Oy! to the worldRachel 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 bestselling author, 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 is not magical. It's not merry. It's not Christmas. Desperate not to lose her contract, Rachel is 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.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
She had taken her secret, shameful love of Christmas and turned it into a successful career.
The daughter of a highly influential Rabbi and top fertility
Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt had saved him.
And then she had broken his heart.
Jacob hasn't been back to New York in eighteen years and observing Shabbat at the house of the parents of the girl who broke his heart when he was twelve, maybe not his best idea. After the death of his mother two years ago, Jacob has felt restless and returning to New York has him ready to face issues from his childhood that still linger inside him. When Rachel asks him for a Matzah Ball ticket, he sees it as the perfect opportunity to get her to open up more and a possibility to get their relationship back on track. When her volunteering goes horribly wrong and their relationship ends up worse than before, they both learn a little something about trust, opening up, and acceptance.
They were both hiding. They just had different ways of doing it.
Rachel used silence.
And Jacob---like always, he reasoned---used noise.
The Matzah Ball was a story that had a light tone with some chik-lit antics but also threaded through some weightier issues that provided some emotional heft. The pinpoint conflict between Rachel and Jacob is from their childhood, they had a prank adversary relationship at camp when they were twelve that slowly changed into a romance. Rachel thought Jacob took their pranks too far when he set up their first kiss to be witnessed by the boys in his bunk embarrassing her and Jacob is still hurt by Rachel standing him up at the camp dance. There's some Misunderstanding going on with their issues but what makes a twelve year old's grudge carried to thirty year old's work, was how the author intertwined it with their existing insecurities. Rachel always feels like she is being watched and judged because of who her parents are, being humiliated hits her extra hard and she felt like Jacob broke her trust. At the time, Jacob was dealing with his mother getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and his father abandoning them because of it. When they meet again as adults, the pain from camp lingers because of how it ties into their life insecurities but I also liked how the author still had them willing to test a friendship with each other again; nothing felt forced or childish about their conflict.
“You're right,” he said, leaning into her, close enough for a second kiss. “We were never friends. We were so much more than just friends, Rachel...and you broke my goddamn heart.”
Rachel is also living with myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome), which as a chronic illness, permeates her life everyday and makes her feel isolated even more. You feel for her as she tries to be “normal” and do volunteer work for the Ball and Jacob pushes her thinking their old prank relationship way will get her to open up more and it all blows up. In his apologizing, is where Jacob shines a lot and the growth of his character becomes apparent as he is forced to confront the issues with is dad and how that has shaped him. In the beginning, you just want them to address their camp misunderstandings but as a reader, it selfishly works because it gives us opportunity to watch them learn and grow.
He was the type of person you could stand around the stove with on Hanukkah, burning latkes together and laughing hysterically, but also rely on to clean up the dishes when you were done.
With the family and community Rachel has, we get more of Jewish culture from her and a couple times some explanations for the less observant or involved Jacob, which I'm sure is really more for gentile readers and I appreciated it but also enjoyed how language was used throughout to help with the setting. The secondary characters, from Rachel's bestfriend Mickey and to Jacob's friend and business partner Shmuel showed different levels of observant, giving that reminder that some need that not all groups are a monolith but also showed the connection that exists because of historical and cultural context.
“Then fight for him.” Toby smiled emphatically. “Fight for him, Rachel-la! So many people think Hanukkah is about miracles. But Hanukkah is really about fighting for the things you believe in. Everybody focuses on the oil, but there would have been no oil, no lamp and no miracle had the Maccabees not taken up arms and stormed that darn temple. That's the thing people forget about Hanukkah. We make our own miracles, Rachel-la. We're in charge of creating our own happy endings.”
The second half gave a little more of a focus on Jacob and his issues, which is why I wouldn't actually call this women's fiction, it's romance with a happily ever after, no bedroom scenes; if you've ever read Sonali Dev, it's along that same story-telling feel. The first half was sweet and showed how Rachel and Jacob matched together and the second half gives us more of the work and learning, Rachel finds out something about the Misunderstanding and Jacob finds out about Rachel's illness. They both learn how their vulnerabilities affect their relationships and life and then do the work to earn each other and because this is romance, some of that work includes a bedazzled wheelchair and a fire escape climb in a ball gown and fuzzy socks. This was tender, had some watery eyes moments, charming, and will have you wishing you had a bubbe in your life.
Truth could be scary. Darkness might always endeavor to snuff out the light, but the strength of those who truly loved us would always push us forward. This was how we brightened an otherwise dark world. We filled it with truth, and love, and light.
Rachel has myalgic encephalomyelitis, better known as chronic fatigue syndrome, but she's built a successful life as a best-selling author of Christmas romances. Now, her contract is up and her publisher
This enemies-to-lovers story was a fun but often frustrating read. Perhaps it's just not my trope in the romance genre, as the lack of communication necessary for the protagonists to be mad at each other for more than half the book really annoyed me. I understood Rachel's reluctance to open up and Jacob's fear of abandonment, but instead of opening up to each other over the course of the book, there were a few fights with big revelations along the way, instead of a slow build. It's too bad, as there were some bright spots. The author herself has ME/CFS and includes authentic details of her experience living with the disease, and lovingly depicts an Ashkenazi Jewish community in New York. This is her first book, so I could forgive some of the formulaic aspects (could the gay best friend, Mickey, get his own love story, please?), and I could see it being a very good holiday rom-com movie.
To get some inspiration, Rachel is determined to get a ticket to the sold-out Matzah Ball. However, one thing stands in her way. The party’s organizer is Jacob Greenberg, her summer camp archenemy. Jacob - her first kiss; Jacob – who humiliated her.
Both Rachel and Jacob are likable characters, and I had an emotional connection with them. Rachel has a chronic medical condition – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – which tends to isolate her. It was interesting to read how her condition impacted her life. They both had trust issues that I could easily relate to. But my favorite character was Mickey, Rachel’s best friend. He is always there to support Rachel and give her courage. I also loved Toby, Jacob’s grandmother. I would love to have a bubbe like her in my life. This is the perfect book for when you just want to be entertained. I laughed at Rachel’s and Jacob’s antics, I ached at their misunderstanding, I applauded Mickey’s straight-shooting approach, and my heart warmed from Toby’s compassion.
The story has strong elements of friendship, family, tradition, building trust, and Jewish values. It is about being accepted for who you are. (Note: The reader does not have to be Jewish to understand and enjoy the story.)
If you're Jewish, have friends who are Jewish, love the energy and fun of Christmas, have friends who are outside of
Rachel hides things from the world, like her invisible chronic illness and her successful career as a Christmas romance writer and even her Jewish heritage.
Jason is a very successful entrepreneur originally from NYC where his paternal grandmother still lives (when she's not out traveling the world) but moved to France with his mother after his father deserted them. But he has developed his own way of hiding since his mother died. Now he has a brilliant idea of having a grand eight day Hanukkah bash in NYC and calling it The Matzah Ball.
Despite things having gone horribly wrong years ago at summer camp, the two are brought together again in a romantic laughfest that anyone can enjoy. You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy a good joke, just ask George Burns or Mel Brooks.
I requested and received a free temporary ebook copy from HARLEQUIN – Trade Publishing (U.S. & Canada)/MIRA via NetGalley, Thank you!
I preordered the audio after I read it.
Holiday story romance with a Jewish base line. Second chance troupe. Clean.
Though the daughter of a famous Rabbi, Rachel has a secret and successful career writing Christmas romance novels. When her editor demands a Hanukkah romance, Rachel doesn’t know what to do.
Joyous, touching and sweet.
A celebration of love and romance. Of Hanukkah and Christmas and destiny. Of ME/CFS or myalgic encephalomyelitis also know as Chronic fatigue syndrome.
Rachel was hit with the disease during her college years. The story doesn’t make us feel sorry for her, but rather focuses on her overcoming the limitations. Jacob, the hero is impressive in his handling of their history and Rachel’s lies. Toby is awesome in several ways.
Overall, I fell in love with this story.
“Shabbat was coming.
Jacob loved these aspects of Jewish life. There was a focus on tradition and family and doing the right thing, tikkun olam, in order to make the world a better place. All the things he had wanted as a child and never got.”
“You know, there’s a belief in the Jewish culture that every person in the world has a person they are destined to marry. Your bashert. A soul God cut and created, designated just for you. Isn’t that the loveliest concept?”
Excerpts from The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer
I received a copy of this from NetGalley.
Rachel's lifelong best friend Mickey is one of few people who know she is Margot, and the only one who has seen her Christmas room- filled to the brim with all kinds of Christmas decorations, including her beloved and numerous Santa collection. It's every Hallmark movie come to life in one room.
The other secret Rachel has is that she has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Most people don't understand the disease, believing that people who suffer from CFS are just low-energy or lazy. Rachel can be bedridden for days, unable to even raise her arms without pain. (Jean Meltzer also has CFS, something that gives the reader a better understanding of the disease.)
When Rachel's publisher tells her that this year they want her to write a Hanukkah romance, Rachel is stunned. How can she write a Hanukkah romance? Christmas is so festive, with so many different traditions, like the Rockefeller Christmas tree, and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show. Hanukkah doesn't have all that.
Rachel decides that she must do some serious research for her Hanukkah book to get it right. She hears about the Matzah Ball, a big weeklong party for wealthy Jewish people to be held at a ritzy New York hotel. That's perfect! There will be lots of single people there, she can soak up the atmosphere and get some good details for her book.
There are some problems though. The host of the event is Jacob Greenberg, CEO of Greenberg Entertainment, one of the premier event organizers in the world. Jacob is also the guy who humilated and broke Rachel's heart at summer camp when she was twelve.
The event is sold out, but Jacob is willing to let Rachel come if she volunteers the week of the event. Jacob has a different view of what happened when they were twelve; he believes that Rachel broke his heart.
What happens when Rachel and Jacob spend the week working together? There are misunderstandings, mishaps, and yes, sexual tension. The Matzah Ball is a funny, sweet enemies-to-friends story. The characters are delightful, and as someone who has planned events in the past, I reveled in the descriptions of the event coming together. I liked learning about Hanukkah, the traditions and the food, and you will pick up a fair amount of Yiddish phrases.
The Matzah Ball is a welcome addition to the canon of holiday romances, and I hope that Jean Meltzer continues Rachel and Jacob's story in future books.
Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Holiday Romance Tour.