PaperBackSwap Blog

Archive for October, 2014

Mystery Monday Review – An Oxford Tragedy

Monday, 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

Friday, 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 contact@socalmwa.com.

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Interview with Author & PBS Member and Book Give-Away

Thursday, 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!