Friendships and Festival, Book 1
From the publisher:
Sarah Goldman loves Hanukkah, and she’s thrilled to be appointed as vice chair of the Hollowville Hanukkah Festival. So when the festival is threatened with cancellation, she comes up with an idea: a new slogan and advertising campaign topped off with a metal menorah large enough to fill the center of town. But even though her heart and dreams are large, the committee’s budget constraints threaten to stop her grand plans right in their tracks.
Famous metal sculptor Isaac Lieberman also loves Hanukkah. But his vision of a perfect Hanukkah isn’t a commercial community event—it’s spending time with family, following age-old traditions. He’s not interested in the festival, no matter how many times his grandmother, his bubbe, asks him to contribute one of his sculptures.
Then Sarah comes tumbling into his life…can she change his mind about more than just the holidays?
It feels like I have been waiting forever for a Hanukkah romance. Last year, the Hallmark Channel teased that they had not one, but two Hanukkah romances, “Double Holiday” and “Holiday Date. ” The Lifetime channel announced they had a Hanukkah romance, too; “Mistletoe And Menorahs.” They both lied. They had Christmas romances with a tiny, itty-bitty bit of Hanukkah, but still mostly Christmas. And insulting, too, like with characters who celebrate Hanukkah never having seen a Christmas tree before. Have they been living under a rock???
The Washington Post did a couple of good articles on these films: Hallmark’s Hanukkah movies are really Christmas movies; “all of which involve plans for a Christmas celebration that go off the rails when a character is revealed to be Jewish, which, yikes.” And this: Hallmark’s making some Hanukkah movies; “These holiday specials are really Christmas movies with Jewish characters, and they draw on old, dangerous tropes.” NPR discussed it on “All Things Considered”: A Look At The Hanukkah Movies On The Hallmark And Lifetime Channels. You can listen or read the transcript.
Anyway, I like Christmas romances; I read them, I am glued to the Hallmark Channel all fall, although I have noticed I’m losing patience with some of them. I record a few every week and lately, I’ve only watched maybe one all the way through. They are getting repetitive, I think. And sometimes just silly.
I was very excited when I saw this book, a Hanukkah romance, on Netgalley and immediately requested it. It looked like it would actually be about Hanukkah, and it was. There was a tiny touch of Christmas in the form of a town leader determined to do away with the unusual Hanukkah festival that this small town has been celebrating for ten years, and replace it with a Christmas festival like every other small town in America.
I liked the premise of the story, and I liked all the characters. That said, it wasn’t a great book. I didn’t feel like I really knew these characters other than just on the surface. There wasn’t enough story here, this really should have been a novella. Or even a short story.
The few Jewish expressions used were used ad nauseam; it felt like every other page had either a “soofi” latte, a “tatala” and/or a “bubbe,” all Yiddish and/or Hebrew words. “Soofi” is short for sufganiyot, (the preferred spelling of) an Israeli donut eaten at Hanukkah. How they make a latte donut flavored is beyond me, although raspberry syrup was mentioned, which just sounds gross but I’m the last one to judge. I basically drink a candy bar in a cup when I hit Starbucks. “Bubbe” is a grandma, and “tatala” is a term of endearment, usually for a baby or small child. But Bubbe’s can call their grown-up grandsons tatala, too.
I wasn’t sure how religious these people were. Judaism comes in several sects, from Reform (me) to Conservative (probably what they were,) Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Chasidic, and I don’t know what else. So an Orthodox romance would be akin to an Amish or Christian romance as far as family, community, and sex go. (Try The Saturday Wife by Naomi Ragen, she’s one of my favorite authors and this book is as close to a Jewish romance as I have gotten.) This book has an occasional mention of prayer and Shabbat, no sex, a couple of kisses in the last part of the book, and that wasn’t quite enough for me to figure out the religious angle. So I’m guessing Conservative.
The romance was slow building, and I didn’t know these characters well enough to be invested. I also had trouble with the major conflict in the story; if Sarah can’t get a big, beautiful, expensive metal sculpture of a menorah to put in the town square, the Hanukkah festival would be over. Maybe the time crunch would have been more believable if it wasn’t the 10th year of the festival! I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t the first thing they bought when they started the whole thing. But that’s nitpicky, I guess.
The bottom line is I liked the book and was happy to find it, but I wish it was better.
11/2020 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
MIRACLES AND MENORAHS by Stacey Agdern. Tule Publishing Group (October 12, 2020). ISBN 978-1952560033. 326 pages.