REVIEW: Matzah Ball Surprise by Laura Brown
This Passover is starting to feel like the ten plagues might be coming back to haunt them before the weekend is over…one hilarious misstep after the next.
Gaby Fineberg just wants to get through Passover Seder without her “well meaning” family playing matchmaker. She needs a date, just for one simple meal—that includes singing, the history of her forefathers, and not one bit of yeast. The hot guy at her gym would be perfect. He probably hates bread, anyway, with a body like that. But when she finally works up the nerve to ask him…he doesn’t hear a word she said.
Levi Miller is deaf and happily single. Initially, he doesn’t know why this beautiful woman is talking to him, but it’s clear she needs help—and suddenly so does he. In a very complicated situation, Levi finds a simple solution. Gaby will pretend to be his new girlfriend to bail him out, and he’ll return the favor. But he didn’t bargain for a family dinner quite like this one…
Dear Ms. Brown,
In a world awash in Christmas stories, I found a few Hanukkah ones last year. But our readers clamored for stories centered around other Jewish holidays so when I saw this book and read the blurb, I did a Kermit arm flail. The fake date trope isn’t new to romance readers but a story set at Passover – that’s different. Plus there is a deaf hero written by someone who knows what he lives.
Fresh from a break up with a man she realizes was never The One, Gaby dreads facing her family at Passover without a date. Her widowed mother keeps (nicely) pushing and questioning Gaby about dating prospects. Gaby’s friend urges her to grab the hot guy at their gym and ask him to pose as a temporary boyfriend and on an impulse, she does. That’s when she discovers that Hot Guy is deaf. Levi is about to try and back away from this woman who won’t stop talking – not that he can hear or understand any of it because lip reading is basically a crapshoot – when his personal problem appears. Once Gaby has helped him duck a scene with his used-to-be-fiancee, Levi owes her and agrees to her request. So two people who know little about each other and can’t easily communicate head off to Gaby’s family Seder. It’s only for two days, surely they can both manage that?
As I said, the fake relationship trope is a well trodden path for us romance readers. I’ve read so many variations but at least this one didn’t have a will settlement riding on it. Instead it’s the “I need someone because of a family gathering” excuse. At first I was a bit skeptical of the need for Levi as Gaby’s family are nice people who only seem interested in her dating status because they care about her. Even her mother appears to be asking questions about Levi only because he’s there in her house. Later on, she does offer a reason why she pushes Gaby and younger sister Izzy to find someone but that reason makes total sense and the fall-out of the situation does help Gaby get it across to her mother to ease up just a bit.
Levi’s backstory needed a bit more work for me. For most of the book, this remains a mystery not only to Gaby but also to the reader. Why does he have this past relationship hanging over him if it’s actually finished, why can’t he tell his family, and what is it? I did like that he holds off on telling Gaby (because we all know this conflict has to be there) because he wants to do the honorable thing by his used-to-be-fiancee and get that wrapped up before he feels free to explain. And yes, he’s just about to do that when the truth is revealed to Gaby thus upending her feelings and setting up the Final Conflict.
The resolution is a little fast for me. Levi and Gaby have know each other for a week and their communication has been spotty though Gaby has tried to learn some ASL signs and how to finger spell words. I believe that they feel something for each other but I’m not sure I’m ready for “I Love You” just yet though bonus points for leaving the relationship at a HFN stage. There’s also an aspect to Levi as someone who tries to find what will “fix” other people that I didn’t entirely get.
But what does work wonderfully for me are the two aspects of the book which are #ownvoices. Being Jewish and going to the family Seder at Passover are integral to the plot and to who Gaby and Levi are. Practicing Jews should know that there are times when both of them (and some friends) give into yeast yearning and that restraining themselves to things that are Kosher for Passover is broken. This is woven into their characterization though. I enjoyed seeing Gaby’s family together, celebrating the holiday and to learn more about it, myself. The supporting but also at times exasperating relationship between Gaby and her sister Izzy is great, too.
Reading Levi’s POV sections also helped me realize how challenging it is for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to interact with “hearies” even if those hearing people make an effort to include them. There is no ableism here as Levi is never shown as wanting or needing to change the way he communicates with the world (hearing devices were worse than useless for him as a child and he firmly explains how lip reading only works about 20% of the time so he doesn’t bother). The poker game with his deaf friends is fun to read and they view his relationship with “the hearing chick” from his POV. I’d love to see a book for Levi’s friend Meyer who slyly urges Levi to teach Gaby all the dirty ASL signs.
At times the writing was a bit choppy and a less rushed ending and more explanation of Levi’s family issues would have been nice but I loved seeing the diversity included in this book and that it’s #ownvoices. I hope we’ll see more from these characters. B-