Review: Matzah Ball Surprise – Laura Brown
by Laura Brown
Publisher: Entangled: Lovestruck
Publication Date: March 16, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
This Passover is starting to feel like the ten plagues might be coming back to haunt them before the weekend is over...one hilarious misstep after the next.
Gaby Fineberg just wants to get through Passover Seder without her “well meaning” family playing matchmaker. She needs a date, just for one simple meal—that includes singing, the history of her forefathers, and not one bit of yeast. The hot guy at her gym would be perfect. He probably hates bread, anyway, with a body like that. But when she finally works up the nerve to ask him...he doesn’t hear a word she said.
Levi Miller is deaf and happily single. Initially, he doesn’t know why this beautiful woman is talking to him, but it’s clear she needs help—and suddenly so does he. In a very complicated situation, Levi finds a simple solution. Gaby will pretend to be his new girlfriend to bail him out, and he’ll return the favor. But he didn’t bargain for a family dinner quite like this one...
Content warnings: View Spoiler »death of a parent (in the past, off page), grief, manipulative ex and abusive relationship, ableism (in regards to Deafness) « Hide Spoiler
Hello, fake relationship, my favorite trope! Yes, I read a ton of these, so I’m always looking for something with a new spin on it – in this case, the fake date is for Passover, and the hero is Deaf. The author herself is Jewish and Hard of Hearing, so while I can’t speak for the rep, it’s adorably sweet, fluffy and funny.
“Levi probably had come to his senses in the few hours since they’d met. Which would be fine; she’d just go back home, alone, and feel as though she were the one, instead of her ancestors, about to wander the desert for forty years in search of something familiar.
Ahh, the good old days, when fleeing a Pharaoh in Egypt would undoubtedly top being single on a Jewish holiday.”
I empathized so much with Gaby. Like me, Gaby doesn’t like change, and she especially doesn’t like that every time she goes home her mother has removed one more thing that reminds her of her father. She has a complicated relationship with her mom and feels pressured into being in a relationship. While her mom seemed to love her last ex, he was the absolute wrong person for her and left her feeling small and unworthy and with a lot of trust issues, and she’s not sure she’s ready for another relationship… at least until she starts fake dating Levi. Levi has his own reasons for avoiding going home for Passover, but his involve avoiding his ex-fiancee, Monica. Levi and Monica had been thrown together since they were children because Levi was Deaf and Monica was Hard of Hearing, so obviously their families think they belong together. Monica’s trying to start her own business, but for convoluted reasons, she needs their families to believe she and Levi are still together. Levi’s a people “fixer,” so he can’t quite work up the energy to tell her to knock it off with her games… at least until he starts wanting to turn his fake relationship with Gaby – who doesn’t know about Monica – into a real one. They’ve definitely got great chemistry, and I thought the tension built well.
And yes, Levi’s Deafness is definitely part of him, but he didn’t feel like a caricature or token character because of it. There’s a lot in the book about how he’s left out of family traditions – and, well, basically everything – because no one thinks to make accommodations for him, and I think that could be troubling for other readers. Gaby did do her best to include him, and I loved how, in return, Levi asked Gaby what would help her cope better at home, and did his best to be a buffer between her and her mom.
As you’d expect, the main issue in their “relationship” is communication – but not because he’s Deaf and she’s hearing. Levi’s an ASL professor and Gaby’s a quick learner, and there’s always texting to fall back on. In fact, the “big gesture” speech actually takes place over text (though still in-person), which added a whole other layer to it. The one thing that was a bit confusing was that Gaby spends a good part of the book thinking that Levi isn’t Jewish, though she never actually asks him and he never says he isn’t. I’m guessing this was a device to give more information about Passover to us non-Jews, in the guise of her explaining it to Levi, but it felt a bit weird to me. Levi’s already got one pretty big secret he’s keeping from her, anyway, and that’s what causes the strain in their relationship.
“Gaby shook her head and rubbed the growing throbbing at her temple. “It’s Passover, are you about to torture me for forty years?”
Aunt Faith put an arm around her. “You aren’t forty yet, my child, what do you think I’ve been doing since you’ve been born?”
Despite everything, I loved Gaby’s family, even her interfering Aunt Faith. While her mom and Gaby have their problems, her mom is motivated by love, and they have a tearful reconciliation talk. As for cons, the ending felt rushed to me, both how Levi’s entanglement with Monica was resolved and Levi’s hiding things from Gaby. I wanted much more groveling from him than we got, especially given Gaby’s previous experience with her ex, but that might just be my particular baggage.
Overall, I thought this was a delightfully fun fake relationship book, with plenty of humor and steam. I’ll definitely be looking for more books from the author in the future!