Adam Bernard is taking his pee-wee hockey team from Canada to Boston for a tournament. Adam gave up his own hockey dreams ten years ago when his parents were in a car crash, but he enjoys working with the kids and is a great coach and teacher. So great, in fact, that he is being recruited to coach some more competitive teams in the US, but he can’t bring himself to leave his father in Montreal. On the first night of Chanukah, Adam stumbles across a Jewish bakery. He is missing being home to celebrate the holiday, so he goes inside to check it out and meets the owner, Ben.
Ben Daniels had big athletic dreams of his own, but he was badly injured and hasn’t been able to bring himself to get back on the ice. He has thrown himself into his bakery, trying to learn more about his Jewish roots and find traditional recipes. He is determined that despite the rapidly encroaching Christmas season, he will celebrate Chanukah at the bakery first, before adding in all the Christmas goodies.
Adam and Ben hit it off right away. Even though there are some stumbles along the way, they seem to really connect and Adam returns every morning with his team for treats, then comes back later at night to spend time alone with Ben. Ben finds himself opening up to Adam about his past in a way he doesn’t with many people. And the guys feel a spark that they wish could extend past that week. But despite the job offers, Adam is determined to return home to Montreal and the week is going by far too quickly. Not to mention that differences in the way the two men observe their religion continue to be an obstacle for them. Now the men must figure out whether there is a way to turn the fling into something more serious, and if they can put their differences aside and take a chance on happiness together.
I am always excited when I can find Chanukah books this time of year, and when this story came across my desk, I was eager to snatch it up. I think Peters does a nice job of doing more than scratch the surface of the holiday and it is clear she is familiar with the holiday traditions. In fact, in a couple of places I think the story assumes a basic understanding of things that not all readers may have, but I do think that the book is accessible even if Chanukah is not your holiday.
So this one started a little rough for me, but picked up some steam as it went, and that is because I had a really hard time with Adam. He is the son of a rabbi and a more observant Jew than Ben, and he is awfully judgmental about it. Not only about Ben’s religious observance, but at some of the more secular traditions as well. For example, Adam freaks out because Ben has made a non-traditional filling for the sufganiot in his bakery (they are sort of like donuts and a traditional Chanukah food). Adam is incredibly rude when Ben tells him he is Jewish, with obnoxious disbelief that anyone who doesn’t know the “right” way to make sufganiot could possibly be Jewish. Later, after they have made up from that fight and are kissing for the first time, Adam freaks out seemingly out of nowhere and tells Ben “I don’t want to be your Jewish fling, okay?” (presumably because Ben shared potato latkes with him and asked him for his opinion and despite knowing that Ben is Jewish himself at this point). Basically, Adam keeps picking these fights (including a major one that comes at the end of the story) because Ben doesn’t observe the way that Adam does, and Adam doesn’t consider Ben’s way good enough. Which fine, I get that level of religious observance can be a relationship deal breaker. But these guys have known each other less than a week. There is no reason to be nasty and judgmental to a virtual stranger because they don’t meet your approval on their level of religious observance, especially before there is even a romantic relationship involved.
So sometimes when things start our rocky with a character, I can see enough growth or redemption to get past it. But it takes a long time for that to happen here, most of the book actually. So while the rest of the story worked better in terms of the plots regarding hockey, Ben coming to terms with his accident, etc, I just could never really get past my dislike of Adam and so the chemistry between these guys just fell flat for me. Like many Chanukah stories, the book mirrors the eight nights of the holiday by setting a chapter for each day. This means that the book takes place over the course of about a week, which made it even harder to really connect with this relationship as it happens super fast. By the end of the week, Adam is making major life decisions based on his feelings toward Ben, feelings that they have never even discussed, and I just wasn’t feeling it at all.
The other plots work better, as I said. I think that Ben’s past and his growth with regards to skating and getting back out there could have been explored in a lot more depth, as could Adam’s decisions at the end of the book, but I think they worked. The kids on Adam’s team are somewhat precocious and way overly involved in their coach’s love life. They are all up in the middle of the relationship, trying to get the men together, etc. It’s a bit hard to imagine this group of 14-year-old boys being so super into whether two adult men get together, but they are cute and entertaining. I did question how despite chaperoning these kids to America and coaching them in this massive tournament, Adam seems to have endless time to hang out with Ben. They stop in the bakery every morning, sometimes also at lunch, and then Adam ditches the kids to spend dinner and the entire evening with Adam. Doesn’t he have to watch these kids? Or coach? Or have any responsibilities for his job? It just seemed a little too pat, but that is a small issue in the scheme of things.
So I will say that there is a lot about this story I appreciated, particularly that it really delves into the holiday celebration and some aspects of Judaism we don’t often get in romance. I liked the kids and the way both of the men worked to overcome their past fears and take a step forward into what they really wanted out of life. And this book is all about the food porn, so don’t read it hungry! But I just felt like Adam’s judgmental side really impacted my feelings about him, and thus about the relationship in general.