All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens
Kate Forsyth
Random House AU
2012,  550p
Copy courtesy of the author/publisher

Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the Court of Louis XIV after some scandals and perhaps being a bit too cheeky in one of her writings. She has been sent to a nunnery which is non-negotiable and must forsake all of her beautiful gowns, her jewels, all her worldly possessions in fact and take a vow of poverty and chastity. She will be on a trial period until such time as she is ready to genuinely take her vows. Alone in the world with no one to help her, Charlotte is desperate to escape the nunnery. She belongs at Court, it is all she has known for most of her like, employed as a lady in waiting at a young age and having been involved in the raucous goings on ever since. In her misery at being forced into ugly clothes, sleeping in dorm-like accommodation with barely a blanket to ward out the deathly chill and subsisting on gruel, Charlotte is comforted by Sister Seraphina, an older nun who draws her outside to work in the garden. Charlotte is mesmerised as Sister Seraphina begins to tell her a compelling story.

Margherita’s parents made a deal with the devil when her father stole a handful of bitter greens to ease her mother’s craving during the time of her birth. He picked the wrong garden, choosing that of the glamorous courtesan Selena Leonelli and was caught red-handed. Threatened with the loss of his hand, which would devastate them and their small income as he made masks, they are forced to make a bargain – give up their beautiful first born at a time of the courtesan’s choosing. Margherita is spirited away, told her parents no longer want her and all that she finds joy in is singing, her voice beautiful and pure.

Selena has been a force in Venetian society for some time now, defying the passage of time. Originally the muse of an artist, she has developed a wicked way of staying youthful. When Margherita is ready she confines her high up in a tower, visiting her each month and bringing just enough rations to see her through. Margherita’s only hope is that someone hears her high, beautiful singing voice and can attempt to rescue her from the tower. But in the end, she may just have to rescue herself.

Bitter Greens is a fabulously well researched and constructed book, a story within a story within a story! Rich with description and history, the three threads of the book blend together seamlessly, creating such an enjoyable piece of historical fiction. The experience of reading starts with the cover, which is just beautiful. It immediately sends your imagination on a journey and it suits the story immensely and from the beginning you’re drawn in to the story. We start with Charlotte, who has just been exiled from the Court of the Sun King, for being perhaps too scandalous and daring in a Court that made that its routine. She’s been sent to a nunnery and her misery at her predicament is absolute. Only the friendliness of one of the nuns, far more kindly than any of the other strict upholders of the faith, makes the situation bearable for her. Sister Seraphina draws her attention in with the beautifully vivid tale of Rapunzel.

Forsyth creates some wonderful characters here and both Charlotte and the child Margherita, who is taken from her parents are excellent examples of this. But then it is taken that one step further and we get the point of view of a person who had been, up until now, simply the villain of the piece – La Strega Bella, the one who imprisoned Margherita and other girls before her. La Bella Strega is taken from just being a 2D evil character and fleshed out and given life, a background and a character that helps the reader almost sympathise with her, despite all that she has done. We’re told and shown her evil deeds first, before we go back to earlier in her life and the events that have shaped her.

Bitter Greens is just a wonderful story to lose yourself in – it’s quite a big book but the time passes easily as you slip into 1600’s France and 1500’s Venice. It’s the kind of book you should get for a weekend where you can laze around in bed and just immerse yourself within it, without having to put it down for anyone or anything! It’s the sort of novel that has so many elements that it will appeal across the board, to historical fiction fans, fantasy fans, even fans who enjoy a bit of the romance. But ultimately if you like a good story no matter what the particular genre, then this book is definitely for you!

This book is a beautiful mix of the historically true and creative story telling. Charlotte-Rose was a real person and she was the first person to tell the tale of Rapunzel, published as Persinette in 1698 which the Brothers Grimm later adapted in their collection of fairy tales. Forsyth takes this tale and creates an entire web around it to boost and enhance the tale of Rapunzel itself. There’s really nothing more I can say!


Book #58 of 2012

Kate Forsyth did a guest post for me a couple of weeks ago about Venetian Vampires. You can check that out here!

Bitter Greens qualifies for my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. It was the 16th book completed for the challenge.


Guest Post – Australian Author Kate Forsyth

It’s my great pleasure to welcome the wonderful Kate Forsyth to All The Books I Can Read. Kate is an award winning Australian author of over 20 books! Her latest novel, Bitter Greens, is an adult book focusing on the retelling of the story of Rapunzel, interwoven with the dramatic life of the women who first told it, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Kate has also written numerous novels for children – you can find out more about her by visiting her website here.

Kate contacted me some time ago to ask if I would be interested in reading Bitter Greens and I jumped at the chance. She also offered to do a guest post for me in support of the release.

Venetian Vampires!

One of my absolute favourite things about writing a novel is all the extraordinary things you discover while doing your research that are begging, no, pleading, no, SCREAMING OUT to be used.

My latest novel Bitter Greens is stuffed full of these forgotten, fascinating facts, but my absolute favourite is the burial rites of suspected vampires in Renaissance Venice.

Corpses suspected to be those of vampires had their jaws wrenched open, and a large brick or stone jammed into their mouths, before they were wrapped in a shroud and flung into a plague-pit.

The brick was to prevent them from chewing their way out of the grave.

My novel Bitter Greens is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale, interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. So you may be forgiven for wondering what on earth that has to do with Venetian vampires.

Well, Charlotte-Rose de la Force wrote her version of the old Maiden in the Tower tale while locked up in a falling-down old nunnery in rural France in the late 1690s.

However, an earlier version of the tale was written by a Neapolitan soldier, Giambattista Basile, in the early part of the 1600s, while he was serving the Venetian Republic.

I have always been fascinated by Venice, and so I at once saw how perfect it would be for a retelling of Rapunzel. All those secret, walled gardens, all those labyrinthine alleyways and canals, all those tall towers and secret passageways. I planned a parallel story, with one narrative thread being the story of Charlotte-Rose, writing in France in the 1690s, and the other set close on a hundred years earlier, in the gorgeous and dangerous world of Renaissance Venice.

I decided to have three Points of View – Charlotte-Rose herself, the Rapunzel character (who I called Margherita), and the witch. It was while writing the story of the witch – who I made a beautiful courtesan and Titian’s mysterious red-haired muse –  that I stumbled across the real-life 16th century woman who had been buried with a brick jammed in her jaws.

The body was discovered in early March, 2009, by archaeologists digging up a mass grave on the Lazzaretto Nuova, an island in the Venetian lagoon where plague victims were taken to die.

When the skeleton with the brick-jammed jaws was first discovered, project leader Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist at the University of Florence in Italy, said that this was a common practice among people who believed fervently in vampires.

He said that the belief in vampires in the Middle Ages may have begun because the process of decomposition was not well understood. For example, as the human stomach decays, it can release a dark, bloody fluid from a corpse’s nose and mouth. As mass burials were often opened up again to add new plague victims, Italian gravediggers would see some shrouds were stained or torn about the mouth, and so surmise that those corpses were those of vampires.

Inserting bricks and stones into the mouths of suspected vampires was thought to stop them chewing their way out, feasting on other corpses, and stalking the night looking for fresh blood.

Suspected witches (often thought to drink blood too) were also buried with bricks in their jaws. Further studies on the skeleton found on the Lazzaretto Nuova show that she was a lower-class woman of around 61 to 71 years of age, which is surprisingly old for a woman of that time.

Matteo Borrini says this may show that the old woman had been accused of being a witch. In medieval Europe, many people believed the devil gave witches the power to cheat death.

All this was, of course, a gift to a novelist writing partly from the point of view of a witch in 16th century Venice. To see how I used this particular gift, well, you’ll just have to read the book.


Thank you Kate! I can say that I have read Bitter Greens and it is absolutely fabulous – rich with history and description, beautiful people, dresses and the decadent Court of the Sun King in 17th Century France. I will be posting my review of Bitter Greens on the 24th of April so don’t forget to stop back and read it!

Bitter Greens, by Kate Forsyth is published by Random House AU and is out now!