Audiobook Review: Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer

Title: Mr. Perfect on Paper
Author: Jean Meltzer
Narrator: Dara Rosenberg
Publisher: Mira
Publication date: August 9, 2022
Print length: 387 pages
Audio length: 10 hours 27 minutes
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

From the author of The Matzah Ball comes a pitch-perfect romcom following a third-generation Jewish matchmaker who unwittingly finds her own search for love thrust into the spotlight…

The perfect Jewish husband should be:
* A doctor or lawyer (preferably a doctor)
* Baggage-free (no previous marriages, no children)
* And of course—he must be Jewish

As the creator and CEO of the popular Jewish dating app J-Mate, matchmaker Dara Rabinowitz knows the formula for lasting love—at least, for everyone else. When it comes to her own love life, she’s been idling indefinitely. Until her beloved bubbe shares Dara’s checklist for “The Perfect Jewish Husband” on national television and charming news anchor Chris Steadfast proposes they turn Dara’s search into must-see TV.

As a non-Jewish single dad, Chris doesn’t check any of Dara’s boxes. But her hunt for Mr. Perfect is the ratings boost his show desperately needs. If only Chris could ignore his own pesky attraction to Dara—a task much easier said than done when Dara starts questioning if “perfect on paper” can compete with how hard she’s falling for Chris…

Jean Meltzer, author of 2021’s The Matzah Ball, is back with another Jewish-themed romance, this one depicting a young Jewish matchmaker’s search for her own true love.

Dara Rabinowitz is the powerhouse CEO of J-Mate, the super successful Jewish dating app she created inspired by her mother and grandmother’s careers as matchmakers. Knowing what makes a good match, as well as being a hugely talented coder, is the secret to Dara’s rise to corporate stardom. Dara lives with generalized anxiety disorder, which she’s quite open about, and manages her high-pressure life through coping and calming strategies as well as medication.

Dara is devoted to her darling grandmother, bubbe Miriam, whom she considers her best friend — but Miriam wants to see Dara happily married and exploring life. When Miriam goes off-script on a TV appearance and shares a private list of Dara’s requirements for her perfect husband (written one night while drinking with her sister), Dara is utterly humiliated… until the video clip goes viral, the show’s rating skyrocket, and suddenly everyone wants more of Dara.

The show’s host, Chris (handsome, non-Jewish, and a widowed father of a tween girl) is enchanted by Dara, and sees her as a potential key to saving his floundering show. Reluctantly, Dara agrees to his proposal: He’ll use her app and algorithms to find her nice Jewish men who are “Mr. Perfect on Paper” — checking all the boxes on her list — and she’ll allow the show to follow her on her dates.

What could go wrong?

Obviously, plenty. Dara encounters one dating disaster after another… and meanwhile, even once she meets a man who might really be her perfect match, she can’t quite shake her attraction and feelings for Chris himself. Chris, too, feels drawn to Dara, but he knows he’s not what she wants. But what if????

Dara and Chris are both sensitively portrayed and well developed. I really felt like I got to know each of them, with attention paid to their family backgrounds and the tragedies and struggles they’ve each endured. Chris’s story is particularly sad, and his dedication to being the best dad he can be, while navigating the tricky world of dealing with a pre-teen girl, is quite moving.

Dara and Chris have good chemistry, and I appreciated how genuine their care and concern for one another is. While denying to themselves that they could ever be romantically involved, they do both consider themselves friends, and they’re truly there for one another in the way that real friends should be.

Some elements of the book just didn’t work as well for me, however. Based on this book as well as her previous one, it seems that this author’s approach to conveying humor is to create slapstick moments where everything goes wrong. Maybe some readers will find these moments funny (such as Dara ending up dunking her head into a barrel of water in the middle of a date in order to get away from a pesky bumblebee), but honestly, I tend to find them too silly and embarrassing and over the top.

I had to question some of the Jewish elements too. Dara is devoted to her religion and her people, which is nice to see, but some of her choices in regard to the TV show seem questionable — for example, allowing the camera crew to come to synagogue on Yom Kippur and follow the date that arranged for her at the break fast. I doubt any synagogue would actually allow a camera crew to set up and film on the holiday, and the idea of having a blind date at a break fast after a day of fasting seems like a set-up for disaster (which is exactly how it ends up).

The audiobook was mostly enjoyable, but the narrator seemed to struggle with some of the Jewish/Hebrew/Yiddish terms and names, and that was very distracting to me. Still, when the characters are in more natural or relaxed setting, the narration flows well, and I liked the scenes with Chris and his daughter very much.

Overall, Mr. Perfect on Paper is light entertainment with a sweet story to tell. The characters are bright spots, very engaging and sympathic, but on the downside, the predictable nature of the plot and the occasional cringe-worthy pratfalls and dating disasters keep this book from being totally successful. It’s fun, but I had to overlook a lot of my quibbles in order to appreciate the good stuff.

Take A Peek Book Review: An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

California girl Lola has her life all set up: business degree, handsome fiancé, fast track career, when suddenly, without warning, everything tragically implodes. After years fruitlessly searching for love, marriage, and children, she decides to take the radical step of seeking spirituality and meaning far outside the parameters of modern life in the insular, ultraorthodox enclave of Boro Park, Brooklyn. There, fate brings her to the dysfunctional home of newly-widowed Jacob, a devout Torah scholar, whose life is also in turmoil, and whose small children are aching for the kindness of a womanly touch.

While her mother direly predicts she is ruining her life, enslaving herself to a community that is a misogynistic religious cult, Lola’s heart tells her something far more complicated. But it is the shocking and unexpected messages of her new community itself which will finally force her into a deeper understanding of the real choices she now faces and which will ultimately decide her fate.

An Unorthodox March is a powerful and moving novel of faith, love, and acceptance, from Naomi Ragen, the international bestselling author of The Devil in Jerusalem.

My Thoughts:

An Unorthodox Match is set in the ultra-orthodox community of Boro Park, Brooklyn, and is told through the points of view of several characters. Leah (Lola) is Jewish by birth, but was raised by a mother who wants nothing to do with the religion of her own upbringing. Leah only discovers faith and deeper meaning as a college student, and eventually pursues religious studies in her path back to observant, orthodox Judaism. Yaakov, a widower with five children mourning for his late wife, is a prize sought after by a slew of matchmakers, all looking to make a marriage involving his prestigious family. Yaakov’s mother-in-law Fruma Esther wants what’s best for Yaakov and his children, but not at the risk of their family’s reputation. And getting involved with someone newly returned to religion is a sure way to get gossip flowing, possibly endangering the future standing of the next generation.

This book is a deep dive into the community and its social constructs, and does a good job of explaining why a modern, educated woman might turn to a world that outsiders view as repressive and misogynistic. Leah is an interesting character, and the author does a good job at letting us see why Leah might find a fresh meaning and purpose through religion, faith, and tradition.

I’d tried everything the secular world had to offer and still felt empty. I wanted something else, something that would give meaning to my life. In your world, I found so many of the things I’d longed for all my life: safety, order, rules, limitations, real community, deep values. But I have to be absolutely honest with you… I’ve also discovered some things I wasn’t prepared for.

The family dynamics are well-drawn and touching, and I felt quite sorry for Yakov, his late wife (whose postnatal depression is only revealed late in the book, although there are certainly plenty of hints), and the children whose lives fall apart, until Leah steps in to provide love and order in their home once more.

Of course, as a 21st century feminist, I have a huge problem with religious rules that force women into “modest” clothing, declare them unclean when they have their periods, and require the rabbi’s okay for a woman to stop having babies when she’s clearly suffering and in severe distress. Through Leah’s perspective, the dress requirements are freeing, keeping her body private and preventing men from seeing her as a sexual object — but that only goes so far. Leah (or the author) seems to be a bit fixated on weight, and we keep hearing about how Leah has gained weight since giving up running (which she can’t do as a religious woman, since the clothing and/or activity would be immodest). The issues around body image and looks got in my way quite a bit, as did some of the characters’ attitudes around race and difference.

That’s not to say that An Unorthodox Match isn’t a good read — it is. I was caught up in the story and invested in the characters… but I definitely was challenged by needing to put my own opinions aside in order to accept Leah’s values and hopes. [Side note: For contrast, check out the memoir Unorthodox, which tells the story of a woman’s struggle to leave the Orthodox Jewish community she grew up in.]

A word on the cover: It’s a striking cover image for sure, but totally misleading. At no point in the story does Leah wear a skimpy little red dress, nor do she and Yaakov ever embrace or touch each other. And she does not have a back tattoo. (Okay, she has a small tattoo on her wrist, which is quite the scandal until it miraculously (?) goes away after she spills scalding water on her hands.)

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The details:

Title: An Unorthodox Match
Author: Naomi Ragen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: September 24, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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