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. :)
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!
A hot vegetarian sandwich that is more flavorful than you ever could imagine!
Eggplant… in a sandwich? Umm, is that for serious? That was Ben’s reaction, pretty much verbatim when I told him I was making these sandwiches with–you guessed it–a cache of farmer’s market goodies. Eggplant, bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, garlic, oregano, basil cooked in a rich tomato sauce. The result is an intensely flavorful sauce that is absolutely incredible on a good, thick baguette with some melty cheese. Mmmm! And oh? If you encounter any doubters when making this recipe, the smell alone should be enough to sway them. :)
Truthfully I hadn’t ever heard of eggplant caponata before finding this recipe, but it sounded kind of Italian sooo I put my librarian hat on and found out it’s a traditional Sicilian dish. It’s always made with eggplant and usually is made with a sweet and sour sauce seasoned with vinegar and olives or capers. You can serve the caponata on bread like I did, or over pasta. This made a huge batch so I served some sandwich-style, more over pasta, and some actually over rice. We eat a lot of rice in this house so it was a natural choice.
I’m not really the meatball sub type, but honestly, this reminded me of a vegetarian meatball sub. It’s hearty and tomato-y, with lots of great flavors and a hearty texture. This is definitely a great meatless dish to try if you like eggplant, or even if you want to introduce it to your family. I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed this saucy goodness [and#thatmeltycheese] for dinner for dayyys on end. I know you’ll <3 it too!
one year ago: Baked Cauli-Tots
two years ago: Quinoa Black Bean Burritos with Southwest Sauce
three years ago: Summery Squash and Chicken Lasagna
four years ago: Watermelon Coolers
five years ago: Tomato Pie
Eggplant Caponata Sandwiches
from The Sweets Life
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed – about 4 cups
- 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 ounces white mushrooms, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup black olives, pitted and sliced
- 1 – 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- baguette, sliced into small pieces, to serve
- shredded mozzarella, to serve
- fresh basil, to serve
Heat oil in a large pot set over medium heat. When hot, add eggplant, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 10-12 minutes, until veggies are soft.
Stir in olives, tomato paste, red wine vinegar, sugar, and oregano. Taste and season again as desired. Reduce heat to low, then cover and cook for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, adding a little water [1-2 tablespoons] if mixture gets too thick or sticks to the bottom of the pan.
Allow caponata to cool for about 20 minutes, then spoon onto slices of baguette, top with mozzarella, and broil until cheese melts. Top with basil and serve immediately. Caponata also freezes well, or can be served over rice or pasta.
Take zucchini muffins up a notch with some sweet bits of apple and crunchy walnuts. You’ll always be coming back for just one more muffin, I promise.
This month for Secret Recipe Club I was assigned Chelsy’s blog, Mangia. Mangia means “eat” in Italian and boy does Chelsy make some good things to eat! She lives in Texas where she is a personal trainer, prefers pjs/workout clothes to jeans [ME TOO!], and loves sharing her food with family and friends. Fun fact: Chelsy started her blog in July 2010 just like me. We’re practically twins. :) Since she’s been blogging for SOOOO long, there were so many great recipes to choose from. Eventually I settled on these muffins but first I was sidetracked by other deliciousness–Tahini Chickpea Salad, Ultimate Mushroom Soup, Lemon Sweet Potato Muffins, and Toasted Coconut Espresso Mini Muffins. NOM! I’m going to have to try allll those recipes, asap.
But in the meantime, I’ll be over here munching on these Zucchini Apple Walnut Muffins. They are amazing, you guys! Where do I start? For one, like most muffins I make, they’re really fairly healthy and as such, a great snack or breakfast [though let’s be real: one muffin is not my idea of a filling breakfast, but I digress]. Agave is the only added sweetener in these muffins. I have mixed feelings about agave, so you could always use honey if you prefer. I just had a bottle that I’m trying to use up! :/ They’re also made with white whole wheat flour, coconut oil, and walnuts for some crunch! I’m normally not a fan of nuts in baked goods, but they work here for sure!
Zucchini and apple combine to make a super moist, super flavorful, super delicious muffin. Though they don’t really need anything else to make them yummy [besides the aforementioned walnuts], some pumpkin pie spice [because I can’t wait for pumpkin season and didn’t want to use just cinnamon] and coconut emulsion really spiced these babies up a notch! Speaking of babies, I made them over the weekend when my mom, sister, brother-in-law, and my cute nephew were here. Let me just say everyone inhaled these. So they’re family approved and ready for making in your kitchen! :) Enjoy!
P.S. I forgot to mention that Chelsy’s original recipe used coconut flour and as such, are gluten free. I just used ingredients I had but check out her original recipe if GF is your thing!
Zucchini Apple Walnut Muffins
adapted from Mangia
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour [240 grams in weight]
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice –> or an equivalent amount of cinnamon with a bit of nutmeg would work too
- ~2 cups grated zucchini, with water gently squeezed out in a dishcloth –> from 2 small/medium zucchinis
- 1 large Granny Smith apple, diced
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup agave nectar
- 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1 teaspoon coconut emulsion/flavoring/extract –> I’ve seen it sold all three ways
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or grease with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and pumpkin pie spice. In a medium bowl, whisk together zucchini, apple, eggs, agave, oil, and coconut emulsion. Gently add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, then stir until just combined. Fold in walnuts.
Divide batter between muffin cups, filling 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Enjoy immediately, or cool on a wire rack for later. Muffins freeze well!
Check out the other SRC recipes below!
This pasta is creamy and cheesy, and full of lots of summer veggies. What’s not to love?!?
Ahhh, pasta. If you’re like me, you probably have it at least once a week in some form or another. No matter how you fix it, pasta is always a vehicle for something delicious. Though baked pastas are my FAVE, in the summer, sometimes that’s too much. So this time, I threw in everything from my local farmer’s market and called it a day. I think the combo of mushrooms, red and yellow bell peppers, zucchini, and corn was perfect. I thought about just tossing the veggies with an olive oil or butter-based sauce, but instead decided to try for a lighter creamy sauce. After cooking the veggies, I tossed in some flour and added some milk. After letting it cook down, I added cheese and herbs. I truly wasn’t sure how it would go, and was so happy with the results! In a word, or three… Flavorful, refreshing, and satisfying. Mmm!
I absolutely inhaled this colorful and light pasta! It’s cheesy and creamy and super wonderful. Unlike some saucy pasta dishes, this one reheated well which was a pleasant surprise. You better believe I hoarded the leftovers and will be making this again soon. :) Enjoy!
one year ago: Chocolate Cream Filled Cupcakes
two years ago: Double Chocolate Banana Muffins
three years ago: Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
four years ago: Salmon with Lemon, Tarragon, and Garlic Sauce
Cheesy Veggie Pasta
- 12 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 4 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1/2 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 medium zucchini, sliced
- 1/2 cup corn, cut off the cob
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup fresh herbs – I used dill, basil, lemon thyme, and a tiny bit of mint
- 3 ounces shredded mozzarella
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add pasta. Cook to al dente according to package directions.
In a large skillet, heat butter or olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, and corn. Season with pepper and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds until fragrant. Sprinkle flour over veggies and stir to coat. Pour in milk and stir. Constantly stir, cooking until thick–about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
When pasta is cooked, fold pasta into sauce. Sprinkle with herbs and mozzarella. Stir until cheese melts, then season with pepper to taste.
Serve immediately, or toss in an oven safe baking dish and cook until cheese on top crisps up. I think some bread crumbs mixed with butter and lemon zest on top could be magnificent too!
Week of August 10
Monday: leftovers –> Mexican chicken rice casserole from the weekend. yum!
Tuesday: grilled cheese & tomato soup –> Ben’s request!
Wednesday: breakfast sandwiches with egg and bacon
Thursday: pinto bean & kale burritos
Friday: this awesome chicken curry!
Saturday: grilling out
Sunday: out to eat