Joy Ballard is determined to keep her promise to her late father that she would take over his cooking show when he died. So here she is, hosting “Dining with Joy,” which has gained an impressive fan base on a regionally syndicated television station over the last three years. However, even though she’s a natural entertainer --- Joy is funny and the camera loves her --- she can’t cook her way out of a box. But the public adores her, and she has a personal assistant to do the actual cooking. As long as she keeps the rider in her contract that states “no live cook-offs,” she’ll be fine.
Except for one small problem. As a Christian, Joy knows she can’t continue lying and is feeling more and more convicted of her questionable moral behavior. When her show is sold to another producer, she has the perfect chance to confess, but every time she tries, something prevents her from coming clean. Meanwhile, Joy can’t help feeling that the Bible verse “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me” (John 4:34) holds some significance for her, although she can’t quite figure out what it is.
Chef Luke Redmond recently lost his restaurant and now works as a cook at a local café. He’s challenged to a cook-off by Joy’s rival, Wenda Devine, who ends up tricking Joy into taking Luke’s place as her competitor. Luke sees Joy’s frazzled state and steps in to help. When she shocks him with an impromptu kiss on national television, sparks fly. Joy’s new producer jumps on the opportunity and arranges for Luke to become her co-host on a major cable network. Luke and Joy couldn’t be more different, but their chemistry is undeniable, and they couldn’t be a better professional team. Luke’s skill makes up for his discomfort in front of the camera, and Joy’s star quality more than covers her lack of cooking ability.
Both Luke and Joy spend much of their time resisting their attraction towards one another, and the romantic tension heats up. For as long as she can, Joy hides her secret from Luke, but eventually he catches on. Instead of getting angry, as she expects, he sympathizes and tries to help her learn the ABCs of cooking, despite her insistence that she is hopelessly unteachable. It’s just a matter of time before Joy is exposed as a fraud, and when it happens, she finally learns the meaning of the Bible verse she’s been holding onto. As a result, she discovers that she may have misjudged God’s will for her life.
DINING WITH JOY contains lots of sweet parts and southern charm. Rachel Hauck’s writing style is smooth and descriptive, but honestly it took me about 100 pages to really get into the story. The more I read, though, the more invested I became in the characters. One thing that bothered me was Joy’s inability to understand even the simplest cooking fundamentals. For example, even though she’s always been around cooking and had her own show for three years, when making chili at a cook-off, she doesn’t know to brown the hamburger first. While it’s understandable for her to get flustered under pressure, this seems a little unbelievable.
On the other hand, what stands out are the underlying elements of this story, such as Joy coming to terms with her late father’s love for her, her insecurity issues, and her relationship with her mother and two nieces her brother and sister-in-law leave behind as they gallivant off to Vegas to pursue their careers. The scenes with her nieces --- rebellious Lyric and peace-making Annie --- are particularly refreshing and heartwarming. This subplot definitely requires a few tissues, especially as the story comes to a close.
DINING WITH JOY is the third book in Rachel Hauck’s Lowcountry Romance series, but reads as a stand-alone. I haven’t read either of the first two books, but I’m feeling inclined to check them out. This installment may lack just a couple of the ingredients to make up a truly compelling romance, but overall it’s a pretty tasty read.
Reviewed by Lynda Schab on November 13, 2011