bOOK REVIEWS

UNspeakable THINGS

By Jess Lourey

Lourey’s taut family drama and murder mystery is a slow burn that raises your hackles from the outset and keeps you on edge until the end. Cassie McDowell is living the American dream with her parents, school teacher mom, artist dad, and teen big sister, in 1980s Minnesota. But from the outset, we see the cracks in her parents’ carefully constructed visage. As an author, what I loved most about this tale of family secrets and small town complicity, was the intimately drawn characters. Anyone struggling to understand character development needs to see how Lourey does it. She holds a clinic, plunging to scalpel depths to reveal the emotions, fears and dramas that lay underneath the skin–the parts of the human soul we hid from the world. Masterful!

Eddie Red, UNDERCOVER

by Maria Wells

Eddie Red, Undercover (HMH, $6.95)

I love a good museum mystery and author Marcia Wells delivers a fun, fast-paced adventure. I almost avoided reading it because I came across it while preparing my own museum-based mystery, Jada Sly, Artist & Spy (Little, Brown, $17.99), but I read the first few paragraphs and couldn’t resist. I’d been nursing the Jada idea for almost a decade and it’s markedly different from Wells’ book. I enjoyed seeing how she seamlessly blended art and action. Her series, three books so far, is a smart, funny and features a an African American protagonist who feels real and authentic. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading the others.

THE LANGUAGE OF FOOD

Ordering wine, coffee and dessert just got easier now that I have the right words!
Credit S. Winston

My Duolingo app French education has finally gotten to the good stuff–food! With only eleven days until my departure, I’m pretty confident that I will NOT remember all the correct masculine and feminine cases, but I will be remember that “cafe” is “coffee”; “biere” is “beer”; and “pain” doesn’t have to hurt, it just has to taste good because means bread.

THE SPIDER-VERSE

“One of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Not just a must-see, but a must see again.”

Spiderman : Into the Spider-Verse    

Photo represents art from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Found on this website https://kotaku.com/the-art-of-spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-1831137867

If you’re into stunningly vivid artwork, jaw-dropping action, and a story that feels real and honest, Into the Spider-Verse is the movie to see. 

I saw it in 4D-X or something like that. Let me tell you, ladies you’re gonna need your strongest foundation garments! It was like watching a movie on a rollercoaster. Seeing the movie in 4D is a next-level sensory experience. 

The visuals in this movie were mind-bending. And as a mama of color, seeing that movie with my family and seeing the larger-than-life images of people of color reflected back on their faces, it warmed my soul. See the movie! 

History Is Made

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On Tuesday, Feb. 6, my nephew and I watched history being made when SpaceX launched into outer space.

Daelyn, my nephew, is a 17-year-old high school junior. I’ve been telling that boy he was a natural-born engineer since he was seven or eight. Did he listen to me? Noooo! Then along comes Elon Musk. Now the kid is monitoring the NASA website and reading about astrophysics, astronomy and, you guessed it—engineering.43B4868C-CF19-4D87-ABDC-6A7EE532CEEC

We waited from 11:30 am until 3:45 pm. A community of history-seeking sky gazers shared our experience on a rocky lip of land that overlooked a slip of Intracoastal water separating us from the Space Center. People of all ages and ethnicities strolled, chatted, sunbathed, snacked, read and prepped their cameras. All in anticipation of the launch.

Daelyn and I sat in canvas chairs. His youthful energy was a stark contrast to my need for a nap. Still, he looked over, face gleaming in the sunlight, and said, “This is it. We did pretty good, huh?”

Right now I am officially his BAE—Best Aunt Ever.

 

Eddie Red, UNDERCOVER

by Maria Wells

Eddie Red, Undercover (HMH, $6.95)

I love a good museum mystery and author Marcia Wells delivers a fun, fast-paced adventure. I almost avoided reading it because I came across it while preparing my own museum-based mystery, Jada Sly, Artist & Spy (Little, Brown, $17.99), but I read the first few paragraphs and couldn’t resist. I’d been nursing the Jada idea for almost a decade and it’s markedly different from Wells’ book. I enjoyed seeing how she seamlessly blended art and action. Her series, three books so far, is a smart, funny and features a an African American protagonist who feels real and authentic. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading the others.

IT’S THE TWELVE DAYS OF PARIS

…and this is what I’ve learned:

Trois voitures

Deux pizzas

and I know that orange is feminine.

With twelve days remaining before I set off for Paris, I’ve been hard at work studying French on Duolingo. I am officially in a panic.

Indeed, I’ve learned over two-hundred-fifty words. I can say “I want” (je veux) and “I have” (j’ai). I know how to say phrases, such as, “I have three cars” (J’ai trois voitures).”

But, I’m not certain that will help me check into the hotel. It probably won’t even get me a ride from l’aeroport.

What’s worse is when I get frustrated and my mind starts to search for the correct word or phrase, it defaults to the only foreign language it know–Spanish. And if you knew how poor my Spanish was, you’d know how much trouble I’m in.

I’ve been in love with the idea of Paris since I was a kid. I learned a lot of cool phrases while I was writing Jada Sly, Artist & Spy. The idea of creating an African American girl born in New York, who lived in France for five years, was like putting my own childhood fantasy on paper.

Sherri Winston on writing Jada Sly, Artist & Spy

The spy part, too. I always wanted to be a spy. (My mom said soon as someone tickled my tummy, I’d giggle and give up all the secrets. Mom was a dream killer.)

I’ve got twelve more days. That’s all. I can’t become fluent in the time I have left, but perhaps I can manage not to humiliate myself while asking for le metro.

A bientôt!

(That means “see you soon!)

DAY THREE: I’m trying

Looking forward to the future.

The impetus for my upcoming Paris trip is just fulfilling a lifelong dream. I’ve always rejected the concept of “A bucket list,” yet I am conscious of wanting to start this next chapter of my life before …well, I kick the bucket.

My mom was a tough woman. A smart, fiery, determined woman who loved her kids with the ferocity of a mama lion. She had so many plans for her life—a life she kept waiting and waiting to begin.

Mommy died Christmas of her 56th year on this earth. That Christmas is fast approaching for me. I needed to celebrate her life and mine by no longer waiting, but acting.

Here’s to you “ma mere.” And to all the hard-working mamas out there with hopes and dreams. I’m going to parlez vous my butt off!

FIRST TRIP ABROAD

In twenty-one days, I take my first European vacation. I feel like Chevy Chase! Paris here I come.

It’s been a life-long dream to travel to France. I even created a character in my newest book—Jada Sly, Artist & Spy—who lived for five years in Bordeaux, France, before moving back to her hometown, my other favorite city in the world, New York City.

I’ve been immersing myself in all that is ooo-la-la. Back over the summer, I started using the Duo Lingo app to study French. It’s a great app, but with only weeks left until time for me to leave, I realized I wasn’t learning fast enough. It’s a solid learning tool, but unless I bump into Paul or Marie and want to use their “voiture” (car), I need more help.

I’ve added Mango languages to my learning repertoire. Now I can sound like a bumbling American on two separate platforms!

To keep myself on my toes, every day between now and departure I will post updates on my preparations. I thought it would be fun to share details of my upcoming departure as well as fun details about my favorite young spy, Jada Sly. Until tomorrow, bonsoir!

The Baddest Chick

Poster from new biopic Harriet. A movie that entertains, inspires and is sure to ignite discussion.
  • WHY YOU SHOULD SEE HARRIET

So, I’ve heard that Black Twitter has drawn swords over the recent biopic, Harriet. Well, too bad. I like it. A lot. And I think you and your family will enjoy it, too. Here’s why:

1. Rather than focusing most of the story on the well-trod story theme of slavery’s brutality—which it does not gloss over—the focus is on Harriet and her journey. Her fight! It highlights the truly bad assness of this woman, who upon securing her own freedom, went back and helped free family, friends and strangers.

2. One angry Twitterer remarked on the inclusion of a black slave catcher was sacrilege and lacked historical accuracy. Um, it’s a movie about events in the 1800s. Was Twitter there? I have never seen any historical movie that made me feel it was one-hundred percent accurate. Black overseers did exist. Did black slave catchers, too? I don’t know. But I’m going to look into it. Not to prove the filmmakers wrong, but because it brought up a thought-provoking subject. I want to know. 

If this movie motivates one child or adult—black or white—to use Google for something other than Fortnite, to actually go in search of facts and truths, it would a beautiful thing.

3. The movie is well-acted, fast-paced despite a two-hour runtime. 

I’ve never been a big fan of slave narratives. Being a black kid and avid reader, well-meaning teachers and librarians were always trying to get me to read books that extolled the sorrows and tragedies of slavery. When I complained to my mother that I wished I could find more books about contemporary black girls. Stories about girls like me, living in working class neighborhoods with factory-working fathers. Girls who wanted to grow up to be journalists or advertisers or artists; who wished they could ride horses or become cheerleaders. My mother took a long draw on her Kool cigarette and said, “Well, Sherri Denise, I guess if that’s what you want, you’ll just have write it yourself.” 

Years later, I’ve been able to do just that. History and contemporary fiction both have value. So do fictionalized versions of historical characters and events.

If you’ve heard the negative hashtags about Harriet and think you know the story, think again. The movie is a good conversation starter. A great reminder of how far we’ve come as a society and how truly brave people living in slavery and escaping slavery had to be. Go see it. Keep an open mind. Google some stuff afterwards if you have questions. Dare I suggest, even stop in at your local library. 

But don’t boycott this film because a few self-serving, self-righteous folks have decided they own black history and anyone who differs from their narrative is deserves to be socially whipped. I used to review movies for a living while writing entertainment for Tribune’s Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Know what I learned? It’s not genius work, being a critic. You take a few hours, dissect someone else work, and subject it to your point of view. 

Mama was right. If you don’t like it, do something else. Do it better. Until then, it’s the right time to start a conversation about black history and slavery that centers around empowerment, struggle, perseverance and redemption. But don’t let me keep you. I think you’ve got a movie to see.

DARK PHOENIX

DARK PHOENIX TELLS THE STORY OF JEAN GREY AND HOW HER ABSORPTION OF AN ALIEN POWER TRANSFORM HER NATURE AND HER WORLD–IMAGE COURTESY OF MOVIEWEB.COM

Reviews for the latest installment of X-Men Dark Phoenix were not kind. I was never a huge X-Men fan and was especially unimpressed with the taciturn, fractious nature of one of their lead female characters, Jean Grey. So when I heard the poor reviews for this latest film featuring the backstory of Grey, it did not inspire me to pay hefty movie fees for a night out.

However, my daughter and nephew wanted to see it. My sister, too. Who was I to say otherwise? Heck, if nothing else, I’d get popcorn and a few hours away from the scornful glares from my fractious and taciturn cat.

Ah, yes. My assessment of the movie. Here it is:

Dark Phoenix was a fun, bright, loud, fiery spectacle. Grey (played by smoldering actress Sophie Turner Jonas) became imbued with a power she couldn’t control and gained knowledge she was never supposed to possess.

Look, when I was a newspaper columnist at the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I did my fair share of movie reviews. It taught me one thing–don’t EVER base your decision to see or not to see a movie on one or two dyspeptic reviewers. What I wrote as a reviewer on any given day was as much about my mood that day as it was on the merits of a film. Any reviewer who claims otherwise is liar-liar pants on fire.

Okay, I’ve talked long enough. Dark Phoenix is the perfect intro to the season of summer popcorn movies. If you’re into superhero sh%& and want to see a woman float through air and crush the souls of several condescending males, lace up your Wonder Woman bustier, slip on your boots and cape and get thee to the theater. Go. I mean it. GO!