Tagged: helen

Losing Heart by Donna Brown

Losing Heart by Donna Brown(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

“I hate you. I hate you with all of Sylvia’s heart.”

Helen has waited for months for the heart that will save her life. After reaching out to the grieving mother of her donor heart, Helen realises that a second chance comes at a price. The price, she soon realises, is much steeper than she’d ever have chosen to pay.

There’s more than one way to break a heart. There’s more than one way to destroy a life…

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy through Masquerade Tours’ Reader Round-Up in exchange for an honest review.]

I didn’t even really read the blurb all that closely before I requested the book, to be honest.  So the events of the book were somewhat of a shock for me.  A pleasant shock, as it turns out.

Helen is an amazing character.  At first she learns that she’s dying of congestive heart failure when she’s still so young, only in her 40s.  Then, thankfully, she gets a donor heart from a young woman killed in a car accident and thus gets a new lease on life.  Of course she feels guilty that she thrives from another family’s suffering but she is very eager for life to go on.  Except that everyone around her really is acting weird.  Her husband calls her an ingrate for being tired while recovering instead of going around and volunteering to house the homeless and be perpetually cheerful 24/7.  The donor’s only living family, her mother, contacts Helen and at first seems rather nice but starts to reveal a darker side involving some pretty interesting mind games.  And of course Helen starts an affair with a doctor, who turns out to be a really awesome guy but feels guilty that she’s immediately doing a ‘bad’ thing upon getting a new lease on life.

So Helen is going through all of these crazy emotions at once and as a reader it was absolutely fascinating.  The fact that she didn’t immediately turn into a saint but rather continued living as a normal person was far more believable and her guilt over her affair was palpable but we also got to see her happy, which she clearly isn’t with her husband.  It’s kind of jarring to see how her new boyfriend treats her in comparison to her husband, who seems increasingly distant and critical of Helen.  Especially when Sylvia’s mother is around as a living reminder of the heartbreak that gave Helen a new lease on life.

The plot is amazing.  I think you can kind of guess the gist of it from the blurb but I have to say that the actual plot is far better than the blurb really hints at.  I can’t really describe it all that much without spoiling the whole thing but let’s just say that not everyone is as they appear in Losing Heart.  Donna Brown’s characters are people and that means they are flawed; sometimes they lie, cheat or cover important things up in order to get what they want.  Sometimes they have misunderstandings with their friends and/or partners that lead to disaster.  Sometimes they put their needs ahead of the needs of everyone else.  So while the plot is fast-paced because the book is so short, it really is character-driven and very realistic.  The ending is sort of predictable but also sort of surprising.

And no, that last sentence really won’t make sense until you read the book.  So go and pick up Losing Heart!  It’s definitely worth your while.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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*Not available.

Helen, The First Trojan Horse by Michael Lally

Helen, The First Trojan Horse by Michael Lally(Cover picture courtesy of Tower Books.)

“Helen, The First Trojan Horse” is a great love story wrapped up in a brutal war during an incredible time in history. This book provides a unique twist on the legend of the Trojan War. Helen of Troy is the most enigmatic and villified woman in history. Like the wooden horse to come later, Helen was not what she seemed to the Trojans and she helped to fulfill the Trojan prophecy of their own destruction.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I was absolutely certain I’d love this book.  The idea of Helen seducing Paris in order to help Greece because of an impending Trojan attack was too good to pass up.  I mean, that turns the whole Paris-seduced-Helen idea on its head!  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the main problem was the execution.  Michael Lally’s writing was very basic.  Throughout Helen, The First Trojan Horse I was being told what was happening rather than being allowed to see what was happening and drawing my own conclusions.  The descriptions were nonexistent and the dialogue was so stiff I had trouble even reading it, let alone doing my usual reading aloud test.  Although I can usually forgive some historical inaccuracies and the occasional anachronism, this book was full of them: poor people holding out banners with writing on them, the very modern attitudes toward Helen’s kidnapping, the wedding vows being said, etc.

Helen was very much the main character of the novel, yet I didn’t feel any connection with her.  Part of it was the overall poor writing, but the other part was that she didn’t change all that much throughout the novel.  Sure, she agreed to go with Paris to Troy so Agamemnon and Menelaus could launch an attack against the Trojans (who had been plotting to attack the Greeks one by one in this version), but I never really felt her despair.  We see that she is sharp with Paris and are told she misses Menelaus, but overall I didn’t feel much emotion coming from her.  The lack of emotional quality in the writing made it very hard to connect with her character, let alone all of the secondary characters.

Another part of my problem with this book is the lack of transitions.  One minute we’re with Helen in Troy and then in the next sentence we’re with Agamemnon plotting the war.  Or with Menelaus trying to get Odysseus to join the war.  Perhaps part of it was a formatting thing because there were no physical separations of such passages, but the main part was a lack of transitions within the writing itself.

So yeah, overall I was not impressed with Helen, The First Trojan Horse.  It had an amazing premise that really could have changed how readers view the legend of Troy, but fell flat.

I give this book 1/5 stars.

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Short Story: The Curse of Troy by Luciana Cavallaro

The Curse of Troy by Luciana Cavallaro(Cover picture courtesy of Kobo Books.)

Enter a world where legend and reality blur. Queen Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world is both renowned and condemned for prompting a war. Two great powers—the Achaeans and Trojans—fighting a bloody battle where thousands of men died. The grounds of Ilium steeped in their blood. Gone is the age where heroes tread the earth with their magnificence and god given gifts.

But did this all happen as we have been led to believe?

(Blurb excerpt courtesy of Luciana Cavallaro’s website.)

[Full disclosure: Luciana Cavallaro provided me with a free ebook copy of her short story in exchange for an honest review.]

This is my first ever short story review, so please bear with me.

However, this is definitely not the first short story I’ve ever read.  If I’m going to be honest, it’s probably one of the best I’ve read.  I enjoyed The Curse of Troy so much that I wish it had been longer, say novel-lenth.  Luciana Cavallaro’s approach to the famous legend of Troy was most definitely unique and it’s one that I’d like to see more of.

Told from the point of view of a young historian talking to the much older Helen after the events of the Trojan War, The Curse of Troy offers a much more sympathetic version of events.  I don’t want to give too much away, but have you ever considered that Helen was completely innocent of pretty much everything she was accused of?  This sounds quite incredulous, but I assure you that Luciana Cavallaro has packed enough information in this 30 page short story to make you see just such a possibility.

Even in such a limited format, the character of Helen came across very well.  Having Helen tell her version of events to our first-person narrator was an interesting approach and we were able to see her reflect upon her youth with an older, more mature perspective.  Her interaction with the unnamed young historian (our narrator) also revealed quite a bit of her character.  Make no mistake: this story is about Helen, not our mysterious narrator.  That doesn’t mean our narrator is necessarily one dimensional—he’s not—but it provides us with a fresh look at the (in)famous woman of legend.

I give this story 5/5 stars.

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*Only available as an ebook.

The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

In The Song of Troy, the bestselling author of The Thorn Birds recounts the tale of Helen and Paris, the immortal lovers who doomed two great nations to a terrible war.  It is told through the eyes of its main characters: the sensuous and self-indulgent Helen; the subtle and brilliant Odysseus; the sad old man Priam, King of Troy; the tormented warrior prince, Achilles; and Agamemnon, King of Kings, who consents to the unspeakable in order to launch his thousand ships.  This is an unputdownable tale of love, ambition, delusion, honour and consuming passion.

The Song of Troy is thus far my favourite book dealing with the Trojan War and I’m lucky I even found it at all because it was in the ‘Almost New’ section of my local bookstore.  I almost never found it, except that the picture of Helen on the spine drew me to it.  Yes, I judge books by their covers; I’m a horrible person.  It’s nearly five hundred pages long but they read fast and before too long, it’s over and you’re left feeling sad.  You probably know how the Trojan War ends (hint: the Greeks kick butt), but after falling in love with the characters over 500 pages, it’s hard to let go.

In any other author’s hands, each chapter being told from a different point of view would be annoying head-hopping.  Yet in Colleen McCullough’s book, you don’t really get that sense.  Each chapter is clearly labelled as being a new point of view and when each new person picks up the tale, they are moving the action forward, not merely recounting what happened to them up until that point.  Of course characters like Helen, Odysseus, Achilles and Agamemnon get more page time than minor characters like Diomedes, Automedon and Nestor, but you get the sense that you know each character intimately.

What I like best about The Song of Troy is that we get behind-the-scenes explanations for each character’s motivations.  Achilles, instead of being portrayed as a complete [expletive of your choice], we see how it was necessary to have a very public break with Agamemnon over—you guessed it—a woman.  Odysseus is my favourite character in the whole book because he’s intelligent, crafty and politically savvy.  He’s notorious for his irreverent, but utterly brilliant advice on how to win the war:

“You could, of course, starve them out.”

Nestor gasped in outrage.  “Odysseus, Odysseus!  There you go again!  We’d be cursed to instant madness!”

He wriggled his red brows, unrepentant as ever.  “I know, Nestor.  But as far as I can see, all the rules of war seem to favour the enemy.  Which is a great pity.  Starvation makes sense.” (Pg 182)

This was my first Colleen McCullough novel and I’m most definitely looking forward to reading her famous series, The Masters of Rome.  If The Song of Troy is any indication as to how much research she does, how well she plots novels and how sympathetically she portrays historical figures…well, let’s just say I will have stumbled onto my new favourite series.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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*Sadly, The Song of Troy is only available as a used book.