Review: “Sugar” by Monique X

Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? After her divorce, Monique suddenly finds herself struggling to make ends meet for herself and her two young daughters. When she loses her job on top of everything else, she decides to follow the advice of her friend, Amanda, and gives the world of Sugar Dating a try. This book chronicles her two-year adventure with various Sugar Daddies and duds. Monique enjoys gifts, travel, sex, and as a bonus learns how to become more self-confident. Finally, she decides to dedicate her professional life to writing.

If you think that all sounds like a load of fluff, you know how I felt about it. The cover art seems to support the idea, and honestly, in the middle of a stressful semester of teaching and taking another TEFL course on the side, I was very much down with the idea of gossipy brain candy. Alas, the content was more stale cotton candy (or candyfloss, to my Commonwealth readers) than Quality Street (that’s toffees and such, in case you’re not familiar with it). Monique likes to compare her Sugar Dating career favorably with other services, such as escorts, which she considers as soulless business arrangements for sex. Honestly, I don’t see how, if that were the case, any of them would be different than prostitution: you need money, so you meet men of different financial standing for sexual favors and, in the case of Sugar Dating, free extras like trips, clothes, and meals. If that is your choice, so be it, but don’t pretend like one form of arrangement is somehow morally superior to another.

The wealthy men who enjoy Monique’s company remain mere sketches, shadowy nobodies whose biggest qualifiers are the different ways in which they perform in bed (or other locations). Despite the fact that the reader is told several times throughout the book that Monique is in fact a writer, it’s pretty obvious that she is not an editor. Her choice of descriptors is rather limited and sometimes a bit unfortunate, as when she goes on and on about a client’s “Asian eyes.” She also loves the word ‘just.’ I mean, LOVES it. If the letter E is the most commonly used letter in the English language, then the word JUST is the most frequently used word in this memoir, which reminds me way too much of the teenagers I work with and gets a bit old after a chapter or two. I read every single word of the astonishing thirty (yes, 30!) chapters of this book and cannot find any reasons to change my initial assessment of ‘meh.’

Does that mean there isn’t an audience for “Sugar”? Not at all. Fans of E.L. James who are sad there aren’t any more “50 Shades” books might like it for the sex, even if it is described clumsily and explicitly in equal proportions. People looking for travel destinations might enjoy the occasional vivid descriptions of the places Monique is invited to. Readers looking for relationship advice may safely skip this book and take away this piece of wisdom: if it’s a personal connection you’re looking for, sugar dating is not the best choice for finding a partner.

“Sugar” is published by Thistle Publishing. I received an ARC in exchange for a review. It should be fairly obvious that all opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

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Review: “Brut Force” by Peter Stafford-Bow

Sometimes, this humble little blog truly surprises me. Through my contact page, I have received offers for ARCs, which I appreciate very much, even if my list is currently quite full and pirate capers aren’t so much my genre (sorry, but thank you!). Occasionally, I get comments from people who are too shy to comment. And sometimes, I get emails from an author I’ve reviewed. Let me tell you: all that communication really makes my day! I hope you have realized by now that even if I don’t much care for a particular book, I try to be fair about the reasons why I feel that way. Rare is the book I really, truly hate, and those I would not waste anyone’s time reviewing (yes, I have axed titles from my Netgalley list even, because they were badly researched, poorly written, or worst of all, both). You should also know by now that I mean it when I say that opinions on books are my own. If you offer me a review copy and I have reason to niggle, I will.

One new title that has given me absolutely no reason at all for complaint is Peter Stafford-Bow’s latest novel, “Brut Force,” the sequel to Felix Hart’s adventures first set forth in “Corkscrew” (my review here, just don’t ask what was going on with that introductory paragraph). Young Felix Hart is now a few years older, but still living with an assortment of colorful characters in his Little Chalfont flat, still going strong at Gatesave as Head of Wine, and unfortunately for him, still entangled with wine & spirits leviathan, Paris-Blois.  When two local wine aficionados decide to pit Old World and New World Pinot Noirs against each other in a double blind tasting, the reputation of Paris-Blois’ own market-dominating wine is at stake. Never a company to deal fairly when trickery can be employed, Felix’s old acquaintances, Pierre and Sandra resort to blackmail to get Felix into the contest as a judge whose job it is to ensure that Paris-Blois comes out on top. Naturally, nothing goes according to plan, whatever the plan of the moment may be, and Felix ends up being quite entangled in not one, but several conspiracies, working hard to escape unscathed while desperately trying to sort out who’s friend or foe.

I liked the first book. It was different and amusing, even though Felix, being a typical young man in many respects, occasionally made me want to slap him upside the head. Older Felix still loves his life, his job, and the ladies, but I find him far less irritating and far more entertaining. From page 1, I couldn’t help but break out into chuckles, which some of the people passing the breakroom at work may have found odd. Mr Stafford-Bow has found a wonderful balance of humor, pacing, and plot twists to make “Brut Force” even more engaging than “Corkscrew.” The very end of the book plants a suggestion that the novelist may not be done with Felix Hart just yet, and that is a promise I’m very much looking forward to seeing fulfilled! Another point I find refreshing is the loving care given to wine descriptions, as one would expect from an author who is intimately familiar with the industry. It’s fairly commonplace these days to find a writer indulging in lengthy descriptions of fine meals (see Donna Leon or Andrea Camilleri), so why not wine? Finally, this is really more of a technical issue, but one I found quite wonderful on a personal level: the editing is superb. Normally, I find misspellings, lost words, or grammar errors, even when I’m not looking for them (believe me, I don’t look, really!); “Brut Force” was fabulously free of any of those.

Do I have a niggle? Yes, a very tiny one. I would have preferred it had they left the subtitle “The further, staggering adventures of a professional wine buyer” off the cover. Sure, it’s punny, but it seems entirely unnecessary. Would that keep me from wholeheartedly recommending this book to you? Not at all! If you love wine, mad capers, or simply a fun read, get yourself a copy. It will lift your mood and erase frown lines from your face. I’ll drink to that!

“Brut Force” is published by Acorn Publishing. I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a review. All opinions are, as always, my own.

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Author Interview: Joe Milliken of “Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars”

When the Cars burst onto the music scene in the late 1970s, they were rock’n’rollers in a vast sea of disco dancers, new wavers, and punk rockers, but that wasn’t the only unusual thing about them. All band members but one were in their 30s, most of them had quite a few years of experience as musicians under their belts. Although lanky lead singer Ric Ocasek may be the most prominent face of The Cars, he frequently shared vocalist’s duties with bassist Benjamin Orr, whom he had met in Cleveland, Ohio, a decade earlier. After The Cars broke up in the late 1980s, most of the band pursued other projects, drummer David Robinson leaving the music biz behind entirely. Benjamin Orr sadly passed away in 2000, from pancreatic cancer. Consequently, he did not appear on the one-off album, “Move Like This,” released in 2011, nor was he present when The Cars were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in April 2018. Ric Ocasek remarked in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine: “I think it’s kind of a big thing for me and the band. I know Ben would have been flipped out by it. … It’s certainly a very positive thing.”

Like many fans, I am tickled that in only a couple of months, on November 11, to be exact, Rowman & Littlefield is releasing a brand new biography titled “Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars.” The book is a labor of love by journalist Joe Milliken, who graciously answered a few questions for me.

Stop and Smell the Pages: The Cars are a band that most rock aficionados of a certain age will be familiar with on some level. Yet, the forthcoming book, “Let’s Go! A Biography of the Cars’ Benjamin Orr” obviously focuses primarily on Benjamin. Why did you decide to put him in the spotlight, and who is your target audience?

Joe Milliken: When I was contemplating what music subject my first book would be about, admittedly Benjamin Orr and even The Cars were not at the top of my list even though they are one of my seminal favorite bands. Truth be told, a fan contacted me out of the blue and suggested I write a biography specifically about Orr.

I was unsure but curious, but when I did some research I discovered this whole other aspect of his life that I didn’t realize, and figured a lot of other Cars’ fans didn’t know either. Ben growing up in Cleveland (home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) as a “young celebrity musician” if you will, over a decade before he ever became world famous with The Cars, was the hook I needed to make this book come alive. And did it ever!

My target audience is not only The Cars fans around the world, but rock, new wave and pop music fans alike. There is also special interest in Cleveland where Orr grew up, as well as the Boston area where The Cars signed their first record deal and launched their careers.

SSTP: You’ve already done quite a bit of campaigning for the book release, which is coming up fast. How has the feedback been from the media and music fans?

JM:  We have really gotten some great feedback from the fans who’ve discovered the book and in fact, some fans have been loyal to this project since I started it a decade ago. Our book mailing list has grown to nearly 1,000 fans, my Public Relations Coordinator, Donna Neale, and I have been promoting the book for months and the select media we have contacted so far has been positive. Pre-orders for the book is growing every week and the momentum is building towards the November release.

SSTP: In April, the Cars were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and you attended the event. If you had a free hand and no fund limits, how would you have liked to put together the Cars’ part of the inductee exhibit?

JM: The Cars’ exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was very cool, it was just presented in a very limited space. If I had it my way, there would have been an entire room dedicated to exhibiting “Cars artifacts” and I would have searched out and invited “Cars collectors” around the world to display their treasures for all to enjoy.

SSTP: While Ric Ocasek’s musical style always seems to have a flamboyant edge to it, Benjamin’s style, especially in his solo work, seems far more grounded in traditional rock’n’roll, both musically and lyrically. By this I mean that Ric’s lyrics are often very much open to interpretation, whereas the lyrics to the songs on Benjamin’s solo album, The Lace, seem more like personal vignettes in the vein of traditional storytelling. How do you think his having grown up in Cleveland may have influenced his musical development?

JM: Cleveland (obviously) has a rich rock-and-roll history and it surely influenced Benjamin during his formative years. One of his early bandmates said to me in an interview: “Benny was influenced by Elvis, the Beatles and the British Invasion, and he always loved to play rock-and-roll!”

As for the songs on The Lace being of a personal nature, even though some of the lyrics may pertain to personal feelings, it is not meant to be any kind of narrative of his life, if you will. The songs could be about anyone’s relationships and feelings, and actually can be open for one’s own interpretation.

SSTP: Are there any plans for an international release of the book?

JM: We are lucky to be backed by a major publisher in Rowman & Littlefield, who markets their book releases internationally. Additionally, Donna and I have been working hard to promote the book and have launched a website, a Facebook page (over 1,500 “likes”), and have assembled a growing “promotional team” of enthusiastic fans who are helping to promote the book globally by reaching out to their local medias on our behalf. We currently have promo team members in roughly 30 states, plus Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and England.

SSTP: And finally: If you had the chance to ask Benjamin one question, what would it be?

JM: I’m going to cheat and mention a few questions I would ask Benjamin. On a music level, I would ask him what his top five bands/artists are, what his favorite Cars’ song, and album is, and what was his favorite bass to play. On a personal level I would ask him what the significance is of a modest bracelet he wore for most of his life, and who really was the true love of his life.

Considering the madcap round of interviews Joe has been giving to promote the book release, I very much appreciate his taking the time to answer yet more questions. You can stay up to date on book news on the Let’s Go Facebook page. Scroll down to the official press release below to find even more details on the book, its author, and how to stay in touch!

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Press Release:

Vermont Writer Milliken Has Book Deal to Publish Biography of The Cars’ Benjamin Orr
BELLOWS FALLS, VERMONT – Veteran music journalist Joe Milliken recently announced a publishing deal with the Lanham, Maryland-based publisher Rowman & Littlefield Publishers to produce his first book, a biography about the late Benjamin Orr. Orr was the co-founder, co-lead singer, and bassist for the platinum-selling rock band The Cars. Titled Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, a release date is set for November 11, 2018.
Often considered the band’s heartthrob, Orr possessed an incredible voice, diverse musical talent and rare stage presence, all balanced by a magnetic, yet enigmatic personality, striking good looks, and a relentless determination to reach rock stardom. Born Benjamin Orzechowski (aka “Benny Eleven Letters”) and raised in the Cleveland suburb of Parma Heights, Orr was, prior to becoming a worldfamous rock star with The Cars, a “teen star” as a house band musician for the nationally syndicated television show Upbeat.

A few years later Ben met his musical partner and future Cars’ bandleader, Ric Ocasek, and by 1976 their quest for the perfect blend of songs, bandmates, and musical landscape finally materialized as The Cars. They would go on to sell over 30 million albums worldwide resulting in 15 “Top 40” hits.

From his early success in Cleveland through his stardom with The Cars, to his solo band efforts and eventual rebirth with the emerging supergroup Big People, this definitive account of Orr’s rock-and-roll life is not a backstage ‘tell all,’ but the story of a charismatic musician with a vision, a sense of adventure, and unwavering perseverance. Orr passed away much too young at 53, but he achieved his dream through hard work and determination, a long road that began in Cleveland and culminated with The Cars coming back to his hometown to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in April of 2018.

This first-ever biography about Orr spans 11 years in the making, as Milliken draws together interviews with over 120 family members, friends, bandmates, and music associates from Orr’s life, as well as many unpublished and never before seen photos from private collections, to reveal an intimate portrait of one of classic rock’s great talents.

About the Author: Joe Milliken has been a music journalist, editor and website publisher for two decades. A die-hard music fan with a degree in visual arts, Joe turned to writing as his creative outlet, first as a local reporter, then a sports/arts & entertainment editor and freelancer. In 2014, he launched Standing Room Only, a website dedicated to promoting music and the arts on a local (New England) and national level. Originally from Boston, Milliken now resides in southern Vermont with his wife, Kelly, and his children, Nate and Erin.

Learn more about upcoming book-related announcements, events, discounts and author interviews online at http://www.benorrbook.com and http://www.facebook.com/BenOrrBook, by email at benorrbook@gmail.com, or follow @benorrbook on Twitter. Let’s Go! is available for presale at http://www.benorrbook.com.

 

Review: “Drink Me!” by Nick Perry and Paul Rosser

We all have a favorite childhood story, don’t we? One whose magic draws us in irresistibly, puts our hair on end or curls our toes, or maybe just makes us feel all warm and fuzzy for the memories connected with it. Generations of children have come to know the magic of “Alice in Wonderland” (even if Tim Burton has tried his best to ruin it), and many continue to love the story of the girl who goes down to rabbit hole -and later, behind the looking-glass- well into adulthood. “Drink It!” is directed at these grown up fans, now old enough to not only enjoy a well crafted tale, but also some well crafted tipple. Each and every cocktail in this book is inspired by an event or a character from the Alice books, like the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar’s Hookah, Pig and Pepper, or Off With Her Head.

So far, so intriguing. The book actually begins with a short introduction into the bits and bobs of cocktail mixing, from common alcoholic ingredients to handy tools and the best glassware. Then we mix. Alas, this is where “Drink Me!” immediately runs into problems. Firstly, the introduction points out that great pains were taken to create unusual cocktails, but there are no pictures of any of them. Zero! Zilch! Which I could have dismissed as an oversight, were it not for the totally redundant photographs in the third part, Batch Recipes, where you also get to create your own syrups, liqueurs, and spirits used specifically in these cocktails! I know what a silly sugar cube looks like; show me the Bread-and-Butterfly Pudding instead!

Another problem is that the authors live in London, where it is easy to purchase a specific, recommended alcohol selection. Of course, if you have a favorite whiskey or vodka, you may be good to go, but in gin-based drinks, different brands can lead to vastly different flavor profiles. I, for example, live in northern Indiana. Here, selection is rather limited, to put it politely. We are also a state that does not allow you to have alcohol shipped to you: no beer clubs, no wine subscriptions, no nothing. And if that isn’t enough, requiring different bitters for every other recipe is a bit out of my budget. Making my own turkey-flavored vodka would be merely the tiniest bit of help (actually, it wouldn’t, because as a vegan, I don’t do turkey flavor, but you get the idea).

Alas, unlike “Death & Co.,” “Drink Me!” would be one bar book that would primarily look cute and gather dust in my house instead of getting proper use. But if the above-mentioned issues are really non-issues for you, if you love “Alice in Wonderland” more than your childhood best friend, and/or you are always looking for the next far-out cocktail idea, this book is for you. I’ll clink my glass to that!

“Drink Me!” is published by Rock Point, part of the Quarto Publishing Group. I received a copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are most definitely my own.

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Review: “Corkscrew” by Peter Stafford-Bow

I have a confession to make: there are no more cookbooks in the queue for a while. Some of my newer readers might be shocked to find that I also read other non-fiction. And assorted fiction. Call it brain candy – and no worries, there are no calories attached. This particular novel kept me engaged from absurd beginning to topsy-turvy end. Which is funny, because Peter Stafford-Bow is actually a pseudonym, and some of the events are based on the real person-behind-the-name’s real-life experiences.

“Corkscrew” is the perfect companion for an afternoon or an evening (or two) when you just want to sit back and unwind (pun not particularly original, but nonetheless intended). Young Felix Hart faces the daunting possibility of ending up a loser straight out of school, but fate has something better in store for him: a stellar career in the wine industry! Learning that he has a real knack for highly specialized retail, Felix embarks on the crazy journey of a lifetime, aided by a cast of colorful characters (I guarantee that you’ll remember Wodin, Wikus, and the Spott-Hythes long after you’ve finished the book) and a vast assortment of equally unlikely, yet wonderfully entertaining events.  Like a James Bond of viticulture, Felix always has time for little relaxation on the job, as well. You simply must stay for the outrageous climax that could end Felix’s spot at the top of the ladder, because luckily, there is just one more twist in store. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite bevvy, keep your tongue stuck firmly in your cheek, and see if you can pick up enough pointers to pass the Minstrel of Wine examination!

Grape Experiences has posted a funny and informative Q&A with author Peter Stafford-Bow for those who are interested in the story behind the story.

“Corkscrew” is published by Thistle Publishing. At this point, I really must send a special thank-you to David Haviland, who does his best to ensure his quirky titles get the coverage they deserve. I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a review. Needless to say, all opinions are my own, except where otherwise stated.

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Review: “Stuffed!” by Marlena Kur

Maybe you’re one of those people who loves the idea of stuffing fillings into vegetables, but you’re running out of ideas. Maybe you enjoy surprising your guests (or yourself) with amazing-looking, easy-to-make dishes. Maybe you collect gorgeous cookbooks. If you recognize yourself in any of these statements, “Stuffed!” is for you.

Marlena Kur, the author of this book and the website Zest My Lemon, has a passion for beautiful food that is also good for you. Presenting fruits and veggies as ‘boats’ loaded with yummy stuffings is how she expresses it here. Most people are familiar with stuffed tomatoes of some sort, stuffed peppers, and probably zucchini, but have you tried stuffed mushrooms, eggplant, sweet potato, or even fruit? There are hot and cold stuffings, some including meats, some seafood, some simply veggies, with or without grains and/or cheese, and no repeats. All ingredients should be easily available at the supermarket, although some may be seasonal, depending on where you live. Although not every single recipe comes with one, the included photos are appetizing and attractively arranged. This is definitely not a diet book and thus does not include nutritional information for the recipes. If this is an important consideration for you, now you know.

Because it is not suitable to my own dietary lifestyle, I wouldn’t get this book for myself, but I can see myself getting a copy for my stepmother who is an enthusiastic cook and for whom presentation is nearly as important as the dish itself.

“Stuffed!” is published by Race Point Publishing, a subsidiary of the Quarto Publishing Group. I have reviewed a few titles from them on this blog and can honestly say that a lot of care goes into their books. I received a preview copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “The Brew Your Own Big Book of Clone Recipes”

Brought to you by the folks who publish Brew Your Own magazine, this beer bible features 300 clone recipes, put together in cooperation with the original brewers and frequently including tips and tricks of the trade from these brewers. Although the introduction claims that the book is aimed at home brewers of all skill levels, it clearly helps if you have worked with more than just a Mr. Beer kit before. The first chapter, ‘Cloning Basics & Recipe Standards,’ offers a brief guide on how to analyze any commercially available beer to determine the factors that must be present in a successful clone. It also gives instructions on how to best evaluate how your clone recipe stands up to the original brew and any former batches you may have made. Ultimately, with some practice, the home brewer should be able to use these processes to create his or her own clone recipes from scratch. You can see where prior brewing experience and having established a brewing procedure comes in handy.

If you don’t want to bother with the fancy footwork, delve right in by choosing your favorite style of beer from the recipes grouped into 17 different chapters, from IPAs, Porters, and Stouts over Belgian-style and British-style Ales to Brown Ales, Pilsners, European- and North American-style Ales & Lagers to Winter Beers and much more. Every recipe comes in an all-grain or extract with grain version to accommodate personal preference.

The “Big Book” ends with a resource chapter for those needing help or wishing to connect to fellow brewers; here, you find a listing of books, websites, tools & calculations, and message boards/forums for more information. My only beef with this list is the lack of locations where the less established home brewer might find specialty ingredients. At least a couple of suggestions may have been helpful. My personal preference would also have been to give a listing of beers contained in each chapter at the beginning of the chapter instead of just jumping in. Input from my home brewing husband, when he discovered the inclusion of a Pliny the Elder clone: “This might be a cool book to have!”

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“The Brew Your Own Big Book of Clone Recipes” is published by Quarto Publishing Group – Voyageur Press. I received a free copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own, except where otherwise stated.