REVIEW: Shine a Light by Rebecca Crowley
When Ellie Bloom’s life literally goes up in flames after an apartment fire, she slinks back to her sister’s house in the St. Louis suburb she’s avoided since her mom died. Ellie quickly caves to her nephews’ pleas to direct the temple Hanukkah play—her mom’s pride and joy—and by the time she’s lighting the first candle in her menorah, she doubts she’ll ever escape her hometown. And then she spots the cute fireman who rescued her lighting his own menorah in the window next door.
Firefighter Jonah Spellman may have dropped out of seminary, but he still has deep roots in his Jewish faith. Hoping to mend fences with his Rabbi father who can’t forgive his career change, Jonah agrees to direct the Hanukkah play, never expecting to clash with his beautiful, fire-starting new next-door neighbor.
By day they spar—Ellie’s desperate to live up to her mom’s legacy while Jonah’s driven to impress his dad. But by night they return to their secret candle-lighting ritual. Will their love burn as brightly as the Hanukkah flames?
Dear Ms. Crowley,
I’ve been on the look-out for Hanukkah stories (and other holidays, too) the past few years so I jumped on this one when I saw it offered. From the blurb, it also looked as if it would actually be about Hanukkah and not just peripherally related to it. There are also deeper issues at stake than just getting the Temple play arranged and done.
Ellie Bloom has been the older sister who came through when the family needed money to pay for her mother’s medical care. Putting off her dreams of Hollywood stardom, she got employment at a bank and has worked the soul crushing job ever since. Her planned romantic dinner with a sort-of boyfriend goes sideways when her kitchen goes up in flames and a sexy firefighter arrives with the fire crew to save the day. It’s a good thing Ellie’s neighbor called 9-1-1 as Ellie certainly didn’t as she fled down the stairs.
Her sister’s house is near the Temple that they grew up attending and where her mom directed the yearly Hanukkah play plus, lo and behold, she discovers that Sexy Firefighter lives next door. The two coincidentally light the first candle at the same time in their bedrooms which overlook each other. Then at her sister’s urging, Ellie volunteers to direct the play, unintentionally stepping on Sexy Firefighter Jonah’s toes as he had also offered to do the same thing in a bid to try and win back his Rabbi father’s approval.
Ellie wants to flee the sad memories of her mother’s death as well as chase her dreams of stardom while Jonah has followed his parents halfway across the country trying to get his dad to accept that Jonah won’t go back to seminary as he’s found what he wants to do in life. Is there a way for both to get what they want while also falling in love?
I was glad that the book does actually center on the holiday. Kudos for having the characters know and think that this really is a minor Jewish holiday. But they also reflect on why it is a holiday. There is a lot of menorah candle lighting as well as some details about the holiday that are carefully doled out as the characters work on the Hanukkah play and the children learn the importance of their roles and what they mean.
Jonah is also teaching the kids Hebrew at the school. Not that this gets his father to change his feelings about Jonah quitting seminary. Dad is harsh most of the book and while Jonah soldiers on, I get the feeling he did try earlier to get his father to understand why he made the decision he did. Still it was painful to see Jonah sucking up his father’s dismissive attitude and saying nothing even as I was urging him to speak up.
Meanwhile Ellie allows herself to be a pushover at a job she hates but says nothing to her coworkers about their requests literally “not being her job.” She gets so overworked that she’s late to important family events and the Temple but then she blows off her sister’s disappointment. There were times when Ellie made me a bit mad because of the way she knew she should do something, call someone, make a decision that was impacting others and she just wouldn’t do it.
I did like that there were issues covered besides just the holiday celebration and the romance. Both main characters have some self-discovery to do and with a bit of help from each other – sometimes in the form of an exasperated discussion – they eventually do. The romance is more insta than I generally like but they do talk a lot and know each other’s main problems and there is an epilogue which shows they’re not married yet which satisfies my desire for a longer courtship. B-
Argh, I’ve been disappointed in pretty much every Hanukkah romance I’ve encountered, but this one is set in my home town so I’m tempted to check it out. Are there a lot of St. Louis references in the story? Looks like the author has a Passover-themed book coming out in April 2022.
@SusanS: Yes, she does have a Passover book planned for next year. This story mainly takes place in the Orchard Hill neighborhood.
If you haven’t read it yet, I remember passing a very pleasant evening reading Sarah Wendell’s Hanukkah novella Lighting the Flames.
@LML: I think someone has mentioned this one before – or maybe it was an anthology. Thanks, I’ll check it out.