Fun, Informative Without Being Preachy – But *IS* Focused On Advocacy As Much As Romance. This is one of those books that works its advocacy into its story in a compelling way that doesn’t come across as preachy at all – but *can* feel like a bit of a “Sponsored By” kind of a tale. The issues it discusses, including both chronic pain and medical (and even recreational) marijuana use are very real, and in these areas the book is quite informative indeed – hell, I openly admit I learned quite a bit more about marijuana from reading this book than I ever had in 40+ yrs prior.
But that gets to a bit of a heart of the dilemma – I can now tell you as much about the intricacies of how marijuana actually works as I can about the specifics of this ostensibly enemies to lovers romance tale. I can tell you as much about how chronic pain can completely take over a person’s life as I can about the actual character who has it and her budding relationship throughout this tale. Indeed, the actual “conflict” here is largely over just about 50% into the tale, with another blowup a bit later. But it is this section in between in particular where the book is at the height of its paid promotional ad feeling, without ever naming specific real world organizations. (This feeling isn’t helped by the fact that several of these elements come back to bear in the wildly extended epilogue – a short (ish) stinger on the end of the story, this epilogue is not. Indeed, it reads and feels more like just another final chapter rather than a true epilogue.)
Overall, there is nothing technically wrong here, so no star deduction. And the tale itself, outside of the advocacy, really is sweet and charming and most everything anyone really wants in a romance with a few comedic moments. But the advocacy, while never actually preachy, is still such a prevalent force here that it does in fact take away from the ultimate feel of the romance. Still, quite entertaining and truly informative. Very much recommended.
After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Avital Cohen wasn’t wearing underwear.
Standing behind the front counter of Best Babka in Brooklyn, holding their signature pink box in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other, she tried to ignore the pain radiating through her lower abdomen. Despite the fact there was a line spreading around the block, and Shabbat was less than four hours away, the middle-aged woman with streaks of purple in her hair was taking her sweet time.
“I’ve got three black-and-white biscotti,” Mrs. Purpleman said, speaking into her cell phone. “Four confetti rugelach, one challah… I know, I know, but Elissa is on one of her health kicks, again.”
Her name wasn’t Mrs. Purpleman. It was just one of many nicknames that Avital had created in order to remember customers. Mrs. Purpleman was, in fact, Mrs. Perlman, and Avital had come up with the name because she wore her hair styled into a bob and dyed a deep maroon. The effect of which always managed to look purple.
Mrs. Purpleman had been a longtime customer of Best Babka in Brooklyn, arriving like clockwork every Friday morning to stock up on Shabbat goodies for her family.
“But if I buy two challahs,” Mrs. Purpleman sighed heavily into her cell, “she’ll say I’m not validating her feelings…”
Avital glanced down the long line and wondered when Mrs. Purpleman—a professional go-getter when it came to lengthy and irrational amounts of indecision at the counter—would finally notice the eye rolls behind her and make a choice.
“Well, how do you think she’ll feel about some apple cake macaroons?” Mrs. Purpleman asked into her phone.
Avital interrupted. “Those are really good.”
She looked up. “Really?”
Avital began loading three cookies into the box. “They’re always a huge seller on Fridays,” she said, putting a fourth into the box that was angling in the direction of Mrs. Purpleman. “Can I help you with anything else today?”
“Oh.” Mrs. Purpleman placed one finger on her chin. “Well, I guess not…”
All at once, she felt bad for losing her patience.
Normally, Avital was good with the clientele. She could typically deal with indecisive customers and long lines and the total lack of smiles or gratitude that came with the Shabbat rush hour…but today, she was once again dealing with a flare up of her chronic-pain condition.
Since being diagnosed with interstitial cystitis two years ago at the age of twenty-two, her life could be boiled down to one phrase. She came, she saw…she realized she needed to pee and quickly stopped whatever she was doing in order to find a bathroom.
“Tell you what,” Avital said, grabbing two pink boxes tied up in white twine from a shelf behind her. “Why don’t I throw in two pumpkin-spiced babkas for free?”
“For free?” Mrs. Purpleman asked, confused.
“I know I’m rushing you here,” Avital said, bouncing up and down in her spot. “It’s just…it’s an emergency, Mrs. Perlman.”
Mrs. Purpleman finally twisted in her spot and noticed the line. “Oh, Avital—” she said, touching her heart, embarrassed “—I’m so sorry, I didn’t even realize!”
“No, no…” She shook her head, apologizing profusely. “My husband always says, ‘Goldie—you take too much time with everything. Just make a decision!’ I don’t know why it’s always so hard for me. I just get nervous, you know, and Elissa is going through this whole phase, where everything I do is wrong…”
“I know, Mrs. Perlman,” Avital said, gently, before angling to move her along. “You have a good Shabbat, okay? I’ll see you next week.”
Handing the box to Tootles at the front counter, Avital began calling out the order. “One pound marzipan,” she shouted over the hum of the crowds, “Three black-and-white biscotti, four confetti rugelachs, one challah, four apple cake macaroons.”
“What about the babkas?” Tootles called back.
“On the house!” Avital said, and swiftly began taking off her apron. Her break came just in time. Her twin brother, Josh, had just returned from his lunch break. “Baruch Hashem,” she said, taking off her apron and handing it to him.
“That good today, huh?” Josh asked, sympathetically.
“You have no idea.”
Avital escaped through the back door, sprinting down the hall toward her office, where she could enjoy the privileges of an attached private bathroom.
As she closed the door behind her, the vent fan and light turned on, buzzing into a familiar hum. Considering how much time she spent there, her mother had tried to spruce up the place—make it feel more homey and comfortable—with the addition of fancy pink soap and a small dish full of potpourri. Instead, all the floral scents really managed to do was seep into her frizzy hair and make her smell like cherry cough syrup.
Sitting down on the toilet, Avital shut her eyes and tried to breathe though her pain. The burning, aching pressure increased. Her stomach cramped. Really what she needed to do was to take the day off. Lie in bed, with ice between her legs and a heating pad on top of her belly, drowning in rescues, the colloquial term for the over-the-counter medications and nontraditional remedies used when the pain was at its worse.
Unfortunately, going home was not an option. Even though she had specifically returned to work at Best Babka in Brooklyn for the familial benefit of taking off as needed—a luxury not afforded to most anyone living with chronic pain and chronic illness—they were desperate. With its lines out the door and rapidly expanding social-media presence, the bakery needed support staff as much as it needed flour.
A small whine of pain escaped her lips as she finished her business. She waited for relief, for the feeling of better to return to her body…but her pain was relentless. That was the hardest part of it, really. The fact that it never stopped. The fact that it just went on, and on, sometimes shifting form but never being eradicated completely.
Returning to the front counter, she found both Tootles and Josh sweating bullets, working hard to fill orders. As general manager, Avital didn’t often work the front counter, but Sara, one of their bakers, had a custody hearing in Manhattan to attend that day.
Avital threw on an apron and scanned the line. Though it seemed impossible, the crowd cramming the front entrance had doubled in size during the three minutes she was stuck in the bathroom. Avital grabbed a pink box.
“Next!” she called out.
A young woman, with a baby angled on the edge of her hip, stepped forward.
“What can I get you?” Avital asked.
“Two challahs,” Mother Russia said, the thick accent that had earned her the nickname from Avital, evident in her voice. “Six honey cookies, one black-and-white cheesecake, and a mandel brownie.”
Upside: Mother Russia was always decisive. She came in, ordered quickly, and left. She also never smiled or said thank you, which, weirdly enough, actually felt like a gift. Avital didn’t have to fake wellness. She didn’t have to smile through her pain. She could be just like Mother Russia, totally unconcerned about American social norms.
“Anything else?” Avital said.
“No,” Mother Russia said, catching the teething giraffe just before it fell to the floor.
Avital handed off the box to Josh. She was just about to call out the order, when the sight of a young man—pushing his way through the crowd—caught her attention.
Holy pumpkin-spiced babka.
Avital faltered. The tongs dangled unused in her hands. Her lower lip parted from the top, jaw dropping. The long line dissipated into silence. There were twenty-five people waiting at the counter, but her eyes were transfixed on the stranger.
He was exactly her type. Square shoulders. Tangled dark curls that lifted like swirls of icing off a perfectly molded face. The most gloriously prominent nose. He was a recipe of charm, all plated together by a navy-blue peacoat and gray fitted trousers. He made his way through the crowd, tapping old ladies on the shoulders to offer apologies as he squeezed past.
She couldn’t help but be curious. Avital knew most everyone who came into the shop on Friday. They were locals and diehards. People who—like her own family—never skipped a Shabbat.
And then, Prince Charming cut the line.
Her ire began to rise. There was nothing she hated more, on a busy Shabbat afternoon, than a person who cheated the system. Prince Charming suddenly morphed into Sir Cheat-a-Lot.
“Excuse me,” Avital said, pointing her tongs at his head, “there’s a line.”
Sir Cheat-a-Lot smiled nervously. “Uh, no, I… I don’t think…”
“Yeah,” Avital said, rolling her eyes. “I know. Your Shabbat dinner is very important. Far more important than the other three hundred people waiting before you.” She turned to Mrs. Grossman, waiting patiently with her pocketbook, directly behind him. “Can I help you today, Mrs. Grossman?”
“Oh yes,” the old woman said, leaning over the counter. “I’ll take four black-and-white cookies…”
Avital grabbed a pink box. Sir Cheat-a-Lot decided to tempt fate, and her patience, on a high-pain day.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his perfectly adorable cheeks turning red in the process. “I think you’re misunderstanding my intention here.”
Avital didn’t have time for this. She glanced over to Rafi, a plump middle-aged Israeli they had hired for security, and waved him forward.
“Rafi!” Avital shouted. “Can you please show our guest where the line begins?”
“Not a problem, Avi!” Rafi said and moved to escort the young trespasser outside.
Avital returned her attention to dear, sweet Mrs. Grossman. Rafi grabbed the young man by his arm. But Sir Cheat-a-Lot shrugged out of his grasp and reached into the backpack he was wearing, pulling out a piece of paper.
“I’m here for the job interview!” he said, speaking quickly, waving it in her direction.
Avital stopped serving Mrs. Grossman. “What?”
“My name is Ethan Rosenberg,” he explained, nervously glancing towards Rafi. “I have an interview scheduled with the general manager here at two thirty. I believe her name is—” he glanced down at his sheet to double-check “—Avital Cohen. We confirmed via email on Monday.”
Avital squeezed her eyes shut, wanting to die of embarrassment.
She had completely forgotten.
Then again, she had been up all night—every hour, on the hour—using the bathroom, only to return to bed, exhausted and miserable, with pelvic spasms that didn’t let her sleep. Was it any wonder she was forgetting job interviews with desperately needed help? Or that the hours were painfully and purposefully slipping by focused on other things?
Avital waved Rafi off. Then, handing Mrs. Grossman off to Josh, she directed her attention back to the handsome interloper. “Come with me,” she said, raising the entrance to the front counter.
She had to press her body all the way back to allow him to pass. The wool of the merino sweater he was wearing beneath his coat—his broad and apparently extremely fit chest—swiped against her own.
“Sorry,” she said, straightening her back. “It’s…tight.”
“No problem.” He grinned.
She blanked. She knew there were words in her vocabulary, and that she was supposed to be using them, but all she could focus on was his scent. He smelled incredible. Like the leaves of a freshly cut eucalyptus plant, woodsy and delectable.
It was not like her to get so flustered around a man. She considered herself far too practical to be the type of woman who gave in to romantic whims. But he had this bold sort of confidence in the way he walked, and his sense of fashion was impeccable…and all that masculine energy, brushing up against her, reminded her that she hadn’t had sex in years.
It made her feel vulnerable. Exposed.
Avital thought back to his résumé. “I’m sure you’re used to working in much bigger places.”
“Bigger isn’t necessarily better,” he said, as if anticipating her own misgivings. His voice was deep and dreamy. “There’s a lot that can be learned from working in more challenging spaces.”
He was saying all the right things.
He was stoking her imagination, too.
Avital needed to get a grip. Especially since her twin brother was side-eyeing them curiously from the counter.
She waved Ethan to follow, leading him down the hallway and back to her main office in order to begin his interview. Even though she knew—as sure as the burning pain radiating through her lower abdomen—that there was no way in olam haba she would ever hire him.
“An unflinchingly honest romance.” –Kirkus, STARRED review
From the author of THE MATZAH BALL and MR. PERFECT ON PAPER comes this hilarious and emotional rivals-to-lovers romance.
Step 1: Get the secret recipe. Step 2: Don’t fall in love…
Avital Cohen isn’t wearing underpants–woefully, for unsexy reasons. Chronic pelvic pain has forced her to sideline her photography dreams and her love life. It’s all she can do to manage her family’s kosher bakery, Best Babka in Brooklyn, without collapsing.
She needs hired help.
And distractingly handsome Ethan Lippmann seems the perfect fit.
Except Ethan isn’t there to work–he’s undercover, at the behest of his ironfisted grandfather. Though Lippmann’s is a household name when it comes to mass-produced kosher baked goods, they don’t have the charm of Avital’s bakery. Or her grandfather’s world-famous pumpkin spice babka recipe.
As they bake side by side, Ethan soon finds himself more interested in Avital than in stealing family secrets, especially as he helps her find the chronic pain relief–and pleasure–she’s been missing.
But perfecting the recipe for romance calls for leaving out the lies…even if coming clean means risking everything.
Jean Meltzer studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch and has earned numerous awards for her work in television, including a daytime Emmy. She spent five years in rabbinical school before her chronic illness forced her to withdraw, and her father told her she should write a book—just not a Jewish one because no one reads those. Kissing Kosher is her third novel.