Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review of BITTER GREENS by Kate Forsyth

Bitter GreensBitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kate Forsyth's BITTER GREENS is not only a magnificent achievement that would make any novelist jealous, it's one of the most beautiful paeans to the magic of storytelling that I've ever read.

Told in the points of view of three women linked to the legend of the girl locked by a curse in a tower, the story begins in the dazzling, corrupt France of the Sun King, where witty, hapless Charlotte-Rose de la Force finds herself immured in a convent after a disastrous affair that displeased the king. Railing against her fate, she finds herself drawn against her will into the confidences of a beatific nun, who relays to her the story of Marguerita, an innocent living in sixteenth century Venice who is sold to a rapacious witch for a handful of bitter greens. Interwoven with these tales is the haunting, seductive parable of the courtesan Selena, muse of the artist Tiziano and Renaissance survivor, who has locked away her heart from the fickle vagaries of men to cultivate an untouchable wealth and youth that demand the ultimate price.

From these threads, each an exquisite rendering of the struggles of women in a world that discards love in favor of power, Ms Forsyth weaves the bewitching origins of Rapunzel, and the revelation of how each woman becomes part of the fairytale. The writing alone is breathtaking, but the heart of this novel lies in Forsyth's unquenchable empathy for her characters, and her innate understanding of how myriad compromises and disappointments, betrayals and pain can calcify the soul, as well as how strength of spirit can arise in the most arid places, instilling hope and invoking change.

BITTER GREENS is the work of a master writer at the very top of her game; a novel to be read and savored, and then read again.

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Interview with V.E. Ulett, author of Captain Blackwell's Prize

I'm delighted to welcome V.E. Ulet, author of CAPTAIN BLACKWELL'S PRIZE. Set during the time of the Revolution in France, this historical nautical adventure has been praised by the Historical Novel Society as "a fine story . . . highly recommended for those who enjoy a romantic tale with a little action included, as well." Please join me in welcoming V.E. Ulet.

What inspired you to write historical fiction? Tell us about your book Captain Blackwell's Prize.
I'm an avid reader and I started writing because I love reading so much. I soon found they are very different animals. Reading is a pleasure and a joy, writing is also, but much more work is involved. Much more effort, using all your powers at full stretch.

Captain Blackwell's Prize is historical and nautical fiction. The story takes place during the time of the Revolutionary war in France, and during the long war that eventually involved most of Europe. This was the time of Napoleon, the famous Lord Nelson, and the time during which Jane Austen was an adult and actively writing. A fictional Jane Austen figures as a minor character in Captain Blackwell's Prize. I should add it is an adult novel.

Tell us about the time period in which your book is set. What drew you to the particular era? Did you feel obliged to remain true to the actual events, social structures and political circumstances of the time period, or did you feel free to take license with historical record?
Captain Blackwell's Prize is set during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and the story centers around a captain in the Royal Navy. I have a keen interest in the world of wooden ships and iron men of that era. I've read all twenty of Patrick O'Brian's magnificent Aubrey / Maturin novels, all of C.S. Forrester's Hornblower books, and many of the contemporary writers of nautical fiction like Dewey Lambdin, David Donachie, J.D. Davies, Broos Campbell.

Do I feel obliged to remain true to actual events of the time period? In Captain Blackwell's Prize I take liberties with the time line of history. It suits my story to have the Spanish involved in the European conflict right before the Peace of Amiens, in truth I don't think Spain was in the war at that time. But they came in and out of it as Napoleon's ally so frequently that it is hard to keep track. So I certainly deviate from the historical record. What I don't take liberties with is the world and culture of Nelson and Napoleon's day. I'm very careful about word choice and the way characters express themselves, and why they speak and act as they do.

What process did you use to transport yourself (and readers) to another time period? Tell us a little about your research.
Here is where my interest in naval adventure stories and the Regency and Napoleonic periods in Europe led me to search out and read primary source material. These are letters, diaries, journals, dispatches, first hand accounts of life at sea in a wooden vessel and the world of Lord Nelson and Jane Austen. Here's a short list.
Five Naval Journals 1789 – 1817
The Wynne Diaries 1789 – 1820
The Dispatches & Letters of Lord Nelson

It's through the language of the story and the characters that I hope to transport readers to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This is why research using those primary source materials is important, to capture how people of that time expressed themselves. Equally important is why they felt as they did. This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust is an excellent non-fiction book about death and the Civil War, and in it the author examines how the view of death in the mid-nineteenth century was very different from ours today. People had a concept about an 'honorable' death, and 'dying well', that is, being prepared to meet your Maker.  I hope to capture in the language of Captain Blackwell's Prize, in what the characters say and why they say it, that world in Europe during Napoleon's time.

Does your historical fiction convey a message or theme that’s relevant to our world today? If so, what do you think it is?
I don't write with a theme in mind. I believe the primary duty of fiction is to entertain, that's my focus as I write a story. Good novels, of course, are about many things. I wouldn't be unhappy if, behind the sword fights and sea battles in Captain Blackwell's Prize, you learn something of the circumscribed lives of women in 1802. But my first question as an author of historical fiction is, are you not entertained?

Tell us about your next project.

Captain Blackwell's Prize is the first of three historical adventures. The second, BLACKWELL’S PARADISE takes Captain Blackwell and Mercedes into the Pacific ocean and the world of early nineteenth century exploration, on a new personal and cultural adventure.
Thank you for having me on Historical Boys, I think Captain Blackwell's Prize and its sequel are books both men and women will enjoy.

Thank you for being here and we wish you much success! To find out more about V.E. Ulet and her work, please visit her website.

Friday, January 4, 2013

On the UK blog tour for THE QUEEN'S VOW

My UK blog tour for THE QUEEN'S VOW, which was just released in the UK, started yesterday.There will be guest posts, interviews and reviews, and a chance to win a copy! I'm adding the links here and will update as the tour proceeds. I sincerely hope you enjoy it and happy 2013!

January 3 - Clover Hill Book Reviews
January 3 - Review at Books 4 Spain
January 3 - Giveaway at Books 4 Spain
January 4 - Review at Sir Read A Lot
January 4 - Guest post at Sir Read A Lot
January 5 - Interview at Kincavel Corner
January 6 - Interview at The Secret Writer
January 7 - Review / Interview at Turney's Blog of Random Miscellany
January 8 - Review and interview at A Fantastical Librarian
January 9 - Review and interview at For Winter Nights
January 10 - Review and Guest post at Reading Gives Me Wings
January 11 - Interview at Life Between Pages
January 12- Review at Medieval Bookworm
January 13 - Interview at Curiosity Killed The Bookworm
January 14 - Review at Michael Jecks' Writerly Witterings
January 15 - Guest post at Once Upon A Time