Tuesday 27 February 2018

Q & A with Effie Kammenou

Evanthia's Gift 
The Gift Saga #1
by Effie Kammenou 

In the year 1956, Anastacia Fotopoulos finds herself pregnant and betrayed, fleeing from a bad marriage. With the love and support of her dear friends Stavros and Soula Papadakis, Ana is able to face the challenges of single motherhood. Left with emotional wounds, she resists her growing affection for Alexandros Giannakos, an old acquaintance. But his persistence and unconditional love for Ana and her child is eventually rewarded and his love is returned. In a misguided, but well-intentioned effort to protect the ones they love, both Ana and Alex keep secrets - ones that could threaten the delicate balance of their family. 

The story continues in the 1970’s as Dean and Demi Papadakis, and Sophia Giannakos attempt to negotiate between two cultures. Now Greek-American teenagers, Sophia and Dean, who have shared a special connection since childhood, become lovers. Sophia is shattered when Dean rebels against the pressure his father places on him to uphold his Greek heritage and hides his feelings for her. When he pulls away from his family, culture and ultimately his love for her, Sophia is left with no choice but to find a life different from the one she’d hoped for. 

EVANTHIA’S GIFT is a multigenerational love story spanning fifty years and crossing two continents, chronicling the lives that unify two families. 

Kindle Edition, 559 pages
Published August 7th 2015

Find it on Goodreads
Amazon * Barnes & Noble

Read It & Reap:  February 27, 2018

Effie Kammenou is a believer that it is never too late to chase your dreams, follow your heart or change your career. She is proof of that. At one time, long ago, she'd thought that, by her age, she would have had an Oscar in her hand after a successful career as an actor. Instead, she worked in the optical field for 40 years and is the proud mother of two accomplished young women. 

Her debut novel, Evanthia’s Gift, is a women’s fiction multigenerational love story and family saga, influenced by her Greek heritage, and the many real life accounts that have been passed down. She continues to pick her father’s brain for stories of his family’s life in Lesvos, Greece, and their journey to America. Her interview with him was published in a nationally circulated magazine.

Evanthia’s Gift: Book One in The Gift Saga was a 2016 award finalist in the Readers Favorite Awards in the Women’s Fiction category. Waiting for Aegina: Book Two in The Gift Saga is Kammenou’s latest release.

Effie Kammenou is a first generation Greek-American who lives on Long Island with her husband and two daughters. When she’s not writing, or posting recipes on her food blog, cheffieskitchen.wordpress.com, you can find her cooking for her family and friends.

As an avid cook and baker, a skill she learned from watching her Athenian mother, she incorporated traditional Greek family recipes throughout the books.

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts from Hofstra University.

Member of Women's Fiction Writer's Association & Romance Writers of America

Connect with Effie Kammenou
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Q & A with Effie Kammenou

Tell us a little bit about your main characters.
Evanthia’s Gift is a love story and family saga that spans decades. For this reason, I’d decided to split it into two parts. Part I begins in 1956 when Anastacia finds her husband in bed with another woman. She immediately separates from him and, soon after, discovers she’s pregnant. In that era, a woman might have stayed with her husband, maybe looked the other way, or tried to work it out for the sake of her child. But Anastacia (Ana) decides to raise her child on her own with the help of family and good friends by her side.

Ana had come to NYC to study at NYU. It was her intention to go back home to Athens when she graduated, but once she’d married, her plan had changed. She’d become guarded and, afraid of making the same mistake, Ana steered clear of any man’s affection. Until…

Enter Alexandros, a past acquaintance from NYU who had always been smitten with her. Through mutual friends, they reconnect, and this time he is determined to win her heart. Alexandros (Alex) is the best of men. He’s kind, loving and a true gentleman. Alex could have been bitter and hateful, having come from a tragic past, but the opposite was true. He knew how delicate the balance was between life and death, and he valued it. His entire family had been brutally executed in their home by the Nazis for working with the resistance.

Part II takes a leap forward to 1970 when Ana’s daughter, Sophia, enters high school. There’s a definitive change in tone that is very evident. The way in which Ana and Alex spoke to one another and to their friends and family is quite different than how this younger generation relate to each other. They’re more casual, forthcoming and sometimes raw. Sophia is very much like her mother. She and Ana are polite, poised and levelheaded in many ways. But Sophia is only fourteen at the start of Part II and she is quite idealistic when it comes to one young man. His full name is Konstantino, but she’s called him Dino since she was a baby. Dean, the nickname he prefers, is the son of Ana’s best friends and three years Sophia’s senior. Dean struggles with his Greek heritage, mainly because it is shoved down his throat. His rebellious streak doesn’t help matters either. He fights his feelings for Sophia for as long as he can because he’s certain a relationship with his parent’s best friend’s daughter, and especially a Greek one, would put too much pressure on him. Dean’s stubbornness is his ruination, but at eighteen, mistakes happen. The story of Dean and Sophia continues into their forties, and Ana and Alex stay integral parts of the plot as well.

In your opinion, what makes a good, strong lead character?
 A good lead character must be someone who is relatable in some way to the reader. They might be someone they either want to emulate or want to love. They might also be a personality who carries the same flaws as the reader. A strong character should have depth. A heroine or hero doesn’t need to be perfect in all things. That’s simply not believable. 

What or who do you see as influences on your writing style?
 I’ve been asked this question several times and, honestly, I don’t have a good answer. I admire many authors for their stories or for the beauty of their writing, but I don’t feel influenced by it. I think each author has his own voice and what comes out on paper is from personal experience and perspective. The closest answer that I can give you is John Steinbeck. East of Eden is one of my favorite novels. The sense of morality and right from wrong throughout the story drew me in, and it’s a theme within my book as well.

Do you ever research real events, legends, or myths to get ideas?
I did quite a lot of research for Evanthia’s Gift. Many of the events in the book are inspired by stories shared by family members my entire life. Even though I’d heard them often, the details had to be researched. Memories can be inaccurate, especially when the recollection is from a child’s eye. For example, my mother was a ten-year-old girl in Athens during WWII during the German occupation. I took what she told me and I researched the timeline and events. Her part was less historical and more personal, sharing with me the affect it had on her and her family. I also researched the deportation of the Jews in Thessaloniki. Alex’s family fought in the resistance. The result from his family’s sacrifice affects situations not only in Evanthia’s Gift, but also in the other two books in the trilogy.
Then there were other little details from my own memory that had to be verified. I mention real places throughout the book. Alex and his friend, Stavros, are professors at Stonybrook University. I had to find out if it even existed in 1962 when they began working there.

What is the best writing advice you have been given?
 The best advice I’d ever received was to simply sit down and write. Let it all spill out of my head and don’t worry how good it was, or if the grammar was correct. Tell the story you wanted to tell it. Then … go back and fix it. Make it sing!

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose and why?
 I would want to have the ability to speak every language. I think it would be amazing to be able to communicate with everyone and to enter any country and be able to speak their language. Have you ever seen someone who didn’t speak English and felt a little lost? Then, someone approaches them and speaks their language and their face lights up! It’s a beautiful thing. Sometimes, at my day job, this happens. I speak Greek and my co-worker speaks Italian and can get by with Spanish. We had a Polish woman come by a few weeks ago and it was so difficult. We felt bad. We were trying to come up with a common language to speak.
On the flip side, when I’m in Greece, it’s like being home. It makes me miss my mom, but that’s another story. A few months ago I was in France and I was able to get by. But we also went to Germany and I felt completely lost. Now if I had that superpower …

What do you do to unwind and relax?
Don’t laugh, I cook or bake. I kick my shoes off, put on my slippers, put my earbuds in to listen to an audiobook and I cook or bake. I also like to sit by the fire and read. Or watch one of my favorite TV shows – This Is Us, The Crown, Grey’s Anatomy, and my guilty pleasure, The Bachelor. (Don’t judge me. It’s the train wreck you can’t take your eyes from!)

What book are you reading now?
 I just finished The Man in The Black Suit, Sylvain Reynard’s latest book. I love everything he writes. I just started reading a book from another Greek American author called Wings of Wax. I’m really enjoying it. It’s about a young man trying to find his own identity. Not only with his heritage but also with who he is as a man. He’s a bit complex. He has some health issues and a couple of phobias and hang-ups.

Monday 12 February 2018

Q & A with Sarah Brownlee

The Experiment of Professor Polgas
by Sarah Brownlee 

If you were an animal, what would you be? This is the question Blaise, Ash and Dinah unexpectedly stumble upon during the summer holidays when they enter a strange internet café. A mysterious woman asks them to take an online test to discover what animal most closely matches their own personality. They are happy to oblige. Online tests are always fun and this one comes with its own special perks.

But what they don’t realise is that not far away, in the heart of London, a mad professor is watching them. Professor Polgas is preparing something; something that will change them forever; something that will have them on the run for their very lives …

This fantasy novel from Sarah Brownlee is a thrill ride of twists and turns, ready to surprise at every corner and sure to delight both children and adults alike. 

Paperback, 394 pages
Published October 12th 2016 

Find it on Goodreads
Amazon * Barnes & Noble

Read It & Reap:  April 29, 2018

Sarah Brownlee is a Young Adult and Children's author based in London, England. Her debut novel 'How the Wolf Lost Her Heart' is a YA Paranormal Romance set in a grim, futuristic London where thugs and criminals run the city and Morphers (people who can transform into their spirit animal) exist. Its sequel, YA Fantasy Dystopian 'How the Tiger Faced His Challenge' was released in October 2015 and centres around a city at the brink of civil war. In 2016, she released her first children's novel 'The Experiment of Professor Polgas' which tells the story of how Morphers came into existence.

When Sarah is not writing, she can usually be found walking dogs, battling the forces of darkness and dreaming of living in the beautiful English countryside.

                                                              Connect with Sarah Brownlee
                                                              Goodreads * Facebook * Twitter

Q & A with Sarah Brownlee 

Tell us a little bit about your main characters. 
Blaise, Ash and Dinah are thirteen and fourteen years old. Blaise and Ash are brother and sister; Dinah is Blaise's best friend. Each is able to transform into their spirit animal as the story progresses and they all have their own quirks and shortcomings. Blaise is pretty feisty and stubborn at times; she is able to transform into a wolf and like the wolf, she is loyal, bold and would do anything to protect her loved ones. Dinah is sweet, kind, sincere and very often the water to Blaise's fire; like her spirit animal, the beaver, she is a homebody and loves to take care of others. Meanwhile, Ash is smart, sarcastic and more level-headed than the other two; like his spirit animal, the eagle, he is sharp and insightful with an uncanny knack for finding solutions to tricky problems.

Who designs the covers for your books and what is that process like for you as an author?
My cover design backstory is a little unusual in comparison to other authors. My first novel 'How the Wolf Lost Her Heart' was designed by John Muriel Photography. The second 'How the Tiger Faced His Challenge' was designed by myself; and 'The Experiment of Professor Polgas' was by Luke Ahearn at Creative Covers. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that designing my own cover was a process that didn't exactly thrill me to bits; oh, I was very proud of the fact I actually did it after many trial and error hours of frustration; but from now on, I'm leaving it to the pros!

Describe your ideal writing spot.
A quiet, secluded cafe with my trusty laptop, a green tea on one side and a cheese and ham toastie on the other.

What is the best advice you have been given?
Never give up, never surrender. (Actually, it wasn't given to me; it was taken from the wise words of the wonderful Sir Winston Churchill.)

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An author or a vet.

Which do you prefer: hard/paperbacks or ebooks?
Hardback and paperbacks definitely!

 If you could have any supernatural power, what would you choose and why?

Oh my gosh, this is so hard! But I suppose there can only be one answer. I'd want to be like Blaise, Ash and Dinah and be able to turn into my spirit animal (this is all depending on if I have a spirit animal that is actually going to do me any favours, of course. Imagine if your spirit animal was a mosquito or something like that; what a total waste of an ability, plus you'd probably be squashed to death within seconds.)

What book are you reading now?
The Red Book by Carl Jung. Truly brilliant.