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. (Goodreads)
I have loved going to author events online (at least one good thing came from the pandemic) as it has afforded me the opportunity to (at least virtually) meet “new to me” authors! And Jean Meltzer is one of them. The Matzah Ball is a thoroughly enjoyable holiday themed book which quickly captured my interest and attention throughout the entire read.
The story begins with Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt (a Jewish romance writer) musing about keeping her secret – that she is an author of Christmas themed romance novels. Everything is going well until her publisher asks Rachel to write a Hanukkah themed romance. Given her love of Christmas, she is finding it hard to write a Hanukkah themed romance. To find inspiration, Rachel decides to attend the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah. Rachel quickly learns that a previous archenemy from back in the day (summer camp days that is) is the one running the show…one Jacob Greenberg. Oy vey. This can only lead to some interesting interactions (or so I surmised at the beginning of my reading 🙂 ).
Rachel’s father is a famous Rabbi so it can be assumed that Rachel’s love of Christmas might not fair well with the family. Christmas brings her joy whereas her own life and Hanukkah experiences do not (Rachel’s words, not mine). As such, Rachel tries to lead a life apart from her family so they are not aware of the genre of books she writes. This reader had to giggle constantly at the lengths Rachel goes to hide her secret.
I must quote the following as it had me chuckling for a bit… a scene from when Rachel was at the Matzah Ball itself, when some decoration mishap occurred:
“She was bleeding? Rachel blinked, taking stock of her body, checking for cuts and bruises. Her eyes landed on the large red stain in the center of her chest. Her heart jumped at the sight. This was it. The end. Her grand finale. Death by ten-foot menorah while wearing a matzah ball costume.”
Rachel is a formidable character with lots of grit and determination. During her college days, she was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, also know as Chronic fatigue syndrome. Rachel pursued her dream of becoming a writer and led her life, as one should (or at least that is how I see it). The story focused on Rachel overcoming her limitations as opposed to being fixated on them.
I found this book educational…I was able to learn more about the Jewish faith, customs, and celebrations. That is certainly one thing I enjoy about reading – the opportunity to learn (as well as be entertained).
If I were to identify what I least liked about this book it would be the relationship between Rachel and Jacob. It just did not seem to mesh with me. And frankly, holding a grudge from when they were adolescents is a bit ridiculous, imho (in my humble opinion).
This holiday themed book reader (myself, of course) fully recommends this delightfully funny, romantic ”esque” and well written story. I must say – I also enjoyed getting to hear Jean Meltzer speak about her own personal journey during the panel discussion and how it played into the writing of this book. I can’t wait to read more from this author!