‘Mastering’ the thesis: A student’s journey

For those who don’t know, I am currently earning my master’s in English—a very rewarding and fulfilling area of study for me. It’s been a whirlwind these past two years; working full time and switching jobs all while going to school full time can be stressful!

My project has many layers, but to simplify it, it focuses on the female heroine in fantasy literature. The fantastic as a genre offers readers the opportunity to explore the impossible, and because of this, authors of this genre are able to introduce readers to worlds beyond our imagination.

The genre itself also opens up doors for protagonists to do what might not be as easy to do in reality. A heroine establishing their autonomy and fighting solely to save the world they live in has unfortunately not been a storyline commonly produced by authors from other genres throughout the centuries. That’s what I ultimately argue; the genre and its elements allow these heroines to be who they truly are.

Since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to fantasy simply because of its availability of heroines. From Lucy and Susan Pevensie to Coraline alike, I have always admired them and been inspired by their valor. Growing up and entering academia, it’s easy to say that feminist theory has been the foundation of my research and a number of research papers at the end of each semester.

So, I spent the summer reading the fantastic (doesn’t that sound awful? ;)). Here’s what I read:

-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (reread) – Lewis Caroll

-The Princess and the Goblin -George MacDonald

-The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

-A Wrinkle in Time -Madeleine L’Engle

-His Dark Materials -Phillip Pullman

-The Hunger Games (reread) -Suzanne Collins

-The Harry Potter series (reread, focusing on the development of Hermione Granger) -J.K. Rowling

-Coraline (reread) -Neil Gaiman

After reading all of these books (and a billion pages of scholarly articles), I found something inspiring about the heroines depicted in these stories: they all control their narratives (except Meg from A Wrinkle in Time…did anyone like that series?).

I found, overall, that each heroine works to control their narrative in their story and rebel against forces working against them.

I immediately decided that this was my project, but I couldn’t write about every single heroine (at least not yet).

I decided to take a contemporary approach and focus on three beloved heroines: Lyra from His Dark Materials, Hermione from Harry Potter, and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games.

After more research, I began to dive deeper. I soon discovered that these three heroines not only establish their autonomy in their stories, but they also bend their gender.

I then studied the topic of tomboys and concluded that each Lyra, Hermione, and Katniss display different tomboyish characteristics, therefore separating them from the regular heroine: Katniss, the hunter, and Lyra, the rascal, and Hermione, the bookish and unkempt.

Further, they all own their identities, and even if they sometimes represent femininity in their stories (Lyra being dressed up by her mother, Katniss being dressed up for the Games, or Hermione dressing up for the Yule Ball), they do it as a choice and perform femininity without losing their core, tomboyish essence. They remain in control throughout their stories.

The fantastic offers endless opportunity, and because of the genre, authors can bring these heroines to the forefront; these lovely, amazing, gender-bending, rebellious heroines that we all love so much.

I am now in the final stretch: writing my master’s thesis. This past month, I submitted my first chapter for review.

IMG_4620Right now, I am focusing on my Katniss chapter. I am very excited to write more about one of my favorite heroines (and arguably, one of society’s favorites). And, I’m even more excited to present my project on Katniss at a national conference in Boston this March.

I bet you’re wondering how a person working full time has the time to write a master’s thesis? She doesn’t, folks. She just doesn’t.

It’s been a really tough process. Lots of tears, lots of therapy sessions. It’s hard to leave work and keep that creative energy to last beyond after-work gym sessions or making dinner/spending time with my husband.

It’s hard to say no to plans, to move plans around, or cancel plans to write or research. Heck, it’s hard to sit down and write. But, I wanted to be honest with those who are wondering, and an ally to those who might be going through the same thing as me.

This is what I love to do, and I’m excited to share my love of writing and the topic and genre I love so much with the world.

Thanks for reading! Has anyone taken on a project this large? Any advice? Want to just rant about it to a safe, open space/person? Feel free to comment below!

 

Top 20 books of 2019

As 2019 winds down, I can’t help but be super excited about all the amazing books that I read this year. It was January of this year when I decided to focus more on sharing my love of reading, and what started with me tracking the books I read on my Instagram stories resulted in my “regular” Instagram turning into a Bookstagram account.

Since the summer, I’ve grown over 800 followers by posting engaging and aesthetically pleasing book content. I’ve posted current reads, to-be-reads (TBR), and book reviews, showcasing my love for literature. I’ve met amazing people on this platform—some who have become close friends beyond the screen.

It’s now time for me to reflect on my favorite reads of 2019, and since I’ve read close to 70 books this year, I’m having trouble narrowing it down. From audiobooks to print books, I’ve developed a very extensive bookshelf, and have read from historical fiction and memoirs to fiction and thrillers. I’ve loved them all. Even if I did not enjoy one book as much as the others, I appreciate literature and the escapism that it offers bibliophiles from the noisy world that we live in. Reading has always brought me solace, and I am forever grateful to writers for sharing their talents with the world.

Now it’s time for the fun part: my top books of the year (in somewhat order. I’d say my top two are legitimate) The breakdown will be book and author, stars, and a brief explanation of why I loved the book. Here goes!

 

 

 

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Stars: 5/5
This was the book I wouldn’t shut up about this year (last year was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens), so this must be my top book. I did the full audiobook for this one and then bought the physical copy. I did not read the print version, but the audiobook is one of the best audiobooks I have ever listened to. It sounds like an actual podcast, and the performers were outstanding. I love the rock n’ roll era and history of the 70s. I love this story. I love the characters and the story about a band’s journey to stardom. It’s truly a remarkable book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Stars: 5/5
I discovered TJR this year (thanks, Reese!) and I’m so glad I did. This book brings Hollywood and glamour to heartache and trauma in a beautifully-wrapped package. It’s about ruthless ambition, the devastation of stardom, and lifelong romance. It is truly a beautiful story about resilience. Evelyn Hugo is a kickass woman who is beautiful, frustrating, and loveable all at once. I did half audio half print, and I plan on rereading in 2020.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
Stars: 4.5/5
I stumbled upon this book when I met the author at a book event at a quaint bookstore in my state. Juliet was warm and kind and spoke about her grandmother, who inspires this story. I read this book for a buddy read and gobbled it up in three days. What I loved about this book were the women. Despite being under the patriarchal grasp of their husbands, these women were powerhouses and did what they could to establish autonomy in their lives and their households. This is truly a feminist novel about the emigration to America, the American Dream, and Italian culture. If you want a book that will shake you to your core, pick this one up.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
Stars: 5/5
I was new to the Riley Sager train, and now I’m obsessed. I read this book for a buddy read and I’m pretty sure I finished it in a day. There’s no way you can’t. I was on a big thriller/mystery kick this year, and this book didn’t disappoint. It had its twists, ones that I saw coming, but then Sager knocked you right on your you-know-what with an ultimate, creepy one. I’m not going to give anything away, but if you want an engaging page-turner set in a creepy, beautiful apartment building in New York City where everyone goes missing, read this heart-pounding thriller.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Stars: 5/5
I read a lot of new authors this year, and Kristin Hannah did not disappoint. I heard this one was a lot like Where the Crawdads Sing, and it was, which is why I loved it so much. It’s about a girl entering and exiting adolescence who experiences turmoil and comes out resilient despite all the odds…in the dark, dangerous middle-of-nowhere Alaska. If you lived Crawdads, you’ll love this one. I did half audio, half print. I love Julia Whalen, and she did a great job narrating. I loved it so much that I bought the print version and finished it in one evening!

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Stars: 5/5
Witches. I picked up this beautiful read this October and fell in love with the older Owens sisters. A lover of the movie Practical Magic, this was a highly anticipated read. I did full audiobook for this one and was enamored by the story that Hoffman created. It has magic, romance, drama, and heartbreak. Hoffman’s prose shone throughout the book, with lines about the smells of the city (chocolate or newly brewed tea) and growing up with the Owens family was like getting a front row seat to a special secret. I never wanted it to end.

Circe by Madeline Miller
Stars: 4/5
That was my first reaction reading this book. I had a little trouble with the writing style in the beginning of the book, but once it got going, I adjusted and read this book quickly. It was an amazing story about Circe, a feared and beautiful Goddess of witchcraft, and I found myself spellbound by the author’s amazing storytelling and writing at the end. This book was suspenseful, beautiful, and triumphant.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Stars: 5/5
I am a sucker for historical fiction novels; I think that they are fascinating and offer readers a “fun” way to learn about history. What I love more: Stories about amazing women during WWI and WWII. This story is about courage, redemption, and resilience. While I didn’t entirely love the story of Charlie, Eve Gardiner’s story made this book earn five stars. Eve is fearless. Even months after reading this book, I still find myself thinking of Eve and her strength during times of strife. I love books like that.

Educated by Tara Westover
Stars: 5/5
This is another book that my husband and I cannot stop talking about. I listened to the audiobook version (because Julia Whalen), and I was in awe of Tara’s story. I was, and continue to be, inspired by her story. This is one of the few books this year that left me speechless. My only advice is that everyone should read this memoir. It is written like a fictional story, but it is so far from fiction. Get this book now.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Stars: 5/5
Oh, Eleanor. Sweet, sweet Eleanor. I love her. This was a laugh out loud read for me. Her quirks; her sass. I loved everything about this book. This is one of those books that leave you changed. You find yourself connecting deeply with the protagonist; you’re laughing with her one minute, and angry at her the next, but you can’t help but love her either way. Get ready for an amazing story about family, friendship, struggles, the whole gamut. And yes, Eleanor is COMPLETELY fine.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Stars: 5/5
WOO! Talk about a debut novel. This book was intense, exciting, and messed with your head. I was exhausted after reading this book (not just because of the content; I finished it in one day). It was one of those books that you had to keep reading—you didn’t want to miss anything, and you couldn’t think of anything else other than this book and what happened to Alicia. Grab yourself a glass of wine (and lock your doors) and dive into this amazing book.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Stars: 5/5
Want a book that terrifies you but entrances you with its beautiful prose? Without giving too much away, this book makes you think about the world that we live in and what would happen if a pandemic hit. How would we cope? What I loved the most about this book was its appreciation for the arts and literature. Though I still had some questions (I always do at the end of books), I loved this one.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Stars: 5/5
I will read anything written by Madeline Miller—down to her grocery lists. This book was one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. Miller has such a talent for reconstructing Greek myths into modern fiction. This is one of the steamiest love stories I have ever read! I loved it from beginning to end.

The Institute by Stephen King
Stars: 4/5
After much anticipation, I immediately downloaded the audio version of King’s newest novel (I call them epics because they are so long) and got ready for an adventure. This was so different from other novels I’ve read from King, and I really enjoyed it. Though I felt there was some disconnect between one of the main characters and the main story, it made my top books of 2019. It’s King, after all. It had sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and mystery all in one. It was a detailed, scary as all hell, and one I would recommend.

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman (Trilogy)
Stars: 5/5
I had to bring some fantasy in here. Everyone needs to read this series and fall in love with Lyra as I did. Lyra, an inspiration for my Master’s thesis, is one amazing heroine. She owns her narrative and does not let anyone control her. It’s so mature for a children’s fantasy, and Pullman created an incredible world. I know I’ll be rereading this series for a long time.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
Stars: 5/5
Brené changed my life. Simply put. I listened to this book (read by the author) at a time where I felt weak, scared, and hopeless. After reading this book, I felt hopeful, confident, and learned how to understand and embrace vulnerability. This book was powerful and helped me in my career, marriage, and my own self. I am forever grateful for this book. I recommend this book (and all her books) to everyone.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Stars: 3.75/5
This book. This story. It is beautiful and raw and heartbreaking. We need more stories like this this one. I read this in a few days and loved it—with a few small setbacks. I felt that this story was unrealistic in many ways (supportive parents, the travel, etc), but it offers a wonderful story about family, triumph, and unconditional love. This is definitely worth a read (so we can discuss!!)

 

What were your favorite reads of 2019? Please share in the comments!

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.

Reflections: My experience as a “solo traveler”

My husband had just pulled away from the local bus station in Massachusetts when I felt an immediate sense of panic. I remember thinking: “How am I going to do this by myself?”

I walked through the sliding doors and purchased my one-way ticket to Logan Airport. I sat down in the plastic seats and began calling my family members for a sense of comfort.

I was traveling to London to meet a friend who was studying abroad. I was going to get on a plane by myself, get off the plane and go to my Airbnb by myself, travel to meet my friend by myself, and sleep by myself. I had never done that before, and the thought was both frightening and exhilarating.

The plane ride went fine. I watched Sherlock, attempted to sleep, and I stepped off the plane feeling confident. I went to the woman at the train station, asked how to get to Potter’s Bar, and confidently got on the wrong train. Panicking and tearing up while I looked at how to fix this mess, a super helpful couple helped me get to Victoria Station, which then led me to King’s Cross station, and I got off at Potter’s Bar on time to check in to my BnB.

Potter’s Bar—let me tell you. If you want to see a quintessential English sleepy town, you go to Potter’s Bar. The town’s epicenter is the train station. Other than that, it’s cottages with smoking chimneys and commuters making their way to the station. I walked out the doors, I immediately turned to my maps on my phone to get to my BnB.

I walked along the quiet streets filled with anxiety. “Where was everyone?” “Am I in danger?”

I wasn’t in danger. Potter’s Bar is a sweet, safe town. My anxiety was getting to me, but I had to tell myself a few times to breathe, relax, and pack less on my next trip because wheeling this suitcase up a hill in a cute English town was a little too much.

When I made it to the Airbnb, my host welcomed me graciously. I stayed in a refurbished shed in the back of her house, fully equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, comfortable bed, and Apple TV (which I took advantage of!). I was in love!

I got inside, sat down, and immediately felt loneliness sweep over me. I cried, I almost called my husband and said I wanted to go home. In fact, I did call my husband, but only to tell him I was safe. I’d never been alone like that—I knew what it was like to feel hollow and hopeless.

I wrapped myself up in blankets, sat on the couch, and took out my journal. I started writing down an entry filled with “I don’t think I can do this” and “This is WAY out of my comfort zone.” But then I stopped. I thought, “I can do this. I am so capable of doing this!”

That’s when I took this picture of myself:

 

This was taken exactly one year ago today. This is me: exhausted, unfiltered, messy-haired, scared, anxious, determined. I decided to shake off those scaries and get my butt to King’s Cross Station. I had to explore. I had memories to make. I thought, “I have growin’ to do.”

And that’s what I did. I conquered my fears; I tried something new. I learned how to navigate the metro, how to get back and forth to my Airbnb with little-to-no-fear (walking by myself at night was eerie at first). I calmed myself to sleep when I felt super vulnerable and alone, and I did it. I just did it.

I loved every second of it. I learned that I loved being by myself. It was a great way to unwind after a long day in the city. I learned self-reliance, determination, and my own strength. I learned what it was like to feel lonely, but that I was not alone in my own company. I am proud of that trip and proud of the person I became.

If you have the chance to be a solo traveler, try it. You’ll unlock strength that you didn’t know you had within you!