Review: For Whom the Bread Rolls by Sarah Fox

Review: For Whom the Bread Rolls by Sarah FoxFor Whom the Bread Rolls (A Pancake House Mystery #2) by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #2
Pages: 248
Published by Alibi on March 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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From the author of The Crêpes of Wrath comes another decadent cozy mystery. This time, pancake house owner Marley McKinney is tangling with a salty troublemaker . . . and a ravenous killer.
Bonus content: includes original recipes inspired by the Flip Side Pancake House menu!
Tourist season’s in full swing in the small seaside town of Wildwood Cove, and Marley McKinney couldn’t be happier. Since taking over the Flip Side restaurant, she’s made a few close friends, adopted a cat named Flapjack, and started dating her childhood crush. The only cloud on the horizon is local nuisance Ida Winkler, who blames Marley for landing her nephew in prison. Trying to get a rise out of Marley, Ida’s been making crank calls and even vandalizing the pancake house.
The police can’t do much about the pranks, so Marley sets out to bury the hatchet once and for all. But someone’s beat her to it—in the most shocking way possible. After stumbling across Ida’s dead body, Marley’s suddenly the number-one suspect in her murder. Clearing her good name is going to be a tall order, but Marley’s not about to let Ida keep ruining her life—especially from beyond the grave.

My Review:

Just like the first book in this cozy series, The Crepes of Wrath, the title of this second book is just a bit over-the-top cute. And so is the book.

The series is definitely very cozy. In Crepes, Marley inherited her cousin Jimmy’s small-town pancake house, The Flip Side. And solved his murder. In this second book, Marley is settling into her new life in tiny, touristy Wildwood Cove – and neck deep in yet another murder.

I sense a trend.

At the end of Crepes, Marley’s meddling into the investigation of Cousin Jimmy’s death results in, among other things, nasty Ida Winkler’s son landing, quite justifiably, in prison. But Ida is both nasty and crazy, and is doing everything she can to run Marley out of business and out of town. However, Ida isn’t terribly effective, and Marley is just (and quite justifiably) annoyed.

Not that anyone in town has a single nice thing to say about Ida. She’s a piece of work. But while no one would miss her if she moved away, no one seems to hate her enough to want her dead. Which doesn’t stop Marley from just about tripping over Ida’s corpse.

And Marley has just enough of a motive, and just enough of a window of opportunity, to put herself at the top of the suspect list. So of course she decides that the best thing she can do to clear her name and protect her business is to “help” the police investigate the murder, annoying half the town (but not as badly as Ida) and putting herself squarely in the killer’s sights.

Again.

Escape Rating C+: The series is still cute. I particularly love Marley’s cat Flapjack, who is just a cat and doesn’t solve murders. But he’s a sweet boy and I wouldn’t mind having one just like him. He’s also very good, as cats often are, at knowing when his person needs an extra cuddle.

Sticking oneself into the middle of a murder investigation is enough to make any sane person need a little extra feline TLC.

But Marley’s motives for nosing around town don’t seem quite as clear-cut or as compelling as in the previous book. She loved Cousin Jimmy, and felt terribly guilty that she hadn’t been around more. And as his unexpected heir, she really was the logical murderer, if not the correct one. Following the money led straight to Marley.

However, no one seriously believes that Marley is Ida’s murderer, and that includes the cops. Not just because they know her now, but because they actually are capable of doing their jobs. Marley’s insecurity about how this latest investigation will affect her business is a bit all in her head.

And while she “investigates” one crime, she trips over two more. Someone seems to have been blackmailing local residents over mostly petty incidents, and everyone assumes that it was the late, unlamented Ida. She certainly was nasty and judgmental enough to have been the blackmailer. As if that wasn’t enough of a crime spree, someone is illegally dumping large garbage piles on the shore, and one of those dumps contains remnants of a meth lab.

While this probably isn’t a lot of crime for a small town with loads of tourists, it is a lot of coincidence for one completely amateur and occasionally inept investigator to trip over and more or less solve. The connections between the crimes feels tangential at best, and Marley just can’t resist poking her nose into all of them. It felt like more than a bit much.

Over-the-top, just like the titles. But I like Marley a lot, and I’m still enough interested in her adventures to give the series one more try. The next book, Of Spice and Men, is scheduled for the end of the summer. The perfect time for a beach read, set in a beach town, possibly with a beach murder. We’ll see.

Review; Law and Disorder by Heather Graham + Giveaway

Review; Law and Disorder by Heather Graham + GiveawayLaw and Disorder by Heather Graham
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Finnegan Connection #1
Pages: 256
Published by Harlequin Intrigue on January 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Trust the enemy?
Desperate to escape her kidnappers, Kody Cameron can turn to only one man—and he's holding a gun. Outnumbered and trapped in the deadly Everglades, she has little recourse, but something in this captor's eyes makes her believe she can trust him. Does she dare to take the risk?
Undercover agent Nick Connolly has met Kody before and knows she might very well blow his cover. Though determined to maintain his facade, he can't let Kody die. He won't. And his decision to change his own rules of law and order are about to make all hell break loose.
The Finnegan Connection

My Review:

A while back, I read some of Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series and really liked them. But it’s a big series and I’m going to need a large round tuit to get caught up. So when Law and Disorder came up as the first book in a new series, it seemed like a great chance to get in on the ground floor.

But I’m not sure that I did.

Law and Disorder is a quick and enjoyable read, but it doesn’t feel like the first book in a series. There are lots of references to the main characters in her other recent started series, New York Confidential. To the point where the Finnegan Connection feels like a side-series to New York Confidential. That connection being Finnegan’s Pub in New York City, which seems to be the centerpiece for the other series.

Nick and Kody, the hero and heroine in Law and Disorder are both friends of those Finnegans, and they actually bumped into each other, very briefly, one night at Finnegan’s. A chance encounter that helps to set up what would otherwise be a case of insta-love in Law and Disorder, mixed with just a bit of Stockholm Syndrome.

That earlier encounter takes the romance out of squicky territory, considering the way that the couple meets in this story. She thinks that he’s an upstanding (so to speak) member of the criminal gang that has just taken her and her entire staff hostage while they search for a mythical treasure. When she finally remembers where she’s seen him before, she also remembers that he’s no criminal, but rather an FBI agent who must be undercover in this mess.

She’s still kidnapped, and her captors still want that mythical treasure. Even weirder, they expect her to find it. And she just might.

Kody Cameron is an expert on her family’s strange heritage – the former home of mobster Jimmy Crystal and its extremely checkered history. A former resident of the Crystal Palace left tantalizing clues to a never recovered bank heist of gold and gems, and the kidnappers think that if they put enough pressure on Kody she’ll be inspired to discover a trove that may have been swallowed by the Florida Everglades.

And so might they.

Escape Rating C+: Law and Disorder is a relatively short book, somewhere in that uncomfortable length between novel and novella. And it probably should have been just a bit longer.

It’s a quick, fun read, but that skimpy length forced the author to short a bit on both character development and on background. And this is a story whose plot relies on a lot of that missing background.

It is possible that some of the missing character development is in Flawless, the first book in the New York Confidential series that introduces the Finnegans and Nick’s FBI handler on this case, Craig Frasier.

It’s also possible that we’re meant to just go with the instant connection between FBI agent Nick Connolly and Kody Cameron. After all, he does rescue her. But I am left wondering.

The big piece of background that feels missing is the history of Kody’s Crystal Palace and the mob bosses of Florida. Kody’s expertise on the topic is the reason that Kody gets swept up into this mess. The particular treasure trove in question has been missing for decades, and lots of things and people have been swallowed up by the Everglades. The way that Kody sifts through the tiny clues and puts the pieces together is a process that usually takes days and lots more research. The treasure hunt alone could have made a fascinating story as well as all the dirt on what happened long ago and how Kody figures it all out now. I would love to have read that book.

It might also have explained how and why the ringleader of this band of thugs became so obsessed with the old stash. It all feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

All in all, this was a fun, quick read. And it whetted my reading appetite for the New York Confidential series, which is only two books in. Finnegan’s sounds like a great place!

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Review: Pistols and Petticoats by Erika Janik

Review: Pistols and Petticoats by Erika JanikPistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction by Erika Janik
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: feminist history, historical fiction, historical mystery, history, mystery, women's history
Pages: 248
Published by Beacon Press on April 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A lively exploration of the struggles faced by women in law enforcement and mystery fiction for the past 175 years
In 1910, Alice Wells took the oath to join the all-male Los Angeles Police Department. She wore no uniform, carried no weapon, and kept her badge stuffed in her pocketbook. She wasn’t the first or only policewoman, but she became the movement’s most visible voice.
Police work from its very beginning was considered a male domain, far too dangerous and rough for a respectable woman to even contemplate doing, much less take on as a profession. A policewoman worked outside the home, walking dangerous city streets late at night to confront burglars, drunks, scam artists, and prostitutes. To solve crimes, she observed, collected evidence, and used reason and logic—traits typically associated with men. And most controversially of all, she had a purpose separate from her husband, children, and home. Women who donned the badge faced harassment and discrimination. It would take more than seventy years for women to enter the force as full-fledged officers.
Yet within the covers of popular fiction, women not only wrote mysteries but also created female characters that handily solved crimes. Smart, independent, and courageous, these nineteenth- and early twentieth-century female sleuths (including a healthy number created by male writers) set the stage for Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, as well as TV detectives such as Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison and Law and Order’s Olivia Benson. The authors were not amateurs dabbling in detection but professional writers who helped define the genre and competed with men, often to greater success.
Pistols and Petticoats tells the story of women’s very early place in crime fiction and their public crusade to transform policing. Whether real or fictional, investigating women were nearly always at odds with society. Most women refused to let that stop them, paving the way to a modern professional life for women on the force and in popular culture.

My Review:

I want to make a joke about Pistols and Petticoats being “two, two, two books in one”, but the problem with the book is that it isn’t. Instead it is two books that attempt to be combined into one. Unfortunately the seam between the two books is rather visible, and leaves a nasty and distinguishing scar.

What we have feels like an attempt to yoke a scholarly study about the changing roles of women in detection and police work joined at the slightly non-working hip with a book about the changing roles of women in detective fiction and the lives and careers of women who have made successful and even groundbreaking forays into the mystery genre.

The desire, often stated in the book, is to show how the increased roles of women in novels and later other media often presaged the increasing roles for women in real-life police work. But the two parts don’t flow into one another, possibly because there isn’t much there, well, there.

Instead, in the historical narrative, police work for women was often proposed as, and in many cases restricted to, an extension of the reform zeal of the late 1800s and the belief that dealing with social problems and juvenile crime were a natural outgrowth of women’s roles in the home. Fictional female sleuths, on the other hand, were created first of all to entertain, but created in a way that was not supposed to upset the status quo. Which explains both Miss Marple and the reason that so many young female sleuths’ careers ended in marriage.

Women were supposed to remain in the domestic sphere, and that sphere was supposed to be the pinnacle of all their ambitions. Elderly spinsters like Miss Marple needed something to occupy their time, particularly in eras where so many women were left without spouses after a generation of young men died in warfare.

Pistols and Petticoats does not read like a successful amalgamation of the author’s two “plot” lines. The historical sections that detail women’s real and increasing contributions to police work and detection, read, unfortunately, like rather dry history. It’s interesting, but only becomes lively when the women themselves have interesting lives, like Alice Clement or Kate Warne.

The parts that thrill are where the author sinks her teeth into the history of female detectives and the history of the females who have written successful mysteries. The early years of female writers who made the genre what it is today, but whose works have not continued to find readers, was fascinating.

The information about where certain trends in mystery took their cues from contemporary life and women’s places in it also pulled me in. Not just the heroines of the Golden Age, like Christie and Marple, and Sayers with Harriet Vane, but also how those characters fit into their own society.

murderess ink by dilys winnEscape Rating C+: All in all, the parts of the book that dealt with mystery fiction made for more compelling reading. They also reminded me of a book that I have not thought of in years, Murderess Ink. Murderess Ink, the followup to Murder Ink, was a lighthearted study of the women who created and populated the mystery genre from the Golden Age until its late 1970s present. As much as I enjoyed the sections of Pistols and Petticoats that dealt with the genre, perhaps it is time for an update of Murder Ink and Murderess Ink.

Review: Battlestorm by Susan Krinard

Review: Battlestorm by Susan KrinardBattlestorm (Midgard, #3) by Susan Krinard
Format: print ARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: portal fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Midgard #3
Pages: 480
Published by Tor Books on March 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The third installment in New York Times bestselling author Susan Krinard’s first urban fantasy series...
Centuries ago, the Norse gods and goddesses fought their Last Battle with the trickster god Loki and his frost giants. All were believed lost, except for a few survivors…including the Valkyrie Mist, forgotten daughter of the goddess Freya.
But the battle isn’t over, and Mist—living a mortal life in San Francisco—is at the center of a new war, with the fate of earth hanging in the balance. As old enemies and allies reappear around the city, Mist must determine who to trust, all while learning to control her own growing power.
It will take all of Mist’s courage, determination, and newfound magical abilities to stop Loki before history repeats itself.

My Review:

This is one of those stories where it isn’t so much that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” or even “the enemy of my enemy is my ally” but rather “the enemy of my enemy is someone else I can betray sooner or later, probably sooner.”

It feels like Battlestorm is the bastard child of American Gods and Babylon 5, and I’m still not sure whether I mean that in a good way or not.

Just as in American Gods, the primary movers and shakers of the story are gods from the Norse pantheon, Odin, Loki, and for added spice and betrayal, Freya. This is also as complex and dense a story as American Gods, without having any of its lighter moments. Battlestorm is Ragnarök moved to Midgard, meaning our present-day Earth, with all the possibilities for the end of the world as we know it that the idea of Ragnarök implies.

American Gods was much lighter in comparison, and that’s saying something.

Mist by Susan KrinardLike the long story arc of Babylon 5, the story began in Mist and continued in Black Ice has the feel of a long-anticipated and often repeated battle between Good and Evil. However, just as in Babylon 5, now that the forces of Good have revealed themselves in Odin, the contest is nowhere near that clear cut. Instead, we have a battle between the forces of Order and Chaos. Loki represents the forces of Chaos, and he desires a world where all law and order is eliminated, and only the strongest and most ruthless survive. On that infamous other hand, Odin represents Order. But Order with a capital O is not necessarily good. Odin is a force for the tyranny of order, a world where he will be the absolute ruler and utter dictator, and humanity can only exist in a state of blind obedience.

Poor Mist is caught in the middle. She wants to protect the people of Midgard, among whom she has lived for centuries. She believes that humanity should be left to determine its own path, without interference from her gods. But as a Valkyrie, Odin commands her obedience. And Loki holds those she loves captive.

Mist is going to have to betray someone in order to protect those she holds dear. Including the entire human race.

Escape Rating C+: If the concept of the Norse gods coming to contemporary earth to enact their final battle, or anything else, appeals to you, start this series at the beginning, with Mist. The three book series, Mist, Black Ice and now Battlestorm, is one long saga (how fitting!) and must be read in order to make any sense at all.

That being said, I personally think the whole thing probably works better if you can manage to read the whole thing not just in order but also close together. There are so many players in this story, so many wheels within wheels, that it feels impossible to remember who is betraying whom, and why, a year after the previous book. For those readers who, like me, read the books as they came out, I sincerely hope that the finished copy includes a synopsis of previous events. The ARC I read did not, and I really needed one.

A primer on the Norse pantheon probably wouldn’t hurt either, particularly focused on who is related to whom. Loki had a surprising number of powerful and interesting children, who all have agendas of their own, and do not always obey their father. But then, Odin has that problem with his kids as well. In Battlestorm, Loki’s personality and his relationship with his father feel like they owe a lot to Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I found Battlestorm to be dense. It took me twice as long to read it as I expected, because I kept needing to step away and digest what had just happened – meaning what had just gone wrong. Mist never catches a break. She also seems to always be the last person in the universe to find out or be told information that is crucial to her fight and even to her very existence. There are a few too many instances where someone is just about to tell her something she desperately needs to know – only to be interrupted and the opportunity disappear for days and pages. For the daughter of a goddess, Mist seems woefully, or deliberately, misinformed about damn near everything all of the time.

This is the part that reminded me most of American Gods. Not just the Norse pantheon, but Mist’s position is a lot like Shadow’s. She has been created for a purpose that she has no clues about, but is led around by the nose by beings who are much better informed than she is and who are deliberately keeping her in the dark. And in the end, very little is as it originally seemed, to her or to the reader. Also like Shadow.

black ice by susan krinardFor anyone who has read my reviews of Mist and Black Ice, I was dead wrong about Orn’s identity. The true identity of the parrot becomes totally clear very early in Battlestorm. Just call him Mr. Wednesday.

If some of the description of and comments about Battlestorm appeal, try American Gods. It is positively awesome, where Battlestorm has both its moments and its moments of frustration. If the idea of evil being good and good being evil sounds interesting, try Banewreacker and Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey, which explore the same themes.

In the end, I was glad I finished Battlestorm and saw the story begun in Mist and Black Ice come to at least some resolution.

Review: Finding Mr. Right Now by Meg Benjamin

Review: Finding Mr. Right Now by Meg BenjaminFinding Mr. Right Now by Meg Benjamin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Salt Box #1
Pages: 324
Published by Samhain Publishing on June 2nd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Reality can be hotter than fiction.
"The Salt Box Trilogy, Book 1"
Monica McKellar, associate producer of "Finding Mr. Right," is desperate. One of the show s bachelors has bailed one week before shooting starts. She not only needs a replacement ASAP, he has to get the temperamental bachelorette s stamp of approval.
Fortunately there s a hot guy right under her nose who s a perfect fit. Unfortunately, he pushes all "her" hot buttons. Until the show s over, her hands and every other part of her body are tied.
When Paul Dewitt signed on to write for the reality show, Bachelor #10 wasn t supposed to be in his job description. He fully expects to be cut early on, which will free him to focus on the real object of his attraction. Monica.
Instead, he s a finalist, and they re all packed in an SUV climbing the Continental Divide, headed for Salt Box, Colorado. Where stampeding horses, vindictive tabloid editors, and one capricious bachelorette s waffling over suitors may conspire to end Paul and Monica s romance before it even starts.
Warning: Contains hot sex on the sly, cold nights, creaking wicker couches, and a gypsy wagon that gives a whole new appreciation for the pioneers."

My Review:

I picked this up because I really enjoyed the author’s Ramos Family Trilogy (Medium Well, Medium Rare and Happy Medium) and was hoping that lightning would strike twice.

Nope.

Instead, I have an entire SUV-load full of mixed feelings and reactions. As you’ll read in a minute.

The love story here takes place on the disaster-prone set of a reality TV show. As many things as go wrong, you’d think this was on a Survivor-clone, but it isn’t. Instead, this is an alternate version of The Bachelor, where one of the photogenic losing bachelorettes becomes the star of the first series of The Bachelorette. Although I think this kind of happened.

In any case, in the book, the shows are produced by a fairly downmarket cable production company, and everything is on a shoestring. That might make good comedy, and probably did for some readers.

But the story here isn’t about the starring bachelorette finding true love through the show. Instead, that starring bachelorette loses her original starry-eyed belief in true love. It’s the long-suffering assistant producer who finds the love of her life.

Unfortunately for both of them, she finds that love with one of the erstwhile bachelors. Which is where a good chunk (hunk?) of the sexual tension comes in. Both Monica and Paul are single and unattached, and would normally be free to explore whatever is happening between them.

But they can’t until the show is over, because it will ruin an illusion that no one is really buying into. And they can’t seem to hang on to their pants for the six weeks needed to complete the show.

Escape Rating C+: It’s hard to rate this one. I found the scenario behind the book incredibly contrived. That could be because I’m not a fan of reality TV.

I liked the two protagonists quite a bit. Monica is incredibly put upon as the assistant producer, but she keeps taking the hard knocks and doing her job. She’s self-aware enough to know that jobs in show business are hard to find, and that this is what she expected when she decided to be in the business. But it isn’t until she meets Paul Dewitt that she starts looking for the next phase in her life. Not just that it would be great to have someone to come home to, but that she has learned all she can where she is, and it’s time to move up the ladder. Or on to a less dysfunctional production company. Or both.

I also liked Paul, although the situation he finds himself in seems as contrived as the TV show. He was not a contestant to be one of the bachelors. He’s a writer for the show who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and got dragooned into the bachelor pool by the self-absorbed bachelorette and the tyrannical producer.

And that’s where things kind of go off the rails for this reader. A big part of this story is all about Monica becoming the “babysitter” for the self-absorbed sweetheart diva of a bachelorette. Little Ronnie probably isn’t half as dumb as she acts, but she comes off as a combination of wide-eyed innocence, total vapidity, and utter self-absorption that made me clench my teeth every time she appeared. She’s also incredibly manipulative, but you’re never quite sure just how deliberate she is in that manipulation.

Except for Monica and Paul, all of the other producers and writers involved with this production company are at best totally overwhelmed and completely oblivious to everything outside their own sphere of crises to solve, and at worst, and this is most of them, they are actively vile. There doesn’t seem to be anyone likable in the company except for Paul and Monica. The photographer on the shoot with them isn’t actively awful, but that’s as high a bar as anyone else in the company manages to reach.

So it feels like the show is toxic, which means that their work environment is toxic. One understands why they both want to escape, but one questions their sanity at being involved at all. It wouldn’t be fun to work in, and it isn’t fun to read about, either.

On that other hand, I liked the town of Salt Box where they get stranded for a couple of days. It’s a quirky place, but it feels more real. Or at least more nuanced in its insanity. While one of the locals is often called “Dick the dick”, when we (and Monica) get to know him a little better, we discover that while he is the curmudgeon that he appears, he isn’t really quite that big of an asshat. He just doesn’t suffer fools, and tests everyone in his orbit to make sure they are not before he lets them in.

At the end of this story, I feel more than a bit of sympathy for Dick. He discovers that Paul and Monica are not fools, and lets them into his circle and out of the circle of Hell they are currently working in. And he makes sure that the rest of the cast and crew of that show all stay OUT.

Review: Burning Bright by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen + Giveaway

Review: Burning Bright by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen + GiveawayBurning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: Hanukkah romance, holiday romance
Pages: 400
Published by Avon Impulse on December 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This December, take a break from dreidel spinning, gelt winning, and latke eating to experience the joy of Chanukah. When you fall in love during the Festival of Lights, the world burns a whole lot brighter.
It’s definitely not love at first sight for Amanda and her cute but mysterious new neighbor, Ben. Can a Chanukah miracle show them that getting off on the wrong foot doesn’t mean they can’t walk the same road?
Lawyers in love, Shari Cohen and Evan Sonntag are happy together. But in a moment of doubt, he pushes her away—then soon realizes he made a huge mistake. To win her back, it might take something like a Chanukah miracle.
When impulsive interior designer Molly Baker-Stein barges into Jon Adelman's apartment and his life intent on planning the best Chanukah party their building has ever seen, neither expects that together they just might discover a Home for Chanukah.
All Tamar expected from her Israel vacation was time to hang out with one of her besties and to act like a tourist, cheesy t-shirt and all, in her two favorite cities. She definitely was not expecting to fall for Avi, a handsome soldier who’s more than she ever dreamed. 

My Review:

In the avalanche of holiday romances that arrives every November and December, I seldom see anyone like myself. Why? Because there is a dearth of Hanukkah romance in the middle of all the Christmas. And just like the heroines in this collection of Hanukkah romances, I’m Jewish. It was beyond marvelous to read romances that reflected some of my experience, where the cultural background is the one that I remember from my own family. So for that alone, this collection is a marvelous collection of Hanukkah lights.

But these are also terrific love stories, and anyone looking for something slightly different in their holiday romance will certainly find someone and something to love in this bunch of treats. Or bag of chocolate Hanukkah gelt.

My favorite story in the book is the first one, Miracle by Megan Hart. It’s a love story, and it is also a story about finding your own path, even if it is not the one that other people think you should follow. So it’s a story about growing up and breaking away. Ben has moved to Harrisburg, PA of all places, in order to get away from his ultra-orthodox religious community back in New York. While it is impossible to grow up in the U.S. without some exposure to popular (and Christian) culture, Ben’s community in NYC was as isolated in its own way as the Amish. Popular culture was something forbidden, and something that happened very much on the outside of the insular and insulated community. But when the girl that Ben was supposed to marry falls in love with his best friend, Ben takes the opportunity to escape a life that doesn’t fit him. He wants to travel, he wants to experience the entire world, and he doesn’t want to take over his father’s kosher grocery store chain. He isn’t sure what he wants for his life, but he wants a wider world than the one he has experienced so far.

In Harrisburg, he meets Amanda. While Amanda is also Jewish, she has grown up in the wider and predominantly Christian world. In Amanda’s life, while she is proud of being Jewish, she has also experience some anti-Semitism and has the experience of being a minority where most people she meets are different from herself. Ben often seems critical because she does not act the way that he was brought up to expect “good girls” to act, while at the same time he is definitely attracted both to her and the adaptation to the world as a whole that he craves. When his father shows up at his doorstep in an attempt to guilt Ben into returning home, Ben is caught between the life he had, and the life he wants with Amanda.

In both A Dose of Gelt by Jennifer Gracen and A Home for Chanukah by Stacey Agdern, while the details in the stories are different, the theme is the same. In both stories, the couple are negotiating the shift from friends and lovers to lovers and partners. And in both cases, there is a huge bump in the smoothness of that road. In Gracen’s story, Evan and Shari have been lovers for several months, long enough for both of them to think seriously about the future. But they are both lawyers, and Evan in particular is a divorce lawyer. He has soured on marriage so much that he isn’t sure he will ever want to enter that institution for himself. When he brings Shari home for the holidays, his unwillingness to ever marry runs headlong into his family’s desire for him to settle down with Shari, and Shari’s coalescing thoughts that someday she would like to marry and have children, and that she would like her someday with Evan.

The relationship between Jon and Molly in Agdern’s story is much newer than the one in A Dose of Gelt, but hits similar rocky shoals. Jon invites interior designer Molly to turn his empty apartment into a place he will feel at home – but when he comes back from a business trip and sees what she has done, he feels invaded and exposed, and pretty much shoots the messenger, meaning Molly. It takes a lot of appropriate groveling and some very pointed nudging from Jon’s family and Molly’s friends to get Jon to see the light. Or lights.

KK Hendin’s story, All I Got, gave me a bit of trouble. I liked the happy ending, but getting there was a bit confusing. Tamar returns to Israel for Winter break, and meets a handsome soldier. She falls in love, but keeps her feelings to herself, knowing that she has to return to the U.S. to fulfill her college scholarship. That handsome soldier, Avi, finds a way to follow her to the States, so he can discover if what they feel for each other is real. The story is told from Tamar’s first person perspective, with lots of inserted quotes from either her friends or from others who have written about the experience of traveling to or living in Israel. The quotes are fascinating, and Tamar’s story is lovely, but for this reader they didn’t blend together well.

Escape Ratings:
Miracle by Megan Hart: A-
A Dose of Gelt by Jennifer Gracen: B
A Home for Chanukah by Stacey Agdern: B+
All I Got by KK Hendin: C+

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