Book Review: ‘The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna’

Since I’ve finished Juliet Grames’ debut novel, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, my mind has been in somewhat of a haze. This is a good thing. That’s how I know I’ve read a really good book.

IMG_3374.JPGThere is so much to this novel; so much heartbreak and power. It will be hard for me to eloquently explain how much I loved this book, but I will do my best!

My introduction to this book started by being introduced to the author herself. One chilly evening, I drove from my workplace in downtown Hartford to Breakwater Books in Guilford, Connecticut, to meet and have dinner with author Juliet Grames.

 

I didn’t know much about her debut novel, so I spent the days before the event reading and researching. I read the novel’s positive reviews and the impact it has made on Italian-American women and families. I read about how it effectively portrays what Italian immigrants faced when they emigrated to America, and what the women faced in their small villages in Italy after their husbands left them behind.

Synopsis

From Calabria to Connecticut: A sweeping family saga about sisterhood, secrets, Italian immigration, the American dream, and one woman’s tenacious fight against her own fate.

For Stella Fortuna, death has always been a part of life. Stella’s childhood is full of strange, life-threatening incidents—moments where ordinary situations like cooking eggplant or feeding the pigs inexplicably take lethal turns. Even Stella’s own mother is convinced that her daughter is cursed or haunted.

In her rugged Italian village, Stella is considered an oddity—beautiful and smart, insolent and cold. Stella uses her peculiar toughness to protect her slower, plainer baby sister Tina from life’s harshest realities. But she also provokes the ire of her father Antonio: a man who demands subservience from women and whose greatest gift to his family in his absence.

When the Fortunas emigrate to America on the cusp of World War II, Stella and Tina must come of age side-by-side in a hostile new world with strict expectations for each of them. Soon Stella learns that her survival is worthless without the one thing her family will deny her at any cost: her independence.

In present-day Connecticut, one family member tells this heartrending story, determined to understand the persisting rift between the now-elderly Stella and Tina. A richly told debut, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a tale of family transgressions as ancient and twisted as the olive branch that could heal them.

The event

At the event, Juliet, a warm and gracious person, spoke of her novel and how it is based on her grandmother and her family emigrating to the United States. I couldn’t believe that a woman could have that many near-death experiences, but Juliet and her mother (Stella’s only daughter) confirmed!

Juliet read one of her favorite passages from her book. It details what Juliet’s great-grandmother (named Assunta in the book) had to do to survive with three children while her husband was in America. As she read, the Italian-American women in the room nodded with tears in their eyes (from laughter and sadness), saying that it reminded them of stories from their mothers and grandmothers. I sat there in awe after hearing this powerful passage (removing some spoilers):

“This was how the years passed. Assunta tended her three living children…she stitched their clothes and scrubbed them, washed out their diapers and kept them fed with bread she baked from the flour she ground from wheat she grew in the garden she tended. She preserved and pickled and salted and stored so they would never go hungry, even when there was nothing. To keep them warm through the winter she gathered firewood on the mountain and carried it home tied up in a linen cloth she balanced on her head, with Giuseppe strapped to her chest, Stella holding her left hand, Cettina her right. Assunta dug her own stones out and turned her own soil and pruned her own trees and drew her own water from the well five, ten times a day to cook and clean.

This was the trouble with emigration—it dismantled the patriarchy. Because really, what did Assunta, or any woman, need a husband for, when she did every goddamn thing herself?” (43)

Once I heard this, I knew I had to buy this book. Feminist tropes? Strong women? Yes, please. Plus, her family emigrated to Connecticut and lived a block from my office in downtown Hartford. There were many interesting ties. I read it in three days. I spent each night staying up way past my bedtime, and I never wanted it to end.

The review: 4.5/5

It’s hard to believe that this story based on real women. Juliet’s grandmother did have an accident that caused her to never speak to her sister for the rest of her life. This is her family’s story. This is what women and families faced, and continue to face. It is an important story about culture, family, and emigration.

albumtempHardship and trauma are such hard topics, but ones that we must read about. It helps establish our character, create perspective, and keep us far from ignorance.

I was intrigued by the patriarchal values that were, and still are, instilled in Italian culture and many cultures. I was enamored with the woman portrayed in this novel—the strong, raw story of Assunta and the life that she lived in Italy. The trauma and turmoil that Stella went through during her childhood and adulthood, married to a man she did not want to marry, constantly put in situations that shook her to her core. Not to mention, the physical trauma that she went through with her near-death experiences. It was gut-wrenching at times, but sometimes, you can’t turn away from the stories that make you uncomfortable. These women didn’t turn away; they persisted.

This book brought raw emotions. It brought tears and heartache, and I found myself having trouble disconnecting when I closed the book for the night. These are real people who went through so much struggle just to live the American Dream that many take for granted. There is still a struggle; there is still injustice. The women in Juliet’s family faced such strife, from poverty to heartbreak to the patriarchy. It was a remarkable book, and I’m so grateful to Juliet for sharing her family’s story.

If you’re interested in buying The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, you can buy it here on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Need free, beautiful images for your blog? Try Pixabay!

Hey everyone!

A few people have reached out to me asking what resource I use for some of my images, so I thought I’d write a post about it!

I discovered Pixabay a few years ago when I was a Content Producer for a local startup. I was covering education, pop culture, and other topics, and I found myself scrambling for copyright free images to use in my articles.

Pixabay is a super cool, life-saving resource consisting of a community of photographers and artists who share their copyright free images and videos. All content is released under a license that makes it safe for bloggers and writers to use the images without attribution—even for commercial uses!

When I am not posting traveling photos or my own amateur photography on my blog, I turn to Pixabay, and I am usually able to find the content I need. All you have to do is search specific keywords and there you go! Hundreds of images at your fingertips. These artists are absolutely incredible, and I always am pleased with the quality. If you can’t tell, one of my aesthetics is photographs of coffee, colorful journals, and pens! When I search “coffee” or “office,” I find tons of beautiful photos. Here are some examples:

coffee 1coffee 2coffee 3

Cute, huh?! I’m sure you’ve seen the bottom one on my blog before—it’s so peaceful and inspirational!

I can’t thank the photographers and artists enough for sharing their content so that amateur photographers like me can write tips and tricks and bring beauty to my website. While I do plan on using my own photography more on my blog (which I am starting to do), Pixabay is a helpful resource to find images for all sorts of projects!

What are some of your favorite blogging resources? Please share in the comments!

 

 

 

5 Quotes from Authors to Celebrate National Day on Writing

Today you might have noticed the hashtag #WhyIWrite on your newsfeed. That’s because today is National Day on Writing! By using #WhyIWrite, writers across the country have shared why they are dedicated to their craft. Today, I shared why I write:

The National Day on Writing was founded by the National Council of Teachers of English to bring more immediacy to the power of writing and encourage others to get involved in celebrating it. I wanted to share with you 5 quotes from some of my favorite authors on why they love to create and inspire through writing:

  1. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot.” ― Stephen King
  2. “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.” ― Toni Morrison
  3. “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” ―Ernest Hemingway
  4. “I’ve no idea where ideas come from and I hope I never find out; it would spoil the excitement for me if it turned out I just have a funny little wrinkle on the surface of my brain which makes me think about invisible train platforms.” ― J.K. Rowling
  5. “If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word.” ― Margaret Atwood

 

How about you? Why do you love to write? What are you working on? Please share in the comments!

 

 

How to Write Clear and Concise Content

How does one write well?

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser said the following:

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

Writing is hard. You will never be a “writing expert.” Writing is an art; it takes practice.

blog writing

Zinsser also stressed that as a writer you must present a clear and concise copy to your audience. Your work should be to the point, yet comprehensive to your readers. But, how can you achieve both?  Here are some tips I adhere to when writing:

Keep your sentences short

Keep your words, sentences, and paragraphs as short as you can. If you write directly, you will keep your reader’s interest. No one wants to read run-on sentences; it may steer them off track. Keeping your sentences short will also keep your readers engaged. It’s a certain tempo that will excite them and will result in gaining their interest to read more.

Write how you talk

Be yourself and stick to your own voice. Use words you know, or else you’ll confuse yourself and your readers. Writing how you talk will personalize your content, and readers will stay connected to you. I find it best to write like you are having a conversation with a friend. You don’t need convoluted sentences to get your point across. Stay true to yourself, and your readers will stay true to you.

Avoid unnecessary words and phrases

Eliminate words that cause a lull in your work, like adverbs and adjectives. Words like “very” or phrases like “it’s crucial to,” or “in order to,” bury your important information. Getting rid of these words or phrases sharpens and cleans up your content. Adjectives and adverbs are often unnecessary; you can remove certain words and still get your point across.

Check your facts

The last thing you want to do as a writer is to portray false information to your readers. The notion to “back up your facts” was ingrained in our brains throughout grade school. Not everything you read is true, so you need to use a credible source if you are presenting facts or statistics in your content. If you throw around false information, then you will lose your readers and your credibility as a writer.

Revise and rewrite

All the time. If you want to provide clear and concise content, you need to proofread.  Read your content 3-4 times. Check for spelling, grammatical errors, tone, and consistency. Nothing can devalue your work and reputation faster than publishing error-ridden content. Edit and create clean copy; it will strengthen your writing and will build trust among your readers.

As you digest these tips, remember to have your own style when you write. These practices are helpful, but you don’t want to write like a robot. Bring your own flair to your writing. Readers don’t want boring content!

Did I miss anything? Feel free to share practices you keep to produce clear and concise copy!