Happy Holidays 2015

grumpy cat xmas

As someone who does not celebrate Christmas, my attitude is sometimes a lot like the one that Grumpy Cat exhibits above. Some of my fondest Christmas memories are of driving around Chicago at Christmastime, listening to a compilation of Dr. Demento Christmas carols and hunting out the most outrageous and over-the-top Christmas light displays in the neighborhood.

This year, no one seems to be dashing through the snow – mostly because there isn’t any snow! Except, of course, for Anchorage, none of the places that we have lived are remotely cold enough to snow this year. Not even Chicago! And the northeast is having a heat wave. (We’ll be in Boston in a couple of weeks, and I’m crossing my fingers for the unseasonable warmth to continue!)

But seriously, even though Christmas is not everyone’s holiday, this year, just like every year, we could all use a little more “peace on earth and goodwill to all”.

So Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, Merry Christmas, Happy (belated) Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and best wishes for whatever you celebrate this year. Including the two lovely four day weekends in a row!

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+

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Chrismukkah 2014

christmas-vs-hanukkah

Today may be Christmas as well as the last day of Hanukkah, but there are plenty of holidays to celebrate in late December.

And if none of the others appeal, there’s always Festivus.

But seriously, whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice or simply that the days have started getting longer again, have a happy whatever you are having, and a safe and prosperous New Year.

Under the Tree: Happy Chrismukkawanztice!

Book-Christmas-TreeHappy Chrismukkahwanztice Everyone! Regardless of your spiritual persuasion, Chrismukkahwanztice in the United States is essentially a celebration of capitalist excess. One in which gifts are de rigueur. Which really does make this the best time of year for us Book Pushing Book Lovers. Not only do we get lots of books – we get to force them on others! It doesn’t get any better than this!

In honor of this holiday – and assured that this post won’t go live until after the presents are already opened (no spoilers!) – Reading Reality Proudly Presents: Under Our Tree!

*****

Grizzly MazeFor Mom: This last summer, my mother came to visit me up here in the Frozen North, and all she wanted to do was go rustle up some grizzlies. Ah, how about no? I am exceedingly opposed to being eaten. Tried directing her towards the Live Bear Cams (just as good without being eaten) to no avail. She wants to stalk the grizzlies.

The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell’s Fatal Obsession With Alaskan Bears by Nick Jans & Grizzly Man (documentary). Happy Holidays, Mom! You’re not allowed back in Alaska until you provide me with a full report of both the book and film (included because there is a recording of his death).

HogfatherFor Cass: Oh come on, you know perfectly well that friends and family have long since learned to adhere to ISBNs when buying books for us Book Hoarders, or just give gift cards. This year I have made a series of extremely special requests from my international contacts.

Small-Gods1The Terry Pratchett Discworld Collector’s Library! Look at those glorious covers. Not available in the United States. AS IF THAT WOULD STOP ME. Plus, I needed to upgrade to hardcover. I’ve read through three copies each of Hogfather, and Small Gods.

For Grandma & Grandpa: Anyone who has ever lived here in the tundra understands that though we have an overwhelming bounty of fresh fish, we have no decent fruit. At all. By the time it gets here, it’s already going bad. To cope with this disparity, my grandparents and I have come to an understanding. I send them boxes of fresh Alaskan salman, halibut, scallops, and crab, and in return, they send me boxes of fresh apples, peaches, and pears. It really is a beautiful system. Right up until  grandpa tells me that he breaded and fried fucking halibut cheeks as though they were goddamn fishsticks!

Alaska CookbookThe New Alaska Cookbook by Kim Severson. Okay, grandpa? You have no more excuses. If you’re just going to bread and fry everything, I’ll start sending dogfish.

For Dad: My dad and I share a love for political science fiction. I first introduced him to Robert J. Sawyer with a Father’s Day gift of the Neanderthal Parralax. Which he dearly loved. He’s an easy mark this year.

Calculating GodCalculating God by Robert J. Sawyer. Science Fiction for the politically minded atheist! I could have gone with something by Dawkins, but it turns out he’s a misogynist motherfucker. Not giving him any of my money. We’ll try some PZ Meyers or Skepchick swag for your birthday.

For Nicki: You are unhealthy invested in Twilight. It’s a sickness that I’ve done my damnedest to cure you of, but just keep falling short. I blame the cocaine in the library books.

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan. Enjoy! Perhaps fiction can reach you in ways the Power & Control Wheel could not.

persuasion-teeFor Becky: I know that Pride & Prejudice is your favorite book of all time, and no author could ever compare to Jane Austen. How about we take some Jane Austen and make it aesthetically pleasing since I can’t slog my way through any of it?

Persuasion by Jane Austin via Litographs. That’s right. Your book is on a shirt. How awesome is that?! Just don’t get mad at me if people start squinting at your boobs. And on that note, Susan is getting Alice in Wonderland, and Rachel needs The Great Gatsby…..

*****

How about you? What books are under your tree?

Happy Thanksgivukkah

Menurkey

Are you feeling sorry for that poor turkey with the candles up his tailfeathers? I know I am!

This probably hasn’t happened before in your lifetime, and it probably won’t happen again. The last time was in 1918, and the next time won’t be until 2070.

No, it’s not Halley’s Comet.

For those of us in the U.S. (which I’m technically not, today, so funny that) today is Thanksgiving. This also happens to be a very late Thanksgiving, always the fourth Thursday in November; because November started on a Friday this year.

For those of us who are Jewish, today is the first day of Hanukkah, which started last night at sunset. It is the 25th day of Kislev according to the Jewish calendar. (Wikipedia has a lovely explanation of how the Hebrew calendar drifts out of sync in relation to the Gregorian calendar used for standard dates.)

But the idea of this once in a lifetime phenomenon captured a lot of people’s imaginations. So we have Thanksgivukkah, a word which is driving the WordPress spell-checker absolutely bonkers.

A day where I can give thanks, eat turkey and possibly receive Hanukkah presents, all in one swell foop.

So wherever you may be, I hope that you are having a happy Thanksgiving, even if today isn’t your holiday. Or holidays.

thanksgiving-hanukkah-yom-kippur-fasting-thanksgivukkah-ecards-someecards