An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole and South African Sauv Blanc

30237404This book was one that I went into with a lot of expectations. I’ve found myself searching more and more for stories with characters of color, written by people of color, these days. Which I can tell you is not an easy fit in romance. There is not a lot out there fitting those categories. Especially historicals, so when I saw An Extraordinary Union an interracial romance set during the American Civil War floating around my Instagram feed I HAD to pick it up. Alyssa Cole is a new to me author, I don’t read a lot of het romance, so I had missed her stuff, which is a shame, because this lady can write! I was happily surprised in multiple ways with this book. One, the story was meticulously researched, I read A LOT about this time in American history, and can say this author did her homework.  Two did not sugar coat or whitewash the harsh, shameful realities that were playing out in this country at the time, and the incredible injustices under which people of color lived. Three, Elle the heroine, was BADASS, let me repeat, she was BAD.ASS. She was strong, smart  and totally unapologetic about it. It would take an exceptional man to get her attention, and Malcolm was the dude for the job.

Before I get more into the story though, let’s talk wine people! It’s mostly sunny here in the NYC ‘burbs these days, so we have to start putting together that Summer Wine list. This story for some reason made me a bit hot and bothered 🙂 So,  I decided to go with one of my go to wineries, Indaba Wines out of South Africa. Inbada wines are insanely affordable and ALWAYS deliver. Their Sauvignon Blanc is dry and tangy, with some citrus notes that always hit the spot. This bottle constantly makes Wine Enthusiast “Best of” lists. I pick this up again and again, and I am yet to be disappointed. A bottle usually goes between $8-$10, can’t beat that!

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Elle and Malcolm are both spies for the Union, and they keep running into each other while getting their work done. They finally end up undercover in the same Rebel enclave in Virginia. Elle is there as a slave, and Malcolm is passing as a soldier for the confederacy. They are in a delicate situation, and the stakes are very high. It is not a good time for torrid affairs, but they can’t stay away from each other.

Things are not easy though, Elle is horrified by her attraction to a white man, even if he is a “good guy” he represents everything that is evil in her world.  Malcolm sees Elle, her intelligence, beauty and strength, and and he is lost. She literally eats away at all his defenses. He’s never wanted love, he’s seen how destructive that feeling can turn between two people. Besides,  he has no time for love, he’s always moving, doing what he needs to for the Union. The thing is the pull they feel towards each other, eventually becomes stronger than all those perfectly good reasons to stay away.

Interracial romance is tricky. One of the things that I find authors consistently miss the mark on is just naming how how complicated the dynamics can be. Not just background and cultural differences, there are all kinds of power imbalances and stereotypes to grapple with.  Throw this into a time and place when the imbalance of power was so absolute, there is a lot of room for error.

In this novel though, the author, by putting all of those complications out there as part of the struggles for our heroes, made the love story that much more genuine. As I said earlier, this story is exquisitely set, the author grounds us in the time and place of Elle and Malcolm solidly, and she does not pull punches. It was a brutal time to be  a black woman, and especially one that was willing to fight for the liberation of her people. It was also hard to be a white man on the right side of history. These are not easy things to blend into a romance, and yet Elle and Malcolm fall in love while still fighting for the what they believe in. They were also hella hot in the process.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and was glad to get to an ending that seems to indicate more to come. I highly recommend this book to fans of historical romance. It has all the elements that make a good story, lots of tension, life giving banter, hotness, and main characters that had personality and then some.

Hope you pick this book up and hit the wine store too!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

You can buy An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole HERE.

You can see more of her other books HERE.

You can follow her on Twitter HERE or on Instagram HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Wanted, A Gentleman by KJ Charles and British Ginger Molasses Cake

Hi there book people! It’s been a couple of weeks since I got on here. I’ve been busy fretting about the impending demise of civilization at large, starting a a second Master’s degree, and gearing up to travel to Washington DC, and march with the other millions of women around the world who wanted to make a point to the new president of the United States.

It’s a scary time right now for so many reasons, which makes me doubly grateful for romance novels, and particularly glad for authors like KJ Charles who picks up her pen with purpose and clear eyes. She does not shy away from the things that are shameful in our history, and I respect her for that. The construct of race has always been something that I’ve strived to understand. As a woman of color, a feminist, someone born in a small island that was colonized on one side by the Spanish, and on the other by the French, the weaponization of skin color by  those who lack it to oppress those of us who do, has always been a source of repulsed wonder for me.

So, when I see that a romance writer wants to dip her toe into that mess and come up with a love story, I can’t helped but feel charmed and amazed. KJ Charles once again navigated the complicated waters of interracial romance, and has given us a delightful story in Wanted, A Gentleman. But before I talk more about the book, let’s talk about food! For this one I baked, if you read the book you’ll find the description of the the gooey Yorkshire Parkin to tempting not to try it! Parkin is a traiditional English pudding that has molasses, lots of ginger and oats. It is quite moist and lovely, perfect with a cup of tea on a cold winter day.

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Now the story…Theodore Swann is an enterprising man of his times. He maintains and owns a lonely hearts paper, “The Matrimonial Advertiser”, and he writes sweeping romances under the pen name Dorothea Swann. He is also in a bit of a bind. The issue arises when Mr. Martin St. Vincent, free man and entrepreneur, shows up at Theodore’s place of business demanding answers regarding a certain series of ads in “The Matrimonial Advertiser”. The ads may involve a very wealthy, very underage young woman Mr. St Vincent deeply cares for, and he will do what it takes to save the lady from disgracing herself.

Things precipitate and before we know it, we have embarked with Mr. Swann and Mr. St. Vincent in a furious chase across England to save the young lady from impending doom. It is a bumpy ride, literally and figuratively, and like every other story at the hands of the marvelous KJ, the wit crackles as intensely as the tension between our heroes.

This story like others by this author doesn’t shy away from portraying the hero/es as deeply flawed, and explores the injustices of class, gender and race of the times. Martin St. Vincent was enslaved by the family of the girl he is trying to rescue. He cares for her, and is still conflicted in his relationship to his past masters. They freed him yes, they even helped him once he was free, however can that atone for the atrocity of owning a man like property? These are things that both Martin and Theodore explore and struggle with throughout the story.

I appreciate KJ’s boldness in not trying to sugarcoat the monstrosity that was slavery and or and not trying to suggest that freeing someone you felt you had the right to own just because his skin color was black is not in any way redeeming. We also get some incredibly witty and thoughtful musings on the burden of the woman, and the disadvantages that come with being born female.

As romances go, I think the love story was believable and effective. I do think that KJ holds back a bit with her characters of color, I felt it as well in her previous interracial story Rag & Bone. I don’t imply it in a negative way at all, I think it comes from awareness and respect towards the character. As a person of color, I appreciate her restraint and highly prefer it to the carelessness with which so many authors write characters of color in their stories. This of course does not mean this was not a lovely and entertaining story, it was. It IS, and like with every other story by KJ, we not only get the romance and the erotica, we get amazing humanity.

I completely recommend this book, and can’t wait for her upcoming trilogy Sins of the Cities coming out in February.

Yorkshire Parkin Pudding

adapted from britishfood.abot.com

  • 8 oz/ soft butter
  • ½ cup  soft, dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1cup golden corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup self raising flour (or 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder, 1 tsp salt)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of cinammon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 pinch of ground clove
  • pinch of ground allspice
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoon milk

Directions:

Heat the oven to 275F

  • Grease a 8″ x 8″square cake tin.
  • In a large heavy-based saucepan melt together the butter, sugar, molasses, golden syrup over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil, you simply need to melt these together.fullsizerender-1
  • In a large, spacious, baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • Gradually, beat in the eggs a few tablespoons at a time. Finally add the milk and again stir well.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1½ hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown.
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  • Remove the Parkin from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool store the Parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days if you can resist eating it, you can even leave it up to a week before eating and the flavours really develop and the mixture softens even further and become moist and sticky. The Parkin will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container. I suggest serving it with some vanilla ice cream. SO GOOD!

Hope you enjoy the book and the cake, stay warm, and stay fired up!

Cheers and Happy Reading.

Laura