Spotlight on THE GIFT SAGA – Romance Series by Effie Kammenou

Genre: Women’s fiction/ Contemporary Romance
Date Published: August 7, 2015

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.

 

Genre: Women’s Fiction
Date Published: January 7, 2016

Book Two in The Gift Saga: The continuation of Evanthia’s Gift…

In 1961, five little girls moved into a suburban neighborhood and became inseparable, lifelong friends. They called themselves the ‘Honey Hill Girls,’ named after the street on which they lived. As teenagers they shared one another’s ambitions and dreams, secrets and heartaches. Now, more than thirty years later, they remain devoted and loyal, supporting each other through triumphs and sorrows.

Evanthia’s Gift follows the life of Sophia Giannakos. In Waiting for Aegina the saga continues from the perspectives of Sophia and her friends as the story drifts back and forth in time, filling in the gaps as the women grow to adulthood.

Naive teenage ideals are later challenged by harsh realities, as each of their lives takes unexpected turns. Now nearing their fiftieth year, Sophia, Demi, Amy, Mindy and Donna stand together through life-altering obstacles while they try to regain the lighthearted optimism of their youth.

 

About the Book Interview with Effie Kammenou

What was the inspiration behind this story?

Waiting For Aegina is the second book in The Gift Saga. The first book, Evanthia’s Gift, is a multigenerational love story and family saga that spans fifty years. The main focus is on two Greek Families living in New York, particularly their first generation American children Sophia and Dean who had been in love during their teenage years. Throughout the story Sophia is a great support to her four best friends and in turn they are always there when she needs them. Waiting For Aegina explores the strength of these friendships as the women go through some difficult times while they transition from carefree teenagers to responsible adults. In 2004 I attended my 30th high school reunion. I was reluctant to go, but I had a wonderful time and I’d reconnected with a group of women that I am still very close with today. This inspired me to build a story around close childhood friendships and the value these relationships have. Friends come and go in our lives but the people with whom we share a history; the ones who shared experiences with us in those developmental years are unforgettable.

Tell us about your main character.

There are five main characters but Sophia is the main character of Evanthia’s Gift, and Waiting For Aegina is about the relationship she shares with her friends. Since all the women in the story are equally important I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you a little about each one of them.

Sophia is kind and caring. She’s also a bit stubborn. She likes tradition and is proud of her Greek heritage. Life has not always gone the way her idealistic teenage self thought it would and as an adult she’s dealt with some very hard times. Betrayal and heartbreak. Disappointment. Tragic deaths. Shocking revelations. Now that she’s found happiness, she needs to find a way to put the past behind her.

Demi is Sophia’s love interest’s sister. She the fixer. Demi will meddle for the ‘greater good.’ She’s funny and loveable but don’t cross her or do anything to hurt someone she loves.

Amy has a tough exterior. She’s all business and very practical. But what lurks beneath the surface is a great deal of pain and emotion that she allows few people to see. Amy’s story is an important one that began in Evanthia’s Gift.

Mindy the fashion designer who has found success in all areas of her life except love. After losing what she thought was the love of her life, Mindy allows herself to enter into an abusive relationship. As a side note, a woman who wanted to share her experience with me inspired this storyline. She gave me insight into the reasons a woman would continue with such a relationship.

Donna was the high school cheerleader who married the captain of the football team when they both graduated college. They were the golden couple. But what goes on behind closed doors can be very different. Donna is disillusioned and unhappy in her marriage and she must figure out what to do about it.

Which is your favorite minor character and why?

That’s a tough question. I love all my characters. Well, almost all of them. I think I would have to say Michael, Demi’s husband. He’s such a good man. He tries to be everything to everyone – Good husband, son, father and uncle. Sometimes it gets him in trouble and he finds himself between a rock and a hard place.

What is your favorite personality trait of your main character?

Sophia’s unconditional love for the people in her life and her compassion are her best traits.

What is your favorite personality trait of your bad guy/girl?

Irini is the ‘bad girl’ in the story. There is nothing good I can say about her. Readers often ask me how I came up with her character. She’s inspired by a person who was once in my life, but like Sophia and her family, my family has no contact with her any longer.

Jimmy is the ‘bad guy’ in the story. When I began to develop his character I wrote him as someone the reader could not be sympathetic to. As the story developed from the first chapter of Evanthia’s Gift, when he does the unforgiveable, to his later years in Waiting For Aegina, the reader can’t help having a kinder attitude toward this man. Jimmy’s ability to finally turn his life around, after years and years of mistakes that cost him everything, was his best trait. He learned to give rather than take.

Tell us something funny about one of your characters.

Demi is fearless and sometimes she has no boundaries. She can’t stand when her friends are unhappy for no reason. After two years of what Demi thinks is a senseless separation between Amy and her husband Ezra, Demi takes matters into her own hands. The reader doesn’t see this scene played out but an ass kicking is mentioned. Ezra is an established trial lawyer. Demi storms past his secretary and into his office and then proceeds to tell him exactly what she thinks of him at that moment. “You are not signing divorce papers. You are coming to my New Years Eve party and you will sit with your wife until you settle this bullshit or I will kick your ass into the next county.” This is what Demi told this man who could argue and win just about every case he took on. Ezra knew her well enough not to even try and object. But when he opens his mouth to speak Demi says, “Button it buddy! Here’s your invitation. Don’t be late.” And as swiftly as she walks in, she walks out, satisfied.

One of your characters is going on a shopping spree. Where does he/she go and what does he/she buy?

Mindy needs to buy a gift for her new love. She settles on a watch and heads to Tiffany & Co. on 5th Ave. After that she decides to wander down 5th Ave. and buy some indulgent sexy shoes from her favorite designers.

Your character is at a bookstore. Which section is he/she shopping in? What book is in his/her hand right now?

Donna is reading one romance novel after another. She’s starved for love these days and the only outlet for it is reading love fantasies. Unfortunately, when she reads about a couple she gets attached to and falls in love with their story it only makes her more bitter toward her husband and there pitiful situation. In 2003, about a year before her world changed forever, Donna was in a bookstore buying The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks. The story was about a failing marriage, but in the end the husband showed his wife how much he loved her by planning the wedding/vow renewal of her dreams. Donna knew this would never happen to her and her husband, and at this point she wouldn’t want it from him.

Your character has the music blasting. What’s playing, and what is he/she doing while listening?

Sophia was a ballerina in her youth and owns a dance studio now. If she’s in choreography mode it could be anything from Swan Lake to a Evanescence song. But readers know that Sophia is a huge Beatles fan. You might find her bouncing around to “Can’t Buy Me Love” while cooking in her kitchen.

I’m inviting your main character to dinner. What should I make?

Well, if Sophia was cooking for you she would make you a Greek feast. Make something from your heritage or a family recipe that’s been handed down. Sophia loves tradition and as long as it’s not something disgusting like fried worms, she’ll try it.

Your main character is planning a vacation. Where is he/she going?

Greece, of course! Sophia has been going there almost every year since she was a child. Her mother’s uncle left them a home on the island of Chios. Sophia’s grandparents built a summer home on the island of Aegina many years before and her grandmother still lives in Athens. Sophia traveled all over the United States and Europe when she was with her ballet company when she was in her twenties.

Were you surprised by the behavior of any of your characters or the direction of your plot at any point while writing?

I was surprised that an intelligent and successful woman like Mindy would allow herself to stay in an abusive relationship. After the first time he showed aggression or threatened her, why didn’t she leave and never see him again? This was a question I asked the woman who inspired this sub-plot.

Please share a few favorite lines or one paragraph.

On true friendship –

“You may not have one important person in your life, but you have the four of us. And like it or not, you’re stuck with us until we can’t walk and our teeth fall out.”

On compassion –

He was so warm and compelling. Amy stepped into his arms, and when he hugged her she began to cry. He would keep her safe—she knew that instinctively. She never felt so much love, and she knew that this man loved all of humanity in this way.

On humanity –

Jimmy, she imagined, had a lifetime of disappointments and heartaches. Triumphs and milestones. It was common to forget this when looking at the elderly. Each person was a stitch woven into a greater tapestry—timeless tales to be retold from generation to generation, in the hope of preserving a heritage and teaching salient lessons.

On true love –

“I told you that I would love you until the day I die. That time is near. But I’m afraid I was wrong. I won’t love you until the day I die. I will love you for eternity. In this world and the next.”

On love filled lust –

Make love. How long had it been since anyone made love to her? Sex, sure, she’d had plenty of that, but it often left her feeling empty. This man cherished her body with every touch and each kiss, and she had never felt so fulfilled or at peace with a man.

How long did it take you to write this book?

It took about a year, which was considerably less time that it took to write Evanthia’s Gift.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to play the lead characters?

The story flips back and forth in time, so this is an interesting question. Do you cast young actors and age them from teenagers to women in their forties? Or cast actors that can pass for either age group with the appropriate styling. Or cast two sets of actors?

My perfect teenage Sophia would be Mia Sara as she looked when she was a young actor. Of course now she could probably play the older Sophia. The closest young actress to fit that role that comes to mind is Nina Dobrev.

Jessica Chastain as Mindy

Maria Menounos for Demi

Amy Adams as Amy

Sandra Bullock as Donna

How did you come up with the title?

I had no idea what the title would be until I was close to the end of my writing process. I wanted the title to fit with the first book in the saga. I wanted to convey a Greek theme. Evanthia is a Greek name. I wanted the title of this book to have a defining Greek word in it as well. At the end of the book the reader finds out how I came up with the title, but it’s more than simply a line pulled from the story. The title represents the renewal of old dreams and desires. It’s hope and optimism. And it’s the ability to find the teenager in all of us and to remember long forgotten simple pleasures of life that were buried under the struggles of adulthood.

Tell us about your cover art and how it pertains to your story.

I had a very specific image in my mind and I knew I would not find it in a stock photograph. I commissioned a very talented photographer in Greece and explained what I was looking for. I wanted the five women on the beach. The backdrop had have something in it that would make it clear that the women were in Greece. The tiny church was exactly what I pictured. The photographer sent me over one hundred photos. It was difficult to choose, but I like the playfulness between the friends in the one I chose. The bond between these women is evident in this one image. Anyone looking at it would gather these women are important to each other.

Of all the books out there, why should readers choose this one?

Waiting For Aegina as well as Evanthia’s Gift has a little something for everyone. There is history, culture and tradition. Readers who are not familiar with the Greek people will be introduced to them in a non-stereotypical manner. For those who are Greek, parts of the story will be relatable. But there is so much more. There are real life issues that plague women and families today. There is the beauty of so many different forms of love – true, unconditional romantic love, love for family, true friendship, love of heritage. There’s romance, heartbreak, resilience, regret and redemption. And as a bonus there are recipes between some of the chapters. For the non-Greek readers I feel by adding recipes it provides a better sense of the more unfamiliar foods mentioned in the text. Many readers have written to tell me they have tried the recipes.

Is there an underlying theme in your book? If so, tell us about it and why/if it’s important to you.

I named the saga The Gift Saga because of the Gift in Evanthia’s Gift. Although the reader learns what this tangible gift is, it’s the meaning behind it that is truly important. The gift is to know and recognize what and who is valuable. Hold on to your loved ones. Treasure them. Don’t forget what came before you and who paved the way for you.  The gift is subtler in Waiting For Aegina. There is no tangible symbol. The bond between the five women is the gift. They are a gift to each other. In book three, the tangible symbols will have meaning again as the next generation is expected to carry on the traditions of the old world in modern times.

Fiction can often provide powerful life lessons. What message do you hope readers get from your book?

There are so many lessons in this book. The physical abuse story provides a few lessons. I hope that women involved in these relationships see themselves in this storyline. They need to recognize that any abuse is not okay. Not verbal, emotional or physical. Most importantly, they need to understand why they allow it to continue. For Mindy, it was a self-esteem issue just as it was for Amy to be strung along for years by a man she thought she loved. These were two intelligent, successful women—victims of poor self-esteem—hard to believe, but it happens too often.

There is also the issue of teenage pressure and bullying. It may come from school, social media, or even your own home as we saw in Donna’s household. I hope this storyline brings some awareness to that.

Most of all I hope the story brings the message of love, humanity and compassion.

 

About the Author

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.

 

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