Review by Gabrielle

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“Your other half exists to make you better. She exists to complete something you lack, and vice versa. You challenge each other, like chavruta, two blades which sharpen each other. But that’s different than love, Jacob. In some ways, it’s more powerful. Because only your bashert, your other half, can fill up what you lack…and help you fulfill your destiny.”

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt has a big secret. She loves Christmas. She loves Christmas so much that she is the author of a bestselling series of Christmas romance novels. That wouldn’t be a problem if she wasn’t also the daughter of renowned Rabbi Goldblatt and very Jewish. Only her best friend Mickey knows the truth. When her publisher demands she write a Hanukkah romance book or lose her contract, Rachel has no choice but to search out some inspiration. What better inspiration could there be than the glitzy Matzah Ball? Never mind that it’s being put on by Jacob Greenberg, the man that broke her heart all those years ago at Camp Ahava when they were twelve. She MUST get a ticket even if it means volunteering alongside Jacob for the event set-up to get it.

I was all-in on the premise of this book. I was delighted to find a story about a holiday tradition other than Christmas. The holiday romance genre could definitely benefit from some diversification. I was a little concerned that the Christmasey theme might dominate the plot on this one, but I am happy to say that was not the case. Although Rachel loves Christmas, she also deeply loves her Jewish faith and I found myself learning a lot which is exactly what I had hoped for. I don’t have lived experience of being Jewish, so I can’t say if this book will make Jewish readers feel seen, but what I can say is that Jean does a great job of working in explanations of the intricacies of Jewish traditions so that non-Jewish readers like me can understand.  At the same time, I didn’t have the sense that it was written solely for those outside the faith either. Jean (and by extension, her character Rachel), clearly loves her faith and her generous details share that so effectively with readers.

This book is told in alternating perspectives from both Rachel and Jacob’s viewpoints. Both characters have interesting backstories and challenges to overcome. Rachel lives with a debilitating chronic illness, myalgic encephalomyelitis. You may be more familiar with it’s more common (but often offensive to those with lived experience) name chronic fatigue syndrome. This detail is central to the plot of the book and a deeply personal addition by the author who lives with the same illness. The descriptions of Rachel’s life and how it is impacted by her illness were so visceral and real, no doubt because of Jean’s own experience. We need more main characters in the romance genre just like this. I hope publishers continue to bring us more stories that celebrate the diversity of lived experiences there are in the world.

For his part, Jacob is dealing with the loss of his mother and abandonment by his father. If  these topics are triggering for you, this might not be the book for you. The alternating perspectives really helps develop Jacob’s character and gives the reader better insight into him. This was a good choice as otherwise, Jacob would not have been so likable. As written, he makes a great love interest for Rachel. I love a good second chance romance trope.

The pacing of this book is where it fell down a bit for me. I found the book starts very strongly but it lags in the middle. I know this is a debut for Jean and it does have a debut feel to it. I will say that the end picks back up again with a fantastic finish. I would definitely like to read more books from Jean in the future. Her work is both clever and fun and I look forward to watching her develop her unique voice.

Overall this is a worthwhile read if you are sick of the standard Christmas romances and looking for something a little more diverse.

Thanks to Harper Collins for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.