Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth


An utterly captivating reinvention of the Rapunzel fairytale weaved together with the scandalous life of one of the tale's first tellers, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.

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. 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...

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, sixty-four years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition, retaining her youth and beauty by the blood of young red-haired girls.

After Margherita's father steals a handful of parsley, wintercress and rapunzel 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 red-haired girl. And so, when she turns seven, Margherita is locked away in a tower, her hair woven together with the locks of all the girls before her, growing to womanhood under the shadow of La Strega Bella, and dreaming of being rescued...

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love.
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The tower. The hair. The romance. The magic.  From fairy stories in childhood, to a Disney film, to a recent YA novel, the story of Rapunzel has always held my fascination.  With her expansive tale in Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth has written an epic, sweeping novel that goes far beyond the standard fairy tale.  It’s the story of three women, the historical figure Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the familiar Margherita (a.k.a. “Rapunzel”) and Selena Leonelli, the witch who imprisons innocent girls in a tower in order to perpetuate her youth.

Set throughout the 16th and 17th century, Bitter Greens begins with the story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who will ultimately become known as the author of Persinette, which was eventually adapted by the Grimm brothers to become known as Rapunzel. We see her life as it passes through high society, and on into imprisonment within a convent. While shut away in this dreary existence, she meets a nun who tells her the story of the witch Selena Leonelli, as well as her captive Margherita. Author Kate Forsyth alternates now and again between these three narratives, weaving in and out of time periods and perspectives.

As in the classic tale, the witch imprisons Margherita in a tower, far from society and alone for weeks at a time. The innocent girl is a lovely singer, and has a long braid with which Selena can climb up to visit her on a monthly basis. Through Margherita and some black magic, Leonelli is able to perpetuate her youth as she has for many years. And like the story of old, there comes a day when a handsome young man hears Margherita’s lonely singing, discovering her locked away in the tower.

Bitter Greens is a captivating, emotional tale of love, loss, power, liberation and forgiveness. It isn’t merely about a pretty girl trapped in a tower.  Much time is spent on the story of her captor, Selena, and we come to understand why she has chosen to live such a depraved, warped life.  In fact, it could be estimated that the greatest amount of time is not spent on the main Rapunzel theme, but is spent on Charlotte-Rose and her winding tale through the royal court in France to her banishment.

Kate Forsyth has written such a marvelous work, one that I enjoyed immensely. The richness of the narrative made me relish every opportunity I had to open the book, as the story undulated from storyline to storyline.  The 500 pages turned quickly as I looked forward to the next episode in each woman’s life.  In that sense, it reminded me of Ruins of Lace, another delightful work of historical fiction I read recently.

There are only a couple of things that hold me back from giving a complete, wholehearted approval of the book for all audiences.  There is a significant amount of adult content and language within the novel, especially in regard to Charlotte-Roses's storyline.  Some of it is indeed appropriate.  The world in which these characters live is gritty and at times repulsive. Prostitution was not uncommon. The plague was ravaging many villages. This gave a realism and flavor to the novel that enhanced my experience. It was the reality of the times in which they were living, and they did their best to make their way in the world. However, there were times when the material was racier than I would have preferred.  Also, I wish less time had been spent on Charlotte-Rose and more time spent on Selena and Margherita.  These two characters are the core of the Rapunzel mythos, and I couldn’t get enough of their narratives. Those reservations are offered for those who want to avoid racier content, but I still enthusiastically endorse Bitter Greens.  This is the type of book I'll remember in years to come with fondness.

It’s unfortunate that Bitter Greens seems to be hard to find these days.  I believe it was originally published out of Australia and recently out of the U.K., so you might have to dig a bit to find it if you live elsewhere.  Although that is the case, I would say it’s well worth your search. Bitter Greens is a marvelous tale, full of love, loss, adventure and triumph.  Kate Forsyth has presented us with a literary treasure, one that I hope finds a larger audience as time goes by.

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About the Author

Kate Forsyth is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 books for adults and children , translated into 13 languages. She was recently named in the Top 25 of Australia's Favourite Novelists. Since The Witches of Eileanan was named a Best First Novel by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for many awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She’s also the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Gypsy Crown series of children's historical novels. Bitter Greens has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’ and ‘an imaginative weaving of magic, fairy tale and history’. A direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, Kate is currently studying a doctorate in fairy tales at the University of Technology in Sydney, where she lives by the sea, with her husband, three children, and many thousands of books.

Please visit Kate Forsyth's WEBSITE and BLOG for more information.  You can also find her on FACEBOOK and follow her on TWITTER.

Want more Bitter Greens? Check out the virtual tour, sponsored by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours: Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #BitterGreensVirtualTour

Options for Purchasing Bitter Greens


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review: AfterLife by Hank Hanegraaff

From the author’s website:

If there was ever a need-to-know book, AfterLife is it. On his daily call-in radio show, the most common questions Hank fields are about the hereafter. For instance, millions are voraciously reading about the near-death experiences of young children. Consumers are desperate for knowledge and reassurance about what comes after life on this earth. Hank Hanegraaff, one of the most remarkable theological minds of the 21st century, explains the marvelous way this physical life connects our past to our eternal future. AfterLife gives readers a clear and concrete understanding about what happens after death to us and to those we love.

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In recent years, the literary market has been flooded with revelatory titles related to heaven and/or near-death experiences (NDE’s).  While this genre has been in existence for decades, it became much more noticeable after Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven was released in 2004.  And following the mega-bestselling Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo, publishing houses have been rushing to publish almost anything they can get their hands on in relation to this topic.

Along with the aforementioned titles, I’ve also read Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander and To Heaven and Back by Dr. Mary Neal. And while I don’t have the theological expertise to dissect all of these NDE-themed books, this latter title I found to be particularly off base when comparing it to the truth of God’s Word. After questioning quite a bit of the worldview that Dr. Mary Neal presents in her book, I began to long for a solid, Bible-based work that could really be trusted by a traditional, conservative Christian like me.

Author Hank Hanegraaff is known for his work as an apologist, answering tough life questions and concerns about the Bible and the Christian worldview.  While he hasn’t had an NDE himself, he does have quite a bit of knowledge when it comes to what the Bible has to say about life, death, heaven, hell and other related topics.  In his latest book AfterLife, Hank addresses many of the concerns that come to mind when thinking about the afterlife.  Here are just a few of the issues he discusses:
  • Does hell exist?
  • Does heaven?
  • Do pets go to heaven?
  • Do we float around with wings? 
  • How much good work is required for entry?
  • Have people been and come back to tell the tale?
  • Will there be sex in heaven?
  • How old are we there?
After so many subjective testimonies from well-meaning authors, it was refreshing to have these issues addressed while looking through the lens of scripture, not based on anything else.  Hanegraaff’s content is not as sensational or titillating as the other works in this genre, but as I was reading, I had a sense of comfort, knowing what he had to say was Biblical and not based purely on his own experience.

I can say that Hank’s writing, while solid, is very textbook-like, complete with a useful glossary and bibliographical notes.  He communicated truth in every chapter, but I didn’t really feel the sense of wonder and amazement as I did in the previously mentioned titles.  It came off very dry and even sometimes condescending.  He didn’t seem to have a large amount of compassion for what happened in the lives of the other authors.  But I suppose his task is different.  He is not here to entertain, sensationalize or amaze in any way.  He is here to put a spotlight on scripture and ultimately point his readers to Christ, not to any mind-bending story that will knock our socks off.

AfterLife is not the most entertaining book on the hereafter that I’ve read.  But it’s certainly the most Biblically solid one, and the one I trust the most out of all the others on the market. For a Bible-believing Christian who plans to read any of the other NDE-related titles, I’d highly encourage that reader to either read AfterLife immediately before or after taking in the testimony of the others.  This is not to say that everything the other authors have to say is 100% off base, but AfterLife is a solid, Biblical lens with which we can filter the many varying, subjective experiences out there.  And in the end, all truth is God’s truth, and it will line up with His word every time.  Hank Hanegraaff has given us a quality tool with which to do this, so that we can have many of our questions answered as we live on this side of heaven.

Review copy provided by Glass Road Media & Management

About the Author

Hank Hanegraaff, is host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast, heard daily throughout the United States and Canada via radio, satellite radio Sirius-XM 131, and the Internet. He’s author of the runaway bestsellers The Prayer of Jesus and The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector’s Edition. He and his wife, Kathy, are parents to twelve children.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The History Channel's The Bible Promotion and Giveaway

From Executive Producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett comes The Bible — an epic 10-part miniseries retelling stories from the Scriptures for a whole new generation. Breathtaking in scope and scale, The Bible features powerful performances, exotic locales and dazzling visual effects that breathe spectacular life into the dramatic tales of faith and courage from Genesis through Revelation. This historic television event is sure to entertain and inspire the whole family! Where will YOU be 3.3.13?

To celebrate this upcoming event, PartnersHub is hosting a giveaway!  They'll be giving away a copy of one of the official The Bible companion books. (Prize will be chosen randomly from the book titles below!)

A Story of God and All of Us (HARDCOVER)
A Story of God and All of Us (REFLECTIONS)
A Story of God and All of Us (YOUNG READERS)

The contest is open to U.S. entrants only.  To enter, take the Bible Scene Quiz featured in the widget below.  Come back and comment on this post, letting us know what your score was.  (When I took the quiz, the average score was 57%, and my score was 69%.  I contend that I rushed through it, otherwise my score might have been higher!) After leaving your score comment, be sure to include some way of contacting you if you win, such as your email address.  One entrant will be chosen at random. Entries will be accepted until 12:01am EST, March 17, 2013.  The prize will be sent via FedEx or UPS. No P.O. Boxes please. Good luck, and enjoy the series!

Blogger Note: As I have not seen this series, I cannot confirm the Biblical accuracy of it, so this post is not an endorsement per se. My hope is that in some way, God will be glorified through it, and many will be led to read His word on their own.

Contest Update:  The contest has now closed.  Congrats to Beth, winner of the giveaway!


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