Appetites and Vices by Felicia Grossman
This is an incredibly strong romance between two flawed, real and utterly delightful characters. Better yet, it’s got that one thing which can be ridiculously elusive in historical romances; it’s got diversity. Ursula, the heroine, is Jewish, full-figured, and definitely on the autism spectrum. In 1848 Philadelphia society, however, she comes across as unbearably brash and friendless except for Hugo, an awkward, bookish type she hopes to marry purely to avoid ending up alone. When Hugo’s parents refuse to allow the match, however, Jay Truitt comes into the picture, offering a fake engagement as a way to help achieve both Ursula’s goal and serve his own ends.
Jay’s hard to like at first, as his sardonic inner thoughts critique Ursula, but hints soon clue the reader in to the bitter truth of Jay; he’s a recovering opium addict. Opium addiction is one of the dirty secrets a lot of historical fiction glosses over, and I’ve only seen one other book which covered the painful recovery addicts had to suffer in the era. Jay’s continuing battle against his demons and the way his growing love for Ursula helps him keep them at bay is beautifully written.
There’s a lot more to unpack about both Jay and Ursula and the way they’re treated by the society they move in, and how they both recognize the injustice that Jay can get away with almost anything because he’s a wealthy white man whereas Ursula, despite her riches, is almost a pariah. Jay teaching Ursula to play poker as a strategy for learning to read people and tailor her reactions accordingly was masterfully done.
Despite not liking Jay in the beginning, by the end of the story I was rooting for this couple to succeed together. This is a really well-written historical romance which doesn’t shy away from the tough topics and paints a very accurate picture of the situation Jews found themselves in, in the mid-19th century in both the US and Europe. Five stars for an engrossing read, and I’ll definitely be looking for more by this author.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from NetGalley.