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.

Visit Leesa Cross-Smith’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · historical fiction

Book Review: The Third Daughter by Talia Carner

I belong to a few different book groups on Facebook. I’m not hugely active in any of them, but it’s always interesting to see what everyone’s reading and what they think about it as I scroll through my feed (although, annoyingly, there’s a lot of, “Has anyone else read fill-in-the-blank-with-this-New-York-Times bestseller???” and a weird amount of apron-string-strangling posts like “Is Great Expectations an appropriate read for my 17-year-old son?” ARE. YOU. SERIOUS.). A few weeks ago, someone in my Jewish women’s book group mentioned how much she was enjoying The Third Daughter by Talia Carner (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019), so I looked it up, and whoa. Historical fiction about a period of Jewish history I had never heard of. Onto my TBR it went.

1890s Russia. Life is bleak for Jewish peasants. Pogroms are raging, poverty is rampant, hunger is the norm. Batya and her family are barely managing to eke out the most meager of livings when a rich Jewish man appears in town, offering marriage and a better way of life for the whole family. Though Batya is only fourteen, her parents agree to send her off to America with him, and that’s when the nightmare begins. This man is not a potential husband, but a pimp running a brothel in Buenos Aires, where prostitution is legal and young Jewish girls are trafficked in unimaginable conditions thanks to a Jewish crime ring known as Zwi Migdal.

Batya learns to cope with her life of being trafficked, depending on the support of the girls who live in the brothel with her, but she never loses the spark of what makes her her, and when the opportunity comes to take Zwi Migdal down, she warily agrees, on the condition that she finally get her family out of Russia.

This book obviously comes with many, many content warnings. Rape features heavily throughout this story, as do the various consequences of being trafficked in the 1890s. This is emotionally a very heavy book, so if you’re already dealing with a lot and can’t handle more, be kind to yourself and put this book off until you’re able to manage.

I knew nothing about this period of history prior to picking up this book; I hadn’t known that Buenos Aires was a hotbed of human trafficking, nor had I ever heard of Zwi Migdal. What a horrifying, soul-crushing nightmare the lives of these young women turned into. Their lives were constantly at risk from disease and murder (from their pimps, from their clients) and death due to being thrown out on the streets. After they’d outlived their usefulness to the brothel, there was nowhere else for them to go; even their own community misunderstood what was happening to them and refused them any sort of help or support. Devastation abounded for these women, and the best most of them could hope for was to be kept as someone’s mistress on the side, thus freeing them from a lifetime of forced prostitution to a parade of men.

Batya is a strong character. She’s far from perfect; she develops a tough exterior in order to survive, and this doesn’t always serve her well, but it keeps her adapting and alive. The conditions Ms. Carner describes are deplorable and frightening. While historical fiction often suffers from a sort of literary distance, the writing in this book keeps it feeling immediate and urgent. You’ll fly through the pages, desperate for some sort of positive resolution, because for anyone to live like this otherwise is unthinkable. That this story is based on the real lives of thousands of young girls is utterly heartbreaking.

Although this is an incredibly heavy book, it’s ultimately triumphant, though bittersweet, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s painful, but it’s a story that deserves to be told, read, shared. I’m glad it’s a book I spent time with.

Visit Talia Carner’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: The Intimacy Experiment (The Roommate #2) by Rosie Danan

I’m 100% always in the market for good Jewish representation in contemporary fiction, especially romance. There’s not a ton of it, so when I find it, I get pretty excited. That’s how The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan (Berkley Books, 2021) ended up on my TBR. But sometimes books aren’t what we hoped for, and this was one of them. And that’s fine. Not every book is for every reader. Here’s the gist of it.

Naomi Grant is a former professional sex worker, star of many, many adult films, and now head of her own company whose aim is to teach people how to have good sex. Over the years, she’s developed the tough skin necessary for people who work in such a controversial industry. She wants to move into teaching in-person crowds, but no one wants to hire someone who’s known mainly for being in pornography.

Rabbi Ethan Cohen needs to get more people into his struggling synagogue with an aging congregation. What better than to invite a former adult actress to teach a series on modern intimacy? The board will LOVE that!

While Naomi’s series grows in popularity, she and Ethan grow closer, but a rabbi and a porn star becoming a couple? Naomi wouldn’t do that to Ethan’s life and career, and Ethan is wary of placing the demands of his career on anyone. And surprise, the synagogue board isn’t happy about having a porn star teaching classes…

This really didn’t work for me. Naomi’s entire personality is brash, angry, and unpleasant. She was rude even to her friends and co-workers, and while the whole point was that she was defensive and lashed out first before other people could attack her, it made her tiresome to read and I had a hard time believing anyone would enjoy spending any kind of time with her.

Ethan was fine as a character, but I didn’t quite buy his whole, ‘Being a rabbi is too difficult for anyone to marry me!’ shtick; so far, I’ve met one single rabbi, and all the rest have been married. I understand that being married to someone who is clergy isn’t always the easiest position; the hours are constant and it’s incredibly demanding. But for Ethan to act like it’s impossible? Especially as someone who is apparently super attractive and has women throwing themselves at him constantly? Nah. Not buying it.

I liked Ethan’s open-mindedness and his sex-positive attitude (Naomi’s as well, but as she seemed so damn angry about it, it was harder to enjoy anything about her). His gentle pushing of his congregation to be more modern was entirely believable. But overall? I kind of had to push myself in order to get through this, which is a clear sign for me that this book just wasn’t the one for me. It happens. : )

Visit Rosie Danan’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · New Adult · romance

Book Review: When It’s Real by Erin Watt

The celebrity/normal person trope in romance is my absolute favorite. Which is kind of funny; I’m not much of a celebrity watcher at all, so I don’t harbor any fantasies about running away with the current hottie-of-the-month. But there’s just something about this trope that pulls me in, and that’s how When It’s Real by Erin Watt (Harlequin Teen, 2017) ended up on my list. And there it sat until I finally decided to tackle all those ebooks on my list.

Oakley Ford is one of the hottest musicians out there, but he hasn’t come out with an album in a few years. His team decides that not only does he need to keep his name out there, he desperately needs to revamp his bad boy image. Enter Vaughn, the sister of an employee at Oak’s agent’s office. She’ll be perfect as his fake girlfriend- smart, pretty, a fan, and raising her two brothers with her older sister after their parents died in an accident a few years ago (this is a New Adult book; you didn’t think you could get out of a New Adult without some dead parents, did you?). Agreements are made, contracts are drawn and signed, and that’s that: for one year, Oak and Vaughn are legally a thing.

Things are rocky at first; despite being a fan and being super attracted to Oak, Vaughn doesn’t appreciate Oak’s immaturity and his self-centeredness. His fishbowl life doesn’t appeal to her, and it’s hard managing her real-life boyfriend’s whininess about her relationship-for-pay-that-her-family-truly-needs around the demands of her solely-for-show relationship with Oakley. But as the two get to know each other, a different side of Oak emerges, one that’s more mature and more real than what the public has seen so far, and the two begin to fall in love. But can they keep it together?

This was okay. Solid enough. I liked Vaughn. She’s stressed to the max, what with trying to help her older sister (I would’ve enjoyed a book about her!) raise their two younger brothers and deal with all the financial and emotional repercussions of losing their parents so young. She’s trying to figure out what to do with her life and struggling with the demands and pressures of a boyfriend who doesn’t seem to care about anyone other than himself. She felt pretty real.

Oakley…he was immature. Obnoxious. Self-centered. He was better than W, Vaughn’s whiny boyfriend, but he was still way more self-serving in the beginning than I would’ve liked, and he wasn’t someone I would’ve been attracted to, simply because of his attitude. He did grow and improve throughout the novel, thanks to Vaughn, but I would’ve liked to have seen more of those changes come from him, rather than from their relationship.

I felt like their physical relationship- which wasn’t even an actual dating relationship at that point- went from nothing to ‘You’re doing what now???’ out of nowhere. That kind of surprised me and made it feel like this was actually two books smushed together. I felt as though there should have been more build-up to this, rather than throwing it in what felt like randomly.

So this was okay. Not the best New Adult I’ve read, nor the best celebrity/normal person trope, but it was a decent read and I have no regrets.

Visit Erin Watt’s website here.

Follow them on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Book Review: Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen

There aren’t a ton of books out there set in Orthodox Jewish communities, so finding a really fun one- especially a YA!- is like discovering a twenty-dollar bill in the crispy fall leaves at the edge of the sidewalk when you’re out for a refreshing autumn walk. That’s how I felt about Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen (ECW Press, 2014). I think this one came to my TBR via a suggestion in one of my Facebook groups, possibly one for Jewish women (that would make the most sense!), but I have book suggestions flying every which way at me on every social platform, so I’m not 100% sure. Either way, I was excited to read it and very much enjoyed this fun, spirited story.

Raina Resnick doesn’t have the best track record lately. Kicked out of her last school, she’s been shipped off to Toronto to live with her aunt and uncle, while her parents head to Hong Kong for her father’s job. The message is clear: if Raina doesn’t shape up, both academically and behaviorally, high school will become a Hong Kong homeschool nightmare. Toronto for Raina is lonely; there’s no breaking into the social scene, and her sister’s appearance clues her in that something has gone very, very wrong in their formerly close relationship. It’s this loneliness that pushes Raina to strike up a friendship with the woman who sits next to her on the bus every day, and before she knows it, Raina is setting her new single friend up with a family friend.

It’s a match, but Raina’s excitement is tempered by the fact that this family friend had been meant for her already-heartbroken sister. Whoops. But when word of Raina’s matchmaking gets around, all of lonely Toronto wants her anonymous services…including Leah, her sister. One mishap after another befalls her, but the successes and the potential to repair her relationship with her sister keep her going, despite the hits to her schoolwork. But when her secret comes out…how will everyone around her react???

This was fun. More a comedy-of-errors than I usually enjoy (you know, when everything that can possibly go wrong DOES go wrong, in a way that keeps you cringing and just so, so uncomfortable???), but Raina is so earnest, despite having messed up in the past, that you can’t help but root for her. Her family obviously wants what’s best for her, but they’re seeing her through a very narrow lens, which obviously leads to other problems.

It’s helpful to know a little about the Orthodox Jewish community, but not necessary; Raina does a pretty good job of explaining the ins and outs and why matchmaking is serious business, along with other tidbits that come up. Really, Raina’s just an average teenage girl, wanting friendship, a better relationship with her sister, to help other people and do some good in this world. Her path towards those goals may be a roundabout one, but she gets there and it’s so much fun to watch.

I hope Suri Rosen eventually writes more YA, because her voice is so authentic and enjoyable.

Visit Suri Rosen’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Invisible City (Rebekah Roberts #1) by Julia Dahl

I *think* Invisible City (Rebekah Roberts #1) by Julia Dahl (Minotaur Books, 2014) ended up on my list during the time I searched for Jewish books in my library’s digital card catalog, but I could be wrong. I’m a member of a few different book groups on Facebook, so it could have come from there. Either way, it ended up on my list as an ebook, and I dragged my feet long enough that my library no longer had it listed as an ebook. Bummer! (And I’ve got a new attitude about how quickly I’ll get to ebooks on my list.) Interlibrary loan to the rescue!

Rebekah Roberts is a young reporter on the beat in New York City for one of the city’s rattiest tabloids. She’s the daughter of a Christian father (who raised her) and a Hasidic mother (who split and returned to her community not long after Rebekah’s birth, leaving Rebekah angry and bitter and confused), and when she’s assigned to the story about a dead body discovered in a scrapyard, she’s on it…and is even more intrigued when she finds out the victim was a young Hasidic mother, and the scrapyard is Hasidic-owned.

The police’s chummy relationship with the Hasidic community means the investigation barely gets off the ground, and thanks to a friend of her father’s, Rebekah finds herself deep in the search for the truth. What happened to Rivka that she ended up dangling from a crane in a scrapyard? What did her insular community have to do with the circumstances that led to her death? And what does all of this have to do with Rebekah and her mother?

I have mixed feelings about this one. I don’t read a ton of thrillers and crime novels (and I’m absolute garbage at figuring out whodunit), but I tend to enjoy most of the ones I do read. I enjoyed the pacing of this story; it moved quickly but without keeping me anxious and on the edge of my seat, which I can’t stand. The writing was fine; I didn’t find it anything phenomenal, but it was readable without having to think too deeply, which I appreciate. I’m not much of a literary fiction reader; when I dive into fiction, I’m doing it to be entertained, not to discuss the themes of the book with a group of professors at a wine and cheese party.

The setting was interesting. There aren’t a ton of novels out there set among the Hasidic community, so that felt fresh, but Rebekah’s lack of curiosity about the Judaism she inherited from her mother was a bit irritating to me. Her anger at her mother was understandable, but her almost complete lack of knowledge (despite her dad being some sort of religious scholar), felt…off.

What didn’t work for me was the disrespect I felt towards multiple groups in this book. Let’s start with the Hasidic Jewish community. These are people living their lives in the way they think is best. I disagree with a lot of what they believe and teach, but they’re still my people, and it irks me a bit to see them placed in such a fishbowl. There are many, many problems in the community (as happens in every insular group out there), but to me, this felt like all those books setting romances and thrillers in the Amish community: exploitative. It felt more to me like this community was the setting for a grisly murder of a young mother more for the shock value than anything, and that bothered me. Especially since this is a series and there’s another Hasidic murder in the next book. This bothered me a lot as I got deeper into the book.

Secondly, the constant use of mental illness as a reason for violence really bothered me. I’m not saying that the Hasidic community does a great job dealing with mental illness; from what I’ve read, a lot gets swept under the rug for fear of making families look bad and ruining chances of children making good marriages (sigh). But mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of serious crimes than to be the ones committing them, and perpetuating this stereotype that mentally ill people are often violent and go around constantly murdering people…nope. Didn’t like that one bit. And there’s a LOT of references to mental illness in this book that didn’t quite hit the mark for me as a respectful, thoughtful way to discuss these conditions, even in a community who doesn’t necessarily have a perfect track record in how they handle it.

So this book had its ups and downs for me. I likely won’t continue on with the series, though I am curious what happens if/when Rebekah makes contact with her mother. If you’ve read the series, feel free to spoil this for me in the comments. ; )

Visit Julia Dahl’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1) by Sarina Bowen

I love hockey, though I haven’t been able to follow it at all during the pandemic (I have no desire to watch players and fans get COVID in real time, thank you very much). So when Smart Bitches, Trashy Books recommended Sarina Bowen as an author, I decided I wanted to read something of hers and started digging through what my library had to offer. And lo and behold, she had a hockey series! Onto my list went Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1) (Berkley, 2016). It took me a while to get to it, though. Thanks to one of my New Year’s resolutions being to finally read all of the ebooks I’d been saving on my TBR, now was the time! (I adore my kindle; the ebooks just got pushed to the side in part because of worries about the library closing again and my needing to save something from my TBR in case that happened. No worries, though; I have a plan if that does go down!)

Georgia’s life is going pretty well these days. She’s the temporary head of PR for Brooklyn’s new hockey team, the Bruisers. She wasn’t quite planning on her father signing on as head coach, but they’re close, so it’s all good. She’s sharing a tiny apartment with a friend she loves. Sure, she hasn’t really dated much at all in the six years since she walked away from her high school love after having survived being raped while on a college tour, but everything else is perfectly fine. Georgia is finally feeling safe in her life.

Enter the team’s newest player, straight from the minor leagues: Leo Trevi, who just so happens to be Georgia’s high school boyfriend. Both are absolutely floored to see each other. Leo’s ready to pick back up where they left off; he never got over Georgia when she dumped him out of the blue six years ago. For Georgia, Leo’s reappearance in her life begins to dredge up old feelings she thought she’d moved past, and she’s not so sure about moving forward with him. But Leo’s patient, and Georgia’s feelings for him aren’t quite as over as she thought.

This is really a great, solid sports romance. Obviously there’s a content warning for rape; the subject comes up often (though never in any kind of detail) and is an integral part of the storyline, so if reading this would be difficult for you, it’s okay to choose another book. Be kind to yourself. Leo is gentle and patient at all times with Georgia; her moving on from him has nothing to do with his reaction to her attack, only her own misinterpretation. Georgia is strong and independent, but she’s lonely and still hurting, though she covers it well.

The romance in this novel absolutely sizzles! WHEW. I was rooting for the two of them the whole way, because they have some serious chemistry. And Sarina Bowen’s writing in the hockey game scenes is utterly top-notch. I was on the edge of my seat and could barely handle reading the tension. Who would win, who would score, the potential for serious injury, it was all perfectly paced and described. Ms. Bowen obviously knows hockey and has talent in spades for letting her love for the sport shine on each page.

This was a fun, fun, FUN book to read, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Sarina Bowen in the future.

Visit Sarina Bowen’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Miss Jacobson’s Journey by Carola Dunn

A while back, I did a search through my library’s card catalog (from home. My older readers, remember when physical card catalogs existed? I have a scar on my left hand from dropping the H drawer on it. My library tattoo, if you will…) for Jewish books. There’s not a ton of fiction out there with a Jewish theme (beyond the hordes of Holocaust books, that is. Though there has been more non-Holocaust fiction lately, and I’m thankful for that!), so I was happy to stumble across Miss Jacobson’s Journey by Carola Dunn (Walker & Company, 1992). A historical romance with a Jewish bent? Sign me up!

Miriam’s parents want to marry her off, but she’s shocked by the pale, nerdy Torah scholar they’ve chosen for her and immediately proclaims her intentions to travel through Europe with her doctor uncle instead of marrying that guy, shocking everyone in the room and humiliating the young man. A decade later, her uncle has passed away and Miriam is stuck in France, thanks to the war between France and England. A deal struck with Jacob Rothschild to return her home teams her up with Isaac Cohen, a fellow Jew, and Felix, an antisemitic British aristocrat fallen on hard times. They’ll be smuggling some gold back into England on their long journey home, and the tension between the three- for various reasons- is enormous.

Difficulties befall the group constantly while traveling across France, and Miriam and the two men begin to work out their differences- kind of. She develops affections toward both of them, but in the end, she’ll have to make a choice- if they get home safely, that is.

Miss Jacobson’s Journey turned out to be a really entertaining read. Felix and other characters’ antisemitism was, obviously, unpleasant to read, but it was necessary to both further the plot and in order to be historically accurate. Historical fiction, oddly, can sometimes not age well, but despite having been published when I was twelve, this seemed just as fresh as though it were a new release. Carola Dunn’s voice reminded me distinctly of Tessa Dare, and this book was an enjoyable read the whole way through.

Miriam is a delightful character, headstrong and independent, curious about the inner workings of her religion/ethnicity that have been denied to her by dint of having been born female (it wasn’t considered proper for women to learn Torah back then and Miriam’s curiosity and Felix’s ignorance of anything Jewish make for interesting educational bits that help further the plot). Isaac is sweet and proper; Felix, while being a smarmy oaf, makes decent strides in becoming a better person. And journeying through France in the 18-teens made for a wonderful literary field trip while being stuck in the house due to freezing temps and Omicron.

Visit Carola Dunn’s website here.