Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Zia Westfield's Two Great Suspense Books in Series! But...

When I saw the storyline for Book 2, I immediately thought it would be good to read Book 1 first. What I discovered was that there was little relationship between the two books...and had totally different characters and no continuing reference back to the first book. Both books have excellent stories and I thoroughly enjoyed the stories...But... 

By the second book, I was seeing an obvious issue for me--one I can only consider as what has been referred to as, formula books... This issue was first discussed for Harlequin books which does indeed have a specific formula... I haven't made a study of them, as obviously I am not a fan...

It states at the back of her books:

Zia Westfield creates suspenseful, exciting stories with romance at the heart of them. There is nothing more thrilling than watching two people fall in love despite the odds and the danger surrounding their every move.

Westfield uses what could be referred to as a formula which was ...Boy meets girl, both are immediately attracted, both have past baggage, both fall in love within hours or days of meeting, both men are in "security," both women are hurt but have made it back to be strong women, both have a short time frame in which something must be accomplished...and both the men and women use similar dialogue related to their relationships with the other... even sexual thoughts...

For the first book, I enjoyed this interchange and was intrigued by the way each individual's back story was played out; by the second book, I was somewhat bored and irritated that I knew what was going to be said and done as the intimacy developed. Even with different words and different situations, the intimate story was NOT indeed "more thrilling than watching two people fall in love..."If you've read it once, well it's not so thrilling when you read the same "moves," fears, and lack of self-confidence, by the next two characters... and possibly subsequent books.

Which is a shame because though her romance thriller formula did not work into the second book with me; it should definitely not be used in further series books, in my opinion.  On the other hand, Zia Westfield's suspense stories are spectacular, well written, unique and creatively done, and keeps readers interested from the beginning to the end... Readers should not be able to think of each character as anything other than unique...When we find ourselves thinking, was that Gemma or Kelsey that we are thinking about, that's a clue... And if Sam and Jack are alike in temperament, feelings about emotional support, plus a bad background...what is it that makes them different? What I do know that I could not differentiate between either of the four characters except by their professional interests and activities in any real way after I read both books... Should I be able to? After having read hundreds of series books, this is the first time this issue has come to mind...Good or Bad? You decide.

I hope Westfield starts to apply her unique creativity to her entire book...The romance should be part of the overall book and not seen as something separate from that overall romantic suspense story. By using a formula for the romance, it feels like we can merely insert each new man or woman and they will, in essence, do the same old romantic moves that have been established for the series... 

I'd love to hear some feedback related to my thoughts on this issue!

“You know I’m a reporter with the Carville Gazette, right?” Since O’Malley chose that moment to deliver her drink, she waited until he moved away from the table. “I’m sure you’re familiar with the paper, Detective Donahue, given the number of times you’ve been in it.” She took a sip from her cola and eyed him over the top of her glass.
“Like I said, I know who you are and I don’t do interviews.” Even his Captain knew better than to stick him in front of a bunch of press vultures.  
“I know. Your feelings for my profession have been made crystal clear on more than one occasion.” She cocked her head to the side, a frown working its way across her forehead. “You know you aren’t what I expected.” 
“What did you expect?” 
“Someone more arrogant, more full of himself. Someone hung up on the power of the badge.” 
“What makes you think I’m not?” He didn’t know why he was prolonging the conversation. He should just get up and leave. He had no use for reporters, and though Gemma Fitzgibbons almost tempted him enough to rethink that, his scars were fresh enough that simply sitting across from her made his shoulder blades itch. 
“Call it reporter intuition, I don’t know. I don’t like contradictions and you’re a contradiction. Open the envelope, detective.” 
Reluctantly, Jack reached for the envelope and pulled it closer. He let it remain there unopened and tapped the table with his fingers as he examined his companion carefully. She seemed to be on her last nerve and the tension she generated suggested she wasn’t as comfortable with this situation as she pretended to be. Now why was that? There were no markings on the envelope, nothing to indicate where it came from or what was inside. 
Cursing the bad luck that had led him to O’Malley’s for a drink tonight, he told himself to get over it and lifted the flap that had been tucked in rather than sealed. He tipped the envelope so that the contents spilled out across the table. Photos landed on the table surface. Jack picked one up and studied the grainy dark image. A man who looked a hell of a lot like him passed a white substance to a greasy-looking leather-clad bum. It had every appearance of a drug buy. Each photo he fingered showed his look-alike selling drugs to at least three different customers. As the images coalesced in his mind, fury rose up like a skyrocket. 
“What the hell kind of stunt are you pulling, Ms. Fitzgibbons?”
“Are you denying the man in the picture is you?” 
“Damn right, I’m denying it.” He lifted one of the photos. They had to have been doctored in some way. With technology nowadays, anything was possible. He’d need a professional to analyze them.
“How can you deny it when you’re right there in each frame?” 
He leaned forward getting as much in her face as he could with the table between them. “I’m denying it because it’s a setup, that’s why. I never posed for these photos or was in whatever dive that’s pictured here. If you bought these off of someone, you’ve been had.” She’d been a dupe. He’d buy that. But it still burned his gut that someone was trying to implicate him in a crime. 
Gemma tapped a nail on one picture. “You’re exchanging drugs for cash in this one with a woman, and again in this one with a man. You’re a homicide detective and my sources say you aren’t involved in narcotics busts. How do you explain these scenes?”
“I don’t have to. I know they’re fakes. Somebody sold you a bill of goods, lady. Get over it. And I suggest you sharpen those reporter instincts of yours.” He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and yanked out some bills, which he tossed on the table. He made to slide out of the booth when her next words made him pause. 
“I took those pictures.” She gripped one photo of him standing with a lowlife scum. The lighting was dim and his face was in profile. The quality was a bit grainy as if from a cell phone rather than a regular digital camera. Even so, the man in the picture looked a lot like him, except it damn well wasn’t. “I was chasing down another story when I saw you.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I was curious. I started snapping shots...

Gemma Fitzgibbons is a sharp, smart, and snazzy investigative reporter that was moving fast to grab first-page bylines on important stories. It was an interesting by-product of another story, when she happened to sight Detective Donahue in a sleaze bar, apparently selling drugs.  Donahue was furious because it had been unscrupulous reporters who had badgered and wrote about his father when a scandal had happened years ago. He wasn't going to have that happen to him...

I admire that Gemma went directly to the source to discuss what she had seen, and she wasn't about to let him off without fully investigating what had actually happened...

But before that happened, both were caught up in a much more important story. Gemma had explained why she was in the stripper joint talking to a potential witness, and immediately Jack had recognized the location, how it connected to a murder. Gemma had found a possible witness that the police had not discovered...and Jack immediately moved to meet with her to go over what she had seen...

When Jack meets Gemma's family--an aunt and a niece, Dana takes a liking to Jack and as security becomes an issue, Jack becomes more involved and concerned enough to want to ensure Gemma and her family are protected.

The amazing twists and turns in this suspense story are pulled together in such a way that all situations that had occurred in both Gemma and Jack's early lives were brought forward for a new examination...and resolution... It's a book where you have to say, "I didn't see that coming..." The type of book I love...

It's also the type of book that you really can't share too much without giving parts of the story away...  This first book was totally satisfying and can be highly recommended...

He pulled the SUV as close to the front porch as he could, but he was still soaked by the time he reached the top step. He pushed the bell next to the door and prepared to meet the crazy cat lady. 
The door opened, and Sam stared dumbfounded. The woman before him was dressed in shawls and a long dark grey skirt, and had one cat in her arms while another curled up on a straight back chair that butted up against the wall. But she was years younger—younger than him, he’d guess—and punch-in-the-gut beautiful. None of it made sense and he said the first words that popped into his mind. 
“What happened to the other crazy cat lady?”
Kelsey Tremayne winced at the question. When she’d opened the door, she hadn’t been sure what to expect. The security system needed a major upgrade. She had barely been able to hear the detective identify himself, and the rain and poor camera quality had made it impossible to see his badge clearly. Though she’d debated the risk in letting him approach, she had decided to chance it. She gripped the pepper spray she held in her hand which was concealed by the shawls. It hadn’t been easy to call the police given her history with them, in fact, her stomach still felt queasy over the decision, but she needed the incidents on record.
Crazy cat lady, indeed. “Please come in, Detective.” She stepped back and petted Sabina, the white Persian mix that had sought comfort in her arms when the thunder had started. The detective entered, dripping water on the wood floor, and surveyed her from head to foot. 
He was tall, over six feet, if she had to guess, with a rangy build, brown close-cropped hair, and a stubborn jaw. Kelsey could imagine what he saw. A not-very-tall, not-very-short, brown-haired, brown-eyed female with more cats than friends. Okay, he wouldn’t be able to guess the last, but it wouldn’t take long for him to stumble onto the truth. Then again maybe he already knew it. After all, he’d asked about the other cat lady...
The detective splayed his hands on his hips and watched her. “Ms. Tremayne, you called the station and reported a burglary.” Kelsey wet her lips and wished he’d asked for a drink. Her mouth felt dry and her throat parched...
He wouldn’t believe her. She could tell from his stance and from the way his gaze swept over the room. He had made up his mind about her. Maybe he’d even heard the rumors about her. He’d obviously heard the ones about her aunt or why would he have called her the “crazy cat lady?” Suddenly the room seemed to shrink. Her pulse rate increased and sweat broke out on her brow. A panic attack was imminent if she didn’t do something to head it off. That would be all he would need to see to confirm that she was as crazy as her aunt. She couldn’t let him. “I’m sorry, detective, for wasting your time. You should go. I made a mistake. I’m sorry. Please chalk it up to the horrible weather...”

This second in the series, taking place in Carville has a wonderful diverse and tentacled story line that pulls readers in and keeps them interested and trying to project what would be happening. I did pretty good but at the closing I was feeling like a major event had not been closed out...Thankfully, the Epilogue told me everything and more that I had been worried about! 

Two abductions, disappearances of teenage girls had taken place years ago. One had returned and she is now the main character, Kelsey Treymayne. Kelsey's aunt had recently died and she has returned to the family home to help decide what to do--her father and her had been named as co-owners.

Unfortunately Kelsey had lost all memory of the entire summer when she had been taken, but had received rough treatment from the police and others in the community, when they decided that she had to have been the one who killed the other girl, although she had never been found. Unfortunately, Kelsey was very cautious about interacting with police.

Needless to say, Kelsey was not anxious to return to Carville. Her aunt had apparently become reclusive, and a hoarder, so much so that Kelsey wasn't sure she could clean out the house in the time she had before she had to go back to work. The large home was oppressive, dark and unwelcoming... But, perhaps it was made more so, because she had seen a man looking in her window, who had disappeared when she screamed. She had earlier called the police to report a potential burglar, but had become so upset that she sent the officer away...

Now, she knew she really needed help... And the first thing Detective Sam Carmichael had done when she called him back, was to find a wire fixed across a step going to the basement. He knew it would have been bad, whether it had been there since her aunt had been alive, or whether it had been placed there since Kelsey had arrived. The woman was indeed in danger... and prints outside the window where she had seen the man was definite proof...

Before long she was in a car accident... There was no doubt, somebody was planning on hurting Kelsey...But Who?

Two wonderful characters add to the flavor and enjoyment of the book. Sam finds a stray dog and names him Knight... and Kelsey is called by a local social worker to see if she was work with a found runaway girl who would not talk to anybody... But Kelsey was able to connect through her work as an art therapist and psychologist. It worried, Kelsey, however, that much of the story she was told by the young girl, seemed to bring flashbacks of her own abduction years ago...

Although I enjoyed the story of suspense and drama within this book, and would highly recommend it, I was also concerned that the thrust of the romantic plot within this second book was very similar in method and procedure in this second book. I called it formula writing on my blog, if interested. Essentially, the meet-greet of male and female were totally mapped, even to the point of, while words were different, the thoughts, fears, and emotional responses of each were alike in both books... I found that I paused each time, recognizing what was going to come, and was never wrong... To have this happen within a unique suspense and delightfully creative story was disruptive to me, enough to make a note of it, hoping it doesn't occur in the next book.

Do check it out... read other reviews or decide that my concern won't bother you... The suspense story itself is fantastic...


Zia Westfield creates suspenseful, exciting stories with romance at the heart of them. There is nothing more thrilling than watching two people fall in love despite the odds and the danger surrounding their every move.

She makes her home in Tokyo with her husband and three sons. She holds a full-time job, volunteers too much because she doesn't know how to say "no," and generally finds peace between the pages of a book or when she's writing out the stories in her head.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Essentially Yours by Aaron Paul Lazar Provides More Than Story...

Callie waved a yellow scarf from her pontoon boat and headed erratically toward my dock. The girl who’d been like a sister to me since I was thirteen had never mastered the art of steering. Matter of fact, she’d avoided getting her driver’s license for the past twenty years, and would probably never drive that old Buick her dotty mother left moldering in the garage. 
Shocked to see her outside, I waved back, then swam to the dock and scrambled up the ladder to avoid getting crushed by her two-ton vessel. I grabbed my towel, blotted water from my face and hair, and wrapped it around my new bright pink one-piece suit. I’d been nervous to wear it—I thought it made my thighs look big. But now I’d been caught, and I couldn’t get that towel around me fast enough. I watched the boat drift closer, shocked at my friend’s appearance. Her face twisted in despair...
Worried now, I grabbed the rope she tossed to me and secured it around a piling. The boat glided closer. She looked horrible, as if someone had twisted her insides and squeezed all her pain up into her eyes. Damn. Had someone hurt her again? Some people were magnets for bad luck, and my dear friend seemed to attract trouble like mosquitoes to wet skin after the rain. Last year, her Honeoye Lake cottage had been broken into. The jerks had cleaned her out and beaten her senseless. She still bore the scar on her temple where the bastards had bashed her with her avant-garde pink flamingo centerpiece. Yes. A pink flamingo. Not in her yard, on her coffee table. Draped with pink pearls and fake ivy. Don’t ask. And don’t look so surprised. 
My best friend cut a tragic figure, was pretty in a haunted sort of way, but I never said she had good taste. Of all the households in our quiet lakeside community here in upstate New York, her place was definitely the quirkiest. Callie switched off the ignition, and the boat miraculously nudged the dock with a soft thump. I quickly secured the stern and offered her a hand. 
“Honey, what’s the matter?” With a sob that sounded more like a hiccup, she heaved a big box over the railing and onto the dock, and climbed out after it. “You won’t believe this.”
I put my arm around her shoulders and squeezed. “Try me, Velvet.” Callie’s dark hair, delicate features, and big violet eyes used to remind me of the young Liz Taylor in National Velvet, thus the nickname. 
She choked and wept fresh tears. Trembling, she glanced fearfully around her, then locked eyes with me. “Marcie, I…” With another sob, she fell on my shoulder. “Can we go inside, please?” 
“Of course, sweetie.” I picked up the box and led her off the dock and up to the porch. Maneuvering backwards through the screen door, I got us inside and laid the box on the coffee table, then sat her on the couch. “Now. Spill it.”
...Callie looked at Ruby briefly and buried her head in her hands. “Okay. I… I can’t breathe. Marcie. Help me.” 
In seconds, fat tears soaked her cheeks. I pulled her toward me, trying not to stare at the box on the coffee table. 
“Callie. Honey. What is it?” 
She shuddered against me, then sat up and sighed, pointing to the box. “It’s from Sky. And I’m too scared to open it.” 
My throat almost closed. “What? When did it arrive?” I balanced the heavy carton on my knees. Battered and stained, it looked to have been around the world and back. Callie’s name and address were printed neatly on a label. There was no return address...

Essentially Yours 
Tall Pines Mysteries, #2

By Aaron Paul Lazar

I had missed a book from the Tall Pines Mysteries Series by Aaron Paul Lazar, and am certainly happy I discovered it! Thoroughly enjoyable story...but there was an extra advantage...The book introduces readers to essential oils which are used throughout the book to deal with various physical issues for characters... Interesting and helpful!

The characters in this book were quite intriguing, maybe more so than usual since each of the main characters had to deal with an issue beyond the main thrust of the story. This greatly added several dimensions for each that pulled readers into each individual story with sympathy, and perhaps empathy. For me, the book is definitely character-driven... for the most enjoyment...

Marcie, one of the main female characters, and her best friend, Callie, have lived on Honeoye Lake all of their lives. The story begins as Callie, a recluse, has left her home to visit Marcie. She is clearly distraught and when Marcie meets her boat, Callie immediately starts crying, clearly shocked. Marcie's mind quickly goes back to the tragedy that had happened to Callie, resulting in her seclusion, and whether something similar had occurred.   Callie is carrying a box and they head inside...
Callie shares that she had received a phone call, telling her that the box was coming and that her brother wanted her to have it.  Callie's brother had had been done for 18 years...
But Marcie was also shocked--Callie's brother, Sky, had been her first lover and also had felt deserted when he had disappeared...
Enter Quinn, Marcie's husband, who knew about Sky and was still jealous of that first relationship of his wife...
Why did I bring this up first, well, it's because it's fun to watch Quinn and Marcie as the story moves forward. Especially when Sky finally shows up and doesn't realize that Marcie was not still single and still in love with him--as he was with her...  Sure, Marcie had to be torn between her two lovers. Would this change her life dramatically? 
Aside from that romantic triangle, Marcie also learns that she's had another love pining for her all of her life...Quite a quandary...all the while that a great action mystery is happening!

Sky's box contain four major items... his knapsack from high school which contained a set of essential oils and a book on their use (we learn later that he has been researching, hunting, and developing plant-based remedies for most of his time away) a necklace made out of hemp with a small bottle that looked like another oil, and a small bag of emeralds with a memory stick...

It was obvious that Sky had sent the knapsack, and that he wanted Callie to have these items...but did that mean he was dead, in hiding, and what could each of these mean. They immediately tried to discover what was on the memory stick, but it was encrypted!

When Quinn came home, he was most excited by the essential oils, which he had learned about as a native american youth. He immediately started opening various bottles and studying the book that explained how each was/could be used...From the story, these oils seemed to be miraculous just as they were bottled. And Quinn estimated the value as very high... But how were they to know what these other items were and what to do with them...

Thankfully, they do think about security for the items, because it wasn't very long before the first break-in occurred. On Callie's side of the lake! First Callie's sister was murdered, and then Callie was kidnapped... A search continued in Callie's place. It was clear that somebody was concerned that they find what they were looking for. But what was it? The emeralds, the necklace or the memory stick...for certainly, the oils were available and would not be worth killing somebody for them, or were they missing something else?

Callie couldn't help but begin to think about her time with Sky. Had his time in the Gulf War resulted in changes...physically, to his mind? They knew Sky had served eight years, but then had disappeared, some calling it MIA. But Sky had called Callie just once with the short message that he was alive, but that he had to go underground for awhile... Now it was 18 years later... and Sky had not been seen by anybody in his family...

Quinn had foolishly referred to Sky as an idiot when he learned he had sent the box...Immediately Marcie had screamed that he wasn't an idiot. Fortunately, Quinn reacted in a calm manner, having realized his mistake--but that didn't stop him from beginning to wonder and worry whether Marcie would welcome Sky back into her life... And Marcie had always felt guilty because she had wanted to go to New York and had split from him...only to blame herself for his disappearance...

The memory stick had been left with Marcie, and she had been trying to figure out a password that Sky might have used; finally, exasperated, she tried Callie, who didn't answer her phone... But was even concerned enough when she didn't answer to get into her boat to go to Callie's home...

She got there and discovered Callie wasn't there... She went next door to her sister's house...and discovered her body... Marcie's first question was whether Callie had finally killed Willow, knowing that they were at each other all the time. By then, the police had arrived... Marcie learned that it had been Callie who called in Willow's murder, but Marcie was not satisfied that she had simply left the scene for something. She explained to Runyon, the female office in charge, that Callie was agoraphobia and would not have left her home...

Callie's dog, Beau, had been left in the house, so Marcie took the dog with her when she went back home... Even if the police were doing an investigation, Callie was going to discover anything she could on her own... She and Quinn had gone back to Callie's house, hoping to find things the police search would not discover...only to be arrested by the officer covering the crime scenes... They were cleared when Runyon came and were successful in discovering, a mood ring of Marcie's, Callie's Diary, both of which were not important to the case, but of value to Marcie in her search...

And Marcie knew where Callie might have gone, if she had gone alone...To Tall Pines and also to a small town near there where the box had first been mailed...
And the search begins, though the people in the area weren't talking... A major fire had occurred and they were all afraid...

Little by little, what was happening started to be discovered and they were fairly certain that the emeralds, though perhaps an extra benefit, wasn't what was being sought...

Fascinating and suspenseful in details of what happens, we learn, first, that Sky may be in the area, but that, he too, was scared and on the run... What was going on!?!

It's a page-turner from then on as, first, he begin searching for Sky...as well as Callie... while realizing that what was happening was much bigger than lost friends... And finally getting into the memory stick gave them, first, the name of a corporation and what was occurring... One local doctor did share that they should not trust any locals and recommended they call in the Feds...

Wow! Money, Power, and Greed seems often to be behind murder and many had been killed by the corporation behind the search...They had the staff and equipment and were only able to be matched by the FBI and their staff and equipment. Helicopter fights in the air are quite scary, not knowing who was in the 'copters! I loved the book and highly recommend to all... If you are already a fan of Lazar, and missed this one...do make it a must-read...you don't want to almost miss it, like I did!


USA Today bestselling author Aaron Paul Lazar is obsessed with writing. He's completed twenty-eight books to date, and has earned twenty literary book awards. He writes mysteries, suspense, love stories, and more. You'll usually find him writing his heart out in the early hours of the day - preferably in the dark, quiet hours when no one else is awake in his bustling household. Visit his website at www.lazarbooks.com to sign up for a free book and to learn about future deals.


Aaron Paul Lazar wasn't always a mystery writer. It wasn't until eight members of his family and friends died within five years that the urge to write became overwhelming. "When my father died, I lost it. I needed an outlet, and writing provided the kind of solace I couldn't find elsewhere." 

Lazar created the Gus LeGarde mystery series, with the founding novel, DOUBLE FORTÉ, a romantic winter mystery set in the Genesee Valley of upstate New York. Like Lazar's father, protagonist Gus LeGarde is a classical music professor. Gus, a grandfather, gardener, chef, and nature lover, plays Chopin etudes to feed his soul and thinks of himself as a "Renaissance man caught in the 21st century." There are twelve books to date in this series.

The creation of the series lent Lazar the comfort he sought, yet in the process, a new passion was unleashed. Obsessed with his parallel universe, he now lives, breathes, and dreams about his characters, and has written twelve LeGarde mysteries in addition to four other series.

One day while rototilling his garden, Lazar unearthed a green cat's eye marble, which prompted the paranormal mystery series featuring Sam Moore, retired country doctor and passionate gardener. The green marble, a powerful talisman, connects all three of the books in the series, whisking Sam back in time to uncover his brother's mysterious fate fifty years earlier. (THE DISAPPEARANCE OF BILLY MOORE, TERROR COMES KNOCKING, and FOR KEEPS)

Lazar's books feature breathless chase scenes, nasty villains, and taut suspense, but are also intensely human stories, replete with kids, dogs, horses, food, romance, and humor. The author calls them, "country mysteries," although reviewers have dubbed them "literary mysteries." 

"It seems as though every image ever impressed upon my brain finds its way into my work. Whether it's the light dancing through stained-glass windows in a Parisian chapel, curly slate-green lichen covering a boulder at the edge of a pond in Maine, or hoarfrost dangling from a cherry tree branch in mid-winter, these images burrow into my memory cells. In time they bubble back, persistently itching, until they are poured out on the page."

In 2009, Kodak laid him off after 28 years of service, and during the year he had off (before he landed in his job with KB America) he had time to explore and reconnect with his environment. Little did he know that several trips to the Adirondack Mountains would reawaken his passion for that part of the country. A new romantic mystery series was started entitled Tall Pines Mysteries: FOR THE BIRDS, ESSENTIALLY YOURS, SANCTUARY, and BETRAYAL.

In between all the novels, Lazar published three short writing guides based on his many years of writing advice blogs, entitled WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volumes 1-3. These are available in eBook and audio book formats.

In his twenty-first book, Lazar has jumped genre. THE SEACREST: a love story, now winner of many literary awards, is poised to capture hearts across the globe. Book 1 in the Paines Creek Beach novels (set on Cape Cod), THE SEACREST also launched a series, and is followed by THE SEACROFT and THE SEADOG. 

When the news was filled with stories about the girls captured for ten years by that monster in Cleveland (you know who he was...), Lazar was compelled to write a book to honor the women involved. Thus was born the Bittersweet Hollow romantic suspense series, featuring award-winning DEVIL'S LAKE, DEVIL'S CREEK, and DEVIL'S SPRING. A new spinoff is coming soon, entitled THE ASYLUM.

The author lives on a ridge overlooking the Genesee Valley in upstate New York with his wife, daughter Allison, two little grandsons, two dogs, and three cats. With a total of six grandkids now, he finds grandfathering to be one of the most precious and important times of life, and spends as much time as possible with Julian, Gordon, Isabella, Christopher, Luke, and Joey. 

Lazar has been featured in many magazines and newspapers and has given dozens of radio interviews over the years.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Adolph Caso, Guest Contributor, Presents From Tyranny to Liberty - Reflections on Ode to America's Independence

This piece deals with the first ode ever written on our American Revolution. I hope your readers find it interesting and significant to our lives....


From Tyranny to Liberty

Reflections on Vittorio Alfieri’s 
    Ode to America’s Independence
       By Adolph Caso

From his birth in 1749 until his death in 1803, the renowned Italian tragedian and essayist, Vittorio Alfieri, had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe, to experience and to observe eighteenth century life. Some time before his death, however, he expressed the following feeling with regard to his age: “I never liked this vile century of mine. It is servile and indolent. I know it only too well: it is nauseating and boring. Nothing uplifts me; nothing pricks my heart; nothing entices me.” Yet, Alfieri lived through the age of the Enlightenment, a time of optimism such as cannot be found even in fifteenth century Humanism.
    Having virtually replaced philosophy and philology with the physical sciences of mathematics and physics, the new intellectuals with their followers felt that they could discover and resolve—once and for all—the mysteries that were keeping mankind in darkness. They sincerely believed in an age of new happiness about to dawn and fast approaching: its light to illuminate the way for mankind. Fraternity, equality, and liberty became the new slogans.
    When the Bastille was taken, many rallied around the event. Vittorio Alfieri answered the call by writing, in French, his second ode, Parigi Sbastigliato— his first ode having been dedicated to America’s independence. In his ode to the fallen Bastille, he hailed the triumph of the Revolution as the scourge of tyranny and as the harbinger of liberty. When the goals of the Revolution did not materialize, however, Alfieri, who had taken up residence in Paris, fled the city to return to his native Italy. Two days after his departure, the "new" people of Paris raided his home, confiscated his belongings, and took the owner of the apartment into custody for the reason that he belonged to the nobility. Alfieri’s great moment of anguish, however, was yet to come.
    In 1797, the Italian-French General, Napoleon Bonaparte, with the treaty of Campoformio, unilaterally handed the Venetian Republic to the Austrians, thus destroying the last vestige of a government that had been founded on some ideals of liberty.
    A few years before his death, Alfieri published his Misogallo, a book whose title clearly demonstrates his hatred toward the French, who, in his eyes, had betrayed the ideals of liberty. As a protest against the evils of his times, he chose to spend the last part of his life alone and in a dejected state of mind.
    To understand the change that took place in him, it is important to look briefly at the kind of education he had received, as a young man under the tutelage of his aristocratic family, and later as mature man filled with an idealism burdened by melancholy.
    In his autobiography entitled Vita scritta da esso— Life written by himself--published in 1804, Alfieri made a very negative assessment of his education.
    He spent the first eight years of his life with his mother. From her he received an education full of neglect—una pessima educazione; cioè, pessima di negligenza.
    The following eight years he termed as eight years of un-education—otto anni di ineducazione; he  frequented the Academy of Torino.
    From about 1766 to 1776, he traveled throughout Europe. He defined this period as ten years of travel and dissipation dieci anni di viaggi e di dissolutezze, a period of intense reading of Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Helvetius, and others.
    Finally, in 1775, he achieved his true liberation--liberazione vera, which meant an intensive and independent study of Plutarch, Dante, Petrarca, Machiavelli, Ariosto, and Tasso. During this time he began what most critics consider the most fertile and creative period of his life.
    With the discovery of the Italian masters, Alfieri suddenly found himself on the road of true liberation.
    His first task was to unlearn French and to learn Italian. For this purpose, he moved to Florence, where he wrote, all in Italian, twenty tragedies, four comedies, seventeen satires, four civic essays, his autobiography, and one volume of verse; he also translated from the Latin and Greek. His works reflected the recurrent theme of the fight of the free man pitted against the tyrant.
    Having seen the ideals of liberty vitiated by so many half crimes—mezzi delitti—and perpetrated by so many pseudo intellectuals and semi philosophers—mezzi  lumi e semifilosofi—all gathered together in a stinking hospital that unites the incurables and the lunatics—fetente spedale, che riunisce gli incurabili e i pazzi, Alfieri must have turned to the Neapolitan philosopher, Gianbattista Vico, for an anti-Rousseau’s definition of liberty and tyranny.
    Man is born with chains; he frees himself from them when he learns to distinguish what he is and who he is. And when he is able to control his instincts and give them another direction, he becomes master of himself. He becomes the human being destined to participate and to contribute to the activities of the human consortium in which he grows as an individual and as a social being. Concomitant to this growth and applied wisdom, he achieves the individual and the collective liberty necessary for the prosperity of the consortium. Otherwise, he creates stronger chains and becomes either more enslaved or more tyrannical.
    In his famous book, Del Principe e delle lettere—Of the Prince and of letters—Alfieri restates Vico's definition: tyranny is the result of the unlimited force of passion which is fatalistically intrinsic in man. Because of his natural impulse, he persistently drives himself to be more and better than the next man.
    Vittorio Alfrieri seems to have had a disproportionate hatred for tyrants and for tyrannies, for those forms of government that thrive on tyranny, and for those tyrants who ostentatiously display acquired refinements and create false forms of constitutions. He reacts against this type of power in his book, La Tirannide—On Tyranny.
    In his travels, he saw what absolute power had done to the people. His first experience was Paris itself, which he compared to an immense prison—immensa prigione. He labeled the kings plebeians—re plebei—whose influences were more baneful—funesti—to France and to the rest of the world than the descendents of Hugh Capet themselves.
    In Vienna, he witnessed the obsequious genuflection of his ever popular countryman, Pietro Metastasio in front of Marie Therese.
    In Berlin he was horrified by what seemed one continuous body of guards and militaristic satellites--corpo di guardie e assoldati satelliti—engaged in military training to serve as the strong arm to a more infamous arbitrary authority of that government. He thanked Heaven for not having been born in a land he described as that universal Prussian caserne—quella universale prussiana caserme.
    In Russia, the land of Peter the Great, whose nation Francois Voltaire had admired and praised as upcoming and resurgent, Alfieri had one of the more negative experiences of his life.
    Though he arrived in Petersburg with an extraordinary palpitation from the expectation—con una certa straordinaria palpitazione dall'aspettativa--in the six weeks he remained there, he saw little that pleased him except for the beards on the men and the quality of their horses. Meanwhile, he learned to hate the abstract tyranny being practiced by a woman who had perpetrated the murder of her husband and was now placing the entire Russian population under universal slavery by means of a so-called just constitution. His experience at Petersburg was so nauseating that he refused to visit Moscow as planned, preferring to return to his native country, which seemed he had not seen for a thousand years.

    These having been some of his experiences, he finally defines tyranny as being any government in which those persons who are  given the responsibility to execute the laws, these same men become tyrants when they make, destroy, break, interpret, obstruct, or even only dilute the laws with impunity.

    The lessons Alfieri wanted to impart are clear--political regimes must be based on the ideals of liberty. They must exalt and invigorate moral life. Should despotism arise, the people must deal with it with the same means as the despot. If they want to remain free, they must exercise their basic rights of praising public opinion, which preserves freedom of speech and guards against would-be tyrants. Governments must not be based on fear, nor should they be established with the help of the nobility, the military, or of the clergy. Should an individual happen to be born in a tyranny, or for some reason subjected to it, he must take the route of exile if he cannot fight from within, or to die, if necessary, if liberty is to be preserved.

    Far from being an anarchist, Alfieri recognizes many forms of governments. He prefers the republican types because in them the people, through representation, are guaranteed their individual and collective rights to liberty.
    Individuals of sensibility go through life accompanied by the perennial struggles between the instinctive needs of the body and the arresting or restrictive forms of society. When individuals balance the two forces, they achieve liberty. When they are overwhelmed by either or by both, they have the choice of committing suicide, in the manner of Cato of Utica, as exemplified by Dante in his Divine Comedy.
    Natural death represents, for the romantic writer of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the ultimate and highest form of liberation. Suicide becomes necessary when the individual is powerless against the internal and external forces that act upon him. Alfieri deals with this situation in his famous tragedy, Saul. Through the biblical King of Israel, Alfieri represents the two levels of tyranny that exist in man.
    Rebelling against God for having chosen David as the next King, Saul cannot acquiesce to his inner desires to continue as King. His counselors falsely and secretly urge him to stay on, thus rekindling the old man's passion for power. As a result, he becomes a victim of his passions by subjecting the people to them, and disregarding the supreme laws of the word of God. When the Philistines are about to capture him, Saul suddenly realizes what he had done and what had taken place. He draws the sword and plunges it into his heart, thus robbing the enemy of that precious booty--life itself which is worth living only when free from tyranny. Through this heroic last act, Saul is able to achieve purification and his eventual liberation.
    Madame de Staël, the self-appointed innovator of what she termed as stagnant Italian literature, was one of the first among the many critics to reject Alfieri and his works. By answering her criticism, Giacomo Leopardi, a poet of the first part of the nineteenth century, also gives his own appraisal: Madame de Staël says that Alfieri was not born to write, but to do, if the customs of his time permitted. But Alfieri distinguished himself from almost all of the so-called erudite and pedantic critics of his and our time. Exactly for this reason, he was the authentic writer he was.
    Throughout his lifetime, Vittorio Alfieri had wanted to die. He attempted suicide several times, the first at the age of seven. He may already have understood that man everywhere is born with chains and generally remains in them until death. Though mankind is aware of those chains, few individuals acquire the wisdom and the willingness to cast them off. On realizing the divisional struggles that followed America’s Declaration of Independence, Alfieri was not happier than he had been after he wrote about the Bastille. The Machiavellian intonation becomes significant in the concluding tercet of his Ode to America's Independence:

              What am I to sing about? And, to whom?
              I look around and weep:
              Force alone rules the world!

Observations on the ODE

    The Italian title of Alfieri's ode is L’America Libera, which could be translated as America the Free—meaning, free from the tyranny that the English imposed on the American colonists, and free from foreign intervention that might restrict the complete attainment of freedom.
    The composition is divided into five odes, each having eight stanzas of sixteen lines, except for the third which has six stanzas. These stanzas, or strophes, are composed of a given number of eleven foot lines (endecasillabo), interspersed with seven foot lines (settenario). Their rhyme scheme is the following: A b C B a, etc.
    The present English translation does not follow Alfieri's scheme or his highly rhetorical style.
    Alfieri wrote the first four odes in 1781. Upon completing them, he seemed happy with the result; he was happier with the outcome of America's war of Independence.
    After having had some spiritual troubles--turbamento di spirito--he wrote in 1783 the fifth and final ode, and this may help explain his observation that betrayal and tyranny go hand in hand and more often than not unwittingly stand on the side of tyranny and against liberty.
    It is interesting to note that one of his first-titles was The War of AmericaLa Guerra D'America. The present essay is taken, with few exceptions, from Scritti Politici e Morali, V. II, edited by P. Cazzani, Asti, 1966. The only critical analysis available is that of F. Maggini, Rime (of Alfieri) published in 1933.

Italians in America

Unbeknownst to many, Italians played a great role in forging America's destiny during those revolutionary years. Aside from a large amount of correspondence between American and Italian men of letters, there were also many who visited each other's country.
    Jefferson and Franklin visited Italy; Philip Mazzei, Charles Bellini, and others came to America. Besides corresponding with Giacomo B. Beccari and Gian Francesco Cigna, Benjamin Franklin corresponded on a regular basis, from 1750 to beyond 1771, with Giambattista Beccaria. Franklin and Jefferson also corresponded regularly with John Fabbroni.
    Jefferson was influenced by the famous architect, Andrea Palladio; but few know of the influence that the Italian humanist Leon Battista Alberti had on Jefferson. Alberti's two books are of enormous importance; they are: De re aedificatoria and Trattato della famiglia. The first deals with architecture; the second with the way to build a successful family. Another Alberti, this one a musician, actually gave Jefferson instruction in music in Virginia.
    Another Beccaria—Cesare Bonesana—was of more influence on John Adams and on Jefferson than is otherwise accepted. Beccaria's book. On Crimes and Punishments, was being published in the American colonies as early as 1773. Joseph Francis Vigo was a wealthy fur trader when he made himself and his wealth available to Colonel Clark for the conquest of the Northwest Territory.
    Fathers Chino and Salvaterra had established thirty or more .missions and churches in California from 1681 until 1711. William Paca, whose family came from the province of  Naples, signed the Declaration of Independence, along side Caeser Rodney, another American of Italian origin. George Wythe, also a signer of the famous document, was married to Elizabeth Tagliaferro.
    The Declaration of Causes of 1775, passed by the Continental Congress on July 6 of that year, was written in English and in Italian only. During this time, Philip Mazzei was writing articles and pamphlets for the Virginia Gazette on behalf of America's independence.
    Of course the land of America was described in the epic poems of Ariosto and of Tasso, and by other authors of the Rinascimento.
    It should be of no surprise that another Italian wrote the first history of America's War for Independence. Charles Botta, History of the War Of Independence (Kennikat Press, 1970), is considered the first such history written on the war. It received accolades from many great Americans, including Jefferson, who made the following statement: "...when the superiority of the work over every other on the same subject shall be known, I think it will be the common manual of our Revolutionary History."
    The American Congress of the 1770 decade commissioned several warships. Three of them carried the names of Christopher ColumbusAndrea Doria, and John Cabot. Two others were significantly named the Protector and the Tyrannicide.

Adolph Caso

Adolph Caso, author, publisher, photographer,  is an ongoing contributor to Book Readers Heaven. He has written much on his home country, Italy, and its contributions to the world. This piece is one of those; however, I found much of interest and relevance to each of us and today's world... Taking liberty from Adolfo's submission, to highlight/spotlight what I found to be most important for today...

Thank you, Adolfo, for once again sharing from your research and study...

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

BECOMING - by Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, Personal Favorite for 2019!

Barack and I got married on a sunny October Saturday in 1992, the two of us standing before more than three hundred of our friends and family at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side. It was a big wedding, and big was how it needed to be. If we were having the wedding in Chicago, there was no trimming the guest list. My roots went too deep. I had not just cousins but also cousins of cousins, and those cousins of cousins had kids, none of whom I’d ever leave out and all of whom made the day more meaningful and merry...

We were surrounded by love—the eclectic, multicultural Obama kind and the anchoring Robinsons-from-the-South-Side kind, all of it now interwoven visibly, pew to pew, inside the church. I held tightly to Craig’s elbow as he walked me down the aisle. As we reached the front, I caught my mother’s gaze. She was sitting in the first row, looking regal in a floor-length black-and-white sequined dress we’d picked out together, her chin lifted and her eyes proud. We still ached for my father every day, though as he would’ve wanted, we were also continuing on...

Marriage was still more mysterious to him than it was to me, but in the fourteen months we’d been engaged, he’d been nothing but all in. We’d chosen everything about this day carefully. Barack, having initially declared he was not interested in wedding minutiae, had ended up lovingly, assertively—and predictably—inserting his opinion into everything from the flower arrangements to the canapés that would get served at the South Shore Cultural Center in another hour or so. We’d picked our wedding song which Santita would sing...

There were so many changes coming in Michelle's life, she started to write in a journal, sharing a main concern:

One, I feel very confused about where I want my life to go. What kind of person do I want to be? How do I want to contribute to the world? Two, I am getting very serious in my relationship with Barack and I feel that I need to get a better handle on myself...

...All this inborn confidence was admirable, of course, but honestly, try living with it. For me, coexisting with Barack’s strong sense of purpose—sleeping in the same bed with it, sitting at the breakfast table with it—was something to which I had to adjust, not because he flaunted it, exactly, but because it was so alive. In the presence of his certainty, his notion that he could make some sort of difference in the world, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit lost by comparison. His sense of purpose seemed like an unwitting challenge to my own...


By Michelle Obama

Remember the old classic question: If you had the chance, what famous person would you want, living or dead, to meet and have lunch with... Would you believe, I had never had an answer, until I read Michelle Obama's book, Becoming...

We don't often see an important part of our lives in an open, sharing way. Especially in politics where, in one way or another, good or bad, your life will be spotlighted. Being able to read Michelle's words, as if she was sitting and talking with each of us, is a powerful  message. For the first time, I could imagine, wishing that famous person to meet Michelle Obama. I would have no insecurities about meeting her...because she would already empathize with those feelings and enjoy the opportunity to share how it happened with her and what she did when it happened...

Say, for instance, in her younger years...Her background wasn't much different from so many of us. Sure race was a factor, but children can be mean, no matter what color...and each of us learn how to handle it. Her mantra, her constant question to herself... "Am I good enough?" For surely each of us has asked that question. I found myself, first, liking, and then, admiring, this woman, Michelle. Because, of course, sooner, rather than later, she answered her own question!

Am I good enough? Yes I am.

It's hard to separate Michelle and Barack, as we think of the presidential family which has become, perhaps, the most famous, well-liked, and effective of administrations, even under strange circumstances.

But as we listen to Michelle's inner thoughts, it is quite easy to get to know what she is all about, as herself, not as Barack's wife, or even their children's mother. Because Michelle was already a strong woman, with professional goals and achievements as we read through her life. She had set her goals to help in the world and she went after positions in which she felt she could contribute. Amazing, isn't it, that God put these two people together, who both cared for people so much that they wanted to dedicate their lives...to...us... We who are looking for somebody to help, to be proud of, and to fight for us...

Indeed she was successful in establishing different programs as First Lady which proved valuable to children and the military. But there was an underlying issue that, for me, could not be ignored as just part of her, their story in the White House.
Since stepping reluctantly into public life, I’ve been held up as the most powerful woman in the world and taken down as an “angry black woman.” I’ve wanted to ask my detractors which part of that phrase matters to them the most—is it “angry” or “black” or “woman”? I’ve smiled for photos with people who call my husband horrible names on national television, but still want a framed keepsake for their mantel. I’ve heard about the swampy parts of the internet that question everything about me, right down to whether I’m a woman or a man. A sitting U.S. congressman has made fun of my butt. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been furious. But mostly, I’ve tried to laugh this stuff off.

It was in 2011 that Donald Trump came into the picture. Not being as involved in following politics before Trump ran for president, I learned much about what was happening during the Obama Administration by the Republicans and I was appalled...

Over the course of the winter of 2011, we’d been hearing news that the reality-show host and New York real-estate developer Donald Trump was beginning to make noise about possibly running for the Republican presidential nomination when Barack came up for reelection in 2012. Mostly, though, it seemed he was just making noise in general, surfacing on cable shows to offer yammering, inexpert critiques of Barack’s foreign policy decisions and openly questioning whether he was an American citizen. The so-called birthers had tried during the previous campaign to feed a conspiracy theory claiming that Barack’s Hawaiian birth certificate was somehow a hoax and that he’d in fact been born in Kenya. Trump was now actively working to revive the argument, making increasingly outlandish claims on television, insisting that the 1961 Honolulu newspaper announcements of Barack’s birth were fraudulent and that none of his kindergarten classmates remembered him. All the while, in their quest for clicks and ratings, news outlets—particularly the more conservative ones—were gleefully pumping oxygen into his groundless claims. The whole thing was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed...

As I read this book, adding it to the awareness and knowledge I now had seen over the last two years, I realized that, for many, having selected Obama as president, although by high majority, there were many with racially-based anger and hate that had begun to actually work against Obama's administration, first releasing the stirrings of hate and prejudice that has now become rampant. 

...But it was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks. I feared the reaction. I was briefed from time to time by the Secret Service on the more serious threats that came in and understood that there were people capable of being stirred. I tried not to worry, but sometimes I couldn’t help it. What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this, I’d never forgive him.

When I had heard on the news when the book came out that Michelle had said she would never forgive Trump, I was curious to know more, only to discover that Trump had started calling "a base" that would become so strong that it was already causing damage to the Obama Administration and the country.

Three times over the course of the fall of 2011, Barack proposed bills that would create thousands of jobs for Americans, in part by giving states money to hire more teachers and first responders. Three times the Republicans blocked them, never even allowing a vote.
“The single most important thing we want to achieve,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, had declared to a reporter a year earlier, laying out his party’s goals, “is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” It was that simple. The Republican Congress was devoted to Barack’s failure above all else. It seemed they weren’t prioritizing the governance of the country or the fact that people needed jobs. Their own power came first. 
I found it demoralizing, infuriating, sometimes crushing. This was politics, yes, but in its most fractious and cynical form, seemingly disconnected from any larger sense of purpose. I felt emotions that perhaps Barack couldn’t afford to feel. He stayed locked in his work, for the most part undaunted, riding out the bumps and compromising where he could, clinging to the sober-minded, someone’s-gotta-take-this-on brand of optimism that had always guided him. He’d been in politics for fifteen years now. I continued to think of him as being like an old copper pot—seasoned by fire, dinged up but still shiny.

How could politics become so biased, yes, biased, as to place their party above the concerns of the people. I knew that McConnell was evil, as he now stops anything going on to the Senate floor preventing work to stop the horrendous shutdown brought about by Trump. But reading now, I knew that it wasn't just Trump who was at the root of such country-wide turmoil...It was the Republican party, whatever they had become.

Well, the Obamas won two terms and continued trying to do things, only to be stopped. We all know that it was Mitch McConnell who refused to place the supreme court judge onto the floor for vote! I could not believe that all this was happening in America, perhaps because the first Black family had moved into the White House! And yet, all that has happened after the Obamas left office has proven that what concerned Michelle...what made Michelle very afraid for her family...was still going on...but it had spread to hatred toward anybody...that...was...not...white...and...Republican... 

This revelatory book from The First Lady perspective is a must-read. Citizens did rise out during the mid-terms, but McConnell and Trump are still refusing to budge...They will not give up the power they feel they deserve, they own. God Help Us...

This is a must-read recommendation for me...


The Obamas after leaving the White House. Only now is our country seeing what we lost when they left office. Read this book to learn of two of the most caring people we have ever had, trying to help America... And realize that Trump has personally destroyed most of what this administration had achieved for America. Whether you agree or not, no one person should have that power in a democracy!

Hi Everybody! I went further than I normally do for a book review. So I am not going to post it on Amazon, where there are already thousands out there with 5 ranking...

I wanted to show how this book affects all of us, as we find it did Michelle and Barack during their administration. The reality of how some chose to demean this administration and, actually, stop governmental actions frankly blows my mind...and is so disgusting...And yet, it explains a lot about how we got where we are today...Trump and McConnell seem to make a good team...to stop anything that republicans don't want to have happen. This has got to stop, one way or the other. I am asking you to share this review because there will be many who cannot afford to buy the book... It's important to the country, in my opinion. 
Right now, it might seem to some, like the Democrats are stalling...but as we look back, many important actions were stopped by the opposing party in the past. To me, if we allow this bully to act, it will not stop...yet, it is ridiculous to hold government employees hostage by the president. Thanks for listening to my opinion, generated from this fantastic book by a true female role model!