Evanthia’s Gift (The Gift Saga, Book One) by Effie Kammenou,
Narrated by Emily Lawrence
Length: 17 hours 22 minutes
Publisher: Effie Kammenou⎮2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release date: Dec. 1, 2017
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.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
I’ve come to realize that family sagas are one of the most interesting types of books that I read this year. There is, of course, my favorite: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; too there was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. As the year draws to a close, I was able to read/listen to Evanthia’s Gift, a story of Greek immigrants and their family as they move back and forth between Greece and America and, finally, raise their children as Greek-Americans in a time when identity is something hard to pinpoint, particularly one that has dual countries contributing to who they are.
The book opens with betrayal, but even in that Anastacia, the first main character, finds some hope: her daughter, Sophia. As the story progresses there is still much doubt and pain. Anastacia struggles with what to tell Sophia about her father and, with her friends old and new, the lingering effects of World War II in their homeland, Greece.
The movement from her earliest feelings of betrayal to the slow effort of healing, delayed as it was by self-doubt and trouble from the past, was a tender experience for Anastacia and her readers. There were moments of beauty, such as when she is walking through her hometown and by the sea during her later honeymoon. There were almost moments of personal pain, such as recovering from a late-term miscarriage and hysterectomy. Anastacia was a strong character, even at rock bottom moments, and her and Alex were a wonderful couple to read about.
There were reminiscences throughout that were painful and saddening. Anastacia remembering rationing and the black market. Alex recalling trying to find a beloved merchant and searching the place he knew him most likely to be: boarding a train, guarded by Nazis. Not to compare the heartache to these previous examples, but even the love of the young, the desperation in the relationship between Sophia and Dean, was hard to bear because of their young age, the intensity of such feelings, and the knowledge that there is heartbreak in their past and probably their future as well.
I wasn’t a fan when the story turned from Anastacia and Alex and their generation to that of their children because it felt like two separate stories that were only loosely connected. Sophia was a bit difficult to like half of the time because of her infatuation with Dean. Her determination was almost admirable in that she knew what she wanted and held on to that, but I think it hurt her in some ways because she was pinning so much hope and almost her entire future on this one guy when she was still so young. There’s an entire future ahead of her, but from the age of twelve onward she’s sure that she would go through anything, wait forever even, if only Dean could be hers.
Anastacia and Alex’s relationship was much more emotionally rich than that of Sophia and Dean. When things go wrong between them, primarily Dean’s fault through some lies with Sophia, much weight is loaded upon her. Her melancholy is exaggerated, too intense, and yet Dean puts the burden on her, refusing to accept responsibility for his part. A textbook teen romance, something of Lifetime movies, once Sophia and Dean started dating, their relationship and the dissolution of it, was a serious downswing in readability.
Sophia states at one point that she has grown as a dancer and as a person; while I might accept her dancing ability, her growth as a person is debatable because of her pining for Dean, her insistence that he will be the only man for her ever, despite their separation and the pain he’s put her through by keeping their relationship a secret.
Dean continued to be a disgusting character that I disliked more and more as time went on. His possessiveness of Sophia, even years later, was creepy as hell, especially since he kept insisting he’d evolved and moved on with a woman named Elizabeth. Sophia wasn’t much better, frustrating as she was clinging to Dean, to the past, almost as much as he was. The callbacks to Romeo & Juliet were cringe worthy in their accuracy.
The way the secondary female characters Irini (Anastacia’s sister) and Elizabeth (Dean’s wife) were treated as “developed” characters was disgusting. They were set up as shrewish if only to bolster the primary ladies in their generation. Loading them down in favor of other women felt extreme and a bit hostile. While Elizabeth admittedly had some traits, some snobbishness, that made her unlikable, I think I understood some of her aversion to Dean’s family. Considering how they treated her, his parents because she wasn’t Greek and his sister because she wasn’t Sophia, I don’t blame her for sticking to the people she knew and was comfortable with.
The second generation in this family saga was full of people that couldn’t figure out their own minds and kept making bad decisions regarding personal relationships. The silent treatment doesn’t work and as much as the reader is meant to like Sophia, I kept rolling my eyes at her childish behavior. From seventeen to the end of the book, she in particular felt immature; at 41, her voice, her presence in the book, doesn’t feel like she’s grown from where she started.
Emily Lawrence was a very good narrator. The quality of her voice made the epic story a pleasant experience and that’s essential, particularly when the book was so long. Her accent for the first generation of the story was, as far as I could tell, accurate and it set them apart from their children, who know Greek but have grown up primarily in the United States and thus have more exposure to American sounding voices.
The beginning of this book was far superior to the later two-thirds and while I disliked Sophia, Dean, and others of that time period, Anastacia and Alex’s story is worth the read. The interludes of Greek recipes and of excerpts from poems and philosophy texts, while not always making sense in context, were a nice way to break up the monotony of the drier moments. I would not count this among my favorite family sagas, but I think it might reach others that enjoy lighter novel atmospheres, wanting to branch out.
Effie Kammenou’s Reasons to be an Audiobook Listener
Relive the story after reading it.
Hear the characters come to life
Get a ‘fix’ of your favorite story or characters whenever the mood strikes
Occupy you on a long road trip
Keep you from getting frustrated in traffic
Tune out the loud phone conversation the of rude commuter on the train.
Makes cleaning the house less boring
You’ll look for projects around the house to keep you listening
Time will pass quickly while cooking and prepping food.
You’ll get through your ‘to be read’ list quicker.
Evanthia’s Gift Audiobook Excerpt
Click HERE for a look into the sound of the audiobook and the beginning of this multi-family saga.
Giveaway (Open INT – Dec. 14-20)
About the Author: Effie Kammenou
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 entertaining family and friends.
Evanthia’s Gift: Book One in The Gift Saga was a 2016 Readers Favorite Awards finalist in the women’s fiction category. Waiting for Aegina: Book Two in The Gift Saga is Kammenou’s latest release. For updates on the release of Book Three, the conclusion of The Gift Saga, follow Effie on Twitter, Facebook or Amazon.
About the Narrator: Emily Lawrence
Emily is an actor and writer passionate about bringing stories to life. Her greatest strength as a performer is her ability to bring herself to the role, creating a wide range of emotionally resonant performances that leap off the page, stage, or screen. Her favorite characters are complicated, conflicted, and still searching for their inner truths. Emily’s passion for her work is complimented by her persistence, resilience, and inexhaustible work ethic. She’s narrated more than 160 audiobooks, half of which were USA Today or New York Times bestsellers, and has also worked in film, television, and theater. Born and raised in New York, Emily moved to Los Angeles shortly after receiving her BFA in drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She also had the privilege of living in London while studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).
Emily’s greatest loves are acting and reading, so narrating audiobooks is a dream come true. Her other passions include traveling, LARPing, aerial circus, and chocolate.
I received a copy of this book from the Audiobookworm Promotions in exchange for an honest review.