fiction · YA

Book Review: Recommended for You by Laura Silverman

It was another of those ‘Jewish authors write Jewish YA with Jewish protagonists’ lists that introduced me to the existence of Recommended for You by Laura Silverman (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020), and who am I to pass one of those lists by? Jewish teenage heroine? Check. Set in a bookstore? Check. Cute-but-grumpy Jewish love interest? Check, check! And the story takes place during Christmas time (relevant to the story). How could this not end up on my list???

Shoshanna Greenberg is having a bit of a rough time. Her car has died (again), and her moms aren’t getting along at all. Things are tough and more than a little bit worrisome. But there’s always her job at Once Upon, a wonderful little bookstore, where Shoshanna feels at home and in control of everything. But all that’s about to change with the hiring of the new employee. Not only is Jake Kaplan grumpy and unfriendly, he’s not even a reader!!! How on earth did he get hired in the first place???

But things aren’t quite what they seem, with the moms, Shoshanna’s friends, and Jake. While Shoshanna may want to fix everything, she’s going to have to learn that some things are out of her control, and she’ll need to learn to look a little deeper in order to understand the full truth. When she overhears a conversation she’s not meant to and the future of Once Upon is uncertain, it’ll take teamwork to pull off the plan she’s thinking of.

Super cute YA with an amazing setting. Once Upon is located in a busy shopping mall during the busiest time of the year, which gives the book a certain feel of urgency, definitely adding to the stress Shoshanna’s already feeling about her life. The tension at home, her car and money troubles, and the new stress at work with the hiring of Jake Kaplan force her into a corner, and Ms. Silverman at first highlights Shoshanna’s immaturity, followed by her growth. Super solid character arc here, and I can always appreciate that.

The moms’ fighting and Shoshanna’s reaction to and panic over it is realistic, almost to the point that it’s stressful to read. Jake, annoying as first when seen only through Shoshanna’s initial limited perspective, develops into a thoughtful, insightful, and interesting character, and Shoshanna’s friend group and Once Upon employees are diverse, supportive, and fun to read.

Recommended for You is a fun, quick read with great Jewish and queer rep. And what more could readers ask for than a book set in a charming book store? *swoon*

Visit Laura Silverman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Book Review: What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter

YA about a book blogger? And she’s Jewish??? SERIOUSLY?!?!?? Sign. Me. Up. I was into the idea of What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020) the moment I learned about it. Because of the pandemic, it’s taken me this long to get to it, but y’all…this was worth the wait. I wasn’t even halfway through when I put Ms. Kanter’s next book, As If On Cue, on my TBR. Her storytelling, her writing style, I loved it all. This is a FABULOUS book and one of the best YA novels I’ve read in a long time.

Halle Levitt is a book blogger, the creator of the well-known One True Pastry, where she pairs YA books with superbly baked and decorated cupcakes (made by Halle, of course). But she blogs under the name of Kels Roth, because Halle Levitt was the granddaughter of well-known YA book editor Miriam Roth. If Halle had started blogging under her own name, she never would have known if any eventual success was hers alone or it came because of her name. As Kels, Halle, who is shy and socially awkward, finally has a group of friends she connects with for the first time, including her best friend, Nash, a graphic novel aficionado and artist.

Grams is gone now, and Halle and her brother have moved in with Gramps while their documentary-making parents are off to Israel for the year. And on her first day in town, Halle is horrified to run into none other than Nash, who has no idea she’s the Kels he’s been talking to for years. As she gets to know the real Nash and gets involved with his friend group, things get more and more complicated and she moves further and further away from being able to tell Nash the truth about her double life. But as Kels’s success grows and her opportunities for in-person events expand, Halle knows she’s going to have to come clean. Especially when Nash starts to fall for her.

OMG, this was SO good. Book bloggers! Jewish rep! Authors behaving badly! I’m absolutely shocked that so many people on Goodreads missed the ENTIRE point of the author-behaving-badly subplot. YA is written for teens. It just is. I enjoy it as an adult, but I realize I’m not the primary target audience and that’s FINE. The YA author in the book being a jerk and acting like her book was too good to be considered YA is an unfortunate page out of real life; as book bloggers, we’ve all come into contact with stories like this, where authors talk down to their audience and insult them. It’s a tough thing to deal with, especially if the art they create is something that speaks so completely to us. That there are so many reviews that don’t seem to understand what that subplot was about shocks me (though, given the state of the world and how badly people misinterpret just about everything, I probably shouldn’t be so surprised…).

Halle is a great character. She’s cute, funny, smart, creative, and awkward in ways that we all remember being (or, uh, still are…). She’s doing the best she can with what she has, and things are tough for her, what with the loss of her grandmother still fresh, and all the stress of college next year. Her reasons for starting One True Pastry under a pseudonym are entirely understandable, and her constant panic about how to tell Nash is realistic. Her brother Oliver provides the voice of reason in this situation, and her real-life friend group is supportive but doesn’t let her off the hook.

Nash is sweet, funny, a little irritating in his devotion to Kels at times, but overall, a great YA love interest. Halle/Kels’s online friends are fun but spare no punches, just like the real-life friends; they’re supportive and enthusiastic about Kels’s success, but they also demand accountability from her (would that we all had friends like this!). Gramps starts off a little harsh; his grief is still raw and he’s not doing well, but his slow return to the land of the living is satisfying and emotionally fulfilling. And the Jewish rep? ON POINT. There are a lot of scenes here set at synagogue; Halle and her brother have never attended, so the reader is able to learn what’s going on right along with them. There are also other scenes set during holiday celebrations, and various Shabbat observance levels are discussed. It’s all fabulous and made me feel right at home.

This is a GREAT book, and I absolutely cannot wait to read more from Marisa Kanter.

Visit Marisa Kanter’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · middle grade

Book Review: Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart

An article came out a while back about Jewish middle grade books, and my TBR blew up after that. I try to keep it to manageable numbers, but sometimes you just find one of those lists, and everything goes downhill in the best possible way, right? One of those books from that was Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart (Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021). The premise sounded emotionally heavy – you know I love the heavy books! – and the main character was Jewish, so all of this earned it spot on my TBR. I was so happy to finally be able to grab a copy from the library in the next town over.

The story opens with what Abby thinks is the worst day of her life – her best friend, Cat, is moving to Israel. She’ll be gone for a few years, and Abby, who is shy and doesn’t really have any other friends, doesn’t know how she’s going to survive seventh grade. Fortunately, she’s got her two moms and her older brother Paul to help her through the tough spots, along with her turtle, Fudge. And the cute boy who moved in next door, into Cat’s old house, might turn out to be a friend as well…if Abby can stop being so awkward whenever she tries to talk to them.

But turns out Cat moving to Israel isn’t the worst thing. Paul is sick – really sick, with testicular cancer, and Abby’s not sure she can handle the possibly that he might die. His treatment is going to be tough on everyone, and Abby’s going to have to come out of her shell a little in order to be the supportive one this time.

Abby, Tried and True is sad and fun and sweet all at once. Abby is timid, yet vibrant; she’s a grade-A introvert who’s perfectly happy with one best friend, spending her time at home crocheting, writing poetry, and talking to her turtle. She’s close to her family: her two moms, her sixteen-year-old brother, and her grandparents, and she hates being in the spotlight. At the start of the novel, she’s entirely content with all of this, but Cat’s move to Israel throws her into the frying pan of seventh grade alone. It’s Conrad, the cute new boy next door, who provides the first opportunity for Abby to step into some leadership skills, showing him around at school. He’s just as nervous as she is.

Paul’s shocking diagnosis sends tremors through the whole family. Testicular cancer isn’t uncommon in teen boys, but it doesn’t necessarily get the attention it deserves (who wants to talk about testicles???), so in reading about Paul’s treatments and how he dealt with not only his illness, but the side effects and emotional fallout as well, really taught me a lot. I knew a little bit about what the struggles looked like when chemo ended, but not quite as in-depth as Ms. Gephart went here, so I found myself especially interested in that part of the story. Abby’s struggle to understand and support her brother and her moms through all of this is genuine and heartfelt; her growth throughout the story is natural and admirable.

Her friendship and budding romance with Conrad is adorable and provides some lighter moments from the stress and strain of Paul’s illness. It’s all very sweet and innocent, and Conrad, whose uncle survived testicular cancer, is excellent support and friendship for Abby. And the Jewish rep? Top notch. Multiple Jewish holidays and their traditions are portrayed, and it’s so enjoyable to see how Abby and her family celebrate.

All in all, Abby, Tried and True is an excellent middle grade novel about a tough subject.

Visit Donna Gephart’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · middle grade

Book Review: Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

Sometimes you learn about the existence of a book and everything about it just clicks for you. Main character is a tween adopted as an older child from overseas? Whoa. He’s struggling badly to connect to his new family? Holy cow, never seen that done in middle grade before. His parents are adopting another child and the majority of the story is set in Kazakhstan? Whaaaaaaat??? Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014) went onto my TBR immediately, and I was thrilled to finally be able to pick up a copy at the library in the next town over. What an incredible and sad book.

Jaden is twelve, adopted from Romania at the age of 8 (although his parents thought he was much younger, since he was so very small when they brought him home). He’s struggling badly: struggling to connect to his parents, struggling to feel anything other than rage at having lost the only home he’d ever known (the comforts of this home now don’t matter; that kind of loss is still trauma), struggling to control his behavior: hoarding food, lighting fires, shutting down. He’s receiving help for all of this, but none of it is easy and Jaden knows exactly how difficult it is on his parents. That’s why they’re adopting a baby: because they’re tired of him and want a kid who doesn’t do all these things.

The whole family is traveling to Kazakhstan for this new adoption, but once they’re there, things don’t go anywhere as smoothly as they’d hoped. The baby they thought they’d be adopting has already gone home with other parents. Jaden’s folks are devastated and while they begin to consider the other babies at the orphanage, Jaden meets a toddler, Dimash, likely with special needs, with whom he bonds – and for the first time, he’s able to feel a connection with someone. Dimash is about to age out of the baby orphanage, and Jaden knows exactly the kind of life that’s in store for him when he does. Can he convince his parents that having Dimash as his brother, a boy he already feels protective of, is what will truly bond them all together as a family?

This is one of the saddest middle grade books I’ve ever read. Jaden is a tough case, but the thing is, none of his behaviors are abnormal for a kid who’s been through what he has, and that’s what’s so heartbreaking about it. Nothing in his formative years was terribly stable; he lived in terrible conditions until he was eight, when he was pulled away from the only place he’d ever known and thrown into a new country, with a language he didn’t understand, in a family he couldn’t quite get the hang of interacting with. How long until all of this fell apart and he’d be thrown into the next situation? All of what he’d been through, including having been given up by his mother (whom he couldn’t quite fully remember), was traumatizing, and Jaden is absolutely suffering in this book.

His parents are well-meaning but often get things incredibly wrong. Dad is way more distant than he should be; Mom already seems exhausted (and they’re adding a baby into this mix!); together, they make some really bad decisions, like leaving Jaden alone in the apartment while they run off to the market in Kazakhstan – he’s twelve, but emotionally, he’s a LOT younger. And of course, predictably, he leaves the apartment under the guise of finding them…and gets lost. Bad move, Mom and Dad.

Jaden’s connection with Dimash was really well written and incredibly sweet to read. For the first time in his life, he’s able to see something outside of himself and his own pain, and this is a major breakthrough. The scenes where the two of them were interacting were so sweet, maybe a little bittersweet, a little like the sun breaking through storm clouds.

This is a heavy book for middle grade, and younger kids may struggle to comprehend the depth of Jaden’s trauma-induced anger and his more difficult behaviors, like starting fires. They might not fully understand why he often still sleeps on the floor like he did in the Romanian orphanage, when he has a perfectly good bed in his American room. This would make for a good parent-child read-together or book club selection; if your kiddo is reading it alone, be available to answer questions and have some discussions about what trauma is and how it can manifest.

Beautiful, heartbreaking book, one that will stick with me.

Visit Cynthia Kadohata’s website here.

fiction · YA

Book Review: Meet Me in Outer Space by Melinda Grace

Central Auditory Processing Disorder. I learned about this disorder years ago, when my son’s friend from school had this diagnosis. He was a really cool kid and just needed a little extra help to be successful, and so when I learned about Meet Me in Outer Space by Melinda Grace (Swoon Reads, 2019), in which the main character deals with CAPD, I was interested. What would a YA book that includes this disorder be like?

Edie Kits has dealt with Central Auditory Processing Disorder her whole life. What people say isn’t always what she hears, so things can get confusing, and it absolutely impacts her learning. Nevertheless, Edie has persisted and she’s doing well in college, studying to work in the fashion industry. She’s even planning to study abroad this upcoming summer…but French 102 is proving to be a problem. Not only that, but her professor is completely unwilling to accommodate her disability.

Enter Wes Hudson, the adorable-yet-frumpily-dressed TA. After a few awkward foibles over Edie’s disability in the beginning (hey, everyone needs to learn!), he’s her biggest cheerleader, helping her run interference when necessary with the grumpy professor and becoming her French tutor. Edie’s falling for him hard, but what about Paris? She’ll be gone until next spring; she can’t let a boyfriend get in the way. Better to start pushing Hudson away now…

This was cute, but just kind of okay for me. It’s one of those books where, I felt, the problem could have been solved if the two main characters could have just sat down and talked honestly about their problems (and it’s one thing if, say, some trauma from the past makes it difficult to open up. This wasn’t the case here). If Edie had just said, “Look, a relationship with you would be great, but I’m going to be gone from June until next April. I don’t know how we would handle that; what are your feelings on long-distance relationships? It wouldn’t be forever, but it would definitely be tough,” the book would’ve been about half its actual length. I found myself getting annoyed with her and Hudson because the possibility of a long-distance relationship never seemed to occur to either of them.

Including CAPD in the book definitely added an interesting aspect to the story; Edie’s struggles and frustration with her French professor made her problems incredibly real (the professor and Edie’s jackwagon counselor really ticked me off; I’m not sure some of their actions were actually legal, and Edie definitely could have pushed harder to receive the accommodations she needed – easier said than done, I’m very aware of that. Sigh). I did go into this expecting it would be a bigger issue throughout the story, that it would affect her friendships more and she would struggle more in daily life and not just in school, but Edie seemed to have an easier time of it with friends – possibly the one-on-one or smaller groups aspect helped?

This was okay for me. Not mind-blowing, but mostly enjoyable.

Visit Melinda Grace’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · middle grade

Book Review: The Way I Say It by Nancy Tandon

So I was wandering through the library with my daughter last week when she took off to go hunt for Digger, the construction-equipment stuffie that the library stashes in various places in the children’s department. If you spot Digger, you get a sticker, so my daughter’s all in on the search. (They use Digger because our new library building is currently under construction; the computer screensavers play videos of the construction updates, it’s actually really cool.) I went around front to peek at the new children’s and middle grade books, and among all the awesomeness, I found The Way I Say It by Nancy Tandon (Charlesbridge, 2022). Intrigued by the title, I opened the cover to read the inside flap, and within a few words, I was in.

Rory, a brand-new sixth grader heading to middle school, still struggles to say his r’s, a daunting sound for new speakers that usually fully resolves around second or third grade, but for some kids, it’s a little tougher. And being named Rory? Ouch. To make matters worse, his former best friend Brent has ditched him for the cool wrestling group, and he’s gone a step further, making fun of Rory right along with them. Rory’s got a stable and supportive friend group of his own, but losing Brent and being subjected to constant teasing because of his speech impediment? It hurts. A lot.

His new speech therapist, Mr. Simms, has some unorthodox ideas of what speech should look like, and from him, Rory picks up an appreciation for the life and struggles of Muhammad Ali. After a disastrous parentally-enforced get-together with Brent and some other old friends, Rory, along with his fellow students, is shocked when Brent is involved in a terrible accident that leaves him with a traumatic brain injury. Unable to reconcile this new, damaged Brent with the one who had hurt him so badly, Rory can’t quite muster sympathy. As his r’s continue to improve, Rory’s emotions remain in a tangle, and they only get more complex as Brent returns to school and becomes Rory’s partner for the big English project.

My recap absolutely does not do this book justice. First off, a book about a middle grader struggling with speech? I. Was. In. I’d never read a book about a kid in speech before, and my heart soared at this wonderful representation. While I never needed help with speech, I know how very common it is, and how much kids need to see themselves in fiction, and I can’t help but absolutely thrill at how many kids are going to see this book and feel a little less alone. Middle school, bullies…a traumatic brain injury and all the complications and messiness that entails? My goodness. This book packs a LOT into its 240 pages, and it does so masterfully.

Rory is so very real. He gets angry, he’s resentful, he shows how very hurt he was by his former best friend’s betrayal in so many realistic ways. His friends’ and fellow students’ reactions to Brent’s post-injury behavior is portrayed incredibly well. Some are sad; some are scared; some seem to use mockery and insults as a means of masking their fear (because if this could happen to Brent, it could easily happen to them as well, and middle school is about the age where this really begins to hit home…just in time for the teenage brain to take over and go, “Nah, it won’t happen to me!”). The teachers turning a blind eye to some of the less-than-acceptable behavior from Brent’s friend group is, unfortunately, all too real. Mr. Simms? Hands down one of the best adult characters I’ve read in a middle-grade novel. If only more teachers had that kind of magic!

The Way I Say It is an absolute gift to middle-grade writing. If your child struggles with speech or has in the past, they’ll see themselves in Rory and hopefully pick up some of Mr. Simms’s lessons along the way. And if your child knows someone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury, watching Brent’s struggles might be a gentle introduction as to what TBI recovery might look like, and how they might feel as they support the injured friend. I’m so very, very glad I came across this book on the new books shelf, because it was an utter delight to lose myself in.

Visit Nancy Tandon’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · graphic novel

Book Review: White Bird by R.J. Palacio

At some point, I learned about the existence of White Bird by R.J. Palacio (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019) and looked for it at the library, but it never seemed to be in, and since I never formally added the book to my TBR, I kind of forgot about it. But my daughter has discovered a love for graphic novels, and on our last trip to the library, I finally found that elusive copy of White Bird. Into my bag it went.

It’s been quite a few years since I read Ms. Palacio’s Wonder, so I didn’t quite remember Julian, Auggie’s bully, but he’s back in White Bird, interviewing his grandmother Sara, who survived the Holocaust thanks to the kindness of a local family. (The story stands alone, so reading Wonder beforehand isn’t necessary.) Julien is the boy who sits next to Sara at school. He’s survived polio and uses crutches, making him a target of many of the other students, but Sara’s never really spoken to him. The day that the Nazis come to take away the Jewish students, Julien helps Sara to hide, then takes her to his home, where her parents stash her in the barn.

As the war rages on, the two children grow, mature, and establish a firm friendship, and Sara comes to understand her prior selfishness and immaturity. But there are few Holocaust stories without loss, and through Sara’s story of survival, her grandson Julian learns what true friendship is, and how we can’t change the past, but we can move on as better people.

A beautifully drawn graphic novel, White Bird would make for a gentle introduction to an emotionally charged subject. The Holocaust and all its devastation and atrocities isn’t easy to introduce to children, but it’s a vital part of history that needs to be taught. Parents, you wouldn’t be remiss in checking this out of the library and just leaving it around the house. Odds are your kids will spot it and dive in. There’s nothing graphic or too overtly scary, but there are mentions of death; I’d put this as okay for mature fourth grade and up. Be prepared to have some discussions with your kids about the book afterwards; they’ll likely have a lot of big feelings when they turn the last page.

This is a fast read, but the story, though fiction, will stay with you. The drawings are simple, allowing Sara and Julien’s story to take center stage, and placing the reader in its various settings: running from the Nazis at school, hiding in a bale of hay in a barn, struggling to keep terror and an overwhelming sense of loss at bay. I’m glad I finally came across a copy on my library’s shelves, and I’m glad that it’s such a popular choice that I did struggle to find it. White Bird shouldn’t be missed. Especially not now that it’s being released in movie format on October 14, 2022.

Visit R.J. Palacio’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · historical fiction

Book Review: The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

World War II! Rationing! Making do in trying circumstances! From the moment I learned about The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan (Ballantine Books, 2021), I knew I would enjoy it. I’m fascinated by all things rationing (check out a review I did of a book about the subject, Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations, forward by Jill Norman) and have been ever since I was introduced to the subject as a young girl in one of my favorite books in the world, Back Home by Michelle Magorian. The Kitchen Front didn’t disappoint; it was as charming as I suspected it would be.

It’s wartime Britain, and the BBC has introduced a new contest on its show dedicated to helping housewives learn to deal with wartime rationing. The Kitchen Front’s contest is looking for the best rationing chef, and four women are desperate to win. Audrey is a widowed mom to three boys, struggling to stay afloat ever since her husband was killed in the war. Gwen, Audrey’s image-obsessed social climber sister, is hiding her unhappy reality behind an icy-old façade. Nell, an orphan-turned-maid, is scared of her own shadow, but cooking brings out the best in her. And Zelda, a professionally trained Cordon Bleu chef, will do just about anything to win – but will the secret she’s carrying ruin everything for her?

A ruthless beginning eases into something with softer edges as the women are forced together and begin to understand each other’s stories. Rifts will be mended, new bridges forged, and brand-new paths forward will appear amidst the strain and struggle of wartime. The Kitchen Front is full of charm, friendship, and the can-do attitude that gave British women the reputation for strength and fortitude of character that pulled them through the long years of rationing.

What a lovely book. The characters are all with their own personal struggles, but each is so determined to triumph despite them, that you can’t help but root for every single one, even when some of them sink to some truly low levels to win. The research put into this story is evident, with characters foraging for wild-grown ingredients, substituting local ingredients for little-known ones, and utilizing cooking techniques and recipes known to the era. (A few of the lines mentioned in the book, particularly about manner of dress for women at the time, I had learned just days before while watching episodes of Horrible Histories with my daughter!) This was very obviously a labor of love for the author, and it shows in her respectful treatment of all of the characters and how they came together in the end.

If you’ve read other books by Jennifer Ryan, I’d love to hear if you enjoyed them! I don’t read as much fiction as I’d like, and I tend to be kind of picky about the fiction I do read, so if you’ve got recommendations here, I’d love to hear them! Her The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle looks particularly interesting!

Visit Jennifer Ryan’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Jewish romance? Yes, please.

Jewish romance where the heroine has chronic medical problems? WHAT?????? SIGN. ME. UP.

Diversity in fiction, which has grown the past decade, means many things, but it’s rare that I see so much of myself in fiction. I’m pretty sure that I learned about The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer (MIRA, 2021) from either a list on Twitter or a list on Alma (and of course slapped it directly onto my TBR), but when my friend Sharon mentioned reading it and enjoying it, I knew it had to switch statuses to ‘Currently reading’ soon. And it finally appeared at the library, and I let out a little yelp of joy as I spotted it and yanked it off the shelf. Because I am entirely normal and that is a completely normal way to behave in the library.

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is carrying a lot of things in her life. The daughter of the well-known Rabbi Goldblatt, her myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, rules her whole life, from her daily activities to her career. Which…no one knows, but Rachel, Jewish daughter of a famous rabbi, is the woman behind Margot Cross, the bestselling author of a series of Christmas romance novels. Rachel loves Christmas…but no one can know, just as she refuses to let her agent and editors know about her ME/CFS. But there’s a problem: her last few books aren’t selling well. Christmas is out, and diversity is in. Rachel’s team wants her to write a Hanukkah romance. What’s a Jewish Christmas romance novelist with limited physical resources to do?

Enter Jacob Greenberg, Rachel’s camp nemesis and one-time tween boyfriend. He’s now a bigtime millionaire event planner, and he’s swinging back into town to throw the Hanukkah event of the millennium: the Matzah Ball Max. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s single and wayyyyyyyy easy on the eyes.) His attendance at her parents’ Shabbat dinner gives Rachel an in, and she manages to finagle a ticket to the Matzah Ball by – gulp – agreeing to volunteer (with her ME/CFS a constant presence? YIKES). What better way to get the Hanukkah novel inspiration she needs? But Jacob’s reappearance in her life strikes up some feelings – for both of them, and they’ll both have some deep Yom Kippur-style reflection to do if they want to move ahead in their lives…maybe even together.

LOVED THIS.

LOVED THIS SO MUCH!!!!!!!

While my medical issues are different from Rachel’s, I saw so much of myself in this book. The constantly having to tailor your entire life to what your body demands; other people not understanding what’s going on with me medically; love of Judaism; writing. It’s all there, and I felt so represented on almost every page of this! I love that chronic illness is showing up in more and more novels.

Rachel can be blunt and a little brash at times, but she knows what she needs and is a good advocate for herself (and who can blame anyone for dealing with constant pain and fatigue and/or other medical issues and being a little crabby? Well, lots of people, but I digress…). Jacob is a swoonworthy hero. He’s not without his flaws; he’s still grieving the loss of his mother and how his father walked out on the family, and despite his success in life, he still has some growing up and learning to do – about lots of things. He and Rachel make a good fit, and the constant slight pushing from their families to get together only adds to the fun of the story.

I am 100% here for Jean Meltzer’s next novel. Already on my TBR, and I’m poised and waiting. (No pressure. Just excited!) Her writing style is fun and light, serious when it needs to be, but still keeping the overall tone enjoyable and never too serious. It’s exactly what I’m looking for in fiction, and I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Visit Jean Meltzer’s website here.

fiction

Book Review: This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith

My goodness, it’s hard to get book reviews written these days. Homeschooling takes up ALL of my time from 8-3 and sometimes later (and during our breaks, I’m scrambling to get housework and cooking done, so there’s no review writing getting done there). What little reading I’m able to do gets squished in at night (and this month, I read a few books I don’t feel called to review (parenting book, book for my volunteer job, etc). I’m trying, I promise! It’s one of my goals this year to knock off all the ebooks on my list (since they’ve been sitting there for a while), and This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith (Grand Central Publishing, 2021) was the next one on that list to be available through my Libby app.

First off, this book centers on some heavy topics and comes with a few trigger warnings. This Close to Okay deals mainly with suicide, and the subject comes up often. There are also mentions of the death of a child later on, along with a scene (and brief mentions of the aftermath) of a burn accident. Make sure you’re able to handle these topics before picking up the book, and if now is not the time, take care of yourself and your mental health and go for a different book.

Driving home one night, therapist Tallie comes across a man standing on a bridge, poised to jump. Unable to walk away, she brings the man, who calls himself Emmett, back to her home, where she cares for him and the two begin to forge a connection. Emmett is a mystery; he won’t explain his past or what brought him to the bridge in the first place, but Tallie finds two notes in his jacket pocket that only compound the mystery of who Emmett is.

Emmett has run from his life and is making up for that by getting overly involved in Tallie’s (secretly emailing her ex-husband from a fake email account he sets up) and alternately considering returning to the bridge. Both he and Tallie are hiding things from each other despite their growing closeness, but Emmett’s secrets are beyond devastating. After a tragedy strikes at Tallie’s brother’s annual Halloween party and Emmett steps in to save the day, his secrets come out, and Emmett will be forced to reckon with what he wants his future to look like.

This didn’t really click with me. I think the first part of the premise – the therapist who stumbles upon a suicidal man on a bridge – was what brought me to the book in the first place, but what happens next – she takes him to her house?!?? – seems entirely unethical. I can’t imagine any practicing therapist worth their salt, who wouldn’t want to lose their license, wouldn’t go all-out trying to get the person some serious mental healthcare. I know, I know that mental health hospital beds are incredibly difficult to come by, if not downright impossible, but it seems to me that Tallie was at least obligated to try. Bringing a suicidal stranger into your home, as a single woman, seems unwise at best.

Emmett’s story, when it comes out, is terrible and tragic, but – spoiler alert – while he’s not Tallie’s client, the two of them hopping into bed together just days after he nearly killed himself seems unprofessional and unethical on Tallie’s part at best. It seriously felt icky to me. That said, I did like Tallie as a character, for the most part. She’s independent and thoughtful, focused on her future and building up her life after her divorce (which she’s still trying to heal from).

I didn’t dislike this one, but I had a difficult time getting past the initial, “Why aren’t you taking this suicidal man straight to the hospital?” That threw the whole rest of the book off for me.

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