Thank You, Nancy Pelosi

There is an old saying about women:

“Well-behaved women rarely make history,”

Last week, Nancy Pelosi announced that she will be stepping down as Speaker of the House.

She cited both the attack on her husband and the Republicans winning the House in the midterms. This is not, however, a complete retirement. She will be just another Congressperson representing her district and constituents.

Regardless of where one’s political beliefs lie, there is no doubt that Pelosi broke barriers. The crack she left in the glass ceiling cannot be ignored.

One of Pelosi’s lieutenants, Steny Hoyer, endorsed NY’s Hakeem Jeffries as her replacement. If he is elected, he will be the first African American to lead the House and New Yorker in the role for nearly a century. He will also be making history in his own right.

I would hope that for a brief moment (though I know that is a pipe dream) that we would all recognize what she has done for the country and put aside partisan politics. But I know better.

Thank you, Madam Speaker. You have proven once more that women can do anything.

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Armageddon Time Movie Review

There are certain genres that are universal. Regardless of labels, we are able to connect with the characters and understand where they are coming from.

The new movie, Armageddon Time, was written and directed by James Gray. Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), is a young man coming of age in 1980’s Queens. His favorite things to do are drawing and spending time with his Grandpa Aaron (Anthony Hopkins). Coming from a middle-class Jewish family, his parents Esther (Anne Hathaway) and Irving (Jeremy Strong) are doing the best they can.

The story gets going when Paul starts to hang out with Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb). Johnny is one of the African-American students in his class. Due to racism and other issues, he has already been held back. Bonded by their mutual sense of rebellion and dislike for their teacher, Paul and Johnny become fast friends.

Paul is idealistic and stubborn, but also a little naive. When he is forced to transfer from public school to private school, the economic and societal differences between the boys become evident. The choice he has to make will define the rest of his life: speak up or stay silent.

Gray’s film (which is based on his own life), is half coming of age and half a family drama. It is well-written, well-acted, and absolutely fantastic. Repeta, as our young protagonist, blew me away. This young man was brilliant in the role and truly made me want to go on Paul’s journey with him.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Armageddon Time is presently in theaters.

Heated Book Review

In an ideal world, breaking up with one’s significant other would be as straightforward and painless as humanely possible. But that is not always possible.

The new romance novel, Heated, was published in July. Written by Naima Simone, it is the story of an unlikely relationship. Zora is the owner of a unique business. Her clients pay her to inform their soon-to-be exes that their romantic partnership has ended.

The newest breakup that Zora is about to facilitate is with Cyrus, a respected entertainment lawyer. It should be all business and nothing more. But there is something about him that makes him irresistible.

After a difficult childhood, Cyrus has a plan in mind for his future. Everything is laid down in his mind. Nothing and no one can change it. Except for Zora. When he starts to fall for her, he has no idea that she was the conduit for the breakup with his ex.

This book is so hot that I almost needed a fan at certain points. The chemistry between Zora and Cyrus is on fire from the moment they meet. Though the slow burn is a little too slow, the pages were burning up when they finally got together. I loved that Zora is a plus-sized African American woman who is not trying to change who she is to fit in. She owns her identity with a confidence that is refreshing.

I also appreciated that both Cyrus and Zora have emotional baggage that is organic to who they are as people. It’s not forced to create drama for the sake of it. Their damage and the revelation of those scars allow them to heal and find the happiness they both deserve.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Heated is available wherever books are sold.

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The Weight of Blood Book Review

Bullying is, unfortunately, part of the school experience. Though it may seem normal, the after-effects can linger long after we have grown up.

The new novel, The Weight of Blood, by Tiffany D. Jackson, was published at the beginning of the month. Essentially, it is a modern reboot of Carrie with the added weight of racism.

Madison “Maddy” Washington has been a social outcast for as long as anyone can remember. Raised by her fanatical Caucasian father in a small Georgia town, no one knows that she is biracial. That is until a storm reveals the truth and Maddy becomes an ever bigger target for the popular girls/school bullies.

When a video of this incident is leaked out, the administration has some serious explaining to do. The leaders of the student body (one of whom is Maddy’s tormentors) devise a plan to hold an integrated prom for the first time in the town’s history. Feeling guilty for everything that has happened, Wendy, the class President, knows that something has to be done. She asks her African American quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to the prom.

For the first time in her life, Maddy starts to believe that she will be like any other teenager. She does not know that her peers have one more trick up their sleeves. But they don’t know that she has a secret of her own, which could be deadly if and/or when it is unleased.

I loved this book. Jackson does an amazing job of being true to the original text while taking the narrative to another level. In adding racism to the already heightened story of a girl who is teased and humiliated by her classmates, she speaks of the short-term and long-term damage that both create.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. In fact, I would say it is in the top ten new books of 2022.

The Weight of Blood is available wherever books are sold.

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The Accidental Pinup Book Review

The image that often comes to mind of a pinup model is a caucasian size 2 female wearing barely there clothing.

The new romance novel, The Accidental Pinup, by Danielle Jackson, was published last month. Cassie Harris loves being behind the camera. Her photography studio, which specializes in creating a modern version of the classic pinup, is doing well. She is ecstatic and more than eager to help her best friend, Dana to launch her lingerie line.

Cassie knows that this campaign will send her career into orbit. But it crashes to Earth before it can get off the ground. Dana is going through a difficult pregnancy and is ordered by her doctor to be on bed rest. Adding insult to injury, she is asked to be the model, not the photographer. Taking the pictures is Reid Montgomery, a professional rival with whom she has never got along with.

Though Cassie is far from the typical model (being a plus-sized African-American woman), she agrees to take Dana’s place. The problem is not what she is wearing, it is the fact that Reid will be the one taking the pictures.

As they begin to work together, their working relationship turns into something more. But a secret on Reid’s part may end both the romantic and professional relationship may end before it has a chance to begin.

This book is so good. The fact that this is Jackson’s debut novel just blows me away. I loved Cassie as a heroine. She is everything I want in a romantic comedy leading lady. I love her brain, I love her heart, and I love that she looks like many of the readers.

Though the narrative is typical, it was not super predictable. It is in fact, one of my favorite books that I have read so far this year.

It is spicy, sexy, romantic, and the perfect summer read.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Accidental Pinup is available wherever books are sold.

My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a World Champion Goalkeeper Book Review

To be a pioneer is anything is an experience that few have. While we celebrate these people for the paths they created for others, we sometimes forget the hardships they had to go through.

My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a World Champion Goalkeeper, by World Cup champion and Olympian Brianna Scurry, was published in June. The memoir, co-written by Wayne Coffey and with a foreword by television anchor Robin Roberts, is the story of Scurry’s extraordinary life.

The youngest of nine children, Scurry was a tomboy as a child. Finding a niche in soccer, she excelled at the game from a young age. Following her passion all the way up through adulthood, she reached professional levels that many dream of, but few reach. Along with being the only African-American and gay player on the team, she also dealt with mental and physical health problems, in addition to financial difficulties.

In terms of the genre, the narrative is fairly generic. Though Scurry’s achievements are nothing to sneeze at, I was not as inspired as I thought I would be. When I got to the low in the story, it felt like it was just rushed through. I wanted what she was going through, but I couldn’t.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a World Champion Goalkeeper is available wherever books are sold.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Book Review

There are some books that are so much a part of our culture that there is no denying their larger cultural impact.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by the late writer, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, was published in 1969. The most recent edition, with a foreword by Oprah Winfrey, was published in 2009.

The book is an autobiography and the story of Angelou’s childhood. Born to a poor African American family, Maya and her brother Bailey spend the first years of life living with their grandmother in a small town in the American south. Though she is dealing with abandonment issues and the pervasive prejudice of the time (which unfortunately still exists today), Maya still finds joy and pleasure in learning.

Her life is forever altered when she is assaulted by a much older man after returning to her mother in St. Louis. Later, as a teenager who by then is living in San Fransisco, she discovers the power of literature and the strength that comes when you learn to love yourself.

Why I have never read this book, I don’t know. But I am glad I did.

Her experience as a girl is both universal and powerfully specific to the era she grew up in. Finding confidence, especially after a hard girlhood, sometimes only occurs long after we have grown up. Looking back at my own teenage years, I wish I would have had the ability to develop that same self-belief that Angelou was able to manifest at that same age. Perhaps some things might have turned out differently.

I can only imagine the emotional digging it took to excavate the crap from her youth and put it into a narrative that we can all find something in common. It takes courage to do that. When it is done well (as she obviously has accomplished), it opens the door for readers to possibly do the same with their own lives and emotional baggage.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is available wherever books are sold.

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By the Book (Meant to Be Series) Book Review

The haters to lovers trope is one that had been used many times, by many authors, in many different ways. The figurative beauty of this well-known narrative arc is its ability to be dynamic and uniquely moldable to a new perspective.

By the Book is the second book in the Meant to Be Series. Written by Jasmine Guillory and published in May, it is essentially a modern-day rom-com version of Beauty and The Beast. For the last three years, Isabelle has been working at her NYC-based publishing company, hoping to be noticed by her manager. In her mid-twenties, she is one of the few African American employees and starting to become disillusioned.

While on a work trip to California, she finally seizes upon an opportunity to get the appreciation she deserves. Beau is a well-known author who has been radio silent on the status of his manuscript. She decides to try to talk to him in person. When Isabelle finally meets Beau, she discovers that his reputation of being impersonal and hard-headed is not too far off from reality.

Getting Beau to open up is a bigger task than Isabelle initially expected it to be. But as they spend time together, both Beau and Isabelle learn that each of them is lost in their own way and may find what they are looking for in one another.

This book had me at hello. It was delicious, romantic, funny, and held me by the lapels from beginning to end. Guillory holds tight to the Disney narrative while remaking it in her own image. I loved Isabelle’s spunkiness, Intelligence, and drive. Beau, as the leading man, has his own troubles, making him relatable and enough of an asshole to challenge both the reader and his future other half.

Do I recommend it? Of course.

By the Book (Meant to Be Series) is available wherever books are sold.

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Elvis Movie Review

There are only a handful of artists who are known by a singular name. Their image and influence have permeated the culture in a way that everyone knows who they are and what they represent. Elvis Presley is one of these artists.

The new biopic, Elvis, hit theaters last week. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the film stars newcomer Austin Butler as the title character and Tom Hanks as his manager with sometimes questionable intentions, Colonel Tom Parker. The narrative follows both of them from the early days of Presley’s career until his death in 1977 at the age of 42. The Colonel tells the story, casting himself as the manager who saw the potential of an unknown artist. As Elvis becomes a megastar, he faces criticism for his supposedly “wild race music” and its effect on the nation’s young people.

As the years pass and he becomes a has-been, Presley, and the Colonel pivot. After a very successful television special, he becomes a Las Vegas regular. But while his client is on stage, the Colonel is enriching himself. When everything comes to a head, Elvis has to choose between staying with his manager or trying to go his own way.

Though Butler does not look exactly like the King, he completely inhabits the man and the legend. Playing him from his teenage years until his early 40s, Butler is enigmatic and completely convinces the audience that he is Presley. Hanks, as usual, is up to the task. His character is a man who sees an opportunity and takes it, even if means crossing some boundaries.

What made the movie work for me was the man behind the icon. Presley was a devoted son to his parents, Gladys and Vernon (Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh). He was also madly in love with his wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) and a devoted father to their daughter. He respected the black artists whose music he “borrowed” (depending on your perspective) from. What Luhrmann does brilliantly as a filmmaker is to point out that while African-American musicians of the era were largely ignored outside of their community, Presley made a fortune singing the same songs.

My only complaint is that the middle of the narrative could have been trimmed down a bit. Other than that, the film is incredibly good and definitely worth the price of a movie ticket.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Elvis is presently in theaters.

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Flashback Friday: The Blind Side (2009)

Education, as we all know, unlocks the key to our future. When we don’t have access to that education, that lack of access has the possibility of lifelong consequences.

The 2009 film, The Blind Side, is based on the true story of former NFL player Michael Oher. The narrative comes from the book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis. In his teenage years, Oher (Quinton Aaron) was a young man who had almost nothing. Coming from a large African-American family that was dealing with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. Taken in by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her family, he is being given the opportunity that many of his peers will never receive.

When he shows a spark of interest and the ability to play football, this opens the door to a life path that he never expected.

Without knowing anything about the real people behind the story, it is a tale of seeing potential in a young person who does not believe that they have any. Bullock won an Oscar for the role and deserved it. Her role is that of a mama bear who loves and protects her young ones with a ferocity that never wavers.

There are two perspectives on the movie. The first is that it is at heart, a white savior narrative. From a certain point of view, it is extremely problematic. The other is that it humanizes the white evangelical Christian Republicans. These days, it’s easy to demonize this crowd. This story shows that they are just like the rest of us, even when we disagree on a litany of topics.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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