Dining With Joy, by Rachel Hauck

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Description: 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?

Yes, Dining With Joy is a lighthearted and humerous romance, and yes, it's about food which automatically makes it fabulous because I'm a foodie-wanna-be. But this time it's the deeper themes that really stood out. This book came at the right time for me, because I relate to a couple big things about the main characters, Joy and Luke. Both have loving yet imperfect relationships with their parents, and both come face-to-face with their parents' mortality. Joy is close with her Mom and she's struggling to find closure on the troubled relationship she had with her now-deceased Dad. Meanwhile, Luke's Mom passed away years ago, and his Dad faces a serious health crisis. My Dad is somewhere in between, diagnosed with a terminal illness while we've watched bits and pieces of him die for the last six years. The book didn't really delve into the grief I feel for my Dad, but the affection between parents and their grown-up children still seemed quite tender and nicely accented in the story.

But the most palpable struggle in this story, for me, was Joy's haphazard career path which she almost stumbled onto by accident. It wasn't in her plans, but she adapted to it nonetheless. It was originally her Dad's small 'empire' so to speak, but when he suffered a fatal heart attack his dying wish was for Joy to save it. Out of her love for him she sacrificed her dreams and her reputation to keep his wish alive. (I related to this quite a bit, given the dreams I've let go or postponed for the sake of my Dad's well-being.) But time after time Joy is haunted by the disconcerting sense that she's drifting aimlessly in life. (Very much like me.) She's also nagged by periodic reminders of her true passion, which is to write. (Also like me.) But she despairs that at the end of her 20s she's too old to start a new career. (You guessed it.) I began to look forward to the way Ms. Hauck would shape Joy's journey toward a meaningful career, and the ending really did give me a better perspective on my own recent decision to pursue a writing-related path.

On another note, the spiritual themes in the book felt very easy-going, as opposed to Christian novels that are more heavy-handed with these things. But in Dining With Joy there's no force-fed gospel message. Joy is just your average already-Christian girl facing average single-young-woman challenges. The author's expression of her faith feels natural, honest and relaxed, and that's what I hope to find in the Christian fiction I read.

Anyways, there's always more I could say, but these are the things that mattered the most to me personally. I enjoyed Dining With Joy and recommend it to fiction lovers, whether or not you're foodie, or a wanna-be like me. Rating: 4/5

A complimentary copy of "Dining With Joy" was provided to me by Booksneeze as part of the blogger review program. My thanks to Thomas Nelson for giving me this opportunity.