Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Accidental Empress

This is the same author who wrote "The Traitor's Wife". I admit I didn't like this one quite as much, but I think it was because I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the time frame changes. There were several times when a future scene was given and then you were whisked back to the past. For me, that made it harder to follow cohesively.

This is the story of Franz Joseph Habsburg, Emporer of Austria during their height of European power. After an assassination attempt, Franz' mother (who was the one responsible for Franz getting to be successor to the throne and had a BIG say in EVERYTHING) decides it's high time for him to produce an heir and writes to her sister inviting her to bring her eldest daughter, Helene to be Franz' betrothed. Elizabeth, or Sisi, as she is affectionately called, is just a few years younger and is allowed to come and help her sister transition to the role of Empress-and perhaps in the future meet her own good match! Needless to say Franz is captivated by Sisi instead of Helene (who doesn't want anything to do with the Emporer or the title of Empress) which is how Sisi accidentally becomes the Empress.

What ensues is a most taxing mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Maybe one of the worst in history. As a wife to know that your husband's mother has your husband's ear more than yours must be infuriating. I was incensed at the time period in history when there was such a maddeningly huge double standard. Sisi was threatened that she'd better be a virgin on her wedding night or there would be an immediate annulment. Yet, she was told and prepared that her husband would NOT come to the wedding bed a virgin. That there were certain rites of passage a young man had-especially when you were an emporer. In fact, those men were practically EXPECTED to have have mistresses. But for some reason they had to marry a woman of "good breeding" in order to produce a "proper heir" so basically Sisi ends up feeling like a breeding mare instead of a woman to be loved and valued.  Even her children were basically snatched from her at birth to be raised by her mother-in-law (and named by her as well) and was given very little access to them. Anyhow, back to the double standard, Sisi got very ill and had to spend a couple years abroad in warmer temperatures. There are two major differing opinons of historians on what caused that illness, but one of them is that she contracted a venereal disease from her husband. GAH. Women were supposed to be faithful for what? Their husband's to make them sick? I'm SO glad I didn't live back then.

The other thing that was interesting was that royalty truly felt that they were divinely appointed to be rules, and that they had God on their side in every battle. Really? Being born into a certain blood line can determine who is divinely appointed to be a leader? In this book, even Sisi questions this line of thinking. But that's honestly what they believed. And that it was sometimes a burden, but they can't refuse to serve God, can they?

There have been a lot of criticisms of the way Sisi was portrayed. Some say she was too whiny, but I didn't really feel that way. Maybe a little melodramatic, but when I read the notes in the back, it appears that much of history agrees that Sisi had a temperment that was NOT really compatible with her role as Empress. And she reacted to things in the way that I feel I would have as well if faced with the same situations. However, I don't have previous knowledge of this story in history, so I might have found more to criticize if I had. But it was an enjoyable read, even if it wasn't always "edge of your seat" like Traitor's Wife was. And it has sparked an interest in this part of history that I might look into more deepy. I also enjoyed all the music references to the composer of the court (and later Franz Liszt's role in composing for the coronation of Franz and Sisi as officially recognized King and Queen of Hugary).

Grounded, G.P. Ching

A book cover URL wasn't available. I got it for free from Freebooksy or BookBub, can't remember which. It's the first in a trilogy (why not?).

It was an interesting read....the main character, Lydia has grown up in an Amish compound. It's post apocolypitic America, and most people don't even know that people live outside the wall and are not radioactive rabid mutations. The Amish in this book live much the same way the Amish live today. However, in their modern world, things are VERY different. No one eats real meat or animal products, because of animal rights groups, but it's all synthetically produced (and with several references to food, it doesn't taste anything like real food either, it only looks like food-which side note, I'm all for animal rights and proper conditions and all, but I eat meat and animal products in a modest amount of my diet, and don't you think eating the natural product is better than some crazy science project synthetic version?? I mean, that's what we're trying to get away from now, right? GMO's and anything unnatural in our food products?). They also have gone to a currency of energy rather than money. And electrical energy isn't exactly abundant.

Nothing would have been out of the ordinary if Lydia's best friend (and assumed by the entire community to be future romantic interest) Jeremiah hadn't been after her to go on a rumspringa (the thing where Amish teens are allowed to experience the modern world and then decide if they want to come back and be baptized Amish and live that life or if they'd rather stay in the modern world). It's infinitely more dangerous in this setting because those Amish aren't even supposed to exist and part of their agreement with not having to comply with the current government is that they'd keep to themselves and be self sustaining and all that. But when Lydia's only family, her father, gets really sick, he needs to see an English doctor and get modern medical treatments, or he'll die. Lydia decides she wants to authorize that treatment. And she misses him. And Jeremiah convinces her that rumspringa is the perfect time and means to go to visit her dad.....but none of them could have foreseen what would happen next.

Due to a crazy science experiment generations previous, it is discovered that Lydia posesses a particular genetic mutation that allows her to hold an electrical charge. Of course, she meets a guy who has the same genetic mutation and voila! We have our love triangle. *sigh* Oh well.

One thing that is really interesting, and I'm not sure how I feel about how it examines the role of women in an Amish community. It seems to imply that women are meant to be passive and submissive to be a "good" wife. And in the modern world, Lydia realizes that she does not want to be that way. She feels she has power (not just electrically), opinions, and a mind of her own to act on them. It's one of the reasons she feels she could never truly go back to who she was, or be with Jeremiah because his expectations of a wife and what she was willing to give as a wife are no longer one and the same. Now, I have no idea how women are actually viewed in an Amish community, but if I ever meet one, I'll be sure to ask. Because I know in MY religion, there are all sorts of misconceptions of how women are viewed and treated and how we are supposed to act or be in order to be a "good" Mormon woman. And many of them are false and some are based on a few bad experiences.

The writing was ok, it was interesting, a little like Michael Vey with an Amish twist. So maybe not quite as original as one would hope. The one thing that the author has me guessing about is who-if anyone-are the good guys and who are the bad guys. There are some bad guys who are very obviuosly bad. Like Dr. Hatch bad. But people you thought were allies might not be. So if I stumble upon the other books at the library or digital loan, I'll definitely read them, because I would like to have that resolved :-)

Scarlet, Marissa Meyer

That isn't the cover art, but it's as close as I could find.

The second book of the Luner Chronicles. Scarlet is Red Riding Hood. And of course, there has to be a wolf, right? So naturally there is. A BUNCH of them. But I won't spoil the story here ;-) This book had more romance to it than Cinder. Which always makes life interesting. Scarlet is from France. So there's a bit of a split narrative going on between Scarlet and her life in rural France and Cinder, who is now a fugitive. Cinder has picked up an unexpected-and unintended-ally in another fugitive. Towards the end of the book, the lives of the two girls collide in a fairly big way. As Cinder is delving more deeply into her past and origins, it leads her to Scarlet's grandmother, who has a space military background. This installment was far more action packed and moved at a quicker pace than the first. Definitely an enjoyable read!

Cinder Marissa Meyer

Cinder is the first in a series (I know the 4th one is coming out soon, but I don't know how many are intended to finish the series) called the Lunar Chronicles. It takes place on futuristic Earth and each of the books have an eerie throwback to a fairy tale. Cinder is obviously Cinderella, though the way it fits is much different. So there are 3 differen populations we're dealing with here: Earth and its inhabitants, The Lunars, who are descended from Earthens-they are a new race of humans who have been living on the Moon so long that they have genetic differences, most notably manipulative mind control, and Cyborg's. Basically, scientists have learned how to keep a person alive using artificial parts. Anything from a single finger to a limb to even creating an artifician brain and nervous system. But if you are Cyborg, you're considered a second class citizen pretty much world wide. Add to this mix a horrible plague for which no vaccine or treatment has been found. It's a death sentence. It's a whirl wind of somewhat predictable occurances, and at least for me, as the reader I was able to put two and two together fairly quickly and was left frustrated wondering when Cinder was going to figure it out. One of my favorite characters is Iko. She's a droid (I picture droids in this book similar to Star Wars in function, but different in appearance) and has quite a personality! She's also one of Cinder's only friends. Of course, there's Prince Kai, the Emporer to be in the Asian area of this future world.

It was definitely an entertaining read and it's interesting to see how differently you can interpret classic fairy tales to become completely different, and yet so similar, like I said, it's kind of eerie!