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!

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!

 

 

The Lost Lansdale !

Cover of "Dead in the West"
Cover of Dead in the West

For a few years now I have been searching for the book “Dead in the West” by Joe R. Lansdale.  The first edition was published in 1986 – my birth year – and, to my knowledge, it is the first zombie western.

For Easter this year my boyfriend and I exchanged gifts, and I told him that first and foremost on my list of books was “Dead in the West”.  He found me a mint condition 2005 edition that is SIGNED by Lansdale.  I almost died when it arrived.  (Incidentally, he builds computers – so I bought him some parts he wanted).

No lie, I read that book in three days.  Cover to awesome cover.

The story revolves around a Reverend named Jebidiah Mercer, who has lost his faith in God due to some shenanigans from his younger days.  He feels that he is unworthy of being the Lord’s servant, and has resorted to holding prayer services specifically to get money to fuel his alcoholism.  He wanders from town to town and ultimately winds up in Mud Creek.  Mud Creek is a seemingly boring little town.  That is, until he finds out about the mob that attacked an Indian medicine man and his wife.  The mob hangs the man and does far worse things to the wife, and moments before dying the man vows revenge on the town.  It appears that Reverend Mercer has arrived just in time for the bloodbath that follows when the dead rise.

I can’t say enough about how great I think “Dead in the West” truly is – Lansdale is a master.  At times the story is funny and at other times its heartbreaking, other times I thought I wasn’t going to be able to turn out the light for fear of the images playing on my eyelids.  There is one scene in particular that caught my interest.  The good town doctor is in his study in the dark listening to the body of a deceased man come after him.  As he watches by the light of a single match, the body pieces itself together – all the parts crawling independently across the floor.  As usual, Lansdale adds humor when a nose decides to settle on a wayward finger instead of the face.  That notwithstanding, the whole scene felt very Lovecraftian to me.  It felt like it could have been straight out of “Herbert West: Reanimator”.

If it is at all possible for you to track down this book and read it, then you should.  “Dead in the West” will make you a rabid page-turner.  With every page the story gets more interesting, and more frightening.  If you’re not already a fan of Joe R. Lansdale, then this is the book to try.  He’s one author you don’t want to exclude from your horror collection!

“Twilight” Dad goes bad – in a biiig way !

Drive Angry 3D Panel. Actors Nicolas Cage, Amb...
Image via Wikipedia - Cage, Heard, and Fichtner in a panel for "Drive Angry".

The other day my boyfriend and I went to see the new Nicholas Cage movie, “Drive Angry 3D”.  I had purposely not seen the trailer for it prior to going, because I have found that lately the trailers show the entire movie.  What a disappointment it is to then go and see the movie, realizing you’ve seen the whole thing before – just not in the correct sequence.

There’s not a really deep plot to “Drive Angry”.  Nicholas Cage is going after the man who killed his daughter (masterfully played by Billy Burke – who has now officially broken out of the stigma of being “the dad from Twilight“. Not that I have anything against the “Twilight Saga“, lord knows I’ve seen the movies and read the books, but still – he’s a great actor and needs to be in more movies.)  In any event, the cool part about the movie is that Nicholas Cage is a very special kind of escapee, and his nemesis (possibly frenemy?) is a man with supernatural powers called The Accountant (played masterfully by William Fichtner).  He is helped along the way by the too-pretty-to-be-human Amber Heard, and his enemy is a cult fanatic (Billy Burke).

The movie was pretty good overall.  It reminded me almost of a “Constantine” remake.  Most likely that stems from the common subject matter of escaping Hell and having only a certain amount of time before having to go back.  The movie was lightened several times by Fichtner, whose character The Accountant was given a few moments of genuine humor.  The movie also boasts the funniest sex scene that I’ve ever seen.  (I’m not going into detail – go see the movie.  But it really is funny.)    Fun fact – Amber Heard plays the blond neighbor who first teaches wimpy Columbus the lifesaving “double-tap” technique in “Zombieland“.  (I come from a family of movie buffs – we like trivia like that.)  Billy Burke is very refreshing as a cult leader.  At first, he’s unrecognizable, and I think that attests to his acting ability.  I usually don’t like going to see movies where the actor is the same, no matter what part they are playing.  Burke can do bad very very well.  If for no other reason, this movie should be on your list to see, though I’m not sure if its worth purchasing.  It’s more of a rental or Netflix movie.  The movie is also rather gory, and I had to hide my eyes for the first few moments.  While the movie didn’t overdo the 3D aspect, it was still rough seeing a hand blown off someone’s wrist and watching the hand appear to fly out over the crowd at my face.

“Drive Angry” wasn’t anything over-the-top special, but it definitely wasn’t a terrible movie.  It was gory, funny, and stressful at times.  The actors and actresses all carried their parts well and the story was interesting.  Go see it before it leaves theaters – and make sure you see it in 3D !

My Hero, Vincent Price.

Cropped screenshot of Vincent Price from the t...
Image via Wikipedia - Dashingly handsome !

When I was a child, I had a terrible crush on actor Vincent Price.  I don’t remember exactly how it began, but I think it had to do with my viewing of an AMC showing of “House of Wax“.  Which ever movie it was, I remember Vincent Price starring, and a skeleton with obvious wires being lowered into a vat of acid.  [If anyone remembers which movie that is, please let me know.  I want to get it on DVD if possible!]  Anyhow, I saw “Tower of London” tonight for what I thought was the first time, but apparently I had seen it before because I remembered the ending.  I thought it would be in keeping with my recent leitmotif to write a blog post about it, being that it is a retro horror film.

In the 1962 movieTower of London“, Vincent Price gives a virtuoso performance as the mad King Richard III of England.  Why is this movie in a horror blog, you ask?  Simple.  What is more horrible than fratricide, multiple homicide, torture chambers, unrelenting ghosts, and a quick descent into madness?  Oh, and it is loosely based on history too.

Vincent Price was a gifted actor.  He was able to show the King’s change from somewhat sane murderer to doddering madman.  Price was never out of character during this movie.  He was positively revolting as the cruel hunchbacked man who rose to power on a wave of the blood of innocents.  While demanding that the rack be tightened on one of the servant girls, the look on Price’s face is terrifying.  If I didn’t know it was a movie, I’d be seriously worried!  [The actress being broken on the rack was pretty convincing too.]  Price was so ruthless, in fact, that I didn’t feel pity for his character during the movie, but rather fear for those who had to come into contact with him.

What I found to be the most intriguing about the movie was the duality of Price’s performance.  Was the King really seeing the ghosts of those he murdered?  Or was his guilt driving him mad?  Perhaps it was a combination?  So far as I could tell, Price never gave the answer.  The audience was left to make their own conclusions.

If you’re looking for a good, old-school horror film with class then I suggest you rent or buy “Tower of London”.  All the performances are top notch (though I’m inclined to say Vincent Price stole the show).  The sets are very effective in conveying the time period without being outlandish, and the music fits perfectly without being too outdated or too modern.  Overall this movie was very well-done.

More stories by an amazing author…

If you are easily offended, it’s best not to read Lansdale’s “On the Other Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” story as your introduction to his work.  The first Lansdale story I read was “The Long Dead Day” [discussed in The Dead That Walk].  I loved the story, but forgot who the author was soon after.  [I spent my whole summer reading zombie anthologies one after the other and sometimes its hard to keep track of authors.]  Later I came across a story involving his fictional character, Reverend Jedidiah Mercer, called “Dead Man’s Road”.  That story was likewise phenomenal, and unfortunately the book in which it was originally published has since been out of print.  The third story I came across was “On the Other Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” [found in Zombies : Encounters with the Hungry Dead and discussed in this blog].  I was offended at first, and it took me awhile to wade through those feelings and begin to appreciate the story.  When I did, I realized what an innovative, trend-setting author Lansdale really was.

I decided to find more of his works in the hopes that I could gain a better understanding of Lansdale as an author.  I also wanted to see what he was capable of doing when not confined to reanimated corpses.  I picked up Bumper Crop when I found out that Dead in the West, like many of his books, was out of print.  Lansdale describes Bumper Crop as an anthology of stories that were memorable to him for a variety of reasons.  An added bonus is that Lansdale himself introduces each story and discusses the publishing successes or failures and the inspiration for the story.

“The Shaggy House” is a really wild story.  There isn’t another word I can think of that would describe it so well.  It is about a house that causes other houses on the block to become diseased and stricken.  Two wily old men take on the house in an attempt to reclaim their neighborhood.  It has a sci-fi edge to it, and is actually very funny.  This story renewed my interest in haunted house stories.

“Pilots” – with Dan Lowry.  This story was really freaky.  It is suspenseful, thought-provoking, and sad.  The story follows a convoy of truckers who must band together to escape the murderous attacks of a black car, aptly named the Black Bird.

“God of the Razor” – I think if I were to give an award for the weirdest story in the book – it would go to this particular piece.  My best description is haunted house meets possession meets elder god meets serial killer.  And I’m not even sure that’s correct.  I just know this story rocks house.

If you are already a fan of Lansdale, you need to read this book.  If you haven’t been acquainted with Lansdale, you need to read this book.  Either way – you NEED to read this book.

Lansdale, Joe R. “Bumper Crop”

Cover of "Dead in the West"
Cover of Dead in the West

If you are easily offended, it’s best not to read Lansdale’s “On the Other Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” story as your introduction to his work.  The first Lansdale story I read was “The Long Dead Day” [discussed in The Dead That Walk].  I loved the story, but forgot who the author was soon after.  [I spent my whole summer reading zombie anthologies one after the other and sometimes its hard to keep track of authors.]  Later I came across a story involving his fictional character, Reverend Jedidiah Mercer, called “Dead Man’s Road”.  That story was likewise phenomenal, and unfortunately the book in which it was originally published has since been out of print.  The third story I came across was “On the Other Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” [found in Zombies : Encounters with the Hungry Dead and discussed in this blog].  I was offended at first, and it took me awhile to wade through those feelings and begin to appreciate the story.  When I did, I realized what an innovative, trend-setting author Lansdale really was.

I decided to find more of his works in the hopes that I could gain a better understanding of Lansdale as an author.  I also wanted to see what he was capable of doing when not confined to reanimated corpses.  I picked up Bumper Crop when I found out that Dead in the West, like many of his books, was out of print.  Lansdale describes Bumper Crop as an anthology of stories that were memorable to him for a variety of reasons.  An added bonus is that Lansdale himself introduces each story and discusses the publishing successes or failures and the inspiration for the story.

“The Shaggy House” is a really wild story.  There isn’t another word I can think of that would describe it so well.  It is about a house that causes other houses on the block to become diseased and stricken.  Two wily old men take on the house in an attempt to reclaim their neighborhood.  It has a sci-fi edge to it, and is actually very funny.  This story renewed my interest in haunted house stories.

“Pilots” – with Dan Lowry.  This story was really freaky.  It is suspenseful, thought-provoking, and sad.  The story follows a convoy of truckers who must band together to escape the murderous attacks of a black car, aptly named the Black Bird.

“God of the Razor” – I think if I were to give an award for the weirdest story in the book – it would go to this particular piece.  My best description is haunted house meets possession meets elder god meets serial killer.  And I’m not even sure that’s correct.  I just know this story rocks house.

If you are already a fan of Lansdale, you need to read this book.  If you haven’t been acquainted with Lansdale, you need to read this book.  Either way – you NEED to read this book.