Top Reads of 2019

I read a lot in 2019, and I enjoyed…almost everything I read. I stuck to a lot of series, with a few random books thrown in, and almost entirely novels this year. Unusual for me since I like short stories, and comics, but that’s where my time reading went this year.

I also read quite a bit of litRPG. Fitting since I was writing more of it. This may be one reason I haven’t been reading short stories… there aren’t any in litRPG. I managed to find two, and that was difficult, though there are a few novellas, but even they are rare.

Some of my tops!

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The Dark Herbalist series. I only read the first two so far, but the next two are on my list. I love the swash buckling nature of it all. I started the third book, but got annoyed with the first few chapters. I’m still going to push through and see what happens with it though.

The Noobtown Series started with a man’s character creation being lead by a demon. After he gets control he rushes into the game world, and finds a starter village that is overrun by monsters. Loving this series, and can’t wait for more to come out.

The Divine Seed series is a different take on the dungeon core idea. A soul seed from the world tree of Norse mythology is sent to a distant realm to set down roots, and immediately things start going wrong. It’s a really good series that keeps upping the stakes, and this dungeon cares more about testing the metal of those inside than simply feasting. Book three is on my short list to read in 2020.

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Life Reset needs more books. I love this series! Human stuck as a goblin in a game? Yes please. The fact that he needs to keep upping his levels to get out of the game, and the humans who trapped him there in the first place keep trying to kill him, is really

The Crafer’s Dungeon is another one of those dungeon cores that do something different. This core just wants to craft and uses all her traps to try and make a crafting location. She only fights if those around her won’t let her craft in peace. Can’t wait for book three.

Alpha Company is another series I read. I’ve only got one cover up there but that’s because there were eight books, and I read them all. Now a complete series, I’m sad it’s over, but it was a fantastic world to visit. Also, this involves a harem so if you’re not into it maybe it’s not for you. (Though I really wish the author would go back and update his old covers so they all match. Come on Daniel!)

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Some of the stand along books that I loved this year include:

Bone Dungeon. The second book will be out this year. It is more in the traditional dungeon core style with a dungeon creating creature to fight adventurers, but it adds a dose of comedy to the mix and I really enjoyed it.

CivCEO is a civilization style game, and unlike anything else I have read in the litRPG area. Definitely portal fiction where the main character is transported to a magical land by a wayward goddess and dropped off as a mistake. But he quickly owns the situation, and makes the best of it in this new game of civ.

The Legacy Builder is actually a series, but I only read the first book. I will probably make my way through the rest of the series in 2020. This starts with the main character being robbed, and scammed, and he is absolutely thrilled about it! And doesn’t take long to get his own back. A really fun city builder litRPG.

And lastly, The Tower of Babel which is only on the bottom of my list because it is an abandoned series. The last book came out in 2017, and the author has said he doesn’t know when he’ll get back to it. A pity because the first two books were really good. They can, however, stand on their own. There just isn’t the satisfaction of the main character making it to the top of the tower.

I did read a lot of other books this year, but these were the top picks. You can find the rest of my reads, and the reviews, here.

The Mandalorian – AWESOME!

Cowboys in space, that’s exactly what we wanted and what we got. It’s an awesome show, and I am so glad I got free Disney+ from Verizon to watch it.

Will I renew my subscription after the year is over? Probably not. I’ll do exactly what I’ve been doing with other services. I’ll reup for a month once the thing I want to see is completely out, binge, then cancel. The only one we’ve been keeping an account with is Crunchy Roll and that’s just because there are so many anime’s to watch that it makes it worth it. Sort of like when Netflix had everything there. Now it doesn’t, and I’d just rather not watch most of what’s out there.

But as for Mandalorian, specifically, I loved it. Anyone who reads my blog might know that I wasn’t a big fan of the new trilogy movies, but Mandalorian feels like a return to classic Star Wars. They don’t make it complicated, or add in lots of social commentary, they just make it fun. And that’s what I wanted.

I liked it so much I did some fan art.

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Regardless, Baby Yoda is adorable. It’s fun to watch the father son dynamic of the series as Mando takes more responsibility for the youngling. I love seeing a good fatherly role model on tv for a change, and the bounty of the week sort of structure they have going is pretty good. Plus… BABY YODA!

And the season finally just opened up a whole bunch of possibilities for the future!

So if you, or a friend, have access to Disney+ I’d suggest watching it. It’s worth your time.

Review: Rise of Skywalker

Since the movie just came out today I won’t be writing any spoilers today, just an overview, and I’ll give my spoiler review in a week or so.

Okay, first, let me tell you where I’m coming from as a fan of the Star Wars movies.

I grew up in the 80’s, and I watched the original trilogy on laser disks that my parents had. I watched them a lot because they were some of my favorite films, and they shaped my view of science fiction (or rather science fantasy) going forward.

The second trilogy came out and we watched all three of them in the theaters. While there were parts I wasn’t a fan of I still enjoyed them. There was still decent story telling, even if a few characters weren’t that great, and the Anakin story arch wasn’t that strong. The clones, the large scale battles, and especially the beautiful sets and dresses for Padme all made me love Star Wars even more.

Then the Disney movies started. The first one gave me hope. Sure, Rey was a boring character that didn’t seem to have much direction or personality yet, but there were some great moments, and some call backs to the original series that gave me hope that they were taking their ownership of the Star Wars franchise to heart and really going to do it justice. They just needed time to get their feet under them and the next movie would be even better.

Rogue One I loved. It seemed like a fully developed movie, with a great cast, fantastic story line, a lead actress with a personality and some character flaws to over come. By the end of the movie I was about in tears because I had grown to really love those characters and believe their friendship and camaraderie to the end. That, in my opinion, is one of the best movies in the series.

Then the Last Jedi happened. I did a whole review of that movie here, but suffice it to say that while there were some nice scenes I still think the writing was garbage, the pay out for the first movie fell flat, and I feel that it is one of the WORST Star Wars movies that ever existed. It was so bad I didn’t even care about Solo, and still haven’t seen it. Maybe I’ll watch it when it comes out on Disney Plus cause I’m still not willing to pay for it.

So when Rise of Skywalker was announced I wasn’t that keen on seeing it. If my boyfriend and our room mate hadn’t been going (and paying) I probably wouldn’t have. But we did… And I think I’m glad I did.

First, I didn’t hate it. I don’t think it was the best Star Wars, but it wasn’t the worst either. There were some parts I actually enjoyed, and I thought they did a better job of giving Rey a personality, even though I still think she (the character not the actress) was one of the weakest parts of the movie. The actress did what she could with the character, but from the start they billed her as an all powerful Christ like figure there to save the world who never fails at anything, and there isn’t a lot you can do with that except… well… succeed.

Still, when I look at the last movie and what Abrams had to work with I was surprised how well he put together a coherent plot. He had to deal with all the hype of who Snoke was and what he represented being utterly destroyed upon his death. He had to deal with a demoralized Poe, a broken rebel alliance, and a cowardly Luke Skywalker. And then he had to make a coherent story where the good guys win.

The general complaints I had were that the director, Abrams, had to cram so much into the movie that everything ended up being quick cut, and I at times I felt like I was getting too much information at once. And the ending. I hated the ending.

There will be people who absolutely love this movie. I know at least three of them, one of which has already watched it twice. There will be a small amount of people who hate it, though some of them are hating on it more because of how the fandom was treated after Last Jedi then the movie itself. I think if they had been treated better instead of being called all sorts of awful things then they may have had a kinder view of the movie, even with it’s flaws.

For me the movie was a 7/10. It was a good popcorn movie with a few cringy parts, but the ending made me never want to watch it again. Would I recommend it? Only if you’re walking in with lower expectations. If you go in with lower expectations and get an okay film I think you’ll enjoy it. If you’re expecting it to be the best movie ever then you’re more than likely going to be disappointed.

Review: Code 8

Code 8, this isn’t your parents super hero movie.

You know the super powered mutants that saved the world, and did good deeds? No, this is a world where supers are second class citizens, left to be homeless and destitute because the unpowered are afraid of them. A world where what you are matters more than who you are.

Code 8 is a dark, gritty film. Think outlaw X-men in a heist film and you’ll come close. And it’s all around fantastic!

Back in 2016 they released a short film of Code 8 where an electric powered man, Connor, tried to save one of his fellow powered co-workers, and ended up causing an EMP that knocked out power for several city blocks. That was a fantastic film, well received, and incredibly well done with both CGI and practical effects that gave you a window into a fully developed world.

After that short film they went to Indiegogo and got funding to make a full length movie. At 1.5 hours long they expanded the world, added some characters, and made a few changes to really set it apart.

First, in the original short film Connor had a son. In the feature length film he has a mother who is getting sicker as the film progresses. The lack of money, and inability to save his mother from a disease they can’t afford to treat is the driving force behind his character.

Next the scene from the original film wasn’t in the full length film. They kept only a few parts, like the fact they were on a construction sight, but went in a totally different direction. They built up the action, having Connor slowly work into his powers as he has been suppressing them all of his life.

When the local crew comes looking for an electric the need to save his mother gets him to join up, and he starts down a road with the local crime boss.

The full length movie was dark and gritty. The character development progressed in a believable manner. The CGI wasn’t overwhelming, but added to the film. If I had a complaint it may be the sound. The music was on theme, but the sound mixing at times didn’t do a great job of keeping the level of the sound steady throughout. Still, it wasn’t too distracting.

The other part that could have been better is the ending. There were several plot threads in the film, and the ending tried to wrap them all up, but I still had questions. One thread I really wanted to see fleshed out more was Agent Park, and his daughter, but I had the feeling the writers were focusing all of their attention on Connor and the cops story line was just a little flavor thrown in.

If they decide to make a second movie (which I hope they do) I would love to see Connor and Agent Park working together, even if Connor is still on the wrong side of the law. That would be an awesome story. However there are currently plans to make a tv series around the property. No dates on when that will come out.

Go, watch it. You can rent it on Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, apple TV and several other places. It was also playing in select theaters in LA.

Review: Dust

Some days I get lost in the back alleys of YouTube, taking in amazing short films. Some are funny, some poignant, some beautifully done. A few stand out above the crowd as true masterful strokes.

Dust by Ember Labs is one such film. (Also available on Vimeo) This 26 min film is a mix of fantasy and science fiction that captivates the audience with the world building, and touches our emotions with the story telling.

Set in a world where everything is evolving incredibly fast, the trackers are there to record the evolutions, and find cures for diseases and poisons that might come of the quick adaptations. Humans, of course, have locked themselves behind walls to try and save themselves, but a wall doesn’t stop a virus.

The world is shown thorough the eyes of a man who has lost his way. Once a tracker, he has withdrawn into the city that he used to disdain. Now he has to venture back out into the wilderness to find the cause of a new virus, Dust, and a cure.

The CGI is beautifully done in this film. From insects with glowing wings, to interesting mushrooms that emit clouds of spores, and a large beast deep in the forest. The wilderness settings give stark contrast to the walled city rising up through the trees, and the apothecary shop sets the stage for our would be tracker.

Everything from color, to atmosphere, to sound, blends together to create a beautiful experience. Well worth the watch.

Review: Dark Phoenix (no spoilers)

We just got back from the Dark Phoenix and… it was okay.

There were some great action scenes. I loved a lot of the special affects. The actors did a great job with the story they were given. There were, however, a few things that didn’t make sense. Unfortunately the part that made this just okay, and not amazing for me was the character development. It really didn’t have time to develop as we hopped around from one place to another so that Fox could bring in all of their licenses characters with impunity.

I feel like the Phoenix Saga could be an amazing series, or a trilogy that is allowed to develop and mature. Let the audience fall in love with the characters, see their pain and turmoil. Don’t just cram it all into two hours and say “there’s a movie for ya.”

I actually thought Sophie Turner did an amazing job of playing Jean Grey. I wasn’t sure it would be a good fit since I had only seen her in GoT before, but she did very well, and very shortly into the movie I just saw her as Jean Grey instead of Sansa. But the plot was clipped together, with large parts of her story left feeling…unfinished. This wasn’t Turner’s doing, but rather the stiff formatting of the film.

This could easily have been broken into either two or three movies. First section would be her getting the power of the phoenix and disappearing. Second would be her coming to terms with everything. That would have fixed a majority of the problems in the film.

The cringiest part was Raven saying “maybe this should be the X-women.” She conveniently forgets that Nightcrawler and Quicksilver did most of the work and complains to Xavior that the women are doing all the saving of the men. So ridiculous. There’s nothing wrong with girl power, but please can you respect the other people that help you regardless of their sex? (The rest of the story had nothing to do with women power, it was just a throw away comment that stood out for how terrible it is.)

There were a few other sections that felt stilted, or off. A lot of it boiled down to rushing the plot and not giving time to develop the intentions and transition of peoples ideas. One second they want to kill someone, the next they decide to save her. The switch happens so quickly that it was unbelievable.

Overall it was an okay film. It did have some cool scenes, and I enjoyed seeing the phoenix effects on the big screen. I probably wouldn’t watch it again though.

Youtube in a Nutshell

If you missed it, YouTube did their annual rewind this year. It has, at this moment, 2.4 million likes, and 14 million dislikes. 14 million! More than any other video out there.

There have been a few people trying to explain why the video is so universally hated, and they make some good points. Marques Brownlee, who is in the rewind, mentions the ever expanding push for YouTube to be brand friendly. Evan Edinger explored why past rewinds were awesome (celebrating amazing music from the year, and community accomplishments) and the break that happens in 2016 where more main stream media starts infiltrating it. Many of the comments ask where Pewdiepie is, the most subscribed youtuber since 2013. Paul brothers, also controversial, okay, but no Pewdiepie. Many people say they didn’t recognize most of the people in it. Many sight the fact that celebrities who have nothing to do with YouTube were included, and the increasing push for diversity and social justice that is starting to feel more like preaching. Mainly the problem was “this isn’t authentic YouTube”.

Other Youtubers responded by making their own rewinds, or year in reviews. Some were remixes of the original, some made fun of it, some cut together their own interpretation entirely.

And then Pewdiepie dropped his own Youtube Rewind (but actually good.) At the moment it has 4.6 million thumbs up, and only 29k thumbs down. A huge improvement over the original. Many of those reviewing it nod along to the music, comment on all the memes they know and love, and even get a sad smile when showing remembrances of some of those who passed on this year, like Stan Lee and Stephan Karl Stefansson.

I find it interesting that some people commented on the Youtube official rewind cramming in too much stuff, and that is why it wasn’t as successful, and yet the Pewdiepie video goes through so many memes and people that I lost count. But I knew them. I knew the content, the people mentioned, the memes, and I could remember at least 80% of them from past videos. And they worked well with the music, flowing together, and becoming part of it in most of the video. A few places seemed a bit forced, but because I had already invested so much into it I already loved it, and those few places didn’t matter.

I have to admit I haven’t always been a Pewdiepie fan. I thought his humor was kind of crass, and he made his mark by being loud and obnoxious. My daughter (a teen) loved his let’s plays, but even then I would watch some of them with her and enjoy it. Now that he is focusing more on what makes him happy, like memes, reddit, and just watching funny vidios, I enjoy his content even more. Plus the inclusion of Pew News, and even the book club, make me feel like Pewdiepie, or rather Felix, has grown up.

But now I feel that Pewdiepie’s rewind, and the whole T-seires war in general, is about far more than a few memes, or even liking one specific youtuber. This is about community. About being part of something bigger. And I think the end of the video exemplifies that the most.

This isn’t just about YouTube appealing to advertisers, or clearing out the less desirable. This is about corporations using their influence to take over what we built. Because we built Youtube. We made the videos, learned to edit, made music, animated, and joined in on conversations around the world. We made it what it is today….and corporations are trying to take it. They tried by suing early YouTube, to make it take responsibility for those uploading movies in order to shut it down. They tried to influence law makers to make SOPA and PIPA. They tried to using advertisers and controversies to shut things down. And for the longest time they have been going after the biggest channel on YouTube to use him for clicks and try to cut him down at the same time.

We know the day is coming when music and media companies have the most viewers on YouTube. This isn’t the first industry to see these changes, and it won’t be the last. But this fight with T-seiries is our way of saying we aren’t going to give up quite that easily.

I hope someday there is competition with PayPal, Patreon, and Youtube. I hope someday freedom to speak isn’t just a catch phrase, it’s a reality because no one has the power to shut us down just because they don’t like what we’re saying. I hope some day we really, truly, own the work we do. Right now that isn’t very possible because we distribute the work we create on someone else’s network, be it music, books, or videos. We don’t have a way of getting that information to other people because someone else owns all the servers and the connection points, and someone else can threaten to shut off the access either by cutting off the people buying the product (or taking away the products after they sold it to you), or by cutting off income to the creator.

Until then we’ll keep fighting the good fight, trying to keep the power in the hands of the people, and trying to keep our community strong and vibrant. Keep it growing. Because we never know what tomorrow will hold.