Hearts Alight, by Elliot Cooper
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: December 19, 2016
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Dave Cunningham hates the rampant consumerism that’s come to dominate his family’s Hanukkah celebrations. But a chance to bring a bit of a holiday happiness to his long-time crush, Amit Cohen, helps put him in a more festive mood.
In the quest to craft the perfect gift, Dave tries to urge a few personal details out of stoic Amit. Unintentionally, he learns the Cohen family’s secret: Amit is a golem. But Amit has a problem that runs deeper than his magical origin, and a Hanukkah miracle might be the only thing that will keep the budding flame between him and Dave from going out.
I was so, so excited when I saw this book announced. Not only is it a holiday romance, but it’s a Hanukkah romance… and one with a paranormal element! PNR + Hanukkah apparently = things I need more of in my life.
That said, this story… really, really did not do it for me. On any level.
The Judaism: There’s something incredibly exciting about seeing my culture and religion in a novel, no doubt about it. But I honestly felt like the author spent most of this novel showing off how much he knows about Judaism, throwing facts and information at the reader without integrating them organically into the plot. It read like a THIS IS WHAT JUDAISM IS! primer, instead of a story about characters who happen to be Jewish. It was… well, it was boring, and I rolled my eyes a lot. I don’t want to read a story about Judaism (I’ll go back to Saturday School for those lessons), I want to read a romance novel about Jewish characters. There is a difference.
The paranormal: Again, it was boring. The explanations of Amit’s origin read more like an encyclopedia article at best, and a confusing mess at worst. Everything was told, not shown, and aspects of Jewish mythology relating to the paranormal were just not done well. Sorry, but it’s true. Honestly, I would struggle to call this a paranormal story, because the paranormal aspect was just so poorly done.
“How d’you know that?”
“When he made me, I gained all of his knowledge. His life experiences.”
The romance: I didn’t buy it. At all. None of the romance is ever really shown… it’s breezed over. We see Amit and Dave play some D&D, and do some pottery. And… that’s basically it? But there’s so little development of the relationship that I was genuinely confused about why they loved each other. There was also ZERO tension. Maybe some people like that, and just want a flat, bland romance (call it “sweet” if you want, but I wouldn’t use that word for this), but I’m just not interested.
Overall, this novella felt more like the author’s attempt to show off his Jewish knowledge, and not like a story. It’s obvious that Cooper knows and loves Judaism; that much, at least, absolutely resonates in the pages.
He’d lain awake, thinking about the reality of magic, its relation to God, what he thought about God, and then back again to how he felt about Amit.
But the story itself was poorly formed, the various aspects badly combined, and I really struggled to finish this novella.
Elliot Cooper writes speculative fiction featuring queer characters. His novels and novellas come with hopeful and happy endings, though his short fiction runs the gamut of styles and genres. He strives above all to make his readers feel, while also increasing positive representation of LGBTQ characters and their stories.
You can purchase Hearts Alight from:
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.