Dining with Joy

Dining with Joy by Rachel Hauck
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Number of pages: 320
My copy: Kindle edition

Joy Ballard has a secret: she’s a cooking show host who can’t really cook.

When her South Carolina-based cooking show, Dining With Joy, is picked up by a major network, Joy Ballard’s world heats up like a lowcountry boil.

Joy needs help. Then she meets chef Luke Davis who moved to Beaufort after losing his Manhattan restaurant. A cook at the Frogmore Cafe, he’s paying debts and longing to regain his reputation in the elite foodie world.

Luke and Joy mix like oil and water…until Joy is exposed on national television. With her career and his reputation both under fire, they’ll have to work together to fix the mess. Is it possible that they can learn to feast on God’s love and dine with joy?

* * *

I had a realization when I was reading this book: I like foodie books. I don’t mean books about food like cookbooks or anything that talks about food. I mean fiction with food as one of its major elements. I’ve read two in the past year (The Crepe Makers’ Bond and Always the Baker, Never the Bride) and although I was pretty lukewarm about them, I enjoyed the cooking aspect of both books and how food played a part in the story.

Dining with Joy by Rachel Hauck is no different. I enjoyed reading her two other Lowcountry romances, Sweet Caroline and Love Starts with Elle, so I was thrilled to find out that she wrote another one that was set in Beaufort. I was excited to find out Joy’s story, and see the old characters in the previous novels pop up every now and then in the book.

Joy is a paradox: she’s a cooking show host who can’t cook. It’s a weird thing, but she’s pulled it off for three seasons, ever since she’s taken over her dad’s show after he passed away. The combination of good editing, a supportive staff in on her secret and lots of humor and entertainment from Joy that she has survived for three seasons, but after her producer sold off the show to a bigger network, things are bound to change. Then Joy meets Luke Redmond, the new assistant chef at the Frogmore Cafe, who becomes her co-host, and she sees him as a way out. But as she prepares for the fourth season of Dining with Joy and she gets closer to Luke, Joy digs a deeper and deeper hole for herself and it seems like it would take a miracle — or at least, something divine to get her out of it.

Dining with Joy carries the same sweetness and charm that the first two Lowcountry romances did. I love reading about Beaufort and their little idiosyncrasies. I love the seemingly relaxed nature that everyone has, how everyone’s about sweet tea, or food, or Bubba’s biscuits from the Frogmore Cafe. I love how close-knit the community seems, and it reminds me a bit of our own neighborhood, particularly our street. It’s one of those settings that you wouldn’t mind visiting over and over again, not because it is really that interesting but because it’s very peaceful.

Joy is definitely a different character from her friends Caroline and Elle. Whereas Caroline seems soft-spoken and Elle is gentle, Joy is feisty and stubborn, borne out of a seemingly absent father. Joy is strong and independent, which is needed especially since she’s works in the show business. However, her pride became her weakness especially when she decided to work things out on her own, particularly with her secret and her growing affections to Luke Redmond. Luke, on the other hand, carried almost the same characteristics as the other heroes in the other books, Mitch and Heath. In a way, he almost seems too perfect, but I liked how the author still gave him some flaws.

Out of all three books, this seemed like the book that had less “God” moments, but I think it also contained the best nugget of God-wisdom of all: God is good and God is love. I do wish that message was given more focus. Dining with Joy felt like it had too many things going on at once that some of them ran together too much and it didn’t give as big as an impact as it should have. At times the story seemed too slow, although things did wrap up nicely in the end.

This is probably the best “foodie” novel I’ve read so far this year, but compared to the two other Lowcountry Romances, I liked the other two better than this one. Nevertheless, Rachel Hauck did a great job with Dining with Joy, and I cannot wait to try to recipes at the end of the book. :) Banana bread, anyone?

Rating: [rating=3]

My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle store

Cover and blurb: Goodreads

You may also want to read:
Review of Sweet Caroline
Review of Love Starts with Elle

Other reviews:
Along the Way
Cleverly Changing
Peeking Between the Pages
Kate Blackham Editorial Services

The Elle Word

Love Starts With Elle by Rachel HauckLove Starts with Elle by Rachel Hauck
Thomas Nelson, 320 pages

Elle’s living the dream-but is it her dream or his?

Elle loves life in Beaufort, South Carolina-lazy summer days on the sand bar, coastal bonfires, and dinners with friends sharing a lifetime of memories. And she’s found her niche as the owner of a successful art gallery too. Life is good.

Then the dynamic pastor of her small town church sweeps her off her feet. She’s never known a man like Jeremiah-one who breathes in confidence and exhales all doubt. When he proposes in the setting sunlight, Elle hands him her heart on a silver platter.

But Jeremiah’s just accepted a large pastorate in a different state. If she’s serious about their relationship, Elle will take “the call,” too, leaving behind the people and place she loves so dearly. Elle’s friendship with her new tenant, widower Heath McCord, and his young daughter make things even more complicated.

Is love transferable across the miles? And can you take it with you when you go?

A week ago, some colleagues and I were discussing relationships and romance, and how one must go in choosing a mate. Perhaps “choosing a mate” is not the proper phrase to use (frankly it sounds a bit too bestial for me), but the discussion was about how the other person can be qualified as a potential guy or girl or will they be cast off into the friend zone. It was quite an interesting discussion, and I was surprised at how some of the guys told me that I needed to find someone who I don’t share too many common interests with but someone who is my opposite — someone who complements me, to use their term. That kind of got me confused. I mean, I know people say “Opposites attract” but if you have no common ground, how will you even start talking? Isn’t having something in common — even a little — a prerequisite in building good relationships?

It’s timely that I started reading Love Starts With Elle by Rachel Hauck as I semi-wrestled with these questions. We first meet Elle Garvey in Sweet Caroline, as one of Caroline’s best friends and someone who could not wait to get married. She was so set to find a man in Beaufort that she started Operation Wedding Day in Caroline’s book, where she made a list of men that are qualified for her husband standards and set off to date them, only to find herself disappointed after kissing and dating many frogs that she hoped would be her prince. We see her at the end of Sweet Caroline done with her Operation Wedding Day and still no groom in sight, and yet she was still somewhat happy at the state of her heart.

We meet Elle again, this time a year after the events of Sweet Caroline, happily managing her own gallery and in love with assistant pastor Jeremiah Franklin for the past two months. Elle is at the peak of her career and life, and there was only one thing that would make her happier — a ring. Jeremiah provided that for her immediately at the start of the story, but not without revealing a catch soon after she gives her yes: they would have to move to Dallas because Jeremiah accepted a pastor job at a big church there. Elle felt torn, and even if there was probably more flowers in Houston TX, she said yes to Jeremiah, all in the name of love (cheesy, but it’s the only way I can describe it).

It’s here we see trouble brewing. Elle tries her best to submit to her husband-to-be’s whims and wishes, but she can’t help but feel stifled with Jeremiah’s passion for ministry and lack of concern for her. Elle loves Jeremiah, but she also loves her life and her dream and her art — one of them will have to give, but which? To make matters even more confusing, Elle becomes friends with her tenant, handsome and gentleman Heath McCord and his daughter, who both just happen to be there when she needed company the most.

Now, there is really nothing new or surprising in this novel, and I think everyone who’s read the blurb will know what will happen in the end. And it is true: there’s really nothing so surprising in how the story unfolded — the storyline is pretty typical. In a way, it reminded me of the local movie Miss You Like Crazy (John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo), with less angst and more chaste.

So why give it a pretty high rating, if the story’s so typical?

Continue Reading →

Sweet Caroline

Sweet Caroline by Rachel Hauck

Sweet Caroline by Rachel Hauck
Thomas Nelson, 320 pages

When a Southern waitress inherits the Lowcountry cafe where she works, she suddenly has to balance more than just her next food order.

Caroline Sweeney has always done the right thing–the responsible, dependable thing–unlike her mother who abandoned her family. But when her best friend challenges her to accept an exciting job adventure in Barcelona, Spain, Caroline says “yes” to destiny.

Then, without warning, ownership of the run-down cafe where she’s been waitressing falls right into Caroline’s lap. While she’s trying to determine the cafe’s future, handsome Deputy Sherriff J.D. Rand captures Caroline’s heart.

But when her first love, Mitch O’Neal, comes back to town, fresh from the heat of his newly-found fame as a country music singer in Nashville, Caroline must make some hard choices about love and the pursuit of the sweet life.

I had reservations with Rachel Hauck’s other novels because my reaction to her first novel, Lost in Nashvegas was just lukewarm. I liked it, but it didn’t amaze me or blow me away and I haven’t picked it up again since I read it the last time. I read Sweet Caroline with low expectations, just so I won’t be disappointed with this buy.

I’m kind of glad that I didn’t have much expectations, because I was really pleasantly surprised by this novel. Sweet Caroline is quite…well, sweet, for the lack of better words. Everything in this novel is just sweet and charming, from Caroline to the Frogmore Cafe staff to the other secondary characters to the town itself. This is one of the few times I really appreciated the setting of a novel, and it’s in a Southern town again. I love the quirkiness of the town, the Frogmore Cafe and everyone else in the story, as it provided me with a very warm feeling, almost like I was one of the Beaufort residents. It was almost like the book was welcoming me into its arms, inviting me to join them in their different town adventures.

Caroline is definitely a character, one I’d love to be friends with myself. In a way, I think a lot of women in their 20’s could relate to her, because I definitely did. She’s far from perfect, and most of the times, she had no idea where to go or what to do. But when extraordinary opportunities come knocking, she felt overwhelmed, and she didn’t know what to do. Don’t we all have that same reaction? Despite her confusion, Caroline chose the smaller thing over the big thing, and she proved to be faithful with that. My favorite part of the novel is when the staff were preparing for Hurricane Howard, and Caroline planned to feed the people of Beaufort for free, knowing that there wouldn’t be enough power to cook their meals in the next day. Caroline’s generosity is something to emulate, and I think she wouldn’t hesitate to give her staff a personalized grilling toolset if they really, really need it.

Caroline has a big heart, one that learned to forgive as she got to know the God of forgiveness. I loved how she came to know God, how she got to know God and how she learned to believe that God loved her so much. It was something out of the ordinary, yes, and I guess some people won’t believe those things happen anymore…but then who knows? I’ve heard more drastic stories, and if God wanted to get someone’s attention, then I bet He’d go all out on it. It almost felt like the words uttered to Caroline were for me — and maybe they were? I’d like to believe that they were lessons for me, too. For example, I could replace Caroline’s name with mine in this line, and relate to it almost 100%:

“You are so blessed, Caroline…I mean this: God is looking out for you.” (p 195)

Despite its sparse prose, the novel was still well-written, and easy to understand. There were no complicated words or long descriptions, and most of the lines were funny and crazy. I especially loved Caroline’s Head and Heart conversations:

Head: Interesting development.
Heart: For once, I agree with you.
Head: What do you think he’s up to? And, we’ve agreed before.
Heart: Do we risk it?
Head: No. Stay in neutral, heart.
Heart: But he’s changed. Really.
Head: Don’t make me come down there. (p.225)

These conversations were just right for Caroline because for other characters, I don’t think it would work. :P

The romance factor is also very, very juicy. This is a little bit of a spoiler, but I can’t not share this:

As the house lights dim for the second half of the performance to begin, Mitch offers his hand. “May I hold your hand, Caroline?”
Gulp. I nod.
His hand is firm and broad; his fingers lock perfectly with mine. “Mitch,” I say, barely above a whisper. “I’m afraid of falling.”
He presses his lips to my ear. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch you.” (p. 235)

I practically swooned when I read that part! :) Heeee. But if you think it will end up the way it seemed from that part…well, there were still more surprises down the end, and those made the novel stand apart from others. It’s not really just a love story between two people. It’s a love story between a woman and her God, and a story of how a woman found herself through the love of Someone who loves her more.

Sweet Caroline is sweet, from the first page up to the last. I laughed, cried, and felt like I lost a friend when I closed the book. Good thing Rachel Hauck gives us another chance to visit Beaufort with a companion novel for Sweet Caroline, Love Starts with Elle. And it’s good that I have a copy of that. :P

I’m glad I read this novel, and I’m glad I gave Rachel Hauck another try. :) Sweet Caroline is a light, thought-provoking read, and in some instances, the title would make you break out into song, too. :)

Rating: [rating=4]

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 58 out of 100 for 2010

My copy: paperback, $5.00 from Amazon

Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads

→ Rachel Hauck’s website