Review: The Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish

Review: The Holiday Trap by Roan ParrishThe Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: F/F romance, Hanukkah romance, holiday romance, M/M romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 312
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 6, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

For fans of Alexandria Bellefleur and Alexis Hall comes a charming, hilarious, and heartwarming LGBTQIA+ romcom about two separate couples finding love over the holidays from acclaimed author Roan Parrish!
Greta Russakoff loves her tight-knit family and tiny Maine hometown, even if they don't always understand what it's like to be a lesbian living in such a small world. She desperately needs space to figure out who she is.
Truman Belvedere has just had his heart crushed into a million pieces when he learned that his boyfriend of almost a year has a secret life that includes a husband and a daughter. Reeling from this discovery, all he wants is a place to lick his wounds far, far away from New Orleans.
Enter Greta and Truman's mutual friend, Ramona, who facilitates a month-long house swap. Over the winter holidays, each of them will have a chance to try on a new life...and maybe fall in love with the perfect partner of their dreams. But all holidays must come to an end, and eventually Greta and Truman will have to decide whether the love they each found so far from home is worth fighting for.

My Review:

There’s a saying about “blooming where you’re planted”, but with the best will and the most love in the world, that’s not always possible. No matter how much a person may love their hometown or their family or their job or whatever is keeping them in place, the place may not be a great fit for them

And sometimes we need to be kicked out of our not-quite-comfy little pots before they become ruts. Or plots, as in “the only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions” kind of plots.

Both Greta Russakoff and Truman Belvedere each need a good, swift kick out of their always slightly squirmy but suddenly seriously uncomfortable pots. Which is where their mutual friend and regular sounding board Ramona comes in.

Greta needs to get away from her close-knit-to-the-point-of-codependency family on teeny, tiny, Owl Island, Maine. Truman needs a getaway from a spectacular failure of a relationship in New Orleans. Ramona suggests a house swap. For the entire month. Of December.

What happens to Greta and Truman is that both of their worlds expand once they transplant themselves. In New Orleans, Greta finds friends and community. She’s able to spread her wings in a place where she’s not literally the only lesbian in town, and where her every single act isn’t discussed ad infinitum, ad nauseum AND reported back to her parents and sisters. She loves them all but finds the extreme insularity of the town and especially her family a strait-jacket.

In New Orleans she can breathe. She can be herself without everyone around her trying to lovingly push her to conform – at least on the outside. And there’s someone she can fall in love with in a place that warms her heart and soul.

Truman is a fish out of water, but a fish that is more than willing to try living on land once he thaws out and gets some warmer clothes. Now that he’s out of his comfort zone, he’s willing to see if he can fit into this new place. And discovers that the townspeople, as curious as they are about Greta’s temporary guest, are more than willing to let him warm himself in their friendship.

Especially Ash, a local boy who managed to leave, but got sucked back to Owl Island as an adult when his mother was diagnosed with dementia. Now Ash is juggling a failing florist shop, his mother’s declining health and the loss of her true self even as he’s with her – and a rapacious land developer who wants to buy the prime downtown real estate where his shop is located. Ash doesn’t have nearly enough spoons to start a relationship with a man who’ll be leaving in a month.

But he does it anyway – then breaks both of their hearts when he can’t cope.

Before the month’s even half over, Greta knows she wants to stay in New Orleans, not just because of her new love, but because it’s where she belongs. She’s a hothouse varietal just like the carnivorous plants she desperately tries to keep alive on Owl Island – a climate for which neither they, nor she, are suited.

Truman wants to stay in Maine, with Ash, in this quirky little town that has healed his heart and shown him that he has more to give than just his overdeveloped sense of order.

All Greta has to do is deal with her smothering family. All Truman has to do is convince Ash that he doesn’t have to let himself be smothered by his responsibilities. That help – and love – are eagerly waiting for him to just let them in. Before their lives take them in directions that all of them will regret. Forever.

Escape Rating A: Part of what makes The Holiday Trap such a fun read is that it is a holiday romance that doesn’t center on the holidays at all. That the holiday that gets more emphasis in this holiday romance is Hanukkah and not Xmas was absolutely the flame that lights all the menorah candles in this story.

But the way the holiday was treated encapsulated the whole point of the story. Because it’s not the holiday, it’s that the tribe gathers for the holiday and the traditions that surround that gathering.

The Russakoffs are the only Jewish family on Owl Island. For her family it has become important to celebrate the holidays with the whole community while at the same time cleaving unto themselves as a tight tribe of their own. Which leads straight into the issues that cause Greta to practically flee into the night.

Because no one in Greta’s family is ever supposed to say what they really want or need. They have been coerced by longstanding tradition to always seek a compromise and to suffer in silence if their needs don’t get considered. It’s all out of love, it’s all done with the best intentions, and the tradition did begin with some excellent reasons as they are a family of six – mom, dad and four daughters – and during the early years there just wasn’t quite enough to go around. Nobody went hungry, no one went without any necessities, but treats, toys and outings all had to be shared, so what got bought or eaten or done was the thing that displeased the least amount of people rather than what was actually desired by anyone.

It’s good for children to learn to compromise, it’s good for all humans and we need a little more of it in the world. But it can easily reach a point where, instead of everyone saying what they do want and meeting in the middle, everyone starts asking for what they think everyone else wants or will accept. It’s can work if everyone accepts that’s the way it works, but if the family brings in an outsider – like a son or daughter in law – or if one of the children leaves the cozy nest and is in a place where they have to stand up for themselves, or if one or more of the grown children is just too different to compromise their entire self all the time in order to get along and not rock the boat, you get the situation Greta finds herself in, where as much as her parents and sisters love her they keep trying to push her to fit into the family codependency and she just can’t. And won’t. And shouldn’t have to.

Truman’s situation is more self-inflicted. He’s both broken-hearted and completely embarrassed and kicking himself from New Orleans to anywhere he can take himself off to because he’s spent a year in a relationship with a douchebag and ignoring all the many, many, red flags that should have told him that he was someone’s dirty secret and not remotely the love of their life. Because they already have one of those and Truman is not it.

I liked Truman’s story, and it made a very nice foil for Greta’s, but I LOVED Greta’s story. It’s not just that she’s Jewish, although that certainly helped because there aren’t nearly enough Hanukkah romances in this world. But when Greta takes herself away from home, she goes to one of the most fascinating cities in the U.S. if not the world and makes a place for herself in it. I’m a sucker for stories set in New Orleans and Greta’s discovery of the city and herself captured me from the very first page.

That Greta’s family strongly resembles one I very nearly became a part of and gave her side of this house swap a whole lot of extra resonance that I wasn’t expecting. At all. But it helped me understand so much of where she was coming from because everyone means so very well, they have so much the best intentions and can be so, so good at laying on the guilt when someone doesn’t conform.

To make a much longer story than I intended a bit short, The Holiday Trap is an excellent holiday romance that puts its emphasis on the romance and the relationships that surround a romance and make a village – big or small – without getting into the religious aspects of any holiday. This could have been set at Thanksgiving and it still would have worked – it just wouldn’t have been nearly long enough.

But speaking of things that were not quite enough, the one person we don’t get nearly enough of is Ramona the almost magical matchmaker. I’d love to see more of her talents in a future story!

Review: Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery by Sharon Ibbotson

Review: Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery by Sharon IbbotsonHanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery by Sharon Ibbotson
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, Hanukkah romance, holiday romance
Pages: 210
Published by Choc Lit on December 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A heart-warming Christmas romance with a lovely twist!

Hanukkah days, Christmas nights and strawberry ice cream …

Cohen Ford is a man who could do with a little bit of sweetening up. It’s no surprise that when he walks into The Great Greenwich Ice Creamery on a typically gloomy London day before Christmas, he insists on a black coffee rather than his childhood favourite – strawberry ice cream.

But then he meets River de Luca, the woman behind the flavours. After their first encounter, Cohen begins visiting the ice creamery every Tuesday, gradually learning more about the intriguing River. Could her influence encourage cynical Cohen to become the man who embraces Christmas, Hanukkah and even strawberry ice cream?

My Review:

I picked this book because it was a Hanukkah romance – and there are entirely too few of them. There a oodles of Xmas romances – and they are often quite lovely – but it’s always nice to see oneself and one’s own culture represented in stories.

There wasn’t quite as much Hanukkah as I was hoping for, but there were plenty of the mixed feelings associated with being Jewish in the midst of what feels like the entire universe celebrating an entirely different holiday.

And the romance that begins at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery is definitely a sweet and delicious scoop of love at first sight – with strawberry ice cream on top..

Cohen Ford comes to the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery not long before the holidays because, frankly, he’s been guilted into it by his mother. But he keeps coming back because he’s fallen in love with the daughter of the proprietor – and can’t keep away no matter how much her mother disapproves, both of him and of any possibility of a relationship between the disappointing son of one of her oldest and dearest friends and her daughter, who is deaf.

Men have taken advantage of River de Luca before, and her mother is determined to prevent it this time. Because she’s heard all about Cohen Ford from his mother and is just certain that her friend’s cold-hearted, self-centered, disappointment of a son is definitely the wrong man for her daughter. Not that she believes that any man is good enough for her daughter.

But Cohen and River fall in love the moment they meet – when she’s bandaging him up because he banged his head on their door. And even through their communication barrier – they manage to convey to each other that they are both on the exact same page – even if they’re both in the middle of scribbling on that page as fast as they can so they can learn everything they need to know about each other. Which is everything.

That Cohen is supposed to leave London in a few short weeks to return to his high-pressure job and empty life in New York is just one more obstacle that they have to overcome.

In the end, Cohen’s choice is easy – and River’s has already been made. Home is where the heart is – and his is with River.

Escape Rating A-: Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery turned out to be a holiday story with just the right mix of flavors. It’s sweet with just a bit of bitter and salt, like the best dark chocolate with sea salt sprinkles.

The sweet comes from the romance itself. The bitter comes from Cohen, and his memories of his childhood with his feuding and often absent parents. There are deep wounds there that he has to get over before he can move forward with River. The salt is from tears, tears of grief that Cohen never healed his relationship with his father, and tears of joy that he does finally set himself on the road to healing his strained relationship with his mother.

I do feel the need to say OMG – or perhaps oy vey – about the stereotype that is Cohen’s mother. And as much as I want to make negative comments about the stereotyping, she’s a bit too much like my own mother for me to make that claim. I want to and I just can’t. It made a bit of hard reading, but in the end it felt right – and made me wish for things that are no longer possible.

Returning to Cohen and River and their holiday romance. I’m not totally sure this needed to be a holiday romance. Usually the holiday trope is used to compress the time available for the story to move quickly from meeting to loving to HEA. But Cohen’s impending return to New York created that same tension. On the other hand, the Hanukkah season added poignancy to Cohen’s reconciliation with his mother.

In the end, this story has two wonderful threads running through it. One is the holiday romance, which was lovely every step of the way. The way that they reach towards each other and find ways to communicate and to get on the same page in spite of their very real communication issues was very well done.

But the other thread was all Cohen. He comes into the story as Scrooge, cutting himself off from all emotion and living for his well-paid but soul-destroying job. This story is his journey. He needs to grow up and learn what he really wants to be when he grows up. He needs to learn to live his own dream instead of somebody else’s. The spirits don’t do it all in one night. But they do manage it all the same.

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
Formats available: paperback, ebook
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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