Guest Post by Author Allison Pataki on Writing About Sisi + Giveaway

Please welcome back Allison Pataki, who recently published the fascinating fictional biography The Accidental Empress (reviewed here).

How I came up with the idea to write about Sisi in ‘The Accidental Empress’
by Allison Pataki


Years ago, I was traveling through Austria and Hungary and the Czech Republic with my family. I am Hungarian-American by descent; Pataki is an odd-sounding and, yes, Hungarian last name. The purpose of the family trip was to visit the places from where our relatives had emigrated, almost a century earlier. This took us, then, to the lands of the former Habsburg Empire—the former realm once labeled on maps as Austria-Hungary.

While on this trip, I kept seeing striking images of the same beautiful young woman. She had this quizzical smile, this rich chestnut hair curled in these elaborate hairdos. I saw her face at every gift shop, museum, even in restaurants and hotels.

The Accidental Empress by Allison PatakiI asked someone who she was and the response was that she was “Sisi,” the most beloved of all Habsburg Empresses. I heard just a bit about Sisi’s epic and tragic life—about the legends that she grew her hair to the floor, that she was considered the most beautiful woman in the world, that every other foreign ruler at the time was in love with her. I sensed that she was a combination of Princess Diana and Marie Antoinette and Catherine the Great and so much more.

I read about how Sisi didn’t mean to seduce her sister’s fiancé the emperor, but did, at the age of 15. Just enough to whet my appetite! I went home and dug in, reading everything I could about Sisi’s story; what I found astounded me. Hers is a story of love triangles, love, lust, betrayal, and so much more. It’s an incredibly human story, told against a glittering and beautiful—yet dangerous and duplicitous—backdrop.

Sisi presided over the golden era of the Habsburg Court, in an age that gave us advances in culture and the arts and architecture, as well as advances in science and politics. Her family gave us the castle that we all know of as “The Walt Disney Castle.” Her family gave us the waltz and Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Klimt’s paintings. Sisi ruled at the time that a young Doctor named Sigmund Freud was just down the street in Vienna inventing the practice of psychoanalysis. And this reign of Sisi and Franz Joseph takes us right up to the doorstep of World War I. Her heir was the man who was assassinated (Archduke Franz Ferdinand), prompting her husband to declare war and setting off World War I, the greatest armed conflict the world had known to that point.

We’ve read about Anne Boleyn and the Tudors. We’ve read about Marie Antoinette at Versailles. We’ve read about the Medici in Italy and the Tsarinas in Russia, and yet, Sisi’s story is more compelling and complex than all of those, I believe.
I think people will really enjoy diving into the world of Sisi and the Habsburg Court.

In Sisi’s case, history is even juicier than any fiction I could have dreamed up. I was hooked—and I hope readers will be, as well.

View More: Allison PatakiAllison 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.The daughter of former New York State Governor George E. Pataki, Allison is currently working on her second novel, The Accidental Empress, to be published by Simon & Schuster in February 2015.

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.

To learn more about Allison, visit her website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads



Thanks to Allison Pataki and Simon & Schuster, one lucky winner will receive a $120 gift card to the ebook retailer of their choice (Amazon/B&N/iTunes)! Please enter via the Rafflecopter form. Giveaway is open internationally.

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Review: The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

accidental empress by allison patakiFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 512 pages
Publisher: Howard Books
Date Released: February 17, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

New York Times bestselling author Allison Pataki follows up on her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Traitor’s Wife, with the little-known and tumultuous love story of “Sisi” the Austro-Hungarian Empress and captivating wife of Emperor Franz Joseph.

The 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.

With Pataki’s rich period detail and cast of complex, bewitching characters, The Accidental Empress offers a captivating glimpse into one of history’s most intriguing royal families, shedding new light on the glittering Hapsburg Empire and its most mesmerizing, most beloved “Fairy Queen.”

My Review:

If the combination of The Traitor’s Wife (reviewed here) and The Accidental Empress tell us that the author has a penchant for writing historical biographies of young women who are thrust (or thrust themselves) into influential positions for which they are not exactly suited, then this reader is all for it.

The Traitor’s Wife shows the American Revolution through the eyes of a young woman who tries to bring it down. The Accidental Empress shows us the fall of the long-reigning Hapsburg dynasty of Austria. While we don’t see it in this book, Elisabeth’s life and trials lead in a slightly crooked line to World War I.

In some ways, Elisabeth’s story feels as if it happened in the Middle Ages. Her life as the Austrian empress shows a world that had not changed since the Hapsburgs first came to power in the 15th century. At the same time, the rest of the world is in the midst of the Victorian Era, with its explosion of revolutions and industry. Elisabeth was born in 1837, just months after Victoria took the throne in England.

But as I read this not-too-fictionalized biography of Elisabeth of Austria, the person she reminded me of most was Princess Di.

Like Diana, Elisabeth married at a relatively young age. She was only 15 when she met Franz Joseph, the emperor of Austria. When they married, Elisabeth was 16 and suddenly thrust into a “family business” of empire for which she was not prepared. Elisabeth was a member of the nobility in Bavaria, but had been raised in a particularly liberal (some may read that as neglectful) household. Finding herself in the midst of a court that thrived on rules and victimized any who deviated, Elisabeth was lost.

Her marriage was not just a love match, but even called a fairy tale romance. She met the Emperor because her older sister was considered a suitable match for Franz Joseph. However, when the families met, Elisabeth stole his heart. Unfortunately, she had more competition for that heart than she could have imagined.

Elisabeth of Austria 1867
Elisabeth of Austria 1867

Franz Joseph’s mother Sophie chose Elisabeth’s older sister Helene because she was shy and retiring and would not challenge her for control of Franz Joseph or insert herself into the political realm where the Archduchess Sophie ruled. Elisabeth was neither shy, nor biddable, nor retiring, and did not expect to share her husband with his mother. Elisabeth also expected that her husband would respect her opinions, or at least let her ease his burdens by discussing them with her.

Sophie, and expert in passive-aggressiveness, froze Elisabeth out of everything except the expectation to produce an heir, and managed to make it all seem like Elisabeth’s fault. Elisabeth, at 16, is no match for an experienced political operative like Sophie, and it takes her 14 years to achieve some kind of separate peace for herself. When this book ends, Elisabeth is only 30. As tumultuous as her life is up to that point, it seems as if it should have taken longer. It certainly must have felt like an eternity to her.

So this is the story of Elisabeth’s marriage, it’s failures and it’s successes, and her difficulties in making a place that is truly hers in a world that is changing, set amongst a hidebound court that refuses to see that the world is changing around it.

She is every bit as compelling to the reader, as she clearly was to her own people during her lifetime.

Escape Rating A-: Just like in The Traitor’s Wife, The Accidental Empress is also the story of two women. In this case, those women are Elisabeth and her domineering mother-in-law, Sophie. And while it seems as if their intense rivalry must be part of the fictionalization, it doesn’t seem to be. The worst things that are inflicted on Elisabeth are taken straight from letters and diaries of the time. (The Victorian Era in general is very well documented)

Some readers will want to shake Elisabeth for not having stood up for herself more effectively sooner. We tend to expect 21st century sensibilities from our heroines. But Elisabeth was living in the mid 19th century, and when she becomes empress she is only 16. She also goes into the battle unprepared, while Sophie had been a political operative and the power behind the throne for decades.

And most of us are much more capable of figuring out what we want and standing up for ourselves successfully at 30 than we are at 16.

At the beginning, I said that Elisabeth reminds me of Princess Di. Like Diana, Elisabeth came from minor nobility, and had been raised without the extreme rules and regulations of the court. The Imperial Court was a rigorously controlled environment where the denizens were constantly watched for signs of weakness. Franz Joseph was raised in the “family business” of empire, just as Prince Charles was raised in the Windsor family business of royalty.

diana and charlesAlso both were considered fairy tale matches, with the royal marrying an extraordinarily beautiful young woman from the minor nobility. There were stories about the love match in both cases. Like Diana, Elisabeth was expected to present a pretty face for the empire, and her people were expected to follow her fashion sense and love her for her beauty. Both women were tasked with providing the proverbial “heir and a spare” and got pregnant relatively quickly.

And last but definitely not least, both women discovered that they had to share their husbands with another woman who had made a place in his heart long before their advent on the scene. Three is always a crowd, whether that third is a lover or a mother.

Elisabeth usually called “Sisi” by her friends and admirers, is a fascinating woman. Her fictionalized story brings her alive and makes her empathetic for contemporary readers. Her story seems both ancient and modern, a woman trying to make her own way in a world that she is not ready for, and is not ready for her.

Her legacy lives on. She is still a popular figure in Hungarian history. And it was the assassination of her nephew, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that served as the opening salvo of World War I.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Interview with Author Allison Pataki + Giveaway

Allison PatakiMy guest today is Allison Pataki, the author of The Traitor’s Wife, today featured review. The book does an amazing job retelling a story that we all think we’re familiar with from a completely new perspective. I would recommend The Traitor’s Wife to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Before we hear from Allison telling us a bit about herself and how she came up with the idea for the story, check out this gorgeous book trailer for The Traitor’s Wife.



Marlene: Welcome Allison! Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Allison: Sure thing! I am an author in the process of publishing my first novel, The Traitor’s Wife. It is a historical fiction because, well, the only thing I love as much as reading and writing is studying history. That’s the work side of things.

On the other side of things, well, I am a wife to my college sweetheart. I am a daughter and a sister, the third kid in a family of four. I am a mother to a sweet little mutt that my husband and I adopted. I am a friend, a volunteer, an in-law, an upstate New Yorker living in Chicago. I love to cook, travel, do yoga, and, of course, read and write!

Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing? Are you a planner or pantser?

Allison: I would definitely say I am a planner – though the descriptor of “pantser” sounds way more fun. I’ve never heard that one before!

A typical day of writing begins pretty early. My dog and I begin the day by taking a walk along the river. This is a great time to think, shake off any sleepiness (the cold weather helps with that!), and get focused on whatever project in which I am currently involved.

After breakfast (and coffee!) I sit down to write. I generally work from home, so I have the liberty of dictating the background noise and, for me, that is always music. I will make a playlist or a Pandora station that seems to complement whatever topic about which I’m writing.

If time and life allow, I can sit there and work all day. Obviously I take breaks for lunch, another walk with the dog, etc. But, usually, I work up until dinner.

Often times, at some point, I will need to take a break to read up on something or do a little more research or digging. But, a really great day, in my book (pun intended) is one that I can devote entirely to writing. It doesn’t always work out like that, obviously!

Marlene: Why did you choose historical fiction as your genre?

Allison: It is without a doubt my favorite genre to read. To be honest, I never really thought about writing any other type of book. It is just what inspires me.

In college, I loved studying English and literature, but I also loved studying history. I decided to major in English and then take as many history classes as possible.

A genre that combines the two, as both a reader and a writer, is a win-win.

Marlene: Is the research part of the fun, or is it something that you have to get through in order to get to the fun parts?

traitors wife by alison patakiAllison: It’s absolutely part of the fun! I usually begin the research with little more than an idea. The person by whom I’ve been inspired, or the time period. As I uncover and digest the facts, pieces of the story or ideas for a character begin to take shape in my head. The research is undoubtedly what facilitates the development of the novel.

And research is not something that is “gotten through.” It’s ongoing. I am going back and reading and re-reading the research as I’m writing. Even now, when The Traitor’s Wife is just weeks away from publication, I’m still learning about the Revolutionary War time period and the people involved. If only I could keep adding details and throwing in these fun facts!

Marlene: The Benedict Arnold story is one that we all think we know. What drew you to re-tell a story that everyone feels like they are already familiar with?

Allison: Benedict Arnold’s story is what most people know. But not Peggy Arnold’s story. In fact, I would venture to guess that many people don’t even know Benedict Arnold had a wife, let alone one as powerful, intriguing and interesting as Peggy. That is precisely why I wanted to tell this story with Peggy as the subject.

As I researched for The Traitor’s Wife, I kept asking myself: “how come I’ve never heard this before?” I hope readers will feel the same way.

Marlene: Although the title of the book is The Traitor’s Wife, the point-of-view character is the traitor’s wife’s maid. What led you to choose the below-stairs perspective to tell the story?

Allison: At first, I thought about writing The Traitor’s Wife from the perspective of Peggy Shippen Arnold. She is, as you pointed out, the traitor’s wife, and the novel’s inspiration.

But as I researched the history, I realized that I really wanted to tell this story through the eyes of an observer. I wanted a narrator, a fictional character, who would meet Peggy Shippen Arnold and get to know her as the reader is doing so. A narrator who could watch the events unfolding, but at a little bit of a distance.

The novel would have been entirely different had I written it from Peggy’s perspective – both for the reader, and also for me, as the writer. I think introducing Clara’s perspective allowed it to be a more well-rounded story.

Writing from Clara’s perspective allowed me to interject feelings like hope, optimism, insecurity, and idealism into the novel. All of the feelings that one might have felt as he/she witnessed a new nation’s fight for independence.

Marlene: You are from a political family. How did your background help you in understanding the motivations of the characters?

Allison: I can’t say that it was too applicable in this case, simply because it is two entirely different times. The political landscape back then was not really like what it is today. George Washington didn’t even want our nation to have political parties.

What I did think about, however, was how Arnold’s personality, ego, and insecurities made him very ill suited for the public role he assumed. And, as a result, why he became such a bitter man.

If you are going to be a leader, you are going to be a target, and you must accept that. In politics – then and now – one must be able to work with others, to allow insults to roll off the chest, and to put one’s own personal woes to the side to work for the greater good. Arnold seemed to struggle with that.

Benedict Arnold was a skilled general and heroic patriot, yes, but he was not skilled in negotiating human relationships. That got him into trouble. He made enemies both in the army and in the Continental Congress.

Marlene: What is your favorite scene from the book and why did you pick that scene?

Allison: Probably the opening scene, when George Washington’s rider approaches the Arnold house. Washington is on his way! Further down the Hudson River, the treason is being uncovered, and yet, Peggy and Benedict Arnold are convinced that they have succeeded in their plot.

That is, until the second rider approaches. From this messenger, the Arnolds learn that their plan has been unearthed. And yet, Washington is still on his way! Chaos ensues.

I like that the novel begins with immediate tension and disaster. The rest of the novel then goes back and works up until this very moment, this fateful and disastrous morning.

Marlene: Title of a book that you’ve faked reading:

Allison: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I always just thought – because I had seen the musical, the movie, and listened to the CD over a hundred times – that I had as good as read the book. I knew the plot, right?

Wrong! This past year I decided to go back and actually read it, all 1,000+ pages of reading it. And boy is it a masterpiece. Totally worth the long slog.

Marlene: Title of a book that you’ve bought for the cover:

forgotten garden by kate mortonAllison: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. All of her covers have a similar look, and I think they are beautiful and whimsical and intriguing. I saw The Forgotten Garden in airport bookstores for months and always picked it up to admire the cover.

I’m glad I did so, because I loved it, and am now a huge fan of hers!

Marlene: Book that you most want to read again for the first time:

Allison: Gone With the Wind.

I haven’t read it in years. Scarlett O’Hara is perhaps my favorite female character in literature.

Marlene: As a debut author yourself, what words of advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Allison: Be forgiving. The first stuff you write is not going to be great. It might not even be good. Mine certainly wasn’t. But keep at it. Seek the input and advice of people you trust, and people who want to support you and help you grow as a writer.

If you feel impassioned to write and you have a story that you are consumed by, then write it. Write it, and edit it, and rewrite it, and edit it some more. Stick with it.

Marlene: What projects do you have planned for the future?

Allison: More historical fiction. I thought, while writing The Traitor’s Wife, that I would never love another book I worked on as much, ever again. But I was surprised. I found another topic that, to me, is equally fascinating and fun.

Marlene: Morning person or night owl?

Allison: Morning person. I mentioned coffee above, right? 🙂



Allison and Kismet Book Tours are giving away a Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky commenter on this tour. This giveaway is open to anyone living in a place where Amazon ships. Wow!

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Review: The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki

traitors wife by alison patakiFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 496 pages
Publisher: Howard Books
Date Released: February 11, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

A riveting historical novel about Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America’s most infamous act of treason.

Everyone knows Benedict Arnold—the infamous Revolutionary War General who betrayed America and fled to the British as history’s most notorious turncoat. Many know Arnold’s co-conspirator, Major John André, who was apprehended with Arnold’s documents in his boots and hanged at the orders of General George Washington. But few know of the integral third character in the plot; a charming and cunning young woman, who not only contributed to the betrayal but orchestrated it.

Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as Military Commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John André. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former lover and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.

Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress’s affairs even when it could cost her everything, The Traitor’s Wife brings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom.

My Review:

The Traitor’s Wife is the best kind of historical fiction; the story feels true even though the reader knows that there isn’t any way to verify how people felt, or what they said in every conversation.

You end up wanting this to be the real story. And maybe it is.

History is so often written from the perspective of the men who seem to be the prime movers and shakers, but, history is written by the victors. For much of history, women were put on a pedestal and kept in their place. That place was not supposed to be in battle, in government or in writing the history books.

The Traitor’s Wife sees that key betrayal of the American Revolution from the point of view of the woman who caused it, and the woman who prevented it.

Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold

We all know the story of Benedict Arnold, and his betrayal of the Revolutionary cause. His name has become a byword for treachery. What makes The Traitor’s Wife such a fascinating story is that it isn’t Arnold’s story–it’s his wife’s story.

Also that it is not the tale of her view of her husband’s treason–it’s the story of how she encouraged and aided that treachery. Historical records show that Peggy Shippen Arnold was part of the plot, but they don’t tell us why.

This is a fascinating version of events, because it doesn’t just put Peggy Arnold at the center, but it explains why she did it. More than plausibly, and in a way that rivets the attention.

Peggy Shippen Arnold and daughter
Peggy Shippen Arnold and daughter

Peggy is seen through the eyes of her maid, Clara Bell. Clara may not have existed in real life, but she should have. She sees her mistress much more clearly than the men she manipulated.

Clara is the heroine of this tale. While the Arnolds and their conspirators forget that the maid is even in the room, Clara hears and sees everything, and risks her life to assist the Revolution.

So Clara is the person we follow. She starts out as a young woman awed by the splendor of the Shippen household after her impoverished childhood. She bears the brunt of Peggy Shippen’s cruelty, and quietly resists, until she can find a way to make her resistance count.

Escape Rating B+: There are two women at the center of this story; Peggy and Clara. They end up as counterpoint to one another; Peggy is cruel and manipulative to the point of being almost a caricature, and Clara seems to be a bit too good to be true.

It is easy to cast this tale as the fall of Peggy into the depths which we feel she deserves, and the rise of Clara to independence, freedom and true love. Poor Benedict Arnold ends up as the stock character of the foolish older husband manipulated by his beautiful and charismatic young wife.

Except for the introduction of Clara, that could be the true narrative. That’s what makes The Traitor’s Wife so compelling. It feels right.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.