Audiobook Review: The Accidental Empress

20 Apr

22609307The year is 1853, and the Habsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia, from Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and ready to marry.

Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth, “Sisi,” Duchess of Bavaria, travels to the Habsburg Court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young emperor. But shortly after her arrival at court, Sisi finds herself in an unexpected dilemma: she has inadvertently fallen for and won the heart of her sister’s groom. Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead.

Thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor, her people, and of the world.


View More: PATAKI is the author of the New York Times bestselling and critically-acclaimed historical novel, The Traitor’s Wife. She graduated Cum Laude from Yale University with a major in English and spent several years writing for TV and online news outlets.

A lover of history, Allison was inspired to write The Accidental Empress by her family’s deep roots in the former Habsburg empire of Austria-Hungary. Allison is the co-founder of the nonprofit organization, ReConnect Hungary. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and, and is a member of The Historical Novel Society. Allison lives in Chicago with her husband.


My Impressions:

My book club, Page Turners, chose The Accidental Empress upon my recommendation. I really enjoyed The Traitor’s Wife and thought this book would have all the elements for a good discussion. Well, a long road trip allowed me to finish this book with time to spare, but kept me from attending my group’s meeting! I haven’t spoken to anyone to find out their thoughts. Have you read this book? Please let me know what you thought.

The Accidental Empress focuses on the life of Empress Elisabeth, Sisi, of Austria. A younger daughter of an obscure Bavarian duke, Sisi burst onto to the world stage at the age of 15 when she won the heart of then Emperor, Franz Josef. Ruling in a time of great change in technology, culture and politics, Sisi has little to do with the world around her. Marginalized by her domineering mother-in-law and sometimes indifferent and distracted husband, Sisi lives alone and lonely apart from the comfort of family. The book covers only the first 15 years of her reign and stops just as Sisi begins to come into her own.

The Accidental Empress is a fictionalized version of history and presents a somewhat romantic view of Sisi’s life. Pataki draws heavily on the historical record, but presents her own version of Sisi when that record stops short. I enjoyed the look into the very foreign world of the wealthy nobility with its cumbersome protocol covering all parts of life, including the slippers on Sisi’s feet and the gloves on her hands. There were plenty of times I wanted Sisi to assert her free-spirited personality, but as unique as she was, she was still a woman of her age. Pataki has also left open the possibility of another book in which Sisi will undoubtedly emerge strong and a woman in possession of her own future.

The audiobook version was read by the same person that read The Traitor’s Wife. She did an admirable job of bringing the Hapsburgs to life.


Audience: Adults.

Great for Book Clubs.

To purchase this book, click HERE.

(I purchased the audiobook from Audible. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)


This Book Is Making Me Hungry! + Book Review — Demise in Denim

17 Apr

0591ccdc09f18615f320696c61a955edWhen Reagan Summerside turned the first floor of her old Victorian home into a consignment shop, she never imagined she’d be harboring a fugitive in her attic. But after a dead man is found in a bathtub and local lawyer Walker Boone is accused of doing the dirty deed, she suddenly has a new houseguest.

Purchase a copy of Demise in Denim HERE.






10917865_733950283342411_129660116418082754_nDuffy Brown loves anything with a mystery. While others girls dreamed of dating Brad Pitt, Duffy longed to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom. She has two cats, Spooky and Dr. Watson, her license plate is Sherlok and she conjures up who-done-it stories of her very own for Berkley Prime Crime. Duffy’s national bestselling Consignment Shop Mystery series is set in Savannah and the Cycle Path Mysteries are set on Mackinac Island.

My Impressions:

Demise in Denim is the 4th book in Duffy Brown’s Consignment Shop Mystery series. Set amid the historic squares of Savannah, it is all that a cozy mystery should be. Colorful and quirky characters, a curious and meddlesome amateur sleuth, a hunky love interest and a mystery full of twists and turns are all found in this novel. Told from the first person perspective of Reagan Summerside, proprietor of the Prissy Fox consignment shop, the novel can be read as a standalone.  With an interesting mystery, Demise in Denim could be used as a guide to local cuisine! Reagan and her many sidekicks fuel their investigation with meatloaf sandwiches from Parker’s, barbecue from Wall’s and late night snacks of Tabasco popcorn from Pinkie Masters Lounge. Demise in Denim is a fun and flavorful read, but be aware there is some profanity.

While many of the sites noted in Demise in Denim do exist, there were a couple of eateries that are purely ficitional. But the food really does need to be real! So in honor of Cakery Bakery’s sprinkle donuts and best friend Chantilly’s mac and cheese, here are two recipes you can make yourself.

Baked-Funfetti-Donuts-1.-These-taste-just-like-your-favorite-sprinkled-donuts-at-the-bakery.-And-theyre-so-simple-to-make-at-home-3Cakery Bakery Sprinkle Donuts (courtesy of Sally’s Baking Addiction)


1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour (careful not to overmeasure)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (gives them that “bakery donut” taste)
1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) milk*
1/4 cup (60g) Greek yogurt*
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, melted
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles
1/4 cup (60ml) milk*
2 cups (240g) confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
extra sprinkles to sprinkle on top, optional


Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Spray a donut pan with non-stick spray. Set aside.

For the donuts: whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and granulated sugar together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Whisk the milk, yogurt, and egg together until smooth. Add the melted butter and vanilla, whisking until fully combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be very thick. Fold in the sprinkles gently to ensure they do not bleed their color. I use these rainbow jimmies and they do not bleed.

Spoon the batter into the donut cups—I highly recommend using a large zipped-top bag for ease, as pictured above. Cut a corner off the bottom of the bag and pipe the batter into each donut cup, filling 2 ∕ 3 –3 ∕ 4 of the way full.

Bake for 9–10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Allow the donuts to slightly cool before glazing. I find the glaze “sets” easier onto cooled donuts.

For the glaze: combine the glaze ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat. Whisk until the glaze is smooth. Remove from heat and immediately begin dunking the donuts, one by one, into the glaze. I simply dropped each donut into the saucepan and moved it around to coat evenly. Transfer each donut to a wire rack over a baking sheet to catch the glaze drippings. Take each donut and dunk again if you have enough glaze leftover. Sprinkle with additional sprinkles.

Donuts taste best eaten the same day, though they may be covered tightly and stored at room temperature for 2 days.

Additional Notes:

*Skim milk, 1%, 2%, whole, almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, or rice milk is OK.

*Sour cream or nonfat, low fat, vanilla, plain, Greek, or regular yogurt is OK.

*You may make this recipe into 8-10 muffins using a muffin pan. Bake at the same temperature for 18 minutes or until lightly browned.


IG1009_Grown_Up_Mac_and_Cheese.jpg.rend.sni12col.landscapeChantilly’s Mac And Cheese (courtesy of The Barefoot Countessa)

4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
2 cups elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
2 ounces blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven – there will be hot grease in the pan! Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and crumble when it is cool enough to handle.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon and stir well. Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes.

Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.


(Thanks to Duffy Brown for a review copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)


Book Spotlight: Unplanned by Alana Terry

16 Apr
A first-year college student adjusting to life in the States.
A brand-new pregnancy center desperate for new volunteers.
A mysterious phone call from a girl who’s far too young to be pregnant.


from award-winning suspense novelist Alana Terry

After volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, Kennedy Stern finds herself a pawn in a deadly game of intrigue, at the mercy of those who consider a few innocent lives a small ransom to pay for victory.

(See below to get your own pre-release copy of Unplanned before it hits the bookstores.)



“Hello?” The voice was so quiet and mouse-like Kennedy could almost feel the hairs in her ear straining to grasp as much of the faint sound as they could.

“Hi. You’ve reached the Cambridge Pregnancy Center.” Kennedy waited for a response. Did the caller hang up?


“Can I help you?” What else was she supposed to say?

“I just had a question.” The girl wasn’t exactly whispering. It sounded as if her body was so tiny and fragile she couldn’t spare an ounce more breath to make herself heard.

Kennedy hurried to the corner of the student union. “Sure. What’s your name?”

There was a pause. Had Kennedy scared her away?


“All right, Rose. Ask me anything.”

Kennedy waited for another silent eternity before the voice asked, “Do abortions hurt?”

Of course, that would be the first question. Not the clinic’s hours, although Kennedy didn’t even know that much. She tried to remember some of the arguments she heard her dad spout off when he went on one of his anti-abortion spiels.

“Well, the brain is fully functional very early on …” Was it two months? Three months? She had never bothered to memorize the statistics. “And there are ultrasounds that lead us to believe that yes, babies can experience pain during an abortion.” Was she getting any of her facts right?

The voice made a little gurgling sound that might have been a stifled cry or else a miniature cough. “No, I mean, does it hurt you.”

“Oh.” Kennedy had never thought about that before. All the pro-life arguments she heard growing up focused on the baby, not the mother. “Well, I know it’s a complicated procedure. There are probably risks involved …” If she were back in her room, she could Google the question and have an answer in a second or two. Maybe she should head back there now. “So, are you considering an abortion? Is that why you’re asking?”

Too direct.

“No. I’m calling for a friend. That’s all. She was just wondering.”

Nice job, Kennedy chided herself. “And how old is your friend?” She tried to make her tone sound trustworthy, inviting. She had no idea if she was succeeding or not because her pulse roared in her ear, making it nearly impossible to hear anything else.

“She’s thirteen.” It felt like Kennedy’s whole abdominal floor dropped several feet to the ground at terminal velocity. “I mean eighteen,” the voice corrected. “She’s eighteen and already out of school.”

Kennedy’s heart accelerated so fast her pulse felt like a long, continuous flutter. Thirteen? “And so your friend is thinking about an abortion?”

“Well, she just wanted some information, really.”

“I see.” Kennedy shot up a wordless prayer to heaven, a silent plea for help that rose up from her spirit before she had time to translate it into human language. “What is it you’d like to know?”

There was silence for such a long time Kennedy wondered if there was a problem with the antique cell phone. Finally, Rose asked, “And so what happens if you get pregnant, and you’re too young to actually have a baby?”

Defying all laws of inertia, the acceleration of Kennedy’s heart rate crashed to a halt like a car plowing into a brick wall. “What do you mean?”

“Like, what if you’re too young but you still get pregnant?”

“How young?” Kennedy spoke both words clearly and slowly, as if rushing might drive the timid voice away for good.

“Like thirteen.”

Kennedy paused. Ripples of foreboding crept up her spine until they wormed in and settled in the base of her neck. “Are you asking because you might be pregnant?” The question itself made her dizzy, as if speaking the words aloud could send her head into some kind of tailspin.


The adrenaline that had flooded Kennedy’s entire nervous system seeped out of her body in a single moment, dissipating out of each pore. She leaned against the wall and reminded herself that her job was to help and encourage the caller, not have some sort of fainting dizzy spell in the middle of the student union.

“And you’re how old?” She braced herself for the answer she knew was coming.

A little sharp breath, the sound a startled animal might make when it notices its prey. A fear-drenched whisper. “I think it’s my dad … I gotta go.”

“No, wait!” Kennedy nearly shouted into the phone, but Rose had already hung up.



Unplanned is the newest Christian suspense novel from award-winning author, Alana Terry. PRE-ORDER the ebook today, fill out the form below, and receive:

  • a pre-release copy of Unplanned (no waiting for launch day)
  • the Unplanned Bonus Materials (go behind-the-scenes with deleted scenes, bloopers, character studies, and more!)
  • 30 Days of Prayer to End Abortion devotional
  • an exclusive 20-minute video from the author answering readers’ frequently asked questions (includes  the story of the mysterious phone call Alana received that was the basis for the novel)
Sound like a good deal? Pre-order Unplanned from amazon, then fill out this form to receive your free pre-release copy.

Book Review: Welcome to Last Chance

15 Apr

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

16153453The red warning light on her car dashboard drove Lainie Davis to seek help in the tiny town of Last Chance, New Mexico. But as she encounters the people who make Last Chance their home, it’s her heart that is flashing bright red warning lights. These people are entirely too nice, too accommodating, and too interested in her personal life for Lainie’s comfort–especially since she’s on the run and hoping to slip away unnoticed.

Yet in spite of herself, Lainie finds that she is increasingly drawn in to the dramas of small town life. An old church lady who always has room for a stranger. A handsome bartender with a secret life. A single mom running her diner and worrying over her teenage son. Could Lainie actually make a life in this little hick town? Or will the past catch up to her even here in the middle of nowhere?


Cathleen-Armstrong-hi-res-199x300Cathleen Armstrong is the author of Welcome to Last Chance, winner of the ACFW Genesis Award for Women’s Fiction in 2009 and the first volume in the series A Place to Call Home. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Ed, and their corgi, but her roots remain deep in New Mexico where she grew up and where much of her family still lives.


My Impressions:

Welcome to Last Chance is the debut novel by Cathleen Armstrong. Book 1 in a 3-part series, is is big on small town appeal as well as a message of discovery of love and faith. This book was on my TBR Kindle list way too long. I enjoyed it so much, I ordered the next 2 books as soon as I finished it.

Lainie Davis is running from a boyfriend and his drug connections. On her way to El Paso from Los Angeles, her car breaks down in Last Chance, New Mexico stranding her in a town that is filled with quirky, yet big-hearted people. Lainie has always made it on her own, but soon learns that some people and God can be trusted.

Armstrong does a good job of creating a town that is filled with quirky, but not over-the-top characters. All of them have their faults and flaws, but love has a way of covering up a multitude of sins. Last Chance offers Lainie a family, a place to belong and a fresh view of God’s love. There is a slow-developing romance between Lainie and Ray that seemed very natural. I also liked that the conflicts and contradictions of a faith journey were handled realistically.

Welcome to Last Chance was a quick and engaging read, and I look forward to revisiting the characters and the town I grew to love.


Audience: older teens to adults.

(I purchased this book for my Kindle. All opinions expressed were mine alone.)

To purchase this book, click HERE. The Kindle version is currently FREE!

Audiobook Review: The Murder at The Vicarage

14 Apr

16331The Murder at the Vicarage was Christie’s very first mystery to feature her most popular investigator—as a dead body in a clergyman’s study proves to Miss Marple that no place, holy or otherwise, is a sanctuary from homicide.




mv5bmtu3otyzmzy4nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwmdixotiyoa-_v1_sy317_cr80214317_al_Born on September 15, 1890, in Torquay, England, Agatha Christie published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920, and went on to become one of the most famous writers in history, with mysteries like Murder at the Vicarage, Partners in Crime and Sad Cypress. She sold billions of copies of her work, and was also a noted playwright and romance author. She died on January 12, 1976.

My Impressions:

The Murder at The Vicarage was the first book Agatha Christie wrote featuring small village sleuth Miss Marple. As such she has a somewhat minor, yet critical presence in the novel. The book is written in the first person point of view of the vicar, Len Clement. He is inexorably drawn into the murder because the victim was found slumped over on the vicar’s desk. The victim, Colonel Protherow was almost universally despised resulting in a large pool of suspects. My husband and I listened to the audiobook on a road trip and were kept entertained puzzling out the mystery. I did not suspect the actual villain — I would have been much happier if another had done it! The narrator did a great job creating the voices of the characters and setting the scene. All in all, The Murder at The Vicarage was an enjoyable way to spend some long hours in the car.


Audience: adults.

(I purchased the audiobook from Audible. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

To purchase a copy of this book, click HERE


Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour — Storm Siren by Mary Weber

13 Apr

The bloggers of the Christian Science Fiction And Fantasy Blog Tour are featuring Storm Siren by Mary Weber this month. Check out the blurb, the author info and the reviews and discussion posted on the participants sites.


book-storm-sirenIn a world at war, a slave girl’s lethal curse could become one kingdom’s weapon of salvation. If the curse—and the girl—can be controlled.

As a slave in the war-weary kingdom of Faelen, seventeen-year-old Nym isn’t merely devoid of rights, her Elemental kind are only born male and always killed at birth—meaning, she shouldn’t even exist.

Standing on the auction block beneath smoke-drenched mountains, Nym faces her fifteenth sell. But when her hood is removed and her storm-summoning killing curse revealed, Nym is snatched up by a court advisor and given a choice: be trained as the weapon Faelen needs to win the war, or be killed.

Choosing the former, Nym is unleashed into a world of politics, bizarre parties, and rumors of an evil more sinister than she’s being prepared to fight . . . not to mention the handsome trainer whose dark secrets lie behind a mysterious ability to calm every lightning strike she summons.

But what if she doesn’t want to be the weapon they’ve all been waiting for?

Set in a beautifully eclectic world of suspicion, super abilities, and monsters, Storm Siren is a story of power. And whoever controls that power will win.



bio-picMary Weber is a ridiculously uncoordinated girl plotting to take over make-believe worlds through books, handstands, and imaginary throwing knives. In her spare time, she feeds unicorns, sings 80’s hairband songs to her three muggle children, and ogles her husband who looks strikingly like Wolverine. They live in California, which is perfect for stalking L.A. bands, Joss Whedon, and the ocean.





CSFF Blog Tour Participants 

Julie Bihn
Lauren Bombardier
Vicky DealSharingAunt
George Duncan
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Simone Lilly-Egerter
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Jalynn Patterson
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Michelle R. Wood

A Sparrow in Terezin Giveaway!

11 Apr

Bound together across time, two women will discover a powerful connection in Kristy Cambron’s new book, A Sparrow in Terezin. Connecting across a century through one little girl, a Holocaust survivor with a foot in each world, two women will discover a kinship that springs even in the darkest of times. In this tale of hope and survival, Sera and Kája must cling to the faith that sustains and fight to protect all they hold dear—even if it means placing their own futures on the line.

Kristy is celebrating by giving away a basket filled with goodies inspired by her new book!


One grand prize winner will receive:

*A set of poppy notecards
*A poppy pin
*A copy of I Never Saw Another Butterfly
*A copy of the Mrs. Miniver DVD
*Literary tea bags
*A copy of A Sparrow in Terezin


Enter today by clicking HERE. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 28th. Winner will be announced April 29th on Kristy’s blog.


Sparrow-in-Terezin-PK-252x384A Sparrow in Terezin (Thomas Nelson, April 2015)

Bound together across time, two women will discover a powerful connection through one survivor’s story of hope in the darkest days of a war-torn world.

Present Day—With the grand opening of her new art gallery and a fairytale wedding just around the corner, Sera James feels she’s stumbled into a charmed life—until a brutal legal battle against fiancé William Hanover threatens to destroy the perfectly planned future she’s planned before it even begins. Now, after an eleventh-hour wedding ceremony and a callous arrest, William faces a decade in prison for a crime he never committed, and Sera must battle the scathing accusations that threaten her family and any hope for a future.

1942—Kája Makovsky narrowly escaped occupied Prague in 1939, and was forced to leave her half-Jewish family behind. Now a reporter for the Daily Telegraph in England, Kája discovers the terror has followed her across the Channel in the shadowy form of the London Blitz. When she learns Jews are being exterminated by the thousands on the continent, Kája has no choice but to return to her mother city, risking her life to smuggle her family to freedom and peace.
Connecting across a century through one little girl, a Holocaust survivor with a foot in each world, these two women will discover a kinship that springs even in the darkest of times. In this tale of hope and survival, Sera and Kája must cling to the faith that sustains and fight to protect all they hold dear—even if it means placing their own futures on the line.

Learn more and purchase a copy at Kristy’s website.
KCambron-295Kristy Cambron fancies life as a vintage-inspired storyteller. Her second novel, A Sparrow in Terezin, was named Library Journal Reviews’ “Pick of the Month (Christian Fiction)” for February 2015.

Cambron is an art/design manager at storytelling ministry. She holds a degree in art history from Indiana University and has nearly 15 years of experience in instructional design and communications for a Fortune-100 company. She lives in Indiana with her husband and three football-loving sons, where she can probably be bribed with a coconut mocha latte and a good Christian fiction read.

Find out more about Kristy at


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