Book Review: The Mark of the King

Read on to learn more about The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green. I hope you’ll read this book soon–it is amazing!

Read on to learn more about The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green.

A description of the book from the publisher:

After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.

When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne’s brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?

With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king’s mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption.

As usual, my five point review:

  • The characters in this book were stunning. No one was uni-dimensional, and no matter whether you loved or hated someone, their character and role in the story truly made a difference to the plot and outcome of the story. I am still torn as to whether Julianne or Marc-Paul was my favorite character, but no matter… their (surprising) romance was the highlight of this book.
  • Even though I do consider the highlight of this book to be the romance between Julianne and Marc-Paul, it was not overbearing, lovey-dovey, or predictable. Lots of twists and turns influenced their relationship at many different points… and they almost didn’t make it (in more ways than one). I love that sort of romance. It’s so real! But it would not have been possible without the grace both show towards the other, and to the people around them dealing with very hard circumstances.
  • Though the characters are influenced by Christianity, this book absolutely does not “feel” like a Christian romance novel AT. ALL. No lightly disguised evangelism here, and that’s not a criticism at all. The discussion of faith was very natural and at times, ambiguous. Real characters, real faith.
  • The writing was excellent. The novel was divided into three parts, each with a shocking twist. I managed to read this (a print copy) in less than two weeks, which is a recent record since it’s hard to read a print book with a baby in tow most days. I do most reading on my phone or Kindle these days, so you know that this must have been good!
  • 1720s Louisiana truly came alive in Jocelyn Green’s The Mark of the King. This is an often-forgotten time period of American history, something Green mentions in her readers’ notes. As such, I imagine researching this era took a great deal of grit and determination. Reading about everything from the abysmal living conditions to the devastating hurricane that ended up shaping the French Quarter of New Orleans was heartbreaking… and fascinating. I’ve said it before, but reading fiction is the best way to turn someone into a history lover, and this book is no different. I highly recommend it!

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!

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A Night in Spain: A Review of CourseHorse and Dabble Studio

Disclosure: We received complementary tickets for this cooking class from CourseHorse. However, I was not required to write a positive review and was not compensated in any other way. The thoughts expressed below are entirely my own. Thanks to CourseHorse and Dabble Studio for a great date night!

A Night in Spain: A Review of CourseHorse and Dabble Studio

Recently Ben and I had one of the BEST dates we’ve ever been on. It’s hard to judge and rank dates, so my verdict might be influenced by the fact that date nights have been in short supply since a cute little baby entered our lives last May. Haha. But anyways, recently, we were able to check out a local cooking class at Dabble Studio, located near the Sounds Stadium in Nashville.

Date night!! A Night in Spain with @dabblestudiotn! #datenight #cookingclass #babyathome🍴💃🏻👩🏼‍🍳

A post shared by Sarah K. // The Pajama Chef (@thepajamachef) on

You guys, we had SO MUCH fun! I’ve never been that interested in cooking classes, to be honest, because I like to think I know how to cook pretty well. #truth But I had a little change of heart when I was contacted by CourseHorse, a website to help you find and compare a variety of classes, workshops, and tours in cities across the country. Helllloooooo date night! Now, I’m hooked and want to take so many more cooking classes!

CourseHorse’s official launch in Nashville is later this year, and it was fun to try their service a little early. They offer everything from food tours to cooking classes in Nashville, and I expect will eventually expand to other workshops and fun stuff too. Ben and I chose to attend A Night in Spain – Paella and Sangria, and you guys… it was SO DELICIOUS.

A Night in Spain: A Review of CourseHorse and Dabble Studio

Jamie was our host/instructor. She owns Dabble Studio with her parents, and their story is so fun. Jamie went to cooking school in NYC as a career change move from her corporate job, then convinced her parents to open a business to allow people to “dabble” in all sorts of fun! Coincidentally… or not, this fun aligns with the family’s passions–and each area allows someone to shine! From food tours to painting classes to cooking classes, Dabble does it all. We loved how friendly and accommodating Jamie was. She did a great job at making everyone in our class feel comfortable and confident in the kitchen.  I also loved the cooking tips she peppered in throughout the evening–how to cut an onion, seasoning tips, how to use a mandoline cutter, etc. as well as restaurant recommendations for Nashville.

A Night in Spain: A Review of CourseHorse and Dabble Studio

Even though it was an interactive event with a large group of strangers, it still was a fun date night. Maybe not a fun first date though, haha. There was a good mix of couples and groups of friends of all ages, including a few repeat customers. So grab some gal pals for a night like this–it’ll be a blast!

A Night in Spain: A Review of CourseHorse and Dabble Studio

Our menu for the evening included: a fabulous cheese and charcuterie plate, a delicious salad made by Jamie that included Spanish Anchovy, Fennel and Preserved Lemon, Spanish Potato Omelet, Spanish Paella, and Red Sangria. So much good stuff!! Everything was so fresh and flavorful. The portions were also huge and Jamie was thoughtful enough to provide boxes for leftovers so nothing went to waste.

A Night in Spain: A Review of CourseHorse and Dabble Studio

We cooked the omelet and paella ourselves, and were even given copies of the recipes to take home to make again. Despite the fact that we all initially found these recipes complicated to make, the step by step instructions and demos made these dishes accessible for even the newest cooks. I think we’re on the market for our own mandoline so we can make this amazing omelet (above) sometime soon! But it will be sad to have to do all the clean up ourselves afterwards, haha.

A Night in Spain: A Review of CourseHorse and Dabble Studio

So, to sum it up… if you’re looking for a fun date night/girls’ night, do check out a cooking class (especially at Dabble Studio in Nashville, or with a trusted partner of CourseHorse elsewhere in the country)… even if you already know how to cook. You’ll have fun, I guarantee it! 🙂

You can find Dabble Studio on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook,  Trip Advisor, and Yelp. Connect with CourseHorse on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook too.

Book Review: Her One and Only

Another book review! It’s been awhile but I have a whole slew of book reviews to share with you in the coming weeks. And we’re going to start with Becky Wade’s Her One and Only. This is the last in the Porter Family series. You can read my reviews for the rest of the series here. Spoiler alert: Becky Wade is a fabulous author. You won’t be disappointed!

Becky Wade's Her One and Only - a book review on The Pajama Chef

A description of the book from the publisher:

Gray Fowler, star NFL tight end, is being pursued by a stalker, so his team hires a protection agency to keep Gray under the watch of a bodyguard at all times. When Gray meets Dru Porter, an agent assigned to him, he’s indignant. How can an attractive young female half his size possibly protect him?

But Dru’s a former Marine, an expert markswoman, and a black belt. She’s also ferociously determined to uncover the identity of Gray’s stalker. And she’s just as determined to avoid any kind of romantic attachment between herself and the rugged football player with the mysterious past. But the closer they get to finding the stalker, the closer they grow to each other. As the danger rises, can Dru and Gray entrust their hearts–and their lives–to one another?

As usual, my five point review:

  • I’ll start off with the good… Becky Wade’s writing, as usual, was flawless. I love her character development, easy pacing, and descriptiveness. She is so good at putting her readers right in the action and also organically blending in the characters’ faith. Sometimes contemporary fiction can come across as awkward because authors try to make things too relevant, and that’s just not possible when you consider things like current events and technology… but I think she does a great job balancing things. Christian fiction is also hard because it can vacillate between having too much God talk and having just a bit thrown in. But this author is great at authenticity and incorporating faith naturally. I have said it before and will say it again–even those who do not like Christian fiction will like this book! It’s not “normal” Christian fiction–yay!
  • And then I’ll move to the bad. Unlike the other books in this series, I wasn’t pulled in right away to the plot. It was a slow start. In my opinion, the characters just weren’t as likable from the beginning, and maybe the football aspect was off-putting to me. Once I got going though, I wanted to know what would happen with Dru and Gray. Their romance, their safety, their past, their future. Dru’s strong personality is inspiring and Gray softens over time too.
  • But that’s really all the bad! Promise. I appreciated how Becky Wade incorporated suspense and romance into one novel, introducing lots of new characters but also seamlessly blending in the rest of the Porter family’s tales into this book. There was heartache and joy and goodness… just what you would expect from this likable family!
  • Ending a series well is tough, and I think that this series DID end well so I was pleasantly surprised. I liked the ending and was glad that the series was only four books long. Sometimes, a series can drag on forever, and this felt like the perfect length. Way to go, Becky! 🙂
  • Overall, this is a great read for new and old fans of the Porter Family. It’s probably a book mostly women would enjoy but the football element makes this a book my husband would even enjoy too! Two thumbs up. 🙂

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!

Book Review: The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers

Now that #BabyVolde has been eating solids for about a month, this is the perfect time to share my review of the book The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers by Anthony Porto, MD and Dina DiMaggio, MD. I received a complementary copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

A book review about a topic that is recently near & dear to my heart... how to feed my baby!

A description of the book from the publisher:

A comprehensive manual for feeding babies and toddlers during the crucial first years of life, written by a team of medical experts who are also parents.

All Your Questions about Feeding, Answered.

The choices of when, how, and what to feed your baby can be overwhelming. With The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers, you have the expertise of a team of pediatric medical and nutritional experts—who also happen to be parents—in a comprehensive manual that takes the guesswork out of feeding. This first-of-its-kind guide provides practical, easy-to-follow advice to help you navigate the nutrition issues, medical conditions, and parenting concerns that accompany feeding. With recipes, parenting stories, and recommendations based on the latest pediatric guidelines, this book will allow you to approach mealtime with confidence so you can spend more time enjoying your new family.

#BabyVolde making short work of some butternut squash!
As usual, my five point review:

  • From the first time I opened this book, the format drew me in. Each chapter discusses a specific age group: 0-3 months, 4-6 months, etc. And, the chapters are broken up by sub-headings in the table of contents so it is REALLY easy to find what you need. Topics include developmental milestones, medical concerns, and nutritional needs… as well as healthy recipes for you and your baby/toddler [once they are in the solid food stage, that is]. I also appreciated the length of the book: at 256 pages long, it’s a good size to share a lot of information but it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
  • My overall favorite part of the book was the perspective from which it was written: a team of pediatricians, a dietitian, a lactation consultant, and two family chefs who all happen to be parents. The result is a wonderful evidence-based yet realistic perspective about how you can feed your child at different stages AND how to deal with tricky situations like picky eating. You can read more about their goals here. As a librarian and a new mom, the evidence-based perspective was particularly important to me. There’s so much information available online that it can be hard to sift through, and this book took care of some of the legwork for me. I haven’t read it cover-to-cover [and it’s not really a book that you would do that with, anyway] but so far it is pretty unbiased especially about hot button issues like breastfeeding vs. formula feeding or when to start solids. I’m breastfeeding my baby, and didn’t start solids until he turned six months old but even if your baby eats formula and started solids at four months, this book will still be useful because it is not biased or judgy.
  • Also, the book is such an easy read, even if the medical field is unfamiliar and/or scary to you. There isn’t any medical jargon or technical details, and there is even a section about what to expect if you have to visit a specialist and how to prepare for that visit. Including details like that makes the book even more accessible and useful. I also appreciated the section on food allergies: what reactions to look for, what to do if a reaction DOES take place, etc. Calmed my nerves before giving my baby his first taste of solid food: sweet potatoes!
  • The recipes are simple and use real ingredients–I appreciate that so much and think other busy parents will too. I’ve only tried one recipe so far–the zucarrot puree [zucchini + carrots, roasted and pureed] but look forward to trying more as #BabyVolde expands his food horizons. 🙂 Right now, aside from his favorite mama milk, he eats: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, avocado, zucchini, carrots, oatmeal, some herbs and spices, and on Thanksgiving he tried turkey! While I know I can’t control whether my son will become a healthy, adventurous eater or not, I can introduce him to a variety of real foods to encourage him towards that end as much as possible. Some of the recipes for older babies/toddlers may seem a little too “adult” for them, but I think it’s always worth a shot introducing new foods to kids. If all we give kids is chicken nuggets, that’s all they will know and want. Some of you experienced parents might be laughing at me [and maybe I will laugh at myself in the future too], but I am pretty set on this. And I’m not going to be a short order cook, so this baby better learn to like a variety of foods. Ha! 🙂 Just kidding, but really…
  • Overall, this book is a great addition to any baby book and/or cookbook libraries. It includes a wide variety of information on nutritional needs, child development, as well as providing easy recipes that are realistic for busy parents to make for their kiddos. Since I love food and cooking so much, and value healthy eating for myself and my family, I want my son to grow up with that mindset as well. This book will surely help in that quest! I definitely recommend it to anyone who has or works with babies and toddlers.

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

Book Review: Kitchen Matrix

Check out one of Mark Bittman’s latest cookbooks, Kitchen Matrix. It’s a great visual cookbook that fans of Bittman will enjoy.

Check out one of Mark Bittman's latest cookbooks, Kitchen Matrix. It's a great visual cookbook that fans of Bittman will enjoy.

A description of the book from the publisher:

Bestselling author Mark Bittman anthologizes his popular Matrix series in a boldly graphic new cookbook that emphasizes creativity, improvisation, and simplicity as the keys to varied cooking.

For years, Mark Bittman has shared his formulas, recipes, and kitchen improvisations in his popular New York Times Eat column, in which an ingredient or essential technique is presented in different variations in a bold matrix. Accompanied by striking photographs and brief, straightforward instructions, these thematic matrices show how simple changes in preparation and ingredient swaps in a master recipe can yield dishes that are each completely different from the original, and equally delicious. In Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix, Mark’s matrices come together to create a collection of over 400 flexible recipes covering vegetables, fruits, meats and chicken, and even desserts. Whether you’re cooking up soup (creamy, brothy, earthy, or hearty), freezing ice pops (in fruity, savory, creamy, or boozy varieties), or preparing asparagus (steamed, roasted, stir-fried, or grilled), following Mark’s approach to culinary improvisation will deliver stand-out results.

As usual, my five point review:

  • I have been a fan of Mark Bittman for awhile. I enjoyed his column in The New York Times, and of course his How to Cook Everything series is great. His views [along with Michael Pollan’s] on the American diet, processed food, and cooking have shaped my food philosophy quite a bit over the past seven years. I like Bittman’s approachable style, and the flexibility he gives to home cooks. For those of you not familiar with his cookbooks, they are recipes that contain lots of suggestions [i.e. for this rice dish, use these ingredients to make it Asian style, these to make it Italian, etc.]. I know newer cooks [or those who don’t like to be told what to do] really benefit from that approach. Kitchen Matrix is no different.
  • Kitchen Matrix is only about 300 pages long, but it has over 700 simple recipes in it that everyone, no matter their food style [paleo, omnivore, vegetarian, etc.] will love. Wow! The size, like all his cookbooks, is a little overwhelming but he breaks down the categories of recipes well–appetizers, vegetables, meat, fruit, etc. In many ways, this could be a replacement “bridal shower” cookbook for creative types instead of the typical Betty Crocker title.
  • This cookbook is by far the prettiest of any of his books. It looks more like a blog than a cookbook, with tons of full color illustrations, recipes, and commentary. It is so fun to just look at, even if you don’t plan to cook anything! You also can learn quite a bit about flavor pairings, ingredients, and basic cooking skills within this book as well. Bittman generally provides flavor profiles beyond just the “American” palate, including profile options for Mediterranean, East Asian, South Asian, and Latin American cuisine.
  • The layout of Kitchen Matrix does take some getting used to. Pages are oriented both ways [left to right and top to bottom]. Some recipes aren’t given in typical recipe format, but rather in paragraphs. But neither of these elements are deal breakers for me!
  • Overall, this is a great cookbook. I pull it out when I want to get creative in the kitchen, or when I have basic ingredients on hand and don’t know what I should make for dinner or for a side dish. For me, it’s not the best cookbook to go to when I don’t have any inspiration at all because it definitely is a bit open ended, but it’s a fun cookbook to have on hand.

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