PaperBackSwap Blog

Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Historical Fantasy Review – The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi

Wednesday, August 9th, 2023

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

A very fun fantasy set in the medieval Middle East, really the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, around the time of the Crusades. Amina al-Sirafi is a doting mother, living in a ramshackle hut on a remote bit of land. But Amina wasn’t always poor. She wasn’t always on land either. Amina used to be a nakhudha, the captain of a pirate ship, and she was almost legendary. At least until the horrific death of one of her crew sent her ashore. The birth of her daughter made up for a lot though.

The arrival of a rich woman looking for the pirate Amina is something of a shock. There’s a kidnapped granddaughter at stake, a sad story that tugs at Amina’s heart. The promise of a million dinars for the rescue is too much to give up, and Amina says she’ll look into it.  It isn’t going to turn out quite the way she expected.

The action starts up almost immediately as Amina goes to visit her old ship and finds its crew, and her good friend Tinbu who’s now the captain, in jail and about to be executed.  Getting him out will take the help of Dalilia, a master poisoner, but it won’t be easy nor quiet. Not to mention that her client hasn’t quite told her everything and is now threatening to have her little family killed if she doesn’t follow through. Fleeing for safety, Amina brings them up to speed on the quest and, of course, they’re going to stick together.

There’s magical artifacts, a demon husband, many more pirates, numerous magical beasts, a sorcerer with horrible powers, treasure caves, and the granddaughter who knows a lot she shouldn’t about spells and magic.

Told from Amina’s POV within the framework of a scribe (whose identity becomes gradually clear), it’s a rollicking nail-biting ride through a semi-historical time and place we don’t see much of in English print.  I wish the glossary was more extensive, but most of the unfamiliar words are easy enough to figure in context.  I loved the little inserts from the scribe’s POV. The imagery and descriptions are first-rate, it’s like watching a movie in your head.  The dialogue is excellent – Chakraborty hits the funny notes just right.  The characters are memorable, with Amina and Raksh the most fleshed out.  I wished for even more of Amina’s three crewmates  but it worked.   You’ll also catch themes relating to some of today’s societal issues.  Amina, Delilia, and Dunya are women outside the norm for that age – they have courage, ambitions, and are not content to be hidden away.

This is the first of a new series. It’s delightful and I highly recommend it.




Cozy Fantasy Review – Legends & Lattes

Tuesday, August 8th, 2023

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree 

Review by Melissa B. (dragoneyes)

When I first saw info on this book, it was listed as a cozy fantasy. I’ve tried the cozy mysteries and as much as I love their punny titles and adorable covers, I could never get into them. I was afraid that I would feel the same about a fantasy cozy but since I do love a good fantasy and an exceptional latte, I decided to give this one a go. I’m happy that I did. This was so much fun and full of feels. I sped through the book and was eager for more.

The story is set around an orc named Viv who is ready to hang up her sword and try selling coffee for a change. This is not as easy as it would sound. She is starting from an old horse stable, in a town where she is a stranger, and at a place no one even knows what coffee is. Yet, along the way, she meets a cast a quirky characters and finds that all you need is friendship, respect, and faith. With all of that, the rest just falls into place.
I truly wanted to crawl into this world. To be there when the townspeople tried their first sip. To hang out with the crew at the coffee shop. To try a creamy latte along with one of those heavenly pastries. It was so much fun to escape into that tale and can’t wait until the next book comes out so I can escape again.




Series Review – The Tomorrow Series

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2023



Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

The Tomorrow series by John Marsden, first published in the 1990s, consists of 7 short novels intended for the upper end of YA readers (i.e., there is discussion of sex and some sex scenes, people get killed rather graphically, and there’s some torture).  The actions taken by the teens, and the results, are not completely believable but not totally implausible either. It’s written all from the POV of Ellie, in a lengthy diary format, and it’s her take on the events that pulls in the reader.  Fair warning, not everyone is going to survive.  This isn’t a series where you can dip in and out, it needs to be read start to finish.

TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN starts it off with a group of Australian teens on a camping trip. They’ve bushwhacked their way into a deep, barely accessible canyon called Hell where legend has it a hermit lived decades ago.  At the bottom, it’s a pleasant place with plenty of shade and water. Ellie, who organized the trip, and her friends spend a nice week lazing around the campsite. When they come out, their homes are empty and their pets are dead. Where is everyone? Ominous signs lead them to the horrifying truth: during the national holiday, a foreign country has invaded and seemingly conquered Australia, and everyone they know is being held captive as the invading army moves to occupy the country for its own people.  The kids hurriedly head back into Hell before they too are captured.

Ellie and the others are just teens. What can they do? They don’t want to be guerilla fighters but they aren’t about to turn themselves in either. As it turns out, with a little ingenuity they manage to inflict some significant damage on the invaders but not without cost.

THE DEAD OF NIGHT, the second book, Ellie and the rest explore away from their hideout and come across a group of other resistance fighters. They are so relieved to find adults, but it isn’t going to be that easy. Once again they need to strike the enemy by themselves.

A KILLING FROST: Lots of action and heartbreak in this one. Ellie evinces a certain sympathy for the invaders – it doesn’t stop her from fighting back – but it’s a point of view I could not sympathize with.  Her thought is that the invaders have some justification for their actions because Australia refused to take in more immigrants.  This seems to me more like an opinion the odious Major Harvey would have. Again, she doesn’t stop fighting and it’s to her credit that she feels bad about the people she’s killed. She rightly has concerns over what this will do to her, and her friends, in the long run.

DARKNESS BE MY FRIEND: Ellie and the remaining kids reluctantly return to Wirramurree with a group of guerilla soldiers, intent on sabotaging the military airfield that the invaders have built there. Not a lot of forward motion in this episode.  Once again, Ellie spends a lot of mental anguish on killing the enemy.

BURNING FOR REVENGE: The group decides that safely – safe is relative to be sure – sitting in their refuge isn’t what they want to do. A scouting mission turns incredibly dangerous very fast.  It’s a roller-coaster of action for almost the entire book.  And they come across something unexpected.

THE NIGHT IS FOR HUNTING: There’s more mouths to feed now, and the occupiers are getting closer to finding the hideout.  It can’t keep going on this way forever. A lot of interpersonal tension here, and fewer explosions, but still a taut story that moves along the plot.

THE OTHER SIDE OF DAWN concludes the series. The group is asked for just a bit more action as outside forces gather for “D-Day” to take back Australia.  Can they escape with their lives just one more time? There are definitely uncomfortable scenes in this one. I liked how Marsden ended it – the war’s over but life is not going to ever be as good as it was.
















Mystery Monday Review – Twenty Years Later

Monday, July 31st, 2023

Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea

Review by Pat D. (pat0814)


This is intriguing until the end. Walt Jenkins is a retired FBI agent with a painful past when he is assigned to a case in New York involving a missing man who spearheaded a sophisticated Ponzi scheme involving billions of dollars that financed his lavish lifestyle. Avery Mason is a successful investigative journalist, a well known television personality and the daughter of the missing man. She is in New York to examine the details of the murder of a prosperous author for her television program, while surreptitiously obtaining an illegal passport. Since Walt was the agent in charge of the author’s murder, their paths cross with unexpected consequences. Adding to the mystery, the suspected murderer facing indictment is Victoria Ford, who was identified as a victim of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

There are numerous surprises in this book. The ending is particularly riveting. This is my first novel by Charlie Donlea, and I look forward to reading more by this accomplished author.




Horror Review – The Children on the Hill

Sunday, July 30th, 2023

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

Review by Melissa B. (dragoneyes)

Vi, a 13 year old girl, lives a wonderful life with her brother, Eric, 9 years old, and her grandmother, Gram. Vi loves to explore and Eric loves to spend time with animals. Together they are the Monster Club. A union that they created to track and hunt monsters. They work on their monster hunting book in which Vi writes and Eric draws. Gram, spends her days at The Inn, a treatment center for the mentally ill. She is a famous psychiatrist who is known for her methods for treating her patients. When she is at home, she is a gin drinking grandmother who dotes on her grandchildren and also home-schools them.
One day, Gram brings home a young patient named Iris. She leaves Vi in charge of befriending her and keeping tabs to let grandmother know how she is doing. Iris starts of as mute but slowly starts to regain her voice. She also cannot remember anything from her past.  As the girls hang out together they start to form a bond. This leaves Vi to feel the need to find out more information on Iris to help her understand who she is and where she is from. Turns out that some things are best hidden.
This book flips from 1978 when we get Vi’s story to 2019 when we get the story of Lizzie, a real life monster hunter who is headed to find out why girls are going missing. Together the story collides and craziness creeps in. Quite an interesting and different story. Loved the characters and really related to their childhoods. The ending wasn’t what I expected. While it was good, I was expecting more.

Sci-Fi Review – The Spare Man

Saturday, July 29th, 2023

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


THE SPARE MAN is a fun SF mystery, set on a spaceship heading for Mars.  This had to have been inspired by “The Thin Man” movies, and while I know just enough to catch the reference (retired detective, rich wife, little dog, they drink a lot) that’s about it. Possibly it’s funnier if you’re familiar with the movie, but I thought it was amusing enough as is.

Ultra rich and famous Tesla Crane and her retired famous PI husband Shal are on their honeymoon when a person is murdered in the hallway right outside their stateroom. First on the scene, Tesla stays to give comfort to the victim while her husband Shal goes chasing after a fleetingly glimpsed figure.

When security arrives on the scene, they leap to the obvious conclusion and arrest Shal.  Tesla, who is so rich that money is never an object, immediately calls her lawyer on Earth. The interactions with the lawyer are one of the funnier bits throughout the book, as the time lag between Earth and the ship increases, so does the delay in conversation. Which means of course that the lawyer is always several minutes behind what’s actually happening on the scene.

It all goes from bad to worse when a body is discovered in the recycling tanks but there is no missing passenger. Then more murders happen, and all of them seemingly point to either Shal or Tesla.  The victims all know another very rich passenger, who just happens to own the company that owns the company that owns the spaceship.  But what’s the motive? And who is the spare man? The mystery plot gets pretty convoluted; there are a lot of connections to be explored and some red herrings along the way. I didn’t  guess the villain, but it was a decent motive, just not an “oh wow” moment.

It’s told from Tesla’s first-person POV, and I felt we don’t get much about the other characters, not even the husband.  But the dog is very cute. The security staff are stereotypes (but I did laugh to learn about Bob).

I liked Tesla. She’s intellectually smart, but occasionally lacks common sense. She’s got chronic pain issues from an accident, managed with a brain implant that can scale back pain signals, but supposedly she will have to deal with the aftereffects later.  It was interesting and very convenient, but considering all she did there weren’t enough physical consequences later. She’s got a service dog, which was good, but I thought Kowal allowed it to be too much pet and not enough service.  And then there’s Tesla’s money.  Her wealth and fame basically saved her and Shal, which Kowal has her talk about more than once.

I enjoyed it, although it isn’t going to make my yearly top ten. But there are some things in it (you’ll figure them out) that I think are going to place this book firmly in a time period. It will be interesting to read this in about 10 years and see what holds up.




Mystery Monday Review – The Angel Maker

Monday, July 24th, 2023

The Angel Maker by Alex North

Review by Melissa B. (dragoneyes)


A suspenseful book that kept me entertained right up to the end. I even had a bunch of the mystery figured out before it ended and yet enjoyed staying with it. Good characters that interacted well and an interesting plot that kept a steady pace.


We start out with Katie Shaw in her teen years, in love and happy. Tragedy strikes and sends her and her family down a much different path than she could ever have anticipated. Fast forward into the future and Katie is married with an adorable daughter. Her once close brother is now estranged. Things still move on in a, somewhat, normal manner until her life takes another twist. The past is pushed forward and secrets start to leak out. Along with those secrets come danger. Danger for Katie, her brother and everyone else she loves.


Another good book by North. The Whisper Man still holds as my favorite but this one is definitely comparable.