Author: Jean Meltzer
Narrator: Dara Rosenberg
Audiobook Length: 10 hours 12 minutes
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.
The Matzah Ball is a very cute and entertaining holiday novel featuring Jewish traditions and culture. This is a second chance enemies to lovers’ story about two characters who broke up when they were younger only to reunite due to the magic of Hanukkah. I am familiar with some Jewish traditions, but I am by no means an expert; so, this novel was not only a heart-warming holiday romance, but also a great learning experience. The story has a lot of heart and entertaining elements centered on a spectacular event, the Matzah Ball. There are many themes discussed in this story beyond the romance including acceptance, culture, self-care, and family.
Our main character is Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt, whose father is a famous Rabbi and her mother is a doctor. Not only is her family heavily involved in the Jewish community, she also suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), which is a “hidden” illness. I loved the inclusion of this element to the story as the disease runs Rachel’s day-to-day life. The disease itself and its many sub-elements are discussed in detail throughout the story, which did, at times, feel a little info dump-y. While it was amazing to use this novel, as a teachable moment to something many people might not know about, the vast amount of details may not be for every reader. Rachel is a writer for Christmas-themed romances and loves all things Christmas, which she hides from her family. Although she has found great success through her past releases, her publisher wants her next novel to be Hanukkah-themed. She finds out that there is a huge Hanukkah party called the Matzah Ball coming up, but it is sold out. The Ball is being hosted by her first love, Jacob Greenberg. The two of them have not spoken since they broke up when they were twelve, but Rachel is determined to re-connect with Jacob and write her next novel.
The story follows Rachel when she gets to volunteer for the Ball, which comes with two issues: working with Jacob again and trying to navigate the amount of work with her illness. The tension between Rachel and Jacob stems from each believing the other is responsible for a broken heart when they broke up almost twenty years ago at a Jewish summer camp. While Rachel has remained in New York, Jacob left to Paris, France with his family. When the two characters reunite, there is a lot of resentment still between them for their break-up. This portion of the story was a little difficult for me to connect with, as I could not fully comprehend having that much animosity towards someone from when I was twelve. Not only was it a very long time ago for both characters, but it was during their younger days where most people make a lot more mistakes typically.
As the author also has CFS, it was amazing how she managed to incorporate it into the story. While the exhausting process to find some acceptance as “real disease” was explored briefly in the TV show Golden Girls (this is one that just sticks out in my mind), it was fantastic to see it in a new release. The Jewish holiday, history, and traditions were all well done. The chemistry between Rachel and Jacob was sweet, but I did not quite connect to it. I believe this is due to me not understanding their tension when they reunite instead of just talking it out right from the start. There are additional misunderstandings and other tension that comes from their interactions throughout the story, but it was the initial break-up one I, unfortunately, could not get behind. Even though there were a few elements that did not work for me in this story, overall, I greatly enjoyed this holiday romance and I would definitely read more from this author!