Review: “Firing Blancs” by Peter Stafford-Bow

Having had the distinct pleasure of reviewing the previous two installments of the adventures of oenologist Felix Hart, Head of Wine at a prominent UK supermarket chain, I was tickled to find there was about to be a third. For those readers unfamiliar with the prior reviews, Felix is, in short, the Austin Powers of the wine world (perhaps with somewhat less mystery). He loves wine, travel, and beautiful women (not necessarily in this order) and boasts the ability to talk himself out of any pickle, as well as a nearly unshakable self-confidence.

This confidence is stretched rather thin when Felix finds himself faced with situations completely beyond his control after being sent to South Africa to reign in an errant local supplier whose labor practices are threatening Gatesave’s reputation. As you can guess, the road to redemption is a rather meandering path, and Mr Stafford-Bow manages to toss in a little twist near the end for good measure. Meet crackpot bosses, cantankerous dinosaurs, different shades of administrative types, revolutionaries, outrageous food, earthy wines, and enjoy the whirlwind ride. I certainly did.

For an extra chuckle, read the reviews on the back cover. Just do it.

Readers sensitive to social currents may wonder if depicting Black South African entrepreneurs running Marxist vineyards and entertainment establishments that cater primarily to white tourists with food and sex somehow points to a sinister purpose. However, in the world Felix Hart occupies, things are never cut and dry. Characters are caricatures, not real people, and nothing is ever just good or bad. So if you decide to read this book, park your suspicions at the door and enter with an open mind. You will see that in the end, everything works out quite satisfactorily.

Apparently, the Felix Hart series has become popular enough to be featured in book clubs, and therefore you will find appropriate wine recommendations in the last chapter, should you be lucky enough to have access to a well-stocked bottle shop or distribution hub. Although it sounds like something entirely invented for the purpose of making a point in this book, the range of Smiley wines, for example, is quite real. If you are outside the UK, do a quick search on those that interest you – you might get lucky!

“Firing Blancs” is published by Acorn. I received an ARC courtesy of the author. Needless to say, all opinions are my own, except where stated otherwise.

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Review: “Challenge Accepted!” by Celeste Barber

In the life of every social media celebrity, there comes a moment when someone finds it a great and original idea to have that celebrity put out an autobiography. If one is extremely lucky, the outcome is funny, witty, or at least interesting. Most of the time, luck has other places to be, and the reader is stuck with something that could best be described as “meh”.

For quite a while, I was a fan of Celeste Barber’s Facebook page, on which she regularly posts photos of herself spoofing outlandishly ridiculous photos of outlandishly photoshopped models in ridiculously outlandish poses. Of course, Ms. Barber looks nothing like an undernourished, photoshopped model, but she’s doing this primarily for fun (often with the assistance of her husband, who is best known by his handle #hothusband), and that’s why fans laugh with her and love her.

When the book was first announced, bearing the same title as the most famous hashtag on the page, #challengeaccepted, I was rather hoping to get a kind of “Best Of” collection of photos, perhaps some outtakes, perhaps some anecdotes. Instead, I got a collection of swearword-peppered, stream-of-consciousness stories that somehow apparently make up enough content to be sold as a biography these days.

Now, generally speaking, cussing doesn’t disturb me much. One of my favorite cookbooks is Thug Kitchen, after all. I just think that overusing language like that is like those drawn-out car chases in movies: mainly filler.

Ms. Barber opens with a reality-lit-type recollection of her son’s birth*. I am one of those seemingly rare women who don’t particularly care to be regaled with blood-and-goop-stained vignettes of childbirth. A couple of chapters later, we delve into Ms. Barber’s school years. I don’t really think it’s funny or cool or inspirational to tell young people who might be reading this book that being bullied isn’t a big deal, because, well, the author was able to laugh it off and now feels like a stronger person for it. And just in case some of that even later stuff in the book was brought forth by some subconscious pang of guilt about writing insensitive remarks like that, devoting an entire intermission to proclaiming how much you love the gay community doesn’t vindicate anyone. Sorry.

It’s a sign of our times that I feel it necessary to sidetrack to tell you that I am not implying that dedicating a chapter to your love of your friends and fans is somehow wrong. It is, like a lot of things in this book, unnecessary. Ms. Barber talks early on about one of her close friends who happens to be gay, and what she says about him should make her feelings clear to any but the dullest of readers. There, glad we’re past that.

Anyway, the bullying incident really rubbed me the wrong way, and I very nearly decided not to finish the book at all. I did, though, and it wasn’t complete rubbish. It also wasn’t particularly funny, or witty, or inspiring, and I really don’t see the point to it. Somehow it has an odd tang of being aimed directly and primarily at an American audience. What version do the Aussies get? Or do they already know everything there is to know about Celeste Barber?

My take on “Challenge Accepted!” is this: if you love her because of her self-deprecating humor and the way she casually skewers advertising, decide if you primarily do so because of her photos. If the answer is yes, this is a challenge you do not need to accept. But if you’re curious about what goes on in the life of an Instagram celeb who is more like you than most, go for it.

“Challenge Accepted!” is published by Amazon Publishing. I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for a review, although I’m sure someone is regretting that decision right now. All opinions are, unless otherwise stated, my own.

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*if there is no such category as reality-lit, someone’s been snoozing at the helm.