Some might cliam that the paranormal and western genres don’t go together, but A Slip on Golden Stairs, by Joanne Sundell does an excellent job of melding past with present, offering readers a romantic ghostly tale that you won’t want to put down. This well-crafted story conjures ghosts from the Alaska gold rush days, when many risked everything, including their lives, for a chance to strike it rich, telling their story through their connection to the present.
Abby Gray doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she can find no other explanation for the the mysterious figure of a woman in the second floor window of what was once a brothel, or the handsome stranger who appears when she least expects it, or the unexplained man’s voice calling her name, that no one else seems to hear. What starts out as a summer of chasing gold mining history, turns into a ghost hunting adventure into the past that ends in love. Through her search for answers, we learn the story of Abigail Grayson, a tough young girl, determined to find her freedom and independence in the Alaskan gold fields. The connection between the two women and their beaus is revealed slowly, with each turn of the page, as the love between Abigail and Elias navigates the obstacles along the way, and Abby searches for a man who can’t possibly exist. Abby believes she might be losing her mind. After all, can one fall in love with a ghost?
Whether readers are into westerns, ghosts or romance, A Slip on Golden Stairs is sure to satisfy. The two stories are woven together in a masterful blend of multiple genres. I give it five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
by Jeff Bowles
For more on Avengers: Engame, make sure to check out my full video review.
A wonderful thing happened to me as I watched Avengers: Endgame in the theater. At some point I realized that the worries and concerns that have been plaguing me in recent months are really just a steppingstone to something better, an invitation to move onward and upward in life. It happened around about the same time the core Avengers we met way back in 2012 tried to convince Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man to repair the past. “Well crap,” I said to myself, “if their mistakes are universe-ending, maybe mine aren’t as bad as I thought.”
And that’s the thing about this fourth Avengers movie, the capstone to the first eleven years of the mighty Marvel Cinematic Universe. Both understated and bold, the film urges us to reexamine our past choices. Some people stay stagnant and bemoan what they can’t change, while others look ahead and try to envision a better future.
Or maybe I just really love comic books, and a big, wonderful superhero flick like this awakens something serious and startling in me. Individual mileage may vary, of course, but truth be told, I’ve never seen a motion picture quite like this, and neither have you.
Avengers: Endgame is the second part of a two-part epic, which itself is the penultimate chapter of a series that’s twenty-two stories deep. That’s right, in order to gain a full appreciation for the trials and triumphs of Earth’s mightiest heroes, we need to go back to the very beginning, to the moment Tony Stark first slipped into his Iron Man suit. Readers of Marvel comic books were never astonished at how well this little project pulled together in the end, but audiences unfamiliar with a working shared universe might find themselves surprised by the complex tapestry eleven years of movies can weave.
Thanos the Mad Titan wiped out half of all sentient life in the universe with the snap of his fingers in last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, and now our heroes feel the need to, well, do some avenging. When it becomes clear it’s too late to fix Thano’s bold solution to universal overpopulation, the Avengers scatter and make individually vein efforts to move on with their lives. Captain America runs a support group for survivors of the infamous snap, Black Widow runs clandestine operations to protect what’s left of the world, Iron Man has settled into an existence of perfect domesticity, and Thor … well, don’t let me ruin for you how he’s ended up.
When Scott Lang, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), unexpectedly pops his little shrinky-growy head out of the aptly named Quantum Realm, it slowly dawns on everyone it may be possible to return the universe to its former state after all, the lives of all those who turned to ash included. The movie focuses on the original six heroes we’ve come to love, which is a wise choice. Avengers: Infinity War sure was a beast of a movie, but it was also bloated with characters. The result here is a tighter, more focused narrative, one that dispenses with unnecessary story arcs in lieu of a clear and present runway to adventure, mind-bending time trickery, and a whole hell of a lot of interpersonal drama.
That’s the thing that’s so surprising about Endgame. Whereas most superhero movies overwhelm audiences with big fights and tons of CGI, this film invests in characters and the changes that have worked their way into every aspect of their personalities. Which isn’t to say big fights aren’t present, but the truth is this is a much more personal film than you might expect. As usual, it’s a long shot to save the world, but really, the adventure is secondary to the people.
Storytelling like this is often brooding and overly serious, but really, a good sense of humor turns out to be the name of the game. It’s not all beat-downs and overwhelming anxiety. These characters care about each other, and it shows. Past comic book movies like The Dark Knight have grappled with similar apocalyptic themes, but the first time The Hulk opens his mouth in Endgame, you’ll quickly realize superheroes rarely work best in their darkest, most imposing manifestations. Filmakers Joe and Anthony Russo and their very capable screenwriting team take some magnanimous risks with the humor, off-the-cuff and casual as much of it seems. It’s all worth it. The sense of good-cheer offsets nicely with moments of world-ending weight.
Additionally, a large section of Avengers: Endgame is devoted to reexploring some of the greatest moments from MCU history. It’s funny to think about nostalgia in a series that’s only a decade old, but for audiences who’re fully invested in the story thus far, it really is a beautiful opportunity to look back. So many great moments in Endgame were earned years ago, and while some movie reviewers and quasi-fans have gotten it into their heads this is the last big hurrah, by the time the credits roll, it’s clear we haven’t seen anything yet.
In movie biz terms, it was always a question how long some of these actors would stick around, but Marvel Studios is playing with eighty years of published continuity. Marvel, the little comics company that could, has been finding new ways to explore and reinvent itself on a weekly basis for longer than most people today have been alive, which means no, Virginia, the MCU will not be running out of ideas any time soon. If you keep showing up to the theater, they’ll keep pumping these movies out, and as I write this review, Avengers: Endgame has already become one of the highest grossing films of all time.
Speaking of writing reviews, it’s tough to describe Endgame without spoiling it completely. Suffice it to say, this three-hour epic will leave audiences breathless and hungry for more. It’s a huge, big-hearted film saturated by personal stakes. Or is that a personal movie containing universal stakes? I can’t imagine a more fitting entertainment milestone. Surely, the quality won’t always live up to the hype, but until such a time Marvel jumps the shark like Fonzie, box-office supremacy shouldn’t be an issue.
The next movie in the MCU arrives in early July. Spider-Man: Far From Home has already promised to explore the fallout from Endgame, and that’s really what Marvel is best at. Each time we come out for one of these flicks, we get more context and more invention. Say what you will about silly superhero movies, but don’t be surprised if in twenty years the film industry is still dominated by capes, masks, and tights. Until then, I’ve only got three words for you: make mine Marvel.
Avengers: Endgame gets a perfect 10 out of 10.
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In the few weeks since my last post, two of the bloggers I follow have written a post about children’s books that influenced their lives and the choices they made during their early adulthoods.
These posts set me to thinking about which books, of the enormous number I read as a young girl, had the most impact on me and my life. This thought then led me to thinking about why I love books and reading so much and why it was so important to me that my own boys discover the joys of the written word. From these various thought patterns emerged the realisation that I understood fairly early on in motherhood that, if I wanted my boys to love reading as much as I did, I had to identify what sorts of books would appeal to them enough to draw them away from all the competing attractions in our modern world.
When I was a girl, we only had television for one hour a day and the children’s programs were only in English on alternate nights. There were no ipods, ipads or iphones with all their graphic presentations of battles, adventures, space and fantasy worlds to distract me from reading. Books were the main source of entertainment for me other than socialising in the street with other neighbourhood children. My dad was strict and we could only go out to play with other children between 9 A.M and 12 P.M. and then again between 2 P.M. and 5 P.M. That left plenty of time for me to read. This is not the case for my children. In order to get them to read, the book has to appeal to them enough for them to set their electronic devices aside for a period to read.
Looking back, I realise that I loved fantasy books. I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton. Not her adventure books or girly school books but her books about fairies, brownies, pixies and all the other fantasy folk who existed in her Folk of the Faraway Tree, Mr Pink-Whistle, The Wishing Chair and other similar book series. My favourite of Enid Blyton‘s stand alone books was, and still is, The Land of Far Beyond.
When my oldest son, Greg, was born, I started to read to him straight away. When he was 15-months old he would sit and listen to me read two or three pages of one or other of the Folk of the Faraway Tree books. As he grew older, I read our way through all my old favourites including Noddy and friends, Paddington Bear, Rupert Bear and, one of my all time favourites, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. Mary Poppins is fantasy at its best with the children visiting a world inside a painting, watching a circus comprising of acts by the planets, stars, sun and moon, visiting people and lands at each point of the compass and entering a garden they built in the park, inhabited by people made of clay and mud. It soon became evident that young Greg’s taste in books was similar to mine. While I was pregnant with Michael, I used to read to Greg (aged 2 1/2 at the time) for up to three hours a day. Greg turned into a fantasy reader and has, on his own, read his way through all the Chronicles of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Indian in the Cupboard books by Lynne Reid Banks, The Borrows collection by Mary Norton (Did you know that Mary Norton also wrote The Magic Bed Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks which were turned into the Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks?) and then on to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and now Lord of the Rings and all of Tolkien‘s other books. Recently, Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin and Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan have swelled the ranks of Greg’s book collection which comprises of approximately five hundred books.
It was so easy to interest Greg in reading that I thought it would be the same with Michael. Little did I know that Michael would follow a different reading path to Greg and it would be much harder to interest him in reading due to his nature and learning barriers. Michael did like having Enid Blyton read to him but he would not read it aloud. I could not get him interested in reading fantasy books, or any of my other favourite books either, to me or alone. This was a problem. There had to be books out there that would tickle his reading fancy. We tried modern books, Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon and Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, as well as many others. Michael would listen and enjoy me reading them to him but he would not read them himself.
One day, an interesting thought occurred to me. Maybe Michael, a small boy who loved building with lego and doing science experiments with me, would like non-fiction books. I bought him the entire Mickey wonders why collection. What a hit. Michael loved them. After I had read a few of the articles, he would happily have a go at reading a few pages of one just to keep on learning and reading more. We read our way through all of these books and then moved on to all sorts of other non-fiction children’s books including all the horrible history and horrible science books. I enjoyed reading Michael’s choices too as I also learned from them. When we visited the UK when Michael was 9 we acquired books about Jack the Ripper, the black plague and the great fire of London. I have used each of these books to gain an understanding of these murders and events for use in stories I have written.
Michael’s audio comprehension has always been much higher than his reading level. I discovered that his enjoyment of non-fiction extended to audio books too. Over the past few years we have listed to audio books about the vikings, the greatest scientists of all time, great inventors and many others.
I have two nephews and two older nieces. I have applied my theory that you just need to find the right books to interest a child in reading to them too. Ben and Ryan also enjoy non-fiction books. Books about science fiction and boys on adventures like the Astrosaurs collection by Steve Cole, Humphrey the hamster books by Betty G. Birney and the Will Solvit books by Zed Storm also proved very popular with the boys.
The girls tastes are different. They enjoy Winne the Witch by Valarie Thomas and they loved the illustrations by Korky Paul. The Little Miss and the Little Men collections by Roger Hargreaves were popular with them. I also discovered that all of the young children loved Dr Seuss and rhyming text was interesting and captivating for their young minds.
If you have a reluctant reader, it may be that you have not found their golden reading lever. Most people have one if you can only find it. If fantasy isn’t popular, try something else.
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. Dr. Seuss
About Robbie Cheadle
Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with five published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
I have recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.
I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Find Robbie Cheadle
Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads
Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram
Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books
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About as unbreakable as a piece of ill-tempered… well, you know.
Glass (2019) – Not Much Super, Not Much Hero
by Jeff Bowles
During the closing moments of Glass, I couldn’t help but think director M. Night Shyamalan had squandered the opportunity to build something both timely and unique. In the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which dozens of bigger-than-life characters exist concurrently and pop into each other’s movies like those annoying neighbors from down the street (you know the ones), it’s not unusual to expect some pretty big stuff from the superhero genre. And after all, Shyamalan began laying the groundwork for this trilogy of his long before The Avengers or The Guardians of the Galaxy had ever graced the silver screen, so it’s safe to say he had the market cornered on expanded comic book universes.
Shyamalan teased an unexpected and suitably epic showdown in the end credits scene of 2016’s Split, and while that movie was the best flick he’d made in years, the director who finally seemed to be getting his groove back has… well, lost his groove again. Glass is a lopsided mess, a film in search of a reason to exist. The only thing that saves it from complete mediocrity is the strength of its performances, chief among these being James McAvoy’s continually stunning, though in no ways realistic, portrayal of a man with so many personalities his personalities have personalities have personalities.
Really, McAvoy is an exceptional actor, one of the best of his generation, so casting him in a role like this takes a certain level of calculated genius. In his latest turn as mental patient Kevin Wendell Crumb—also known as Patricia, also known as Hedwig, also known as Barry, also known as The Beast, etc.—the Scottish-born actor gets to strut his stuff in some pretty bombastic ways. Scenery-chewing has never seemed so dignified, though. Shyamalan is clearly as in love with Kevin as audiences have become. He garners most of the film’s run time, which begs the question, why not just make a Split 2?
Glass of course acts as the capstone to a three-part story that began in the year 2000 with Unbreakable, the follow-up to Shyamalan’s debut masterwork, The Sixth Sense. Bruce Willis made for a pretty inert “superhero” all the way back in Y2K, and not much has changed. David Dunn still spends most of his time brooding and behaving like a working-class Bruce Wayne—a Bruce Springsteen Wayne, if you will—minus the car, the cave, and the Born to Run.
After a brutal encounter with Crumb, who’s been extraordinarily busy kidnapping and murdering young women since we saw him… kidnapping and murdering young women in a different movie, Dunn finds himself taken psychiatric prisoner and locked up in a dank, hopeless mental health facility somewhere in Philadelphia (no Philly Eagles jokes, please). Imagine his surprise to learn his arch nemesis has suffered the same fate, the eponymous Mr. Glass, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Willis mostly seems bored with his role here, but he’s seemed bored in the majority of the movies he’s made in the last fifteen years. Jackson, however, clearly enjoys the opportunity to dust off an old fan-favorite and add another franchise notch to his belt. Mr. Glass spends too much time on the sidelines in this, his own movie, but once things really start cooking, he’s just as nerdy and evil as ever. Glass makes for an excellent counterpoint to Crumb, and in a surprisingly subtle performance, Jackon proves he’s still good for more than an eyepatch and the odd credit card commercial.
Back when Shyamalan released Unbreakable, good comic book movies were a rarity. Rarer still, mainstream acceptance and veneration for what is America’s oldest visual storytelling medium. Everyone likes comics these days, it seems, but in Glass, an overreliance on played-out comic-isms comes off as cheap, laborious, and self-conscious. Even the dastardly lady who’s thrown these colorful weirdos together, Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), can’t tell if she should balk at the notion of real-life superheroes or wipe them all off the face of the earth.
The movie sports a larger supporting cast culled from the other entries in the series, including Mr. Glass’ mother and Dunn’s still slightly unhinged son, but none of them are served particularly well, and in fact, the heroic Casey from Split (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) suffers a puzzling reversal of character that all but nullifies her prior life and death victories.
In truth, Glass struggles to find a beat, content for the most part in giving us context and backstory for everything we’ve already seen. Plot development is kept to a minimum, the classic Shyamalan botched twist ending is still classically botched, and the big final showdown concludes in such a disappointing and franchise-killing fashion, I had to ask myself why the entire exercise was even necessary. In my opinion, it wasn’t. M. Night Shyamalan is not a director’s director by any means, but even he knows obfuscation and bad timing are the deaths of tension.
Mr. Glass himself believes comics are a secret history of the world. And I suppose they are in a way. As a popular media artform, comic books have a long history of extraneous filler material. It’s just too bad Shyamalan capped off his grand trilogy with a story destined for the bargain bin.
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Permission to Quit Granted – Alternative Means of Expression: Part II
By Jeff Bowles
The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
A couple months ago, I talked about YouTube and alternative ways writers can express themselves in order to clear out writer’s block or perhaps simply gain perspective on career or creative issues. I consider the writer’s life a long-haul experience. Very often, we go through bursts of creativity and sheer writing bliss, only to end up in a long, slow burn of doldrums and low output. The first five to ten years of any writing career are all about figuring out our voices, our skill-levels, our likes and dislikes, and most importantly of all, our individual thresholds for, let’s say, soul-crushing rejection. After that, ultimate longevity is kind of a crap shoot, right? Well, sort of.
The workhorse model for professional writing doesn’t suit everyone. You may not believe me on that, but trust me, pragmatic holistics matter. Yes, in general it’s best to stay productive and avoid periods of low output, but it’s also a bare bones fact people seek and find inspiration in their own unique ways. For instance, it’s not uncommon for some very successful authors to disappear from the literary scene for years or even decades at a time, only to return in incredible, blinding flashes of brilliance. What do they get up to during those so-called creative droughts? Mostly, on an internal level, they live and experience a few more things until they feel they have something new to say.
If you’re the kind of writer who must hit the brakes every now and then, and by the way, I count myself among you, it may come as a surprise that there doesn’t exist a whole lot of information and support for your way of doing things. The workhorses of the world would have you believe you’re failing if you don’t put down your 2,000 words every single day. But you aren’t. Trust me on this. You’re still doing the job. Even quitters are doing the job. You’re smelling the roses, paying the mortgage, getting married, divorced, remarried, having kids, whatever it is. In essence, you’re telling the story so you can, you know, tell some more stories.
Quitting is a misnomer anyway. I’m not sure good writers ever actually quit. We say we want to, go through the motions, but sooner or later, the bug bites us again. Shamefully, we may disappear into our little domiciles and caverns and pine away for all the stories we never got to tell. But this attitude is borrowed, I can assure you, from a culture that sees reflection and seclusion as things slightly lower than sin.
Just quiz yourself for a moment. The last time you got yourself into a writing funk, wasn’t it because you had something bigger to do? You had to work on your insecurities or your fear of success, or maybe your great aunt died and left you a billion coupons for that buffet place she loved so much but that only serves your favorite brisket on Sundays. An unlikely scenario, sure, but you get the point. Writing doesn’t occur in a vacuum. As much as we may dislike the idea, every word we lay down reflects who we are, who we’ve been, what we believe and value, and the places we yearn to go.
It all depends on your purpose as a storyteller. Does anyone really have a purpose in this world? Yes, I believe we do, though you may feel free to disagree. As an avatar of the workhorse archetype (Family: workhardimus, Genus: unflappabilititus), your purpose may be to write whatever, however, whenever, and for as much money and prestige as possible. A worthy fate if there ever was one. If, by way of alternate example, your countenance and mean represent the BIG IDEA archetype (Family: trickleinspirationmaximus, Genus: deletekeywornout), you may make a habit of cooking a single manuscript for fifteen years before realizing it was good enough to show people eight years ago.
Is there a wrong or right answer here? I don’t think so. Is one of these writers lazier than the other? Arguably, but I don’t think dedication is the ultimate watch word. We’re looking at the sum rather than the parts here, and that makes all the difference.
Art, like life, is a product of time and gestation, and some ideas simply can’t be rolled out in the span of a few months or a few years. Let’s say all you want to write about is a clan of trolls that need to hatch a plan to infiltrate the King’s armory (why not? Substitute a diatribe for or against the Trump Administration, if you like). Every one of your writer friends tells you to plug away until the damned thing is finished, but instinct screams at you to put the story away because you don’t fully understand family dynamics during wartime, social patterns in relation to ground-dwelling malcontents, or the trials and tribulations of Diet Coke-swilling Presidents. I’m telling you to follow the instinct.
The relative complexity of the story you want to tell and your ability to execute it depend entirely on where you’re at as a person and a creator. An eighteen-year-old could write her magnum opus as easily as a fifty-year-old, it’s just the soul of one finds itself prepared many years prior to the soul of the other. So prep your soul a little. Here’s my recommendation if you’ve tried the 24/7, 365 model and found it wanting: live a little between projects. Forget what you’re working on right now, shelve it; yes, I’m giving you permission to quit. Here’s a real test of mettle. Can you forget all about your big dream? Can you go back to being a regular civilian non-writing-combatant? Knowing in the back of your mind when you return to work at some distant point in the future, you’ll be changed, the world will have changed, you’ll have packed on a few years, losses, wins, regrets, and that your stories will thank you for it?
Sometimes alternative means of expression require us to express nothing at all. To me, making something from nothing is a lot like breathing. The inhale, the brink, and then at last, the release and relief of a nice grateful exhale. Take in oxygen like a prize fighter or a Buddhist monk. Breathe until your belly fills with all the desire and longing you can stand, and then let it rightfully explode. Awaken to the possibility of laziness. I mean that. Sit on your butt and watch The Price is Right, or go to work every day and pretend to care about earning a living. In one hundred years you will be dead. Sorry if that’s a bit of a spoiler. Now did you write two books or forty? Would you rather have written fifty? No doubt, but tell me, was it your role to do so? Were you driven to do it? And can you really call that life of yours a waste because you lived how you were compelled to live?
To be blunt, don’t live by other people’s standards. Just in general, don’t do it. If you’ve got the drive and the nerve to chase your star, chase it as hard as you can. But if survival and struggle are all you know and you’re damn tired of it, understand there’s nothing to be gained by producing a mountain of crap for your name to sit atop as you relax into a neat pile of old bones. Individuality is far more central to our world than most people have the ability to recognize. One-size-fits-all only works in plumbing fixtures and baseball caps. Don’t knock yourself out with this story or even the next. Put it down if you need to. Put it down. Put it down. Put it down.
Then go for a walk and pick up a winning lottery ticket, meet the love of your life, or get an autograph from the leader of the free world that sends you reeling back through space and time to meet the man who invented Diet Coke. Stranger things have happened. I’m sure of it. Until next time, everyone.
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