When Ellie Bloom’s life literally goes up in flames after an apartment fire, she slinks back to her sister’s house in the St. Louis suburb she’s avoided since her mom died. Ellie quickly caves to her nephews’ pleas to direct the temple Hanukkah play—her mom’s pride and joy—and by the time she’s lighting the first candle in her menorah, she doubts she’ll ever escape her hometown. And then she spots the cute fireman who rescued her lighting his own menorah in the window next door.
Firefighter Jonah Spellman may have dropped out of seminary, but he still has deep roots in his Jewish faith. Hoping to mend fences with his Rabbi father who can’t forgive his career change, Jonah agrees to direct the Hanukkah play, never expecting to clash with his beautiful, fire-starting new next-door neighbor.
By day they spar—Ellie’s desperate to live up to her mom’s legacy while Jonah’s driven to impress his dad. But by night they return to their secret candle-lighting ritual. Will their love burn as brightly as the Hanukkah flames?
Despite a predictable premise where two directors must come together to pull off a community production for the holidays, the first Orchard Hill romance from Crowley (Off the Record) manages to feel fresh with its focus on Reform Judaism and community. When aspiring actor Ellie Bloom returns to her hometown of Orchard Hill, Mo., to stay with her sister after accidentally setting fire to her St. Louis apartment, she's not looking to set down roots. She's finally saved enough to move to Hollywood, leaving painful memories of her mother's premature death behind her, and hopes to make her dream a reality soon. Still, she can't say no when her nephews beg her to direct their temple's Hanukkah play, not realizing that she won't be the only director. Firefighter Jonah Spellman hopes directing the play will prove to his rabbi father that, despite dropping out of seminary, he remains committed to his family and his faith. Neither Ellie nor Jonah can help their mutual attraction, and despite Ellie's plans to leave town, a sweet romance blooms between them as they merge directing styles and the play comes together. Crowley has a light, compassionate touch with both the central couple and Orchard Hill's broader community, both Jewish and not. Readers will find plenty to enjoy here.