Every month, we review the hottest new romance releases in our Romance column. But why let the print books have all the fun? In Digital Dalliances, we highlight digital-only releases guaranteed to heat up your eReader.
One of my resounding, evergreen requests for the romance genre is for more historicals not set during either the Regency or Victorian eras (in fact, I wrote a whole post about it). Appetites & Vices is a fabulous example of the variety available to an author willing to take some fairly mild risks: It’s set in America, rather than England, and in the early Victorian era rather than the far more popular late Victorian/turn of the century. This sounds like I’m damning the novel with faint praise, and I promise I am not. It’s just that a romance starring an American Jewish woman should not feel as new and fresh as Felicia Grossman’s debut does.
Appetites & Vices’ heroine, Ursula Nunes, is a Jewish woman who is not accepted by the Philadelphia elite despite her family’s dazzling wealth. A fake engagement to the notorious Jay Truitt, whose upstanding family name is the only thing preventing him from being cast out of good society, is Ursula’s ticket into the upper classes. And Jay hopes the scandal of a broken engagement will be the breaking point for his family, and that he’ll finally be allowed to run off to Europe, free of their expectations. Jay is a type of hero that I’ve been seeing a fair amount lately—a former rake who has since reformed into a empathetic, more enlightened man. He’s also **spoiler alert** addicted to opium, a fact that Grossman reveals early on and treats with empathy and respect. Unlike some depictions of addiction in the genre, there is no sign that Jay will ever be fully cured, even after he and Ursula reach their HEA.
It is always a pleasure to read a romance that isn’t afraid to let its leads, especially its heroine, fail—and fail hard. So often (and this is not a bad thing!), romance heroines are part of the aspiration of the genre. They are flawed, to be sure, but the flaws frequently hurt only themselves or prevent them from realizing how much the hero loves them until it is almost too late. Grossman’s Ursula, a brilliant heiress who loves her pets, is blunt to the point of rudeness, hot-tempered and single-minded in the pursuit of her own goals. I adored her and found her journey toward appreciating and implementing the social graces of her love interest to be both nuanced and deeply relatable. Jay and Ursula’s love story takes place over a relatively short span of time, but Grossman invests so much in their growing connection and respective arcs that their eventual HEA seems inevitable and fully, totally deserved.
“Fair enough. I suppose I should’ve brought some reading material,” he said.
“Oh, you know how?”
His mouth flew open. What had he done to deserve the immediate insult? And more, how did Ursula, with all her social ineptitude, know exactly where to land her blow?
I’d like an explanation of these marks, Jay. Are you stupid, lazy, or plain disrespectful?
Dizzy, Jay willed down the echoes of his father.
“Have I offended you? He sought mildness, but his tone crept into a hostile classification. He clasped his hands. Natural emotional matching, that’s all.
Ursula paused. Her brown knitted and her mouth pursed, twisted to the side in a strange but adorable expression. “No, not at all, at least not today, well at least not a great deal. The other night, you treated me like I was desperate—”
Jay raised an eyebrow.
The cat on her lap stiffened and she stroked the beast’s head. “I could’ve found a plan a myself. You’re making matters easier, but I wouldn’t succeeded on my own. You and I are just different. You don’t offend me, but I just can’t imagine either of us ever speaking to each other if it wasn’t for this plot.”
She was a puzzlement. How to respond? Everything she said was true or should be true, but the recitation, in that calm, assured tone mangled something deep inside his gut.
They hit another bump, and his head connected with the velvet-lined ceiling again. IF not for the showy fabric, he’d have passed out. Flamboyance had its perks.
Jay winced through all the discomfort. “That’s fair. Though, I suppose, we’re gong to be forced to spend quite a bit of time together these next few weeks, and since we’ve agreed on no physical enjoyment, I’d at least hoped we could try for some decent conversation.”
A wry smile spread over her face at the mention of carnality.
“I’m not sure what we shall converse about, Mr. Truitt, at least for an extended period of time, but speaking with you isn’t a chore. You may not be an intellectual man, but you’re amusing, almost adroit in your dialogue.” She nodded, and her smile turned warm because . . . mercy, that was a compliment. A generous one too—at least in her mind.
Jay threw his head back and did the only thing he could do. He laughed. He laughed so hard Hecate screeched, and Artemis hissed, but he paid them no heed. He just couldn’t stop.
Tears swarmed in his eyes. He should check himself back into the asylum, it would be easier. He was about to make a similar quip, without the confession, when another sound surprised him. Ursula had joined him, hers a loud, full giggle, and damned if that wasn’t the best sound he’d ever heard. He closed his eyes.
Wonders never did cease.