This one is late, y’all. I have always posted new reviews on Wednesday, largely because that was the day when I didn’t have any other memes going on. But the travel to my parents’ last week, followed by a long-overdue vet visit on the day we got back (more trouble than it should be, but…it kind of is anyway) has pushed all my days back. So, this one is going up on a Friday. It’s still the same week, though, so I consider the streak undamaged.
I had been looking forward to this book for what seems like ever, but my hold at the library was barely moving. Then, I got a new library card (card #17!) and there were several copies there, just waiting for me to find them. It was truly a Hanukkah miracle.
Oy! to the world
Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is a nice Jewish girl with a shameful secret: she loves Christmas. For a decade she’s hidden her career as a Christmas romance novelist from her family. Her talent has made her a bestseller even as her chronic illness has always kept the kind of love she writes about out of reach.
But when her diversity-conscious publisher insists she write a Hanukkah romance, her well of inspiration suddenly runs dry. Hanukkah’s not magical. It’s not merry. It’s not Christmas. Desperate not to lose her contract, Rachel’s determined to find her muse at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah, even if it means working with her summer camp archenemy—Jacob Greenberg.
Though Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since they were kids, their grudge still glows brighter than a menorah. But as they spend more time together, Rachel finds herself drawn to Hanukkah—and Jacob—in a way she never expected. Maybe this holiday of lights will be the spark she needed to set her heart ablaze.
So, I’ve read a lot of romances this year. 60+ as of my most recent count. And there is a sameness to them, at least as far as the basic structure goes. There’s some sort of meet-cute, or in this case, a meet-angry, followed by a slow fall into love, followed by a ridiculous break-up and the inevitable, emotionally satisfying Happy Ending.
This book hit all of the right beats. The leads were childhood sweethearts at a Jewish summer camp. Things ended poorly, and Rachel has felt nothing but animosity ever since, even though she hasn’t seen Jacob since they were twelve.
Rachel is the daughter of a famous Rabbi, and she makes a (very secret) living writing Christmas-themed romance novels. When her publisher asks her to try writing a Hannukah-themed romance instead, she comes up with an idea—she will wrangle an invite to Manhattan’s swankiest Hannukah party—The Matzah Ball. Unfortunately, the person in charge of the ball is her old crush, Jacob.
And hilarity ensues.
Except it really doesn’t. This book hits most of the right notes for a romance, but it’s really quite a serious book. This is largely because Rachel, our heroine, suffers from myalgic encephalomyelitis, commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a fact that was not called out in any of the promotional material that I saw.
On the one hand, as someone with a similarly invisible disease (multiple sclerosis for me), it was super-refreshing to see a book that dealt frankly with the way an invisible auto-immune condition can complicate your life. These passages especially hit me directly in the feels:
Showers were saved for special occasions because they required standing and holding your arms above your head while you rinsed shampoo out of your hair. All of which, though she couldn’t completely understand how, seemed to require an extraordinary amount of effort. Otherwise, she preferred baths, where she could lie down.
Rachel exited her apartment and hailed a cab. She knew the subway would be cheaper and faster, but she had to do a careful cost-benefits analysis to guard her energy. Like one of those video games she would sometimes play with Mickey, she ran the stats. Showering: -10 damage. Cab: +15 strength.
It is a very real portrayal of someone very much like me.
Except that I live with this every day…I don’t really need for the heroine in my escapist fiction to have befallen a similarly horrible fate. I found the whole thing…I mean, not to look the gift representation in the mouth, but I found it kind of a downer.
So, this one gets a C- from me. In the world of Goodreads, it was a 2-star rating, but really more like 2.5. It was good, but not all that entertaining.