Great Webinars by Cynthia Clay – A Book Review

When I saw the 2012 publication date in the small print of Great Webinars, I frankly thought it may be outdated. I could not have been more wrong. During the last year and a half, I’ve attending more online calls, e-conferences, and virtual trainings then ever before in my life, and let me tell you, this book proved prophetic. It still very much applies to today’s world.

Cynthia Clay takes a pragmatic approach with Great Webinars. She first addresses everything that can go wrong with online facilitation. She then provides solutions to those mishaps. She delves into audience, objectives, and interactions as well. She also lends advice concerning PowerPoints, discusses learning transfer, and offers ways to overcome technology trauma. Does any of this sound applicable to your current state?

Honestly, I didn’t even know this level of online training occurred in 2012. If you play any role at all in any method of online education, you will not be disappointed with Great Webinars.

Black Adam – A Movie Review

(Warning: the tiniest of spoilers ahead, mostly concerning what is NOT in Black Adam)

As you know, I am a unapologetic DC apologist. I’ve loved Super Friends since my childhood and they will always hold a special place in my heart. Donner, Burton, Nolan, Snyder, Jenkins–whomever. Put them on the screen and I will watch them.

I won’t claim to be a big Black Adam fan, though I did thoroughly enjoy Geoff Johns’ JSA run, which heavily featured Black Adam, Hawkman, Captain Marvel (Shazam), Dr. Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher (among many, many others).

I’m also not a huge Dwyane Johnson follower. I like him in movies, certainly, but I don’t consider his films a “must-see” experience. There’s no denying his charisma, however, and so when I heard he was almost maniacally dedicated to getting Black Adam onto the big screen, I thought the exposure would be good for DC, good for the character, and good for Dwayne Johnson. Furthermore, once I learned the film would also feature Hawkman and Dr. Fate, I found myself getting very excited. Black Adam, Dr. Fate, and Hawkman have been linked for centuries in the comic books and I assumed they would lean heavily into that rich history.

I just left the theater a few hours ago and here’s my one-sentence review: Good … not great.

Black Adam has tremendous action, special effects that sometimes look amazing, superb costumes, elaborate sets, and a pace almost as fast as the Flash.

Also, there are some real twists in the story that I did not see coming.

But let’s talk about that–story. The story? It’s fine. They do a good job firmly establishing Black Adam’s past and current status. They manage to introduce the JSA and its members while providing the audience a baseline understanding of each member’s motivations, histories, and dynamics. Additionally, they address the necessity of the gray area in which Black Adam exists. They call into question the morality of good and evil as it pertains to perspective. I frankly found it admirable that they did not shy away from such complexity at all.

But the dialogue? Woof. It’s bad, folks. It’s really bad. It’s the typical giant studio beating a dead horse with cliches, one-liners, catch phrases, and lazy talk. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.

Some bright spots? Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate. Brosnan brought the wisdom, regality, and wit needed for this version of the character. And the costume? The Dr. Fate effects? Wowzers. Fantastic. Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone brought a vitality and freshness to the film that it sorely needed. Her bright colors and interesting visual impact delivered a much needed contrast to some otherwise dreary visuals (excluding Dr. Fate, of course). Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher gave us the levity we craved, and boy-oh-boy did they deliver on his powers. You want to talk about nailing a comic book look and power set! Aldis Hodge played Hawkman, and while I loved the look, I didn’t love the angle they made Hodge take with the character. He was a little too much like Black Adam himself, which could work, and did (at times), but his hard-stance approach seemed to register in all the wrong ways. I look forward to more of Hodge as Hawkman, though, because he absolutely looked the part! Finally, we had some really, really fun cameos. I’m not going to spoil them, of course, but they are there, and they give me great hope.

I know the DCEU gets knocked for being too serious, and I get that. I do. It’s never bothered me, because Batman is rooted in some pretty tragic stuff. Joker is the pinnacle of psychosis. When the public’s modern perception of DC are primarily the Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder movies–yeah, they’re on the dark side. But don’t forget that Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam are also DC movies, and I would not define them as overly serious.

All that being said, Black Adam is too damn serious. Notice I didn’t italicize Black Adam there. I mean the character, not the movie. I understand Black Adam is a very, very serious character in the books, but Dwayne Johnson is a megawatt superstar known for unyielding charisma. He’s playing Black Adam about as straight as it gets, so much so that the attempts at humor are misfires because they are in such contrast to his general demeanor.

I’m also SORELY disappointed they did not dig into the connective tissue binding Dr. Fate, Hawkman, and Black Adam. Didn’t even scratch the surface. Maybe at one point, early in the writing, they tried. This could be the reasoning for Hawkman and Dr. Fate’s inclusion. The final version, though, left it all out.

Finally, Black Adam keeps the unrelenting comic book trope going, the one only She-Hulk dared defy. I won’t spoil it other than to say we have our prerequisite CGI monster at the end. <sigh>

If you’re a DC fan in general, I think you’ll enjoy quite a bit of Black Adam. Dr. Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher alone are pretty fun to watch. If you’re a casual movie goer, you may enjoy the unrelenting action and eye-popping special effects. No one can deny that Black Adam and Dwyane Johnson took a big, big swing. They definitely made contact, but I wouldn’t call it a homerun.

Like I said earlier: Good … not great.

Business Made Simple by Donald Miller – A Book Review

A good friend recommended Business Made Simple in order to bolster my business acumen as I continue navigating the corporate waters. There are several elements I appreciated about the book.

First of all, it’s very well organized. Miller broke the book down day-by-day, and even provided supplemental material if you’d like to take it a step further. The sections are short, clearly stated, and easy to comprehend.

Furthermore, Business Made Simple is quickly paced. Miller wasted no time, which is consistent with his theme throughout the book. Miller recognized that busy people often struggle finding the time to read, so he made Business Made Simple as appealing as possible–he made it easy to pick it up when there’s a few extra minutes to spare. And once started, it’s hard to stop.

The first half of the book contained solid information and potent reminders, but Business Made Simple truly shined in the latter half. I particularly found the chapters dealing with negotiations, management, and execution incredibly insightful.

Though new to the corporate world, I believe Business Made Simple will prove beneficial to even the most savvy of business people. I highly recommend you give it a read.

All Of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk – A Book Review

As I strolled through the Normal Public Library, the above cover caught my eye primarily because of the little box in the corner depicting two heroic people, just like the comic books I enjoyed as a kid.

I picked it up, read the inside jacket, and–yep!–this book was written specifically for me.

With All Of the Marvels, Douglas Wolk, the author, took it upon himself to read every super hero comic book published by Marvel Comics. Every. Last. One.

We won’t get into the semantics as to how he did this, just accept the fact that he did. From there, Wolk breaks the book into categories dealing with prevalent themes. Some chapter titles include: “The Junction To Everywhere,” “The Mutant Metaphor,” and “The Iron Patriot Acts.” He also provides interesting interludes between chapters like “Diamonds Made of Sound,” “March, 1965,” and “Linda Carter.” Finally, the book finishes with an appendix zipping through Marvel’s overarching eras.

The truth is, the book gets off to a slow start because Wolk spends a lot of time setting the table, so to speak. About three chapters, if I’m not mistaken. However, once he actually dives into the comics and characters, the book flies. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Does Wolk address every single character and event that ever took place in Marvel Comics? No, that would be impossible to do in a work that you actually want people to read. But he finds captivating through lines, amazing coincidences, unintentional connections, and life-imitates-art moments. He also delves into the creators themselves with names such as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Chris Claremont, and Walter Simonson.

In a book around 350 pages, Wolk successfully provides a substantive, thorough, analytical overview of Marvel Comics history, and he does so in an engaging, informal way. For die-hard Marvel fans, this is a must-read. For those casually interested in Marvel, the comics medium, or expansive storytelling, you will also be greatly rewarded for your time. Needless to say, I highly recommend All Of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk.

Netflix’s The Sandman – A Few Thoughts

I had my doubts when news broke that Netflix would release a series featuring The Sandman. This particular piece of literary greatness has been the focus of many, many would-be screen adaptations over the years, and none quite reached fruition. Furthermore, of late, Netflix has not bolstered my confidence in its overall quality.

Honestly, even the trailers did not stir any excitement in me. I loved this comic book series, I love Neil Gaiman, and I really, really didn’t want The Sandman to flop. If the show proved terrible, I didn’t want people to assume the books are also terrible, and the creator is also terrible, and all of the people who have been devoted to Dream and his siblings are also terrible. I didn’t want Netflix to taint something so special to so many people.

Fortunately for everyone, The Sandman is absolutely fantastic.

I found myself hooked within the first fifteen minutes. And once that initial episode ended, I couldn’t wait for the next. I haven’t felt that enthusiastic for a show in quite awhile.

When I describe the show to people, I say it has a “mood,” which is one of the things I love most about it. Morpheus, the main character, also know as Dream, is not necessarily nice, but he is good. He is honorable. He is even royal. But he’s also stubborn, and sometimes off-putting, and very often passive aggressive. (Though he can certainly be active aggressive when necessary.) In other words, despite Morpheus’ stoicism, he’s always in a mood, and so the show is as well. (The exquisite soundtrack definitely assists with this.)

Netflix’s The Sandman encapsulates everything I loved most about the comic book series while modernizing elements both appropriately and to the show’s benefit. It truly found a way to stay loyal to the source material while also feeling fresh and in the “now.” The world is no longer the same as it was when the comic book came out, and I’m personally glad the show adapted accordingly. Of course, if you know anything at all about The Sandman’s creator, Neil Gaiman, this should come as no surprise.

I’ll admit that the last half of the season didn’t exhilarate me as much as the first, but know that the latter half laid the groundwork for numerous stories to come. Everything is important–everything is connected.

If you enjoy epic storylines full of mythology, literary references, high-brow concepts, good old fashioned horror, and a huge touch of magic, I highly recommend The Sandman.

Grit by Angela Duckworth – A Book Review

I first discovered research psychologist Angela Duckworth on a podcast called No Stupid Questions. During this podcast, Duckworth’s book, Grit, is often mentioned. I happen to thoroughly enjoy Duckworth’s personality and expertise, and so I finally got the book through my local library.

Grit explores, as the subtitle would suggest, the power of passion and perseverance. It dives into why some people simply have no quit in them. It spends time defining the quality, advising how to grow it from the inside out, and describing how some people grew it from the outside in.

It relies heavily on anecdotes with example after example after example. Like a lot of similar nonfiction, it perhaps overindulges in these narratives. For me, there always comes a point with these kinds of books where I say, “All right, already–I get it!” Of course, quitting a book called Grit would be embarrassing.

The best moments, as one would expect, arrive when Duckworth refers to research, data, and other psychologists. Furthermore, Duckworth also reveals quite a bit about her own story and the story of her family in relation to grit. I knew much of it already from the podcast, but I nonetheless found her candor refreshing. If anything, this aspect set her apart from other authors.

I absolutely found Grit inspiring. I also found it insightful in how to instill grit in one’s own children. While the page count was a bit too robust, the core of it proved fascinating. If this is a topic you find interesting, I highly recommend you give it a try.

Star Wars | The High Republic: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

This is the third novel I’ve read in The High Republic Star Wars series. The High Republic is set about 200 years before Star Wars: A New Hope. It may be important to note that these novels are just a small facet of the overall The High Republic campaign. There are also comic books, YA novels, children’s books, and soon-to-be-released streaming shows and video games. I only call that fact out because this book marked the first time I honestly felt like I wasn’t getting the whole story. Perhaps this is how casual MCU moviegoers feel as they sporadically bounce in and out?

I’d also like to make it very clear that I generally enjoy Claudia Gray’s writing. Star Wars: Lost Stars proved my first encounter with her and it is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars stories. Keep in mind that she was the sole author on that endeavor and that it only tangentially connected to A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return Of the Jedi. Otherwise it focused on two original characters.

This is important because The High Republic is a story by committee. There are a lot of different authors helping to deliver the installments and, in fact, each of the three The High Republic novels have been written by different people. For me, this results in a total lack of voice. Gray has a writing voice, I know this to be true, but it was muffled in The Fallen Star.

Furthermore, I simply can’t connect to The High Republic characters. I’m having trouble envisioning them, hearing them in my head, and separating them out as individuals. Is this because there are just so many of them, especially in regards to the Jedi?

Plus, to be blunt, this particular book’s entire plot is revealed in the title. The Jedi space station falls. The majority of the book leads up to that point, and then the last quarter of it deals with the ramifications of it falling. Getting to that last quarter was a long, long slog and I actually resorted to skimming.

However, I will give The Fallen Star respect in this regard: things definitely happen in that last quarter of the story. Characters are killed off, significant changes in other characters occur, and the Jedi are certainly challenged.

Which leads me to my final note: the Jedi simply don’t look good in this series. The same antagonist has outsmarted them three books in a row now. He’s inflicted major damage over the course of saga thus far. They thought they beat him the first two books, but they obviously did not. The High Republic Jedi come off as naïve, ill-prepared, and unimaginative. If I remember correctly, this was a complaint about the prequel Jedi as well.

I’m afraid I may be out on this series. After three books, the Jedi have failed to capture my attention, the stories seem strangely repetitive, each book lacks a unique voice, and the stakes seem both monumental and inconsequential at the same time. I love the concept and the major effort put into this gigantic enterprise, but it’s simply no longer for me.

Thor: Love and Thunder – A Movie Review

Maybe I’m a prisoner of the moment, but Thor: Love and Thunder is absolutely one of my favorite Marvel movies.

First of all, even though the special effects are completely epic, the storyline itself is fairly straightforward and each character’s motivations are clear. This goes a long way with a mainstream crowd. On the one hand, I’ve seen every MCU movie and witnessed Thor’s evolution in real time. On the other hand, my wife has barely seen any of the Marvel movies, yet, thanks to flashbacks and addendums, she completely understood Love and Thunder and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. That’s quite a feat for a fourth installment to achieve!

Secondly, even though this is comic book movie full of larger-than-life events, the acting really is superb thanks to incredible actors. Let me throw some names at you: Natalie Portman. Christian Bale. Russel Crowe. Tessa Thompson. Bradley Cooper. These are big names with real acting credentials. Let’s toss in sheer star power as well with Chris Hemsworth (obviously), Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, and Vin Diesel. Furthermore, there are some very big cameos that I won’t spoil for you. And the person who helped write the story, directed the movie, and even acted in it as well? Taika Waititi.

Third, it’s just plain fun. The tone, the costumes, the jokes–it’s all a blast. Screaming goats, people! Screaming goats!

However, that brings me to my fourth and final point. Even though the jokes are fast and furious, I’ll also admit to you that this is one of the few MCU movies that truly gave me the feels. I teared up on several occasions. Is that the quality of the story, the acting, or the combination of the two? I’m not sure, but I was definitely invested in these characters, particularly Thor and Jane Foster.

Speaking of whom, I was thrilled to see Natalie Portman back as Jane Foster/Mighty Thor. I was also so relieved that they treated both Jane and Mighty Thor with the utmost respect. They nailed her story, they got the costume exactly right, and they let Natalie Portman have a little fun even as she also had to do a lot of the emotional heavy lifting.

Finally, I never would have guessed they could keep Thor interesting, but they keep finding ways. Chris Hemsworth has truly captured something magical in this character, merging the buffoonery of the Norse myth with the heroism of the Marvel comic’s character, and Taika Waititi has found a way to let Hemsworth walk that very fine line.

Obviously, I highly recommend Thor: Love and Thunder. It’s an entertaining two hours that brings both the laughs and the emotions while closing plotlines from the past and opening more for the future.

Assembly by Natasha Brown – A Book Review

I often pick up thin books in the “new” section at my library simply to try out authors I haven’t read before or for the experience of a quick read. I knew nothing about Assembly other than that I liked its cover and it only had about 100 pages.

Within the first ten pages of Assembly, author Natasha Brown captured my attention and never let it go.

Assembly is told from the perspective of a Black woman living in England. She’s successful in the corporate world of finance, yet that success comes with a price. No, this is not the stuff of fantasy or thrillers. This is the stuff of stifling your personality, putting up with loads of reprehensible behavior, ignoring your own desires to honor the sacrifices made on your behalf, and grinding day in and day out to finally achieve what you long ago earned.

And yet …

Our narrator can’t help but acknowledge the ridiculousness of it all, especially as she visits her “old money” boyfriend’s mansion. His ancestors’ wealth was predicated upon her ancestors’ suffering, and even if a direct line of connection cannot be made, that connection remains even if tangentially so. He does nothing as his wealth grows day by day; she must make her wealth grow day by day.

There’s also the issue of her health. She’s young, ascending, and destined for great things as long as she keeps grinding, so of course she has every reason in the world to preserve her health.

Or so you would assume.

Short, potent, and brutally blunt, Assembly is a little bit novella, a little bit poem, a little bit indescribable, but very well written with a powerful voice.

If you’re looking for a book that actually says something, try Assembly by Natasha Brown.

All the Horses Of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie – A Book Review

I chose this book at my local library because it was so slim. I wasn’t familiar with the author, Sarah Tolmie, at all, nor did I have a particular interest in the horses of Iceland. However, it was touted as fantasy and published in association with Tor, so I figured it was worth a shot.

In the end, I didn’t love All the Horses Of Iceland, but I didn’t dislike it either. The premise of the novella seeks to explain how Iceland gained its horses. Great travels ensue, as does magic, ghosts, trading, and tribal warfare. Yet, even with that being said, All the Horses Of Iceland is an intimate book that doesn’t delve too deeply into any of those things. It touches the surface, offers just enough to propel the story forward, and then keeps racing to the end.

I’m not sorry I read All the Horses Of Iceland. I’m always excited to experience a new (to me) author, but I can’t necessarily say I’d recommend it, either. I believe there is an audience for this book, it’s simply not me.