Published by Mira Books on September 28, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Holiday, Romance
Pages: 416 •Format: E-Book •Source: Overdrive
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.
This was fun! I don’t think I’ve ever read a Jewish holiday romance before, and it’s a bit Meta because the protagonist is tasked with writing one (even though she’s built a secret career on writing Christmas romance novels and is obsessed with all things Christmas despite being Jewish). I’m always intrigued by books that focus on religion or religious elements (former Religious Studies major here) and it was fascinating reading about Rachel’s struggle with her Jewish identity- from being a dutiful rabbi’s daughter in some elements of her life, but having this closet fascination with Christmas in others.
This book also had some of the best (if not THE best) chronic illness representation I’ve seen, especially of an “invisible” illness. It wasn’t just mentioned in passing, either- Rachel’s chronic illness was with her every day, and impacted her decisions and how she viewed everything from relationships to potential career paths. The story was very vulnerable and transparent in depicting Rachel’s condition.
The romance was so-so for me- honestly both Rachel and Jacob annoyed me at times and could be a bit tone deaf and self-centered. There was also a WHOLE lot of the miscommunication trope, which I think is overused in the romance drama, and a huge crux of this story. However, it was still cute and fun and I enjoyed getting to see what an amazing, over the top Hanukkah even may be like (more non-Christmas focused holiday romances, please!)
Overall: A cute, different take on a holiday romance, I loved getting to discover the magic of Hanukkah alongside Rachel.
God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney
Published by William Morrow on June 22, 2021
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary
Pages: 320 •Format: E-Book •Source: Overdrive
Journalist and features writer at Deadspin Kelsey McKinney's GOD SPARE THE GIRLS, set in North Texas, and following two sisters raised within the rigid confines of an Evangelical megachurch, who after learning a dark secret about their father—the head pastor of the church—are forced to reconsider what familial bonds are worth protecting, pitched in the vein of Curtis Sittenfeld, exploring female coming-of-age sexuality and the often gendered contradictions of faith, to Jessica Williams at William Morrow.
I’m always fascinated by stories that explore the protagonist’s relationship with faith (it’s the inner Religious Studies major in me) so I was intrigued when I read the synopsis about this story following two sisters who are daughters of a well-known pastor who has a fall from grace. It’s a tale that seems to happen all the time now (or at least when it does, it definitely gets a lot of media attention) and I was intrigued that this story was focus on the women who are on the other side of these situations.
The story follows Caroline, the younger sister who’s just graduated from high school and is grappling with her hormones and coming of age and her utter disgust and rage toward her father’s actions (spoiler: having an extra martial affair despite his leadership being deeply rooted in purity culture). Caroline is impulsive and anxious and often unable to hide her emotions, which is a stark contrast to her *seemingly* perfect sister, Abigail, who’s graceful and patient on the surface, but rather cool and calculating underneath it. The sisters escape the social scrutiny from their father’s mistakes on a rural farm left to them by their grandmother, where they grow closer in their shared anger and grief despite their very different ways of processing/showing it. Unsurprisingly, they also find out a few more hidden family secrets- both those long buried and those about each other- among the long, isolated summer days.
As a reader, I enjoyed following Caroline and Abigail’s different ways of dealing with the situation, and consequently how it impacted how they viewed their faith and even how they saw themselves. Caroline is pushed to explore outside her faith and questions the principles that have been drilled into her throughout her life, whereas Abigail is emboldened to subtly yet surely begin to undermine her father’s authority in his congregation (and it’s hinted she might aim to take over the church herself one day- fitting, considering she’s secretly been writing her father’s sermons for years and is one of the main reasons he rose to fame). It wasn’t always the easiest story to read, as there were times when both girls’ actions were frustrating, but it was also realistic given the messiness of their situation.
Overall: God Spare the Girls is a book that explores women’s roles in the evangelical Christian society that is so prevalent in America, and the internal struggle many modern women no doubt face when trying to conform to their communities standards when they are still so blatantly patriarchal. I appreciated Abigail and Caroline’s separate flaws and strengths, and though this story had a rather abrupt (and honestly, pretty disheartening ending), Abigail and Caroline’s journey is worth the read.