The cover of The Matzah Ball. Why yes, I am looking forward to the movie (rights were optioned in Feb 2022!)
The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer is a Hanukkah romance. Basically, take the tropes of any Hallmark Christmas movie and make it Hanukkah. If you've seen any of those movies, you'll love the little nods to those plot beats. The main character, Rachel, is the daughter of a famous rabbi, but she has a secret--she writes Christmas romance novels. Living with her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, she must constantly measure how much energy she's willing to spend and how much recovery time each action will cost. Her bubble of normalcy is burst when her pre-teen summer camp rival, Jacob, comes to town to throw a ritzy Matzah Ball on the eighth night of Hanukkah. Not only that, but her publisher wants her to pivot from Christmas romance to Hanukkah romance, and she needs a ticket to the sold-out Matzah Ball to get in the spirit. Jacob, still healing from his mother's death, needs Rachel's famous father to make his Matzah Ball feel like an authentic, and celebrity-scale party. However, seeing Rachel sparks old feelings and he goes about courting her all wrong. In the end, he needs his party to be a success to keep his business afloat.
This story was adorable. We read it for Diversity and Inclusion Book Club at work, and it was a perfect choice. Easy reading, festive for December, Jewish author and characters, disabled author and main character, and no sex--perfect for a work-based book club. I loved the nods to tropes; for example, instead of running into a "Santa" type figure who propels the plot in a secret way, like Christmas movies always have, she runs into an Orthodox Jewish man, who also helps move the plot forward by letting Rachel know about the Matzah Ball by leaving his newspaper behind. There's also a very sweet Grandmother with a Holocaust story unlike I'd ever heard. (And yet someone in book club had heard a very similar survival story. What are the odds?)
On the downside, it was quite long--400 pages. We almost didn't choose this book because of it's length. Some of Jacob's choices were also so cringey. What adult thinks his ideas would be good ideas to woo a woman? The two of them just needed to talk.
You'll enjoy this book if you're looking for a no-sex romance, a Hanukkah setting, or a rivals-to-lovers story. You may not enjoy this book if you want sex in the book or if you are going to be frustrated by the many holiday romance tropes.
Side note: my library didn't have an ebook copy of The Matzah Ball, but when I requested it, they bought it! Shout out to the library!
Have you read The Matzah Ball or any other non-Christmas holiday romances? Let's discuss in the comments!
The cover of Iron Widow, which is a pretty badass cover
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is a secondary world fantasy and start of a series, though the rest of the series isn't out yet. The book has won a lot of best of fiction awards and hit best sellers lists. Iron Widow follows Zetian, a scifi version of Wu Zetian, the only female Chinese Empress in her own right. In this world, giant magical mecha-suits piloted by a male-female pair fight off attacking alien-esque mecha-suit-material bug things. The male pilots often drain the female pilots of their energy until they die. One pilot did that to Zetian's sister and now Zetian is out for revenge.
This book required quite a bit of world set up for me to get it, but once things clicked, I was in. I wanted Zetian to enact her revenge and boy oh boy, I was not disappointed. Even knowing that, I didn't predict most of this book, which is great because with all the research I've done about plotting I don't get surprised often anymore.
My list of downsides is really short for this one. Neither of the love interests made me root for them a ton until the end. One was a little too self-hating (ala Edward Cullen) and one was a little too entitled/clingy (ala Edward Cullen). You see the issue. But they both became better toward the end of the novel, which I suppose is the point of character growth.
This book is for you if you liked the vibe of the Cinder series by Marissa Meyer, the magic is present but there's so much more happening situation in the Green Bone saga by Fonda Lee, and the sister out for revenge plot of The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. It's not for you if reading about the loss of a sister or romantic partner isn't for you, or if the mention of rape (not of an on-page character) isn't for you either.
Have you read Iron Widow? Are you excited for the sequel Heavenly Tyrant in 2023? Let's discuss in the comments!