15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing, realistic tale!
In the novel Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth has combined historical biographical fiction with the famous fairy tale, Rapunzel, written by Charlotte Rose de Camont. The result is a lush tale that combines the individual stories of three women. In seventeenth century France, Charlotte Rose de Camont de la Force, is banished from the opulence of the royal court and sent to live...
Published 7 months ago by The Curious Dame
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bitter Sweet, more like...
This book caught my attention at the beginning and had me gripped, reading late into the night, looking forward to returning. But then let me down around half way through and never quite recovered its momentum. A little confusing. Too many different stories all woven into each other. And the ending was just abrupt. I left disappointed.
Published 9 months ago by Inside Out
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing, realistic tale!,
This review is from: Bitter Greens (Paperback)
In the novel Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth has combined historical biographical fiction with the famous fairy tale, Rapunzel, written by Charlotte Rose de Camont. The result is a lush tale that combines the individual stories of three women. In seventeenth century France, Charlotte Rose de Camont de la Force, is banished from the opulence of the royal court and sent to live an austere life of severity in a rigidly ruled convent. There, she meets Sister Seraphina who tells her the story of Margherita (Persinette or Little Parsley) a young girl imprisoned in a tall tower by a witch named La Strega Bella. The novel’s storyline unfolds piece by piece through the voices of these three fascinating characters.
The strength of this novel lies in the wonderfully imaginative plot and superbly developed characters. Some scenes are very dark, with each character facing horrendous adversity that enthralls the reader. Some scenes are incredibly warm and heart-warming, filled with romance and success. In between readers can expect a very fast paced story with an ever evolving plot with plenty of twists and turns.
Despite the fact that Rapunzel is a fairy tale we are all familiar with, the author’s writing style makes it not only plausible, but very realistic and believable. The historical portions of the story are also vividly depicted and are well-researched. Most appealing is the fact the author does not shy away from extremes – poverty and wealth, innocence and corruption, good and evil, illness and health. Reading this book was a pleasant surprise. A novel written with insight and depth, and immensely entertaining. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely, pensive, bittersweet story,
This is a lovely story, my dear readers, unhurried, bittersweet and contemplative. The reason for my subdued rating is purely subjective. You see, the story is split between three characters, and some of them I liked more than the others.
Charlotte-Rose is a middle-aged writer at the court of The Sun King Louis XIV. She is disgraced by his displeasure at the scandal surrounding her life and her writing and sent to the convent. Over the course of the story she starts by arriving to the convent and then remembering her life and events leading to her present situation.
Margherita is a young girl from a poor family of a mask maker in Venice. Her story is a basis of the fairy tale which we know as Rapunzel. It starts when when she is 7 years old and meets a wicked witch and ends when she is sixteen.
At last, there is a story of the wicked witch, Selena Leonelli, who reigns as a famous courtesan of Venice.
I was mostly fascinated by Charlotte-Rose's story because one of my favourite book series of all time Angelique by Sergeanne Golon is written at the same time and involves quite a lot of the same characters but in a different light. Athenais, Francoise de Maintenon, La Voisin, the poisonings, the king and his famous mistresses.... It was a fascinating account of an impoverished aristocratic woman with no beauty or dowry struggling to find her happiness at the court famous for its excess and extravagance. And Charlotte-Rose did not disappoint me in this regard, although my heart was breaking for her.
The other two characters I enjoyed reading about, and while they were dramatic in their own right, there was a surreal gloss of fairytale about them, so to me they didn't feel as real or as heart-wrenching as Charlotte-Rose.
All in all, it's a quiet, very enjoyable tale which would suit to any fan of fairytale retellings. Both Renaissance Italy and France of Louis XIV were beautifully depicted, and it was very easy to immerse oneself in those worlds along with the heroines of the story. I found this book very pleasurable and would recommend it to anyone.
P.S. Like all fairytales Bitter Greens has darkness and violence typical of the historical period, so don't expect Disney sugar-coated version of Rapunzel. You are forewarned, folks
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `Her parents had sold her to a sorceress for a handful of bitter greens...parsley, wintercress and rapunzel.',
This beautiful novel has at its heart three women and three stories which are all combined to create a very special and enchanting tale. It is a gorgeous hardback edition, beautifully finished, making it a joy to look at, hold and read. The story is beautifully written, and it makes for an engrossing historical fiction read. In part it is a retelling of a classic fairytale, Rapunzel. But it is so much more than this too.
Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, to give her her full title, is appalled to have been banished from the royal court of Louis XIV at Versailles to instead spend her days in a nunnery. She tells us that she 'had always been a great talker and teller of tales', and this time her storytelling has cost her dearly. She has a talent for tales, a great imagination and a way of captivating her audience. She is depicted as a strong and independent woman, but the times she lived in severely restrained her ability to become everything she hoped she could be:
`I had thought I could bend the world to my will. I had thought I could break free of society's narrow grooves, forging a life of my own desire. I had thought I was the navigator of my soul's journey. I had been wrong.'
As is noted in the foreword to the book, she was in fact a real person who wrote one of the earliest versions of the Rapunzel story, under the name `Persinette.'
The second strand to the narrative begins the retelling of the tale we know as Rapunzel; the character who is named Margherita here. The story takes us back to the sixteenth century to meet a little seven-year-old girl in Venice upon the day that will change her life. She becomes trapped in a tower with little hope of escape, weighted down by lengths of red-gold hair. Despite, or perhaps because of, the physical constraints she finds herself in, Margherita turns to her imagination to escape the tower:
`So she lay in her bed, as snug as she could make herself, and imagined herself out in the world, having all kinds of grand adventures: fighting giants; defeating witches; finding treasure; sailing the seven seas; singing at the courts of kings.'
The third woman to feature in this story is Selena Leonelli, who encounters the artist Titian as part of her story and recounts the events of her life that have shaped her dark character, rendering her frightened of the passage of time.
The stories of the three women are captivating and held my interest and attention whilst reading; they were brought vividly to life for me, I wondered about their lives, felt drawn into their adventures, was moved by their plights and the different ways in which they all seemed trapped. Three distinctive women with fascinating journeys through life, often fraught with danger, beset by sadness, but all strong and courageous. I felt frustration at the restricted position life offered them as women living back then. I think I liked Charlotte most of all; such a strong woman for her times and evidently influenced by her mother. It was enjoyable how the story moved about between the three women and the episodes looking back in time added another dimension to the tale and gave insight into the each character's formative years.
The attention to detail in Kate Forsyth's writing is excellent and brings the period settings to life vividly, but this never holds up the advancement and intrigue of the narrative, which the author keeps moving satisfyingly and effortlessly throughout.
I found great pleasure in sitting back and reading this impressive novel and I think it will appeal to many readers who like a combination of accomplished historical fiction with romance plus a fairytale, fantasy element. I enjoyed escaping back in time and getting lost in this layered, imaginative, magical story every time I picked the book up. Bitter Greens is definitely one of the highlights of my reading in 2013 so far.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelming and Beautifully Written,
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth is an enchanting retelling of Rapunzel combined with the real tale of Charlotte-Rose De la Force. Bitter Greens is a brilliant novel, I cannot get over how overwhelming and beautifully written this book is. I really wasn't expecting it and now here I am adding it to the top of my best reads of the year. Not only do we get a historically accurate setting but also some very strong female characters who showed us their strengths in different ways.
Bitter Greens is told from three different points of view. We get the scandalous life of Charlotte-Rose De La Force as she is banished from court and sent to a convent. There she stands out like a sore thumb, nobody cares about court life and hence Charlotte-Rose is a nobody, dressed in a black dress to look like everyone else. We get to see Charlotte rebel against the nuns and her only friend comes in the form of Saeur Seraphina who tells Charlotte the tale of girl who was sold by her parents.
We then get Margherita's point of view, she's a young girl who at the age of seven is taken from her parents because of one of their actions before she was born. The pretty red-haired girl is stolen from her parents and locked up in a tower by the witch La Strega Bella, to live out her short life helping La Strega Bella stay young and youthful.
Then we get some chapters from the witch La Strega Bella or also known as Selena. We get to see her past and how she became a witch and what made her twisted outlook on life develop. We see how she becomes infatuated with the thought of eternal youth and would stop at nothing to get it.
All of the female characters were so well developed and we were shown how strength in women appears in different ways. I loved the little flashbacks we got to the character's past so the reader could learn where and why everything was the way it was. I loved these parts of the novel where we saw the characters innocent before being changed and influenced by the world around them. Their stories were all interwoven brilliantly to create one breath-taking story.
Bitter Greens also has a strong feminist streak throughout the novel, I'm not sure if the author did this on purpose or if the characters just took over. I loved it though. We got to see Charlotte ahead of her times and rebelling against the King. The scene when her mother is arguing with the king also struck a chord with me, she wouldn't back down to him even when it was a women's place to. She had her beliefs and she would tell them to him whether he liked it or not. Also Selena the Venetian courtesan who proved to men that women are not the weaker sex and she soon got her revenge on any man that crossed her path. It's this book that made me want to explore the whole world of feminism more because these strong female characters are so inspirational even in this day and age they are role models. I want to thank the author for making these incredible characters that will stay with me for a long time.
The writing was so beautiful and flowed so well, the reading was effortless and you could tell from the start this was going to be a masterpiece. The historical world was so detailed too and in your mind you could just easily slip into the past and join the crowds. Oh I loved this novel. It was such a delight to read and I could never put it down, I wanted to keep reading even at the end. I am sure I will read more books by the author in the future especially the upcoming The Wild Girl.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprise favourite of the year so far,
Bitter Greens is an absolutely beautiful book inside and out, combining three of my favourite genres (historical, romance and fantasy fiction) into an amazing fairytale retelling interwoven with a story based on the real life of the lady responsible for penning one of the earliest versions of the Rapunzel fairy tale; Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la force.
Bitter Greens is a story within a story within a story and is very cleverly written, weaving in a huge amount of historical detail to depict Charlotte-Rose's early life. Charlotte-Rose is quite a character; strong willed, imaginative, independent and yearning for equality at a time when women were allowed few freedoms. As the novel opens we find her banished to a convent at the will of King Louis XVI. Charlotte-Rose's narrative is all told from the convent setting and the harshness of it provides a brilliant contrast to the vivid and sumptuous picture of her previous life at court that builds up in flashback .
This is a beautifully described novel and I loved the minute details of court life; the denotion of nobility through the height of heel a person was allowed to wear, the language of fans and the subtle meaning of the placement of a beauty spot. This is clearly a very well-researched novel but unlike some historical novels, which can become bogged down in the detail, I never found Bitter Greens dull or dry. There is a very readable romantic air to the story and as I met Margherita and Selena Leonelli, the other two narrators of the story, I was hooked. At almost five hundred pages, this is a substantial read but it flew by and I couldn't wait to get back to it each time I put it down.
Margherita's story was my favourite of the three and I loved the horror and romance of it. Her story felt very believable despite the elements of fantasy and fairytale and I enjoyed that the fairytale was set in the context of a time of witch hunts and the Inquisition. Margherita is also a brilliantly strong character and having been unaware of the original ending to the Persinette story written by Charlotte-Rose, the ending shocked and surprised me. I'm not going to give it away here but it fits better than I ever could have imagined with my current Mum's month and Margherita had my utmost respect for what she goes through!
I found this book interesting on so many levels and I learned a lot while reading it. Who knew that Rapunzel was actually the name of a herb? Not me! With elements of magic, folklore and legend, Bitter Greens is in turns sexy and dangerous, heartbreaking and inspiring. Each of the characters is trapped in some way (Charlotte-Rose and Margherita, literally imprisoned and Selena caught up in her quest for eternal youth) and also tied by the constraints society put on women at the time. Kate Forsyth has done a brilliant job of telling Charlotte-Rose's story and bringing this little known historical character and her fascinating story bursting into life.
Bitter Greens is a surprise favourite for me out of the books I've read this year.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bitter Greens,
This review is from: Bitter Greens (Paperback)
In 1697 Charlotte-Rose de la Force is banished from the court of King Louis XIV, and sent to the Abey of Gercy-en-Brie. She has great difficulty in adjusting to her new life, until she discovers the friendship of Soeur Seraphina. And in that friendship, we along with Charlotte-Rose get to hear the story of Margherita and the even earlier story of La Strega - the story we know now as Rapunzel, but which here is richly populated in the Venice of the fifteenth century.
This is a historical novel interwoven very cleverly with what we would now consider a fairy tale. The writing is assured and the story is engaging. I did find the constant dashing backwards and forwards on the timescale a bit confusing at times; I see no reason why Charlotte-Rose's story for one could not have been told in a more linear manner, instead of leaping from 1660 to 1697 then back to 1685 then on to ... well you get the idea.
That quibble aside, the book was very enjoyable and a good read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and fantastical read. Set in Louise XIVs time. R,
I loved this story It cleverly weaves three interconnecting stories about three characters together. I have downloaded more of this authors work after reading this. I was sorry to finish the novel and say goodbye to the characters. Highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy read Bon-Bon with surprisingly satisfying dark, tough centre. And a feminist, and erotic tale, to boot!,
This is a clever page turner, kind of easy, kind of straight forward. Absorbing, almost effortless - until you realise that there's a lot more going on, including neat and clever games with plot - a story being told within the central story which is also yet another story. Yet Kate Forsyth manages this without confusion or artifice, and the reader can easily hold the braided threads together
Bitter Greens is both a historical novel, a romance, and a fantasy, a fairy story - and at the centre of it all, are 3 strong female characters, fighting the powerlessness of a woman's lot, in their differing ways.
The central character is a real character, who lived in Versailles, the King's Court, during the reign of the autocratic Louis X1Vth, the Sun King, to whom she was related, This was the time when the Catholic ruling elite were moving towards the eventual stifling of `dissenting' Protestant religion. Louis XIVth's reign saw the degree of religious toleration brought in by his grandfather, Henri of Navarre being rapidly eroded. He was far from a tolerant king, and in 1685 revoked the freedom of worship act, The Edict of Nantes, which had been passed in Henri of Navarre's reign. Huguenot's were forced to `convert', and to try to leave the country in order to avoid this, was punishable in some cases, by death.
Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, the main character, (whose childhood nickname in the book is Bon-Bon) was a relatively plain, highly intelligent woman, one of Louis' cousins, who became a well-regarded writer. She had several lovers, but did not marry (scandalously) till she was middle-aged. Her family were Huguenot, and she `converted' to Catholicism, around the time when such conversions were enforced. She was exiled by Louis to a convent (a fate imposed on many women who displeased men, and particularly, a fate meted out to Huguenot women) So, `Bitter Greens' is her first person narrated story, mainly taking place at the end of the seventeenth century, in that convent, as she looks back on her life. However, Charlotte-Rose is the writer who is known as the author of the fairy-tale initial known as Persinette - (a kind of variant on Parsley,which features in the story) `Persinette' later was retold by the Brothers Grimm as `Rapunzel' - or, to give it a similarly herbal flavour, a variant on `rampion'
Rapunzel is of course the story of the powerlessness of a young girl, who falls foul of a powerful witch, and is imprisoned in a tower (or convent, in Charlotte-Rose's case, after she fell foul of a powerful despotic monarch) It is also a deeply erotic story, though the eroticism is covert in the children's version. Rapunzel is rescued by (who else) a prince who climbs her outrageously snaky, ever-growing, shimmering ladder of hair.
However, an earlier version of the story exists, from the pen of an Italian writer, Giambattista Basile, published some 60 years earlier, as Forsyth relates, but scholars have puzzled how (or if) Charlotte-Rose might have read it as the story was written in Neapolitan, and was not translated out of Neapolitan till many years after Charlotte-Rose's death. As she never went to Italy, and did not speak Neapolitan, it is something of a mystery. One which Forsyth wonderfully disentangles, explores, invents, surmises.
So, the second story is that of `Marguerite' a fairy story told by a wise nun, who is the convent's infirmarian and herbalist, Soeur Seraphina. Marguerite, (another plant, name `Daisy') of course, is the girl who becomes `Persinette' and she too, like Charlotte-Rose, will transcend the powerlessness imposed on her by the witch.
Where do malevolent witches come from, however - in this story, we get to understand, and see a further story about the powerlessness and lack of choices available to women.
It is a marvellous tale within a tale within a tale - and, moreover, Forsyth upends the `victim' status of her imprisoned female, - though there are some attractive princes, even princes may be imprisoned by those more powerful than they - kings, fathers opposed to rebellious sons.
Interspersed are also various poems by other writers on the `Rapunzel' theme.
Hopefully, the fact that I've unpicked some of the rich substance to the story will not put potential readers off - this is a wonderfully told tale, with 3 extremely interesting major characters, one of whom (Charlotte-Rose) is wonderfully witty, sardonic, amused - and a remarkably sensual woman as well as a highly intelligent one. So the book has its degree of raunch as well!
There is a wealth of historical, literary, artistic information, in here, but Forsyth wears her obviously careful research lightly, seamlessly, gracefully. You learn without `being lectured'
Highly recommended, and I shall certainly investigate her second book for adults, which again mixes history and fairy story as it is about one of the Brothers Grimm.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bitter greens,
loved this book, not in a style I've read before but I found it beautifully written and enjoyed the very strong female characters
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful fairy-tale retelling,
My three-year-old is obsessed with Disney Princesses and her favourite is Rapunzel. This means I have to launder her Rapunzel shirt at least twice a week and we've seen Tangled in both Dutch and English at least fifteen times. Luckily enough, I rather like the story of Rapunzel and Tangled is a pretty fun film - don't get me started on the Pocahontas phase she had earlier this year - so when I was offered a review copy of Bitter Greens I was readily primed on the subject matter and inclined to say yes. Add to that this ringing endorsement by CW Gortner, whose The Queen's Vow I'd just really enjoyed, and I was jumping out the gate. However, I got far more than just a retelling of Rapunzel in Bitter Greens, I got a glimpse of the intriguing life of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, one of the first female writers of literary fairy tales, and the glittering court of Louis XIV, the Sun King of France and a look at 16th-century Venice through the eyes of both an innocent and a jade. An intricate story within a story, a curious blend of historical fiction and true fairy-elements. And it has to be mentioned, all of this is delivered by Allison & Busby in a stunning package. It's a beautifully put together book, with gorgeous cover art, black flyleaves, a black ribbon and yellow ends in the spine.
Like the plait in which Margherita is forced to keep her endless lengths of hair, the story consists of three strands that intertwine to form a stronger, more elegant whole. The base strand, the one we start with and the one that the others twine about is that of the story of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, a French noblewoman banished from the court to a convent by King Louis XIV. Not a natural beauty like the many mistresses the king goes through at court and like her mistress, the Marquise de Montespan, Louis' Maîtresse-en-Titre, the official royal mistress, she had to gain her position at court by other means. Instead of her looks, she uses her wits to get ahead, becoming a celebrated member of the Parisian salons and a well-known author of novels about historical figures. However, Charlotte-Rose was part of a court where one could be licentious and scandalous, but never be seen as such, so once she has too much scandal attached to her name, the king exiles her to the convent of Gercy-en-Brie, where she encounters Saeur Seraphina, a nun who tells her the tale we've come to know and love as Rapunzel. I really enjoyed Charlotte-Rose's tale, as she is a wonderfully complex character, headstrong and independent, but aware of the dangers of her life and always looking for love and acceptance in the wrong arms. Her three ill-fated love affairs show how much the women of her age were dependent on making a good match so they could at least appear respectable and how easily these arrangements could be broken off if one of the respective parties' families didn't approve. I loved her wonderfully acerbic observations about the members of the court, but at the same time she shows she has a good heart when she helps the Duchesse de Fontanges even if it might be against her best interests. Charlotte-Rose also shows us the tawdriness beneath the glitter and glamour of the Sun King's court, letting the reader see behind the curtain of the stunning palace of Versailles. Having visited there several times, it's hard to imagine that those pristine and grand halls were in fact as crowded as they are described in the book. Then again, it's easy to imagine how cold and drafty it could be as well!
The second strand is the story of Margherita, or Petrosinella as La Strega calls her, who is taken by the witch Selena Leonelli in exchange for her father's hands when La Strega catches him stealing greens from her walled garden. She is the Rapunzel as we know her, the one in the tower, with the long, long hair and the prince and the singing. But before Margherita gets to that tower, we see her getting torn away from her family and being raised until maidenhood in one of the foundling hospitals of Venice, where she becomes one of their most gifted choir singers. I found this look at Venetian semi-monastic life fascinating, as it shows how much being shut away in a convent, willing or not, was part of a woman's life, whether maiden, mother, or crone. We see it happen to Margherita, to Charlotte-Rose, and even earlier in the story to Charlotte-Rose's mother. Several of the king's discarded mistresses ended up in convents after they fell out of favour and it was a common practice to ship off younger or unmarriageable daughters to a convent, to both lose a mouth to feed and to create some goodwill with the church. It is only when Margherita is taken from the Pietà and locked away in a mysterious tower that the book takes a turn for the fantastical, as it turns out that the courtesan known as La Strega Bella, the beautiful witch, truly is a sorceress. Though even once locked in the tower, much of what happens can be explained away by simple ignorance on Margherita's part and some form of mental imbalance on the part of Selena. I found the sections dealing with Margherita's attempts at discovering a way out of the tower and the discoveries she makes, about the tower, about herself and about La Strega, fascinating. Margherita's innocence stretches so far that once she's discovered by the prince and falls in love with, after which the inevitable happens, she doesn't even realise that she's fallen with child. The resolution of her story is similar to the one found in the traditional Grimm version, which is in turn based on Charlotte-Rose's Persinette. It is indeed a truly happily ever after for our Margherita, but it's a happily ever after of her own making.
Our third strand in the plait is the story of the book's villain, La Bella Strega, Selena Leonelli. We learn her tragic story; her awful youth on the canals of Venice after her beautiful courtesan mother is brutally raped and abused by her main patron and his servants. She is forced to care for her mother, who has lost the will to live and soon the young Selena is left all alone. She is taken in by their landlady, an old crone called Sibillia, who is a witch and who offers to teach her the arts. Driven by revenge Selena learns all she can, secretly studying the black arts, and afterwards becoming one of the most successful courtesans of Venice. She then meets Tiziano, a young artist better known to us as Titian, and becomes his lover and muse. Seeing her youthful beauty exquisitely reflected in his paintings, she can't bear the thought of becoming old and this is what sets her on the path to Margherita and the tower. While Selena is obviously disturbed and dangerous, at the same time, I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Knowing what she has seen and endured, her choices, while bad, are understandable. Her pathology, apart from wanting to bathe in virginal blood to stay young, also seems rather bound up in sexual and maternal themes. She keeps Margherita on the border of malnourishment, so as to keep her from going into puberty, and she isolates her so she'll certainly remain a virgin. Another element is Selena's need for Margherita to love her and treat her like a mother, which once the girl becomes too old to actually be her child - both physically and hormonally - without her having to be a crone effectively ends her usefulness to Selena.
This is a book of threes: three points of view; maiden, mother, crone; virgin, prostitute, saint; three significant relationships for Charlotte-Rose; and a mantra of three truths that ground Margherita in her sanity; three strands that make a stronger whole, a plait that connects Selena from the early 1500's to Charlotte-Rose in the late 1600's. Beyond a book with strong stories and themes, Bitter Greens is also a compelling read. I loved losing myself in its pages and Forsyth's wonderful writing. The book is one of the most powerful fairy-tale retellings I've read and I can't wait to read more books by Forsyth. Whether you're a fan of historical fiction, fantasy or fairy-tale retellings, this book delivers for fans of all three. I can't recommend it highly enough.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (Paperback - 29 July 2013)