PaperBackSwap Blog

Archive for March, 2023

Fiction Review – Nop’s Trials

Tuesday, March 28th, 2023

Nop’s Trials by Donald McCaig

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

NOP’S TRIALS by Donald McCaig is a story about a man’s love for his dog. Rest easy: the dog does not die. But if you have a heart you will cry.

Lewis Burkholder raises cattle and sheep on his farm in Virginia. Like most, he has a dog to help him move the stock around.  Nop is a promising young Border Collie, and Lewis has high hopes that Nop will become not just indispensible around the farm but a competitor in stockdog trials.

On Christmas morning a covetous neighbor sees Nop near the road and scoops him up. Thus begin Nop’s trials – as he is passed from person to person, some of them kind and many of them not.  Border Collies are the most intelligent of dogs, and Nop has to use everything he knows to survive.

Lewis is a man of few words and doesn’t express emotion easily. He will not and cannot believe his dog is gone forever. He has an idea about the person who took Nop and he starts there. It’s going to be a tortuous path, tracing down every lead, and he’s still got a farm to run.

How Nop works to save himself and how Lewis finally finds him is suspenseful, emotional and heart-wrenching.  McCaig knows the life of a farmer like Lewis and depicts it with loving detail.  Lewis and Nop are the star characters and the reader will get to know them quite well.

This isn’t always the easiest book to read. The things people do to dogs and other animals can be difficult to read about. But there are moments of grace too. Nop’s courage and Lewis’s steadfast loyalty and determination shine throughout. It’s not a fast, action-filled read, but it moves ahead with a steady pace, so take your time. I promise you will feel joyous at the end.




Mystery Monday Review – The Barbarous Coast

Monday, March 27th, 2023

The Barbarous Coast by Ross Macdonald

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1956 mystery calls to mind hard-boiled PI novels by Raymond Chandler. It features series hero private detective Lew Archer. He is hired to find a Toronto man’s runaway wife. She has star-struck dreams of becoming an actress but the husband is annoying enough that we readers suspect she just wants to get away from him for good.

The husband getting in Archer’s way is hardly Archer’s only problem. MacDonald was a writer who returned to the theme of the past refusing to stay in the past. Earlier misdeeds haunt the present in the form of blackmail and an unsolved murder. And several more deaths occur in the course of Archer’s investigation.

The barbarous beach is Malibu, playground of the rich, but this is not as important as the web of relationships in the novel. The characters are a movie studio mogul and his somewhat schizoid wife who has quite a few proteges; a thug; a Latin lover posing as a movie star; the runaway wife’s mother and sister who is a presence though she is among the dearly departed; the director of an elite club in Malibu; the doorman of the same club, who is the Latin lover’s uncle. And so on. Despite the large cast, the case is not hard to follow.

Archer goes from one person of interest to the other and tries to put the pieces of puzzle together despite being conked on the head three times. The reveal is a model of economical writing and plausibility.

Recommended, especially for Macdonald fans.





Mystery Monday – Yesterday’s Papers

Monday, March 20th, 2023

Yesterday’s Papers by Martin Edwards

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The fourth of eight mysteries starring Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin was released in 1994. The author is a mystery writer who respects the traditions of the Golden Age of Whodunnits. So though set in the Nineties, this mystery has a steady rhythm and red herrings typical of the “corpse in the library” type of Golden Age mystery by Christie, Sayers, or Allingham. Also in the tradition: the surprises are great and the stilted dialogue is pleasant in its awkwardness.

Basically, our hero Devlin’s task is to investigate a cold case. Tall but bent over due to excessive reading of true crime, Ernest Miller asks the well-known lawyer help him solve a crime that took place thirty years earlier, in 1964 during the heyday of the Four Mop-tops and Liverpool swings like a pendulum do. Miller claims the wrong person had been accused of the terrible strangulation murder of a teen-aged girl, convicted on a false confession, and then killed himself in jail before he could be hanged.

Devlin thinks it’s a long shot, but he agrees to read the lawyer’s file on the accused and interview people of interest that are still among the quick in Ireland’s Second Capital. Devlin compares and contrasts the various testimonies and tries to clarify attitudes and emotions obscured by the passage of time. While recognizing the pointlessness of his task, since it is now impossible to undo the mistakes caused by the vagaries of human behavior, Devlin wants to get to the bottom of the story to discover the truth. The only thing left is to restore the reputation of those who have been unjustly blamed.

Recommended, it stands as a readable mystery because it mixes elements of the classic and modern mystery.




Sci-Fi Review – A Trail Through Time

Saturday, March 18th, 2023

A Trail Through Time by Jody Taylor

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


This is Jodi Taylor’s fourth entry in the Chronicles of St Mary’s, an institute whose mission is to travel back in time and observe history. There are some spoilers for previous novels, so you have been warned. A new reader should start with the beginning, JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER, which I reviewed here.

It is pretty much non-stop running for our two heroes, Max and Leon.  We are firmly into alternate timeline territory  now.  Max (let’s call her Max1) has arrived in a timeline where she (Max2) died and Leon lived, and now suddenly there’s Max1 – almost but not quite the same person. Leon and Max are both appalled but ecstatic and they plan on living happily and quietly ever after. We know that ain’t gonna happen, not in this book.

Taylor introduces the Time Police, a paramilitary group created by treaty in this new timeline after the secret of time travel escaped. World governments seized on the opportunity to change history in their favor, and (according to Leon) chaos ensued, with entire countries flickering in and out of existence.

But now the Time Police are after Max, so Max and Leon spend quite a lot of time leaping from place to place trying to avoid them. We experience some good vignettes of history, like London’s Frost Fair.  I can’t really get into the pursuit reasons without major spoilers for this book, so I’ll  leave it at that.  It’s breakneck action for quite a long time.

They finally go to ground at St Mary’s, where Max1 Is going to have to reconcile the differences between her and Max2.  It all comes to a conclusion with a huge climatic battle between the residents of St Mary’s and the Time Police, in which the good guys practically blow up St Mary’s.  It’s grim but as usual there are also some funny scenes in it, complete with snappy dialogue.

I enjoyed seeing some characters that I didn’t expect. I thought Joe’s last scene was totally heartless – I wish I thought Taylor would return to that someday so we’d know what happened.  Loved the little bits of history we get to know as Max and Leon travel.

Taylor never pretended to try and work out the logical problems with her time travel story.  It’s amusing enough that I’m willing to go with her plots and not think much about inconsistencies. However, in the very first book it’s stated that it is impossible to change history, because History will actively defend itself even if that means killing  you in the process. We saw examples. We started to see it falter in the second book, and now it’s just gone. I can see from the trial scene why it was necessary for Max1 to be in that particular timeline. But it’s getting harder for my logical side to ignore the discrepancies, although I’m still enjoying the story. Will we find out in later books why history can be changed? I hope so. Number 5 is on my to-be-read list.



Sci-Fi Review – Embers of War

Saturday, March 11th, 2023

Embers of War by Gareth Powell

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)



EMBERS OF WAR by Gareth Powell is an action-packed fast-paced space adventure. It’s the first book in a trilogy, but it has a complete story arc that comes to a decent conclusion, so you could stop here and not feel like you were left hanging.

The prologue sets up the rest of the book.  There’s a war, and a decision is made to annihilate an entire planet, one with a sentient forest that’s millions of years old. One of the sapient warships who participated was the Trouble Dog.

Trouble Dog cannot forget what she did. She resigns her commission – unheard of for a warship – and joins the House of Reclamation, an organization dedicated to rescuing spaceships and others in distress. “Life Above All” Is their motto.

Captain Sal Konstanz was the captain of a hospital ship on the opposite side of that war, but she also has renounced war and is now the captain of Trouble Dog.  While on a rescue mission, their medical officer is killed by an alien creature. Sal is blamed for it by crew member Alva Clay as well as her superior officer, but punishment must be delayed – a passenger ship has been attacked in a far corner of the galaxy and Trouble Dog is the closest who can assist.

When they stop to refuel, they’re approached by Ashton Childe, an intelligence officer for one of the warring factions. His superiors have ordered him to get on board Trouble Dog by any means possible and find Ona Sudak, a passenger on that attacked ship.  Why her, he doesn’t know, he just follows orders.

They quickly realize the rescue mission is going to be highly dangerous. Trouble Dog receives an ominous warning from her sister and brother ships, who are still fighting. Konstanz has other problems too, with a new medical officer with no training at all, Childe and his frenemy who came on board during a firefight, and the sullen Clay, who might at any moment decide that mutiny is the way.

Sapient spacecraft are nothing new in science fiction, but I really liked Trouble Dog’s personality and descriptions of what it’s like to travel in space. The book switches rapidly between first-person POVs of Trouble Dog, Konstanz, Childe, Sudak and Nod. Nod’s chapters are very short but interestingly strange – he is Druff, an alien species that specializes in repairs to starships – but it’s Trouble Dog and Konstanz who stood out in my mind.  I also really liked the idea of the House of Reclamation.  The big secret they find was quite fun too, I’m sure that’s going to be the basis for the rest of the trilogy. I also very much enjoyed that the characters (all but one, apparently) have a moral sense, even Trouble Dog – that war is an awful thing, that killing your enemy is not something to celebrate, and that if you take a life to save others you might be right, but you still can’t escape what you’ve done.  It’s an excellent start and I’ve got the next two on my list.



True Crime Review – The Want-Ad Killer

Thursday, March 9th, 2023

The Want-Ad Killer by Ann Rule

Review by jjares


This is an earlier Ann Rule novel, before the time of fancy forensics and DNA. Harvey Carignan was apprehended in 1974, and this book was first published in 1983. Ann Rule molded the true crime novel into what it is today. Her careful attention to detail and explanation of the victim’s feelings evokes sympathy and compassion in the reader. Perhaps the author chose this title because it was catchy, but most of Harvey Carignan’s victims were opportunistic, not solicited by the newspaper.
Harvey considered himself to be brilliant and far more intelligent than any policeman. He ensured his victims were found in different areas of the state (Minnesota) or other states so his trail would be hard to trace. He knew different police departments had limited interaction with each other (at that time). The book’s first part explains Harvey Carignan’s rageful and violent attacks on women. Some of the descriptions are absolutely unbelievable. It is stunning that a human could survive such punishment. Then, the author takes readers through the trials.
Minnesota law limits a person’s incarceration to 40 years. During the second trial (for additional crimes), the judge complained (!) that Carignan had already been convicted and sent to prison for 30 years, so what was the point of spending the money to heap more time when the limit would be another ten years?
The prosecutor explain that the purpose was two-fold. The victims needed to have their day in court and when Carignan came up for parole, having multiple sentences would give parole boards pause before they decided to release the man. However, the second jury gave Carignan another 30 years in prison!
The third trial for the death of Eileen Hunley (whose only crime was trying to lead him into religion and deciding that she did not want to be his girlfriend anymore) ended in a conviction. Now he had a prison sentence of a total of 100 years plus life. Unfortunately, they would run concurrently; he could seek parole after 17 years. The Minnesota Supreme Court listened to his appeal in 1977 but unanimously upheld Carignan’s conviction.
 It is unknown precisely how many women Harvey killed. The range offered is between three and more than five. This book recounts five murders (and convictions) and more than three violent attacks. However, it is expected that there were more that were never found. Incredibly, Harvey Carignan is still alive today. He is 95 years old and still in a Minnesota maximum-security prison.


Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Waylaid Wolf

Monday, March 6th, 2023

The Case of the Waylaid Wolf by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


In his father’s company, rich and spoiled playboy Loring Lamont keeps an eye peeled for attractive female employees. He tricks stenographer Arlene Ferris into coming to his father’s cabin hideaway. They cozily cook ham and eggs together. Lamont moves in. Arlene, however, is decidedly not, as they used to say in 1960, “a broad-minded girl with a tolerant view of life.”

His moves change from an unwanted advance into a violent attempted date rape. Arlene flees the cabin, but the wolf pursues the pretty lamb through the woods. Shrewdly running an end-around, she “borrows” his car in order to get back to town, though in a mocking touch she does end up parking it outside his apartment by a fire hydrant.

The next morning Arlene visits lawyer Perry Mason to discuss filing charges against the player. Set in the late 1950s, this book is set before the enactment of rape shield laws. In the bad old days, with impunity defenders of accused rapists would relentlessly drag the reputations of rape complainants through the mud. Mason points out the rich Lamont family would sic detectives on her private life. Arlene, a fighter, retains Mason to pursue the case because she wants Lamont’s predatory behavior stopped. If she can save just one woman the anguish of her experience with Lamont, the risks of a suit would be worth it.

As it turns out, though, Arlene faces legal trouble because after her departure from the cabin, somebody stabbed Lamont to death with a butcher knife. Homicide detective Lt. Tragg and DA Hamilton Burger are grimly certain unlucky Arlene lead Lamont on and stabbed him to death for the thrill of it.

This is the 100th book in Gardner’s long successful career. So Gardner confidently and deftly gets all his ducks in a row. For instance, Gardner likes to fog things up with pairs. Two cars confuse a police officer. Two skirts confuse Lt. Tragg. Looking similar enough to confuse hopelessly a record store owner are Arlene and her friend Madge (the retro names are always fun in Gardner).

Also, Gardner tests Perry Mason’s prime directive “Always trust your client” because the evidence against Arlene indicates she’s being economical with the truth.

Finally, Gardner’s realism is matter-of-fact, the product of a lifetime of asking questions, listening, reading, and writing about our system of criminal justice, police procedures and proclivities, and the fallibility and waywardness of us ordinary people.