Friday, July 20, 2012

No time to read? Try audio books!

copyright, 2012 Aaron Paul Lazar

I have become totally nuts about audiobooks recently. Oh, sure, I knew about audiobooks. I’d even rented a few from the Cracker Barrel years ago when I was working on the second shift and made the hour drive home around midnight every night. I remember loving hearing Tony Hillerman read his books to me as I glided through the night on the dark ribbon of highway.

Since then, I really hadn’t given them a thought.

That is, until I started a partnership with ACX (owned by Audible, which is in turn owned by Amazon) to get my own novels made into audio books. We have five available now with several more in production. It's been a real blast and has opened up many new opportunities for me as an author. But that’s another topic for another article. This re-introduction to the audio book media, if I may call it that, as been phenomenal.

I began listening to recorded chapters made by the various narrators I'd teamed up with to produce my mysteries. I listened in the car, using my iPhone through the Bluetooth connection. No wires, just press a button and the sound comes out of the car speakers. Oh, how I love that! Alternatively, I just plug in ear buds to my phone and listen using a free Audible app. Oh, it’s so easy, and so addicting.

I read a great deal. Since eBooks have become so accessible through Kindle and iPhones and all other devices, I am constantly reading, whether it be on the plane, in line at the grocery store, in the doctor’s waiting room, or at night in bed. I’m going through at least twice as many books than when we had only print books on hand, and am just loving it.

However, there is a lot of down time in my life in which I wish I could be writing or reading. Since I can’t write while commuting back and forth to work or while doing my hour walk each morning (other than imagining scenes in my head), I’ve become addicted to listening to audio books during both activities.

I started out with Michael Prescott’s audio book, Blind Pursuit and was hooked from the first moments of listening. The narrator—a superb actress named Allison McLemore—is a genius at assigning distinct and powerful voices to each of the characters. Okay, so this writer is one of my favorite thriller writers in the world. He is polished, highly skilled, and knows how to craft an edge-of-the-seat suspense story without letting you breathe between the scenes. I am crazy about his books, and usually read them on Kindle.

I could rave on and on about Prescott's talent. Since I listened to Blind Pursuit, I also listened to Mortal Pursuit (a hot fast ride you’ll never forget narrated by another talented narrator named Gayle Hendrix), and have just downloaded Deadly Pursuit. Now I can’t imagine my days without someone reading to me enroute to work or on the lonely dirt road where I walk every morning. It’s pure bliss.

The cost is actually more reasonable than you might think. Oh, sure, the books are more than your typical $2.99 eBook. If you’ve become accustomed to getting lots of free eBooks and paying a buck per book, the cost of $18.00 per average book might astound you. But if you join at the basic level of $14.95 per month, you are entitled to one free audio book per month. I got Deadly Pursuit (eleven and a half hours of listening!) which was priced at $24.95 for the monthly fee of $14.95. It’s worth every penny, and frankly, I would have paid the full price without hesitating.

How do you download an audiobook?

It’s easy. Unlike the bulky multiple disk sets that I used to rent at the Cracker Barrel, this process is painless, you can do it while sitting at your desk or walking in the wilderness (as long as you have a 3G signal!), and there is nothing to carry around with you or stick into CD players.

Simply find the book(s) you want, buy them through Amazon, Audible, or iTunes, and they are automatically deposited in your Audible Library. You can download from the buy page, or wait until you’re ready to read. I use my iPhone. I downloaded the Audible app, for free of course, and then I go right into my library to search for my book. Click "download", and in a very short time you will have one or two files containing all of the hours of intense production that went into the recording of the book aright at your fingertips. Just click on the file, and listen! You also are allowed to burn one set of CDs if you like, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do this when you can just access the file from anywhere, anytime. Why waste the money and time on disks?

Well, I’m off to start listening to Mr. Prescott’s newest book. I’m learning as a writer about how the very best man in his field accomplishes his taut suspense and relentless tension. So not only am I being totally entertained, using my time wisely, but I’m learning as I go. How can you go wrong with that scenario?

If you want to listen to some great audio books and don’t know where to start, may I suggest to take a listen to the excerpts of my own mystery audio books at I highly recommend Terror Comes Knocking, narrated by Mr. Robert King Ross. It’s new, and it’s beautifully rendered by this accomplished actor. Let me know what you think if you listen!

Aaron Paul Lazar

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review for Missing in Mexico by Stuart Gustafson

Title:  Missing in Mexico
Author:  Stuart Gustafson
Genre: Mystery
Kindle eBook: $2.99
Trade Paperback: $14.95
ISBN-10: 0977172740
ISBN-13: 978-0977172740
Author’s website:

Missing in Mexico is a fine first novel, filled with a genuine sense of place and easy-to-read prose. Many debut novelists fall prey to overwritten prose with too many adverbs or adjectives, excessive “telling,” and laborious narratives. Mr. Gustafson has, for the most part, avoided those traps, and does a good job of simply telling the story in a natural style. Gustafson also includes a bit of education at the beginning of each chapter, where he provides us with a simple Spanish lesson. I enjoyed this aspect of the novel because although I’ve studied French and German, I’d only taken on semester of Spanish in high school and the memory-jogging was fun.

When Robert and Tina Johnson visit Mexico with their daughter Sarah and her best friend Mary, they had no premonition of the impending horror they were about to endure. When the joint vacation is over, they leave the girls (both college freshmen) to enjoy a few extended days in Los Cabos, an area they deemed quite safe, knowing the girls needed a little time to unwind before returning to college after Christmas break.

When Mary gets on the plane with Sarah right behind her, she’s shocked when the girl doesn’t show after making a beeline for a last minute purchase. The plane leaves without Sarah, and the mystery begins.

Did Sarah miss the plane on purpose? Or did someone kidnap her? Is she alive? Or dead? The most important question, however, is whether Stan Walkorski—the private eye the Johnson’s hired—will find the girl in this strange but beautiful land.

The author has achieved a great start to his series here, buoyed by his extensive knowledge of the land of Los Cabos, Mexico. While his travel knowledge sometimes crept into the story a bit too often to maintain taut suspense (there was a long section about the art district that was interesting but not crucial to the story), in general the tension was well-maintained.

Gustafson makes his readers care about Sarah and her parents, who suffered dreadfully and imagined the worst every waking hour of their days that stretched from weeks to months; and also about the protagonist (Stan). I couldn’t help but wonder, however, why he became involved with a woman he met on the plane who originated from the Los Cabos area, and then just let the woman go without really fighting to find her. (I really liked her and was very disappointed when that didn’t work out and he started seeing a new woman he also met on the plane.). In real life, things like this do happen, so I chalked it up to the author’s right to choose.

As a last note, I do believe the title is a real winner – how can anyone resist a mystery named “Missing in Mexico?” I’ll be interested to see how this author progresses in his travel mystery series, and where he’ll take us next!

Review by Aaron Paul Lazar,

Sunday, July 08, 2012

How to Turn a Loving Papa into a Monster (or revisiting the scenes of the crimes)

To be fair, I must preface this by saying that we did have a wonderful time at Tall Pines during our near week-long July 4th vacation. My wife Dale, grandson Julian (9), and grandson Gordon (8) traveled to the locale of my newest mystery series on the Saturday before Independence Day with Amber, one of our sweet dogs. We left Balto home (much to his dismay) to keep watch over my wife's mother and the boys' mom, Jenn, while we were in the Adirondacks. It wasn't until the ride home that I fell apart, but more about that later.

My daughter, Melanie and her husband Jay came up for a few days. We hadn't seen them since Thanksgiving, so that was a treat. And the boys were so happy to have playmates! We had a ball on the Speculator boardwalk called the Speculator Pathway on the Kunjamuk River.

The experience was exactly what I'd envisioned -- my grandsons and I played army and hide 'n seek in the woods around camp. We went for walks with Amber every morning. We spent hours every day in the "Jacuzzi," a small dammed up swimming hole on the Tall Pines property, where we rebuilt the dam with smooth, round river rocks and cleared the bottom of the swimming hole to make it easier to walk. Fortunately, we survived the horsefly and deerfly attacks with only a handful of war wounds. Julian and I hopped on river rocks on the West River while searching for the elusive White Face trail, and we all roasted marshmallows and hotdogs over the fire.

We also crossed the river (which was very low this year) and explored several small islands in the middle of the Sacandaga, exclaiming over deer and paw prints (probably black bear) and just enjoying the camaraderie of hanging out together. There were endless card games of go fish, several intense games of Battleship, a few fun variations on Scrabble, and nightly routines of planning and preparing healthy meals together.

When I was doing dishes, they went down to the river's edge near the cabin and threw rocks. That seemed to be the biggest thrill of all.

I also had a successful book signing at Mountain Memories, a gem of a cafe/gift shop in Wells, NY, which is featured in all three books in my Tall Pines series. Donna Bureau, the owner, was especially gracious, and my grandson Julian (9), helped me by passing out book marks and taking down email addresses for the Lazar newsletter. It was so nice to meet the locals who'd read FOR THE BIRDS and wanted to buy ESSENTIALLY YOURS, the sequel. We had some lovely chats and were offered invitations to several homes in the area.

While we were up in the Adirondacks, scenes from my Tall Pines mysteries kept greeting me. I stared out at Blackbird Island (named by me, who knows if it has a real name? It's not on the map!) and imagined poor Thelma being tied to the tallest pine on the island. The very same tree towered above all the others, standing proud, unaware of its dubious fame.

While sitting at the ledge overlooking the Sacandaga, I imagined Earl Tiramisu, one of the villains from FOR THE BIRDS, waving the gun at Marcella and Quinn and the fall/fight that followed. I pictured scenes from book 2, where Marcella and Quinn tried to crack the code on their MacBook Pro at the water's edge, doing everything in their power to figure out why Sky gave Callie the essential oil collection and the poignant chapter where Marcie and Callie talked about Callie's crush on her.

Oh, yes. It was a peaceful vacation. I was a good grandfather (called Papa by my boys), sharing my passions for the area with them one by one, and catering to their every need. I didn't yell (too much) or get too frustrated. As a matter of fact, I was starting to feel almost virtuous. They didn't fight much, either, which was a joy. Keeping kids busy with imaginative games all week and spending every waking minute with them was the secret.

Until I caught a nasty head cold on Thursday (starting with a sore throat) and decided it might be a good idea to get out of dodge early. I was a little worried about getting everything packed up and the cabin all cleaned up by 10 AM on Saturday, anyway. So leaving Friday seemed like a good idea. We'd had a great time and it felt right.

Everything was fine until we stopped at a little store/gas station for a bathroom break and the van's sliding door fell off.

No kidding.

I'd spent a lot of time deciding if we should rent a new van or fix up the old one for this trip. When I saw the prices of renting for over a week (around $800.00 with tax), I blanched. I might as well get the van fixed, I thought, and put that money to good use, since it's my winter car. It ended up needing far more than I had expected, however, and after $2700.00, it was "road read." What I didn't have them look at was the sliding side doors that occasionally stick. But there always was a solution for that - I turned the doors to "manual mode" and slid them myself. Big deal, right? Anyway, I figured it would be another thousand dollars to fix that nuisance, so I let it go.

Big mistake.

The door actually swung off it's hinge on the rear. I spent a half hour wrangling with it in the 94 degree heat, finally forcing it to close, but with an inch gap in the rear. Now there is a two foot long deep and ugly gouge on the side panel, really ugly. I tied it up with the nylon dog leash, but didn't feel safe about the whole thing at all. So I moved Gordie to the rear, and repositioned all our junk in his seat, another nearly impossible task since I decided to do it after I secured the door and couldn't open it again. Sigh.

So, drenched and thoroughly scared and angry now, I got back on the road. We'd already been driving for over an hour, and should have been home within 3.5 more hours if we followed our usual route. But I kept picturing the thing flying off into traffic, and couldn't imagine us driving on the thruway. So we got onto an alternate route (route 5) and for the next 6.5 hours, tried to keep my sweet grandsons from going crazy in the back seats, while I glanced back every ten seconds to check on the door to be sure it hadn't shifted at all.

After numerous potty breaks, dog walks, pizza stops, and more, we were finally almost home. Within twenty minutes from home I lost it.

They'd been laughing and screeching with each other for the past hour, and I kept telling them that my wife had a headache, but they just couldn't help themselves, they were so tired and silly.

I screamed at them. "I'll give you FIVE DOLLARS if you just shut up for the rest of the way home!" Yep, I yelled like a madman and said "shut up" to my precious grandsons! I'll never live that down in my own brain.

But guess what? They were totally quiet until we rolled in the driveway. ;o)

Occasionally, a little bribery works.

Hope you all had a wonderful 4th and that your travels were safe.

Best wishes to all,

Aaron Lazar