Book Review: Keepers of the Covenant

This book review is a wee bit tardy but here it is! Find out all about Lynn Austin’s Keepers of the Covenant.

Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin | a book review on thepajamachef.com #reading

A description of the book from the publisher:

In Their Darkest Hour, Where Would Hope Be Found?

In one life-changing moment, the lives of the exiles in Babylon are thrown into despair when a decree from the king’s palace calls for the annihilation of every Jewish man, woman, and child throughout the empire in less than one year.

Ezra, a quiet but brilliant scholar, soon finds himself called upon to become the leader of his people. Forced to rally an army when all his training has been in the Torah, he struggles to bring hope in a time of utter despair, when dreams of the future–of family and love–seem impossible.

In Keepers of the Covenant, acclaimed novelist Lynn Austin weaves together the struggles and stories of both Jews and Gentiles, creating a tapestry of faith and doubt, love and loss. Here, the Old Testament comes to life, demonstrating the everlasting hope displayed in God’s unwavering love for His people.  

As usual, my five point review:

  • It took me so long to read and review this book because I didn’t realize it was the second book in The Restoration Chronicles series until after I had received it! Whoops! The first book, Return to Me, was great. I couldn’t put it down. Unfortunately, this book, for me, wasn’t quite as compelling and was too long. It may have just been that it was hard to get into, but I never got that must-not-put this-book-down feeling here. But you might love it!
  • Regardless, this still was a well written book. Lynn Austin is a great author and I have enjoyed much of her historical fiction (especially that set in the Civil War and WWII eras). The plot centers around the Biblical books of Ezra and Esther, so the time of Jewish captivity. Biblical fiction is just not my favorite, but since I do like Lynn Austin I thought I’d give this book a try.
  • The way that Lynn Austin told this story was easily the best part of the book. Her writing style and heart comes through so well in this book! When reading Biblical fiction or watching Biblical movies (not that I do that very often… but churches do show them for things from time to time), I find it important that the story be compelling (so as to not further the notion that the Bible is boring) while not adding too much to the text. There has to be a balance between making the times come alive and not assuming too much. I think this book (and series) do a good job at helping readers understand how life might have been like during this period of history. Lynn Austin does use scripture often, so that helps with its authenticity.
  • Perhaps one of the reasons why this book wasn’t my favorite was that there was a lack of energy and story. Some characters I expected to be more exciting(?) just weren’t, like Devorah (Deborah). Other parts just seemed somewhat detailed and tedious, and while I don’t have anything against long books, this was just hard to power through.
  • Overall, I have mixed feelings on this book. Since it is based on Biblical history, I don’t want to say it’s bad… and it’s not. However, this genre isn’t my favorite and compared to the first book in the series, this one just didn’t hold my attention as well. It’s worth the read to learn more about this portion of Biblical history for sure. There are lots of good reviews for this book on Goodreads so I may be in the minority on this book! As I said previously, there are other Lynn Austin books that I love so don’t dismiss this author because of me! I hate writing less than glowing reviews, but I do want to be honest. Thanks for reading!

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Bethany House for the chance to read this great book!

What I’m Into (July and August 2015)

I didn’t get to writing this post for the month of July… and now August is over. CRAZY!

What’s Been Happening

I started off July with a week long staycation. Ben and I enjoyed a lot of good food in Nashville, including breakfast at the Loveless Cafe [which is less than 10 minutes from our house btw] and getting these free reusable travel cups from Dunkin’ Donuts. These cups come with 99 cent refills through the end of August… so we’ve been going a lil Dunkin’ crazy. Ha! We also picked blueberries and blackberries. So good!

Ben started his second year teaching. I helped him decorate his classroom… bulletin boards aren’t my strength. :)

August brought tons of traveling and visitors. Here’s how it happened! The first weekend of the month brought my parents to town on their way to vacation. The follow weekend, I went to a one-day library conference at Indiana University Kokomo and saw a bunch of friends from grad school and my hometown, as well as my cute nephew. Then, my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew stayed with us on their way home from vacation. FINALLY, I headed back to Indiana for my grandpa’s 94th birthday party! This past weekend was spent at home, no traveling or visitors.

School’s starting up at my university so things have been crazy there but I’m excited to see the students again! Fall is coming soon…and I can’t wait!

What I’m Reading

July and August 2015 Readings | What I'm Into | thepajamachef.com

As of the time I wrote this post, I finished 21 books in July and August, with a few more on tap. You can check out my reviews of the books above on Goodreads. On the blog, I reviewed The Wiregrass; it’s a great read if you’re looking for a good book! I also finally read [listened to] Anne of Green Gables! I started that book as a kid but never finished it… it’s so fun to listen to and I want to read the whole series now! :)

I’ve also made a point to save some of the great articles I read online to share here… so in no real order you should check out these articles:

What I’ve Been Cooking

Lots of peanut noodles with this sauce. Kale salad with sauteed potatoes and fried eggs. Sounds weird, but it’s so good. I made it a mish mash of these two recipes. I’m sure I’ve made other things, but I can’t really recall now… ha!

What’s on the Blog

My most popular July recipe was Turkey Sloppy Joes. Mmm!

Turkey Sloppy Joes | an easy, healthy meal that everyone will love! | thepajamachef.com

In August, everyone loved the Zucchini Apple Walnut Muffins. Me too!

Zucchini Apple Walnut Muffins for #secretrecipeclub | find the recipe for these healthy 'n delicious muffins on thepajamachef.com

Most popular recipes from the archive included: Cinnamon Sugar Apple Cake, Buffalo Pretzels, and Funfetti Cookies, as usual. :)

What were you into in July and August?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into lately. 

Lemon Meringue Pie Puppy Chow #bookclubcookbookcc

Think pie is too complicated? Well, enjoy lemon meringue pie in puppy chow form. All that lemon flavor with minimal effort. #dangerous

Lemon Meringue Pie Puppy Chow  - easier than pie, but just as delicious! #bookclubcookbookCC | thepajamachef.com

Like my #dangerous hashtag? Lately I’ve been finding all sorts of things that are #dangerous. S’mores Oreos, for one. The new coffee shop that is getting REALLY close to being completed in my library, for two. Seriously–I can see it from my office window. It’s like 30 steps away. I won’t even have to walk across campus! I see a lot of $3.80 caramel lattes in my future. [Yes, I have the price of a latte on campus memorized.] And this tasty treat, for three. Cause I love me some lemon meringue pie, but it’s kinda complicated. Crust, filling, meringue… all that jazz. And dishes, dishes, dishes! Now I can have all the taste with almost none of the work. #Dangerous, I say!

Lemon Meringue Pie Puppy Chow  - easier than pie, but just as delicious! #bookclubcookbookCC | thepajamachef.com

Lemon Meringue Pie Puppy Chow is sort of a random recipe to make at the end of August, I realize. This time of year is all about getting the last dose of summer in before pumpkin and apple season hits. But lemons are citrus fruits, and citrus fruits remind me of summer [even though they’re really a winter fruit, right?], and lemons are sunshine-y yellow and happy! Plus, puppy chow is a no-bake treat… the perfect sweet that doesn’t heat up your kitchen. Score! So this puppy chow totally makes sense. And is delicious. Did I say that yet? It’s sweet and tangy and sugary… an always addictive snack mix. This version has white chocolate in it too. Mmmm!

Lemon Meringue Pie Puppy Chow  - easier than pie, but just as delicious! #bookclubcookbookCC | thepajamachef.com

But I must admit that I have a secondary motive [besides summery no-bake deliciousness] for making this treat. Lemon Meringue Pie was also the recipe of choice for this month’s edition of #bookclubcookbookCC, a cooking project I am part of this year. See here for more details! Andrea at Adventures in All Things Food hosted. She invited us to read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and make a Very Yellow Lemon Meringue Pie with her. I didn’t make a pie… and I didn’t get to reading the book [though I did check it out from the library, so maybe I will soon]. But I hope Andrea, the rest of the cooking group, and all of YOU lovely readers enjoy this lemony puppy chow. Who doesn’t like puppy chow? And this fun lemon twist will make anyone smile! Enjoy, and be sure to scroll down to enter the giveaway to win a copy of The Book Club Cookbook for yourself! :)

Lemon Meringue Pie Puppy Chow  - easier than pie, but just as delicious! #bookclubcookbookCC | thepajamachef.com

one year ago: Minty Turkey Meatballs with Quinoa
two years ago: Roasted Peach Muffins with Cinnamon Streusel
three years ago: Brown Rice, Feta, and Tomato Salad
four years ago: Whole Wheat Zucchini Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
five years ago: Peanut Butter Fingers

Lemon Meringue Pie Puppy Chow

  • Servings: makes 11 cups
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Print

adapted from Living Locurto

Ingredients:

  • 9 cups Chex cereal
  • 11.5 ounce bag white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup butter or oil
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2+ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 cups Golden Grahams cereal or equivalent broken graham crackers

Directions:

Place Chex cereal in a large bowl. Combine white chocolate and butter/oil in a medium bowl and microwave on 50% power in 30 second increments until chocolate melts. Stir well between each round in the microwave.

When chocolate is melted, add lemon zest then slowly pour in lemon juice, gently stirring to combine. If juice is too cold then the chocolate can start to seize up, so be careful. When combined, pour over Chex and fold together.

Transfer mixture to a gallon size ziptop bag, then add 1 cup powdered sugar. Seal and shake to combine. Add an additional cup powdered sugar and repeat. If you want more powdered sugar in the mix or you want to fully coat the cereal, you may need to add more–another cup or so. Spread mixture on a large baking sheet or a piece of wax paper to allow chocolate to harden. When chocolate has set, mix in Golden Grahams/graham cracker pieces.

Enjoy!

Note: Unlike regular puppy chow, this is best the day it is made… so it may not be a great recipe for making ahead. It’s definitely still edible [and enjoyable] for 4-5 days but because of the fresh lemon zest and juice you’ll want to eat it quickly.

Giveaway
Andrea at Adventures in all Things Food, this month’s host, is giving away a copy of the book.* Enter to win a copy of the cookbook so you can join us in future months, if you wish!
One of our lucky readers – US and Canada only! – can enter to win a copy ofThe Book Club Cookbook, Revised Edition: Recipes and Food for Thought from Your Book Club’s Favorite Books and Authors by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, courtesy of Tarcher-Penguin. Giveaway runs from August 1st till August 31st at 6 o’clock PM, Pacific time. Please see terms and conditions in the rafflecopter widget below. Many thanks to Tarcher Books. You may find Tarcher: on the web, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Pinterest.
Enter the giveaway at the link below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Disclosure: Andrea received a complimentary copy of The Book Club Cookbook, Revised Edition: Recipes and Food for Thought from Your Book Club’s Favorite Books and Authors by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp to use in this year-long project plus the opportunity to give a copy away. Opinions are our own. We received no further compensation for our posts.

Book Review: The Wiregrass

Today I have a fabulous book to share with you: Pamela Webber’s The Wiregrass. I was contacted earlier in the summer about the possibility of reviewing this book as part of the release tour. After checking out the book a little online, I didn’t hesitate to say yes! And I hope you’ll pick up this title too–if you like historical fiction, Southern literature, or good characters, this book is for you! Read on to find out more. :)

The Wiregrass - a book review on thepajamachef.com #reading #southern #summer #beachreads

But first, a description of the book from the publisher:

The Wiregrass is a coming of age novel about an innocent young woman who is forced to come to grips with the evil stalking the beautiful place and people she loves. Having spent every summer of her life in the small Wiregrass town of Crystal Springs, Alabama, Nettie is hoping for a respite from the unrelenting physical and emotional changes that have made her first year of high school pure misery. But fate has other plans.

A chance encounter with Mitchell, a seductively handsome, yet secretive young man, turns Nettie’s summer and her heart upside down. As their romance blooms, Nettie becomes suspicious that Mitchell is harboring a dark and dangerous secret, one that will ultimately rock the heart of the sleepy little town and have Nettie and those she loves running for their lives.

Set in 1969, the story uses the uniqueness of the Southern Wiregrass region to support engaging and captivating characters as they take the reader on a roller coaster ride of lingering emotions, from laugh out loud funny to soul crushing sadness.

And as usual, my five point review:

  •  Let’s start with the obvious: the sense of place in this book is phenomenal. Though I am now living in the South, the Wiregrass region was still unfamiliar to me until Nettie explained that it was both a part of the country [southeastern Alabama, southern Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle] and a type of bristly, razor-sharp grass that gave the region its name. Though I’ve never really been to the true Deep South, Webber’s imagery made the area come alive like other Southern classics [To Kill a Mockingbird, for example]. The author truly transplanted me from my lounge chair [oh yeah–this is a great pool/beach read] to a place far, far away in geography, time, culture, and habits. Lovely.
  • Another element of this book that made Webber, a first-time novelist, stand out to me was her use of language. Sometimes when novels that focus on children or adolescents, even when written for adults, dumb down the language. Not so with The Wiregrass! Every paragraph, sentence, and word was precise, smart, and interesting. Webber used sensory language to evoke that sense of place mentioned before, and her use of Southern dialogue was great. Nettie’s cousins weren’t just “cousins,” they were “cussins” [for more reasons than one]. Her “Ain’t Pitty” was the key adult shaping Nettie and the cousins’ summer–caring for them, loving them, instructing them, and guiding them through some very good and very bad times. There are countless other examples of language creating place and mood throughout the book. Truthfully for me, that sort of Southern language gets old after awhile… but it does set this book apart and helps show the author’s talent.
  • There are so many great characters in this novel. I keep asking myself who I was most captivated and engaged by, and I keep coming back to Mitchell. Much of what we learn about him throughout the book comes from others–from Nettie, from Ain’t Pitty, from people around Crystal Springs. You’ll have to read it and see why he’s so captivating. His story is one of beauty and utter heartbreak. While the official “description” of the book casts his relationship with Nettie as a romance, I would have to [slightly] disagree. Yes, they are romantically involved… but you have to remember they’re kids! I didn’t see their romance play out as much more than intense friendship, so don’t go into this book expecting a romance novel because you won’t find it.
  • Aside from the great writing and characters, I loved reading about all the childhood rituals that Nettie and her cousins shared. Some innocent… and some not-so-innocent [think TP-ing and other ways kids get into trouble during those hot summer days and nights]. Age-wise in the middle of the group, Nettie bridges the gap between the older and younger cousins in a fun way. You can see her grow up right before her eyes, even without the Mitchell storyline. I could see my childhood summers in these stories… a fun time to reminisce.
  • Overall, The Wiregrass incorporates mystery and drama, the coming-of-age adolescence angst, explorations of childhood, and so much more. It touches on issues important to past, present, and future America such as class, race, etc. without making too much of a statement. The sadness/harsh reality/mystery element in all its intensity does not spoil the sweet childhood memories that Nettie and her cousins build, but it does change things. I won’t spoil the ending, but it IS truly poignant and a little surprising. I could hardly put the book down! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! I won’t tell you to not read this book in the fall or winter or spring… but it’s truly a summer read so check it out now! :)

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of this book from Webber’s publicist, Stephanie Barko. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks for the chance to read this book!