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Friday, May 22, 2015

Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella


Title:  Helen of Sparta

Author: Amalia Carosella
Publisher: 1st April 2015 by Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, Greek mythology, romance
My Rating:  four crowns

Synopsis:
Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.
A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

My thoughts:


This was a really enjoyable read. There are not many people who have not heard of Helen of Troy -  ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’ – but this story goes right back, long before Troy and Paris and that is what makes it unique. One of the things that set this book apart from so many others concerning this topic is that it comes from Helen’s point of view! Quite the twist on the often male dominated perspectives. You’ll like her, I am sure.

The author seamlessly winds together a riveting tale, combining the famous mythology with a fresh pair of female eyes as we trace Helen’s early years and the adventurous journey she embarks on. So instead of this often passively portrayed woman, we see develop a girl to a woman: one who assumes strong principles, great depth but also one who is flawed and very human. Helen is not a stand-alone; there are many primary and secondary characters that will quickly have you taking sides. I must confess on a personal level, it was refreshing to have a strong, mature and wise male lead in Theseus:

“ I am your servant….even if I cannot bring you to Athens openly as my wife, I will see you made safe. You have my word”.

This tale has it all! Adventure, romance and of course as we well know, tragedy. However, presented in such a refreshing context, it’s as if one is reading new material for the first time - surely a sign of a serious author. For as Carosella states:

“I wanted to give Helen the opportunity for something better – a chance to take her life into her own hands. After more than twenty-five hundred years of texts in which she’s been pushed round by men and gods, I think she’s earned it”.

Where does it lose some points? The highly contentious ending – wow - lots of thoughts on this one from reviewers far and wide. Without giving anything away, suffice to say I found it abrupt. Yes, it can be viewed as a complete novel where enough closure was had for one to reach your own conclusions. However, there is plenty of room for a sequel. Simply put, I was caught out by the abrupt final page and – even though to go on would be into territory many are familiar with – I stormed off to Facebook to shout my indignation, for I had not seen it coming. Truthfully speaking, perhaps all that was left would be a heartbreaking conclusion:

“And perhaps that was the truth of it all. Perhaps this war, this destruction, this death, (was) all mine.”

This book is fast paced and you will find it difficult to put down - the plot is captivating, the characters intriguing. Give yourself leave and immerse yourself in these times long gone. Spend some time with what I would like to consider is the ‘real’ Helen of Sparta.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright


Title:  The Canterbury Sisters

Author: Kim Wright
Publisher: 19th May 2015 by Gallery, Threshold Pocket Books
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit, contemporary, British Literature
My Rating:  two and a half crowns

Synopsis:

Che Milan’s life is falling apart. Not only has her longtime lover abruptly dumped her, but her eccentric, demanding mother has recently died. When an urn of ashes arrives, along with a note reminding Che of a half-forgotten promise to take her mother to Canterbury, Che finds herself reluctantly undertaking a pilgrimage.

Within days she joins a group of women who are walking the sixty miles from London to the shrine of Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, reputed to be the site of miracles. In the best Chaucer tradition, the women swap stories as they walk, each vying to see who can best describe true love. Che, who is a perfectionist and workaholic, loses her cell phone at the first stop and is forced to slow down and really notice the world around her, perhaps for the first time in years.

Through her adventures along the trail, Che finds herself opening up to new possibilities in life and discovers that the miracles of Canterbury can take surprising forms.

My thoughts:

The book tells the stories of 9 women that are doing a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Canterbury. In the spirit of Chaucer, each will tell a story of love as they progress with their journey. Sounds appealing. Well, I am sorry to say, I had A LOT of issues with this book.

The premise of the book was what attracted me in the first place (well, that and the cover - the relevance of it being a whole other issue). However, it was very different from what I initially expected and the further along I went, the more frustrated I became. There were too many characters and I felt that because of this, there was not enough foundation laid which in turn led it to being somewhat superficial. There were also several inclusions of information that did not make sense; that it appears to be an information dump. For example: a detailed discussion on Cinderella being the one true princess. At times the author jumps around and off topic:

“My mind flashes back to a vineyard tour I took last summer in Sonoma”.

However my main criticism with the book is that the central character, Che, is the least likeable. She's judgmental of others; thinks nothing of ‘hurling insults’ at her fellow travellers; her words and actions leaving a bad taste, therefore I felt little to no sympathy for her:

“ The only black person in the group, which should have made it easier to remember her name, but I can’t think of that one either”.

And her random departure on the trip without informing others, says much about her character –

“You’re thinking that I’m playing a cruel game with him”

Um…yes!


Seeing few flaws in herself, being the strong minded individual Che is, I find it hard to reconcile her choices:

“Here’s what I don’t have. I don’t have a mother, or a lover, or a phone, or any fucking clue of why I’m here ….. I do not deny that on occasion I can be clever, witty talented, good in bed, and yes, even attractive”.

At times she is far too flippant for my liking, that I obviously can’t appreciate what can only be described as black comedy:

“An incinerated human body creates a lot of ash. I can afford to scatter some of her willy-nilly along the way…(some ends up in her mouth)…Of course. What else? I spit her out and turn back”.

On the whole I found the stories more often than not depressing, and Che a rather sad individual:

“It isn’t forty that rips a woman’s life into bits, it’s fifty”.

“If you start to think, who knows, you might start to feel and there’s no telling where that winding road might lead. This is why we must have our books and phones, and earbuds and lovers, even if they’re the wrong people”.

So it was a two star read for me until at almost 80% of the book gone, some semblance of genuine voice comes through. Sadly, the problem is, having read through so much angst, the message gets lost. That being:

“That no matter how far or fast we walk, everyone eventually circles back. Comes face-to-face with whatever they were trying to escape”.

This is great stuff, but sadly just too little too late for me:

“Because this is what we have all come for. All this time, all this way. All the weird shit that’s happened. This is what it’s been leading up to, isn’t it?”

How best to sum up The Canterbury Sisters, it’s …

“mile after mile, hour after hour, through the English countryside listening to tales of compromise and reinvention, stories of jealous sisters …. dementia and pornography, because once a woman gets past a certain age…she’s forced to accept that when it comes to love, things will never be simple again”.

Such a sad outlook and having had to wade through so much, I did not find the resolution at the end had been worth the journey.


This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.