The Matzah Ball: A Novel
by Jean Meltzer
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Reviewed by PJ
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.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I began reading this book. What I discovered was a gem of a story that kept me reading late into the night, laughing, cheering, and shedding a few tears, until I turned the final page with a happy sigh.
The Matzah Ball is a breath of fresh air in the crowded landscape of Christmas romances and romantic comedies. While Rachel does harbor a secret love of the "magic" of Christmas and is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than twenty Christmas romances - a fact unknown to her family - she is also a character who is grounded in her faith, her Jewish identity, and her commitment to her rabbi father, doctor mother, and the Jewish community in which she was raised. Jacob is also Jewish and though his upbringing was not as strictly observant as Rachel's, the adult man he has grown into is also grounded in faith and heritage. I very much enjoyed the Jewish traditions, rituals, and weekly observances that the author has woven into this book. I learned a great deal about a religion and culture different from mine and I've always believed that the more we know about one another, the more understanding and acceptance will occur.
Religion and culture are not the only representations front and center in this book. Rachel lives with the chronic illness ME/CFS, otherwise known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I applaud the author for creating a main character with this disease and addressing the challenges of living with it straight on. I encourage readers to take the time to read the Acknowledgements and Author's Note at the end of the book for more insight into this disease and how the author was able to bring such authenticity to her character.
Jacob has his issues as well, though his are more emotional in nature than physical. The way he responded to Rachel's condition endeared him to me and I began to lean more into his corner though he wasn't quite there yet. Neither was Rachel. Did I mention layers? There's plenty of humor in their story and, yes, I found myself laughing out loud many times. But both Jacob and Rachel have complicated life histories that need to be sorted out before they are able to come to each other with a clear understanding and open hearts. I enjoyed their evolution and appreciated the depth that flowed alongside the plentiful humor and antics.
The entire cast of characters Meltzer has created are so fully developed, so vividly portrayed and realistic that by the time I was halfway through the book they had ceased to be characters on the page and became treasured friends instead. I wanted to hang out with Rachel's best friend, Mickey, travel the world with Jacob's 91-year-old Bubbe (seriously, I want to be her when I grow up), and score a warm hug from Rachel's mother. I also wouldn't mind a few weeks with executive assistant, "Martha Poppins" in residence!
If you haven't yet discovered Jean Meltzer's The Matzah Ball, I enthusiastically recommend adding it to your fall/winter reading list. I'm hoping there are more stories percolating in this talented author's imagination.
Do you make a habit of reading the Author's Notes and Acknowledgements in the books you read?
Have you read The Matzah Ball yet?
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