Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

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Let me preface my remarks with this useful tidbit. Whenever I am asked to name my favorite author(s), or which author(s) I would invite to a dinner party, two names always top the list(s) – Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut. In a way those choices do seem a bit odd, given that most of my reading of their work was decades ago, and I have since been exposed to so many really wonderful writers. Perhaps my preference for Mark and Kurt stems from the simple fact that they present a look at America unclouded by myth and legend. And that, my peeps and fellow travelers, is what I like – a questioning of the status quo, a questioning of what we value in this country, a questioning of where we are heading.

Kilgore Trout, a prolific writer of science fiction novels, novels that only see the light of day in tawdry, men’s magazines, is unexpectedly invited to an Arts Festival. Dwayne Hoover, a well to do car salesman, unexpectedly meets Kilgore Trout and in the course of events reads one of Trout’s books, thus setting in motion a climatic ending that includes Kilgore meeting his maker. Among the truths Dwayne discovered in the book is this:

You are pooped and demoralized, ” read Dwayne. “Why wouldn’t you be? Of course it is exhausting, having to reason all the time in a universe which wasn’t meant to be reasonable.”

Taking on and skewering many of the characteristics of the human race, and the chaotic, random, arbitrary nature of the universe, the author blends his pessimism with his sardonic wit and has produced another masterpiece. Listen – I challenge my peeps and fellow travelers who have not read Vonnegut to rectify that…  Sirens of Titan – Slaughterhouse Five – God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, etc, etc. At the least you will be entertained, perhaps you may even begin to question things.  🙂

5 Stars

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Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army by Edoardo Albert

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A delightful tale of a rather unusual monk and his attempts to get rich while avoiding the Danish horde that is running roughshod over Britain. Conrad is a schemer, always ready with a plan; which is a good thing as his plans have a way of not going according to plan. His companion, Brother Odo, a very devout monk, unwavering in his faith in God and in Conrad’s plan(s), provides much of the mirth while also provoking sympathy from the reader. The author has crafted an entertaining version of the Danes – the sons of Ragnar; Ivarr, Ubba, and Halfdan – and the eventual clash with Aethelred and Alfred. I particularly enjoy historical-fiction when the historical events are written in such a way that the fictional aspect; the interaction of the fictional characters with the historical, the way that the story is tweaked to allow the reader to think, “Yeah, it could have happened that way.” Conrad Monk and The Great Heathen Army did just that while also sparking periodic chuckles and chortles from this amused reader.  4 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ripples on the Pond by Sebnem E. Sanders

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First, a confession, I cannot remember the last time I read a collection of short stories, Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury somehow sticks in my mind, and while I have enjoyed Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and the like; I am, and probably will remain, for the most part, a novel reader. It was mere curiosity that found me asking to review this anthology.  Now, having said that I must also confess that Ripples on the Pond just might have me looking at the genre a bit more closely.  What I found, my peeps and fellow travelers, in Ripples on the Pond is a compelling collection of well crafted stories. Stories that evoke the gamut of human emotions and experiences; glimpses of love, joy, loss, and hope permeate the pages and like a pebble dropped into water, the stories leave ripples of humanity seeking truth and fulfillment. A brief example from Mummy’s Torchlight:

Toby bowed, turned around, and left the building, his head bursting with thoughts. His hatred and vengeance had dissolved into sadness and pity, but mostly sadness…a feeling of loss. Something he’d have to live with for the rest of his life. He knew one thing for certain. He’d never return. Before he drove away from the Acacia Retreat, Toby held the torch tight in his hand. “I have confronted him, Mummy. I’ve done it for you and me. Rest in peace.” On the way home, he stopped on an old wooden bridge and threw the torch into the mirror surfaced creek. He waited as the ripples extended outward and disappeared.

Time and again throughout the 71 stories, one comes up against harsh realities,  compassion, and much, much more that make us human. Entertainment and enlightenment are in store for you, dear reader.  5 stars

Blurb

A man infatuated with ivy. A woman pining for lost love. In a Turkish square, ancient buildings lament a devastating explosion. An unlikely friendship struck up with a homeless person. A journey to a magical place that once visited can never be found again. The camaraderie between the patients in a cancer ward. A writer who has lost his muse. A tragedy that leads to dementia. These are just a few of seventy individual tales set in locations straddling continents, which portray war, love, hate, hope, greed, revenge, despair, humour, mystical happenings, fantasy, and so much more. Like ripples expanding on the surface of a pond to reach its banks, they converge in this anthology of flash fiction and short stories by Sebnem E. Sanders in her debut release.

Short Bio

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have been published on the Harper Collins Authonomy BlogThe Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag and Spelk Fiction. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child.  Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, has been published in December 2017. Her stories have also been published in two Anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work: https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/         

 

Life’s Big Zoo by R.S. Gompertz

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 I first learned of the author from another author friend of mine.  I had sent him a couple short pieces I had written and he replied that I wrote sort of like this guy Ron Gompertz.  Well I needed to check that out so I read his No Roads to Rome books and decided that it was okay to be compared to Ron. When the author first told me about this new book of his and what it was about, I thought great.  The main story line concerns a 13 year old and taking place in the year 1968.  I figured I would have a lot in common with the main character even though I was 17 in 1968 to Max’s 13 and I grew up in Detroit while Max was in Laurel Canyon, outside of L.A.  While Max’s adventures and acquaintances were different than mine, we both experienced the threat of nuclear war, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the 1968 Democratic Convention/protests, the Vietnam War, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, etc, etc.  Another difference between us is that Max is Jewish and is about to be Mitzvahed and I was a Protestant about to begin questioning my faith.  It is Max’s Jewish faith and heritage that plays an important part of this story but the author also interjects some wonderful scenes with the hippie denizens of Laurel Canyon.  Some of the luminaries encountered in this time of an amazing musical explosion are Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Cass Eliot and the infamous drummer from the Monkees, Mickey Dolenz.   Oh yeah, the chapter about The Doors is worth the price of admission.

I can’t say enough good things about the characters in this book.  Everyone comes across as totally believable and many mimic traits that I recognize in some of the parallel figures in my life in 1968.  The author seamlessly weaves some very serious plot lines in among the humorous scenes and indeed the second half of the book is of a more somber tone, though some of the shenanigans during the Mitzvah ceremony are not only funny but brought back my own memories of the 1968 World Series and my boyhood hero Al Kaline.  I hesitate to say too much regarding the subject matter as to not spoil its intense emotional pull on the heart that any reader is bound to experience.  Kudos to the author for making me laugh, making me remember, and for making me cry.  5 stars and the highly sought after Hoover Book Review’s “This book will change your life” recommendation ..

 

An interview with Ron Gompertz

Today I am privileged to welcome to my humble, yet insightful, book review blog, Ron Gompertz, author of the delightful No Roads Lead to Rome series.  Ron was recommended to me by fellow author, SJA Turney who, after reading one of my short works said it reminded him of Ron’s style.  Well, I did not know I even had a style so was intrigued by the comparison and that has led to this; an interview with the man, himself.  Ron has a new book coming out, Life’s Big Zoo and it’s a bit different than his Roman historical fiction.

  1. Hello Ron and thanks for your time. The first thing that popped into my mind while reading Life’s Big Zoo was, how much of this is autobiographical?

 

“Life’s Big Zoo” started off as a memoir and, like most memoirs, quickly turned to fiction. That said, the story of a precocious kid growing up between the shadow of the holocaust and the bright lights of the sixties is heavily influenced by my own experiences. I was too young to really participate in the sixties, but old enough to feel both the fear and exhilaration of the times.

 

I was raised Jewish. My father and his parents managed to get out of Nazi Germany just in time. Most of their extended family wasn’t so lucky.  Growing up with this history meant being an outsider in mainstream America and definitely informed much of the novel.

 

I grew up in Los Angeles like my protagonist. I saw the sixties unfolding from the window of the city bus I rode across town to my “special” elementary school. I listened to KHJ (“Boss Radio for Boss Angeles”) and Wolfman Jack on my transistor radio, listened to the neighborhood garage bands, and was scared by the nightly news.

 

 

  1. I was struck over and over with the comparisons with my own experiences in the late 60’s, the conflict arising between, in my case Christian beliefs and the counter culture of the hippies. In your book it is the Jewish faith of Max’s family up against the residents of Laurel Canyon.

The sixties were a time for seeking meaning and searching outside one’s faith or tribe of origin for universal truths. I was very aware of this, even as a kid trying to figure things out.

“Life’s Big Zoo” is a culturally Jewish story, Jewish with an emphasis on “-ish,” a sort of “Catcher in the Rye Bread” that I hope captures the zeitgeist of Laurel Canyon in 1968. I hope it will resonate beyond just my tribe of origin.

 

My father’s brand of Judaism was very tolerant of asking big questions and seeing the universality of all faiths. My parents certainly weren’t hippies, but they were very open minded so I spent my energy rebelling against Nixon instead of them.

I’m hoping that baby boomers will find some universal truths and that younger readers will learn something about their parents (or grandparents!) in seeing the kaleidoscopic world of 1968 through the eyes of a twelve year-old protagonist coming of age under peculiar circumstances.

  1. I fell in love with your characters especially Hannah, Max’s grandmother. She is a joy.

Readers love Nana! My real German grandmother was full of old country wisdom that inspired the character in my book. She wasn’t quite the superhero I created in the book, but she really did say, “God keeps a big zoo.”

 

  1. Max’s brother, Tommy, now he could be a composite of guys I grew up with, although I never met Zappa. That must have been quite the scene at old Tom Mix’s cabin.

Tommy brings the rock-and-roll! Back then there were garage bands in every neighborhood and the dream of love, peace, and music was infectious.

I set the story in Laurel Canyon because it was the center of the folk rock universe. Everyone was there from Joni Mitchell to The Doors and everyone in between (including my favorite band at the time, The Monkees”).  Laurel Canyon was an artistic and cultural nexus like Paris between the world wars. It’s impossible to overstate how significant and downright groovy it was.

Draft-age, poor student Tommy also brings the specter of Vietnam whose significance is also hard to overstate. Growing up, I figured that if the H-bomb didn’t get me, the war would. Few of us expected to live past the age of thirty.

 

  1. While humor does permeate the entire story, the latter third takes on a more somber tone. Without giving anything away, how much of the trip to Germany is true?

The Germany trip was fiction inspired my father’s return to his hometown of Krefeld, fifty years after escaping. He and the other survivors were invited back by schoolkids doing a history project in 1987. He had never intended to return, much less give speeches and meet with journalists and city officials. Meeting the children and grandchildren of the Nazis on this and a subsequent trip brought him to the terrifying question of what he would have done had he not been born Jewish.

We’d all like to think of ourselves as heroes, but history continues to suggest that most of us would remain silent. In “Life’s Big Zoo” I suggest that heroism wears many faces.

 

Once again, thanks to Ron for taking the time to enlighten me, and my peeps and fellow travelers.

My pleasure! Thanks for your interest and support, Paul.

 

 

 

No Roads Lead to Rome – R.S. Gompertz

Another hilarious jaunt through the garden spot of Hispania, the city of Tarraco. I say another as I read the second book in the series,Aqueduct to Nowhere, first. The governor has been murdered and his replacement has arrived and in trying to impose his style of governing finds to his dismay that he is handcuffed by corporate entities that really run things(sound familiar?). Severus,one of the main characters, is thrown from his home during a fit of proscription and ends up a conscript legionnaire. His commanding officer is Centurion Marcus Valerius a twenty year veteran who only wants to retire and collect his pension. The city is broke and owes Hadrian his tribute; Winus Minem, erstwhile adviser to the governor, hatches a scheme to corner the wine market. They order the city garrison to cross the border into Gaul and acquire oak wood barrels, a task they carry out in shall we say, an over enthusiastic manner. The story is full of the unlikely, the ironic and the just plain funny scenarios. One in particular, Severus is standing post as the legion is camped. He ventures to investigate voices off in the distance. What he finds is his father preaching to a group of outcasts on Moses and the Burning Bush. The conversation and negotiation between God and Moses concerning the Commandments is worth the price of admission.
No Roads Lead to Rome is a madcap tale of intrigue, greed, heroism; all the traits that made Rome great. It is a wonderful satire on what makes a society run, for good or ill. 5 stars.

Aqueduct to Nowhere by R.S. Gompertz

A bit about the author:

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R.S. Gompertz grew up in a suburb of Disneyland. Since then, he has lived and worked in the USA, France and Spain.

He writes historical fiction served up in a thick broth of humor and adventure.

The inspiration for his first novel “No Roads Lead to Rome” came while hiking in the hills above Barcelona, Spain when he stumbled over an ancient wagon rut and realized things hadn’t changed all that much in 2000 years. The story came to him in a blinding flash that took the next 5 years to extract.

The action takes place in A.D. 123, a time not unlike the present, and chronicles the decline and fall of damn near everything.

“No Roads” was a semi-finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. The book has been very popular on political humor and historical fiction lists.

The saga continues in “Aqueduct to Nowhere,” the standalone sequel to “No Roads Lead to Rome.”

While working on “No Roads,” he published a series of articles about travel and expat life, the first volume of which is now available as “The Expat’s Pajamas: Barcelona” on Kindle.

Aqueduct to Nowhere – Review

Two of my favorite genres collide in this entertaining  look see at a Saturnalia Festival in Tarraco, Roman historical fiction and humor.    Quirky characters and hilarious situations abound as the main character, Severus, tries to solve the many issues that crop up.  One corrupt governor has died and his successor is on the lam.  Severus is thrust into the position of head of Tarraco security and is faced with, among other things, finding the missing governor so he can be on hand for The Trial of the Century, solving the murder of the preceding governor, dealing with a band of Amazonian-like pirates led by the wife of the missing governor(and who is also the prosecutor of her husband), a Jewish zealot of a brother who turns everything into a diatribe against Rome, an angry crowd of fire displaced plebeians and a new set of rapacious government officials.  Oh and let us not forget the set of Praetorian assassins,a fortune telling would be girlfriend, and a pair of rumor mongering news anchors.  This story pokes fun at everything as it threads it’s way through every strata of society.  I think my favorite scene takes place on a doomed ship caught in a storm; on this ship you have four differing views on what god to pray to for help.  The sailor is a Christian, the brother is a Judean whose goal is to restore the Temple in Jerusalem, the Praetorian is a follower of Mithras and Severus talks to Neptune.  I won’t say anymore so as to not spoil anything or to influence anyone’s belief system.

Suffice to say that now that I have read Aqueduct I will be reading the prequel No Roads Lead to Rome.  5  stars given; Io Saturnalia.