Sisi: An Empress on Her Own Book Review

I am haunted. Haunted by someone who died over 100 years ago. Haunted by someone who was misunderstood but revered after her death. I am haunted by Sisi, one of the most beautiful women of her time. The longest-reigning empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

For my fifth wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided randomly one night to choose two cities and visit them less than a week later. I suggested Prague and Vienna not knowing much about the cities. I won’t go into much detail now about my Prague trip, but when we left Prague and arrived at night in the Vienna train station, I initially wanted to hop back on the train and go back from whence we came. I wasn’t prepared for the grand imperial city–I was expecting something older–not something partially reconstructed after the world wars.

I’m so glad I stayed for I fell irrevocably in love the next day. I fell in love with the city that Sisi hated. I toured the Hofburg Palace–luxurious but with rooms smaller in scale than you would expect for a large palace. I saw Sisi’s bathroom where she spent hours and hours at her toilette, taking care of her floor-length hair. I saw her workout equipment that she used to maintain her 18-inch waist. I saw Emperor Franz Joseph’s small desk from which he controlled an empire. I saw the Sisi Museum–filled with artifacts from a woman who was hated in the Viennese press during her lifetime, but upon her assassination, was exalted to almost god-like status.

My eyes took in richness beyond belief from a world that will never return again.

Almost four years later, I was vaulted back into this world that I did not want to leave in 2013.

Sisi by Allison PatakiSisi: An Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki did that to me. For a short while, this Memorial Day weekend, I became a member of Sisi’s inner court. I almost became Sisi. I felt her emotions, her melancholy, her quest for happiness in a world that she felt “sold” into when she became an empress at the age of 16. An infatuated young woman too naive to know the constraints and criticisms that would barrage her for the rest of her life. A young woman unprepared for her husband to cheat on her, unprepared for her mother-in-law to steal her elder children; a young woman who could control nothing but her physical appearance which she spent most of her waking hours religiously (if not unhealthily) preserving.

Allison Pataki created a masterpiece–one I am in awe of and can’t quite let go of. Pataki’s superb research brought Sisi to life. I walked to the Gloriette at Schönbrunn Palace with Sisi. I stood at Neptune’s fountain with Sisi. I felt the weight of her corseted gowns fall over my body as I felt suffocated by yet another court event. Allison breathed life and emotions into real words that the empress and emperor actually uttered to one another. Fiction and fact were intertwined so richly that you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

My friends, if you are ready for a book that will not leave you–pick up Allison Pataki’s Sisi. This New York Times bestseller is on special right now for Kindle, but honestly, you’ll love this book so much you’ll want to get it and it’s prequel (The Accidental Empress) in hardcover. The covers are gorgeous and must grace my bookshelves. I don’t generally re-read books, but this one–I will. On a scale of 1-5 stars, I give this 10 stars. My highest praise ever.

You won’t be disappointed. Join me in being haunted by Sisi: An Empress on Her Own as you enter her world, which I share a glimpse of below.

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Battle of the Seasons

Spring and winter have been at war here in NYC the past couple of weeks. One day the high temperature might be in the 50s, and then just a few short days later it can be in the 70s or 80s. Thankfully, as winter stubbornly refuses to loosen its hold and make way for spring, there have not been innocent casualties of this war as I have seen in past years. The tree and flower buds have not sprouted only to suffer a deep freeze. Instead, as I’ve walked around the Manhattan, I see signs that spring is prevailing, something that has greatly lightened my spirits. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me feel to see such beautiful flowers in an urban landscape. I hope my shots bring you joy as well.

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Please note all of these photos were taken with my beloved Google Pixel with no filter or editing except for the squirrel photo. 🙂

It’s an Amish Takeover.

Upon a Spring Breeze by Kelly IrvinI love Amish fiction because it generally transports you to a tranquil, calm world. However, Upon a Spring Breeze by Kelly Irvin is an obvious reminder that everyone suffers universal grief and tragedies. Before getting into my review, here is a synopsis of the book provided by the publisher.

After a devastating winter, a spring breeze promises more than new flowers.… It promises a new chance at love.

Bess Weaver, twenty and expecting her first child, is in the kitchen making stew for her beloved mann, Caleb, one minute, and the next she’s burying him after a tragic accident. Facing life as a young widow, Bess finds comfort only in tending the garden at an Englisch-owned bed and breakfast—even as she doubts that new growth could ever come after such a long winter.

Aidan tries to repress his guilt over his best friend Caleb’s death and his long-standing feelings for Bess by working harder than ever. But as he spends time with the young son his friend left behind, he seems to be growing closer to the boy’s beautiful mother as well.

When a close-knit group of widows in her Amish community step in to help Bess find her way back to hope, she begins to wonder if Gott has a future for her after all. Will she ever believe that life can still hold joy and the possibility of love?

In many ways, this was a difficult book to read. If you’ve ever mourned a spouse or suffered from postpartum depression, this story may bring back emotions that hopefully the reader is prepared to handle. For me, being an animal person, I had a hard time dealing with 6,000 chickens getting killed due to the bird flu. I know that happens–but its extremely tough for me to read about after having rescued and loved a chicken.

If you’re looking for an Amish romance that is filled with quilting bees and courtship, I would look elsewhere. Bess, the widow, does find love at the end, but this is more a story about life’s seasons–going through endless rain to get to the sun.

It was well-written but definitely not a lighthearted read. Using GoodReads’ scale, I liked the book and give it 3/5 stars. This is the first book in the series Every Amish Season, and I would enjoy reading the subsequent books. This new 2017 spring title is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Beautiful cover photo by Jon Flobrant.

My signed copies of "The Trouble With Dukes" by Grace Burrowes and "A Christmas Bride" by Hope Ramsay. Note the duck in my terrarium! :D

Hello, it’s me. I’m back to blogging if you would like to see…

Hello, it’s me.
I was wondering if after all these months you’d still like to meet
and go over everything…

Ah Adele. I love her “Hello” song. My husband might go crazy while I listen to it all of the time on our Google Home, but he loves me enough to put up with my obsessive compulsion to listen to the same music for weeks straight before moving on to something else!

I can’t believe that it’s been 5 months since I last posted. I’ve wanted to, but I’ve just been swept up living in a bookish world–not that I’m complaining. 🙂 It’s pretty awesome that my job is that I get to work with books. Honestly, I don’t know how I got to be so blessed to a part of the book publishing industry. I’m the type of person who loves something for a short time, then typically moves on to a new passion. Books have always been a constant in my life, and I know I won’t ever get tired of being around them all the time.

Being in the book industry has some unexpected perks, too. For example, several months ago I got to see THE SHACK movie before it was released earlier this month to theatres everywhere. My imprint, FaithWords, publishes that book so we’ve all been working hard to promote the book and the movie.

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Fan-girling with Hope Ramsay (left) and Grace Burrowes (right)

I also had a fan-girl moment when I met Hope Ramsey and Grace Burrowes who happened to be visiting our Hachette office. You can see how happy I was in the picture. They were kind enough to sign their newest books for me, too. I’m still looking forward to read Hope’s A Christmas Bride–I’m saving that for the 2017 holiday season. Grace’s new book, The Trouble with Dukes, has a Scottish, kilt-wearing duke who is forced to become a part of English society. Of course, for me lately, any time you mention kilts I have to whip out my favorite picture of David Tennant wearing a kilt, which sparked quite a lively (albeit swooney) conversation in the room. My, my. I sure wish my husband would wear a kilt!

Besides reading a shameful amount of romance books this past 6 months, (shameful because I never read anything but romances it seems!), I also have become a self-taught quilter. I’ll post about my quilt another day, but I wanted to share with you all a quick story:

One evening after work, I had my unfinished quilt top in my work bag as I headed over to a local quilt store, Gotham Quilts, to buy some fabric. As I got off the train around the Macys/Herald Square area, I noticed a poor little pigeon who was going around hitting his head on the ground. If you follow my quilt, you guys know that I’m an animal lover. I particularly have a fondness for cats, chickens, geese…well, the list goes on. I immediately knew something was wrong with this poor pigeon and kind of sat back observing him as I tried to figure out how to help him. Rude, uncaring people just kept walking right towards the bird expecting him to move when he obviously was unwell. One person kicked him, and I gave that person a piece of my mind. At that point, I decided to sacrifice the back of my quilt fabric and tossed it over the pigeon. I immediately scooped him up in my arms and started walking towards the train to take him the 50 blocks north to Wild Bird Fund, a wildlife rescue organization that I prayed would still be open that late since no one had answered the phone. On the way to the train, I stopped into Duane Reade to get a box from a kind employee to put the bird in to make sure he stayed safe.

When I got to the subway, I realized I had a bit of a predicament. I couldn’t hold the box AND take out my metro card to get through the turnstile. I struggled for a minute trying to figure this out, but finally realized I needed help. I found a nice, relatively normal looking girl that looked approachable, and like a crazy person, asked if she liked pigeons. She looked askance at me a moment and said something like “I guess so.” I asked her if she’d do me a favor and hold mine for a moment while I swiped my card.

Guys, I wish you all could have seen her face! I bet she never expected someone to ask her that.

Pigeon and I found a nice spot on the train and our ride went fairly swiftly. Thankfully when we arrived at the Wild Bird Fund, some wonderful volunteers were still working and took the bird in to see the doctor. The doctor quickly diagnosed the bird with either 1 of 2 things: Either the bird had lead poisoning, which was treatable, or an incurable virus that could spread to other birds. I prayed it was the former but, in case it was the latter, I decided to not follow up because bad news would have left me heartbroken. Instead, I left the bird in their capable hands and prayed for it over the next few days.

By the way, I would be utterly remiss to all of my goose fans if I didn’t mention this HUGE, HUGE, HUGE gray swan that calmly set at the doctor’s feet as he performed an examination of the pigeon. This was the largest bird I might have ever seen, and he just sat there mostly asleep with his neck tucked into his wings. I truly stood there contemplating taking a photo of it for my blog, but I figured that wouldn’t be a tad unprofessional since the organization was kind enough to let me in after hours. I was having a hard time not going all coochie-coochie-coo over the swan and the assortment of ducks just waddling around the waiting room, stretching their legs now that the organization was closed for the evening.

Well, I guess that is all for today. I am determined to do something this weekend other than just sitting on my couch with my computer and/or a book. I do have some more reviews lined up for some books I requested on NetGalley, so stay tuned. Happy April everyone!

James Patterson + hot sex isn’t something I saw coming.

“I was never one for the jocks in high school.”

I have to agree with Mel’s statement in Sacking the Quarterback, a flaming-hot, new readSacking the Quarterback by Samantha Towle from James Patterson’s BookShots imprint. Jocks don’t normally light my fire, but this book will satisfy you in one way and leave you hungry in another.

If you haven’t heard, Patterson is working with some very talented new writers to bring short, two-hour reads to those who want to get into a book and wrap it up in one sitting. I never thought I’d see one of the world’s most highly respected writers delve deeply into the romance genre, but I’m not surprised that Patterson would take up the challenge of working with writers in an attempt to satisfy some of the world’s most discerning readers.

Under Patterson’s direction, Sacking the Quarterback was written by Samantha Towle, a fairly new writer who has only been writing novels since 2008. However, she can give long-time romance writers a strong run for their money. I’ve been reading romance books for over 20 years, and I know that I (and other avid romance readers) have high standards for what is and what is not a strong love story.

Sacking the Quarterback will not let you down. It’s a quick race across the field that ends in a touchdown without any fumbling along the way. (Hey, as a non-football fan, I’m rather proud of tying in sports terminology in my description haha!)

Folks, if you want a book that will make you squirm with passion yet still manages to amazingly still feel like a clean read, you NEED to pick up Sacking the Quarterback. It’s cheaper than my beloved pumpkin spice lattes, and it will make you feel all charged up and ready to go grab your significant other. (Golly, remind me to block this post from my mother and Facebook friends). I’m seriously impressed how Towle is able to bring such an emotional intensity to a short book while managing to keep the plot going at lightening speed.

In Sacking the Quarterback, it seems like the golden boy of the Miami Dolphin’s football team has gone bad when rising star Assistant State Attorney Melissa St. James first meets Grayson Knight. However, Knight’s halo might not be as tarnished as it seems–it could be that he’s protecting another person by claiming he’s the owner of the stash of drugs found in his possession. Will the truth come out? Will Melissa get busted for playing around with the person she’s prosecuting on a drug charge?

You’d think that in order to be a short, two-hour read that you’d feel like the story is missing something or too abbreviated but this is happily not the case. It is a quick roller coaster ride that you won’t want to put down because you just have to see what’s going to happen next. It takes some serious skills to keep a book short yet make it as satisfying as a full-length novel, so hats off to the BookShots team for successfully doing this. And at the paperback price of $4.99 (US) or $3.99 for an e-book, you can enjoy very many hot reads for very little money.

4.5/5 Stars, so close to being 5 stars but knocked .5 off only because I knew who Grayson was covering for as soon as the character was mentioned.

Amazon Paperback | Kindle

Barnes and Noble Paperback | Ebook

P.S. Full disclosure, I know the editor personally/professionally, but that only makes me want to be more honest in my review so that her books are fantastic and do wonderfully.

Thought of the day

Every now and again, a thought comes into my head that I just have to share. Today’s thought of the day:

“Books are like porn but not as embarrassing to be caught with.”

Granted, that’s a little bit of a generalization. I know for a fact that there are some sexually-charged romance covers out there though that would knock the knickers off of someone’s grandma!

tampa

I haven’t even read this book, but I’m actually embarrassed to share the cover and it is a BUTTON HOLE. I never again will view the button holes on my pink coat in the same way.

Is there a cover (or even a title) of a book that you’ve tried to surreptitiously hide while in public? Share in the comments below!

September 11, 2016

central-park-5

No farewell words were spoken,
no time to say goodbye,
you were gone before we knew it,
and only God can tell us why.
It broke my heart to lose you,
but you didn’t go alone,
for part of me went with you,
the day God called you home.

~Author Unknown

5 Reasons to Celebrate National #ReadABookDay

1. It’s a valid excuse to get out of housework.
2. You can curl up with your cat (okay, fine… and dog…) to get some lap snuggles.
3. Pumpkin spice lattes are back. Reading+ PSL=Nothing Better (unless you add #2 to this equation).
4. Lots of big name authors have a new book getting published in September. Go pick up your favorite author’s latest book or discover a new author!
5. We all need a break from celebrating Labor Day yesterday. It was so…laborious!

Kitty getting ready to pounce!

Beware of bluestockings and demon cats that come a-knocking.

The captain's bluestocking mistressOkay, this book made me laugh. Perhaps not for the best reasons, but when you have a girl on the cover who is as sexy as this one, an invisible, forgettable wallflower is NOT how you would expect her to be described.

She smoothed out her skirts. It wasn’t the few extra pounds on her frame, or that she was an unrepentant bluestocking. Her lifelong curse was the unfortunate fact of being utterly, absolutely, one hundred percent…forgettable. (pg 7, ebook)

Granted, I know that the art department often takes a little leeway with covers, but I think this book would have been better served if you did not stare at such a stunning young woman with piercing eyes who is not at all plump as the book describes her. I just can’t believe that the men of the ton would not remember this young woman. They would be clamoring to meet her in Almacks or any other ballroom.

If I can get passed this discrepancy which I do not blame the author entirely for (hey, authors do have say in how the covers look, at least at my publishing house!), I did enjoy the book. It only took me a couple of hours to read, so if you want something to fill an afternoon, this is an entertaining choice. I especially enjoyed the antics of the cat (although I do slightly resent that it was characterized like a demon cat), but I did find great humor in the patterns that the main character, Jane, embroidered on all manner of items that the cat shredded.

Pros:

  • Lighthearted moments mixed with darker issues, like that of a soldier recovering from traumatic war memories
  • Quick escape with a bookworm heroine

Cons:

  • A bit of inconsistency within the text itself. The author loves to describe Jane as unforgettable. She even has a plain, forgettable name. People meet her numerous times and promptly forget who she is as soon as she walks away. However, near the end, we suddenly are expected to believe that 2,000 people know who she is and where she is sitting in a theatre?
  • Also, it is a bit far-fetched that Jane is beyond shy and can barely think in the beginning of the text when Captain Xavier Grey shows up at the theatre, yet she suddenly overnight becomes a confidant young woman setting out to seduce a man by showing up unexpected with a trunk at his cottage? That’s some courage, right there!
  • The author must be a dog lover (heaven forbid on this blog!) or have had the world’s worst cat to be inspired to create the cat character Egui.
  • New York Times really needs to be italicized on the cover. Sorry, as someone who works at a major publishing house, I notice that sort of thing. ^_^*

Overall rating: I like the book. I wasn’t bored but it wasn’t 100% believable for me. It was easy to set it down and then come back to it because I wasn’t dying to know what happened next. I guess it was slightly predictable, but that isn’t necessary a horrible thing since that’s why most people like romances. They are easy to read!

Three/Five Stars for Erica Ridley‘s The Captain’s Bluestocking Mistress. Book 3 of The Dukes of War series.

 

Let’s Zoo-It

It’s Labor Day weekend, so it is the perfect time for a hurricane to come and mess up everyone’s plans as they want to send summer off with one last hurrah.

On Saturday, two crazy friends, my mister, and I headed to the Bronx Zoo since we were not sure what kind of weather to expect here in NYC as Hermine headed up the east coast on Sunday and Monday.

DSC_1929I’ve never been to the Bronx Zoo. In fact, it was the first time I’ve taken the subway up that far into the Bronx. It’s certainly a different world from the one I live in in Manhattan–ahem, not as pretty. I’m sure if you actually got away from the subway tracks, there are some nice areas of the Bronx. However, from the subway car, I saw just very industrial, graffiti-tagged brick buildings and crammed apartment residences with the occasional trees to provide a burst of green. I found the architecture to be definitely lacking and thought it was quite interesting that a lot of the signs were in Spanish rather than English or a mix of both.

After getting off the Pelham Bay Parkway stop, we walked about half a mile to the Zoo entrance. Thankfully, we had herds of parents pushing strollers to follow because there was a definite lack of appropriate signage to point people in the right direction to the zoo from the 2 subway line.

DSC_1931For the largest zoo found within a city, the Bronx Zoo surprisingly was surprisingly much more nature-y than I expected. There was a Bronx River that greeted you near the entrance, which who knew existed? Definitely not this Manhattan-ite. I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of trees and foliage within the zoo itself. Oftentimes, it was like entering a secret world (or a nightmare filled with strollers and children) as you exited the main walkway to see each animal exhibit that was tucked out of sight behind massive trees and other dense plant life. For the sake of the animals, I’m glad that there were so many trees that helped create a sound barrier since it definitely could get loud–hello sea lions! Can we say “arf, arf, arf?” The trees also provided a luxurious amount of shade so that I surprisingly did not get overheated as we walked over 6 miles and still didn’t see the entire zoo. Here are some of my favorite pictures, though I sadly didn’t get to see the lions before they were tucked away for the evening.

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Would I recommend people making a visit?

Yes! The only real negative I had about this zoo is the bathrooms (not the most modern, clean feeling facilities), and the fact that the poor tiger and polar bear seemed very unhappy. It wasn’t a terribly hot day (low 70s) but they were pacing and pacing with their mouths open. The other animals seemed okay with their captivity. I thought it was pretty amazing that a lot of the birds were not even closed up inside some of the building exhibits–they could have technically flown out of their exhibit into the darkened viewing area, but they had no reason to do so (no food, water, perches, etc.) Later on,  when visiting the Congo gorilla habitat, a gorilla got pretty ticked off and banged on the glass wall, so of course the human animals on the other side started banging back in an effort to get him to do it again. That truly annoyed me since it is beyond rude to provoke an animal. If I ever had a child, I hope he would turn out like this little boy who had a conversation similar to the following with his parents:

Little Boy: Can gorillas kill people?

Parent: Yes, they can.

Little Boy: I think the gorilla should kill the people banging on the glass.

Me thinking to myself: Yup, we’re the animals. I totally agree if it wouldn’t get the poor gorilla killed.

The zoo definitely had a different feel from my home town zoo of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, which is very nice but had a lot more concrete as a whole I felt like around the animal exhibits. It also gets quite hot in the summer heat. If you ever think about visiting the Bronx Zoo, I would definitely recommend buying the “total experience ticket” if available since a number of buildings and the shuttle required you to have this ticket if you want to avoid paying extra to see exhibits like Jungle World, home of the black leopard. You can get an extra 10% off of the $34 total experience ticket cost if you purchase ahead of time online.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the pictures. Comments are always appreciated! However, please don’t take photos without permission. Thanks!