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Publisher's Summary

From internationally best-selling author Kate Forsyth comes a historical novel that gorgeously interweaves the Rapunzel fairy tale with the true life story of French novelist Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force.

Charlotte-Rose has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sister Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, 100 years earlier, was sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens.

After Margherita's father steals from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off unless he and his wife give away their 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. Selena 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.

This sumptuous novel holds the stories of three women, braided together to create a compelling tale of desire, black magic, and the redemptive power of love. Bitter Greens is an impressive feat of storytelling.

(P)2014 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Ilana
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • 01-08-15

Rich, Dark and Fascinating

Partly based on the true life story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force—a cousin of the Sun King, Louis XIV—who was banished from the court of Versailles by the King for a series of scandalous affairs to live in a nunnery, this book interweaves her own life story with the fairy tale we've come to know as Rapunzel. According to Wikipedia, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force, or Mademoiselle de La Force, was a French novelist and poet, and her best-known work was her 1698 fairy tale Persinette which was adapted by the Brothers Grimm as the story Rapunzel, though it seems this story originally came from an Italian folk tale which Mademoiselle de La Force would have had no way of becoming acquainted with, and Kate Forsyth uses her ample skill as a novelist to suggest how this now famous fairy tale might have been transmitted to her.

When Charlotte-Rose arrives at the convent where she is to spend the rest of her life locked up and isolated from the rest of the world, she meets with a harsh and brutal reception. Stripped of her luxurious court garments and shorn of her cascading locks of hair, then systematically bullied by her overseer, she is eventually taken under the wing of an old nun, Soeur Seraphina, who comforts her with an old Italian folk tale about a young girl who was taken from her parents because her father has stolen a handful of bitter greens; before little Margherita was born, her mother nearly died during the pregnancy because she was unable to eat. At her request, her husband stole a handful of herbs from the garden of the renowned courtesan next door. According to the story, Selena Leonelli was a famous courtesan in the Venice in the 16th century, the favourite model of a great painter, and by that point also a powerful witch with dark powers. When she catches Margherita's father stealing the herbs, she threatens him with declaring him to the authorities, the punishment for theft being the cutting off of both hands. A bargain is made, and so the parents must agree to eventually give their daughter away. On her seventh birthday, Margherita is taken away, first to a convent to receive a proper education and then into a tower where she is shut off for years, her only visitor being Selena Leonelli on monthly calls and blood rites. There are monstrous secrets hidden in the tower, which has no doors nor stairs, and Margherita must drag around yards of hair which the witch uses to climb up to the only window every month, and the only company the girl has the rest of the time is her own beautiful voice to distract herself, with the hope that someday somebody might hear her and come to her rescue.

Kate Forsyth has a gift for storytelling and we get a narrative from three points of view: there is Charlotte-Rose, locked away in the convent and looking back on her youthful follies and excesses; Margherita in her tower, becoming a woman and looking back on her childhood while learning to outsmart a powerful witch; and Selena Leonelli, telling her own fascinating life story starting in the plague-ridden Venice of the early 16th century and explaining how and why she became Margherita's jailer. The long narrative of her life is perhaps the most fascinating of all.

I haven't yet read Angela Carter, and looking forward to redressing that omission, but from the descriptions I've read about the way she retells fairy tales, it seems Kate Forsyth has also adopted a very modern, adult and feminist point of view which is rich, dark and fascinating. Certainly miles away from the Disney folks and their ilk. A thrilling book with which to start the year, and heartily recommended.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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As always a great read

I love Kate Forsyth's works and this like her others is a beautifully written tribute to the amazing, unconventional and courageous women in history. I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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AMAZING.

I LOVED Bitter Greens, and it was easily a favorite this year. Kate Forsyth re-tells the story of Rapunzel in a richly historical way that both follows the fairy tale and elaborates on it. This book is filled with mystery, ties to the past, and lore so rich it both feeds your nostalgia for the tales of youth and sucks in your inner adult. Such a fantastic read!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan
  • Bolton, Ontario Canada
  • 01-23-15

You have to listen to this book!

Would you listen to Bitter Greens again? Why?

Yes. And again and again. It was that good.

What other book might you compare Bitter Greens to and why?

This book is so unusual but I would describe it between a historical fiction book, a historical romance and fairy tale as there are 3 main characters.

What does Kate Reading bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I love her voice. Very easy to listen to. Makes me realize when I read in my head I am monotone. She gives life to the book.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The end when the nun reveals who she is. Never saw that coming.

Any additional comments?

I hope that Kate Forsyth writes more books based on this theme.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • A.
  • Alabaster, AL, United States
  • 12-27-14

Beautiful Story-Telling and Narration

If you could sum up Bitter Greens in three words, what would they be?

Enchanting, Seductive, Unforgettable

What did you like best about this story?

I loved that it surprised me even though I thought it could not (having heard the story of Rapunzel many times over and having some knowledge of Charlotte Rose). It was so enganging and vibrant and a complete page turner.

What about Kate Reading’s performance did you like?

The narration was one of the best I have ever heard. I will look for other books with this narrator as I believe her delivery of the story added greatly to its haunting, enchanting quality.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Overdone

This book switches between different characters to explore their backstories, interspersed with the tale of a middle-aged woman who has been banished to a convent by the king of France.

It was recommended to me as a good version of the old Rapunzel story. I whole heartedly agree with the Rapunzel element but the rest is terribly uninteresting. I found the inconsistencies of modern English concepts grated harshly against the period setting.

If you look at it purely from a romance novel perspective, she (the author) spends hours playing the coquette with a couple of lovers yet the true love is almost a footnote.

I’m disappointed and will be asking for my credit back.

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Starts slow, gets better later

The beginning three or so hours were slow, and I thought about stopping listening, but it picked up and the later part of the book was very good.

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  • Veronika
  • winnipeg, MB, Canada
  • 01-10-17

A Fairytale True story, magically told!

What did you love best about Bitter Greens?

Too hard of a question, I love Everything about this book!

Would you recommend Bitter Greens to your friends? Why or why not?

YES! Great story, based on truth, written great, and told magically by the reader!

What three words best describe Kate Reading’s performance?

Beautiful, Heartfelt, perfect!

If you could take any character from Bitter Greens out to dinner, who would it be and why?

The Witch of course, I'd pick her brains for spells!!!

Any additional comments?

I love learning about history in well written historical novels, and this is one of the best ones, read by one of my most favorit Readers. The Author is an incredible and talented author obviously, and the Reader for this audio book was chosen wisely. Anyone else, and they would have not been able to bring the story as alive as Kate Reading did.

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Many Stories and Many Voices - Perfection!

Because I always loved the story of Rapunzel (it was one of my Nana's bedtime stories), I was slightly nervous about purchasing this audiobook. How much can one draw out of a simple folk tale to make it interesting? Even though the idea of craving greens for a salad sounded enticing when I was young, my sole experiences of salad were centered around iceberg lettuce and prepared salad dressings.

As I grew older, of course, the tale only entered my mind every so often. The Disney movie certainly helped in that area. And after 7 full-term pregnancies (plus a few that ended earlier, alas), I completely understood the desperate need for a certain food prompted by pregnancy cravings.

But I had spent a credit on it, and it got good reviews, which of course is why I bought it in the first place. So a few weeks ago, when searching for a new audiobook to accompany my exercise, driving and household work, I decided to listen to it.

Because I was focusing on chopping vegetables at the time, I was a couple of minutes into the tale before what the narrator said really entered my brain. What's this? France during the reign of the Sun King? I looked down at my iPhone to make sure I had the right audiobook.

I must mention here that I have NEVER heard a narrator with the astounding skills of Kate Reading. Her last name is certainly fitting! Her English is impeccable. But she speaks French like a Parisian and Italian like a Venetian! I've never heard such a beautiful, buttery French before and her Italian had the delicate throatiness of a mezzo-soprano.

Trust me, I'm going to hunt down every audiobook Kate Reading narrates!

But back to the story. Each tale, which were all part of the same story, were written with such precise, rich prose that I almost experienced the book as if I were living it. I could almost feel the heat on my back as women worked in the garden, parts of the story reminded me of the passion I felt as an unmarried young woman and then, later, after I married my husband. I could thrill with every victory and nearly sob with every shameful defeat. At times I had to remind myself I was affected by the novel, when I was interrupted during a scene that drew my wrath. Plus, I myself had experienced cravings for the "bitter greens" which form the title of this book. During my 3rd pregnancy, I was chopping parsley and was so physically affected by a sudden powerful craving for it that I couldn't stop myself from grabbing a handful and cramming it into my mouth. It's a wonder we had any left for our salad.

One more note: I am an unprofessional historian, who has lately been drawn to the eras and countries which frame these stories. At no time did I find any red flags. Rather, as Ii said before, I felt sucked into the atmosphere of each environment when I encountered it as narrated by the genius of Kate Reading.

I wonder, does the fact that both author and narrator have the same first name affect the symbiosis I sensed between them?

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  • Susan
  • Bartonville, TX
  • 10-28-16

Interesting, Epic Fantasy

This is a very good but complicated, epic fantasy. Three women's stories from three separate era's are tied up neatly in a deadly but delicately woven web. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did it took off and had a smart and imaginative ending. Interesting and strong characters keep all three storie interesting and well paced. Kate Reading always does a excellent job narrating with all of her unique voices.