Marry Me by Midnight
Grade : C

Isabelle Lima is the heiress to her father’s share of a major business, but the partners are pressuring her not just to marry, but to marry one of them. Isabelle decides to host a series of balls, à la the prince in Cinderella, to meet the eligible men of the Jewish community, after which she will select one to be her husband. She recruits Aaron Ellenberg, the synagogue’s custodian, to spy on several men who might make good husbands - but it’s Aaron who catches her interest.

The biggest issue with this book is the protagonists. Isabel is a businesswoman, but she waffles between being supposedly dedicated to running the business and just wanting it to continue existing with her father’s name on it in order to honor his legacy. I wish I could appreciate this as a way to write a more historically typical heroine, but this is interspersed with Isabel training in sword and knife fighting, so ‘I want my heroine to be more historically typical’ is kind of off the table here.

Aaron is inconsistent. We’re told he’s so incompetent that he flunked out of five separate apprenticeships arranged by the synagogue (“A tailor, a cobbler, a candlemaker, a baker, and the shochet”, or Jewish butcher, where his ineptitude apparently almost cost him his arm). As a fan of heroes like Pamela Morsi’s Simple Jess and Lavyrle Spencer’s Will Parker (from Morning Glory), I’m exactly the person to read a book where the hero doesn’t have conventional attributes. I love the idea of a hero who would be the perfect wife - as a custodian who entertains children during services, he’s basically a housekeeper who is good with kids. But he’s not internally consistent. The community both respects and derides him. He is klutzy and also fit and dextrous. He is clever enough to spy but too stupid to complete a basic apprenticeship. None of this adds up.

I didn’t love the writing style. Some things feel repetitive, like the use of “schlemiel” to describe Aaron. Other things feel heavy-handed, such as when Aaron and Isabelle use storybook language to analyze themselves and other characters as figures in a narrative (“whether they’re a witch or wolf or prince or villain… I’m not going to be part of that, watching you craft a story that best fits your version of events.”) The ending sequence, which involves a makeover, a kidnapping, and a knife fight, complete with villain monologuing, feels dated.

I did like the setting. The author captures Jewish London as a world-within-a-world, adjacent to but not overlapping with the ton we usually see representing the English upper classes in this time period. The book takes us into the dynamics of the Jewish community in the 1830s. I enjoyed learning more about the Sephardim and Ashkenazim, although my favorite details (such as the tendency of the British gentiles to discriminate in favor of Sephardic Jews) actually comes in the afterword. It’s interesting to watch how Isabelle has to balance not only her own feelings about a husband candidate, and not just the advantages and disadvantages to her business, but also the community’s needs: there is a bill before Parliament to grant full citizenship rights to Jews, and the reputation of a major Jewish firm and the conduct of a leading heiress could affect the vote.

This book had several tropes I like, diversity I want to read about, and a setting I was excited to explore. Unfortunately none of them is well executed. Consequently, I can’t recommend Marry Me by Midnight.

Grade : C

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : August 12, 2023

Publication Date: 08/2023

Recent Comments …

  1. This sounds great. I’ve been reading a lot of historical mysteries lately and loving them, though less Victorian and more…

Caroline Russomanno

I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.

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