Posts Tagged Aaron Paul Lazar

Romance Saturday Returns with Aaron Paul Lazar’s “Devil’s Lake”

It’s Romance Saturday here at Shiny Book Review! And as it also happens to be Valentine’s Day, what could be better than Aaron Paul Lazar’s suspenseful romance DEVIL’S LAKE?

I’ve deliberately held Lazar’s romance for Valentine’s Day precisely because it’s the best romantic suspense novel I’ve read in quite some time. Twenty-something Portia Lamont was abducted two years ago, and has finally broken free from her terrible captivity. Beaten, nearly broken, and dangerously thin, she gets in her captor’s truck and makes her way home to her parents’ Vermont horse farm.

Once there, she runs into Boone Hawke, a kind man she’s known since childhood, who’s been running her parents’ farm due to her mother’s cancer treatment in far-away New York City. As Portia can barely stand the sight of any man due to the nature of her captivity (let’s just say she was assaulted multiple times, sexually and otherwise, and be done with it), she nearly faints…but after Boone coaxes her to eat a little something, she does. She refuses to say anything about what happened to her…it’s all she can do to stand.

Boone decides the best thing to do is to allow Portia to get some rest. She does, and as she sleeps, Boone calls Portia’s parents and sister, Grace, to let them know Portia’s returned home — but is far from well.

Over time, Portia regains some of her old strength and health. Only then does she open up and tell Boone and the others that she thinks she killed her captor, a sociopath known only as Murphy, in her break for freedom. They hide the truck she’d driven up to the farm by driving it into the deep end of a lake; after that, Portia tells the Sheriff that she hitched from Wisconsin, where she’d been being held in a deserted, remote cabin — a lie, but Portia’s afraid that she’ll be hauled to jail if Murphy is dead.

Boone and Grace’s husband, Anderson, manage to figure out who Murphy is. He’s Charles C. Murphy from Baraboo, Wisconsin, an avid fisherman and former high school football star. They decide to leave for Wisconsin to try to find the cabin Portia’s told them about, and do so before Portia can get up to try to stop them. Once they get there, they find the cabin, exactly as Portia described it — but Murphy is long gone.

Not long after Boone and Anderson return to Vermont, they find a graffito spray-painted onto the family barn that indicates Murphy must be nearby. But worrying about Murphy isn’t the only problem; it seems that Portia’s mother, Daisy, has taken a turn for the worse, and needs to get to the hospital very soon. But as Portia, Boone and Anderson start to return to the house, gunfire rings out. Murphy’s found them.

The rest of the plot, I leave for you to read. But I believe if you enjoy romantic suspense and big bad guys decidedly getting theirs, you will enjoy DEVIL’S LAKE. There’s some twists and turns here that surprised me a bit (most particularly Grace’s actions late in the book, of which I will say nothing more); there’s also some sweet, innocent romance between the wounded Portia and the man who’s loved her since childhood, Boone, along with some slightly more spicy fare between Grace, a former drug abuser, and her long-suffering husband Anderson.

The best thing about DEVIL’S LAKE is its emotional honesty. I fully believed in Portia’s journey back from a living Hell. I also believed in Boone’s quiet, steady love for her. And the way Portia’s parents reacted — compassionate and caring, they never once blame Portia for the mess and only want Murphy brought to justice soonest — is the way you’d want anyone’s parents to react after such a traumatic event. Portia’s brother-in-law Anderson was a nice surprise, and all the other good guys, from the local doctor to the sheriff and his deputies, were all fine as well.

But the best part of the book, to me at least, was Grace — Portia’s sister. Sassy, opinionated, and smart, she is openly flawed but doesn’t care one whit about what anyone else thinks. Grace was refreshing, and I’d love to see her whole story someday as I’m betting her road back from drug abuse would be quite a page-turner in its own right.

Bottom line? DEVIL’S LAKE is a very solid, suspenseful romance from beginning to end, and I enjoyed it immensely. It’s a bit raw in spots, but ultimately it ends in a heartwarming happily ever after that I fully believed in.

Grade: A.

–reviewed by Barb

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Aaron Paul Lazar’s “Spirit Me Away” — Fast, Fun Mystery

Aaron Paul Lazar’s latest mystery in his long-running Gus LeGarde mystery series is SPIRIT ME AWAY. The time is 1969, the place is (mostly) Boston, Gus and his newlywed wife Elsbeth are college music students, and they encounter a strange, yet hauntingly beautiful young woman named Valerie — just Valerie — who’s lost her memory and most of her belongings, and is in need of a family, stat.

Now, Gus and Elsbeth may be young, but they have strong familial instincts. Because of them, they can’t leave her at a hospital and forget about her, as many would . . . besides, Gus has a talent for solving mysteries, and the mystery of just who Valerie is won’t let him go.

So Gus and Elsbeth bring Valerie into their lives, and into their apartment. They feed her, nurture her, and try to figure out who she is and where she came from. They want her to find her family, if she has one; until then, they will be her family.

Besides, it’s not as if they don’t already have a family of sorts around them already. There’s Byron, a black British tenor from the music school, a love ’em and leave ’em type; Lana, a sexy young Latina whose job as a “waitress” isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be; and Porter, a young Vietnam vet Elspeth works with. The first two are Gus and Elsbeth’s roommates, while Porter seems to be a frequent visitor.

All five of them take a solid interest in Valerie, because she truly needs the help. And over time, they find out about just enough of Valerie’s past to sincerely upset them. Valerie herself is good, but the people who’ve been in her life in the not-so-distant past definitely aren’t. And white slavers have targeted her for an acquisition due to her ethereal beauty, too . . . how will they keep Valerie away from such dangerous people, especially considering the fact that Gus is decidedly nonviolent?

All of this is a great deal of plot to handle. But it doesn’t feel unwieldy thanks to how thoroughly Lazar grounds SPIRIT ME AWAY in reality. First, Gus and Elsbeth’s romance is realistic and earthy — hey, they’re newlyweds! — and gives a very solid sense of who they are. Second, because they’re both “foodies,” the need for comfort food comes into play often. (Never underestimate the power of this, not in books, not in real life.) Third, there truly was a problem with white slavery in the late 1960s in many big cities, Boston among them, partly due to the nature of the times. And fourth, because Gus and Elsbeth already have many friends around them, it truly doesn’t seem like a hardship for them to add one more in Valerie.

So will Valerie find out where she comes from and who she is? Will her nascent romance with Porter bear fruit? And what does Woodstock (yes, that Woodstock) have to do with it all?

I enjoyed SPIRIT ME AWAY quite a bit. There’s a lot of plot here, some wonderfully realized characters, a goodly amount of romance, a whole lot of suspense, and it’s not quite as cozy a mystery as most of the others in the LeGarde mystery series (a mystery with white slavery as one of its components probably couldn’t qualify as a cozy anyway, methinks). But it’s a fast, fun, and furious read with some really good characterization and a number of excellent  musical references.

Bottom line? Whether you’ve read any of the Gus LeGarde series before or not, you should enjoy SPIRIT ME AWAY if you love mysteries — particularly mysteries mixed with a dash or two of romantic suspense.

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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Aaron Paul Lazar’s “Lady Blues” — a Warm, Comforting Mystery

Aaron Paul Lazar’s LADY BLUES is the tenth novel in his ongoing series of mystery novels featuring amateur sleuth and music professor Gus LeGarde. These are warm, comforting books full of food and atmosphere, where Gus solves mysteries partly through deduction, partly through his own friendly nature and partly because he knows everyone else in his community. (Note: an earlier book of Lazar’s that did not feature LeGarde, THE SEACREST, was reviewed here.)

The biggest part of the plot of LADY BLUES has to do with a musical mystery. Who is “John Smith,” a man with no past in a local nursing home? Why does he remember a singer named Bella (also nicknamed “Lady Blues”) when nearly all his other memories have flown? And what do his half-remembered snippets of musical knowledge have to do with anything?

The octogenarian man without a past is eventually revealed to be Kip Sterling, a musician who went missing in 1944 during World War II.  Sterling is a standout character you can’t help but root for, especially when you realize he’s taking a new drug to combat his memory loss (perhaps due to Alzheimer’s disease) . . . and the drug, Memorphyl, has actually worked.

But then, a new formulation of the drug makes every patient in the nursing home ill, and all the patients — including Sterling — start to lose their memories again. Then a friendly nurse goes missing after giving Gus samples of both the “old pills” (the older formulation, that worked) and the “new pills” (that don’t). And then, as if that weren’t enough, Sterling himself goes missing, too . . . just after Bella has been found, still alive, and wishes to reunite with him. (Further reviewer sayeth not.)

So there’s plenty of plot and drama, though it’s not the in-your-face type . . . and as if that central mystery isn’t enough, there are plenty of other, smaller mysteries for Gus to solve during LADY BLUES as well.

For example, one of the biggest subplots is about a mysterious Korean seamstress named Lily. She worked in her brother’s shop for years, but he watched her like a hawk and she never learned much English. Now, the shop has burned down and her brother is gravely ill, she doesn’t even know where her legal paperwork is, and is at some risk of being deported (before the papers are found).

Why is Lily in America at all? Why didn’t her brother let her mix with other people? And finally, is her attraction to Gus’s friend Siegfried — who’s also the brother of Gus’s deceased first wife — legitimate, or not?

Mind, all of the mysteries will eventually be solved in a way reminiscent of the gentler episodes of the old TV show “Murder, She Wrote.” But plot is not the only reason to read LADY BLUES . . . oh, no. The story itself was fast-paced, well-researched, and interesting. And I appreciated all of the atmospheric touches, including the various dishes Gus makes along the way and the descriptions of a rambunctious, loving extended family.

However, there were some things that bothered me about LADY BLUES, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point them out.

First, at least two of the mysteries were very easily solved. I would’ve preferred a few more red herrings to throw me off the scent a bit.

Second, I also would’ve preferred a bit more obvious frustration in a few spots, such as when Sterling goes missing. Considering Gus has taken to Sterling in a big way, it didn’t make much sense that Gus was able to be so serene about the poor old gentleman being missing after the drugs that had brought back his memory were switched.

Third, I had a hard time believing that no one in Gus’s family — save his put-upon housekeeper, that is — ever gets angry or says cross words to another. (Even the housekeeper immediately apologized, the one time she snapped.) That is not realistic, even in a cozy mystery, and it snapped me out of the reader’s trance on more than one occasion.

Bottom line? LADY BLUES is an intelligent, warm cozy mystery with atmosphere galore and a hero to root for in Gus LeGarde. It’s a fun, fast read and I enjoyed it immensely. But the lack of even the most minor family arguments in a big, boisterous family did not seem plausible.

Grade: B-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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Romance Saturday Returns with Aaron Paul Lazar’s “The Seacrest”

Folks, it’s Saturday night . . . and long-term readers of Shiny Book Review know exactly what that means.

Yes, it’s time — and past time — for a romance.  Which is why I turned to Aaron Paul Lazar’s THE SEACREST, a sensual contemporary romance with a rather interesting hook.  THE SEACREST features Finn McGraw, an artist-turned-handyman, and Libby Vanderhorn, a wealthy horsewoman whose family he works for . . . who also happens to be his first love, who spurned Finn years earlier, reasons unknown.

At the beginning of THE SEACREST, Finn’s working at Libby’s family’s horse ranch, The Seacrest.  He’s flat broke, tired, has no time for his art work, and his marriage to Cora seems a bit off . . . then he gets shocking news: his wife has been found dead, and his estranged brother Jaxson with her — the two being passengers in Jaxson’s car at the time it went over a cliff.  Jaxson was drunk at the time, so their deaths are quickly ruled “death by misadventure.”

Finn, of course, is absolutely devastated.  He and Cora weren’t really getting along, no, but she was his wife and he sincerely loved her, even though it wasn’t the passionate love he’d felt years earlier with Libby.  And the circumstances of her death make no sense to him; as far as he knew, Cora and Jaxson didn’t even know each other, so what were they doing together?

Then, Finn finds out that despite being estranged from Jaxson, Finn is Jaxson’s sole heir — the rest of their family having died in a house fire years ago.  (It’s because of that house fire that neither brother has spoken to one another for years, as Finn believes that Jaxson had something to do with it.)  And Jaxson was extremely well-off due to a number of investments, to the point that Jaxson has restored the old family home (yes, the same one that had been damaged in the house fire) to its previous dimensions.

Finn debates a little, but decides he’s going to accept Jaxson’s inheritance.  (This makes sense considering how angry Finn is with Jaxson, who was having an affair with Finn’s wife.)  But because Libby and her family still need help at The Seacrest, he continues to help them while slowly adjusting to his new life — and his twin losses.

But that’s not all that’s going on here, as Libby’s soldier husband has been missing in action and presumed dead for three years in the Middle East for over three years.  But “presumed dead” is not nearly the same thing as actually dead . . . so what happens after Libby’s husband shows back up again?

I’ll stop there with the plot summary, as I really don’t want to spoil your reading.  (Granted, I’ve gone a bit further than most reviewers as it is.)

So there’s plenty here to keep you riveted, if you’re a romance reader.  There’s Finn, a deeply honorable man who never, but never, cheated on his wife, finding out that his wife was not as faithful as he by a mile.  There’s Libby, who’s been mistaken for years about Finn and Finn’s motivations, which is why she spurned him in the first place.  And there’s all the stuff going on about their families — Libby’s is enormously wealthy, and that’s one reason Finn wasn’t immediately welcomed as a sixteen-year-old suitor, while Finn’s is deceased in the present day, but vitally alive in the many flashback chapters.

Speaking of that, the dual setup of “present day/past actions” works nicely in THE SEACREST, to the point that I didn’t skip any of the sections — not even once, which is quite rare in my experience as I usually am quite impatient with numerous flashback sequences.

You see, the reason I didn’t skip anything — and the reason I didn’t even want to skip over anything — is because of Aaron Paul Lazar’s effortless prose.  I cared about Finn from the very first chapter, you see.  I cared about him in the present, wounded heart and all . . . and I cared about him in the past when he was a virginal, lovestruck teen.

More to the point, there wasn’t a character here I wasn’t interested in reading about — not the odious Jaxson, nor the rather shallow and spoiled Cora, nor complex and tormented Libby, and not even Libby’s nasty husband, Ian.  Because all of them worked in the context of this novel, and all of them held my interest.

That, my friends, is the power of a truly great romance writer.  Which is what Aaron Paul Lazar is — this being his first-ever romance novel notwithstanding.  (Mind, he’s written many, many other books, almost all of them mysteries of one description or other, which is one reason his characterization and plot are so assured.)

Now, as far as what I thought of the plot?  It’s what you’d expect, really, of a good-to-better sensual contemporary romance.  You have two lovers, Finn and Libby, who’ve been parted for far too long with reasons that don’t stand up under the weight of adult examination — and when they try to get back together, all sorts of adult obligations get in the way.  But the power of love has the ability to conquer all obstacles if you let it . . . which means that if you give THE SEACREST time to work its magic, you’ll almost assuredly enjoy it as much as I did.

The only minor drawback is this — the ending wrapped up a little too quickly and a little too neatly for my liking.  (Then again, romance readers want a HEA — happily ever after — and Lazar delivered, so that’s why it’s a minor issue.)  I would’ve liked to see another ten pages to fully flesh out the last plot complication, and I definitely would’ve liked to see these two actually marrying.  (Which really shouldn‘t be considered a spoiler — it’s how they get there that I tried hard not to spoil!)

Bottom line?  THE SEACREST is a winning romance full of heart and soul.  I enjoyed it immensely, and hope it won’t be Lazar’s last foray into the romance genre.

Grade: A-minus.

— reviewed by Barb

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