Book Review – An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 06.50.37Alyssa Cole has done it again: written a historical IR romance set in a tricky time period and done so with amazing aplomb! I am usually skeptical about IR romances set during the American Civil War. This is due to too many of them romanticising the master-slave relationship in a way that, for me, feels disingenuous. In An Extraordinary Union, Cole takes the completely different angle to her story.

Instead of giving us the stereotypical master and slave who fall in love trope, we get something far more exciting–two Union spies in the Loyal League infiltrating the household of a Confederate senator. One of the spies is Elle, a free Black woman with the gift of being able to remember *everything*; as a spy, she puts her life on the line by going to Richmond, Virginia to pretend to be a mute house slave to get information that will help foil the Confederacy. The other spy is Malcolm, a Scottish immigrant pretending to be a Confederate soldier who manages to get close to the senator for the very same purpose–to get whatever information he can about the Confederates’ plans in order to bring them down.

Of course their paths cross in a not-so-meet-cute, but it’s exciting and it sets up the story well. We are reminded constantly of the dangerous situation that Elle and Malcolm are in–if they are found out, they will be tortured and/or killed. And for Elle, who has seen the horrors of slavery as a child and has willingly put herself back in the same situation for the sake of the Union, she is not willing to give in to the attraction she feels for Malcolm–initially she does not know he is also a spy, but also because she has seen the reality of her situation face to face–she and other slaves are property, they are seen as breeders, less than human, disposable. And she’s seen it from the side of slavery and from the abolitionists, some of whom view abolishing slavery as a mission while not caring about or even respecting the very people they claim to want to help. Malcolm’s own experiences in Scotland at the hands of English tyranny have left an indelible mark on his life and that of his family. And while he knows it cannot compare to what Elle has seen and experienced, it does make him more aware of the reality they face and it strengthens his conviction that this is not the sort of world–where men can deem other men as being less than human, buy and sell other men, rip apart families, even kill other men with no fear of the law–he wants to live in.

Cole has woven an exciting story that hooked me from the first page. And my skepticism was completely blown away thanks to her writing a story that does not shy away from the harsh realities of slavery and racism. I used to live in Richmond, Virginia–the capital of the Confederacy–so it was nice being able to picture the story taking place there.

Highly recommended! I am definitely looking forward to the next instalment of this series.

My rating?

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My writing escapes

Tomorrow I’m going on well-deserved vacation. My husband and I are going to Italy, where we’ll celebrate his 44th birthday. While there, I will do what I always do–write.  And this made me think of great places to go when you want to write. I thought I’d share my list of favorites with you.

The Museum District Bed and Breakfast in Richmond, Virginia. Whenever Tord and I head to Richmond to meet friends, we stay here. Anna, the proprietor, is a lovely woman who goes out of her way to make you feel at home. Sitting in her garden or on the front porch, reading or writing is one of my favorite things to do while in Richmond. 

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Main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia at Parkway Central

The main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. When I was in high school and college, this was where I hid from the world (and the abysmal summer heat and humidity). I studied, I wrote, I dreamed in this perfect temple of the written word. Even now, if I am on my own in Philly, I end up at the Free Library and I write in one of the reading rooms before heading off for a cup of coffee.

La Colombe Coffee near Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Another place where I end up when I am in Philly. I like sitting by the window and watching people go by as I eat a solitary late lunch or afternoon snack and imbibe coffee. The baristas are friendly, and it’s a great place for people-watching. 

ImageVittorio Veneto Caffè in Matera, Italy. I usually end up here when I am in Matera for the Women’s Fiction Festival or the Brainstorming at the Spa. The guys who work here are super-friendly and they always make sure I can have a table where I can write. It’s also a great location for watching Italians on their evening stroll. Order a glass of white wine and they’ll bring out a tray of snacks and a bottle of sparkling water for you. Perfect when you aren’t hungry enough for dinner but you’re feeling a little peckish.

Caserma Carina in Mogliano, Italy. This place is so relaxing that Tord and I are heading there for the third time. I get so much writing done here and last year I read five books in 10 days. Beautiful views, lovely hosts, great food and wine. What more could we ask for? 🙂

What about you? When you’re in the mood for a lovely place to read or write, where do you go?