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.

firing blancs



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.


What’s Coming Up

It’s going to be a little more quiet here until next week, the reason being that the husband and I are off to Cleveland for a mini vacation. I have, however, several books in the queue as we speak that I think you will find interesting, and it’s a varied lot: there is a lively biography of Queen Victoria, a fast-and-easy vegan cookbook, a novel in which Inspector Lestrade gets to go off on his own adventures, and a thriller set in the Scottish peat bogs!

But speaking of Cleveland, if there are fellow fans of The Cars in my esteemed audience, you may be tickled to learn, as I was, that this November there will be a brand new biography of Benjamin Orr, aptly named “Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars.” You can preorder it now, the official release date is November 11. That is one I’m quite excited about! Probably a bit more exciting is the fact that I’m expecting my copy of Michael Nesmith’s “Infinite Tuesday” in the mail when I return from Ohio – signed by the author. In other reviews, people have nagged that Michael doesn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about his stint as a Monkee, but considering he has on numerous occasions expressed his exasperation at first and foremost being linked to that particular group, I am not surprised. Would you be interested to have me review “Infinite Tuesday”?

I honestly don’t know how much time for reading I will have over the weekend, considering the trip is clearly dominated by music. It begins with a gig by The Fixx, goes on to a possible blues outing, makes a pit stop at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame (The Cars were inductees this April, part of the reason why I’ve wanted to go) and ends with a gig by The Psychedelic Furs. Just writing that down makes me all excited.

So now you’re in the loop. I will see you next week with fresh material!

Review: “Perth: A Guide for the Curious” by Terri-ann White (editor)

Lately, I’ve been quite generous with my reviews, but to be fair, the books definitely deserved it. Some of you may be aware that I’m rather enamored with Perth, the capital of Western Australia. I enjoy listening to local musos, reading local writers, and I own a few traveler’s guides to the city, as well. This particular book was released just before my last trip Down Under. At first, I waffled whilst thumbing through it at the bookstore, but then decided, primarily due to the blurb on the back, to go ahead and add it to the collection. After all, it promised a different view of the place. Except, that’s not what happened… the review below was first published on Goodreads, where I gave the book two stars.


From the back cover: “Perth: a guide for the curious is meant to be thumbed through in cafes, stuffed into satchels and walked around the city like a tireless companion.” Translate that into “read in the bookshop, steal but don’t waste your money, and if you need help drowning yourself in shallow water, feel free to use as weight in your backpack.” The title makes a promise that the content of this erratic, badly edited and boringly illustrated tome cannot keep. For one thing, not a thought was wasted on who the intended audience might be. Some of the essays are entirely pointless drivel that provide neither illumination nor illustration of the nature of this most isolated capital city. Few of them bother to scratch up any substance beyond flimsy personal anecdotes that cannot remotely be connected to Perth as it exists today, partly because the photo material is so tiny, one needs a magnifying lens to make out any detail, partly because the included “maps” are merely strip maps of the former wetland glory dotted with random landmarks, as if someone had invited a drunken darts player to create illustrations. So, if the “curious” addressed in the title are already familiar with Perth, it is doubtful they would bother purchasing this book, and if it is aimed at a broader audience, I recommend buying an additional road map.

Somewhere in the book, the authors claim that content goes beyond nostalgia, but the old-fashioned photographs dividing individual sections say otherwise. All these points, together with the ridiculous foreword by current Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi, who is clearly creating credentials for a future career in tourism marketing, should have been enough to warn me to keep the credit card in the wallet and run, not walk, to the nearest exit of the bookshop. Perhaps the final review copy of the book was a bit of a rush job, or else Terri-ann White should have spent more time with actual proof-reading, because when I said “badly edited” before, that is just what I mean.

Some of the essays are rambling pieces that provide no clear connection to Perth at all, and sadly, that does include the mumbo-jumbo chapter on Nyoongar place names. If you cannot get enough quality submissions for a whole book, look further or print a magazine instead. Page 143, in Peter Kennedy’s chaotic piece on local politics and name-dropping, features two whole lines, neatly enclosed in parentheses, that clearly constitute a text correction of some sort. Geoffrey London’s Urban Reflections not only boast a sadly obvious grammatical mistake (“…becoming a keen student of the city and it’s architecture”, p. 183) but also a complete disconnect from Perth then and now, as it is wholly unillustrated. Websites such as Lost Perth feature vast vaults of photographic material that could have been used to bring these remembrances to life for those readers who are not old or local enough to be familiar with the city at that time.

All in all, this collection reads like a hurried assembly of random writings without direction. The small handful of actually insightful and interesting articles cannot balance out the rest, and one must look very, very closely to “find the city’s soul” or discover anything about its personality. Save your money for the excellent Perth by David Whish-Wilson, instead and satisfy your curiosity by visiting the local tourist office and exploring on your own.

Postscript: today I actually officially finished the book. I stand by my original assessment. The only reason to elevate the rating at all would be that David Whish-Wilson’s essay was a fabulous example of what the book could have been, had standards for content been set and applied.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu


No, I’m not closing the blog again already; I have far too many goodies lined up for you in the future. It just so happens that I’ll be away from the (or any, really) keyboard until late May, so there won’t be new posts until then. To get you through the waiting period, I may post a couple of older reviews I’ve done elsewhere. Meanwhile, I promise to put any downtime I may have to good use, so expect fresh reviews upon my return!