Shine a Light
I know Rebecca Crowley from her soccer romances (such as Crossing Hearts, which I previously reviewed at AAR) but currently she’s been writing a contemporary romance series called Orchard Hill, with characters who practice their Jewish faith. I picked up Shine a Light, a Hanukkah-themed romance recently and thoroughly enjoyed this holiday read.
Ellie Bloom’s life is going up in smoke – literally. Her mother died a few years earlier (her father died when she was young), and she’s still coping with the grief and loss. She’s overworked in her executive assistant position at a bank, which is not remotely the career as an actress that she thought she’d embark on. And now her plans to make a romantic dinner for her date have ended in a kitchen fire. Plus her date not only cancelled on the dinner he also broke things off permanently, so now she’s single again and with a ruined apartment. The one bright note is the handsome firefighter who comes to her rescue and is both empathetic and reassuring.
Fortunately, Ellie’s younger sister Naomi lives nearby with her husband and two children, in Orchard Hill where they grew up. Since the death of their mother Ellie has avoided going home as much as possible but in these circumstances she is grateful to have family to stay with. And wouldn’t you know it, Naomi’s new neighbor Jonah Spellman is the firefighter who came to Ellie’s rescue. He’s also the son of the Rabbi at Temple Sinai, and the children’s new Hebrew teacher. With the first night of Hanukkah unfolding, Ellie lights the menorah candle upstairs in her bedroom, only to see in a window across the yard a man doing the same. Silently, together, they enact the familiar ritual prayer.
When Ellie’s nephews mention that the Temple doesn’t have anyone to direct the Hanukkah play this year and asks her to do it, Ellie’s memories of her mother’s involvement in the annual production convince her to volunteer. When she shows up for the first day of rehearsal, she finds that Jonah is also there, and that he’s volunteered as a favour to his father. With two directors and two very different ideas of how the play should unfold, Ellie and Jonah find themselves at odds on the stage, yet in sync at night as Hanukkah unfolds. Gradually becoming friends and with romantic feelings blossoming, will Ellie discover that home is where the heart is after all?
This is a lovely, heartwarming story, though readers should know that grief and loss from the death of Ellie and Naomi’s mother are a major part of the plot. Ellie and Naomi’s relationship is strained because Ellie has thrown herself into her work as a way to avoid dealing with her emotions, often missing family events as a result. Now that she’s living with Naomi, Ellie finds herself confronted with memories and memorabilia. Her plans to move to Los Angelas and make it big as an actress, a dream she hasn’t given up on, are partly a way to escape her feelings. But living in the present means having to face reality. Part of that is finding a way to become close to her sister again.
Unlike Ellie, Jonah’s problems are with his very much alive father. While studying to be a Rabbi in Israel, Jonah had realized that he didn’t want to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, and instead became a fireman after assisting as a volunteer firefighter on the kibbutz. He’s moved home but the disappointment his father professes at every turn for his decision to abandon the seminary means their relationship is a constant source of irritation and frustration for Jonah. He hopes that helping with the Hanukkah play will give him and his father a chance to bond again, but his father seems to only see what Ellie is doing and not the effort that Jonah is making. It’s not until later in the story, when some quick actions need to be taken to avoid disaster, that they are able to start mending their relationship.
While Ellie and Jonah are dealing with their family issues and the activity and excitement of the children’s holiday play, the nights of connection with their shared candle lighting and prayers start to cement their very real feelings for each other. Ellie’s dream of making it as an actress will leave little room for a relationship with a man who doesn’t plan to go anywhere far from Orchard Hill. Yet the author skillfully weaves in a way for both to get what they want and need, as well as a sweet happy ending. Readers looking for faith, family and forever will find a lot to enjoy here.
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I'm a biochemist and a married mother of two. Reading has been my hobby since grade school, and I've been a fan of the romance genre since I was a teenager. Sharing my love of good books by writing reviews is a recent passion of mine, but one which is richly rewarding.