, but would also recommend reading it in publication order which puts it after the Silver Chair.

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia

This book was very enjoyable, and was the revisit to Narnia I wanted/expected after reading the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I found it very enjoyable and would recommend it to any one who enjoyed the first installment.

Darth Plagueis

It makes me sad that this is “legends” as it, in my opinion, works very well with canonical Star Wars. This was a longer book, and at times is really more about Shiiv Palpatine than it is about Darth Plagueis. I found the entire thing very gripping and loved all that it added to the Star Wars universe. Highly recommended to any Star Wars fans.

Rebel Rising

Rebel Rising follows the story of Jyn Erso during her time living with Saw Gerrera. It takes place before and up to the main events seen in Rogue One. I honestly don’t remember a lot of details now, but I remember it being enjoyable at the time.

From a Certain Point of View

For the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, 40 short stories were commissioned showing key parts of the saga from the point of view of other characters. It was entertaining for the most parts. Some stories stood out more and stuck with me more than others. In particular, I loved one of the first stories about why the gunners didn’t fire on the escape pod because they’d have to file paper work, and also since there were no life signs, their kill ratio would go down, which would look bad. I’ll consider that canon. Some of the stories are a bit of a stretch. It’s not a necessary read, but it was mostly entertaining.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The next installment in the Chronicles of Narnia was again an enjoyable tale. This time, Edmund and Lucy are accompanied by their cousin Eustace and get transported to Narnia aboard Caspian’s ship, the Dawn Treader. Caspian is looking for the lost lords of Narnia, and they have many magnificent adventures. I really enjoyed this installment, and highly recommend it.

The High Republic: Into the Dark

This is, so far, the only High Republic book I’ve read. There is an interesting plot about a seemingly abandoned space station, mysterious transportation pods, and sentient plant life, and a Sith shrine which is exuding dark side energy. It was an interesting, new adventure in the Star Wars universe. I’m curious to see how fleshed out Disney will make the High Republic era eventually.

Star Wars Last Shot

This book is about Lando and Han in two different time periods interacting with the same crime boss, attempting to get a device/weapon/mcguffin, the Phylanx. It takes place mostly after the battle of Jakku, before episode 7. It was another novel that I thought was enjoyable while reading, but not very memorable once finishing. I still would recommend it to any Star Wars fan.

Humble Pi

I listened to this narrated by the author, Matt Parker. It was a fascinating book with many anecdotes about times when people got the maths (that’s a British term) wrong and the interesting or even devastating consequences that arose. I just loved this book and couldn’t recommend it enough.

The Princess Diarist

I listened to this one narrated by the princess herself, Carrie Fisher. She is hilarious. This book was a bit risque at times, but was fascinating. I thought it would be more about her life, but it really was mostly about her life around Star Wars. It was an enjoyable book, and made me sad that she is gone.

Children of Dune

This novel follows the story of Paul’s children. Leto II and Ghanima. It was an okay read. Dune hasn’t been my favorite franchise as it leans so heavily into the constructed lore. I realize that some people love that. For me, it makes it a little harder to get into it.

God Emperor of Dune

Of all the Dune books, this was probably my favorite. Leto the second is living as the God Emperor of Dune and is taking us down the Golden Path. I thought it had an interesting plot and I really enjoyed Leto as a character. Recommended!

The Saints Volume 1

The Saints is a book presenting the history of the early LDS saints. The content is comprised of primary sources as much as possible with secondary sources when no primary is available. I don’t usually consider myself a fan of history, but I found this very fascinating. It filled in a lot of the gaps between the stuff I did already know. It’s more a book about presenting the history and therefore isn’t preachy so it could be an interesting read for anyone interested in the history of the LDS church, even if they themselves are not members.

Heretics of Dune

I didn’t love it. I read it out of my desire for being a completionist, and because I know my brother really likes the books, but I didn’t find the narrative super compelling.

Bossypants

I listened to this narrated by the author, Tina Fey. It was a short book, but very humorous and engaging. She’s a very funny lady, and had some great anecdotes, and insights inter her life and career. I’d recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of 30 Rock.

The Silver Chair

This book reunites us with Eustace and an old King Caspian. Eustace and a friend from the Human realm embark on a journey to rescue Caspian’s son. I rather enjoyed this entry into the Narnia saga, and would recommend it.

The Last Battle

This was a fun one. We are reunited with Eustace, and his school mate Jill once again. In Narnia, there is a false Aslan who has been doing questionable things. Eventually the charade is revealed. It presents a nice final ending to the saga, and was a fun book. Recommended!

The Saints Volume 2

The Saints Volume 2 continues where Volume 1 left off and brings us to the cusp of the 20th century. Another interesting insight into the events and people who were integral to the early church.

Conclusion

All in all, I don’t regret reading any of them and enjoyed most of them. The standouts this year were:

  • Humble Pi
  • Darth Plagueis
  • Voyage of the Dawn Treader

 

Bill & Ted

I’m a big fan of Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure. I grew up watching the original movie frequently, and will always have a fondness for it. I recently purchased the trilogy on BluRay and watched all three films back-to-back.

While I feel that often sequels are money-grabs that try to copy the beats of a successful film in order to duplicate the former’s success (I’m looking at you Ghost Buster’s II), I feel that Bill & Ted successfully avoided this pitfall and produced sequels that are both unique and interesting. They also continue telling the over-arching story of how Bill and Ted save the world through music, making them cohesive.

In my estimation, the sequels are both successful because:

  1. They are not rehashes of the first movie (Different beats)
  2. They tell a new story while building on what came before (New plots)
  3. They are tied together because they are all part of a larger theme (Saving the world through music)

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is a very different movie from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. While the first is full of gags about time travel and a race to save their grades in their history class, the second does not focus on Bill and Ted time traveling at all. Instead the film focuses on them going to the afterlife, visiting heaven and hell, and becoming successful musicians. It uses new gags, has a new villains, and some pretty good special effects that I think still hold up pretty well.

Bill & Ted Face the Music pays homage to both previous films while not retreading them completely. It doesn’t follow the same beats, but does revisit elements of the first two films. First, Billie and Theodora go on a time travel mission to gather famous musicians, much akin to Bill and Ted gathering historical figures in the first movie. Secondly, they revisits hell, and reunite the cast with the Grim Reaper. It also has a new scenario of Bill and Ted going forward in time and visiting themselves to try to find the ultimate song.

I liked that the third film was able to take the story and prophecy into a new direction without being disrespectful to the previous films. I thought they did a great job with casting. I felt like it really nailed the tone of the previous films while also being contemporary.

In summary, I think this is a great trilogy which each film being unique, enjoyable, and not a mere copy of it’s predecessors.

Catching Up On Marvel

My friends have been badgering me to see the Marvel movies fro years, and I’ve resisted on account of having never read or been interested in comic books. I have seen Iron Man 1 and 2, but that was when they were first released, and I have not seeing anything else since then.

I watched all the movies in spaghetti order over the course of a month. I decided to write some brief notes on each one, and score them as I went. They each started with a base score of 7/10, and then I’d bump it up or down purely based on my impressions and level of enjoyment immediately after viewing.

Final Ranking

Thor: Ragnarok                     9.5/10
Captain America: The First Avenger 9.5/10
Avengers: End Game                   9/10
Iron Man 3                           9/10
Ant-Man and the Wasp                 9/10
Avengers: Infinity War             8.5/10
Spider-Man: Homecoming             8.5/10
Iron Man                             8/10
The Avengers                       7.5/10
Doctor Strange                     7.5/10
Ant-Man                            7.5/10
Black Panther                      7.5/10
Captain America: The Winter Soldier  7/10
Avengers: Age of Ultron              7/10
Captain America: Civil War           7/10
The Incredible Hulk                  7/10
Iron Man 2                           7/10
Thor                                 7/10
Thor: The Dark World               6.5/10
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2   6.5/10
Guardians of the Galaxy              6/10
Captain Marvel                     5.5/10

Thoughts per movie

Iron Man

I’ve seen this film multiple times in the past, so I am no re-watching it for this experiment. I think it’s a solid film. I loved the origin story, and felt that the casting was spot on. Tony is a very likeable jerk.

Score: 8/10

The Incredible Hulk

Wait. Edward Norton? I thought that other guy was the hulk. Oh well. This story is pretty good. I thought the opening sequence was amazing at divulging the actual origin using just a montage. Very effective and left more room for a compelling story. The fight sequences are the least interesting part to me. They dragged on a little too long. Also, so much collateral damage. I like that Mr Blue apparently has no morals. Overall, a better film than I expected. The CG hasn’t held up terribly well. Fake skin still looks shiny/plastic-like.

Watched: 3/13/19

Score: 7/10

Iron Man 2

I had seen this one once, but forgot most of it. It was another decent story. I enjoyed the arc we see from Tony where he is trying to come to grips with his mortality. On the technical side, so much of this movie is impossible. One guy, no matter how brilliant, cannot program a drone army with that much autonomy in a few weeks or days, let alone years. There are very complicated problems that need to be solved. They portray it as way too easy. Same with making a particle accelerator. Way to difficult of a problem solved way too quickly for complete suspension of disbelief. I still enjoyed it.

Watched: 3/15/19

Score: 7/10

Thor

I had low expectations. The more fantastical super heroes are not immediately appealing to me. The beginning of the movie in Asgard was not super interesting. How does their culture work? How does their tech work? It just seems like magic. Anthony Hopkins though. He’s a great actor. I like Loki, and how his motives were not predictable. I bought into the idea that he was going to betray his kingdom. I was pleasantly surprised that it was just a scheme to win father’s approval. Thor’s a jerk, but he becomes a nice guy by the end (almost too easily). The fight sequence was shorter that fight sequences in previous films, which was welcomed. Overall, better than I anticipated.

Watched: 3/20/19

Score: 7/10

Captain America: The First Avenger

I really enjoyed the feel of this movie. The World War 2 vibe was really fun and hearkened back to making it feel a bit like an Indiana Jones film. I was amazed at how scrawny they were able to make Captain Rogers appear in the first part of the film. I loved how he was only used as a marketing/morale gimmick at first before proving himself, and how his appearance resembled the original appearance in the comics.

Watched: 3/22/19

Score: 9.5/10

The Avengers

I’m writing my impressions a little after the fact, so my recollections are hazy, but I did enjoy this film. I liked seeing all the characters together and interacting. First off, so much collateral damage! That city was laid to waste. Hulk is indestructible, it seems. It took a bit to buy Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, but by the end, I think he was a good choice. Iron Man really saved the day. I enjoy Tony’s snark throughout the film. Poor Agent Coulson. I liked him. The Heli-Carrier defies a ton of laws of physics… But it’s okay, it’s just a movie. I also like Loki getting smashed by hulk. It was so sudden and unexpected. The after credits scene felt very Whedonesque with the group silently eating their shawarma.

Watched: 3/25/19

Score: 7/10

Iron Man 3

I like Tony Stark. A lot. This was a pretty darned entertaining film. I liked the Mandarin. I liked that it turned out he was an actor. That was a good plot twist I didn’t anticipate. The whole fire-person thing was a bit odd, but that’s to be expected in a comic book story. I liked the pay-off of the throwaway joke about Tony being on his 42nd suit at the beginning, and then having them all come in piloted by Jarvis to save the day. I really like him with Pepper Pots. I think they go well together. I also like how he’s continuing to see that his actions have consequences. Also the fact that he is having a hard time coping with the events of The Avengers made it feel like he’s a real person. I feel like his arc (pun intended) has been really great. Also, he got healed!

Watched: 3/26/19

Score: 9/10

Thor: The Dark World

People seem to not like this movie, and say it is forgettable. It wasn’t bad. Per the usual with Thor movies, I love Loki. He’s so layered that I have no idea what he is actually doing. I had a feeling that the apparent betrayal at the climax was an illusion, and I wasn’t disappointed. The revelation that Loki had taken Odin’s place at the end was insane. Where is Odin?! How did Loki survive?! I really like the idea of the 9 realms aligning and intersecting, and the physics break-down. Overall, it was a good movie, but it was less interesting because so little of it took place on earth.

Watched: 3/27/19

Score: 6.5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy

Man, I’ve heard people rave about this movie. It was okay I suppose. I had some beefs with it though. I certainly didn’t dislike it, but I don’t feel like it lived up to the hype. First of all, tonally and visually, I feel like it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Marvel movies so far. It felt like some random Sci-Fi action movie. The second thing that bothered me was the amount of swearing. I think it was meant to up the comedic factor, but instead I was thinking the whole time that this wasn’t something I’d let my kids watch for a while. I really like Rocket. He was pretty great throughout, as was Star Lord. They were likeable characters. I also liked the 80’s music throughout.

Watched: 3/28/19

Score: 6/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Volume Two was a bit more interesting. I liked Kurt Russell as the father, and the whole story line was interesting. I really like the development of Yondu, and how they explained the relationship between him and Star Lord better. I was sad to see him die at the end. Although I think it was pretty obvious that Star Lord’s dad was going to end up being a bad guy, it was still well done, though the final action sequence dragged on a little long. I liked this one better than the first, but still feel like it feels out of place with the rest of the Marvel universe.

Watched: 3/30/19

Score: 6.5/10

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This film was pretty good. I liked it less than the first Captain America. The tone was really well done, but the revelation that Hydra was behind shield was a bit of a downer. It feels like the problem is so large that it can’t reasonably be resolved. I like Falcon; He seems like a cool dude.

Watched: 3/31/19

Score: 7/10

Avengers: Age of Ultron

So that’s what Jarvis looks like. I loved how worried Thor looked when Captain America nudged the hammer. The bad guy was so calm and sociopathic. It was off-putting, but I think that was the intent. It was nice that the twins switched sides once they understood the ultimate plan of Ultron.

Watched: 4/4/19

Score: 7/10

Ant-Man

I have heard lot’s about this film, both bad and good before seeing it. I was told it was more comedic, and took itself less seriously, however I found that the film was quite good, and I didn’t think the tone was out of place. The de-aging of Michael Douglas was pretty great. Again, casting was pretty top notch. I thought it was a nice touch that he was a convicted criminal for being a Robin Hood type figure, and not actually a bad or greedy person. I loved all the action sequences that took place when the characters were small. For instance, the train scene in the kid’s room, or around the model at the science facility. Obviously, the superpower in this case was pretty ridiculous, but I think the movie pulled it off, and it was good. I really enjoyed Michael Pena’s round about story telling.

Watched: 4/7/19

Score: 7.5/10

Captain America: Civil War

Oh my goodness. So there are two sides here: Those who will operate within a joint-government jurisdiction, and those who feel that that restriction will cause them to be ineffective in saving the world. I liked how they built up Tony Stark’s character with guilt and PTSD to make it feel natural for him to side with being subject to a United Nations type of oversight. I agree with Tony in this case, and think that Captain America really overstepped his boundaries even though he was ultimately right that his friend was being framed. A pretty good movie. I thought the plot was well layed out. I felt sad that the Avengers weren’t all getting along, and I disagreed with Captain America, but ti was still an exciting movie.

Watched: 4/8/19

Score: 7/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Not what I expected at all. Tonally it was lighter. It was almost a coming of age movie. I liked that he wasn’t an avenger. I liked his friend, and the dynamic of everything, and having to keep the secret. I don’t know why I didn’t realize that Mike Keaton (The Vulture?) was his crush’s dad. That was a great moment when it all sinks in. It was really well done. All around, I thought it was a really enjoyable movie.

Watched: 4/9/19

Score: 8.5/10

Black Panther

This is another movie where I had fairly low expectations, but was pretty blown away. At first, I was annoyed by the first glimpse of Wakanda because it annoys me when “primitive” cultures have incredible tech. I was pleasantly surprised to find that their very high tech city was concealed by some sort of holographic technology. There did seem to be a lot of vibranium available considering the entire source was a single asteroid thousands of years ago. How can they mine that little for so long? Anyway, the other thing I liked was the villain. In this case, the villain was not a mindless violent jerk who wants world domination or wants to end human life, but felt that the world could benefit from propagating Wakanda’s technology and secrets. It created a much more nuanced message of right and wrong and a more relatable antagonist. Overall, it was a good movie.

Watched: 4/10/19

Score: 7.5/10

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange was also much better than I anticipated. From the advertisements, I assumed it was some sort of magic movie ripping on the visuals of Inception and the like. I was immediately engrossed in Dr Strange’s cocky fall from surgery. I was pleased that the powers that he ended up studying were not magic, but a form of manipulating the multiverse. I liked how his cloak/cape had it’s own little personality, and I like that he developed from a character that wanted to be the best, and never lose (for his own ego) to a person who would put his life on the line to save others. It showed a slow growth throughout the movie, and I liked it. It didn’t feel sudden or fake. It was an enjoyable film.

Watched: 4/11/19

Score: 7.5/10

Thor: Ragnarok

What a ride! That movie was a perfect mix of action and comedy. It was really heavy, in the fact that Asgard was dealt such a blow, however they managed to keep it light enough that it was enjoyable. I absolutely loved Jeff Goldblum and the whole scene with Hulk. Watching Loki get uncomfortable was hilarious. There were tons of good moments, and I really enjoyed it thoroughly.

Watched: 4/12/19

Score: 9.5/10

Avengers: Infinity War

Thanos’ plan makes no sense, but that’s okay. He’s a villain, and we’ll give it to him. I loved how they took all the characters, and mashed them up into new groups. It was fun seeing new pairings interact with each other, for example, Rocket with Thor. All the side stories were interesting, and it was sad seeing Thanos get the stones one by one. I was shocked Loki died so early on! I thought for sure he was faking it and would show up at the end. Vision’s death was tragic. Tony losing SpiderMan was really hard as well. The movie was really well done, and I enjoyed it. I feel like they should have been able to defeat Thanos between all their diversified powers. Especially Dr Strange and his ability to turn back time. And make portals that sever limbs… Can’t wait to see how it end up getting resolved!

Watched: 4/13/19

Score: 8.5/10

Ant-Man and the Wasp

I really liked this movie. I liked the pacing. I liked the humor. I liked the added tension of Scott trying to not get caught breaking his house arrest, and am glad he made it through entirely and can be free (or on parole, or whatever). The daughter had way better hair this time around. I think it was pretty clear they would be rescuing the mom in this movie based on how the last movie went. It was a good story. I loved the cars and building shrinking/expanding. It was all very entertaining!

Watched: 4/14/19

Score: 9/10

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel seemed like an interesting premise, but overall, I don’t feel like the movie really worked for me. The acting felt stiff and flat throughout. Captain Marvel is also ridiculously overpowered. The de-aged Samuel L. Jackson looked great, and it was nice to see Agent Coulson again. Over-all though, the plot didn’t grip me, and it didn’t have the pacing and humor I expected from a Marvel film.

Score: 5.5/10

Avengers: End Game

It’s amazing seeing the payoff from so many films building up to this moment. The film was long, but didn’t feel long. There was so much to cover and it was all pretty exciting. I was surprised when Thanos was defeated so early on. The movie kept me guessing and I didn’t know exactly where it was going. I tried to go in pretty blind. I liked the “fat Thor” gag, but I thought it got old. I would have liked to have him do a cheesy montage and get back into shape, but it’s not a big deal. Having Ant-Man come back from the quantum realm was great. The time travel was fun, and I loved how they kept talking about time travel movies and how they were wrong. Lots of humor was interwoven which kept the movie from feeling heavy and long. In the end, the time travel felt a little mucky because it wasn’t clear to me personally if they were retrieving the infinity stones from their own timeline, or parallel timelines. It shouldn’t matter since they returned them, but I am looking forward to re-watching it. Overall, it was a good send off, and had a great balance of humor and weight, and it was a tremendous payoff for so much investment.

Score: 9/10

Hello world!

Amid the flurry that is life, a lonely webpage sits forgotten…

As life goes on, things change. In the case of website, technologies change. When I first made yingster.net in the late 90’s, it was a simple, static, single-paged website. A few cool gifs, and some radical bookmarks. A bit later, I wanted to be like the trendy people, and added a guestbook. Ah, those were the days. Then, like all trends, guestbooks eventually go out of fashion. The cool thing was to add a blog. Blogs were magical. Everyone wanted one. Everyone wanted to broadcast their thoughts and feelings. I jumped on that bandwagon, but the wagon never really went anywhere.

My original blog was made using TextPattern. It was the hip new thing back in the mid 2000’s. Alas, the blog it powered sat around for 10 years, untouched by the hands that created it.

Finally, just days ago, that contents of that blog were migrated into this new WordPress home for the content. WordPress was also the fancy new tech in the 2000’s. Now it’s just good old reliable software that I am already using in other places.

But, aren’t blogs going out of style? Shouldn’t I be investing my effort into some sort of micro blogging or other social medium? Well, I guess that depends on what my goal is. I am not monetizing my website(s). I am not looking for followers. As always, core beliefs about the internet are:

  • It should be a free place where people can express themselves
  • It should not be monetized
  • It should retain it’s history
  • It should be viewed as a place to find information on any subject no matter how niche.

And that brings us here. My niche blog. It’ll probably be neglected for years at a time, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll have some thoughts or knowledge that I want to share right here. And that’s it’s here for.

© 2007-2015 Michael Caldwell