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.

 

 

 

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Retalio by Alison Morton

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A vile almost inhuman character; a combination of Augustus’s intelligence and the brutal madness of Caligula has overthrown the legal government of Roma Nova and replaced it with a distinctly male dominated presence.  Forced to flee for their lives, many of the Roma Novans; including the indomitable Aurelia and the young Imperatrix, Silvia, begin the long, slow process of reclaiming their homeland.  Throughout this alternative history series I have been fascinated by the author’s ability to conjure up a world that is recognizable and totally believable, and she has done so once again.  Not only are the political, and logistical nuances covered in a thorough, convincing manner, the portrayal of the internal conflicts and emotions of the characters had this humble scribe stopping occasionally to catch his breath.  It is safe to say that Retalio is an excellent addition to this remarkable history of Roma Nova.  The villain, Caius Tellus, as well as ranking high on my favorite fictional bad guys list, bears a certain resemblance to the current occupant of the White House, at least to me.  An unintentional resemblance, I’m sure, but prescient nonetheless.  A page turning delight (with the above mentioned pauses for breath taking), a heart racing tale of intrigue and courage.  5 stars

Rosa by Jeanette Taylor Ford

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Every once in a while I am drawn out of my cocoon, the comfort zone of my favorite reading genres.  In this case I was asked by the author to give Rosa a try despite it being a modern day mystery/romance tale…far from the ancient times, places and subject matter I usually frequent.  Rosa certainly got my attention right away as the story sort of begins at the end giving the reader a kind of heads up that there may be opportunities to try and guess what’s going to happen next.  However, the author doesn’t make it easy to guess correctly as she provides many clues, twists and turns to keep the reader turning the pages.  The characters are well thought out as are the descriptive portions of the narrative as the reader follows Rosa around the estate and surrounding countryside.  I won’t go into spoiler mode about the eventual solving of the mysterious goings on at the manor…suffice to say that it caught me by surprise having formed a different outcome in my own mind as I read the tale.  I guess it is okay to step outside one’s normal habits and try something different on occasion.  4 stars

Insurrectio Roma Nova V by Alison Morton

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I think that one day I am going to have to compile my list of favorite, fictional, evil people.  When I do that Alison Morton’s Caius Tellus will certainly be on that list.  Insurrectio is a taut drama centering on Tellus’ political ambitions…ambitions that could undo centuries of a stable form of government and supplant it with Tellus as a tyrant. Caught in the crosshairs of his ambition is Aurelia Mitela and hoo-boy does he ever hold a grudge.  The story is full of the drama and tension that the author has made a trademark of the Roma Nova series and in spots steps them up even more.  So, if you’re looking for a political thriller this is sure to please.  Strong characters, a plot with lots of twists and turns, love, betrayal, pain and loss make this a 5 star winner.

 

Killer City by Seumas Gallacher

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This is the second Jack Calder book I have read so far, so I sort of knew going in what to expect and those expectations were met.  That is, of course, if you’re expecting a nonstop multi-national thrill ride.  When a colleague’s son is framed for murder, the ISP group spring into action to clear his name.  What they uncover in the process is the very lucrative and powerful gang controlled drug trade in Manchester and are soon up against ruthless foes who will stop at nothing to remove anyone in their way.  I rather enjoyed the byplay between the ISP personnel not only among themselves but also with the other agencies they work with.  It is a somewhat stereotypical macho environment inhabited by a corps of men who have seen the elephant and who are very good at what they do, within or without the parameters of law.   Rather than a detriment to the story, the stereotypes fit in well, after all when watching The Maltese Falcon do you want the stereotypical hard boiled private eye Sam Spade or the frivolous antics of Inspector Clouseau? The frantic action coupled with enough plot twists makes for an entertaining read.  4 stars

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Seumas Gallacher…Author Background

Seumas Gallacher was born in the cradle of the Govan shipyards in Glasgow in the so-called ‘bad old days’, which were really the greatest of days, where everybody was a true character of note. An early career as a trainee banker led to a spell in London, where his pretence to be a missionary converting the English fell on deaf ears. Escape to the Far East in 1980 opened up access to cultures and societies on a global scale, eventually bringing the realisation that the world is simply one large, extended village. The lifelong desire to write resulted in THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY, the first in a planned series. Seumas’ sequel novel, VENGEANCE WEARS BLACK was launched in early July 2012. The third, SAVAGE PAYBACK, was released in late 2013 with at least two other books to follow in the same vein. Ebook downloads on his novels exceed 70,000 to date. Seumas lives in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. wall copy 2 …Authors…why bother doing a Blog?… …yeez can slice and dice umpteen different approaches to maintaining a Blog… as a writer, the conventional wisdom tell yeez it helps to get yeez ‘presence’… well, I think there’s also as many definitions of ‘presence’ as yeez can think of… this ol’ Jurassic’s been scribbling away at this Blog thing for a coupla years now, and must confess the driving force for maintaining it has gradually changed… initially I knew as much about blogging as I did about Mexican knitting patterns or Persian Hieroglyphics… in pursuit of extending readership reach, the Blog was an addendum to the other SOSYAL NETWURKIN channels I dabble with… Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and LinkedIn… I laptop-tapped maybe twice a week, with no rhythm or purpose, no base, no direction… then a few things started to click, mentally, not just on the Mac… the content, which the cognoscenti will tell yeez is paramount, began to take shape… a regularity of style evolved… the crime thrillers lived in the novels, and that can be pretty heavy-duty violent stuff… and any quill-scraper knows it’s vital to have your ‘Author’s Voice’ in the books… I found the Blog forming into an intrinsically different kind of writing… much like cartoons cater to short-term attention from readers, so also, most Blogs attract the same probable eyeball time… ideally for me, anything between 300 and 400 WURDS is plenty, but that’s not set in stone… the Blog becomes the ‘Author’s Brand’… a brand is by definition recognizable… mine attempts to be the tongue-in-cheek, humorous, reflective flow of consciousness of a comparative newbie… an independent, self-publishing plume-pusher… an old f*rt from a separate career, stumbling through the maze that is the new-fangled reality called the Internet… and somehow coming out the other side, still bewildered, but surviving, hopefully successfully… populating the Blog occasionally are a couple of characters, Mabel, and Matron… Mabel is best described as an almost imaginary presence, somewhat akin to the invisible rabbit, Harvey, that the great actor James Stewart conversed with in the movie of the same name… that allows for ‘asides’ and commentary to flow… Matron is the character who keeps the writer in check occasionally by the administering of a huge syringe loaded with no-one quite knows what, and it’s impossible to tell whether or not she’s also a figment of the writer’s addled brain… the biggest change in the impact the Blog has on me is that it permits me to indulge another kind of writing from the novels, and doing it almost daily dictates a discipline I welcome… it now also connects automatically with all my other SOSYAL NETWURK linkages, hitting a possible 14,000+ readers for every Blog Post… and most importantly… IT’S FUN and I’m LUVVIN IT!… Blog                : seumasgallacher.com Twitter                        : @seumasgallacher Facebook         : http://www.facebook.com/seumasgallacher Email               : seumasgallacher@yahoo.com

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Aurelia: Roma Nova IV by Alison Morton

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I can pinpoint when my fascination with ancient Rome began to the viewing of two movies, Ben Hur and Spartacus (yes dear readers, I am that old.)  Nowadays I get my Roman fix through the medium of historical fiction, and there is a lot of that to choose from.  However, the idea that there could still be a remnant of that ancient favorite still extant and thriving is the basis for this wonderful series by Alison Morton, Roma Nova.  A modern nation still bound by many of the old traditions and thriving in the 20th century is what she has not only crafted but done so in such a way as to make you think it was possible.  The fourth book, Aurelia, is a prequel to the first three and centers on the matriarch of the Mitella family and like her namesake, the mother of Gaius Julius Caesar, she is a formidable character.  In the first three books, she is an older woman but still full of wisdom and strength; in the fourth she is a young woman coming into her own as she finds herself thrust into an international plot to undermine the economic stability of the nation and a plot to undermine the matriarchal society that Roma Nova has become.  All of that plus the threat to her life and of that of her family makes for an intense drama built upon the imaginative characters the author has created.  The action and drama is relentless; the climatic conclusion is heart-stopping stuff – in other words; I enjoyed the first three books tremendously; the fourth even more so.  Kudos to the author and a well deserved 5 stars.

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Successio by Alison Morton

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In this the third volume in the Roma-Nova series the author has done her best work to date giving the reader a taut thriller from start to finish.  Carina and Conrad are driven to the edge and beyond as a piece of Conrad’s history in the form of a daughter he did not know about shows up in full time revenge mode.  Revenge not only directed at the father who she feels abandoned her but also against anyone who he is close to including Carina, the Imperatrix and their children.  Nicola, the prodigal daughter from Hades, is an example of how the bad guy/girl should be written in any good novel.  Her perseverance, resourcefulness and the downright ruthlessness of her character are what good stories are made of.  By the same token, those same qualities are imbued once again in the heroine making her once again occasionally act outside the purview of law and order to safeguard her family. This is definitely a page turner of the highest order and while I really enjoyed the first two books, this one captivated me even more.  5 stars and a hearty recommendation.