Katherine Kuzma-Beck

An academic mom.

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. 

bundyI am a true crime junky and when it comes to Ted Bundy, I can read anything about him. I find it crazy how so many women found him to be so trustworthy and charming because when I watch footage of him or even see pictures, I just think how demented he looks. I would have promptly walked in the opposite direction of him had I ever encountered him in life.

That said, Kevin Sullivan has written three other books on Bundy making this volume, the fourth in his series. Sullivan’s Bundy novels include The Bundy Murders, The Trail of Ted Bundy and The Bundy SecretsWhat makes Ted Bundy’s Murderous Mysteries: The Many Victims Of America’s Most Infamous Serial Killer different from the first three books in this series is that Sullivan shares with the world case files and notes that have not previously been released, creating new information even for the most dedicated of Bundy’s researchers.

Detailed Case Notes

Sullivan does not disappoint with his inclusion of copies of copious amounts of case files from investigators that detail Bundy’s relationships, abductions and murders. As they are true files from the case, they are detailed and often bloody, but they give you an honest documentation of the horrors that Ted Bundy inflicted on countless women while he was alive and free.

Along with the case files, Sullivan wonderfull strings together the events and timelines, guiding the reader in putting together the new information presented as well as synthesizing it with previous information from earlier works. That said, this novel is not a light read and I found myself needing to take breaks often just because of how heavy and gruesome much of the material was. What made it even more difficult to stomach was how Sullivan showed you the cases through the victims. He makes you feel as though you are watching the last parts of each woman’s life as they encountered Ted Bundy and met their often gruesome demise.

Sullivan curates the case files and his own commentary with the ease of someone who knows their course material well. This book stands as a way to preserve what is known about Ted Bundy and his victims which as Sullivan himself admits, is important because so much of the material that we once had has already been lost because Utah had no interest in preserving it and what they did have was destroyed once the trail documents hit their nine-year limit. Overall, Sullivan’s completion of his Ted Bundy series does not disappoint and offers much detailed information into Ted Bundy and his many victims.

Book Information

Ted Bundy’s Murderous Mysteries: The Many Victims Of America’s Most Infamous Serial Killer by Kevin Sullivan was released by WildBlue Press on April 19,2019, with ISBN 9781948239141. This review corresponds to an electronic galley that was received from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Two years ago at this time, I was engaged and towards the end of my planning for our November wedding. We were beginning to seriously discuss starting our family. I was also packing and getting ready to head off to my final doctoral residency in Dallas, Texas.  I blew the residency out of the water when I had my research plan completely approved and granted scientific merit approval the first day of residency, something that usually takes the entire residency to complete.

I am now waiting to hear back about the formatting of my dissertation for publication. I am at the end point. My dissertation is done and written. Now it’s just the last few steps towards graduation. It’s so crazy to be here. Looking forward, the last few major upgrades are going into our townhouse this week and next which means, she’ll be ready for the market soon after and we will be moving towards a single family home that we are hoping is going to be our family’s forever house.

This also means we are leaving the Jersey Shore behind us. After two years of looking all over New Jersey, we have decided that the best spot for us is more north and closer to my job. I will be less of a lunatic when I don’t have to spend 2 hours every day in a car commuting. We’ll also be saving a fortune on gas and car maintenance too. Logan (and the dogs) will have a lot more room to play and run around. Where we’re looking, houses are almost in the country and come with big pieces of property so even if the house we fall in love with is smaller than what we ultimately would have wanted, we will eventually be able to put on an addition if we want to. I am just eager to get out of drug-ridden ocean county and have Logan poised to start school in a blue ribbon school district.

That’ll be my focus this summer. I am also focusing on myself. I finally succumbed to the mom haircut that I have been fighting since I had Logan and I am so much happier. While I have lost all of my baby weight, I am now ready to lose the last of my chubby weight too and I have been following my old eating plan for a couple of weeks now. I already feel better. I would like to lose 100 pounds and get myself back to where I am happiest with my weight, but I would like to lose at least 50 before I have another baby. It’s crazy to think how much this summer is such an end to a happy chapter of my life where I began a life with the man I love, became a mom and finally, after 15 years have finished school with my Ph.D.

bobbed

It’s crazy to think that I am also ending this phase with my new mom hair cut that consists completely of my natural hair complete with my hard earned rogue stripe and all.

undertakerAs Effie explains when she’s asked how she can be an undertaker’s assistant, ““The dead can’t hurt you. Only the living can.” So sets the mood for this wonderfully dark, pervasive novel set amongst a strenuous time in our nation’s history. Effie Jones is a former slave living and working in New Orleans, a place as dark and mysterious as much of the mood of this novel is. Living now, as a freedwoman, Effie is navigating her new life and her return to life in the South as she works for a white undertaker who does not share her skills that she acquired from a Union soldier and is fighting the urge to rekindle her old life and the ties she lost to her own family.

New Orleans

While slavery is now a piece of the past, the racial tensions that are building in New Orleans are not. Effie is among many who are now living as freed people in the southern city and for many, this is not always acceptable. For Effie, there is also an overbearing sense of loss both in her identity and within her ties to her family that was lost in the upheaval of slavery. It is within her past that Effie will also find her new beginnings.

New Orleans serves as a wonderful backdrop for such a turbulent time because New Orleans is itself dark and turbulent. The city really lends itself to the morose overtones that dominate much of the novel. Together, the setting and the political battles that are igniting through the racial tensions created by the end of slavery lend to a well-charted plot and inevitable end.

Racial Tension

The tension between white and black citizens exists throughout the book. People such as Effie are struggling to find their place in the world outside of slavery.  Effie has two encounters with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline that slightly change her course. Up until then, Effie stayed distant from the other girls in her boarding house and had no interest in getting involved in the politics of the city. However, her chance encounters change Effie and bring her into the world of activism and politicism which leads her into her own search for the family that she had long buried in her memories.

The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore is as much a wonderfully written historical fiction piece as it is the story of one woman’s coming of age in a turbulent part of our nation’s story. The novel is a bit slow in the beginning, but once you get into the meat of the novel, you become invested in the political turmoil, the mystique of the city of New Orleans and in Effie and the characters that she meets and encounters along her own journey.

Book Information

The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore is scheduled to be released on July 30, 2019, from Kensington Books with ISBN 9781496713681. 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!

stacksWith the third installment of The Haunted Library Mysteries, Buried in the Stacks opens with our favorite librarian, Carrie Singleton, juggling the growing problem of the homeless taking shelter in the library and a new murder.

The Murder of a Rival

Carrie has been thrown into the role of Sunshine Delegate for the library. Her first task is to visit her rival, Dorothy, a fellow research librarian who is recovering from a fall. During her visit, Carrie is shocked to find out that Dorothy believes that it is her husband that is responsible for her fall. She is claiming that he pushed her. Even stranger, she is also claiming that it was her husband that caused the death of her Aunt Evelyn several years before. Aunt Evelyn is the haunted library’s resident ghost. Dorothy eventually recovers from her injuries and returns to work, but upon her return home, she is killed in a car accident. Ghost Aunt Evelyn begs Carrie to uncover who killed her niece as well as who responsible for her death.

A Quest for Warmth

The Haunted Library is in Clover Ridge, CT which means, it is in a part of the United States that is frigid when winter comes. For Carrie, this also means that a large population of homeless people are using the library as a refuge from the February frost. Some of the homeless are loud and disruptive which is causing the patrons of the library to not want to come in or bring in their children for the programs that they are offering. Carrie is excited when a vacant house is purchased to turn into a retreat for the homeless but is quickly disheartened when she learns that the committee in charge of rehabbing the house is not on the up and up.

A Cozy Mystery

As with any cozy mystery, there is a bevy of storylines that transgress the pages. In Buried in the Stacks, we have the homeless plotline, the murder of Dorothy (and Evelyn), Angela’s wedding where Carrie is her maid of honor, the search for Smokey Joe and of course, the interference of the library’s resident cat. There is a lot going on in this book and a lot to keep straight as you read your way through it, however, that is what I always have loved about books like this. Cozy mysteries offer a plethora of loveable characters that are in crazy situations with several subplots and big life changes going their way. Buried in the Stacks delivers all of this and more. What I especially love about this series is the addition of the haunted library. I enjoyed how Ghost Evelyn and Carrie worked together to talk out the mystery, shares clues and uncover secrets. It was an element that was unique to this book and series.

Book Information

Buried in the Stacks: A Haunted Library Mystery by Allison Brook from Crooked Lane Books is scheduled to be released on September 10, 2019, with ISBN 9781643851389. 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!

A couple days ago, my mentor had informed me that my doctoral dissertation had received school approval and following a few brief formatting edits would be ready to be sent in for publication review. This is a giant step towards completing my doctorate and for some, I have entered the part of this journey where I just have paperwork and a conference call left before my dissertation is completed and I graduate with my PhD.

doctoral regalia

My doctoral regalia. It’s a long cry from the one I wore at Rutgers University commencement and also the slightly cooler than Rutgers one I had for my master’s from SNHU.

I thought the timing was rather funny because a couple of months ago, I was contacted by an editor at editage.com, a blogging website that shares personal stories of academics and doctoral candidates about their work, life and the craziness of going through this process about having some of my blogs from here republished on their site. They were mostly ones about being pregnant and writing and then being Logan’s mom and still having to write.

https://www.editage.com/insights/the-best-week-of-my-life

This one was one of my favorites because it reminded me of when we thought we were going to do this whole gender reveal party, but Logan just wanted us to know right then and there that he was a boy.

https://www.editage.com/insights/how-does-she-do-it-all

Then there was this one where I shared what it’s really like to be working full-time, adjuncting AND writing a doctoral dissertation while being a mom to a new baby. I teared up re-reading this one because it reminded me of how hard this journey has been and how much of me it took, but I still think it was worth it because I kept my dream going even into motherhood and I am setting a good example for my son and future children.

https://www.editage.com/insights/life-gave-me-a-big-surprise-on-the-cusp-of-me-becoming-a-doctor

And then, the time where I found out that I was pregnant and a newlywed AND set to begin doctoral comps just as I was hitting the “pretty pregnant” stage.

I wouldn’t change any of it. I am so proud of where I have come and where I will go from here and my heart just bursts at the idea that I have this beautiful family that I get to be with as I do it all. I am so thankful where my life has taken me and I am so grateful for my husband and our little prince who’s already walking and screaming MOM whenever he wants me. It’s just the best.

 

dartmoorWho doesn’t love a period book set against a vast English countryside complete with a sweeping country manor and a couple of amateur sleuths that are eager to get a break from Victorian London and the murder mystery that they just solved?

A Merriweather and Royston Mystery

Death Comes to Dartmoor is the second installment of the Merriweather and Royston Mysteries. The novel picks up on the heels of the first book. That said, this installment is hard to get into and fully understand the backstory if you have not read, The Butterfly Conspiracy. It is beneficial to read the first book of this series before you begin Death Comes to Dartmoor or you might be lost and not be able to get into the mystery that unfolds for our pair of zoologists whose vacation doesn’t go anywhere near as planned.

Murder in the Village

I don’t know what it is about Devon, maybe it’s the moors and the overall vibe of the village, but there are so many novels like And Then There Were None and even The Hounds of the Baskervilles that use the moors and Devon as their setting. Much like stories before, our main characters Merula Merriweather and Lord Rayven Royston arrive in Devon with Merriweather’s maid, Lamb, and Royston’s valet, Bowspirit only to find that their idyllic country getaway is going to be far from what they expected.

Oaks, their host, is acting incredibly strange. The specimens that he collects are thought to be coming back to life and then, his maid disappears. Oaks is bordering on delusional and the villagers are calling for his blood. Almost inevitably, the maid turns up dead and Oaks is the main suspect, leaving Merriweather and Royston to delve into the mystery that they have walked into and prove Oaks’ innocence.

Continuing Story Line

In The Butterfly Conspiracy, we learn that Merriweather does not know who her parents are. She has lived with an aunt and uncle who have loved and raised her, but she is still determined to find out where she comes from. Merriweather’s parental lineage comes into play again when she encounters a man from a traveling theater company at a local gathering who makes the comment that she looks so much like her mother. Merriweather is given a lead into her mother’s past that she is eager to flesh out and it will be interesting to see what the story of her parents are and how she reacts when she finally uncovers the truth behind her parents’ past and how it will play out in future books within this series.

Book Information

Death Comes to Dartmoor: A Merriweather and Royston Mystery by Vivian Conroy will be released on August 13, 2019, from Crooked Lane Books with ISBN 9781643850092. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review. To snag special pre-order pricing click the link above!