#1. Do you like strong, flawed and inherent compelling female narrators?
#2. Do you enjoy reading new twists and interpretations of old fairytales?
#3. Does historical fiction with excellent place-as-character (for both Versailles and Venice) appeal to your reading tastes?
#4. Do you like a little magic subtly interwoven into your historical fiction?
#5. Have you read and enjoyed similar books like Kill Me Softly, Strands of Bronze and Gold, or The Brides of Rollrock Island?
#6. Are you attracted to novels with romance, but ones that don't focus solely on the love connections of the main characters?
#7. Are you constantly looking for a novel with length that will keep you engaged and curious from start to end?
#8. Has it been a while since you've had the chance to read a fresh and original story?
If you answered yes to the above questions - and really, I can't imagine why you would say no - then Bitter Greens is a book for you. An interesting and unique mashup of fairytale lore, court politics, and thwarted love, this captivating and darkly fascinating look at three intriguing and multi-faceted women is unlike any other book I've come across. I put it down when I reluctantly finished, and I immediately wanted to start it all over again; to spend more time in this world, and with these distinctive characters. This is an author with talent, and one that can clearly and easily spin an engrossing and compulsively readable story. This is my first Kate Forsyth novel, but you can bet it will not be my last.
Without hesitation, Kate Forsyth's newest novel is my favorite novel of 2013. It may be only March, but with 60 books under my belt, this was far and away the standout of the group. It's beautiful, sad, creative and compelling. Bitter Greens is so much more than just a simple, historical fiction retelling of Rapunzel's well-known and often-told fairytale. It's a story about love and power, about destiny and desire, and about what lengths a woman will go to to fight for her love, and to find her freedom. With her three capable main narrators, either in first person or third, Kate Forsyth brings this novel, these characters and the various locations to life. A vibrant read on all counts, Bitter Greens is sprawling, ambitious and impressive. It more than succeeds where it tries for something different and manages to breathe some fresh air into historical fiction.
All three women the novel focuses on in turn have passion, determination, and talent. Their lives are complex, and their characterization three-dimensional - not even neglecting the villain/anti-hero of the piece. Though their lives span different eras and troubles, there are parallels between the stories of all three. Each want something they cannot have; one thirsts for perfection and power, one for love and an independent life, and one for family and freedom. But despite their various wishes, each story meshes well with her compatriots. For each, life is full of unexpected twists and surprises - and those, usually out of their control. One is doomed by the choices of her parents; another by the capriciousness of a spoiled King; and another by the harsh retribution of a vicious nobleman. In each disparate arc, the loves and lives desired by Charlotte/Margherita/Selena are lost in favor of power, revenge, or dark magic. I couldn't pick a favorite from the three of them - all of them are compelling and interesting, and all of their stories demand attention.
The court of Versailles and the water-world of Venice are the most described locations (the homes of Charlotte and Margherita respectively), and they are exquisitely well-rendered. Set in the time of Louis XIV, the Sun King, for Charlotte's tale, Versailles, and occasionally Paris, create the perfect backdrops for her story of religious, romantic and independence struggles. Romantic, oppressive, and opulent, Charlotte's frustrated endeavors to control her own life in the time of a divine despot provide a nice dichotomy to the supreme will Louis exerted over his people, and his court in particular. Venice is another supremely romantic city, and one that lends itself well to the beautiful but deceptive stories of the other two characters. There is more than meets the eye to the tales of these characters, as the settings chosen more than illustrate.
Clocking in at a respectable five hundred pages, Bitter Greens has some heft to it. Thankfully, Forsyth has the capability to keep interest high and the pace moving along. I was never bored, and I never wanted to put the novel down once I had cracked the cover. This is a book I finished in one day, though I kept trying to extend the time I spent with it. I would put it down, only to mull over the plotlines in my head until I had to pick it back up again to see where Kate Forsyth was going to take her characters. There were a couple twists that came into play later in the story, and though I called one, the other was a genuine and believable surprise.
Sadly, this seems to be a rather hard novel to get a hold of. So far, I've only found available copies for sale on FishPond - no listings on Barnes and Noble or Amazon. However, if there was a book worth that steep $30 price, this is it. If more copies become available, I plan to do a giveaway. But you can rest assured my own copy is never leaving my house. I'll need it for the several rereads I plan to do in the near future.(less)
This is a mess. I've long since grown out of most of my misguided, uneducated affection for Philippa Gr...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
This is a mess. I've long since grown out of most of my misguided, uneducated affection for Philippa Gregory novels, but any lingering chances I will read her subsequent novels were firmly ended by this read. From beginning to end, this is a dull, vapid and uninvolving novel. Full of undeveloped, one-dimensional and just plain boring characters, with little to no plot to speak of, there's nothing to recommend about Changeling. It's a sloppy and anachronistic mess of a book, and one that doesn't leave much hope for the rest of this series. Simply and best put: Changeling is a disappointing mess, even for those who have grown inured to Gregory's ham-handed attempts to write historical fiction.
Changeling is supposedly the tale of two (very dry, very flat) protagonists, Luca Vero and his female counterpart of Isolde of Lucretili. It's hard to connect with these cardboard cutouts masquerading as characters, and even more difficult with their cliched background characters of Freize and Ishraq. I don't have anything to say about either protagonist; both Luca and Isolde failed to come to life as people, nor gave me cause to invest in their respective stories. There's no real "mystery" to anything that Luca investigates, nor is the "changeling" label ever fully explored by the author. It's mentioned maybe twice, and then... just dropped in favor of a ill-fated (and inauthentic) romantic plotline between two sets of characters.
With no plot to speak of and with the adventures the group encounters coming across as sporadic, unrelated vignettes, it's hard to get a clear picture of the world that Gregory is attempting to create here. Is the supernatural real? Where are my alchemists and death dancers I was promised? This is an "Order of Darkness" novel, the first in an expected series, but bare lip service is paid to the idea of an overarching theme or message. This is Gregory's weakest effort on many fronts, and it shows throughout the dialogue-heavy novel, and badly. Events and reveals, plot twists are all predictable - from the twist about Isolde's fortunes to the "mystery" of the stigmata and poisoned nuns - each new revelation failed to achieve the any impact author was going for.
Changeling is affected, obvious and anachronistic. This review is unexpectedly hard to write because I cared so little about anything that was going on, nor about the main characters. Gregory's earlier novels aren't "good" per se, but they at least managed to entertain the reader, instead of bore them to tears, as this one does. You would think a novel with a trail about possessed and poisoned nuns would be a little more riveting. You'd be so so wrong. Lacking any significant character development, with a staid and predictable plot, Gregory is better suited to staying in the genre she's come to dominate. Stick with her fluffy, bodice-heaving novels and stay far, far away from Changeling.(less)
From the initial sentence of, "His gondola slips through the water like a knife cutting int...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.5 out of 5
From the initial sentence of, "His gondola slips through the water like a knife cutting into dark silk," I knew I was in for an atmospheric historical read. I love when settings are strong, vivid and alive almost (see: Constantinople in Theodora: Empress. Actress. Whore; Prague in Daughter of Smoke and Bone; Prague again in The Book Of Blood And Shadow, etc.) and my hopes were set high for Venice and for Cross My Heart itself. The cover is pretty apt for the novel as well: showing both the light and dark sides to the fabled Italian city and foretelling a dangerous future for our intrepid heroine. Laura della Scala's tale didn't enrapture me as much as I'd anticipated from the eerie first sentence but instead grew on me slowly, involving me more and more as each chapter drew to a suspenseful close. A slow-burner rather than an instantly engrossing read, Cross My Heart should definitely be given the benefit of the doubt and read to the end.
Laura, a likeable if not totally remarkable teenage protagonist, was consigned to a convent at an early age. With an older sister to marry off ("through nothing but an accident of birth, she remains free, while I languish") and a spendthrift father Laura is nothing but a burden on her family. So once thrust from the convent, Laura is generally and genuinely unlike most girls her age of Venice: she is sheltered, naive and trusting - that is to say weak in a city of sharks above water. Laura's subsequent enrollment into the secret society of La Segreta exposes her to dark elements in her own hometown she never suspected. Going from under the thumb of the dictator-esque Abbess to the supervision of her father, Laura is never the one making the decisions about her own life: a situation many teens reading this will find easy to relate with and similar to their own modern-day lives. With that act of quiet rebellion that is simultaneously the first time Laura chooses something for herself, Laura eventually realizes she has only exchanged the convent's reins for her father's and her father's for the mysterious women in the society. There was only ever an illusion of control once she joined them, and Laura's life gets unpredictable and dark in the streets and canals of Venice.
The style of writing is elegant and feels entirely natural. I enjoyed Sasha Gould's consistently smooth writing and simple but steady style. Her style lends itself well to the tone of the book as well as to the city of Venice itself. I did wish for more detail and life from Venice the city; I loved what was there but I just wanted for more about the city and less about the colorful pageantry and parade of the noble class and their balls. There were several side plotlines threaded in with the mystery of Laura's sister's death that seemed slightly generic and fully predictable. The teenage romance with the painter, the "reveal" . . even the decades-long feud that was ended with a whimper... all seemed slightly underdeveloped. What kept me going and interested was Venice itself, as well as the original mystery of what happened to Beatrice and why she was murdered. That compelling plotline was pulled off marvelously well: I was genuinely fooled by many a red herring placed by Laura's suspicions/the author and the eventual villain surprised and delighted me with what it meant for the storyline. In a slowly paced novel, I just wished it had felt less rushed at the conclusion and more in pace with the meat of the story.
Ms. Gould's keen eye for setting and atmosphere provide an excellent - and darkly alluring - setting for a murder-mystery with a splash of teenage romance. Though it was not a perfect outing and better than my first impressions lead me to believe, Cross My Heart ended with me keen on getting my hands on the as-yet-unnamed sequel set in the same beautiful and deadly city. Keep an eye out for this one later in the year: it's scheduled to hit the shelves March 13, 2012. (less)
Venturing into the fertile field of medieval Italy, Tinney Sue Heath's novel is a careful a...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
3.5 out of 5
Venturing into the fertile field of medieval Italy, Tinney Sue Heath's novel is a careful and detailed look at one of the most famous feuds and vendettas, hailing from the city of Florence. For my taste, I thought A Thing Done could be a little too focused on minor details, like clothes or the set up of a nobleman's room, and occasionally came off a bit flat in the narration. However, overall, this was a solid historical fiction effort that kept my attention. It certainly doesn't hurt that the plot of the novel is fascinating, and based on historical fact, as are the majority of the characters. Focused on the beginnings of the infamous and long-lasting Guelph/Ghibelline struggle in Italy, A Thing Done is a novel about love, vendettas, and history.
I could tell from the great first line of the novel ("It was a fool that began it, but it took a woman to turn it murderous") that the narrator of the novel was going to be one I liked. Corrado is a fool, both for his profession and also in some of the things he does over the course of the novel. He was smart, likeable and forthright, all the while making being manipulated into tense situations and bad decisions. It's easy to root for the little guy, and in A Thing Done, it doesn't get smaller than Corrado. Heath does a good job of presenting a nicely flawed main character with the Fool; he may have to juggle the machinations of two great lords without the other knowing, but his personality was well-defined from the start. An unwilling participant in the feud between Great Families, this working-class peasant is in an untenable situation from the first page and his journey to be free of "the people with surnames" (as he calls the nobility) and their endless scheming is both tense and engaging.
The beginning was admittedly the toughest part for me to get involved in. There are a lot of families, names, factions and agendas flying around Corrado and his friends; sorting out who is who and who wants what can take some time. By about 75ish pages in, I had adjusted to Corrado's sometimes dry attention to detail and figured out the main plotlines and characters at play. For those reasons, it's a bit slow at the start, but the rest of the novel is more than worth the time it takes to get a grip on the various Donatis, Buondelmontis, Ubertis, Fifantis, and Amideis running rampant with plots and maneuvers. Corrado's role as unwilling accomplice to each (unknowing) party makes for an itneresting back and forth between the two major factions, and helps to illustrate how much this minor insult turned a city on its head and instigated a major feud.
Tinney Sue Heath has more than proven she knows her history very well with this novel. Replete with a large cast and detailed plot, A Thing Done goes to lengths to provide a fulfilling, if short, glimpse into Florentine life in 13th century Italy. It may not be the asiest novel to get into, but the journey and end payoff are more than worth the few hundred pages it takes to conclude. The denouement was a bit abrupt, but serves adequately to wrap up the lives and tales of the story's most prominent, surviving, characters.(less)
I've always wanted to go to Europe - Italy, and France in particular, which is a big part of why histor...moreRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
I've always wanted to go to Europe - Italy, and France in particular, which is a big part of why historical fiction is such a favorite of mine. I'm a a major, unrepentant history nerd, and getting to read and see these fascinating locales in new ways through new books, especially ones so vividly drawn like Florence here with The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, is always a highlight of reading for me. Alana White's novel of Renaissance Florence is a strong, well-written and full of life, from the characters to the streets they walk. From the first page, the reader is caught up in the life of Guid'Antonio Vespucci, his famous nephew Amerigo Vespucci, and that of Il Magnifico - Lorenzo de' Medici. With a detailed, informative style and a clear voice, White's story is enveloping and vivid; a dense read but one that is rewarding.
The disappearance and assumed death of a young, beautiful Florentine wife, the "miraculous" appearance of the tears from a painting of the Virgin Mary, and the ongoing struggle with Pope Sixtus IV are all important factors to the plot, and the the struggles of the protagonist, Guid'Antonio. A Medici man through and through, one literally haunted by his failure to protect Lorenzo's murdered brother, Guid'Antonio finds himself charged with finding out whether there is a conspiracy to incite Florentines to revolt against their unofficial but powerful Medici leader. Guid'Antonio is a strong protagonist - full of principle, but also internal conflicts and doubts. He didn't develop as much as I would have liked, but this was a solid, intelligent lead for a strong mystery novel.
The Sign of the Weeping Virgin is consistently very evocative of Renaissance Florence. That's a very good thing, and what kept me coming back when I would struggle with the mystery. The vivid imagery is the strongest aspect of the novel, and Florence really comes to life under White's pen. From the neighborhoods and churches, to the Medici palace, White clearly knows her way around the City of Flowers, and it shows in her sensory language. The characters are solid, even if the secondary personages need a little more definition, the plot is compelling and fresh, and the mystery not easily uncovered, but it is the setting that really makes this novel stand out.
I did think the novel stalled a little bit in the middle. Guid'Antonio understandably has a lot of leads to run down, questions to be answered and people to be found and the pace slowed down enough to make my reading progress a bit difficult. I didn't want to stop reading The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, but I did want some faster revelations or progression on the mystery. The mystery is itself well-constructed; the red herrings few but believable until Vespucci disproves them, but it did feel a bit stretched (or ignored, as when Maria's mother takes over the story) at times. However, White is a more than capable author and she found her storytelling footing soon enough and kept me engaged til the end.
If you're a fan of Italy, or of the Italian renaissance, or interested in papal politics, or in the fascinating life of Lorenzo de' Medici, you cannot pass on Alana White's impressive The Sign of the Weeping Virgin. Good, convoluted historical mysteries with interesting characters and creative plots can be hard to come across and it will be a while until I find one that measures up to the caliber of White's first novel. Impressive, well-written, and with an excellent use of place-as-character, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin was a hit with me.(less)
Decent, if not groundbreaking. Occasionally stilted and weighed down with expositionary dialogue, but nonetheless an engaging read and look at the lif...moreDecent, if not groundbreaking. Occasionally stilted and weighed down with expositionary dialogue, but nonetheless an engaging read and look at the life of one of France's most infamous Queens. Though Madame Serpent was definitely not the best Jean Plaidy novel I have ever read, I can say I enjoyed it - for the most part - and that it was worth the $10 for the ebook.(less)
A bit muddled, and rushed at the end, but still tells a compelling story about both sixteenth century Bruges and present-day California. The authors m...moreA bit muddled, and rushed at the end, but still tells a compelling story about both sixteenth century Bruges and present-day California. The authors mentions further historical fiction mysteries - I will be sure to seek them out and see how her talent matures.(less)
Good, but could use some editing. As Renae pointed out, the vocabulary is anachronistic and once you notice that, it's hard to not to see it. Still, I...moreGood, but could use some editing. As Renae pointed out, the vocabulary is anachronistic and once you notice that, it's hard to not to see it. Still, I enjoyed it, and plan to read the sequels.(less)
I usually immediately launch myself into a Dunant novel and am immersed until I have finished. This book was the first one to break the pattern. Unlik...moreI usually immediately launch myself into a Dunant novel and am immersed until I have finished. This book was the first one to break the pattern. Unlike The Birth of Venus or In the Company of the Courtesan, Sacred Hearts started out fairly slow and fairly boring, sad as it is to say. However, I stuck it out because even when the subject wasn't my favorite, I cannot help but enjoy the way she writes. So the writing, if not the plot itself kept my interest just long enough for me to be completely enthralled by the story. Building slowly, the reader finds themself in a colorful world, awash with political maneuvering, young love, and defiance and independence on different and individual terms. Yes, it's a slow starter, but after a while I found the pages flying by and me desperate to know how everything was going to end. Dunant's strengths are her writing, and her descriptions of Renaissance Italy. Her protagonists were different and intriguing women, that despite initial antipathy quickly grew into well-developed, intelligent, fun to read characters. I am very happy I read the entire novel and realized how lovely it was. More of my reviews here: http://bibliophileanonymous.blogspot....(less)