by Nessa Claugh
Publication Date: November 15, 2021
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction
I received an advance review copy of this book from BookSprout. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Knar has been studying the physiology of humans for years in preparation to introduce Earth to the rest of the galaxy and present them as a species that can adapt to change well. Although he believes in his mission, he’s also had his eye on his coworker Leah, and her invitation to come home with her for the holidays is just the opportunity he’s been looking for.
Going home for Hanukkah is normally the least of Leah’s worries until her mom lets it slip that her dad invited her ex-boyfriend. Desperate to keep him at arm’s length, Leah invites her handsome coworker Kenneth Knar to be a buffer against her family. Having to pretend he’s her new boyfriend doesn’t hurt, and if it annoys her parents, all the better.
He just has to find some way to tell her that he’s more than just a gentile. He’s not even from this planet. And Leah hates liars.
The menorah isn’t the only thing getting hot this holiday season…
The absolutely adorable cover caught my eye, and when I found out it was a fake relationship romance with an alien set during a just-one-bed family visit for Hanukkah? Heck yeah! There seems to be an endless amount of alien Santa books, but not much for other cultures.
Leah, an anesthesiologist, and Knar, a physical therapist, work at the same hospital, but mostly only interact during their breaks, bonding over their love of kosher shawarma. Still, they’ve become good friends, so when Leah’s mom ambushes her by inviting her ex, David, for Hanukkah, Leah impulsively says she’s bring her new boyfriend.. and then convinces Knar to pretend to be that boyfriend, promising him lots more delicious food. But spending time together outside of work makes her realize just how much she’s interested in him. Knar can’t stop thinking about Leah, either, and how this might finally be the opportunity to change their relationship. Just one problem, though: Knar’s actually an alien, one of many on a long-term mission to evaluate humanity’s suitability for inclusion in the galactic community.
“Just remember I am here with you. I will be a good fake boyfriend.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of[.]”
The first half of the book was everything I wanted: the pining, the “I can’t let this go too far or else I’ll lose their friendship!”, the obvious admiration they have for each other. Ever since her breakup with David, her parents have started inviting him to more and more holidays, leaving Hanukkah the only “safe” one. At least, until this year. It was painfully obvious how much Leah missed spending the holidays with her family and how hurt she was about her family’s inability to even realize that they were hurting her. The progression of Leah and Knar’s relationship, the gradual dawning that maybe their attraction is returned, was sweet and so enjoyable. And then we got to the alien reveal.
“Because the rest of this isn’t a huge lie?” I said. “You brought home a fake boyfriend so your parents ease up on you and you can piss off your ex.”
Nearly all of the relationship problems are on Leah’s side. She has a ton of baggage from her relationship with David even ten years later and is particularly sensitive to people lying to her. Her initial reaction to finding out Knar’s an alien isn’t so much “holy crap you’re an ALIEN!” as “you LIED to me” which, ok, I can forgive her for, even if I think she’s focusing on entirely the wrong thing. They resolve that, slowly, with a lot of communication and time for thought. But then Knarr does something else that sets Leah off, and it’s the exact same thing all over again. Meanwhile, Knarr’s entire dilemma is worrying about her baggage and whether a relationship with him would widen the rift between her and her family, since he (obviously) isn’t Jewish. There’s no real growth for him, other than learning about humans, and it felt very uneven. Part of what I love about romance novels is that you start with two characters, both with some sort of misconception or problem, and their love helps them overcome those obstacles together. This is more they have an argument, Knar thinks about how he’s right and Leah has a ton of baggage, and then Leah is righteously furious for a few paragraphs before realizing that she is, in fact, wrong. Not quite the same thing.
Frankly, by the end of the book, I honestly didn’t like any of the characters. Leah’s, well, Leah’s overreacting to everything. Knar’s idea of helping Leah is leaving her to figure things out on her own. And then there’s Leah’s parents. They, especially her father, were absolutely oblivious to how hard it was for Leah to have her ex over for every holiday, and didn’t defend her against his snide remarks and advances until it got frankly egregious. It takes a no-holds-barred conversation from Leah for the light to dawn. Basically, all the growth is either something Leah has to do herself or to push for herself, with little help from the other people in her life. Wait, I just remembered Leah’s cousin Rebecca, who seemed to actually have her head on straight and tried to help Leah with her baggage. I liked her and wish she’d had more page time.
“There was something genuinely charming about watching a historic tradition that had been passed down through generations as a display of faith and gratitude.”
I can’t speak to the Jewish rep, but this is ownvoices, and I could feel the love Leah had for the rituals and food of her childhood. Leah isn’t particularly observant, rarely going to Temple and not always keeping kosher, but the holidays still have a great deal of meaning for her, even if it’s just Hanukkah. Of course, there’s all the delicious food as well: latkes and sufganiyot, as well as bagels, brisket, kugel, and challah. I was drooling! Knar is also a huge fan of the food – the promise of things even better than shawarma was one of the lures Leah used to convince him to come – and it was adorable to see how much he appreciated it. It does get a bit preachy and info-dumpy at times, but certainly much less than you’d see in, say, the more “inspirational” Hallmark books. There was also a throwaway remark about Zionism (one of the concerns of the galactic community is a species’ tendency to resolve situations with violence) which struck me wrong.
Overall, while this had a great start, for me, it fumbled the character growth. I’d still recommend this, though, if you’re willing to overlook that and just enjoy the alien-does-Hanukkah shenanigans.