REVIEW: Hearts Alight by Elliot Cooper
Dave Cunningham hates the rampant consumerism that’s come to dominate his family’s Hanukkah celebrations. But a chance to bring a bit of a holiday happiness to his long-time crush, Amit Cohen, helps put him in a more festive mood.
In the quest to craft the perfect gift, Dave tries to urge a few personal details out of stoic Amit. Unintentionally, he learns the Cohen family’s secret: Amit is a golem. But Amit has a problem that runs deeper than his magical origin, and a Hanukkah miracle might be the only thing that will keep the budding flame between him and Dave from going out.
Dear Elliot Cooper,
I’ve only read one other book with a golem character in it so I was looking forward to that as well as finding another Hanukkah romance novella. While I enjoyed learning more about Hanukkah, the golem aspect let me down.
Dave is a sweet guy but even he acknowledges that he was a little bland for all his past boyfriends and girlfriends. Dave is bi but so far hasn’t been able to find someone who likes him for who he is – a stay at home kind of person with weekly D&D sessions which he’s passionate about. Dave also has a thing about the over commercialization of holidays (which his friends sometimes tease him for going on and on about). Plus his mother is urging him to bring a date to the first night of Hanukkah … and the last night of Hanukkah …. or any night of Hanukkah.
Knowing he’ll need to have small presents for everyone on the last night and that his childhood trans man friend Jake’s (who is now also Dave’s brother-in-law) uncle will be there, Dave presses Jake for info about Uncle Amit who tends bar at Jake’s hipster place. Dave has always thought quiet and tall Amit is handsome but has never taken his interest any further. One night at the bar, another of Jake’s friends teases Amit who stalks off. When Dave tries to follow Amit and dispel the tension, Dave discovers what Amit’s family has been hiding for years. A spark also starts between the two men. Could Dave finally have found the person who likes him as he is?
I have to say that if I suddenly found out someone is a golem, I’d have a lot of questions, too. There is a reason Dave initially holds off on asking many of them but after something else happens, there is no reason for him to. Yet he does. I’m making “come on” faces at my ereader because … golem! … but after that we learn precious little more about how Amit was made and how the person who made him even knew how to. True Dave spends part of that night thinking about God, the cosmos, and miracles but none of that is on the page. Later Amit says that he got the memories (how?!) of the person he was made (how?!) to resemble and both mention that Amit will not age while Dave will and “does that bother you? No? Okay, topic over.” Whaaaa ..?!
More time is spent seeing Dave, and later Amit, in Dave’s family art store painting pottery then discussing golems. More time is spent on Dave and Amit taking part in Dave’s weekly Dungeons and Dragons session then discussing golems. The pace is also a bit slow and Dave truly is a sweet guy but he is a bit dull.
The parts of the story that focus on Hanukkah are nice and I enjoyed watching their families’ celebrations. The idea of a golem character is nice but what the story ended up with does not satisfy my curiosity at all. I want more golem, a faster pace, and less D&D. C
Couldn’t agree with you more. This book added more evidence to my belief that there are no really great Hanukkah romance novels/novellas/short stories, especially queer ones.
@SusanS: Try “Eight Tiny Flames” by Crista McHugh. Darlene Marshall mentioned it years ago and last year I finally read it.
Ah. Thank you.
This has been on my wishlist, but despite the golem, I never quite was certain it was for me. The lack of golem details is definitely a deal breaker for me.
I recently read Ben’s Bakery and the Hanukkah Miracle by Penelope Peters and it was… fine? I had lots of issues with various parts of the story, but it did keep me reading. But Eight Tiny Flames sounds worth trying!
@Random Michelle: The McHugh novella is one of the better ones I’ve tried. Ten years ago I liked “The Eighth Night” by Sandra Sookoo but unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be available anymore.
After reading the 3 star reviews of the Peters novella you mentioned, I don’t think it’s for me.
I like Astrid Amara’s Hanukka stories quite a bit.
@Jayne: Yeah, the Peter’s novella was unoffensive, but if I wasn’t desperate for happy books I probably would have DNF’ed it.
But happy stories are mandatory in 2020. :)
@Sirius: I’ll look up Astrid Amara–thank you!
@Sirius: Yes, she’s done some nice ones, too.
The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish is free right now and is the best queer Hanukkah romance I’ve read. I had trouble getting into it at first but after one of the h/h stopped acting creepy, I really loved it.
It’s not at all like Roan Parrish’s other contemporaries. For one thing, it’s set in Ann Arbor (very near where I grew up, by Eberwhite Woods).
It’s kind of like gay Practical Magic with a smattering of Like Water for Chocolate. A loner who thinks he’s cursed and anyone who loves him will die starts to fall for a baker who bakes his feelings into challah and other baked goods.
The magical realism is ambiguous – the reader is left to decide for themselves if it’s real or not. The romance is definitely real and satisfying.
@cleo: Oooh, Roan Parrish has a cat in her picture! I’m sold. Well, I would be sold if I had to pay but as it is … am I still sold if it’s free? Who cares, I one clicked that. Thanks!
@Jayne: LOL! I hope you get your money’s worth!