Emma and Leslie are back for more!

Generally speaking, I’m not a girl who reads mysteries. Or, at least, I used to be a girl who didn’t read mysteries. Kelley Kaye’s Chalkboard Outlines series changed that for me.

poison by punctuationThe two teachers at the center of the series are English teachers Emma and Leslie. Emma is a sweet Southern belle who drips with charm. Leslie is a plucky counterpoint who loves to quote Shakespeare. Their friendship is endearing and realistic, as are their characters. I have to confess that one of the reasons that the series is appealing to me because I used to be a (Spanish) teacher. Kelley’s depiction of the school day and the teacher’s workloads are extremely real. Often Emma and Leslie have to wait to see each other on lunch in order to share new insights into the murders. They also discuss having to grade papers and plan lessons. I appreciate these touches – it kills the immersion for me when fictional teachers don’t seem to actually have to do their job. Watching them juggle the responsibilities of relationships, careers, friendship, and investigating is great. I love strong women characters, and Leslie and Emma are no exception.

Poison by Punctuation finds the girls starting a new school year. Emma is more settled in, since this will be her second year. Leslie is on the prowl for a new beau and being her usual witty perky self while doing it. However, their fun comes to a halt when they find the body of a cheerleader just days after she received an anonymous note. Desperately hoping that the death was accidental, it quickly comes to light that the death was anything but. The clock is ticking, and Emma and Leslie have to figure out who is sending the anonymous notes, why they and others have been targeted, and what it has to do with the murder.

I have to confess that at the time of writing this post, I haven’t finished the book. I’m 46% through it, and am planning to go home and curl up with Zelda and do nothing but read. I received an advanced reader copy and have been reading it while trying to settle into a new job. Truth be told, I’m counting down the hours. Kelley Kaye writes the kind of book you can’t wait to get home and read, and just knowing there are hours between now and when I get to sit down and read is a special kind of torture.

Poison by Punctuation is every bit as delightful as it’s predecessor, Death by Diploma. Kelley gently reminds the reader of the events in the first book, without seeming intrusive or like she’s treading old ground for want of something new to say. I am having a blast trying to figure out who killed the cheerleader, and whether or not the notes indicate who the next victim might be.

Whether or not you’re into the mystery genre, I highly recommend Kelley Kaye. Pick up Death by Diploma, and then follow it up with Poison by Punctuation. You won’t be disappointed!


The other day, I finished and reviewed Death by Diploma, by Kelley Kaye. When I reached out to her and gave her the link to my review, she told me that she had just signed on for Book 2 with Red Adept Publishing! Book 2’s working title is Poison by Punctuation.

I tried to see what she’d tell me about the book, and what I got in terms of insider info is that it’s going to be much more intense in terms of the theme. I can’t imagine it being more intense than the first book! Loyalty and friendship are strained and tested between Emma and Leslie. Will this newest caper separate the dynamic duo? Or will they overcome the odds, keep their bond intact, and solve the murder?!

Not Your Average Mystery

I was approached by Kelley Kaye with a request to review her novel Death by Diploma. I have to admit, I didn’t read the book description that she linked. She found me through our mutual friend, Stephen Kozeniewski. I decided to give it a go based on his recommendation.

I am extremely glad I went with the recommendation! Death by Diploma is not my usual type of book. It’s a straight up mystery with no paranormal aspects. Whatsoever. However, what it does have is a rock-solid murder plot, two plucky and lovable heroines, and a whopper of a mystery. When it all fell into place, I was completely gobsmacked. I had no idea that’s the direction in which the story was moving. The clues were easy enough to keep track of, but there were so many possibilities, I actually wasn’t even able to begin guessing.

When the book first began, I thought it was a little rocky. When I perused the beginning of the book after I finished, I realized what I thought was rocky. The two main characters were friends, even though they were both females. Kaye didn’t rely on cheap catty fighting to define her characters. They work together and form a very loyal friendship. Their personalities compliment each other, and even though Leslie is a fashionista, she’s not a stereotypical stuck up girl. She’s down to earth, fiercely loyal to her friends, and determined to find out who killed Melvin because she knows he deserved more than a gruesome murder.

The supporting characters are all really interesting as well. My favorite is Edward, the high-strung librarian. It’s pretty clear he deals with anxiety, but he does his best to be a contributing member of the investigation into Melvin’s murder. All the while trying to keep kids from lifting books from his library.

A special mention goes to the fuzzy cast too. Trinculo and Sir Toby. A calico cat and a sheltie, both females. They add a welcome touch of warmth and a smile. It doesn’t hurt that they remind me of my own fuzzies, Chloe and Zelda, who are also a female cat and dog.

I have a little confession to make. I cringed when I realized this book was written about school teachers. I went to school to be a Spanish teacher, and did so for several years. As such, I’m always a little hinky about how teachers are portrayed. When it goes well, it goes very well. When it goes poorly, it’s apocalyptic. Kaye shocked me by showing Emma, Leslie, and the rest of the teachers balancing their teaching duties with their concerns regarding the murder. It was only later that I realized Kelley was a teacher, that’s why she writes them so realistically. I appreciated the little touches that she included regarding class schedules, and how treacherous it can be to navigate teacher politics. Especially when parents are involved.

I am so happy to say that Death by Diploma is listed as Chalkboard Outlines Book One. That means the readers will get to see more of Emma and Leslie’s zany adventures. Even though I’m not sure I’ll be diving into the mystery genre more than some Sherlock Holmes and the odd book, I will certainly be on the lookout for the next in the series. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a really good mystery tale with a little bit of love, a ton of friendship, and a whopper of a surprise ending!