PaperBackSwap Blog

The Joy of Books, A Word from our Founder

November 17th, 2014

By Richard Pickering, PBS FounderThe Joy of Books

I knew that the 2014 PaperBackSwap Cruise would be a great time to meet club members, participate in book-themed events, and share in our love of reading. It was going to be fun (and it was)! But I never expected that our itinerary held an event that would affect me deeply.

As the cruise ship pulled into Belize, I was informed that there was a surprise event scheduled, in which I would be needed to participate.  “Dress appropriately, as a representative of PaperBackSwap,” Cheryl G. (Poncer) said. That was all I was told.

About a dozen of us —PBS members and some staff — got off the boat and made our way to the taxi stand, where we boarded a van that whisked us away. As the roads became bumpier and turned from asphalt to hard-pack dirt and stone, my curiosity mounted. “Where are we going?” I asked. The rest of the group smiled knowingly, and Cheryl G assured me that this would be an adventure that I would never forget for the rest of my life.

We headed into the heart of the country, passing small farms and an occasional building that boasted some small trade or service for the local population. Finally the van slowed, and the driver leaned out the window to ask directions. We were in the middle of a very rural area – I could see thatched roofs around us, and I learned later there was no running water and almost no electricity. We were in the proverbial “middle of nowhere.” Liberty Children's Village in Ladyville, Belize

The van turned down one last dirt road. There was a gate at the end, and beyond that, the building that was apparently our destination. Finally, I was let in on the secret: this was a small orphanage, home to 42 children whose parents had died of AIDS.

The staff greeted us with open arms and thanked us for coming.  Many of the older children were in school, but the younger ones were there, and anxious to meet us.  We went into the day care center, which was very clean and nicely appointed. The high ceilings and fans kept the room cool, and the walls were covered with drawings that the children had made and gold stars for good behavior or outstanding scholarship.

Another surprise! The group (led by Gail P.(TinkerPirate and Cheryl G. Poncer) had brought along over 100 books for the kids, carrying them in their luggage onto the cruise. That was enough so that each child would get a couple of books, with plenty more to share with each other. I read a story aloud to the kids, about a farmer with a problem – cows that could type! The cows had a lot of demands for the farmer. It was a fun story, and the kids were very attentive. After the story, our team distributed the books and also gifts that the group had brought, and then we spent some time playing games with the kids.  After goodbyes and hugs, it was time to leave.

Click Clack Moo, Cows That TypeCheryl had been right — I would never forget the day, the kids, the orphanage staff who took such loving care of them, the appreciation for the books and our visit. It was so moving to consider the life that the kids had led, the circumstances that brought them to this place, and the life ahead of them.  I was proud of our group for coming up with the idea to visit the orphanage. On top of planning all the fun events of the PaperBackSwap Cruise, they had gone deeper and found a way to give back. How typical of PaperBackSwap members! It’s been 10 years since the club’s launch, and the generosity and kindness of our membership continues to amaze me.

It’s the kind of giving that makes our Books for Schools campaign such a success every year. So many members have asked us when the next Books for Schools will go live. We’re happy to say that BFS 2014 will be launching very soon! We are planning to begin right after Thanksgiving.

You can read about Books for Schools,  see a list and details of previous participating schools, suggest schools for future inclusion, and if you want to get a head start on donating before the BFS 2014 launch, you can use the Give Credits button on this page.

Our thoughts and prayers remain with those children in Belize. May God bless each and every one of them, and guide them in their lives going forward. And may God bless each and every one of our club members. We love your giving spirit!


Thanks to all those who made the Orphanage visit happen: Gail P (tinkerpirate), Cheryl G (Poncer),  Ajay I., Barbara S (barbelaine1), Cari (ladycari), Kareena I., Len S (lens), Marie N (pottergal), Rick (RickMatt) , Sonal S (ComeGo), our driver Stanley, the staff at the orphanage including Director Agatha Valentine, and of course the kids!!!


Veterans Day 2014

November 10th, 2014

Nonfiction Review - Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand


Review By Mirah W. (mwelday)

Every year Americans remember the devotion and sacrifice of our military personnel on Veterans Day. Every day I am proud and honored to be a military spouse and, at the same time, it is incredibly humbling to be a part of a group of such strong and amazing men and women.  I recently read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and was, once again, reminded of the overwhelming pain and suffering some of our service members experience.

Unbroken is the story of Louis ‘Louie’ Zamperini. Louie was a prankster teenager with a penchant for petty theft and he was quickly spiraling out of control.  His brother Pete convinced Louie to direct his energy into running and Louie found his stride and focus.  Louie’s skill as a runner surpassed what he or Pete ever imagined. Louie set high school track records in California and made it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

In 1941, Louie joined to the US Army Air Forces and became a bombardier on a B-24.  In 1943, during a search for a lost aircraft and crew, Louie’s B-24 crashed into the ocean and Louie was one of the three survivors.  Louie spent over 40 days in a raft lost at sea before reaching the Marshall Islands and being captured by the Japanese.  Louie then was forced to endure torture, humiliation, starvation, and other horrible acts of brutality in Japanese POW camps.

The entire book was so meticulously researched and delivered; it was both amazing and difficult to read.  While reading I kept thinking, ‘what else could he possibly have to endure?’ and then something else would happen; it was gut-wrenching to get through some portions of the book but, in the end, it left me feeling hopeful.  I simply cannot fathom the mentality of the individuals who were responsible for the atrocities Louie experienced.  In addition to Louie’s struggles, his family lived with the grief and doubt of whether he was alive or dead. During Louie’s service, his mother wore a set of aviator’s wings pinned to her clothing every day and at night she moved the pin to her nightgown.  The depth of her love and devotion was touching and memorable.

Unbroken is about resiliency, courage, heartbreak, and strength.  While I believe Louie’s experience is one-of-a kind (I simply cannot imagine others going through this same series of events), there are men and women of our armed forces who endure extreme hardships, injuries and tragedies every day and we hear little about it.  Unbroken serves as a very stark and saddening reminder of what some of our service members go through while protecting our freedoms.

Every year we lose more of our World War II veterans, who many Americans consider to be our greatest generation of military heroes.  I remember visiting Pearl Harbor, hearing World War II veterans sharing their stories with visitors and being riveted by the magnitude of all they lived through. Their stories need to be heard and remembered so we can understand our past and hopefully learn from those events. I believe Hillenbrand has created a masterful tribute to Louie Zamperini and all of our military personnel.  I give 5 stars to this incredibly moving, detailed account of the life of a great American hero.



News From The Cruise – PBS 10th Anniversary Celebration

November 2nd, 2014
Hard to believe it is already Sunday, again! Times flies when on a cruise ship in the Caribbean with some of our wonderful PaperBackSwap Members!

Last Sunday was just a few moments ago, when we scallywags climbed aboard the Norwegian Sun cruise ship, and off we sailed from Tampa.

After stops in Honduras, Belize, Costa Maya and Cozumel we are now steaming north, full speed ahead, back to Tampa. Back to our real lives.

The weather has been, well, weather. We have experienced rain, humidity, warm breezes, sunshine, hot temperatures, more rain, hot temperatures, even more rain, hair-frizzing humidity, sunshine and really hot temperatures. Then really, really high humidity with really, really hot temperatures and sunshine galore. And it all has been glorious!

The sunrises have been stunning, the sunsets even more so. We have eaten great grub, drank much grog, secured much booty, danced quite a few jigs, and discovered treasured friendships that will last us lifetimes.

We have had a blast!

We wish you were here and hope you consider joining us on the next cruise for PaperBackSwap Members!

May your seas be calm and your distant shores filled with treasured moments.

Richard “PegLeg” Pickering and his band of merry mates.



Mystery Monday Review – An Oxford Tragedy

October 20th, 2014

An Oxford Tragedy by J.C. Masterman


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)



This 1933 novel feels authentic because its author was an academic all his life. Like the historian author, the narrator Francis Wheatley Winn is the Senior Tutor in History at fictional St. Thomas’s. He probably speaks for the author when he avers “My life is bound up in the life of the college.” Familiar elements of the classic mystery are a large number of suspects, an amateur detective, and a lengthy anti-climactic discussion of the puzzle in the last 25 pages.  In A Catalogue Of Crime (1989), critics Barzun and Taylor list it as one of the 90 best mysteries and say of it, “A first rate story, which…projects the genuine atmosphere, establishes plausible characters, and furnishes detection, logic and discussion of ‘method’ in admirably simple and attractive English…a masterpiece.”

I’m not sure I’d go that far. But I heartily recommend it to readers that like classic mysteries set at Oxford-type universities. It’s rather more intellectual than Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, with sometimes stiff vocabulary and ruminations on how a quiet community of scholars is rattled by a killing. It is, however, less flippant than Michael Innes’ The Weight of the Evidence in which while sunning himself in a courtyard Professor Pluckrose is crushed to death by a meteorite that the culprit has shoved out a window. At least, in this novel, one has a sense that murder has been done and that violence has dark consequences nobody can guess.



A Special Invite to Librarians attending Bouchercon

October 17th, 2014

MWA_tag_4CBy Jeri Westerson,
Author & President, Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America


Conventions can be wonderful places. You learn things, you meet up with like-minded individuals from all over the country, you get a handle on doing things better once you get back home, and you get to explore different cities, different adventures.

Bouchercon is one of those conventions. It’s a mystery fan convention. The biggest in this country. Mystery and thriller writers from the major names to the modest attend and entertain on panels and other venues. As a medieval mystery writer myself, I’ve been going to Bouchercon since before I got that first contract, so that would be since 2006. I’ve been to Madison, WI; Anchorage, AK; Baltimore, MD; Indianapolis, IN; Cleveland, OH; St. Louis, MO…and on and on. This time it’s in my own neck of the woods in Long Beach, CA. This year, I also have the privilege of being the president of the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America. MWA is the premier mystery writer and reader professional organization and the SoCal chapter is one of the biggest (including a bunch of screenwriters and would-be screenwriters, as you can imagine being centered in Southern California). So while Bouchercon is going on, we decided to sponsor an event in one of the overflow hotels strictly for librarians attending B’con.

Because we love librarians and all the things libraries do for literacy, for author advocacy, and for giving us opportunities to meet our public through library events, we wanted to give back. A Librarian Tea seemed like a good choice. Simply, if you are registered for Bouchercon (and if not why not?) you are invited to our FREE high tea at the nearby Westin on Saturday, Nov 15 at 2 pm. Besides tea and scrumptious goodies to consume, you will also get to hear the trials and tribulations of a panel of audiobook narrators. Joining us is Kirby Heyborne who has narrated many audiobooks and is well known to librarians from his several appearances at ALA and his Ovation Award-winning narrations. His credits include GONE GIRL. Julie Whelan is also a prolific narrator and was the co-narrator of GONE GIRL. Scott Brick is one of the most beloved of audiobook narrators, with literally hundreds of audiobooks to his credit. He is the go-to narrator for many top authors, including Gregg Hurwitz, Brad Meltzer and many others. Cassandra Campbell has narrator hundreds of audiobooks. Richard Brewer has narrated a number of audiobooks, and is about to undertake UNDER TOWER PEAK by Bart Paul, which the Wall Street Journal’s Tom Nolan named one of 2013′s top 10 mystery novels. Penguin Random House has also generously donated audiobooks for you to take home with you and SoCalMWA is giving away nifty bookbags. All this and tea too!

There will also be authors to schmooze with at each of the tables. I hope you will partake of what we have on offer. It’s our organization’s mission to spread the word about mystery writing, about our authors, and about educational opportunities. If you are a librarian and are interested in attending our tea, please email us at

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Interview with Author & PBS Member and Book Give-Away

October 2nd, 2014

We asked and WOW did we get a response! We are very happy to announce the beginning of a new feature here on the PaperBackSwap Blog. We are proud to give a showcase to our Members who are also Authors by sharing some of their work. We will have Author Interviews, Book Reviews and Book Give-Aways of some of our own very talented Members!

We begin this series with an interview with Member and Author H.L. Blake. We hope you enjoy!

Seagirl by  H. L. Blake

Cheryl: Thank you Ms. Blake for agreeing to an interview with us for the PBS Blog. I thoroughly enjoyed your book, Seagirl. Where did the idea come from?

Ms. Blake: I have always loved the ocean, even though I haven’t been lucky enough to live near it. My sister had her wedding on a beach in North Carolina, and we stayed in a beach house there for a few days before the ceremony. It was an amazing experience that stayed with me for weeks when I came back to “inlander” civilization. I was looking for a book to recapture the magic feeling of that trip and couldn’t find just the right one. Then I woke up at 4 a.m. with Serena’s story fully formed in my head, wrote the first and last chapter that morning, and filled in the rest in the next few weeks.

Are you as enamored with the sea as Serena?

Oh yes. When Serena’s stream of consciousness talks about her love of the ocean, that is me talking. And some people do give me funny looks when I go on and on about it! I still don’t know why I don’t live there. Someday perhaps.


There is a theme of loss through the book, and all of the main characters seem to deal with their losses in different ways. But returning to the sea is healing for all of them, has there been a place of healing for you?

I think nature in general is healing for me. A quiet stream in the hills of Pennsylvania with nothing else around – the desolation and grandeur of the northern part of the Grand Canyon without all the tourist traps – and of course the rush and wind of the ocean. These places clear all the detritus of the world away and show the earth in its raw, original form, clean, breathtaking, and wild. When I spend time there, my mind is clearer and my soul made calmer by the experience.


This book is referred to as Young Adult fiction with a dash of fantasy, but I believe it is a book that young people and adults will enjoy equally. Did you write it as a book for young adults?

Young Adult fiction is a funny genre. I think when the main character is of that age, publishers and perhaps readers too automatically identify it as young adult fiction. I personally enjoy YA lit and read it extensively, even though I am a few years past that age myself! But I did try to keep the vocabulary and prose to an age appropriate to a main character in her early twenties, so by extension it would likely be comfortable for a reader of that age. Certainly, any age is welcome to read and enjoy it – we can all be YA at heart!


I related to Serena’s struggle with acceptance, both of her mother’s death and coming to terms with herself and her father. I wanted to tell her to take the time she needs to heal. Was there anything you would have liked to say to Serena?

Don’t let people tell you what you need to feel. The pressures from around Serena led her to suppress her emotions unhealthily for years, to the extent that she cut herself off somewhat from others, and it was painful to try to “live” again after all that time. Persons, even well-meaning loved ones, can cause great harm by telling those in pain to get over it. Only the one who has been hurt has the right to say what she is feeling and what she needs to survive and heal in time.


Serena is an artist, using her art as a means to survive. Do you find being creative is as necessary for yourself?

Absolutely. Writing is my lifeline and has been as long as I can remember. When I write, it is like opening a vein onto the page, my whole heart and soul given to the art – certainly it can be raw and painful – but afterwards I have something real and beautiful, and feel that ugliness and pain has been drained away. My poetry is most like that, my prose also to an extent. For me, writing Seagirl was a difficult but ultimately very healing experience.


Serena loves sea creatures as much as she loves the sea. Have you ever seen a mermaid?

*Laughing* I wish I could say I had. I did believe in fairies and unicorns long past the age when one usually gives up such things, and still greatly enjoy escaping into the world of fantasy. Just because they only exist as words on a page does not make such things not real – they are as real as your own inner thoughts, dreams, and imagination. You don’t have to give up dreaming and believing just because you are an “adult”!


Being a long time member of PaperBackSwap, do you find being an author and a member is at odds for you?

I’m not sure what you mean by “at odds” unless you mean that “reading” time takes away from “writing” time. That much is true! I have to force myself, as E. L. Konigsburg says, “to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish!” Sometimes the lure of the freshly arrived paperback in the mail overcomes the desire to give hours of blood, sweat, and tears into finishing a chapter or two of my own next novel. But I suppose I can always claim my reading time as research into the genre…


What is next for you?

I have previously written a science fiction novel for middle grades, which needs some editing before I try and publish it too. I also have a dystopia in the works (what author nowadays does not?) which is going to be very hard to finish, but I know will be my best work yet. My greatest hope is to be published more widely. It is very difficult (impossible) to break into authorship these days. Online- and self-publishing gives starving artists like me an outlet, but the one single item on my bucket list is genuine national publication. Here’s hoping.


Thank you Ms. Blake for this interview!

Ms. Blake has generously offered 2 brand-new autographed copies of her book, Seagirl to members who comment here on the Blog.

Good luck to everyone!







Free Book Friday Winner!

September 28th, 2014


The Winner of this week’s Free Book Friday Prize,


What a Ghoul Wants by Victoria Laurie is:



 Judi T.


Congratulations, your book will be on its way to you soon!


Thank you to everyone who commented on the Blog!