Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Ramblings in Ireland" a Charming Sojourn

I'm going to open my review of Kerry Dwyer's Ramblings in Ireland by quoting  Kerry's self-commentary. I couldn't possibly improve on this bit for pinpointing the charm of her travelogue-plus book, which she describes as "a memoir of sorts": 

"There is a lovely French expression 'il ne perd pas le nord.'  Literally this means 'he doesn't lose the north.' It means someone who knows exactly what they want and where they are going.  They are focused on their target and don't lose track of it.

"That doesn't describe me at all."

I laughed  out loud, partly because  I'm one of those people fixed on the goal. But focus doesn't  help one be a more sensitive partner or a more observant traveler, which is often required where cultural differences come into play--she's British, her husband is French, and they're rambling through Ireland.  The book is a memoir primarily because it is more than the sum of its walking tours, which sometimes end in disaster.  The bittersweet experience of going off track is the point of Kerry's work and also the nature of the experience one has  in reading it. 

I haven't been to Ireland, so I don't know whether  the descriptions are perfectly apt or not.  I can say I found them enjoyable to read.  It's not fiction, so I don't have to judge the plausibility of theme and characters.  However,  some themes  emerge, as do well-rounded characters, principally the author and her husband, who come to know one another much better for their wander.  The dialogue is sometimes over-used, but it helps to establish the reader's bond with the characters.  

There are nine chapters with brief titles (such as Underwear and Walkingsticks ).  These derive, cunningly,  from a list she jots down before the trip of "things I didn't want to forget."  I found the first couple of chapters a bit slow--airports and bags don't interest me.  Chapters I particularly liked were "Walking Boots," which includes a useful  bit on the difference between a full English and a full Irish breakfast; "Maps," which delves into the way accents both join and separate people; and "Underwear," which has some truly beautiful nature descriptions.  Though the book remains primarily personal and doesn't rise to the level of great literary travel writers or diarists,  it's worth reading.  




Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hollywood Potential for "D-E-D, Dead"

REVIEW of Larry "Animal" Garner's D-E-D, Dead by Anne Carlisle, author of HOME SCHOOLING: The Fire Night Ball

Larry "Animal" Garner's "D-E-D, Dead" is a thriller and expose of motorcycle clubs operating like organized crime, set in 1990. It has a compelling sense of immediacy --the first person, present tense pov does the trick--and a great deal of detail. Even before chapter one, I chuckle at the "Acknowledgement" to "all the crazy bastards I know who inspired this book." Throughout, it has a vividness and authenticity in its use of the language that are bed-rock.

However, D-E-D is also, sometimes painfully, S-L-O. It's a book that needs a radical paring down. If I were Larry's editor or a film agent, I'd say cut the thing in half and then you'll really have something. The action takes place over a couple of weeks, but it takes 600 pages to get through it. As a frequent customer of the Green Parrot Bar, I'm delighted it ends there. I would be just as glad, however, to see many other scenes and locales cut. For instance, we're treated to literally hundreds of diner meals. Order details give a homey feel--once or twice--but there are way, way, way too many. Each day is grindingly chronicled. Two words: Occam's Razor. When it's cut back, the talent will shine forth.

I would also suggest certain things about it aren't entirely credible. The hero's willingness to wait until the end of the book to bed the willing woman he has the hots for is a questionable choice. We're talking a biker guy here, not Sir Galahad. I prefer the tension when the hero and his pal both love the same gal. There's a sappy, sentimental tinge to the friendship that strikes me as not quite on-the-nose. I guess I'm looking for that "Treasure of Sierra Madre" complexity, where the money makes for interesting difficulties.

Speaking of the money, the hero(on the lam from busting his gang's meth labs )blunders upon 5 million dollars while playing the Good Samaritan. The money is handed out to the growing gang members at the end, but this is anticlimactic. The money is never used to good theatrical effect. This is a gang with a heart--perhaps too much so-- rescuing young girls from meth addiction and prostitution, caring about a guy's sister who has lupus. The bad guys are bad, but the "good" guys, despite Hammer describing himself as a "criminal," sometimes come off as goody-two-shoes. There's not a lot of friction in that formula. Though violence is perpetrated, sometimes suspense is lacking. However, there are some scenes that are riveting, such as the bloody Polly-versus-Judy scene in a cafe men's room.

All in all, it's a four-star presentation with an editing problem, which brings it to a three-star. Plus a tip of the hat to a writer who knows how to write sentences in the Hemingway style--spare, physical, and real. Nice work!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

4-star Review for Home Schooling: The Fire Night Ball

By Lucinda Elliot, Author, Wales, UK                                                                        
Four Stars: Packed with Vivid Characters and Lively Humour

This story features a heroine I took to at once  - it’s she who makes the jokes, she’s stunning, sensual, ambitious, charming, clever – it’s outrageous that she’s had the misfortune to be besotted by a prize philandering cad, the brutally insensitive and sex obsessed Harry Drake for years, and she’s about to find out that her birth control has failed as well....
Never mind, Marlena Mae Bellum isn’t a woman given to despair or seeing herself as a victim – even though, or perhaps because – at times it seems as though she’s the late twentieth century reincarnation of her enchantress ancestor Cassandra Vye, the one time scourage of a small town in Wyoming, who was also the recipient of a curse supposedly to blight the lives of generations of descendants.

This book is an intriguing read which through earthy humour and a cast of vivid and recognisable characters transforms a classic story – a curse destined to cut across and link the lives of generations of a family – into something new and intriguing.
Like many good stories, it isn’t one that is easy to define. Roughly it can be called a ‘Paranormal Romance with a Historical slant’ but that hardly does it justice.
The supernatural elements in this book are subtly depicted; though undoubtedly there, they are brought into play through a series of synchronicities. Prosaic corruption in corporate business over land use is subtly connected to a past resounding with a tragedy which draws in the characters, cutting across time, individual personalities, plans and  desires with a tangled skein of peculiar co-incidences.

This, the first volume of the series, isn’t a simple story. Neither, as in real life, can the solutions which the characters use to try and resolve their problems wholly satisfactory; but I was constantly struck by how strong the female characters in this story are – whether it’s Marlena herself, her hidebound, strictly religious mother or her dispassionate, cerebral psychiatrist older cousin.  Then , there are the machinations of that wonderful siren,  Lila.
There are so many funny scenes and so much throwaway humour in this that I find it hard to make a choice for a quote. The put down given to the lecherous Harry Drake by gay woman  Stretch, ‘Keep it in your pants, buster. I’m batting for the other side’ is my favourite.

Then there’s Chloe’s reflections on Harry Drake: ‘Poor Harry, always one day late and a dollar short in the when it came to emotional commitments’.

I was very impressed by this vivid writing and lively characterisation and shall look out for the rest of the series. I recommend it to anyone looking for a story which contains the spine chilling, the ridiculous and the moving all seamlessly combined.
(Note: buy links for HOME SCHOOLING: THE FIRE NIGHT BALL are on Anne Carlisle's webpage):


4-Star Review of Home Schooling: The Fire Night Ball

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful

4.0 out of 5 stars A Perfect Read for the Season October 23, 2012

By feams8


Marlena Bellum's family history of being cursed real or imagine in the mind of Letty Brown-Hawker, was a questionable distraction to the young woman.

Marlena finds strength and comfort from her family and friends, when she is faced with a life changing decision.
She finds the there is a difference between genuine love and obsessive love; one is true and the other striving after the wind.

Marlena Bellum also learns the responsibility of her actions and uncovering sometimes love comes from unsuspecting alliances.
Her courage serves her faithfully as she encounters a setback only to come out stronger with better insight into the nature of the people in her life.

The climax to the story boils to fever pitch as everyone in town anticipates Chloe Vye's annual Christmas Fire Night Ball, and it doesn't disappoint. The many twist and turns will leave you gasping and laughing.

Home Schooling: The Fire Night Ball, kudos to the author on a fine job.- EK Ellis


4-Star Review on Goodreads (Battle of Chibi)

Review by Anne Carlisle on Goodreads, October 15, 2012

What makes The Battle of Chibi by Hock G. Tjoa such a worthwhile read  is a feeling of global impact. Here is a mythos/history of ancient China worth absorbing.  The world view of the most populous nation on earth and one that retains much of its ancient heritage should interest us, yet Western readers know little of its evolution.  In this fascinating novel, which is part history, part fiction, part drama, and part poetry, Hock G. Tjoa ably takes on the mantle of translator and literary interpreter for  a battle along a river that determined four hundred years of  ancient Chinese history.  

Tjoa does an excellent job at meeting his goal of providing the original in a more  "readable and lively language as well as internal consistency."   It's a worthwhile though not an easy read.  As a boy in the book says, "I cannot remember all the names."

At the outset, the author provides useful background.  The historical events were originally recounted in a classic Ming novel , Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written in 1400 by Luo Guanzhong.  In turn the Romance was a compilation of work by  writers living in the third and fourth centuries AD.   (The Arthurian legend immediately comes to mind.)   Luo's  version is in four volumes of 120 scenes/chapters,  the first 80 of which is about the decline of the Han Dynasty and the rise of three kingdoms,  a period of transition from 184 to 280 AD. Tjoa characterizes the divergence  as one  "between imperial unity and fragmentation." 

The selections chosen from the Romance center on the Battle of Chibi (Red Cliffs), dated 208AD, which Tjoa points out was "the tipping point" between the Han and Three Kingdoms periods.  One of the three realms, the Shu,  was  led by Han loyalist Liu Bei.  A second,  the Wei,  was led by Cao Cao the Usurper.  Cao's plan was to become the new unifier of China, but his ambitions disqualified him in the eyes of the other two leaders.  A third realm, the Wu led by Sun Quan, lay on the fringe of what was called All under Heaven, a name, says Tjoa, that equates to a Greco-Roman term, "the whole known civiilized world." 

An interesting pattern emerges in the novel's three-part structure.   To my eye, a dialectic of  thesis, antithesis, and synthesis  unifies the diversity of the  structural components as well as underlining the clash of cultures.  The dynasty's decline is vividly characterized by its eunuchs,  warlords, and rebels.  I became engaged in the story of the new order through the vivid, careful characterization; the spare, dramatically staged dialogue; and the pleasing literary elements.  The title of  Chapter 8 ("Like Fish Seeking Water") is one  example of how metaphor and poetry are used to illustrate what is going on. Here's another: "Screens, decorated with feathers,/Divide the space inside/Bamboo fences and fragrant flowers/Define the space outside."  

A new eye on the world emerges from the divisiveness,  and though the country is no longer unified ,  neither is it so insularly focused.  At the end of the day, Tjoa's work is historical romance  in the most classic sense of the term.  It would certainly lend itself to screen adaptation.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Review of KHE, an epic fantasy

4-Star Review for KHE, an epic fantasy  by Alexes Razevich

Review by Anne Carlisle, author of the Home Schooling trilogy. Posted on Goodreads 10/28/12


   The author of Khe imagines an alternative universe, invites me in,  and then charms me into staying with short, powerful sentences.  I'm hooked at the get-go by the point-of-view character being pursued by devouring beasts.  As  Khe, a self-described country bumpkin,  flees toward  Chimbalay,  I'm wondering, Celestial City? Camelot? The Big Apple?  An intrusive city-form, called  the  corenta, must be avoided. I'm very intrigued,  but I'll have to wait a long while to know more. 
   Khe gets inside the gate only because others are rushing out. Why are they eager to leave Chimbalay? Once in, Khe says, she can never return.  Why not?  And what's so wrong with her that she has braved a dangerous journey in order to seek the help of  an "orindle," an exalted female being?
   I'm a bit disappointed when the forward action literally stops inside the gate and veers into  a lengthy excursion into the past. However, I  soon get interested in  the ups and downs of  Khe's agrarian life  among her 52 sisters, the  doumanas (females of the species. Like fireflies, their spots light up when they're ready for seasonal mating).    
   Shocking, dirty little secrets begin to emerge about the three types of communities.  Willing or not,  doumanas are "returned to their creator" each year based on the number of spots. Khe's spots have been increasing faster than her years because of an experimental  procedure that enhanced her  field productivity--Khe can turn things green. I'm dismayed when her talent, rather than being rewarded, is exploited. I'm drawn to Khe because she has complex emotions-- jealousy of Thedra's singing ability, for instance--while I'm turned off by the inculturated  pattern of obedience to collectivism. There's also  something nefarious about the males and females being  kept segregated (like Catholic school). The hatchlings (babies) are fewer in number than the leader would like, but she must get permission from the Powers that be for more. 
   I begin to dislike intensely this autocratic, highly regimented world. It's dystopia, not utopia. I'm supposed to feel that way.
    I'm still impatient to see Chimbalay, the center of power, where policy is made by a centralized group of Prophets. Will a mere individual's problems and passions be addressed there, as in  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? But first, there's Khe's escape through a bestial wilderness. For me, this section has mixed results.  There are gold nuggets. A sled talks to Khe, for instance; I love it that some inanimate objects are more sentient than the relentless task-masters.  However, when Khe meets another runaway on the road,  I feel  the "babbler's" story overly delays the forward motion.  
   Halfway through the book, we're back at  Chimbalay, where my curiosity about why orindles  were rushing out  is satisfied. The orindles are all going shopping at the corenta! Place names like Excitement Street underline the sly point that the prophets in glass skyscrapers  are not exalted beings as advertised.    
   Enlightened by the history of Before and how the world came to be gender-segregated, I arrive at the story of the telepathic, energy-based Powers, a portion of the novel  that seems to list toward the overly abstract and the metaphysical. The empathy  quotient suffers.     
   Overall, what I like best in this epic fantasy is the well-crafted allegory of the individual emerging against collectivism and how Khe, like Gulliver, grows  through her journey.  Sometimes I'm presented with too much to  think about, but I don't mind the mental exercise.  
    The writer has talent, and the  novel, though not an easy read, is worth a look by those who enjoy excursions in alternate universes.   

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review across the pond

Rating: 4 stars
Review by Anne Carlisle
posted in Goodreads, Amazon 10/1/2012

        I don't often read vampire novels, though I was a fan of Anne Rice.  However,  from the get-go, I loved this historical Gothic romance  by a Wales writer, Lucinda Elliot, who asked me to review her book. 
        Immediately  we know we are in the hands of a capable, well-read writer with a flair for language when the opening image is of "the candle guttering on the mantelpiece".  The word "guttering" is picture-perfect; we can see the candle dripping and the channels forming in the hot wax. 
        And, from the first show of Emile's talons and Sophie's jealousy, we know we are in for a fast-paced and exhilarating read.  "Inhuman Chuckling" and "Mischievous Experiments" accompany a vampire's saga of brutal assaults. The paranormal and sexual elements are blended in subtly and  craftily, and with humor.
        Ms. Elliot has done her homework. The dialogue, the furniture, the dress, and the aura all take us back to the 18th century, a period when reason was a deity and masked vampires passed for royalty in drawing rooms.  However, it's not all fustian.  There is an appealing mixture of "upstairs/downstairs" folk in the novel.  The characters, no matter if they are human or paranormal, upper-class or servants, are loveable and believable.
        Simple, elegant reminders of the phantasmagoric--"Emile's form wavered"-- are a relief, for this reader at least,  in a genre that is, generally speaking, over-stated.   The intelligence of her readers is never insulted as Elliot's weaves together elegant aristocrats, fairy-tale realism, 18th century European history, and Tarot cards into a Gothic horror tale/novel of manners.
        The story always captivates and delights while occasionally creating chills down the spine.  Each character (Sophie's young maid is a case in point) brings something fresh and new to the gory banquet table.  The narrative is action driven and the dialogue is always apt. One of many compelling vignettes is when Kenrick bites Morwenna's neck, and she discerns in his cold eyes a  human secret, an image of a lover's welcoming arms.
        I heartily recommend this new book to readers on both sides of the pond who like sly humor and artifice mixed in with their erotic/historical tales of vampires and romance.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What's in a name?

I've given some thought, since writing my first blog,  to its proper naming.  My daughter tells me Anne Carlisle's Blog is not where it's at.  So, I began to think on improving it....and some candidates quickly emerged:

In my college days, I wrote a weekly editorial column. It was illustrated with cartoons. To my great surprise it was singled out by the American Newspaper Publishers Association when they awarded our weekly newspaper a national prize.  My column was a satiric glance at all things comically collegiate, and it was called "Anne-alysis."  I wrote it in the style of a writer I loved and whom I had the opportunity to interview:  Art Buchwald.  He inscribed his book to me:  "Anne, stay out of my business." 

I was a GDI--a Goddamned Independent. The Dean of Students, a former sorority president, took great exception to my satiric slant on the goings-on of frat brothers and sorority sisters.  And she wasn't my only critic. My predecessor in the spot of editorial columnist was an investigative journalist named Byrd, and his column was "A Byrd's Eye View."  He took a dim view of my cavalier, nerdy attitude toward campus revolution and other important things going on in the late sixties.  He wrote me a letter "from his sleeve" and advised me to "cease talking up it."

My next thought was to align myself with the denizens of darkness and depravity that are legion in the field of paranormal/abnormal/dysfunctional romance that I seem to have wandered into. Perhaps  I needed a moniker that was dripping in blood, semen, or saliva.

Might a giant insect do? 

I considered calling my blog  Preying Mantis, or better yet, Praying Mantis.  Doesn't she attract, then eat her mate?  Have I not vowed to follow in Nora Ephron's footsteps and find my revenge in writing well and killing off ex-husbands, one by one?  One can make the case I've already killed off two, another is slated for Book II, and my current husband is wary of what might happen to him in Book  III. He needn't be, though. (I promise, Mark)

But what if the ghoulishness in my work recedes as I move forward?  What if I run out of exes to kill off?  Will the big bug still seem like a fitting umbrella for my monthly blogs of wisdom?

The journey was then lightened, providentially, by a stroll down memory lane, thanks to Facebook responses from high school acquaintances back in Ashtabula, Ohio, where I was born and raised, as the expression goes.  They were more than kind and less than kin, raising questions like "Who's she?"  Good question.  I haven't lived in that town in more than two decades.

Wasn't Anne Carlisle the popcorn man's grand-daughter, someone asked?  And yes, indeed, I am.  Finally, I thought I had arrived at the end of my journey.  I smiled at the shiny image of my grandfather's old-fashioned popcorn-and-peanut cart in the downtown park. His stand was beloved by everyone in town but no more so than by me.  It was and is the ultimate symbol of my small town life. I told my husband I'd found a title: The Popcorn Stand.

But then, in my wanderings on the internet, I came upon an interesting factoid.  The Ghost Orchid, which takes its sustenance from the air, not the ground, thrives only in Florida.

Now, when it comes to writing, first and foremost, I belong to Key West and nowhere else.  Key West, during the nineties, was where I got my writing chops back.  I edited,  reviewed, and wrote features for a monthly magazine, Solares Hill, for almost a decade.  I was privileged to interview famous writers (Kurt Vonnegut, Peter Matthiesen,  Thurston Clark, JoAnne Akalaitis, Wendy Wasserstein, and Nancy Friday, to name a few) who wandered into the Key West Literary Seminar in January, visited, or lived there.

And it's also true a ghost is a major character in my trilogy, which is 2/3 done.  The first book is out, the second is nearly completed, and the third is out there in the air.  I take my sustenance from the air, which is where words, names, images, and the imagination connect.

So Ghost Orchid it will be.  See you in October.

Anne Carlisle

other links to follow me and find my book, "HOME SCHOOLING: The Fire Night Ball"
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