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Fairy-Tales

REVIEW:  Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

REVIEW: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter-Greens

Spoiler (Trigger Warning): Show

This book has a rape scene.

The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love

French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…

After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.

Dear Ms. Forsyth,

It’s rare that I read a romance book these days that I don’t already have some idea of how the plot will play out. Sometimes I can predict exactly what will happen when and it’s these books that usually almost put me to sleep. So when I come across a book which surprises me as well as delights me with its originality, I get excited. This is such a book even if maybe, technically it isn’t all a romance.

After a bit of backstory, I was expecting the book to quickly jump to the Rapunzel story, as after all that’s what the book is about, right? But no. Instead an amazing start details how Charlotte-Rose gets sent away to a convent. I felt like I was along for her self pitying leave taking of the glory that was the court of the Sun King at Versailles, the bumpy and cold trip to the even colder and bleaker convent as well as the meeting with the sadistic Soeur in charge of postulants. Before I knew it, I was totally wrapped up in the shock Charlotte-Rose feels about this alien world and the women who inhabit it.

It’s a fascinating opening and I found myself learning new things that are effortlessly added to the narrative. Plus they are things that need to be there or have a use rather than just as a show off of research done. I wasn’t in any hurry for Fairy Tale to begin because Charlotte-Rose is so interesting and fun to read about. She’s certainly not an easy person to like at times but I was pulling and rooting for her nonetheless.

Once the kinder Soeur Seraphina begins to tell her fairy tale, I got lost in that world as well. I can see it, touch it, sense it. As with the first section, I was floating along in a happy reading daze as the story unfolded around me. I’d read and read and eventually come up for air to discover that pages had flown by and hours sped past. Seraphina takes the story far past what I grew up hearing and reading by adding backstories, shading in details and giving the whole a glorious color and life.

In the Brothers Grimm version I read as a child, poor Rapunzel’s day to day existence locked up in the tower is skimmed over. Here we see how horrifying, lonely and boring it was. I like the fact that Margherita uses her brains to stay sane and does have agency. She’s told there’s no escape but she tests that to the limit. She makes nice when she has to but never forgets her three truths.

My name is Magherita.

My parents loved me.

One day, I will escape.

But wait, there’s more. We even get the Bella Strega’s point of view and if anyone deserved to get her revenge while learning the arts of herbs and scorcery it’s Selena. She’s tough to begin with and, after what happens to her mother, gets even more hardened early on in her life. I can feel sympathy for what she endured but it is hard to feel sorry for her given what she does to others who had nothing to do with her mother’s fate. However she did come by her mindset of “me first and I must stay beautiful” honestly though.

As I continued to read the book, it was clear that an overriding theme for all the women is that historically, women were at the mercy of men. The witch who taught Selena said it right – a woman could be a nun, a wife or a whore. And the actor who first broke Charlotte-Rose’s heart imparted a secondary truth – a woman needs to be pretty or rich or preferably both to prosper in their world. These realities of the times serve as the impetus for the women’s actions.

It’s also easy to see the parallel between the story within a story in that Charlotte-Rose suffers some of Margherita’s fate – both are locked away, far from loved ones and places at the whim of another. Both have to rely on themselves and both manage to shape their fates as much as it was possible for women to do.

The story was unique and engaging, informative without being a history lesson. I had no idea what would happen next and I can’t tell you how much this thrilled me. The flashbacks opened the beauty and decay of the city of Venice, the glittering world of Versailles and the horror of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In writing the book you truly were enjoying a world Charlotte-Rose could only dream of and in reading it I had a wonderful time. B+

~Jayne

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Tuesday News: Book banning backfires, Spain searches for Cervantes, Vikings are revealed, and 1920′s Fairy Tales illustrated

Tuesday News: Book banning backfires, Spain searches for Cervantes, Vikings are...

Parents call cops on teen for giving away banned book; it backfires predictably – This is both sad and amusing. Sherman Alexie’s National Book Award winner, 2007 YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian had been banned from an Idaho junior high school curriculum. In concert with a petition to reinstate the book, a local bookstore (Rediscovered Books – perfect name), worked with students to distribute copies of the book on World Book Night, “an initiative to turn reluctant young readers onto reading with free, super-readable books.” Until, that is, some parents call the police because they were concerned that the students receiving books did not have their parents’ permission. Even though the cops could do nothing, and the whole thing simply raised the profile of the idiotic ban.

Not only did [the giveaway] go as planned, but when Alexie’s publisher Hachette got word of the incident, they sent Rediscovered an additional 350 copies on the house. So while the book may still be banned in the school curriculum, it’s available free of cost for any kid who wants to stop into Rediscovered and pick one up. –Death and Taxes

Spain to search for author Miguel de Cervantes’ remains – Although Miguel de Cervantes is now considered one of the most important literary figures in Western history, the author of Don Quixote died in 1616, penniless and without fanfare. Records indicate the general location of his burial, but there is no extant gravesite, so forensic scientists are going to use radar devices to search for the body. The enterprise will cost about 100,000 euros ($138,000 US; £82,352) and is expected to take a few months to complete.

“The radar cannot tell you whether it is the body of the writer, but it can indicate the place of burial,” the expert leading the search, Luis Avial, told reporters on Friday.

“The geo-radar can tell us that location… then comes the delicate work,” he added, referring to the exhumation and identification process. –BBC News

Every Viking ‘Fact’ Is Wrong – I have to admit that the way the Anglo Saxon period is portrayed in Romance drives me up the freaking wall. And it doesn’t help that stereotypes abound inside and outside fiction. So I’m pretty excited about this new exhibit at British Museum of artifacts from the Viking Age, which is challenging many of the stereotypes and myths that prevail about that era. Although we generally accept that history is written by the victors, in this case it’s the opposite, and the upshot of that has been that the Vikings have been presented as bloodthirsty, uncivilized brutes, rather than successful traders who were pretty much on par with other groups for sheer awfulness and violence. Which is not to say that they were total peace-seeking people, and their involvement in the slave trade was certainly despicable. However, they were a far more varied and complex people than has generally been portrayed, as were so many of the groups that represent the roughly 600 years of Anglo-Saxon history.

It seems this was a rare era in which history was not written by the victors; mostly because the victors couldn’t write. It was left to monks and Christian churchmen to craft the only contemporary accounts of many of the Vikings’ raids, and Vikings did attack churches, which held no sacred mystique for them. They were simply seen as easy, wealthy targets, confounding local conventions of the time.

“These accounts are dressed up in the language of religious polemic,” Williams said. “Many [of the stories] were borrowed from earlier accounts—from classical antiquity. The violent reputation and particularly the reputation for atrocities was created then, but the Vikings were probably no worse than anyone else.” –The Daily Beast

15 Breathtaking Illustrations Of Fairy Tales From The 1920s – From Cinderella to Puss in Boots and Sleeping Beauty, these illustrations are really lovely.  –Buzzfeed