REVIEW: Marry Me by Midnight by Felicia Grossman
London, 1832: Isabelle Lira may be in distress, but she’s no damsel. Since her father’s death, his former partners have sought to oust her from their joint equity business. Her only choice is to marry—and fast—to a powerful ally outside the respected Berab family’s sphere of influence. Only finding the right spouse will require casting a wide net. So she’ll host a series of festivals, to which every eligible Jewish man is invited.
Once, Aaron Ellenberg longed to have a family of his own. But as the synagogue custodian, he is too poor for wishes and not foolish enough for dreams. Until the bold, beautiful Isabelle Lira presents him with an irresistible offer . . . if he ensures her favored suitors have no hidden loyalties to the Berabs, she will provide him with money for a new life.
Yet the transaction provides surprising temptation, as Aaron and Isabelle find caring and passion in the last person they each expected. Only a future for them is impossible—for heiresses don’t marry orphans, and love only conquers in children’s tales. But if Isabelle can find the courage to trust her heart, she’ll discover anything is possible, if only she says yes.
Dear Ms. Grossman,
Having finished this book, I find myself still in love with the blurb, cover, and the idea of the book. There are parts I did end up enjoying a lot but unfortunately, the romance fell short for me.
Isabelle Lira, a Sephardic Jew, is fighting to save her place and influence in the business that her grandfather helped start and that her father expanded before his recent death. As a young, twenty three year old unmarried Jewish woman living in London in 1832, she has several strikes against her as far as keeping the gentile clients and getting them to listen to her. Her father’s business partners are pressing Isabelle to marry and make it soon. A husband with clout and acumen will help settle nervous clients’ anxiety over the future of the business as well as help unite both sides of the Jewish community in London. A lot is riding on Isabelle’s choice of husband and Isabelle plus her grandmother know it.
Isabelle’s plan is to hire a matchmaker but then also hold three festivals to which all eligible Jewish men are invited (to sort of mimic the Season balls the gentiles rely on). But Isabelle wants surety – after all, that’s what her business deals in. So she hires the orphaned custodian of her Synagogue to spy on some of the men at the top of the list. Aaron Ellenburg – an Ashkenazi Jew – will suss out secrets that Isabelle can use to leverage (no, it’s not blackmail) a potential husband to do as she wants and not take over her life, her money, and her business once she marries him.
Aaron has failed at most everything in life. Early on he showed he’s not a learner and after five attempts to be taught a trade, he’s not an earner either. The Community has taken care of him – as he’s one of their own – but Aaron feels unseen and barely tolerated. He longs for respect and, far more, a family of his own – a wife to love and cherish and then children to adore, spoil, and regale with stories. The money Isabelle offers him will give him the chance to remake his life. But what happens if the working class man and the wealthy woman begin to have feelings for each other?
So yeah some of this worked well for me and interested me but some of it didn’t. One thing that I had to get used to was the choppy writing. Several times I had to stop and reread a sentence that initially tripped me up and made no sense. I kind of got used to the writing style but I didn’t grow to love it.
The relationship between Isabelle and Aaron worked for me some of the time but not at other times. When they’re working out what Aaron will do and then talking about what he’s discovered, as well as the situation of the Jewish community in London at the time, I loved it. Both characters were smart and articulate, had senses of humor, and could push back a bit at each other and other characters when needed. Isabelle’s idea of coming up with a plan to have Aaron discover a secret by which she could control her husband made a little bit of sense as she wanted him to focus on Ashkenazi men (of which he is one) as she felt that would also give her more leverage against her father’s Sephardic partners.
Aaron was definitely a wanna-be family man. Whenever he thought of the payoff from Isabelle for his work, it was in terms of how he could leverage that into a way to support the wife and children he so desperately wanted and also to gain respect in the community. It was not all “MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, I’m gonna go out and blow it having a good time.” No, he had goals for a better life.
I like that Isabelle was clever and ruthlessly determined to maintain her control over the family business. She wasn’t trying to find the perfect man just for fun, on a whim, or for lurve. She wanted to be physically attracted to her husband but love was a distant item on her list. She wanted someone she could respect, who was kind as well as someone who would help her keep her family name on the business. This was something Isabelle felt she needed to do in order for her father not to be forgotten. It was also seemingly the way her father had raised her – to think of the business first.
The “fighting with edged weapons” thing that Isabelle and her father’s valet did was silly and never truly explained. But what I really didn’t care for were the spiced-up scenes between Aaron and Isabelle which were totally unnecessary for me. I could see their growing attraction for each other without the “we can kiss and then more without losing control” Isabelle wanted to play. Really Isabelle, you’re going to show up in the garden in nothing but your night rail and can’t see that this could be a problem? I will admit that I laughed late in the book when another character told a stunned Aaron “You think half the Synagogue plus her family don’t know you two were schtupping in the garden??” This character then laid out how this was handing Isabelle’s enemies blackmail on a silver platter. Aaron had a habit of saying “Oy” and I did then. The discussions Isabelle and Aaron had about the Jewish community in London were far more interesting to me.
Kudos for the way so many elements of the Cinderella tales were worked into the book. Aaron took care of the mice (feeding them outside his apartment to keep them out of it), sparrows, and a cat. There was Miriam the Fairy Godmother and three festivals (instead of a ball). The characters traveled in lots of spiffed up carriages and I didn’t even mind the last act repudiation of love before Isabelle headed off after Aaron to win him back (it’s gender flipped Cinderella so this shouldn’t be a spoiler). Plus I enjoyed the Yiddish freely sprinkled through but with enough context to not need to have the meaning repeated in English.
This one entertained me but also frustrated me at times. Isabelle and Aaron did a lot of character growth. Well, mainly Isabelle who grew up, realized some home truths and apologized for some thoughtless things she had done in the past. Seeing the community show Aaron how they truly felt about him was sweet. I hope he managed to bring the menagerie with him after the wedding. I loved reading about the late Georgian Jewish community in London. But no, I really didn’t need Isabelle knife fighting (why?) and the sex scenes were more juvenile than hot. C+/B-