Extracurricular Activities (Murder 101, #2)

Extracurricular ActivitiesExtracurricular Activities
by Maggie Barbieri
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 0312355386
Series: Murder 101 #2
Publication Date: November 27, 2007
Pages: 294
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur


Well, I didn’t think I’d be able to refrain from immediately picking up the next book, but I’m a bit surprised by how quickly I devoured it.  Almost as good as the first one, though the action got a little bit over the top.  I found the premise believable, but the number of times Allison, the MC, found herself in peril stretched the boundaries of believability, even for a cozy.  Not cozy peril either: she’s shot, she’s stabbed, she’s kidnapped … her insurance rates must be hell.

Still, it obviously kept me riveted.  I miss mysteries like this; I know they’re still out there, but there just harder to find, which makes me all the happier that I can revisit the keepers on my shelves from time to time.

I have the rest of the series on my shelves too, but I’m going to try to hold off starting #3 so I can get some Halloween Bingo reading in.  We’ll see how long that lasts.

Murder 101

Murder 101Murder 101
by Maggie Barbieri
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780312355371
Series: Murder 101 #1
Publication Date: October 31, 2006
Pages: 288
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur

Safely away from the chaos of Manhattan, St. Thomas, a small college on the banks of the Hudson River in the Bronx, is supposed to be tranquil, bucolic, and serene. Unfortunately, English professor Alison Bergeron has found it to be anything but. Recently divorced from a fellow professor and even more recently without a car---it was stolen---she has been hoofing it to school. One Friday evening, two NYPD homicide detectives drop by her office. The good news is that they found her beat-up Volvo; the bad news is that the body of one of the students in her Shakespeare seminar was in the trunk.

Not only are Alison's chances of getting the car back bleak, but suddenly she's the primary suspect on a list that includes, among others, the murdered student's drug-dealing boyfriend, Vince, and the girl's father's business rivals (he's head of an old Italian family . . .).

Accused of a crime that she didn't commit, Alison enlists her best friend, Max's, emotional support and services as an amateur sleuth. Their fumbling efforts to clear Alison's name could land her in even hotter water with Detective Bobby Crawford, the handsome investigating officer (and former altar boy)---not to mention the nuns at St. Thomas. . . .

This was a re-read of a book I’d read years ago, the first in a series that takes place on a private, catholic college campus.   Our MC is a professor of English literature and the formula is fairly basic: she’s an unwitting suspect in a campus murder, and the investigating detective is a tall slab of gorgeous.  Peril and protection follow.

Same old, same old right?  Yes, and no.  When Barbieri wrote this 14 years ago, this formula wasn’t yet so much a formula as it was a trend, and as such, this book doesn’t feel derivative – at least not to me.  This story was written before ‘cozy’ became synonymous with ‘fluffy’ and ‘vapid’.  So we have likeable characters we genuinely cheer on, that are going through some rather heavy duty events involving very real violence.  When the MC sees crime-scene photos, she passes out, then vomits all over the detectives shoes – twice.  But instead of being played for laughs, the author makes us feel the mc’s embarrassment – and the detective’s embarrassment for her.

The plotting was good; not spectacular, but this is a first book, and it was adequate enough that I didn’t guess the culprit. The author did well with presenting an array of viable suspects, and when it came down to it, the solution made sense.

I’m glad I re-read this; I’d forgotten why I loved cozies so much; it’s nice to see that what I fell in love with is not the derivative nonsense cozies have become today.  Of course, I now want to re-read the entire series.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2020, specifically for the Dark Academia square.

Bran New Death (A Merry Muffin Mystery #1)

This is a very well written book with an excellent story and plot. It misses that last half star because I just didn’t connect well with the main character. Her two friends, yes. Her hinted-at future love interest – not even a little bit. So I was left feeling that while I really enjoyed the story, I didn’t empathise with the main character or her future life in Autumn Vale at all.


The setting was really well done – Autumn Vale is full of quirky, eccentric folks and I found that the setting was written with realism – this isn’t the idyllic quaint town that hums along; this is a quaint little town that is dying, with more storefronts closed up than open. There’s a lot potential here for future development in subsequent books.


The central murder plot was very well crafted; this is a meaty story and not one I think you’re likely to breeze through. Ms. Hamilton writes another series and in comparison, there is a much more mature quality to the plotting and writing in this first-in-a-new-series. The action moved along, there was well crafted dialogue, and not a lot of filler in the form of internal dialogue – there was a bit of ‘let’s sum up the suspects’ but it was minimal and didn’t really take me out of the flow of the story.


A convoluted plot with suspects known and unknown. Well done to the end.


I’ll definitely pick up the next book – there’s a bit of a cliff hanger in the form of a puzzle yet to be solved; that could prove to be fun. I’ll hope that in the next book I’ll find more to connect with regarding the main character, Merry.

Gone With the Woof (A Melanie Travis Mystery #16)

I’ve been a fan of this series since the first book came out years ago, and they’re books I will occasionally re-read. I was certain the last book, Doggie Day Care Murder (Melanie Travis Mysteries, #15), was the last one, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the upcoming release of Gone With the Woof. I made sure to pre-order it and couldn’t wait to revisit old friends.


For this long time fan, the story didn’t disappoint. Melanie, Sam, Aunt Peg, Bertie – the gang is all here and are as likeable and delightful as ever. Aunt Peg is still bossy, Sam is still easy-going and Mel is still giving as good as she gets.


The plot is one involving the sins of a father and son and I thought it was well done. There was a pivotal moment in the book when I had the ‘ah hah!’ moment and knew who the killer was – but it happened towards the end of the book and nothing was really lost with the knowing.


I found the climax a little bit odd as there was no way the killer wasn’t going to be caught so I don’t know what motivated that final scene. But I enjoyed it all the same.


I don’t know whether to look forward to another book or not? I certainly will be pleased if there is, but with 5 years in between this and the last, and after 16 books, I’m afraid to get my hopes up too high.

Clammed Up (A Maine Clambake Mystery #1)

This book started slow for me, and I was certain it wouldn’t be a 4 star read. But it was well-written and something kept me from just putting it down and walking away. As I kept reading, the story built momentum, and I became more engrossed, more invested, with each chapter.


The story takes place in Maine and the characters adhere to the stoic typecast of most residents of Maine. The result is not a light-hearted, humorous book or setting. The characters are likeable, but they aren’t charming or witty or cheeky; it takes time to warm to them. There’s also a fair amount of family drama to work through in this book, and that ratchets up the stoicism just that little bit more.


Julia has just moved back to Maine from New York City in an attempt to save the family business, and has no real friends in town to speak of, so no opportunities for banter or for the lighter side of a personality to shine through. Quentin shows promise in the future for more levity, but he doesn’t play a massive part in this plot and isn’t seen very often.


The plot itself was delightfully twisty and the ending was skilfully done; there was no guessing on my part – I hadn’t a clue how the story was going to end. A few threads were tied up a bit neatly at the end, but none of them central to the murder and none of them a surprise. I will say the author knows how to end a book too!


A very strong first, and I’m looking forward to reading the second.

Mama Gets Trashed (A Mace Bauer Mystery #5)

I enjoyed this book, but I’m giving it three stars because I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the first three books.


The plot was excellent and the subject matter not too many cozies authors would tackle – this book is going to either skirt or cross right over that line for a lot of folks. The subject matter doesn’t offend me at all, but I have a rather wider definition of cozy mystery than some. The major plot twist was one I guessed at pretty early on, although I was never sure of the villain so the ending was both climatic and satisfying (no puns intended). I love all the old-Florida touches throughout the book.


What disappointed me about this book were the characters – Mama isn’t funny anymore, she’s just shallow and narcissistic; the author, imo, has lost sight of what made mama funny in the first few books. Mace’s inability to get her head together as it concerns her relationship with Carlos is feeling overdone as well. She’s a protagonist I can rally behind; she’s smart, she’s capable, she’s independent. But her inability to apply her strengths in the rest of her life to her love life feels thin, contrived and tired. Time to grow up. Also, this whole Carlo-and-Mace-fight-then-just-carry-on-like-nothing-ever-happened….what the hell is that? I don’t like having to be involved in hashing out my own relationship issues, so I certainly don’t want to be dragged into someone else’s, fictional or not, but I’m certain the author can write a scene in there somewhere to let the reader know that serious communication between these two is taking place – the talking kind, not the kind taking place in the back seat of cars in cow pastures – and problems are being addressed in a constructive, progressive manner. Otherwise, each book is going to start feeling like a broken record.


I’ll be on the lookout for the next book, but I’m not going to be nearly as excited about it as I’ve been to this point.

Monkey Wrench (A Quilting Mystery #4)

A quick read, I can’t really say why definitively, but I just found this one to be o.k. The characters just didn’t gibe with me this time, I guess? It’s well written and the plot was solid and creative (although I guessed the murderer almost right away, it was just that – a guess). Perhaps the series is fading for me, or maybe it was just that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I read it? I wouldn’t steer anyone away from it; I just didn’t love it.

Little Black Book of Murder: A Blackbird Sisters Mystery #9

I’ve been reading this series since the first book came out, How to Murder a Millionaire (Blackbird Sisters Mystery, #1), and I’ve been hooked from the start. I can’t think of one book in this series that I’d call weak, and Little Black Book of Murder, IMO, upholds the series winning streak.


I loved this book and it’s always great fun to catch up with the Blackbird sisters and their individual insanities. Libby is often a bit ‘too much’ but the author does try to expose us only in smallish doses, so it never wears too thin. I will say it feels a tiny bit like she’s recycling a plot device in this book with Gus chasing Nora and Nora finding herself pregnant – we’ve seen this before but Nora seems to be going in a different direction this time, so perhaps not.


The mystery plot of this one was a bit – odd. It ends a bit messy, but not. I can’t say much more without giving too much away, but it’s definitely not one of the pre-canned, pre-packaged plot lines so popular with a lot of cozy authors up until recently. There are a lot of players involved, but I never struggled to keep them all straight and there was only one thread left dangling – we never find out definitively who burned Nora’s barn – I think we’re supposed to take it as read.


I hope this series continues a bit longer, as I am genuinely attached to all of these characters and the world Ms. Martin has built. I’m not sure how I feel about Nora becoming a mother, as I usually don’t care for cozies that have a maternal protagonist, but I’m sure willing to find out!

Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1) Audio

Ms. Peters is a master, there is no doubt about it. An excellent story, very well written, but I tend to prefer her Vicky Bliss books over Ms. Peabody. Still, I enjoyed the audiobook enough to buy the next one in the series. The narration was outstanding, although the narrator made Evelyn such a whispery girl I wanted to smack her. Still, if you like audiobooks and you’re looking for a good old fashioned traditional mystery, I can recommend this one as worth the time.

Heirs and Graces (A Royal Spyness Mystery #7)

I want to say right up front that I truly think after The Twelve Clues of Christmas (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #6), which was just absolutely superb, any book was going to feel pale in comparison. Such was the case for me with this book. But – I truly feel it only suffers by comparison, as I can’t find a single thing to say to the negative about Heirs and Graces.


I really enjoy the recurring characters in this series: Georgie is sweet, naive and correct, while maintaining a firm hand and a steel backbone; no simpering or sniveling going on here. Belinda is the scarlet woman, the best friend that keeps Georgie in the present. And Darcy is the divine love interest with an air of mystery surrounding his super secret work life. No irritating, annoying characters (except Fig, and she’s a bit player that doesn’t always make appearances in the books and was blissfully present-in-name-only in this book).


The plot of Heirs and Graces was good and the characters surrounding the plot were colourful enough to keep my attention. I was surprised by the ending – it was an excellent plot twist and though it doesn’t seem right to say, it made me laugh. Such a creative twist, with a tip of the hat to old murder mysteries.


A thoroughly enjoyable entry to a very solid series.