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16 of 16 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...
Published 21 months ago by L. H. Healy

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kept me going
A good read that kept me going - just. Some of the language which was diliberately used for Italy in 'the olden days' made this book difficult for me. Other people would no doubt be fine with it.
Published 16 months ago by Mrs. M. E. Booth


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16 of 16 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.', 11 Mar 2013
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bitter Greens (Hardcover)
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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelming and Beautifully Written, 28 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Bitter Greens (Hardcover)
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful fairy-tale retelling, 30 April 2013
This review is from: Bitter Greens (Hardcover)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, mysterious and compelling, 14 Mar 2013
By 
Mrs. K. A. Smurthwaite "Kell" (Aberdeen, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bitter Greens (Hardcover)
Everyone loves a good fairytale, and one of the most beautiful, mysterious and compelling of all is that of Rapunzel. It has had many different names and versions, but the one that is perhaps best known was penned not by a man (or by the bothers Grimm, as most people assume - they only adapted it) , as most novels and writings of that time, but by a woman. And not just any woman, but one of the most notorious and scandalous women of her age, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, who was exiled from the court of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, after a life that would make even the most hedonistic of courtiers blush!

Kate Forsyth has expertly woven together three stories that at once mirror each other whilst at the same time are completely different, deftly combining different time lines and locations to create an exquisitely intricate tale that will shock, amaze and bewitch. Readers will be drawn into the whirlwind of the 17th century French court, and the artistic beauty of Italy as the elements draw together the lives of Madamoiselle de la Force (the storyteller), Selena Leonelli (the sorceress), and Margherita (who has had so many incarnations as the beautiful heroine with the tangled hair).

The lines between fact and fiction are expertly blurred and blended till we find ourselves wrapped up in the fairytale ourselves, no longer able to untangle the strands of three very different lives that have culminated in one of the best-loved fairytales of all time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely, pensive, bittersweet story, 28 Oct 2014
This review is from: Bitter Greens (Kindle Edition)
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
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4.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing, realistic tale!, 24 Oct 2014
By 
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars captivating, 27 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Bitter Greens (Kindle Edition)
I found this an entrancing story moving from settings and characters which were in the end inevitably entwined. The historical content gives a fascinating insight into the lives of the Sun Kings French court with its excesses and casual cruelty to the lives of Venetians and the extremes of wealth and poverty.
The ending was a little disappointing lacking in the thought which had been given to the rest of this intriguing story. However, this did not detract too much from the enjoyment of the read.
I did not think I would enjoy an adult fairy story but suffice to say I immediately downloaded another story by Kate Forsyth which speaks volumes about how great a read I thought it was!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read, 22 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Bitter Greens (Kindle Edition)
I wasn't sure I'd like this book being out of my normal genres but I was pleasantly surprised.
From the first page the story gripped me, I liked the 3 stories intertwined and it read at a good pace.
A fairy tale for grown ups - I would recommend this book to anyone who still believes in magic and true love :)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a bit unfocused but wonderfully written., 19 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Bitter Greens (Kindle Edition)
The book tells two stories - actually, it throws in a third for a while - and they seem rather far apart at first. I have read books that use this device before, and often find it can be frustrating, unfocused and eventually a bit heavy-handed when the different strands inevitably come together in some way.

That said, the prose is lovely, and the combination of history - which seems very well researched - and fairy tale works really well. I will be reading this author again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and fantastical read. Set in Louise XIVs time. R, 11 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Bitter Greens (Kindle Edition)
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.
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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
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