Katherine Kuzma-Beck

An academic mom.

cursedAs a middle school teacher I am constantly looking for new books that will entice teenagers to read. I also like to find books that take on old material that I still believe my students should be exposed to, but will probably not be into if I used the original source material. I was very excited to receive a galley of Cursed for these reasons and also, because it has been optioned by Netflix to become a series.

King Arthur’s Court

Cursed brings us into the Arthurian Tales, but with a new spin to it. We learn that there is a sword in the stone and that whomever pulls it, will become the new king of the realm. What everyone was not prepared for is that the chosen one may very well not be a man at all. What if that new ruler was, in fact, a queen?

A Dark Druid Rising

Nimsue is an outcast in her Druid village. She is frequently drawn to the dark arts and it leaves her feeling alone and also feared by her fellow villagers. When her village is attacked and ultimately slaughtered by the Red Palladins, Nimsue, becomes charged to bring back the ancient sword to a powerful sorcerer as her mother lays dying.

Teaming up with a mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk from across England, Nimsue is on a mission to save her people and avenge her mother’s death. The visuals are amazing throughout and the style of the story will keep students reading.

However, the book reads more like a screenplay in that it jumps quickly from scene to scene and is clearly written for its eventual Netflix debut. This can either be confusing for students or it could keep their attention with the choppiness of the writing. I think it would heavily depend on the audience in your classroom.

When this series eventually does come to Netflix, it could be really helpful in creating interactive lessons around the story versus the Netflix episodes. Students will love the visuals which really brought this book to life for me.

Book Information

Cursed by Thomas Wheeler will be available for purchase on October 1, 2019 from Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers with ISBN 9781534425330. To be linked to special pre-ordering pricing click the link at the top of this section. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

cover163108-mediumThe Books of the Dead by Emilia Bernhard had it all for me: Paris, death and of course, librarians. My inner nerd girl was squealing when I received the galley for this novel. I think I was so drawn to it because it had an air of Jonny Depp’s The Ninth Gate which I have watched probably too many times to count.

 A Double Murder

American sleuth Rachel Levis stumbles upon the body of an employee of the French national library strangled in the bathroom of a cafe. Having solved a murder, with her best friend Magda, only 18 months before, Rachel reaches out to Capitaine Boussicault for help.

She immediately goes undercover as a librarian to try to figure out which one of the man’s colleagues could have offed him. Almost just as quickly as she is undercover, the drama really begins to come into play: first, a priceless antique book is found mutilated and then, her favorite suspect for the first murder is found dead in the stacks. Boussicault pulls Rachel from the investigation. However, she and Magda are dedicated to solving this mystery and take the investigation into their own hands.

A Cozy Mystery

This is definitely a cozy mystery where the amateur sleuths win over the professionals and become part of an unbelievable investigation. You will have to suspend your sense of realistic cream investigations to thoroughly enjoy the novel, it has all the pieces to it: the international setting, the pair of best friends solving crimes and a slightly absurd reason to murder someone. I am excited to see where this series goes and what other kinds of trouble our two girls will get into next!

Book Information

The Books of the Dead: A Death in Paris Mystery by Emilia Bernhard is scheduled to be released on October 8, 2019, from Crooked Lane Books with ISBN 9781643851570. This review corresponds to an electronic galley supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review. To be linked to special pre-order pricing, click the link at the top of this section.

A year ago, I was heavily pregnant with you and struggling to get through each day. I was so exhausted and you were already on your way to being 10 pounds. I was running out of room in my body and you just wanted to stay inside me. I made it too comfortable for you.

I found it hard to breathe or eat or really function outside of the recliner we have. I also was so excited to meet you. In a week from now, I would have labor that would start and stop. We had one full false alarm and then finally when we were well past our due date, they finally induced me, but you still wanted to stay inside.

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An emergency c-section and several complications later and my beautiful baby boy that I had dreamed and prayed for was at last in my arms with his haunting almost black eyes and my face staring back at me.

We had a crazy first year together with me writing my doctoral dissertation and my going back to work way too soon. I have enjoyed every day that I am home with you this summer getting to see you turn from that little baby I brought home to the charismatic, brave and funny little boy you are so quickly becoming.

Getting to know you now as a little boy are the best ways I spend my days. You think so many things are funny and you love cuddling with me. You also love to tell me stories and yell at the TV. You’re walking everywhere and if you can figure out how to climb something, you will.

I find myself falling more in love with you every day, but also, I find myself getting a little sad at the end of each because I know by morning you’re going to be even more of a little boy and less of the baby that I have held and cradled, soothed and rocked, wore and breastfed for the last year. You’re finding your independence and as a mother that makes me very proud because it means I have loved you well, but at the same time, it makes me sad because you won’t need me like you did when I first brought you home.

I catch myself watching you sleep more and cuddling close to you, wanting to get in every last minute of who you are now, smelling your little head and holding your little hands. It amazes me how in another year, you will be so much more like a little boy and again I will feel this bittersweet sadness over your growing up.

No matter how old you are though, you will always be my little prince.

I took a little step back from blogging as much as I was to enjoy the first few weeks of summer vacation with my son. I have had such anxiety every day this year since I came back from maternity leave when I would leave him to go to work and it turns out, Logan was feeling the same way. We have been inseparable since I have been home. He just wants his mom and I just want my baby. I am sure I will write more about this in a future post.

Today, I wanted to share the story where I felt like I really became a mother. Outside of my anxiety of leaving my son every day, I also struggled with my identity as well. I have been working sometimes up to 7 days a week and doing a doctoral degree full time up until I had Logan. My interests and hobbies and friendships all took a back seat because I was working on paying for a wedding and then, finishing school. As I approached the end of that journey, I realized how far from myself I had come.

poop

While I know that my weekends at concerts and trips to music festivals and art shows are not going to dominate my life like they used to, I do know that I can have some of that back as I navigate my life as Logan’s mom. Time is just stretched so thin and it’s really of the essence more so than we get a lazy day of not doing much of anything. Time has sped up 1000% since Logan came home. I have to consciously make time for friendships or time doing other things outside of being a mom and a teacher. It took me several days to find the time to text one of my good friends that I haven’t spoken to in over a year. Just as we were catching up and updating each other about everything that we have going on, Logan went into the kitchen for a brief moment.

Now, I have been letting him toddle into the very baby proofed room and giving him a minute before I go after him. Well, in that minute my son pooped on the floor, peed on top of it and came back into the living room with a hand full of poop outstretched with the biggest smile on his face as if he were so proud to finally have figured out where his stinky diapers come from.

I immediately grabbed him and picked him up, holding his hand out away from me as the stink permeated the living room. I run to the kitchen and find the carnage. He smashed most of it and then the true horror came into view…we fed him corn last night with dinner. I wanted to puke.

I quickly get him up into a bath and changed into a fresh diaper and clothes. I run downstairs and throw the baby gate up to keep him out while I scrub the kitchen floor and made sure to find all of his corn kernels, gagging the entire time. He happily sat watching his cartoons like all was right with the world.

Kids man, why didn’t anyone warn me about the poop???

By the time I got back to my phone, my friend was off doing her thing and the conversation died. And there I sat in my living room with my de-pooped kid watching Simple Songs on YouTube until my husband came home laughing because I had texted him the entire poop saga.

I don’ think I can ever look at corn or my kid the same way again.

dyingThe overall premise of Segal and Jones’s I’m Not Dying with You Tonight is that two girls from very different worlds collide when chaos breaks out at a football game that they both decided to attend. Before this night, neither of them knew of the other but they find that they must rely on each other in order to survive.

The Conflict

Campbell is the new girl in school. She has just moved to Atlanta and is treated much like new kids usually are– as an outcast with no friends and that feeling of not belonging. Campbell is also white and is perceived by Lena to be just another “rich white girl.”While Lena, on the other hand, is black, and she is popular with a killer boyfriend and knows that she is going to make it big. She sees her entire life before her and is excited for where she is headed.

The two girls do not know each other before the Friday night game. They choose to attend it and are thrown together out of circumstance. A fight breaks out at the game and a police officer is shot. Chaos quickly takes over and a riot ensues. The girls are thrown together in the hysteria and quickly realize that they must rely on each other for survival.

Surviving Atlanta

Atlanta is a tough city as is. My first residency for my doctoral degree took me there in 2015. We were in such a rough area of the city that we were told not to leave the hotel. Which was crazy to me because the hotel we stayed at was the hotel that was used for The Capital in The Hunger Games. We were told repeatedly that if you did not know Atlanta not to venture out.

It seems like that advice was solid advice because Segal and Jones paint a similar picture of Atlanta. In I’m Not Dying with You Tonight, Campbell and Lena are tossed onto the streets of Atlanta as they try to avoid the chaos and the violence that has erupted following the fight and the subsequent shooting that occurred. They realize that their only escape towards Lena’s boyfriend and eventually home is to get through Tilman Park, the “worst hood in Atlanta.”

Surviving Each Other

Along with surviving the violence that has overtaken much of the city, the girls also have to address and survive their biases towards one another. Lena is the popular girl while Campbell is just trying to get through school. Lena thinks Campbell is just another rich white girl even though that can’t be farther from the truth and Campbell reveals her own biases towards Lena in their dialogue and decisions she makes towards their survival.

This is a rather short YA read at 150 pages so the novel does not go deeply into the race relations, ideas on privilege and teenage female friendship– but the nuances are there and this could serve as a springboard for much more in-depth conversations with the younger side of Young Adult readers. I will be adding a few copies to my classroom library this fall.

Overall, while in places the book feels very character driven at the start, it quickly turns to plot driven as the girls spend the remainder of the novel jumping from place to place trying to get to Lena’s boyfriend so that he can get them home. The drive to reach Lena’s boyfriend was a little odd to me because he was not answering any of her calls. Why would you put your life on the line to get to him if he wasn’t answering his phone? Why not try to get home without the help of your boyfriend? Ultimately, the girls do each get home and we are left to wonder if a friendship will now develop between the two and if in attempting a friendship if the girls’ biases towards one another would ever be fully addressed and resolved.

Book Information

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2019 from Sourcebooks Fire with ISBN  1492678899. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was received from the publisher in exchange for this review. To be linked to special pre-order pricing, click the link above!

My husband and I have worked really hard over the last two summers. Last year I was in the final stages of pregnancy and working on organizing our house for our baby while my husband worked any shift that he could get. The summer before, we were saving for our wedding and I was interning at the high school within my district, working full-time at a beach hotel and taking my final doctoral class. This summer?  We are relaxing on our deck and grilling and drinking wine. We have earned this summer!

And my favorite find for summer? These Vino 2 Go Wine Tumblers. I love them because they are plastic so if they fall, they won’t break and they come with a lid so spills are minimal. And also, let’s face it if you’re outside and it’s summer there are also bugs so the lids really are a great benefit.

They’re also only $8.99!! Snag this deal by clicking the image or click here —-> WINE TUMBLERS

A year ago today I was waking up heavily pregnant. I was exhausted. We were also passed the second week that my aunt was told that she had left to live. She was an hour away from me. I had planned on going back that day, but I was just so pregnant and tired and really was not in the forgiving mood for other family members that would be there.

aunts

I laid in bed for a good hour, staring at the ceiling weighing out my options. If I didn’t go and I waited, I would probably miss seeing my aunt for the last time. While I had seen her the previous weekend, she was still up and talking, but according to my brother, she was going down fast and was sleeping most of the time now. I would also regret that for the rest of my life. If I did go, it would be exhausting and I would have to deal with a lot of things.

I pulled the cover over my head.

My husband found me soon after. He made me sit up.

“If you don’t go today, you won’t get tomorrow.”

Damn it, I really hate it when he’s right.

“And we both know that if you don’t get another visit in before she passes, you’re going to regret it. You have to go.”

Did I mention, that I really hate it when he’s right?

I threw on a pair of leggings and a sweatshirt and slipped into my sandals. I texted my cousin and asked if they needed anything. I went on a hunt for glutenfree pizza from one of the many pizza places around me. When you live in Virginia and have a gluten intolerance, you rely on your jersey pizza. I finally found it at the pizza place we don’t usually go to and was on my way home.

When I got to the house that so much of my life had transpired in: birthdays, holidays, bringing home my husband– I wasn’t prepared to see my aunt so far gone already. It was clear that within the next day or so, she would be with Jesus. She had been talking to my uncle who had died when I was 12 when she was still awake and was talking about seeing other people who weren’t there. If I ever questioned if we lived after our physical body dies, it was this that gave me hope that there is more after this.

In some ways, it turned into just another visit. We sat talking about life, the baby and my teaching life. It must have been a comfort to her to know that we were all there and that life would go on even if she was missed every single day. My mom and I had looked over at the same time to see my aunt struggling to take her last breaths. Surrounded by my mom, myself, my grandmother, my cousins, my brother and my uncle, my aunt quietly slipped away. And just like that, it was over.

We sat with her for a couple of hours as the reality didn’t even sink in that she was gone. The hospice nurse came and pronounced that she was gone. It still didn’t feel real. My mom and I sat with my cousin as we watched the funeral home take her. The men were there too, but there was something about that moment between us women. It was always us four, even when my cousin and I were younger.

After that everything was a haze. My grandmother had to be moved to assisted living. The house was being sold, my uncle was leaving with my cousin for Virginia. I suddenly had all of these family things in my own home and I was slowly coming to accepting the idea that my aunt would never get to meet my son even though she had been looking forward to his arrival so much. Then it was the funeral and then it was like everything that was my aunt was suddenly gone– my aunt herself, the house that had been my center for many years and with it, was the last of my childhood. I would become a mom 2 months later and life has not been the same since.

It would take more time for me to realize the impact that losing my aunt would have one my life. It was my aunt and my grandmother who I would go to when I needed help and advice and suddenly, my grandmother seemed 20 years older than she had been last year and my aunt was no longer here to call or visit. My aunt was like a mother to me in many ways, she always made sure I had things– new clothes for sorority life, makeup, jewelry, etc. She was also the first one to read my manuscripts and avidly read all of my blog attempts and then would drive me crazy with her commentary to my grandmother about my blogs (usually ones about dating).  Christmas was always a huge deal at her house so was every other holiday including our birthdays. She was the heart of our family and since she left us, it’s been strange trying to rebuild that center.

A year ago today, life had changed as I had known it.

Note: This was scheduled to appear yesterday, June 10, 2019, on the first anniversary of losing my aunt, but I couldn’t get through writing it. So, it appears now, after writing and revising this many times over since yesterday afternoon.