Romance Takes on 1840s Jewish Philadelphia

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Appetites & Vices

Felicia Grossman

Carina Press

On sale Feb. 18

Author Felicia Grossman, a Jewish woman from Delaware, says in her “About the Author” page that her high school superlative was “most salacious.”

She said she hopes her books will live up to that moniker.

And if that’s what you’re looking for in a book, then Appetites & Vices will probably satisfy. (Note: The novel contains sexually explicit content.)

But besides just offering up salaciousness, the novel provides a perspective uncommon to the romance genre — a Jewish one.

The book opens in Delaware in 1841. Ursula Nunes doesn’t fit in well with her upper-class circles, and her Jewishness is a big reason why. She’s too Jewish for Delaware, but not Jewish enough for her family in Philadelphia.

She wants to marry her best friend, nice guy and gentile Hugo Middleton, but his parents don’t approve of their union because she’s Jewish. They plan to send him to the big city of Philadelphia to attend an assortment of exclusive parties and find someone else to marry — to Ursula’s devastation.

That’s when misunderstood bad boy Jay Truitt (he even has a dragon tattoo on his chest) steps in with a plan. He and Ursula decide to get fake engaged. The arrangement allows her to gain access to those parties, where she hopes to convince Hugo’s parents to allow their marriage.

It’s a thought process that requires some suspension of disbelief. How, after all, would getting engaged convince people you should marry someone else? But the plot succeeds in its true narrative purpose of bringing the unlikely couple together.

Overall, the book is what you want from a romance novel. It’s a quick read with familiar character archetypes, though, at times, may be a bit cheesy.

The book also offers plenty of fun Philadelphia Jewish community Easter eggs, including references to Congregation Mikveh Israel and Rebecca Gratz, the founder of the Hebrew Sunday School Society in Philadelphia.

For those who’ve taken a stroll through the National Museum of American Jewish History, some of the information Ursula reveals about her family might ring a bell. Many of her relatives, she mentions several times, live in Amsterdam and London, cities that Philadelphia’s earliest Jews immigrated from.

And if you finish the book still wanting more, don’t worry. The sequel, Dalliances & Devotion, is already set to be released in August.

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