A Yank Back To England: The Prodigal Tourist Returns by Denis Lipman

Book Review
Title: A Yank Back To England: The Prodigal Tourist Returns
Author: Denis Lipman
Publisher: Gemma
Released: 2010
Pages: 320
ISBN 10 – 1934848247
ISBN 13 – 978-1934848241
Stars: 4.0

I have spent my Christmas vacation relaxing and reading a delightful, splendidly written travel memoir by Washington, DC playwright and author Denis Lipman entitled A Yank Back To England: The Prodigal Tourist Returns.

I made Denis’ acquaintance last year through his interesting and colourful blog, England Rents, Raves & Rants and after reading his book about his family’s annual trips to England over a six year (actually nine) period, I feel as if I know not only him but them as well! His writing is fluid, to the point, and extremely witty, and his English sense of humour and Dagenham, Essex upbringing sparkle in A Yank Back To England which is charming and authentically English.

Denis Lipman, at first glance, may seem an unassuming sort of English gentleman who has become fairly Americanized, but his life has been anything but mundane. He dropped out of school at the age of 15 to become an apprentice printer and within a week realized that magic was his calling so he left to pursue a career as a magician and magic dealer. It was this endeavor that initially led him to the United States where he would later meet his wife, Frances Erlebacher, and together, they and their only child, Kate, would spend their annual vacation visiting Denis’ elderly parents, the somewhat eccentric Lew and Jessie, in the Old Country.

When magic lost its luster, Denis experimented with writing scripts, songs, and even album production and after years of trying on different occupations for the right fit, he ended up relocating to Washington, DC where he became a senior writer for a major advertising agency and a playwright for the Washington Theatre Festival. In the early 1990s, Denis and Frances started their own agency, The Creative Shop.

It was Frances who decided that they should take advantage of their yearly sojourns to England when they would visit Denis’ parents and relatives and really get to know the country, both as tourists, and as their second home. Denis wasn’t initially all that keen on traipsing around to see the sites, but in spite of his reluctance, discovered that he really did enjoy his homeland and even fell in love with it. I certainly fell in love with the England (Hammill, close to Sandwich) he described in Year Six: A Regency Cottage on a Bridle Path as their accommodation at Madrigal Cottage is how I have always envisioned the beauty and charm of the English countryside.

This affectionate memoir actually reveals more about the characters portrayed in it than the sites that they visit. Restaurant and hotel names are not mentioned, although cities, towns and villages are, as well as some of the prominent sites one would associate with those places, which according to Denis are all within a half-day trip from London. Meals are described in such a way that you sometimes salivate and occasionally crinkle up your nose in disgust while tea and Jack Daniels flow copiously. The weather is always a force to be reckoned with and the countryside as charismatic and as challenging as one could imagine. This is a depiction of the reality of travel and it’s not always brilliant but it is remarkable.

A Yank Back To England is just as much about Denis getting to know his aging parents as adults, friends and grandparents as discovering what makes England the historical, magnificent country that it is. The events here are not sugar-coated in any way and Denis describes his parents, in particular, in a very honest and not necessarily flattering manner but you fall in love with them anyway. We also meet Denis’ aunts Flo, Vi and Mary and cousins Pam and Kevin and his wife Maxine, and briefly Denis’ brother Tony and his wife Tricia. We get a glimpse of Kate’s early years and recognize that Frances is ever thoughtful, practical, diplomatic, and easy to get along with and Denis owes the success of this book to her.

A travel memoir cannot be easy to write as it would be hard to remember entire conversations the way that Denis has written them here, but because he has managed to do so, the book reads like a novel and when it ends you find yourself sighing, smiling, reflecting and utterly yearning for your next vacation abroad. And don’t forget to dress in layers and place a bet on the horses while you’re at it!

England Rents, Rants & Raves by The Prodigal Tourist

Author and blogger, Denis Lipman

December’s Featured Blog:
England Rents, Rants & Raves
by The Prodigal Tourist

Hello everyone! I hope that you are enjoying this holiday season and if you are as fortunate as I am, you have this whole week off!

Since the launch of my new website I have been thinking of ways to keep my blog fresh and interesting. I’ve decided that each month I am going to attempt to feature a favourite blog that’s written by my online friends.

This month I have selected one of the first blogs I chose to follow when I first started writing my own. It’s by Denis Lipman and is called England Rents, Rants & Raves. Denis refers to himself as The Prodigal Tourist and I am currently reading his wonderful travel memoir, A Yank Back To England: The Prodigal Tourist Returns, which actor Michael York describes as:

“A perceptive, engaging and informative take on contemporary England as seen through the eyes of a fellow expatriate who writes with humor and affection. The cast of characters has an almost Dickensian vivacity.”

Mr. York is absolutely right.

My review of the book will be posted soon.

Denis Lipman is from Dagenham, Essex and he has a very interesting and colourful history that you can read about here. His American wife, Frances Erlebacher, is not only his life partner and the mother of their daughter Kate, but also his business partner as together they run an advertising agency called The Creative Shop in Washington, DC. Denis also writes plays for the Washington Theatre Festival.

Denis explains on his blog,

“Years ago I shed my Cockney accent and left London’s blighted East End for America. Since then, I’ve only returned to see my increasingly cantankerous parents and assorted relatives. Until my American wife comes along. She wants to tour, see the sights. No thank you. It’s not for me. But she insists, and I become a reluctant tourist in my former homeland.”

England Rents, Rants & Raves is a delightful, interesting and colourful blog about Jolly Ol’ England! It features various vignettes from the Lipmans’ travels and Denis’ new book, as well as photos, recipes, and everything related to the Lipmans’ life. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more creative, friendly and fun couple in blog land than Denis and Frances. I highly recommend their blog which is especially enjoyable for armchair tourists like me!

“You did what to Tony?”

Chronicles of the Undead by A. F. Stewart

Book Review
Title: Chronicles Of The Undead
Author:  A.F. Stewart
Publisher: Lulu.com
Released: July 2009
Pages: 168
ISBN 10 – 0557026709
ISBN 13 – 978-0557026708
Stars:  2.5

Chronicles of the Undead by Nova Scotia author A. F. Stewart is a captivating, quick to read horror novella that pays homage to the master of all vampire tales, Bram Stoker, and will also immediately bring to mind the author of The Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice.

Set in London, England at the end of the 18th century and in the first quarter of the 19th, A. F. Stewart has chosen the diary format and writes with no dialogue, in the first person of her main characters, Samuel Harrington, his son, Edmund Harrington, and granddaughter, Charlotte Harrington with an authentic voice for the time period.

Chronicles of the Undead begins with the diary (1793-1795) of Samuel Harrington. Harrington is a stock broker who has just met his new neighbours; the mysterious Henri Forain and his beautiful cousin, Eleanor de Burgh. He embarks upon a close knit friendship with Henri based on their mutual common interests which include carousing in the local brothel, drinking and gambling, much to Harrington’s wife Eliza’s dismay.

Harrington soon reveals that he is not happy in his marriage to a disapproving wife and yearns for the life he led in his wilder youth. Indulging in his new found hedonistic delight, Samuel spends his days working on his financial interests and his nights with Henri at Dame Montague’s brothel.

The estranged Eliza complains frequently about Samuel’s vices and his friendship with Henri, so Harrington takes to giving her sound thrashings, and she becomes very meek and amiable which pleases her awful husband. Shortly after, Harrington discovers that his dear friend and partner in hedonism is a vampire!

Will Harrington ever be the same? Will he allow Henri to make him a vampire? What is the exact nature of Henri’s new found relationship with Harrington’s teenage daughter, Flora?

I won’t give away all of the plot, but these are old-fashioned, nasty bloodsuckers who feed on human blood with no remorse.

Stewart’s story continues in part two with the diaries of Harrington’s son Edmund (1795-1797), and concludes in part three with those of his granddaughter, Charlotte (1825-1826).

“Chronicles of the Undead is an intimate portrayal of family, weakness, the lure of evil, and how one selfish act can have horrific consequences.” Although it is not terribly unique, it is a satisfying read that ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, although one can figure out the ending for him/herself. The book has been poorly edited for grammar and punctuation but other than that, it is a fine effort from Ms. Stewart, who has a wonderful imagination and whose main writing focus is in the fantasy and poetry genres.