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By Light of Hidden Candles Paperback – October 16, 2017
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"Daniella Levy's first historical novel, By Light of Hidden Candles, includes many attractive aspects: main characters who transcend our expectations, a mystery originating in Inquisition-era Spain and Morocco, a touch of chaste romance, and a whiff of magical realism. Alma Ben-Ami doesn't quite fit the stereotype of the contemporary religious Jewish girl in New York: with a healthy dose of sass and spunk, she confidently claims her religious observance while taking risks to forge an independent path and fulfill a mission passed down through the centuries by the women in her family. She partners in this effort with a young Spanish student with his own family mysteries to solve; add to the mix the fact that he is a Catholic considering the priesthood, and the plot complications multiply. Moving back and forth in time throughout the novel, Levy respectfully navigates the sensitivities of religious boundaries, the delicacies of falling in love, the demands of family honor and loyalty, and the complicated history through which the generations of characters in the book travel. She evokes the rich legacy of Sephardic Jewish Spain, leading her young characters to meaningful, life-affirming answers. A well-researched and engaging debut, By Light of Hidden Candles is an enchanting read."
- Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of multiple award winner Even in Darkness
"Engaging characters, a 500-year-old family mystery, and romance - what more could a reader want? I had a hard time putting it down!"
- Maggie Anton, award-winning author of the Rashi's Daughters trilogy
"A shiny gem of a novel that seamlessly explores the harrowing history of the Spanish Inquisition with the very contemporary quest of two university students to resolve the mysteries of their families indelibly scarred across centuries by religious persecution. The unexpected twists, roadblocks and triumphs are an inspiration to all amateur genealogists who have sought to unravel their own family sagas."
- Doreen Carvajal, author of The Forgetting River
"By Light of Hidden Candles... blends history, a purpose from the past, and the evolution of a modern relationship into its web of intrigue with a tale that is especially vivid... The blend of historical quest and modern-day confrontation is lively and well done... [especially recommended] for audiences who enjoy thought-provoking blends of spiritual examination, interpersonal interactions and growth, history's effects on the present, and the experiences that bring ancestral history to rest in a compromise that follows two very different new adults in their strange and revealing journey."
- D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
"This debut from author Levy is part history lesson and part love story that spans from the Spanish Inquisition to present-day Manhattan. Levy provides plenty of detail for the history lover about being Jewish in today's world and over the centuries as well as a sweet and poignant love story for romance fans. A story that is often funny, always intriguing, and at times suspenseful."
- Library Journal
"I'd recommend By Light of Hidden Candles to anyone who enjoys historical romances, gentle mysteries, and a realistic depiction of the challenges of conflicting religious beliefs... I sympathised with [Alma's] conflict even while cheering for the young lovers. And really - who wouldn't love five hundred years of star-crossed romance and a mystery to solve?"
- Barb Taub, member of the Rosie Amber review team: barbtaub.com
"Entertaining, culturally rich, and fearless in speaking of complex theological questions... Alma and Manuel's in-depth discussions about her Jewish customs, his Catholicism, and where they overlap and differ all feel honest and real. Their humorous banter keeps the pacing brisk... The plotline relies on coincidence at times but has an enjoyably satisfying outcome."
- Sarah Johnson, The Historical Novel Society
"Along with Jewish history and genealogy, lessons learned include the value of charting one's own course in life, the importance of ethical consistency, and why one must keep a clear sense of values... there is much to like and much to learn in this historical novel."
- Michal Hoschander Malen, Jewish Book Council
About the Author
Daniella Levy is a mother of three, rabbi's wife, writer, translator, self-defense instructor, bridal counselor, black belt in karate, and certified medical clown -- and she still can't decide what to be when she grows up. She is the author of Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism, and her articles, short fiction, and poetry have been published in both English and Hebrew in popular and literary magazines such as Writer's Digest, Pnima Magazine, Reckoning, Newfound, Rathalla Review, and the Jewish Literary Journal, as well as online platforms such as Kveller, Aish.com, JWire, Ynet News, and Hevria, and in the international poetry collection Veils, Halos & Shackles.
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This is my first time to read a book by this author and I am happy to admit that it was not a wasted effort. This book transported me to Spain--the modern and the old one. It brought me as far back as the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The time when Jews were exiled and persecuted by the Spanish authorities. This story also reminded me one of the books I just read last month about Christopher Columbus--The Virgin of the Wind Rose by Glen Craney. The same book spoke of the Spanish Inquisition and how Jews at that time hid their faith just so they could stay alive.
Unlike Glen Craney's book which was more of conspiracies and plots and a likely theory of the real identity of Columbus, this book is more of a romantic genre. This book centers on two strong characters of opposing religion--Alma, a devout and practicing Jew and Manuel, a Catholic Spaniard who wants to become a priest. These two crossed paths when Manuel, out of curiosity stopped at a Jewish shop of Alma's grandma. Both were oblivious to the fact that they lives are more intwined than they ever could imagine.
The story goes back a few generations where the ancestors of these two characters met. The beginning of the story which leads up to the current time where Alma is tasked to fulfill what her grandmother and her great-grandmothers before her were unable to accomplish. Alma, out of her love for her grandmother and for curiosity of the women in their family that came before her, gladly accepted the honor and the opportunity to get to know more about her family tree.
At the same time, here is Manuel, obviously, taken with Alma when he first saw her. As fate would have it, Manuel and Alma get to partner with each other to do the research on their family tree in Spain. These two's differences in faith would prove to be both an advantage and a hindrance to their slowly blossoming closeness. Manuel, by some inexplicable force or reason could not temper his curiosity for the Jewish religion. It seemed like an unknown hand is guiding him to probe deeper into the intricacies and ceremonies of the Jewish culture and Judaism. And it doesn't help that he is bound by his love and loyalty to a Catholic priest who was like a second father to him.
All these doubts and confusion going on both in Alma and in Manuel, added to the air of suspense to the whole story. Not to the mention the quest for each of the stories of each ancestors. The daunting task of both being able to unravel their families history and background has been a really addicting ride. At first, the search proved to be hitting a dead end and then, the unlikely discoveries, one after the other, were leading up to the climax of both realizing they were a product of a long history of friendship, business partnership and more.
And the best part of the story, was when Manuel met his grandmother's sister. It was what I have been waiting all along. I had a suspicion that the little things his mother does for him like being a vegetarian and all weren't just nuisance details but a hint into something more. It was the grandmother of all revelations. I took a really deep breath after that part. Ah...a happy ending after all.
I give this book 5/5 lit candles. This story brought light to me as to the customs and intricacies of the Jewish religion and culture. It is a good insight into the religion that was purported to be the origin of the Catholic faith. The intricately planned and written historical background of the characters and the connection between Alma and Manuel just blew me away. I admit, at the start, I had an inkling that Manuel will prove to be a big part of Alma and her quest to fulfill her grandma's last wish. As to how the story was beautifully and artfully uncovered was just so beyond me. It was so exhilarating and fulfilling. It was like I was with Alma and Manuel in Spain, digging through the archives for some document that will contain some evidence as to lives of my descendant. This book had me thinking that maybe, since the Spaniards occupied my country for 333, I too may have a drop of Spanish blood in my veins. What an adventure it would be to go and research that lost family connection? That's just a thought. I am not actually sure if we have Spanish ancestors. Just the thought of undertaking the same endeavor as Alma and Manuel and then finding actual proof is just too hard to pass. I actually have a desire to trace my family tree, especially on my mother's side since they are a really big family and relatives are scattered all over. I have started with the project but have not been really giving a lot of thought to it. Who knows, because of this story, I might continue on reconstructing that family tree and eventually find, I might be related to some important hero like Lapu-lapu. Again, just a thought.
But you know, our story is not only about exile and oppression and suffering. It is the story of thriving, of triumph, and of great faith. It is the story of a people that laughs in the face of deepest despair, that stubbornly clings to life and to joy even in the face of horror and death. We take our pain and turn it into poetry. We take our misfortune and transform it into opportunity.
- Daniella Levy, By Light of Hidden Candles -
Thank you, Netgalley and Daniella Levy, for the copy of this amazing story.
This is a voluntary review. I was gifted a copy.
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