REVIEW: Eight Tiny Flames by Crista McHugh
1944 Ardennes, WWII
Lt. Ruth Mencher has always secretly admired Capt. Joseph Klein, but it takes the lighting of a Hanukkah candle to uncover the spark of mutual attraction. Each night awakens a new facet of their relationship, but as the Battle of the Bulge begins, the approaching Nazi forces threaten to tear them apart.
Dear Ms. McHugh,
When I looked back on an editorial that Sunita wrote about holiday stories a few years ago, I noticed that Darlene Marshall, Queen of Saucy Pirate Romance books, mentioned your novella as a good Hanukkah romance. Plus it’s set during WWII, I’m always up for that, and it’s the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge!
Lt. Ruth Mencher decides that now is the time to dig a bit into the mystery who is Captain Joe Klein. It helps that she isn’t cowed by his no-nonsense attitude in the wards and OR (operating theatre). Since D-Day, she’s seen that underneath the gruff exterior is a dedicated doctor who cares for his patients as much as she does. He also enjoyed the latkes she made with olive oil she bartered for using her bubbe’s recipe and she saw him at a prayer service conducted by a Rabbi at Aachen.
Taking a deep breath she marches into his office on the second night of Hanukkah with her tiny menorah sent by her parents and two candles. Facing down his cool reception, she plunks down the menorah in the window and gets him to light the candles with her. The next night they play a mean game of dreidel and each night after, they talk, get to know each other, and discuss the differences in their lives. Ruth is from a large family living surrounded by other Jewish families in Brooklyn while Joe is an only child living in Dallas without many Jewish friends or neighbors.
They already know a bit about each other’s character from their months at the same field hospital but the pressure under which they’re working intensifies as the Germans launch a winter offensive. The unit is order to evacuate what wounded they can and both Ruth and Joe volunteer to stay behind with the serious cases, knowing the danger they’re in not only as Allied military personnel but also as Jews. Will they get a miracle on the last night of Hanukkah?
I really liked the medical details in the story and since the main characters are a doctor and a nurse working in a field hospital, this is important to the story. On the other hand, the story didn’t get bogged down in too much by it. I did wonder when a patient with a shattered bone at first only has orders for aspirin for pain then suddenly gets hit with 10 mg of morphine.
Ruth is smart, competent and isn’t intimidated by any doctor when it comes to making sure that her patients get the best care. When she makes a recommendation to Joe and he initially shows a hint of frost about it, she sticks to her guns and makes him acknowledge that she knows what she’s talking about.
Thank goodness Joe keeps it in the back of his mind that he outranks Ruth and he has to take care that her reputation won’t be smeared by being alone with him. Even though it seems that pretty soon the entire field hospital knows they’re getting more involved.
Some of the issues they could face as Jews are mentioned – potential loss of promotion, worry about European relatives (Ruth’s family had emigrated from Poland), and always the fear of falling into the hands of the Germans. Ruth is not shy about people knowing her religion and slowly gets Joe to be more open about his. There is no anti-antisemitism that occurs during the story which is nice to see but maybe it’s a touch unrealistic for the times.
The speed of the romance is quick but then these two have known each other professionally for a while and the pressure of the situation strips away pretense. By the end, Joe and Ruth are committed to each other though Ruth manages to persuade Joe that sending a telegram to her Rabbi father asking for permission to marry her might not be the best idea as no parent in the US at the time wouldn’t initially panic at seeing a Western Union messenger approaching the door. B