The Accidental Empress Book Review

Since childhood, we have been told that in fairy tales, the hero and heroine (usually a prince and princess) live happily ever after. The reality is that the world in which the highest levels of society live in (royalty included) can feel like a gilded cage. There are rules and traditions that can seem archaic and frankly weird to the average person.

The Accidental Empress, by Allison Pataki, was published back in 2015. The novel tells the story of Empress “Sisi” Elisabeth of Austria. At fifteen, she met her future husband, Franz Joseph I of Austria. He was supposed to be her older sister’s husband. Instead, they defied tradition and married for love.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie of Austria, was a dominant figure in her son’s life. Sisi often found herself fighting not just for her husband, but for a sense of autonomy. Her life at court was night and day from the rural estate that she grew up on.

The only way to survive is to use her brain and figure out how to live in a world that can only be described as dog-eat-dog.

I truly enjoyed this book. Told from Sisi’s perspective, the story starts with a naive young girl and ends with a woman who has learned how to play the game. Along the way, there is love, heartache, growth, and the sometimes harsh lessons that come with figuring out who you are.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Accidental Empress is available wherever books are sold.

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Flashback Friday: Victoria & Albert: The Royal Wedding (2018)

A wedding is something to celebrate. A royal wedding takes that concept and explodes it tenfold.

The 2018 PBS TV movie Victoria & Albert: The Royal Wedding told the story of the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert from the inside out. Hosted and narrated by Lucy Worsley, the viewer is given a micro view of the often unseen and underappreciated details that made the day what it was.

I find this topic fascinating. Though outwardly, it is straight out of a fairy tale, there is obviously much more than the happily ever after. The number of moving parts that could have ground everything to a halt is a topic that deserves the spotlight.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Disenchanted Movie Review

Most fairy tales end with the words “happily ever after”. While this is certainly a satisfying conclusion, there is always room for more.

The new DisneyPlus movie, Disenchanted, was released last weekend. The sequel to Enchanted, it has been fifteen years since the first film ended. Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and Giselle (Amy Adams) are happily married and have a baby girl of their own. Robert’s daughter Morgan (played by Gabriella Baldacchino) from his previous marriage is now a teenager and dealing with what we all went through at that age.

The story starts when the family leaves New York City for the suburbs of upstate NY. The nice way of describing their new home is that it is a fixer-upper. While Giselle tries to make friends with Malvina (Maya Rudolph), the town’s unofficial social queen, they are visited by Edward (Jason Marsden) and Nancy (Idina Menzel).

The gift they bestow leads Giselle to make a wish for her previous fairy tale life. As usually happens when this kind of yearning, it all goes to h*ll in a handbasket. It is up to Giselle and Morgan to save the day and return their world to what it was before.

I loved the movie. It was entertaining, funny, and the perfect follow-up to its predecessor. The easter eggs are fast and furious in the best way possible. As with Enchanted, Disney is lovingly mocking itself while recreating a narrative that fans know and love. My favorite character is Malvina. Rudolph is clearly having fun with the role, hamming it up to the nth degree.

All in all, it was a blast to watch and well worth the fifteen-year wait.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I would also not be surprised if it was on any top ten lists at the end of next month.

Disenchanted is available for streaming on DisneyPlus.

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The Crown Season 5 Review

For four seasons, Netflix‘s The Crown has pulled back the curtain to tell the story of the Windsors.

Season five premiered last weekend. Taking place in the 1990s, it dives into the personal and professional troubles of the late Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) and her family. Standing stalwart beside her is her now-late husband, Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce), and late sister Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville).

Among the issues that the Windsors are dealing with are the failing marriages of three of the Queen’s four children. As we all know now, the “happy” union of the former Prince Charles (Dominic West) and the late Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) has reached its breaking point. Returning to the arms of his ex, the former Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams), he is torn between duty and love.

This season is amazing. Among the main cast, Staunton and Debicki are the standouts. Staunton perfectly follows in the footsteps of her predecessors, Claire Foy and Olivia Coleman. Debicki’s performance as Diana is award-worthy. If I close my eyes and just listen to her, I almost expect that it is the real person, not an actor playing a part.

The only thing that we have to remember is that this is not a documentary. The show is fiction. Some of what we are watching has been made up and not based on actual events.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Crown is available for viewing on Netflix.

Throwback Thursday: Pinocchio (1940)

Disney has been part of our collective culture for almost a century. The characters and narratives have become part of who we are as individuals and as a society.

The original animated film Pinocchio (1940) is one of the company’s earliest classics. Based on the fairy tale of the same name by Carlo Collodi, it is the story of a man who wants to be a father and a puppet named Pinocchio who wants to be a real boy. Guided by a Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio must learn right from wrong and how to trust his instincts.

Though the message is a bit simplistic, it certainly sticks. What makes the movie for me is the story of family and growing up, two subjects that we can all relate to. Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Empress Review

At the end of every fairy tale, the prince and princess walk into the sunset and live happily ever after. While we would like to believe that this is true both in fiction and IRL, reality and fantasy are two different things entirely.

The new six-part Netflix series, The Empress, is the story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Played by Devrim Lingnau, the expectations for her life are direct and clear. She is to marry an appropriate man and bring children (preferably) boys into the world. At the age of fifteen, Elisabeth (known to those closest to her as Sisi), meets her future husband. Franz Joseph I of Austria (Philip Froissant) is supposed to be betrothed to her older sister.

Instead, they fall madly in love and marry eight months after their first meeting. While in the glows of newlywed bliss, both Franz and Elisabeth are trying to find their footing. She is unaware and unprepared for the constricted and controlled life of an Empress. Franz is balancing married life, his job (so to speak), and his overbearing mother Princess Sophie of Bavaria (Melika Foroutan).

While all of this is happening behind palace walls, a revolution is rumbling within the working and lower classes. Fed up with poverty, low wages, and being ignored/disrespected, they are agitating for their rights.

I enjoyed the series. Though Sisi is not as well known as some of her contemporaries (i.e. Queen Victoria), it is a fascinating coming-of-age story. Rebellious, headstrong, and a bit naive, she has no idea of the rough road ahead of her.

My only issue is that there are some elements that are too modern for the period.

Other than that, do I recommend it? Yes.

The Empress is available for streaming on Netflix.

Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother Book Review

There is no bond as important as a mother with her children.

When the late Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997, she left behind two young men who were forever changed. The new biography, Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother, by James Patterson, was published last month. It tells the story of Diana and her sons as human beings, not just celebrities or royals who live in a gilded cage.

While ensuring that both of her boys know what their responsibilities and futures will be like, she also gave them the opportunity to be ordinary kids. After her untimely passing, they grow up (with the usual and unusual hurdles due to the family they were born into) into responsible men, husbands, and fathers who continue Diana’s legacy.

What struck me was that Diana learned how to work within the system while rebelling against a way of life that may seem archaic to some. Her love for her sons, specifically when her marriage to Prince Charles (now King Charles III) was falling apart, was evident from the word go. Even when her own mental health issues weighed heavily on her, her boys still came first.

Choosing to live and parent as she did, she set up William and Harry to become empathetic and understanding of the idea that not everyone lives like they do. In doing so, she set the English monarchy on a path that allows tradition and modernity to exist concurrently.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother is available wherever books are sold.

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Thoughts On the Disenchanted and The Little Mermaid Trailers

It’s easy to be cynical in an adult and complicated world. Then you put on a Disney movie and you become the child believing that anything is possible.

Last week, the trailers for Disenchanted (the sequel to Enchanted) and the live-action reboot of The Little Mermaid were released.

The premise of Disenchanted is as follows: It’s been ten years since Giselle (Amy Adams) and Robert (Patrick Dempsey) had their happily ever after. But when Giselle starts to question that happiness, things go horribly wrong.

When it was announced some time ago that Halle Bailey was taking over the role of Ariel, I was not sure about that casting. To be perfectly honest, it was simply about the hair color, nothing more. If it came off as racist, I apologize. That was not my intention. Ariel is such an integral part of my childhood that she is a part of my essence. I just feel very protective of her.

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Though it is only a teaser trailer, I have seen enough to be excited. Bailey has a beautiful voice and I look forward to seeing the film when it comes out next year.

Disenchanted will be released on DisneyPlus on November 24th. The Little Mermaid will be in theaters next May.

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Pinocchio Movie Review

Within every fairy tale is a morality tale. The purpose is to teach our children (and our adults) how to behave.

The new film, Pinocchio is a live-action reboot of the 1940 film of the same name. Based on the story by Carlo Collodi, Geppetto (Tom Hanks) has one wish: for a child of his own. He gets his wish when the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) brings Geppetto’s newest creation, a puppet to life. Named Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), he wants nothing more than to be a real boy and make his father proud.

But like any child, temptation pulls him in other directions. Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to guide his charge to do the right thing, but he can only do so much. Will this puppet become a real child or is his fate to be just pieces of wood that only slightly resembles a human?

There is a nice balance of updating the narrative for our time while remaining true to the original cartoon. As usual, Hanks is the MVP, playing a complete 180 from his last film.

I noticed a couple of things that I obviously would not have seen as a child. The first is praying to a higher power or the universe (whichever one believes in), may actually bring in the desired results. The second is that you have to work for what you want. Pinocchio was not automatically turned into a human being, he had to earn it.

I haven’t seen the 1940 film in decades, but the message came through loud and clear. Though the story could be seen as slightly moralistic, the idea of listening to your gut applies to anyone of any age.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Pinocchio is available for streaming on DisneyPlus.

P.S.: Keep an eye out for easter eggs.

By the Book (Meant to Be Series) Book Review

The haters to lovers trope is one that had been used many times, by many authors, in many different ways. The figurative beauty of this well-known narrative arc is its ability to be dynamic and uniquely moldable to a new perspective.

By the Book is the second book in the Meant to Be Series. Written by Jasmine Guillory and published in May, it is essentially a modern-day rom-com version of Beauty and The Beast. For the last three years, Isabelle has been working at her NYC-based publishing company, hoping to be noticed by her manager. In her mid-twenties, she is one of the few African American employees and starting to become disillusioned.

While on a work trip to California, she finally seizes upon an opportunity to get the appreciation she deserves. Beau is a well-known author who has been radio silent on the status of his manuscript. She decides to try to talk to him in person. When Isabelle finally meets Beau, she discovers that his reputation of being impersonal and hard-headed is not too far off from reality.

Getting Beau to open up is a bigger task than Isabelle initially expected it to be. But as they spend time together, both Beau and Isabelle learn that each of them is lost in their own way and may find what they are looking for in one another.

This book had me at hello. It was delicious, romantic, funny, and held me by the lapels from beginning to end. Guillory holds tight to the Disney narrative while remaking it in her own image. I loved Isabelle’s spunkiness, Intelligence, and drive. Beau, as the leading man, has his own troubles, making him relatable and enough of an asshole to challenge both the reader and his future other half.

Do I recommend it? Of course.

By the Book (Meant to Be Series) is available wherever books are sold.

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