Tag Archives: Jean Meltzer

Author Anthony Avina’s “Top 10 Books of 2021”

Hello there everyone! Wow, what a year of books it has been. I am so honored to be sharing my top reads of the year. There have been so many amazing books published this year, and with the pandemic having kept us all indoors far more than ever before, there has been a surplus of books being published from indie authors and publishers alike. Now I want to mention that although the books are numbered here in the last post, this is not an indicator of ranking of any kind. This is more about organizing the books, not ranking. So with that in mind, here are my top choices for the year, each with a snippet from the original review. 

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10: Below Torrential Hill by Jonathan Koven

What really stood out to me was the incredible way the author matched the atmosphere and setting to the protagonist’s journey, almost as if the character’s surroundings became a reflection of their own inner turmoil and the ups and downs they went through. I also was really impressed with the fine line the narrative played with magical realism, as it allowed enough room for the reader to kind of draw their own conclusions from this aspect of the story, and kind of put a whole-new modern-day, coming-of-age twist on the classic Christmas Carol narrative. 

This was one of the last books I reviewed this year, and the author’s amazingly poetic writing style and imagery were just so breathtaking to behold. A definite must-read!

9: Traveller Manifesto by Rob Shackleford 

What always strikes me about this series and the author is the vast amount of detail the author puts into the series. From both a historical and a narrative standpoint, the author explores not only the sci-fi side of the series from the use of the Traveller technology, but the historical fiction side of each period of time these missions take on with an attention to detail that creates a sense of imagery and tone that bursts with life and vibrancy. The exploration of history’s impact on our world and the means by which the direction that history takes is often dictated by those who emerge victorious from a situation made this story feel so thought-provoking, and readers won’t be able to help being drawn down the rabbit hole that is this heart-pounding historical fiction thriller.

I am a huge fan of this author and this historical fiction/sci-fi series. The third and final book in the Traveller series, the narrative was just so engaging and thought-provoking that I wasn’t able to put it down.

8: The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer 

The characters were the show stealers of this read to be sure. What was so interesting, and something I always enjoy is when a writer crafts a narrative that features such a diverse cast of characters that we could find someone in the narrative to identify with for one reason or another. As someone with several chronic diseases, seeing protagonist Rachel’s struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome and the struggle with how she is perceived by others is a struggle I am all too familiar with, and it was great to see that representation in the book. The chemistry and heated moments, both good and bad, between Rachel and Jacob, were truly memorable and allowed the story to feel very cinematic in its approach.

As far as holiday romances go, this was definitely one of the most unique, creative, and heartwarming to read. It was so original, and I related to the protagonist so much with her struggle with chronic illness. (More holiday reads are coming soon).

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7: A Cry in the Moon’s Light by Alan McGill 

I was hooked immediately with this book. The author did such an amazing job of crafting a narrative that was both emotionally investing and chilling at the same time. The story was written in a way that felt like historical fiction meets Brother’s Grimm meets folklore all at once. The nods and homages to classic fairy tale style storytelling elements and themes were felt immediately, but then did such a great job of taking readers immediately into a right turn that held gruesome mayhem and terrifying creatures, and then made a completely new turn into heartbreaking and heartfelt romance and drama. 

I am an absolute fan of gothic horror, and this was pretty amazing. Great atmospheric haunt and an absolute pleasure to dive into. 

6: Blood Mark by J.P. McLean 

This was a refreshing new take on the paranormal thriller genre. The integration of Inca mythology into a modern-day thriller was engaging and thought-provoking, giving readers a wonderful blend of mythology and gritty crime thriller. The author’s own writing was outstanding, delivering a very descriptive and creative balance of imagery and character growth that felt very cinematic as a whole. 

A gritty and captivating new fantasy thriller that I just couldn’t put down!

5: Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story by Lilliam Rivera (Illustrated by Steph C.)

What a powerful and engaging new take on the iconic Green Lantern character. This was a fantastic story that really captured the struggle and strength of the Latino community, especially when the debate over immigration has never been higher in recent years. Jessica Cruz is the perfect character to bring this fight for justice and equality to light, as her DC Comics history played into the battle between fear and hope that her character has embodied since her introduction. As a half-Latino man whose late grandfather came to this country as a young child and built a family of his own through dedication and hard work, the cultural element and the familial bonds that Jessica had not only with her parents but her community as a whole really spoke to me, as these core values are something I was taught at an early age.

As a fan of this character and a proud Hispanic man, I was so enthralled with this story. As a fan of DC Comics, I loved this original take on the characters. 

4: The Marionettes Book 1 by Katie Wismer 

I can honestly say this was one of the best New Adult and Dark Fantasy reads I’ve read not only this year but in a long time. The amount of world-building and mythos the author was able to fit into the narrative was not only entertaining but made the world within this book feel seamless and immersive. The freedom with which the author incorporates not only the two main classifications of supernatural beings, (vampires and witches), but other powerful beings as well that don’t always fit into the typical supernatural fantasy read helped elevate this narrative to new heights. 

The dark and edgy fantasy horror read was so captivating and entertaining, and left on a massive cliffhanger that will keep readers on the edge of their seats for the sequel!

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3: The Thicket by Noelle Ihli 

What a truly amazing and inviting horror read! Horror fans everywhere will love this intricately detailed and plotted thriller. The author does a great job of painting an image of the narrative in the reader’s mind, delving into our modern world’s obsession and love of all things terrifying and macabre. As a fan of haunts myself and with friends who run a haunted attraction, I could relate to the life and atmosphere of these attractions clearly. 

I am a sucker for classic slasher horror flicks, and so the atmosphere and characters the author crafted in this narrative felt right at home in this genre and did an amazing job of painting an image of the novel’s plot in my mind.

2: Thread of Souls Book 1- Phantom Five by Scott & Ashley Roepel 

The balance of dark fantasy and character growth really elevates the narrative here. The danger and stakes of this fantasy world are made apparent early on in the story, as one of the main characters watches her sister taken right before her eyes by a large flying creature out of a nightmare. Yet it is the bond between the characters that really steal this story, as the blend of humor, charm, and heroism mixes with the personal problems each of these characters faces with their pasts and futures. It speaks of the classic swords and daggers, hero’s journey elements of adult fantasy novels that fans have come to know and love over the years.

I am a sucker for epic fantasy, and I loved the world-building and mythology the authors crafted in this original tale. I was able to devour the first 3 books in this series, and I absolutely cannot wait to read the next chapter in the coming year. 

1. Beyond the Stars and Shadows by Kristen Martin

This was such a compelling and engaging read right from the start. As anyone who knows me can attest, I love a wide variety of books. As such, I was so thrilled when the story I thought I was reading took off in such an exciting new direction. The author’s writing is so inviting and draws the reader into the narrative and the lives of the protagonist with ease. Elara is a truly fantastic character, well-rounded and while many books take their characters through a total evolution in their story, it was refreshing to see the narrative really hinged on the growth of the characters, making her story so much more interesting. 

When I think of books that really moved or inspired me this year, I cannot leave off one of my all-time favorite authors, Kristen Martin. The imagery and emotions this narrative brought out as I read it, along with the real-life interest I hold for metaphysical studies and the paranormal really sold me on this novel, and I was so honored to have been able to read this amazing story.

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Well, that does it for me. These were some of my favorite reads of the year, but certainly not the only favorites. What was your favorite book to read this year? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to like and follow my website if you aren’t already. Also, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter, and if you are in the market for some custom writing projects, ranging from poetry to short stories and more, then be sure to order something from my Etsy shop, Cosmic Writing Studios. Everyone have an amazing New Year’s Eve, and I look forward to seeing you in the coming New Year! 

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young Jewish woman working in secret as a Christmas romance writer must delve back into her Jewish roots to sell a book about Hanukkah while contending with a childhood rival, while discovering things may not be as contentious as she once thought in author Jean Meltzer’s “The Matzah Ball”.

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The Synopsis

Oy! to the world

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is a nice Jewish girl with a shameful secret: she loves Christmas. For a decade she’s hidden her career as a Christmas romance novelist from her family. Her talent has made her a bestseller even as her chronic illness has always kept the kind of love she writes about out of reach.

But when her diversity-conscious publisher insists she write a Hanukkah romance, her well of inspiration suddenly runs dry. Hanukkah’s not magical. It’s not merry. It’s not Christmas. Desperate not to lose her contract, Rachel’s determined to find her muse at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah, even if it means working with her summer camp archenemy—Jacob Greenberg.

Though Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since they were kids, their grudge still glows brighter than a menorah. But as they spend more time together, Rachel finds herself drawn to Hanukkah—and Jacob—in a way she never expected. Maybe this holiday of lights will be the spark she needed to set her heart ablaze.

The Review

I absolutely loved this book! It was so engaging right from the beginning. The author did a brilliant job of crafting a narrative that was exciting and allowed readers to find themselves within the throng of characters the author crafted. Of course, the big hook and amazing twist on this holiday read was the focus on Hanukkah and the Jewish community, which often gets overlooked during this time of year. The tight-knit community within the Jewish people and the emphasis on culture within the narrative were so refreshing and heartwarming to read. 

The characters were the show stealers of this read to be sure. What was so interesting, and something I always enjoy is when a writer crafts a narrative that features such a diverse cast of characters that we could find someone in the narrative to identify with for one reason or another. As someone with several chronic diseases, seeing protagonist Rachel’s struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome and the struggle with how she is perceived by others is a struggle I am all too familiar with, and it was great to see that representation in the book. The chemistry and heated moments, both good and bad, between Rachel and Jacob, were truly memorable and allowed the story to feel very cinematic in its approach.

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The Verdict

A heartfelt, emotional, and entertaining twist on the holiday romance genre, author Jean Meltzer’s “The Matzah Ball” is a must-read novel this winter. The perfect holiday read the author created a book filled with vivid imagery, captivating characters, and memorable representation that will make all readers feel welcome. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Author Jean Meltzer studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch, and served as creative director at Tapestry International, garnering numerous awards for her work in television, including a daytime Emmy. Like her protagonist, Jean is also a chronically-ill and disabled Jewish woman. She is an outspoken advocate for ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), has attended visibility actions in Washington DC, meeting with members of Senate and Congress to raise funds for ME/CFS. She inspires 9,000 followers on WW Connect to live their best life, come out of the chronic illness closet, and embrace the hashtag #chronicallyfabulous. Also, while she was raised in what would be considered a secular home, she grew up kosher and attended Hebrew School. She spent five years in Rabbinical School.

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Here is an Excerpt from “The Matzah Ball”

1

She just needed one more.

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt stared at the collection of miniature Christmas figurines spread across her desk. She owned 236 of the smiling porcelain Santas from the world-famous Holiday Dreams Collection. When her best friend, Mickey, arrived, she would complete that collection with the addition of the coveted Margaritaville Santa.

Oh, the Margaritaville Santa. How she had dreamed of the day when that tiny porcelain Santa, in a Hawaiian shirt and wear-ing Ray-Ban sunglasses, would sit atop her prized collection.

Rachel had scoured eBay for the tiny limited-edition figurine, set up price alerts and left frantic (somewhat drunken) posts at three in the morning on collector blogs. Now, after six years, five months and seven days of hunting, the Margaritaville Santa would finally be hers.

The anxiety was killing her.

Rachel glanced out the window of her apartment. It was snowing outside. Gentle flakes fell down onto Broadway and made New York City feel magical. She was wondering when Mickey would actually get here when there was a knock at the door.

“Finally!” Rachel said. Excitement bubbled up inside her as she raced to the front door, throwing it open. And then, disappointment. Her mother stood in the threshold.

“I was in the neighborhood,” she said, a perfectly innocent smile spread across her two round cheeks.

Her mother was always in the neighborhood.

It was one of the downsides of living on the Upper West Side while her mother, a top New York fertility specialist, worked out of Columbia Hospital just ten blocks away.

Rachel had to think quickly. She loved her mother, and was even willing to entertain her completely intrusive and unannounced visits, but the door to her home office was still open.

“Mickey’s about to stop by,” Rachel warned.

“I won’t be but a minute,” her mother said, lifting up a plastic bag from Ruby’s Smoked Fish Shop as a peace offering. “I brought you some dinner.”

Dr. Rubenstein pushed her way inside, letting her fingers graze the mezuzah on Rachel’s doorpost before entering. Making her way straight to the refrigerator, she began unloading “dinner.”

There was a large vat of chopped liver, two loaves of pum-pernickel bread, three different types of rugalach. Dr. Ruben-stein believed in feeding the people you love, and the love she had for her daughter was likely to end in heart disease.

“How are you feeling?” her mother inquired.

“Fine,” Rachel said, using the opportunity to close her office door.

Dr. Rubenstein looked up from the refrigerator. Her eyes rolled from Rachel’s hair, matted and clumped, down to her wrinkled pink pajamas.

She frowned. “You look pale.”

“I am pale,” Rachel reminded her.

“Rachel,” her mother said pointedly, “you need to take your myalgic encephalomyelitis seriously.”

Rachel rolled her eyes. Outside, the gentle snow was gathering into a full-blown storm.

Dr. Rubenstein was probably one of the few people who called Rachel’s disease by its medical term, the name research scientists and experts preferred, describing the complex mul-tisystem disease that affected her neurological, immune, autonomic and metabolic systems. Most everyone else in the world knew it by the simple and distasteful moniker chronic fatigue syndrome.

Which was, quite possibly, the most trivializing name for a disease in the entire world. The equivalent of calling Alzheimer’s “Senior Moment Syndrome.”

It did not begin to remotely describe the crushing fatigue, migraines, brain fog or weirdo pains that Rachel lived with daily. It certainly did not describe the 25 percent of patients who found themselves bed-bound or homebound—existing on feeding tubes, unable to leave dark rooms for years—or the 75 percent of patients who could no longer work full-time.

For now, however, Rachel was one of the lucky ones. She had managed to graduate college with a degree in creative writing and, over the last decade, build a career working from home.

“Ema,” Rachel said, growing frustrated. “My body, my choice.”

“But—”

“Change the topic.”

Dr. Rubenstein pressed her lips together and swallowed the words on her tongue. It was not an easy feat for the woman. “And how’s work?”

“Good.” Rachel shrugged, returning to the couch. “Noth-ing that interesting to report.”

“And the freelance work you’re doing—” her mother craned her neck to peep around her apartment “—it’s keeping you busy?”

“Busy enough.”

Dr. Rubenstein raised one eyebrow in her daughter’s di-rection.

Rachel knew what her mother was really asking. How can you afford a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side simply by doing freelance editorial work? But Dr. Rubenstein had learned an important halachic lesson from her husband, Rabbi Aaron Goldblatt, early on in their marriage; you don’t ask questions you don’t really want the answers to.

For all Rachel knew, her mother believed her to be a web-cam girl. Or a high-class prostitute. Or the mistress of some dashingly handsome Arabian prince. All of which, Rachel was certain, would be preferable to what she actually did for a living.

“Ema,” Rachel said, steering the conversation away from her career. “What is it you’re really here for?”

“Why do you always think I have an ulterior motive, Rachel?”

“Because I know you.”

“All right!” Dr. Rubenstein threw her hands up into the air. “You caught me. I do have an ulterior motive.”

Baruch Hashem.”

“Now, it’s nothing bad, I promise,” her mother said, taking a seat on her couch. “I simply wanted to see if you were available for Shabbat dinner this Friday?”

There it was. The real reason for her mother’s visit. Shab-bat at Rabbi Goldblatt’s house was not just a weekly religious occurrence, it was a chance for Dr. Rubenstein to kidnap her daughter for twenty-five hours straight and force her to meet single Jewish men.

Over the years, there had been all sorts of horrible setups. There was the luxury auto dealer who used his sleeve as a napkin during dinner. The rabbinical student who spent an entire Saturday afternoon debating aloud with only her father over what to do when an unkosher meatball falls into a pot of kosher meatballs.

And then, there was her favorite blind date setup of them all. Dovi, the Israeli mountain climber, who had traveled the world in his perfectly healthy and functioning body, before telling Rachel that he didn’t think chronic fatigue syndrome was a real disease.

Chas v’chalilah.

Rachel had no intention of spending another Friday night, and Saturday afternoon, entertaining her mother’s idea of a dreamboat. Especially not when that dreamboat had the word Titanic embroidered across the bottom of their knitted kippah.

“No,” Rachel said.

“Rachel!” her mother pleaded. “Just hear me out.”

“I’m too busy, Ema.”

“But you haven’t been home in ages!”

“You live in Long Island,” Rachel shot back. “I see you and Daddy all the time.”

Her mother could not argue with this factoid.

“Jacob Greenberg will be coming,” her mother finally said. Rachel nearly choked on her tongue. “What?”

“You remember Jacob Greenberg?”

The question sounded so innocent on the surface. Jacob Greenberg. How could Rachel forget the name? The duo had spent one summer together at Camp Ahava in the Berkshires before the seventh grade.

“Jacob Greenberg?” Rachel spit back. “The psychopath who spent an entire summer pulling my hair and pushing me into the lake?”

“I recall you two getting along quite well at one point.”

“He set me up in front of everyone, Mom. He turned my first kiss into a giant Camp Ahava prank!”

“He was twelve!” Dr. Rubenstein was on her feet now. “Twelve, Rachel. You can’t hold a grown man accountable for something he did as a child. For heaven’s sake… The boy hadn’t even had his bar mitzvah.”

Rachel could feel the red rising in her cheeks. A wellspring of complicated emotions rose up inside her. Hate and love. Confusion and excitement. Just hearing his name again after all these years brought Rachel smack-dab back to her ado-lescence. And sitting there beside all those terrible memories of him humiliating her were the good ones. Rachel couldn’t help herself. She drifted back to that summer.

The way it felt to hold his hand in secret. The realiza-tion that there was more to their relationship than just dumb pranks and dead bugs left in siddurs. Jacob had gotten Rachel to open up. She had trusted him. Showed him a side of herself reserved for a select few. Aside from Mickey, she had never been so honest with anybody in her entire life.

Dr. Rubenstein dismissed her daughter’s concerns with a small wave of the hand. “It was eighteen years ago. Don’t you think you’re being a tad ridiculous?”

“Me?” Rachel scoffed. “You’re the one who’s hosting my summer camp archenemy for Shabbat.”

“He’s in town from Paris for some big event he’s throwing. What would you have me do—not invite him?”

“While you’re at it, don’t forget to invite Dana Shoshan-ski. She made me cry every day in third grade. In fact, let me get you a list of all the people who made fun of me for being Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt growing up. I want to make sure you don’t miss anybody.”

Her mother did not blink. “I’m sorry it was hard for you…being our daughter.”

Just like that, her mother had twisted all those feelings back around on her.

Rachel bit back her words, looking up to the ceiling. She loved her parents more than anything in the world. They had been there for her at every stage of her life, doting and won-derful. Still, the Rubenstein-Goldblatt name came with pres-sures. They were pressures that, even as an adult, still managed to follow her.

A knock at the door drew their attention away.

“Let me get that for you,” Dr. Rubenstein said sweetly, ris-ing from the couch.

“Ho, ho, ho-oooooooh… .” Mickey said, standing at the door, his smile fading into panic. He was holding a medium-sized red gift bag in the air. He glanced at Rachel, who sig-naled the immediate danger by running one finger across her throat. Quickly Mickey hid the bag behind his back.

“Dr. Rubenstein!” he said, his eyes wide. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Not to worry, Mickey,” Dr. Rubenstein said, adjusting her scarf. “I was just getting ready to leave.” She turned back to her daughter one last time. “Just think about coming to din-ner, okay? Daddy and I won’t be around forever, and there may come a time in your life when you miss spending Shab-bat at your parents’ house.”

Mickey waited for the door to shut firmly behind him and the elevator at the end of the hall to ding before turning to his best friend. “Whoa,” he said. “That woman is a pro when it comes to Jewish guilt.”

“Tell me about it,” Rachel said, collapsing on the couch.“So what did our fine rebbetzin want this evening?” Mickey asked, taking his boots and jacket off at the front door.

“You’ll never believe it if I tell you.”

To everyone that knew them, it seemed that Mickey and Rachel had been bashert, soul mates, since time immemorial, having met at Camp Ahava when they were eight years old.

Since Rachel couldn’t be sure what drew the pair together, she assumed it had something to do with how other people at their camp had treated them. Mikael, the adopted son of a powerhouse lesbian couple from Manhattan, was Black. And Rachel, as everyone who met her cared to remind her, was the daughter of Rabbi Aaron Goldblatt. The Rabbi Aaron Goldblatt.

Whether they liked it or not, when Mickey and Rachel walked into a room, people noticed them. People watched them. This shared experience formed the basis of their com-radery and, later, extended far beyond Jewish summer camp.

“She wanted to set me up with Jacob Greenberg,” Rachel said.

Mickey finished pulling off his boots. “Jacob Greenberg? From Camp Ahava?”

“The one and only.”

“Wow,” Mickey said, coming over to sit beside Rachel. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in forever. Didn’t he give you mono?”

Rachel squeezed her eyes shut. She did not want to think about that first kiss with Jacob Greenberg. “Can we seriously not talk about this right now? I’ve waited seven long years for this moment, Mickey…and just like some of the other most important moments of my life, Jacob Greenberg is ruining it.”

“You’re right,” Mickey said, laying the red bag on the coffee table between them. “And I have just the thing to take your mind off He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

This was it. The moment she had waited for. With eager fingers, Rachel reached into the bag, pulled out the tiny fig-urine and gently removed the plastic bubble wrapping that protected it.

It was even better than she had imagined.

Excerpted from The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer, Copyright © 2021 by Jean Meltzer. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.