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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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!

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

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!

Even geese families take vacations.

Anyone who has spent just a bit of time around me or on my blog may notice that… well… I have a proclivity towards geese, chickens, errm, cats, lizards, raccoons, bugs, okay, well–any animals really.

So, imagine my happiness when seeing that my family and I were not the only family visiting the Statue of Liberty this week!

Look at those downy, teenage geese. Their parents must be so proud of the fine young geese they are becoming!

To the tune of The Little Mermaid song, Part of Your World.

I wanna be where the geesey are.

I wanna see, wanna see them waddling.

Strolling along on those, what’s that word again? Webbed feet!

Up where they walk, up where they flap, up where they stay all day in the sun!

Wondering free, wish I could be, where the geese are!

If you enjoy geese adventures, I may have a few more of them for you to read: here, here, and here.

Pre-Release Review of The Longest Ride, Movie Based on Nicholas Sparks’s Book

The Longest Ride

*Please note that I wrote this last week and didn’t have a chance to post until tonight!*

Huh. So, I was just about to start this post by saying something like “It was a pretty cool night in Sara Beth’s world,” which I admit, sounds kind of self-centered and really–using third person?–when I just realized something profound about the title of the movie I just saw–The Longest Ride. Anyhow, I better rewind a bit before I share my totally deep thought that just randomly popped in my head.

Tonight was a really neat night (I think that’s a bit less self-centered–hopefully you concur) because I got to attend an advanced screening of a new movie based on Nicholas Sparks’s book, The Longest Ride. Hachette, the publishing house I work for, published The Longest Ride so employees had the chance to see the film a couple of weeks before the general movie theater premiere date. FOX treated us very well–they gave every person tickets to redeem free popcorn and drinks as well as some delicious Baked by Melissa cupcakes. The president of FOX was even there to introduce the film.

Tickets and free food!

Anyways, the movie was just amazing. It was so romantic, beautiful, and such a tearjerker. I’m ashamed to admit that I teared up after having picked on my husband for YEARS for loving The Notebook. The plot of The Longest Ride intertwines two love stories. The first love story actually begins during the movie when Luke, a rodeo cowboy played by Clint Eastwood’s very fine looking son, Scott Eastwood, falls in love with Sophia, a college senior who is shortly to move away from North Carolina in order to pursue a New York City art career. Framing this modern day romance is the one involving 81-year-old Ira, whom Luke and Sophia save from a burning car crash. Ira recounts to Luke and Sophia the story of his love affair with his wife, Ruth, that spanned the decades between 1940 to her death. Pretty much, Ira’s sweet romance with his wife teaches Luke and Sophia that true love is worth fighting for and making sacrifices–something the two young lovers have to realize when their careers pull them in opposite directions.

I will end my review here before spoiling anything, but really–you have to see this movie. If you’re a romantic, bring some tissues. If you’re in a relationship that is experiencing more downs than ups lately, hopefully the movie will help you realize your love is worth hanging on to.

Now, I suppose you want to know about my “ah hah” moment. I feel like hitting myself in the head because it seems so obvious, but I just realized that The Longest Ride title is probably a play on the 8 seconds that Luke has to stay on the bull in order to receive the most points on a bull. Or, perhaps The Longest Ride could refer to riding through life with your love by your side? Or perhaps it could refer to the oooo lala scenes that showcase the ardent desire between two young lovers? Naughty naughty!

Whatever the meaning behind the title, nice work Hachette and Nicholas Sparks. Nice work!Nothing like books on shelves.

The Longest Ride opens in theaters on April 10th. Thanks to FOX for the movie poster image and movie shot in the featured image.

P.S. I haven’t read the book yet (it’s on my shelf!), so I can’t comment upon the similarities and differences between the book and movie adaptation. Head over to Amazon or Barnes and Noble to get your own copy today!

P.P.S. I get nothing from my employer for reviewing/promoting this book/movie. 🙂

We all bleed green today!

After hearing bagpipes, drums, and cheering for hours today while working at my desk, I’m glad I had a chance to sneak outside for a while to view the New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade–a parade that’s been gracing New York City streets for over 250 years! Only in New York can something this amazing happen yet most New Yorkers are in the “business as usual” mode. May you all bleed green today in a safe and not sick way! 🙂

Where the geese go, I shall follow.

I should feel guilty for so many geese posts, but I don’t. Geese make me happy, and we should all seize whatever opportunities we have to be happy in this world. I can hardly think of a better way to relax than listening to the quacks of dozens of babies during a beautiful evening in Central Park.

The Goose-pocalypse

Today was the most epic of days. The day to end all days. The day I will never forget–one that I’ll recall upon my death bed.

The day that I pet a goose.

Yes.

Finally.

After years of goose stalking, (see post here) I found one Canadian goose amenable to my loving advances. I just never knew it would be a yankee goose since I’ve always chased after southern ones. My husband better appreciate that I didn’t take that goose home because you have NO IDEA how hard it was for me to not just pick him up, squeeze him, and run. Trust me, I would have had it not been a bit unheard of to have a goose in a NYC apartment. He was the perfect candidate to make a pet though. He not only loved my neck scratches and back rubs but he was a loner who was grazing by himself away from the rest of his flock. I made him return to his fellow geese mates, though, before leaving so I wouldn’t have to worry about him being left behind.

Love.

Finding the Christmas Spirit in a Darkening World

Union Square Christmas Market

Overlooking the Union Square Christmas Market from Burlington Coat Factory on a drizzly evening.

There’s is just something about this time of year that fills your soul with warmth even when the days are gray and chilly. A few days ago, as I was passing by bare-branched trees, I remarked to myself that it somehow just feels like Christmas is almost here. It truly is in the air! Last week, I was really excited to visit the Union Square Christmas market for the first time. I felt like a little kid going from twinkling stall to twinkling stall as the normally fetid NYC air smelled sweet with the scent of hot chocolate and baked goods. Unfortunately, the drizzle and Ferguson protests put a slight damper on the evening. I believe there is a time and a place to protest, but I don’t think a Christmas holiday market where families and friends are celebrating the season is the appropriate time or place.

Anyways, I digress since this post isn’t about the protests. It is about love, magic, warmth: Christmas.

One of the first things I love to do around Christmas is find good Christmas books that help remind me of what the season is truly about–love, family, and Christ. Unfortunately, this time of year is also about staying healthy when everyone else gets sick–something I failed to do this year. After picking up a couple of prescriptions yesterday after my doctor’s visit, I went to my local library and stocked up on some good Christmas stories as a way to celebrate the season from the comfort of my couch. Yesterday, I hunkered down under a blanket and thoroughly enjoyed a new November release from Harlequin Love Inspired entitled An Amish Christmas Journey by Patricia Davids. Little did I know that it was related to some other books I’ve read, so it was a sweet surprise to recognize some old friends as I made some new ones in this Christmas novel.

An Amish Christmas JourneyAn Amish Christmas Journey is a touching story about a young man and woman who meet after tragedy has befallen their families. Toby Yoder is caring for his little sister who is healing from a fire– a fire that took the lives of both of their parents. Greta Barkman is the lucky sister chosen to retrieve her abusive, dying uncle from the hospital–the same uncle that she and her sisters just fled from when they went to live with their estranged grandfather. Through a twist of fate, Toby and Greta share the same car driving service to take them and their family members from the hospital back to their respective Amish communities for Christmas. Along the way, the band of travelers discover a special stray cat named Christmas that has the unique ability to bring smiles to Toby’s little sister and can somehow predict when Greta’s Uncle Morris is about to have a heart attack. When a car accident leaves this band of travelers stranded together at Greta’s home, the magic of Christmas truly begins as old hurts are forgiven and hearts begin to fall in love in the midst of Christmas preparations.

One of the reasons why I love Amish stories is because the characters’ lives seem so much simpler, even though they have their own troubled times and their faith often gets tested. This particular Amish book discusses the darker topic of abuse, which Greta and her sisters suffered from while growing up with their uncle. The readers see the struggle that Greta has with forgiving her uncle, which is what the Amish are raised to do. As the story progresses, we realize that the uncle was abused as a child so he did not know how to show his love in a healthy way–not that being abused is a free card to abuse others. Although abuse is a dark topic frequently overlooked in the Amish communities, it is nice that this book addresses it in a way that does not put a damper on the Christmas cheer. In fact, this book inspired me to toss off my blanket, hang up my Christmas wreath, and light my favorite Yankee Candle scent, Sparkling Snow. Maybe one day I will feel well enough to put up my Christmas tree–before Christmas arrives. 🙂

Until then, I will continue reading my stack of Christmas stories–and doing my best to keep the books germ-free!

What activities or books are you enjoying to celebrate the Christmas season? Share below!