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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Review: Something Old by Lena Hart

Something Old (Brides of Cedar Bend Book 1)Something Old by Lena Hart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a sucker for small-town romances and that’s exactly what you get in Something Old, the first book of Lena Hart’s Brides of Cedar Bend series. Mya and Guy are about to reunite, but it doesn’t go the way Mya had hoped. Which shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise when she left him on their wedding night–even if her reasons for leaving made sense–she was grieving the untimely death of her father and she felt cornered, even if she loved Guy more than she loved life itself. Now two years have passed and she’s back–but can she convince Guy to pick up where they left off?

Something Old is a second chance at love story that revolves around two very stubborn people. Both Mya and Guy want things their way–she wants him to forgive and forget (and I think she expects it a little too easily considering what happened) and Guy wishes she’d leave again so he could get on with his life without her (even though we all know that isn’t what he really wants at all). It’s fun and frustrating watching the two of them, especially when it’s obvious that they both love one another. I really enjoyed this story–my only complaints are that Guy gave in a little too easily for me–he should have made Mya work harder to win his trust and forgiveness again–and Mya’s reasons for staying away as long as she did didn’t really feel convincing. Still, they were fated to be together and their love story was charming.

Highly recommended!

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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?

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day, Barbs!

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My mom, Barbara Golden

I don’t usually write about my mom here but I thought it was a good idea since it is Mother’s Day. My mom and I don’t see each other so often since I live in Sweden and she is still in Philadelphia. But once or twice a year, when I am in Philly, I drive her crazy with telling her what to do (like take more walks since her doctor said she should) and she drives me crazy by hovering when I try to cook dinner for her. We bicker with one another but we know we love each other.

When I first told my mom I wanted to be a writer, she thought I meant I wanted to be a journalist. Heck, I thought I wanted to be a journalist too. I thought I could be a clever news reporter by day and a novelist by night. When I was in high school, I won the chance to take part in a semester-long journalism workshop at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. While it was interesting, I realized I didn’t want to be a reporter. I wanted to be novelist. My mom (and my dad) wanted me to have a job with a steady income–I think she really wanted me to be an accountant or a lawyer. But I didn’t have a head for numbers and I thought courtroom antics were boring. Plus, I had this aversion to having to represent anyone I thought was guilty. And when I was in college, everyone I knew in law school always looked miserable. I didn’t want to be miserable. I wanted to be happy writing short stories and novels.

So when I told my mother I was going to graduate school to study creative writing, she was a little concerned. How would I support myself once I graduated? Would I be able to find a job that would pay enough to cover my student loans? While she tried to get me to see reason, she didn’t try to force me into something that wouldn’t make me happy. I think she realized that sending me to a high school that specialized in engineering and science was a big mistake since I didn’t understand anything while I was there. I am still amazed I graduated with as good of grades as I received. I felt lost the entire time.

My mom grew up in Smithfield, Virginia and moved to Philadelphia when she was a teenager. She didn’t get a chance to go to college until she was older and had already raised three kids. My granddad was a bit old school and didn’t believe in paying for his oldest daughter to go to college. He thought she would just drop out and get married. But going to college was always important to my mom, and she encouraged all of us to go–she didn’t want us to be stuck like a lot of other kids in similar situations. She wanted us to see the world and to experience new things. I watched her studying for her courses and it increased my interest in going to college. So–even if I didn’t always tell her this–she was a role model for me. I saw how she worked during the day and went to school in the evening, and I knew I could study too. I knew I could do whatever it took to get an education.

I never used to let my mom read the stories I wrote. I thought she would be shocked or angry about anything I wrote, especially since whatever was going on in my life usually ended up in my fiction. And my mom is more conservative than I am. But when she read my graduate thesis, she didn’t raise an eyebrow at the stories–not even the ones that were a little graphic. She just told me how proud she was of me. And that made me feel like I was doing the right thing.

So I hope my mom is having an awesome Mother’s Day in Philadelphia. I’m pretty sure my brother and sister have done something nice for her. I will treat Barbs to something nice when I am next in Philadelphia. I keep telling her that Tord and I are going to take her away from everything for a few days. Maybe we’ll actually succeed this time. 🙂

Love you, Mom! 🙂