Book Review: An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Despite my lack of checking in on them – I have been doing a fair amount of reading lately. Here’s one of the books I read a while ago, but have taken my sweet time getting around to writing about.

One of the things I’m finding fun about writing a little bit about each book is that I’m learning some about myself as a reader — which is making its way into these reflections.  I wonder if some of the things I’m finding about my reader-self are similar to how others are when it comes to the books they read.

This book, also, deserves its own entry — because there’s a bit to say here!

An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole  

Extraordinary Union

I really loved this book. A lot.

I’ll admit, it took me a few tries to get started – but a friend who I trust told me that it was a great book, so I pushed through. It isn’t unusual, I realized, for me to take a bit to warm up to a book, the introduction that really pulls me in and keeps me from the get-go is rare. Until I started to write about this I hadn’t quite put that together – and now am forcing myself to get through at least the first chapter-and-a-half of a book before I give up on it.

I’ve always been a fan of Historical Fiction, Ann Rinaldi was a go-to for me when I was younger (and still a favorite re-read). But these books pretty much have one thing in common – the main character is white. While many of the ones I read had a female main character, they were almost unilaterally white (as were the authors). On the rare chance there was a main character of color they were likely a slave. Any portrayals of people of color (black, Native American, Hispanic, anything really) in these books were few and often they were in a very marginalized role. One of the exceptions to this that I can think of was Addy, the American Girl who was a slave who ran-away.  Most of her stories revolved around her life in the north.

So I was pretty excited to read a story about a black woman, during the Civil War, who embodied a different role – Elle is a former slave who returns to the south as a spy. She is a vibrant character, and I loved watching her working through different situations – putting her unique talents to work.

There were so many little bits of history throughout the story, told with rich detail it felt very real — and Elle was a very relatable character.

This is also a romance. I struggle with how to write about romance stories, because there are certain expectations some people place on a book when they hear it’s a “romance novel.” The reality is that a well written romance novel doesn’t really need to be graded on a different scale than any other novel (I cringe when I hear “it’s good for a romance novel”) and this is one of those well-written ones. The romance that builds between the characters, while at points kind of predictable (because it is, after all a romance… so I at least know that a romance is going to occur!) was very well crafted. I was ready to yell at the author at one point, because I thought she was going to do something just MEAN to the readers, but she didn’t and I was quite relieved. Yes, that’s vague, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers here!

I’m looking forward to more by this author (including another book in this series), and think it’s likely that An Extraordinary Union will end up being reread.
Reading Challenges: BookRiot’s Read Harder (A Romance Novel By or About a Person of Color); Beaverton Library Booking Ahead (January: A Book Featured on a “Best Books of 2017” List).

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