Hanukkah Romance Novels

The holiday season has always been my favorite time of year, and I absolutely LOVE Hanukkah. I love lighting the candles every night. This year, I decided to dive into some Hanukkah romance novels from the past few years. Let me know if you’ve read any of them!

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

  • Publisher: MIRA
  • Release Date: 9/28/21
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Rating: ★★★
  • Publisher’s Summary: Oy! to the world Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is a nice Jewish girl with a shameful secret: she loves Christmas. For a decade she’s hidden her career as a Christmas romance novelist from her family. Her talent has made her a bestseller even as her chronic illness has always kept the kind of love she writes about out of reach. But when her diversity-conscious publisher insists she write a Hanukkah romance, her well of inspiration suddenly runs dry. Hanukkah’s not magical. It’s not merry. It’s not Christmas. Desperate not to lose her contract, Rachel’s determined to find her muse at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah, even if it means working with her summer camp archenemy—Jacob Greenberg. Though Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since they were kids, their grudge still glows brighter than a menorah. But as they spend more time together, Rachel finds herself drawn to Hanukkah—and Jacob—in a way she never expected. Maybe this holiday of lights will be the spark she needed to set her heart ablaze.

I was really excited about this one when I first heard about it. I’ve been waiting for a Hanukkah romance novel. I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to.

I got stuck pretty quickly on the fact that I didn’t like Rachel. She is dealing with a chronic illness, and that is certainly not easy. However, I couldn’t get past the fact that she just comes across as judgmental and grumpy. She isn’t pleasant to her mom when her mom drops by to check on her at the beginning of the story. Of course, Rachel shows her caring side with Paul, the elderly usher at her father’s synagogue who is in a wheelchair. She notes that people often overlook him, but she makes time to speak with him at the kiddish after services.

Rachel starts the book fully entrenched in an old grudge against Jacob. He humilated her at camp around their first kiss. While I understand that this was hurtful, it feels a little extreme for Rachel to still be holding this against Jacob when she is almost 30. It is also clear almost immediately to the reader that there is more to the story, which made it even harder to swallow that she still wasn’t treating him well.

Jacob, on the other hand, comes off pretty well throughout the story. He is a devoted grandson to his bubbe and clearly was devoted to his late mother who struggled with multiple sclerosis. He hires someone to cook and clean for Rachel when she has a flare up of her CFS, and he even bedazzles a wheelchair for her. While he initially seems to want to get a little bit of revenge on her and makes her wear a ridiculous matzah ball costume, he immediately changes course when he learns about Rachel’s condition.

There is a lot of Jewish content in this book. Even though Rachel has been writing Christmas books for years, Rachel and her family are pretty observant Jews. Meltzer explains many different Hebrew words and Jewish concepts throughout the novel. There is plenty of candlelighting and discussion of Jewish food in this one.

For those of you wondering, I did confirm that there is a Matzoball happening in NYC on Christmas Eve this year as well as in other cities.

Love and Latkes by Stacey Agdern

  • Publisher:Tule Publishing
  • Release Date: 10/21/21
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Rating: ★★★
  • Publisher’s Summary: You can’t make a latke without breaking a few eggs…Batya Averman is ecstatic when a latke fry-off committee chooses her as its web designer-until she learns the event is in Rivertown, New York, the hometown she fled years ago. But she’s no longer the girl with an embarrassing history and an unrequited crush on Abe Neumann. This delicious competition is Batya’s chance to further her career, and this time she won’t run. Abe Neumann can’t pass up the opportunity to enter the town’s latke contest. He dreams of throwing caution to the wind and leaving his accounting firm, opening a Jewish deli, and choosing his own happiness. The prize money would bring him closer to making his dream a reality, but when Batya comes back to town, Abe remembers that a deli isn’t the only thing he’s wished for. When the fry-off’s celebrity host has to pull out of the competition, Batya is determined to step up to the challenge. This Hanukkah, can Abe fix the past and convince Batya that dreams, like latkes, are better when they’re shared?

I love Hanukkah food, and I was excited to read this book centered around a Hanukkah cooking competition.

The food aspect was my favorite part of this book. I love that the story centers around people who love food: Batya is a food writer and Abe runs a barbeque business as a side hustle. They also have several friends who work in family restaurants. Abe also sends Batya ice cream to both apologize to her and send her support. As someone who is both Italian and Jewish, I loved that Abe’s friend Leo made his friends an Italian inspired Hanukkah meal and that ricotta latkes were one of the challenges in the competition.

Love and Latkes is short and moves very fast. There are moments where this feels detrimental to the story. Batya and Abe clearly have strong relationships with their friends, but none of the friend characters are as fully developed as I would like. They, of course, are there to serve the story of Batya and Abe, but the reader doesn’t really get the sense of who they are outside of their relationships with the protagonists of the story. The end of the story also feels rushed.

This is one of three Hanukkah books I read where there was a childhood enemies/lovers storyline. Batya and Abe’s relationship fell apart when at a graduation party, Abe failed to tell Batya he returned her feelings (not dissimilar to Jacob and Rachel’s story above and Shira and Tyler’s story below).

Despite their history, Abe is incredibly supportive of Batya throughout the story. He helps her through panic attacks at the beginning of multiple cooking classes she runs and helps her find a replacement when one of her guest teachers becomes unavailable. Batya doesn’t really reciprocate that support, but in fairness, Abe doesn’t really seem to ask for it.

This is one of three books in Agdern’s Friendship and Fesitivals series. There is another Hanukkah book in the series (Miracle and Menorahs) that I would love to read as well.

Season of Love by Helena Greer

  • Publisher: Forever
  • Release Date: 10/11/22
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Rating: ★★★.5
  • Publisher’s Summary: Miriam Blum has no choice but to face the past she thought she’d left behind when she inherits her great-aunt’s Christmas tree farm in this witty, glittering, heart-filled romcom. Thanks to her thriving art career, Miriam Blum finally has her decoupaged glitter ducks in a row—until devastating news forces her to a very unwanted family reunion. Her beloved great-aunt Cass has passed and left Miriam part-owner of Carrigan’s, her (ironically) Jewish-run Christmas tree farm. But Miriam’s plans to sit shiva, avoid her parents, then put Carrigan’s in her rearview mirror are spoiled when she learns the business is at risk of going under. To have any chance at turning things around, she’ll need to work with the farm’s grumpy manager—as long as the attraction sparking between them doesn’t set all their trees on fire first. Noelle Northwood wants Miriam Blum gone—even if her ingenious ideas and sensitive soul keep showing Noelle there’s more to Cass’s niece than meets the eye. But saving Carrigan’s requires trust, love, and risking it all—for the chance to make their wildest dreams come true. 

Season of Love is a novel written by someone named Helena that is about a Jewish woman who inherits a Christmas tree farm. This had my name written all over it. (Both literally and figuratively).

First off, let me say that I loved that the book was broken into sections by timeline of Jewish holidays. As someone who works in a synagogue, this is totally how my brain works, and it made me smile. There were mentions of Hanukkah and Miriam’s synagogue peppered through the novel, but there wasn’t much Jewish content in the novel. I was surprised at how little of the novel actually centered around the Christmas season and how Hanukkah didn’t get more focus.

The reader gets a beautiful sense of the found (and some blood) family present at Carrigan’s. It’s clear that Cass created a warm environment that attracted people. However, the platonic love between Miriam and her friends Cole and Hannah (who is also her cousin) almost overshadow the romance that Hannah has with Noelle. I rooted for Miriam and Noelle all the way, but I found Miriam’s other relationships more compelling.

I love the storyline where the group needs to come together to save the Christmas Tree Farm from the rich city dweller who wants to turn it into condos. It feels like it belongs in a Hallmark movie, and I am here for it. This plotline also gives Miriam the chance to reconnect with her roots as an artist and to reconcile with her mother.

There is something so satisfying about a romance novel about a Jewish-owned Christmas tree farm. I enjoyed reading Seasons of Love, and I hope that the team at Carrigan’s gets a sequel. (I mean, the end of the epilogue is a cliffhanger…)

Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds

  • Publisher: Razorbill
  • Release Date: 10/25/22
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Age Range: Young Adult
  • Rating: ★★★.5
  • Publisher’s Summary: A sixteen-year-old girl is on a mission to find the perfect boyfriend this Hanukkah, but love might not go according to plan, in this charming winter romcom from the author of The Summer of Lost Letters. Shira Barbanel has a plan: this Hanukkah, she’s going to get a boyfriend. And she has the perfect candidate in mind—her great-uncle’s assistant, Isaac. He’s reliable, brilliant, and of course, super hot. The only problem? Shira’s an absolute disaster when it comes to flirting. Enter Tyler Nelson, Shira’s nemesis-slash-former-crush. As much as she hates to admit it, Tyler is the most charming and popular guy she knows. Which means he’s the perfect person to teach her how to win Isaac over. When Shira and Tyler get snowed in together at Golden Doors, they strike a deal—flirting lessons for Shira in exchange for career connections for Tyler. But as Shira starts to see the sweet, funny boy beneath Tyler’s playboy exterior, she realizes she actually likes hanging out with him. And that wasn’t part of the plan. Amidst a whirl of snowy adventures, hot chocolate, and candlelight, Shira must learn to trust her heart to discover if the romance she planned is really the one that will make her happiest.

This book is a very sweet holiday romance with a lot of Hanukkah content. I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking to read a holiday romance that is not centered around Christmas.

Eight Nights of Flirting blends childhood friends to lovers with enemies to lovers. Shira starts the book with a disdain for Tyler. She is hurt by the way Tyler rejected her years earlier when she confessed her feelings to him. Honestly, who can blame him, though? He probably saw her as a little kid and didn’t really take her seriously.

Tyler and Shira have a very sweet friendship that develops into something more. They both struggle to connect authentically with others, and they help each other to be more willing to show others their true selves. Tyler is supposed to be a freshman at NYU, and Shira is only 16. When you think about that too much, it’s a little off-putting. Isaac and Shira have a similar age difference though, so it’s not like that would have been any better.

The Barbanel family doesn’t seem very observant, but they do seem to take Hanukkah pretty seriously. Shira and Tyler light candles and play dreidel on the first night even when they are snowed in without any power. There is a lot of emphasis on the food around both Hanukkah and Christmas, which I most definitely appreciate. By the end of the novel, Shira has taught Tyler about both Hanukkah and Passover, and Tyler includes Shira in his family’s Easter celebrations. That exchange feels genuine and lovely.

Eight Nights of Flirting is a delightful story as long as you don’t spend too much time thinking about the age difference between Shira and Tyler.

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