published by Berkley in July 2012
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.Genre: Chick-lit, Women's Fiction, contemporary
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...
Ames: Nath, thank you for bringing this book to my attention in our July New Releases post. :P This never would have made it onto my radar otherwise and I’m so glad I read this book, I really enjoyed it!
First things first, I want to make a small note to potential readers out there. The blurb kind of insinuates that Alana’s boss, Patrick, is jealous of her new man, and I misread that to be in a romantic way. So in case you get the same idea, that’s not the case. This is not a love triangle where her boss suddenly makes a play for Alana’s affections because there’s another man in the picture. Patrick is jealous, but because he’s no longer the centre of Alana’s world. So just wanted to get that out there. LOL
So Nath, what did you think of the book?
Nath: No problem, Ames :) The blurb just caught my attention and I was happy to share. From the blurb, I too thought Patrick was jealous in a romantic way... and while I’ve never been a fan of love triangle, I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t so. For the rest though, the blurb was pretty spot on :)
Overall, I enjoyed Off the Menu. I thought it was a solid book with a great heroine. I really liked Alana because she felt so real - I think a lot of readers will connect with her. I also liked the fact that she knew what she wanted in life and was happy with her life: a good relationship with her family, working in a field she loves and with an adorable dog to keep her company. I thought it was refreshing that she wasn’t desperate for a man and wasn’t pressed by her biological clock ^_^; Not that I don’t understand, but I don’t think everyone heroine should be that way...
Ames: I am definitely one of those readers that connected with Alana. Even her food dislikes! I read that and my jaw dropped. LOL But I think that’s why I enjoyed this book so much, Alana was such a great character. She had a fulfilling life, a wonderful dog, a great job and the most wonderful circle of family and friends. Those secondary characters really made this book for me.
I like how her and RJ met and his story about why he was on the dating site and how they both waited for free weekends to see who their matches were. I don’t know, everything about the story felt real - like Alana could have been a real woman and I would have loved to be her friend. It just clicked with me.
Nath: Nod nod, as I said, a lot of readers are going to connect with her :)
I enjoyed Alana and RJ’s romance. I liked that it was low-key with very few conflicts. Once again, this aspect of the book felt real. I loved how RJ was understanding as well, he and Alana really complemented each other. I do think it progressed a bit fast, but that’s because of the timeline.
It was also fun to see the two men in Alana’s life - her boss Patrick and dog, Dumpling - become jealous of RJ LOL. I liked Alana’s friendship with Patrick, even if it was a bit dysfunctional :) And Dumpling was simply adorable!
Ames: I loved her relationship with RJ! What got me was the communication. A relationship started with emails is of course going to have great communication but I like how they kept it up after they met. And a part of me kept waiting for the other shoe to drop...I didn’t realize I turned into such a cynic! But RJ was great and I liked the timeline. They both knew what they wanted and they went for it.
I loved how Patrick and Dumpling were both jealous. Dumpling, I can believe the way he was. LOL Animals can be little stinkers when it comes to the person they love. I know Max didn’t like the guys I dated. hehe And the description of Dumpling’s parts and pieces. He was such a Heinz 57 of a dog, I loved it.
Patrick - again, I thought the blurb meant he was jealous romantically. But Patrick was jealous just because he’s selfish and Alana made his life a lot easier. I like the descriptions of how they worked together, how they began work together and when Patrick pulled his jerk move there, I like how Alana laid down the law, and that RJ backed her up.
Another thing, this is a book about culinary people. But I never felt that the food aspects took over. Sometimes I feel an author can get too descriptive in what the characters are cooking, but Ballis did a good job of reining it in and keeping everything relevant.
Nath: I think in that aspect, Ms Ballis did a great job at keeping things balanced. The foodie aspect did not take over the book, but was enough to make us drool; the romance was just perfect and complemented the story which was all about Alana :)
And it’s not that you’re a cynic, it’s just that you were looking for conflict. It’s nice to read a romance like the one in Off the Menu from time to time where everything goes well... but we all know we’d get bored of it if all the books were that way :P
I thought Patrick was really an interesting character and I’d be worried too if I was him to lose Alana, the one person that put up with his crap. I liked the way how Patrick was part of Alana’s family and how he and Dumpling got along LOL.
One more thing that I liked in Off the Menu was the ending, how Maria showed Alana that life is not “or” but can be “and.” She was so focused on making choices that she forgot she could compromise... and I think that’s a great lesson for us :P
I know you loved this book, Ames, and I really went into Off the Menu hoping it’d be the same for me. Overall, I thought Off the Menu was a good, solid book with great writing and really good characters. I really enjoyed the “real” aspect of the book... However, at the end of the day, it didn’t suck me in, it didn’t grab me wholeheartedly... and that’s why I’m giving it a B :)
Ames: Just a B? I’m giving Off the Menu an A-! I really enjoyed almost everything about it and I thought it was a great read. I thought it was refreshing to read about two people who actually communicated with each other. Alana and RJ were great. And all those secondary characters were icing on the cake of fabulousness. LOL
Nath: LOL, reading your description, I feel I should give it a higher grade... But after closing the book, it felt like a B for me, a very strong, solid B :P Just a matter of connection, which could be due to me being tired and jet-lagged ^_^: