As the executive culinary assistant to celebrity Chicago chef Patrick Conlon, Alana Ostermann works behind the scenes—and that’s just the way she likes it. But with developing recipes for Patrick’s cookbooks, training his sous chefs, picking out the perfect birthday gifts for his ex-mother-in-law, and dealing with the fallout from his romantic escapades, she barely has a personal life, much less time to spend with her combo platter of a mutt, Dumpling.
Then a fluke online connection brings her RJ, a transplant from Tennessee, who adds some Southern spice to her life. Suddenly Alana’s priorities shift, and Patrick—and Dumpling—find themselves facing a rival for her time and affection. With RJ in the mix, and some serious decisions to make about her personal and professional future, Alana must discover the perfect balance of work and play, money and meaning, to bring it all to the table—one delicious dish at a time…
This is not the first Stacey Ballis book that I’ve read and hopefully my reviews have done justice as to how much of a fan I truly am! Not only is she an Illinoisan like myself (and a HUGE Bears fan), but she loves food! She may be able to cook it and write about it much better than I can, but I am really good at eating it! Her books make me hungry, and I absolutely love that she puts recipes that she refers to in the back of them so that no-so-creative people like myself can eat something worthy of being noted in a novel of hers. The Mother-in-Law Maple French Toast Brulee (pg. 351) is on my list of what I need to make!
The first chapter opens with the following:
Through the fog of those last ephemeral floaty moments before I fall into deep sleep, I suddenly feel a stirring in the bed next to me. I smile, knowing that as delicious as sleep is, there is something unbearably wonderful about the need for tenderness and contact. I roll over and let my tired lids open, forcing myself back from the brink of sleep I desperately need, to attend to my sweetheart, who I need more. He looks at me with what can only be described as a perfect combination of love and longing, and tilts his head to one side, dark chocolate eyes sparkling wickedly in the darkness.
*Right- Amazing, I know. I’m sitting her, like “OMG! Who is this stud muffin she gets to share her bed with?” Because anyone who gets a look of adoration and desire just after waking up must have one fine hunk of meat in bed with her….*
“Yes? Can I help you?” I say, my voice slightly roughened with exhaustion.
He lets his head tilt slowly to the other side and he reaches for me with a tentative teasing touch, then stops and just wait.
*I continue melting at this point.*
“You are very demanding, you know that?” I can’t help but laugh.
But what can I do? He is the love of my life. A smile appears on his face and he reaches out again, this time more assuredly, tapping my hand with gentle insistence.
*Such a tease! Wait- taps her hand?!?!?! Dude must have better skills than that…*
“Okay, okay!” I give up. I can deny this boy nothing.
As soon as he hears that word, he pounces, all twenty-six pounds of him landing with a thump on my chest.
This dog will be the end of me.
*Insert actual laugh-out-loud here. So much so that I had to pause and go find my husband to read it to him without gasping for air due to an abundance of laughter.*
My bed is usually full of my husband and myself along with our 50 pound lap dog, Bailey, who is the most vicious pit bull you’ll ever meet. And by vicious, I mean, her kisses will knock you off your feet, and if you think by chance you’ll be sitting on the couch relaxing- you better know that she will be there trying to make herself comfortable without any consideration for whether or not you are.
This is why I love Stacey’s books. This part could be my life! I may not work for a very demanding cook and television star, but I work for a demanding class of students. I didn’t find my latest date online, but Amazon and I have a special relationship. Stacey’s descriptive abilities make her one of the best. I can always find similarities between myself and her characters (even if they are extremely far-fetched), and I feel as if she does such an amazing job introducing us to who they really are. In Chapter 4, she describes Alana’s adventures in ballet as a child- “I spent four months clomping around, spinning the wrong way, endlessly pulling my leotard wedgies out of my little butt, stepping on the teacher’s feet, accidentally kicking the girl in front or back of me, knocking over the portable barres, and, on one memorable occasion, pirouetting with as much force as I could muster and clocking the little princess next to me right in the face.” It takes me back to my days as a young ballerina- though I started at 5 and was kind of good- so that became my life for the next 13 years. These are the kind of things that make me love whatever she writes. Between the hilarious fart stories (pg. 47), references to her favorite pamplemousse (pgs. 49, 74, and more), the amazing friendship between Maria and Alana, the word “fucksnort” (What!?!??! pg. 94), the list of things she won’t eat (pg. 156), the majority of Chapter 22 done in list form as well, but giving reasons in favor of a huge step she is considering (which I won’t ruin for you guys), and a whole crap-ton of little hearts and lols thrown around the entire flipping book, I just love her.
Patrick’s neediness and lack of consideration for any kind of life Alana may like to have is somewhat disgusting and unnerving. Although I feel as if he is so dependent on her because she is his only constant in life, I would have loved to give him a swift kick in the ass… This is what her character development does to you- makes you want to kick fictional people. RJ turned out to be a favorite of mine and seeing the relationship blossom between the two of them was so wonderful. I could relate very much to her attitude at one point- which was pretty much just waiting for the other shoe to drop- but so happy to see her open herself up to new opportunities and love.
If you didn’t heed my warning last time, go out and buy this book. If not this one, any other of hers will do, as you will be satisfied no matter what. You are so very welcome!!!
Get it here at Amazon and Happy Reading!