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!

Zombie Pulp (fiction – not puree)

Cover of "Down the Road: A Zombie Horror ...
Cover via Amazon

It seems to me that while teachers may not garner the respect they deserve in every arena in life, they are standouts in the zombie genre. Bowie Ibarra gives us yet another tale of an educator surviving the apocalypse long enough to be the main character of a book.

I had heard about Bowie Ibarra’s “Down the Road” awhile ago, and it had been on my list to read.  It kept getting pushed back (I’m not sure why) until one day when I was looking at my e-mail.  Low and behold !  There is a second book.  My first thought was:  Damn.  I’m behind on yet another series.  Then I figured it didn’t matter and purchased it – and I’m super glad I did !

The story follows the trials, tribulations, and heartbreak of George – a teacher desperately trying to reach his family.  The fact that he’s stuck in a zombie apocalypse in the first place is at once unfair considering he has just lost his fiancee to a brutal murder a few months prior.  Things only seem to get worse just when they get better.  Eventually he gets stuck in a FEMA camp when he comes to a checkpoint in the road and is told if he doesn’t comply he will be “neutralized”.  At the FEMA camp, the people segregate by race and create gangs.  Amidst the chaos, several soldiers who were supposed to protect the people actually begin killing them as “examples”.  It seems there are no end of tragedies in this camp, including rape, murder, massive fights, and the obvious – zombie outbreak.  (Apparently nobody in charge is smart enough not to admit those who have bites.  Go figure.)

I should also note that the sex in this book didn’t seem out of place or unneccessary.  It fit the story, especially considering that according to David Moody on the cover it’s “zombie pulp fiction”.  The book isn’t overly showy with scenes of daring kung-fu or anything like that.  It’s simple and resonates with the reader.  If I were good with a gun, I could almost see myself in a similar situation (clumsiness and end-of-the-world panic aside).

One of my favorite aspects of Ibarra’s writing I can’t even really write about as it gives away too much of the ending.  What I can tell you is that the ending of the story is very unusual in that it looks at two different character’s perspectives almost simultaneously.  If I wanted to recreate the same effect, I know I could’t do it.  Ibarra has absolutely perfected the technique.  Another unique trait was the speed of the book.  Most books in the zombie genre either have a frantic pace or they change paces from relaxed to the-horde-is-on-your-doorstep panic.  For the most part, “Down the Road”  was evenly paced, with a few curve balls thrown in to remind the reader it was still the zombie apocalypse.  If I didn’t know better (and maybe I don’t) I would say Ibarra was using the zombie genre to critique human nature, and our priorities during a crisis.  A prime example would be the FEMA camp and the drug infested safe zone in which George is later invited to take shelter.  Honestly – who has time for drugs when the world is crawling, shambling, and slavering at your doorstep?

I was pleasantly surprised with “Down the Road” and I look forward to purchasing the next book and reading it soon.  I’m also looking forward to reading any other material Ibarra puts out on the same subject.