Stage Mother (2020)

Release Date: August 21, 2020

A Texas Choir Mistress (Jacki Weaver) inherits a San Francisco drag club from her late son, Rickey, (Eldon Thiele) with whom she hadn’t been in touch since he came out.

 

 

I’m going to be 100% honest with this review and tell you that I equal parts loved and hated Stage Mother. A mother loses her only child with whom she was very close in his early years to a drug addiction. The audience sees him indulge in his drug of choice, go out on stage and pretty much drop dead. His mother, Maybelline, who is the epitome of fabulous is notified of her son’s death and is determined to attend the funeral, disregarding the objections of her husband (Hugh Thompson). Once in San Francisco she seeks to build bridges with the family she feels she has left which are her son’s partner and the people he valued in his life. 

Stage Mother is a wonderfully acted movie with weak storytelling. There are number of storylines and if just one or two had been followed and developed it would have been a much stronger piece but the actual focus seemed to be an almost masturbatory “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone/ fabulous straight mother figure saving the motherless.” I wondered what scenes had been deleted that would help the weaker story threads come together. Rickey is addicted to drugs; people tell Maybelline there’s a lot of drugs in the drag community; Maybelline intervenes when she sees one of Rickey’s drag sisters taking drugs basically verbally smacking her hand and staying up with her and all is good? It’s took simple. I’m not saying that this would have been a better movie with a focus on that storyline but with a better focus on any storyline. 

Now, let me just say, I wept when Maybelline honored Rickey toward the end of the movie. It was beautiful and, if nothing else, a connection was made with the characters. I would have loved to know more of Cherry Poppins’ (Mya Taylor) story. We meet Cherry and the other queens with a superficial overview and when Cherry goes to speak with her estranged wife, Maybelline tags along but the depth of Cherry’s struggle is unknown to the viewer other than that brief moment. Its the filling in the blanks moment that we often see in fiction that because the audience maybe knows a transgender person, they’ll assign that struggle to Cherry.

Stage Mother also too easily course corrects for the mother of this late gay man. Jacki Weaver is a wonderful actress and the emotion with which she plays the role convinces the audience that the “loss” of her son has weighed on her for many years and she mostly crumbled to the pressure of her husband. We’re supposed to believe the husband is a villain but Hugh Thompson plays that role unconvincingly. We don’t really get a history of why, for so many years, Maybelline didn’t reach out because if we know nothing else about her from this movie it’s that she’s a woman that does what she wants to do. 

I had mixed feelings about Stage Mother but overall it’s a very watchable movie and one that people should see. Jackie Beat is great as Dusty Muffin even if she is in the piece too little. Allistair MacDonald as Joan of Arkansas and Oscar Moreno as Tequila Mockingbird are wonderful in their roles. I would love to see movies following each of them and expanding on who they are and where they came from.

Watch it and let me know. Am I offbase in this review? Did you cry as I did during the honorary musical piece?

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Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder by Patrick Brode

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

On November 6, 1920, in the midst of Ontario’s prohibition, Provincial liquor inspector, Reverend  J.O.L “Leslie” Spracklin walked into the Chappell House Hotel in Windsor, Ontario and shot Beverly “Babe” Trumble at close range, killing him. What happened that day and how did Spracklin get away with murder?

 

 

Given the part that Ontario played in the US prohibition, which started in 1920, one would not assume that Ontario was dry at that time. The Ontario Temperance Act was passed in 1916 and while liquor could be produced and exported, it was not legal to consume. Brode begins Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder outlining Ontario’s history with alcohol and its citizens lack of reverence for the newly established rules after prohibition passed. Windsor, which is across a river just south of Detroit, Michigan,  was a special concern for the officials in Toronto as liquor seemed to flow freely back and forth across the water. There were speakeasys everywhere and hotels and social clubs would serve both locally produced and homemade products.  There are stately homes now in the lovely Walkervile area of Windsor, built by people that got rich off of the illegal flow of alcohol.

The Ontario Attorney General of the day, William Rainey, opted to bypass the local police and engage private enforcement for the liquor laws. He appointed Spracklin, the Pastor of Sandwich Methodist Church, a liquor inspector and Spracklin brought on board his own force including a very dubious Hallam brothers. From the start, there was a massive overreaching on the part of the team and allegations that when “inspections” would happen, things would go missing. The team didn’t shy away from violence and didn’t seem to care about the optics of their raids or the positions of the subjects. Rather than seeming the law of the Wild West of Ontario, they were coming off as bullies. What caused Spracklin and his men to raid the Chappell House on that November night is unknown but stories of what happened varied wildly and seem to have been the last straw for those that employed Spracklin. It may seem a spoiler in the title to say that Spracklin got away with murder but, as in any true crime, the journey is key.

At 216 pages, a quarter of which is bibliography, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a quick read. Brode, a local historian, covers Prohibition and how it was passed before going into the lives of the participants and the difference in the ways they were raised and how they looked at life. Their mothers came from the same area of Ontario to Windsor and were friends. The retelling of the event itself it brief with more detail going into the subsequent trial. It was interesting, as someone who has lived in Essex County, for 21 years, to read the names that remain familiar in the city of Windsor. Trumble’s body was handled by Janisse Funeral Home which is still in operation 100 years later. Spracklin’s men stopped people leaving Our Lady of Assumption Church, a church that was a risk for a few years but is now being restored, to search vehicles for alcohol. The trial took place at Mackenzie Hall; now an event space and where Mr. Rabid Readers and I had our wedding reception. There is a historic courtroom preserved with original furnishings in the building that is now used for Landlord-Tenant Court and as an interpretive display piece.

If you are interested in the subject, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a great read. The start is a bit dry so one must bear with the work but once the author gets into the local events and his subjects; Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is utterly fascinating and a very quick read.

 

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Human Rights Day 2020: Starlight Tour; the Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild by Robert Renaud and Susanne Reber

Publication Date: November 23, 2005:

On November 29, 1990, two construction workers found the body of 17 year old Saulteaux First Nations tribe member, Neil Stonechild. His friend, Jason Roy, last saw him in the back of a police car on November 25, 1990. The initial inquiry into his death by the Saksatoon police ruled it to be accidental and not as a result of foul play. When a surviving victim of a Starlight Tour came forward, it led to the reopening of the case in 2000 and would shine a horrible and cruel light on the practices of certain Saskatoon Police Officers and the full coverage they received of the “Blue Curtain,” a practice in which a police officer doesn’t inform on his fellow officer.

 

In the wake of police brutality in the United States, I see a lot of people from other countries saying “We feel for you but we can’t relate.” In Canada, we sit atop the United States and look down our noses at our seemingly less evolved neighbors. What we completely ignore when doing that is the treatment of First Nations people in Canada which, frankly, is what allowed the Saskatoon Police to go unchecked as long as they did and, maybe still do. Our First Nations people don’t have potable drinking water and scores of women go missing without the authorities taking their disappearance seriously (Go to this website for information about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls).

Starlight Tour refers to the Saskatoon Police taking mostly male member of the Indigeous community, often intoxicated, and dropping them off in the middle of nowhere. They would sometimes take their clothing, abandoning them in extremely cold temperatures. The first documented “tour” was in 1976 and continued until recently and, considering that no officer has been convicted of this offense, may still go on to this day. Indigenous people often don’t come forward probably due to the troubled relationship with the police and the knowledge that these members of the community have gone unchecked so what stops them from coming back after the person makes a report? If they do, as one man found out, there’s a good deal of victim shaming. 

On that November night in 1990, Stonechild and his friend, Jason Roy, were drinking together. They parted ways and in the initial inquiry in which Roy gave a false name, he said that he didn’t remember what happened after that event. In a secondary inquiry in 2000, he said that he last saw Stonechild in the back of a police car bleeding profusely from a cut on his face and crying out to his friend for help. 

The authors of Starlight Tour are not looking for cheap sentimentality. The case of Neil Stonechild, and the others who died and suffered at the hands of the Saskatoon Police, in it’s facts will inspire the reader.  The authors wrote the book with cooperation from the Stonechild family and their lawyer, Donald Worme. Starlight Tour chronicles their struggle, frustration and sorrow. The goal was to expose the horror of the events and the injustice served to Neil Stonechild and other members of the indigenous community and Starlight Tour delivers.

I am delighted to report that this book was curriculum in my daughter’s Grade 11 English class. The light is shining on this subject and we can only hope that attitudes change and that events long covered by shadows and ignored come to light. We can only hope for a day where those in authority won’t victimize a marginalized community and ignore the crimes to which they’re subject. There’s a reason that serial killers tend to prey on the vulnerable and marginalized. Our hope is that one day every crime will be investigated no matter race, creed or the criminal history of the victim. And, as this book will show, even when the horrible cruelty comes to light and those responsible pinpointed, it doesn’t mean that any actual justice will be meted out. 

Pick Starlight Tour up today. If you’re in Canada, this should be required reading. Value your fellow human and be aware of what is going on in your world. 

 

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Serious Moonlight (How to be Dead) by Dave Turner

CORRECTION: I said in an earlier version of this review that this book was last in the series. I am overjoyed to learn that it’s not.

 

Publication Date: December 31, 2018

 

Dave Marwood and his girlfriend, Melanie, are due for a bit of a break in the country after saving the City of London from destruction. It’s a bit of a worry that Death, the last standing Horseman of the Apocalypse and Dave’s employer, is having a bit of an existential crisis and Dave has been acting as his flip-flopped toy scythed stand-in, but a relationship needs tending. The break, however; is not the peaceful time away the couple anticipates when they find themselves beset by ghosts and the people seeking them.

Serious Moonlight by Dave Turner is the fifth book in the How to be Dead series.

 

Part of my life’s work is finding books that give me the feeling I got when I first read the works of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Jasper Fforde. The beautiful humor and massive creativity of the aforementioned authors are qualities shared by the great Dave Turner. The wealth of imagination is staggering and the experience of the reader is one of fun and time truly well spent. 

Once again in Serious Moonlight world collide with Dave and Melanie heading off for a weekend break in the country at an inn that touts itself as being haunted. Dave and Melanie are bonding on the drive up when they come across a ravaged animal that spooks them both a bit. There’s always a logical explanation, right? Readers get a lot of relationship-building in Serious Moonlight. We see the playfulness of the characters and a depth to their connection. There’s an intimacy and a natural awkwardness so fitting for both of the people we’ve come to know.

Serious Moonlight takes place in the English countryside with all of the characters that readers of Stella Gibbons novels (Cold Comfort Farm) would expect to see but they all have a surprising edge. The book is cognizant of its Dad humor and is riddled with it. One of my favorite things is the frequent callback to the sinkhole opening in London in the previous Dave book. Very smoothly presented, people offer platitudes while expressing their opinions on how it might have happened. From the start of the book when we join Dave in ferrying a jogger who died of a heart attack, it comes up and it’ss almost seems a relief to Dave to be upfront with someone. He later fights back and urges just to be the one who cracks the world and the reality of their strange life. He’s living and in that moment, and readers will just feel his pain bonded by this journey we’ve all been on together.

The How to be Dead novels are technically novellas but there are no shortcuts in Turner’s work. The stories are whole, realized and as resolved as installments in a series will be. The flow is beautiful and I can’t speak for anyone else, I am entranced. I recently re-read Four Horseman and it was just as brilliant the first time. More brilliant than the first time as I’m convinced Esuries needs to be a Dr. Who villain.

Serious Moonlight is fifth in the series but can easily stand alone, but you are missing most of the story if you start with this final installment. Start with How to be Dead and read as languidly as you can. Relish them. Cherish them. When you’ve finished the fifth book join us in aching for more.

The sixth book in the How to be Dead series, Near Life Experience will be out soon.

If you’re looking for the perfect Halloween read, pick up the How to be Dead series. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for the Jasper Fforde lover in your life. If you just want to be entertained, pick this series up today.

 

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The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan

Publication Date: February 1, 2003

 

The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan takes place in 1921. On June 1, 1921, an estimated 10,000 white citizens of Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroyed the black Greenwood neighborhood known at the time as America’s Black Wall Street. The actual number of casualties is unknown, but the cruelty and indiscriminate horror of the attack lived in the minds of the survivors, who lived in a community whose only crime was a success.

I will never know what it is like to be Black in America. In history, it has always seemed like being one of Henry VIIIs’ wives. He would put up with them as long as they were pretty and docile without opinion, and if they in any way displeased or bored him, they might lose their head. That, it seems, is a trivialization and I am sorry for making that comparison. It seems in history and now, there is burning hate and dangerous unrest in the white community. This work shook this reader. The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 should be required reading in every high-school history curriculum. I write this review with horror knowing there was no real recrimination for this vile event where the true number of casualties will never be known. Tim Madigan postulates the secrecy may be due to the fear of being very appropriately charged with murder. The least that can be done is for this horrible event to never again be an open secret. For it to be taught and treated with the same abhorrence of the awful, tragic and cruel events in history.

Madigan tells us that people that moved the area soon after, were surprised to hear of the event at the time he was writing the book. 

Madigan paints an alarming picture in The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by just reporting the facts. So how did it start? A black male shoeshine operator fell into a white elevator operator when the elevator made a sudden move. She called for help and he was jailed. Word started going around Tulsa that a lynch mob was gathering. When word reached Greenwood, seventy-five black men gathered arms and made their way to the jail in order to protect the accused. The Sheriff convinced the men that no one would reach the accused and when they started to leave. One of the white men that had gathered tried to disarm one of the black men and shots were fired, leaving several men, mostly white, dead. 

What followed seems to have been more organized than perhaps a group of men could have come up with on the spur of the moment. At first, the black community was holding its own, but a large group of people that entered buildings and killed those they found, wholly destroyed the community. Shots rang from the sky, from airplanes flying overhead, and while the author doesn’t make a definitive judgment, he certainly points out that the men seemed to be receiving instruction from someone.  

The stories that Madigan relates are disturbing. Honestly, everyone should read this book. The attackers were no discriminators of people. They killed children and just anyone they met not their color. White men died too but approximately 75 percent of the casualties were from the Greenwood community. In the aftermath, a commission was put together to examine the events on that day, and in recent years reparations were ordered for the community. Madigan is a reporter and relates events in a very factual manner, but the nature of the event is just devastating. Madigan does pose in his narrative that this was Jim Crow America. In 1921, the most popular Halloween costume was to dress up as a Klan member. They were respected and revered and so wrong. We know where the hate comes from, but the cruelty is just not something I can comprehend.

I am aware that this is less a review and more a reaction piece. The work flowed well. The author is a professional writer. I think his attention to detail speaks in the impact on the reader of the piece. Madigan reached out to the victims in his research as well as those in Tulsa at the time (really, the perpetrators have kept their involvement a close secret for years). I don’t think there could be a more complete work covering this horrible event.

Pick this book up today. I don’t know about you, but I am going to work against hate in my community. For those of us who live internationally, please do not see this as an American problem. We all have hate in our communities and we can all work for change.

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For more information about Tim Madigan and his work, visit his website. You can connect with her on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter @tsmadigan.

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

Publication Date: September 3, 2019

 

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. SayersWhose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers is the first novel of the Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey series. Lord Peter is financially independent and has a special hobby; he solves murder cases. When an unknown dead body is found in Mr. Thipps’s bathtub, he is on the case. With the help of his butler-friend Bunter, a talented forensic and semi-professional photographer and his friend Charles Parker, who works for Scotland Yard, he sets out to solve this mystery.

Whose Body? was released in 1928 and, like many first novels of a series, the reader is introduced to a number of characters that reappear as the series continues. The protagonist, Lord Peter was born in 1890 and is a World War I veteran. In the series, he ages in real-time making him 28 years old at the time the first book was released.

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers is a procedural-police meets private-inspector investigation story that is told by Lord Peter and Scotland Yard inspector Parker. Therefore, readers have a great overview of all on-going investigations and can solve the crime along the way. Continue reading Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

And Now for Something Completely Different — Podcast Recommendation

I’m going to do something a little different for this Towel Day and make a recommendation of a podcast that has been around for years, but I’ve only recently started downloading.

Most Notorious is a true-crime podcast hosted by author and historian, Erik Rivenes. In each episode, Erik examines a certain moment, both well known and obscure, of history by interviewing the authors who have written books about the event. Erik and his guests strip the mythology of the bygone eras away and get to the hear of. His linear style of guiding the conversation through the event discussed is engrossing. Since discovering this podcast my “to be read” pile has grown exponentially.

In an early episode, Erik interviews author Harold Schechter whose work of non-fiction Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness I reviewed last year (to read that review click here). The interview with Erik Rivenes focuses on Schechter’s book Fiend, the subject of which is America’s youngest serial killer, Jesse Pomeroy (to check out the book’s Amazon page, click here). They discuss the recorded and likely reasons that the 14-year-old sexual sadist chose his victims and what became of him after his conviction and the many years he spent in isolation. In another early episode, Erik interviews E. Don Harpe with a focus on his book The Harpe’s Last Rampage, the True Story of America’s First Serial Killers (to check out the book’s Amazon page, click here). E. Don Harpe, a descendant of the Harpe brothers, digs deep into his subject matter and opens up about the connection he felt to his ancestors when he visited the site of their hideout. In another episode, Erik and J.D. Chandler, author of Murder and Scandal in Prohibition Portland, discuss the Torso Murder and the police’s lack of action to find a missing woman who may have been more of a danger to local law enforcement officials than they might have liked. Why was the disappearance never investigated? Is the Torso found in the local river that of the missing woman? Will the recent reopening of her disappearance yield any results?

The host’s ease with his guests and his knowledge of each subject keeps the subject moving and really makes washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom in this time of isolation a delight. As with any true-crime podcast, the subject gets heavy at times but the style of the host imbues a lighter tone while not robbing the bad that happened of its gravity. That is not to say, that all of the episodes involving bloody and horrible crimes (Nazis in America with author Arnie Bernstein was entertaining and will give listeners a new perspective on journalist, Walter Winchell).

Most Notorious is my new favorite podcast and if, like me, you love history and maybe tend to run a little bit behind the times, check it out. I think you’ll love it too. I am rapidly plowing through the 162 episodes currently uploaded and unlike some of my other podcasts, no break needed. I’m spending a ton of books and there are no regrets. Check it out today!

To check out the Most Notorious podcast go to their website.

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen by Mark Shaw

Publication Date: December 6, 2016

 

On November 8, 1965, 52-year-old investigative reporter and television personality, Dorothy Kilgallen, is found dead of an apparent overdose in her New York City home. Her files are missing and the air conditioning is running. She has been investigating the Kennedy assassination and has told people she is poised to crack it wide open. Was she the reporter who knew too much?

 

Before he started investigating the Jack Ruby trial, Mark Shaw remembered Dorothy Kilgallen as a panelist on the syndicated CBS game show, “What’s my Line.” Digging into the records, Kilgallen’s name kept coming up and her interest and dedication to cracking the case sparked Shaw’s interest in the enigmatic and talented reporter and her mysterious death. Research for The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen took Shaw 12 years and justice for Kilgallen has become his calling. Continue reading The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen by Mark Shaw

The Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant

Published on October 23, 2018

 

On January 26, 2020, sports legend Kobe Bryant and his oldest daughter, Gianna (13) died in a helicopter crash on the way to Gianna’s basketball game. Click here to read the Variety article. When Kobe retired he wrote The Mamba Mentality about his strategic view of the game and how it should be played combined with a score of intimate pictures of Kobe in the game. On this tragic day, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play is a look at one of the great minds of the game.

Continue reading The Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant

Song of Nümenstar by A.J. Feagin

Publication Date: August  25, 2019

 

In the Song of Nümenstar by A.J. Feagin, a group of Daejic students disappears. Commander Karawn Kross and the female Mystik Ka’myla Ad’uar embark on a mission to find them. What they find instead while searching the catacombs beneath the highly secure city of Soaleste can change everything.

 

A lot of authors attempt to boost their writing credibility by saying that their stories are like those of popular or bestselling authors and seldom can the similarity been seen by the reader. And, when it is, it comes off as a poor copy. This is not the case in Song of Nümenstar by A.J. Feagin. The Amazon entry likens Song of Nümenstar to Dune and Star Wars and I can see the likeness. The similarity falls in the incredible work Frank Herbert did in building the world of Aarkis. It’s in the pageantry and diversity of Star Wars. Continue reading Song of Nümenstar by A.J. Feagin