Cover Image: An Extraordinary Union

An Extraordinary Union

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Member Reviews

This book was excellent. Rich with history and intrigue, interesting characters with more layers than an onion, and a steamy romance. This is the second book by Alyssa Cole that I've read and it definitely makes me eager to tackle the rest of her backlist. I loved Ellen and Malcolm and really enjoyed seeing their romance unfold. I was a little leery about how a romance set during the Civil War between a black woman and white man might play out, but Cole handled everything with aplomb with Malcolm giving Ellen space to be angry at the way she and other black people are treated and then learning to examine his own blind spots and biases in new ways. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who wants a historical romance that still has some modern sensibilities and handles complicated topics in a deft way.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me early access to this book in exchange for an honest review. I wish I hadn't taken so long to finally read it because it was a very well-crafted romance.
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An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole is book one in her The Loyal League series. I have taken way too long to read this one and am glad I finally did. This is an Historical Fiction, a romance, and a slap to the face of American History. This story is based on true people, who risked their lives during the Civil War to give freedom to those who were enslaved. Ellen Burns, Elle, is a spy for the North disguised as a slave in the South. It was very hard for her to deal with the way she was treated, especially as she was a slave at one time who had been freed, but she did what she had to do for the cause. Malcolm McCall is a Pinkerton detective pretending to work for the Rebels. Malcolm and Elle join forces and risk their lives and their new relationship. This book is so full of important themes of slavery, racism, sexism, the complexity of war, objectification and so much more. The romance between Elle and Malcolm didn't please me at first, but gradually it seemed more realistic and an honest relationship. Considering the time the book is set, women were considered second class citizens and black women/slaves even less than that. There was a lot of danger for both Elle and Malcolm that found me holding my breath plenty of times during this story. Alyssa Cole has done her research and paints a realistic portrait of Civil War America. Since the characters are based on real people, they are completely believable. The background and plot are also captivating. I am looking forward to reading the next book in The Loyal League series. If you like Historical Romance, especially during the early history of the US, then this is a book for you.
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Alyssa Cole is a gem and so is An Extraordinary Union. Elle is my new favorite heroine. She is strong, fearless, and everything I want to be. Her developing relationship is beautiful but also is used to tell an important story in American history.
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This book wasn't without it's flaws. Read Adira's review on to understand my meaning. However, I did like the plot and the eccentric characters. I did enjoy 'A Hope Divided' a bit more.
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I can't believe I waited this long to read this. It's a remarkable, engaging romance with strong suspense elements, a romantic spy thriller during the US Civil War.

I loved both the hero and heroine each of whom went through a journey of their own. Elle is one of the best romance heroine I have read in a while. She is strong and independent and super smart (with eidetic memory) and she is a spy for the Royal League helping the Union. As a free Black working under the disgiuse of a mute slave, she has a lot to deal with without the added complication of meeting a charming white man (who also happens to be spy for RL)

Malcolm was a complex and intriguing hero. Charming and easy going, he is in fact closer to a beta hero than an alpha. I liked how him meeting Elle and getting to know her forced him to examine his his own hero/white saviour complex. And he was not bitter or angry over but rather accept he had a lot to and improve about himself and the world went on making both of them better. 

There was no easy sway for them to be together. They both first had to believe it was possible and then start working on making it a reality while still doing their mission. Their romance was very physical but also based on mutual respect and admiration. Elle is smarter than him and he is not intimidated by this, but rather in awe of her strengths, endurance.

She takes a risk, opens her heart to the impossible. There was much focus on the inner struggles between what she feels is her duty to herself and her people and the love she feels for Malcolm, willing to trust him. In the end they we were working together for the benefit of her people while following their hearts.

The story was full of plot twists and turns that kept me on the edge the whole time I was reading.

This is an exquisitely written story, rich in detail in the lives of slaves and slave owners and soldiers and rebels. All character are vivid, memorable. Highly recommended read!
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I need this to be at least a seven or eight book series and I need them all right now, please.
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I’m actively looking to diversify my reading, especially in genres where minority voices are not always heard, and diverse characters are not always seen. I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy of this title and wasn’t disappointed. Sometimes nothing is better than curling up for the afternoon with a book you know you’re going to race through and enjoy in a single afternoon. This book was exactly what I was looking for.

An Extraordinary Union follows Elle Burns, a woman born into slavery. Living free in the North, she chooses to use her eidetic memory to help the Union by posing as a mute slave in Charleston.   There, she meets Malcolm McCall, a Pinkerton detective who’s also in the South under false pretenses. Danger, intrigue, and romance ensue.

I haven’t read a lot of straight-up romance. (I’m not counting romance-heavy YA or historical fiction here.) I’ve read and enjoyed Sarah McLean and Courtney Milan, but that’s about as far as I’ve made it, though every once and a while I get a hankering for a romance and will pick something up. What was immediately noticeable to me with An Extraordinary Union was that the stakes were so much higher than I was used to. Usually in a regency romance, someone’s honour or virtue is at stake, and the biggest obstacle is how society views the couple. In this case, the situations Elle and Malcolm found themselves in were literally life and death, and it added an element to the story that I really appreciated.

One of the challenges with a story like this is the ending. I recently saw some internet angst around the question of whether or not a romance novel needs a happy ending. Romance readers will shout at you (usually politely), “YES, OF COURSE.” In this book we have a mixed race couple working as spies across enemy lines during one of the deadliest wars in American history. I don’t really want to talk about the ending too much, my brain found it hard to reconcile all of the moving pieces here. I do think Cole handled it very well, but it was a little bit jarring to me as a reader.

The best news is that this is the first book in a series, and that we’ll get more of The Loyal League. I will absolutely be looking to read the next installment, and in meantime, will continue my search for diverse romance reads.
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I am a huge fan of historical fiction but I take no pleasure in rating what seemed like a great read in such a historical significance in our country. It was more of a romance genre and I am not sure if I would call it that. It was lust and that being, the historical significance fell apart. 

The plot of a rebel man full of confidence working the other side of the union. He comes across a black slave of whom he is instantly attracted too. She too works for the union as the slave masters talk freely in front of their slaves and together they save the union. All in between that is lust and no depth. I realize that lust is an emotion that can make a story but it just seemed so X rated with no plot no depth. So sorry that this did not work out.

A special thank you to Kensington Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC and the opportunity to post an honest review.
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I had so much hope for An Extraordinary Union. I loved the premise: a former slave with an eidetic memory who is a spy for the union. How cool is that? That she falls in love with a white detective who is undercover as a Rebel soldier is even more enticing.

The story is fairly well paced and there is plenty of action and a glimpse into the glamour of the rich who lived well despite blockades and an ongoing war. Politics is always there no matter what. 

This novel had so much potential, especially a forbidden interracial romance and we did get some great story bits here and there. Elle undercover as a mute slave in a Confederate household. Elle almost captured by slavers. 

However, the story was less about the historical part and more about sex. There wasn't much to call romance. Instead, everything was tinged with sexual tension and the need to act on it that didn't add to the story or make it better. 

Elle as a character is terrific. Strong and fearless. Being a free woman and willingly going undercover as a slave and being treated as such? Talk about strength. She had more going for her than Malcolm ever did.

Unfortunately, instead of telling the story of a strong woman helping the Union win the war between the states, sex became the focus. That's always a disappointment.

This is the first in a series and I am undecided on whether or not I will read any future books.
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AAR reviewers Shannon Dyer and Em Wittmann are here to share their thoughts about An Extraordinary Union, book one in Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League series. The book is an historical romance set during the American Civil War which tells the story of two unlikely Union sympathizers who team up to help bring the Confederacy to its knees. Elle is a free black woman who agrees to return to the south to work undercover as a slave. She has an eidetic memory, something which makes her incredibly valuable to the Union army. Our hero, Malcolm, is a Scottish man who works for the Pinkerton Agency. Together, they risk their lives and fight for freedom, while falling in love.

SD:  Over the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to expand the scope of my reading with more of an eye toward diversity. This book seemed like something I’d really enjoy, since I love books where people go undercover, and this is a period of history I’ve always enjoyed reading about. When I first finished it, I counted it a success, but after taking some time to think about it critically, I’m a bit less inclined to be forgiving of its flaws. What about you, Em? Did you enjoy the book? Are you glad you read it?

EBW:  Everything about the description of this book appealed to me, and I’m glad I read it, but I was disappointed in the execution. This is the first romance I’ve read that’s set in this time period or which uses the Civil War as its background, and I had high hopes going in.  But although the premise was very intriguing, the execution was clunky, the characters lacked depth and the story trivialized many of the real risks Elle faced as a slave to the Caffrey family.  I also disliked how Ms. Cole developed secondary characters and invested the reader in their stories only to abandon them and provide no resolution to their storylines.

SD:  Let’s talk about Elle. She was the main reason I picked this book up, but was she really all that convincing in her role of undercover slave and Union spy?

EBW:  I really fell for her at the start of the novel and felt the prologue was an exciting set-up for her as both spy and as a romantic match for the enigmatic Malcolm.  I loved her intensity and focus, and how she turned her eidetic memory from a weakness into a weapon.  She’s a great and ferocious black woman fighting for what she believes in.  But her appeal is what made her story arc so disappointing by the end.

SD: Like you, I found Elle convincing as an undercover slave to start with.  I was able to believe in the passion she felt to free all slaves, and I found her mission both credible and courageous. However, once I reached the middle of the story, alarm bells started to ring. Elle seemed to have an awful lot of freedom. She didn’t live on the plantation and decided when she would and wouldn’t work there. I was especially puzzled by the scenes when she and Malcolm had gone away for the day in hopes of uncovering a lead. Surely, her absence would have been noticed and remarked upon?

EBW: I agree – Elle’s life as a slave in the Caffrey household did not ring true.  When she wants to slip away, she does.  When she wants to call in sick, she does.  When she’s ready to escape, she does. When she wants to spend the night with Malcolm, she does – and there are other examples, too. I’m not saying any of this couldn’t have happened, but is it a realistic depiction of the slave experience?  I realize this is romantic fiction but I found this depiction of slave life trivialized the very real lack of independence experienced by slaves in the South.

SD: I, too, questioned the historical accuracy of Elle’s position. And, to be very honest, I felt like her freedoms just made things too convenient for her and Malcolm.

EBW:  YES Shannon!  That’s it – almost every conflict and/or dangerous situation, conveniently sorts itself out in either Elle or Malcolm’s favor with little effort on their part. What did you think of their romance?  Did you find it believable?

SD:  I loved them as a couple. I loved the way they worked together, each complementing the other’s strengths and weaknesses. Malcolm gets extra points in my book for treating Elle like his equal in a time when so many people would have treated her as less than a real, functioning human being. I wondered how they would be able to really be together, given the way interracial relationships were frowned upon during that period in history, but I felt like Ms. Cole addressed those issues well in the story.

EBW:  Perhaps this is where I was most disappointed.  Tension, chemistry, attraction – they’re all there in abundance when they first glimpse each other in the prologue and then later in the Caffrey household.  But – after two brief meetings, Malcolm knows Elle is his true love?  And Elle falls for him based on a few brief conversations and observations?  She goes against everything she’s ever believed about herself and risks everything she’s worked for to be with him based on little more than his handsome face and charming manner?  I still don’t feel like I have a good sense of Malcolm and I don’t think Ms. Cole took enough time developing his character.  Sure, he’s attractive and says all the right things to Elle, but I just didn’t believe this powerful and intelligent woman would fall instantly in love with him.

SD: You make some really valid points here. This isn’t a terribly long book, so the romance definitely did feel a bit rushed. Insta-love is a problem for me normally, and I guess, in this case, I kind of let it slide because of the very difficult circumstances under which they were working. Still, now that I look back, I would have liked to see Malcolm woo Elle a bit, which would have made their relationship more believable.

Were there plot elements you would have liked to have seen more or less of? I found there were times when things got a little melodramatic for my tastes, especially toward the end of the story. I would have liked there to have been a little less of that, and more emphasis placed on the spy portions of the story and more focus on Elle’s change of heart where Malcolm is concerned.

EBW:  You know, reading this book felt like a never ending cycle of history lecture – quote from some historically significant figure or piece of poetry – tense confrontation between Elle and Malcolm, followed by an apology from one or both of them and then an intimate moment.  Repeat.  Repeat again.  And again.

I can appreciate that readers may be unfamiliar with this part of American history and need backstory to help put events in context, but this is a romantic novel and I grew weary of Ms. Cole’s sermonizing.  But what really had me rolling my eyes by the end of the novel was the constant use of quotes and poetry to frame a scene or conversation.  I tried to keep track of these references but lost count halfway through the book.  They interrupt the narrative and make conversations and scenes clunky and disjointed.

SD: That’s true. I tried to imagine people really using quotes like that in real life, and was unable to do so, and I found them distracting as well. I suppose they were a way to show Malcolm just how smart Elle is, but Ms. Cole could have found another way to do that.

EBW: I also struggled with the ‘a ha’ moment (which I won’t spoil here).  Based on very little evidence or spy craft, these two somehow manage to uncover a major planned offensive by the South.  Shannon, when you read a book about spying, don’t you expect to feel a sense of urgency and danger?  I didn’t feel any of this and the plot, once uncovered, simply read as another too simple and convenient development.

SD: I was actually kind of surprised by that particular development. I don’t have a great deal of  knowledge of Civil War history, so I had no idea where the author was going until the big reveal. True, the sense of urgency wasn’t there in the way I normally like it to be, but I didn’t find what was uncovered to be overly convenient or difficult to believe in. I would have liked them to work a bit harder to actually uncover the truth, but that goes back to what we said before about the fact that more emphasis should have been placed on the espionage aspects of the story.

EBW:  Without spoiling the novel’s conclusion and epilogue, how did you feel about the ending?

SD: I was all set to totally buy into it, and then… another convenient resolution. It would have been nice for the tension the author created to have been drawn out a bit more, and personally, I needed some more action to make the climax really ring true. I wanted to really feel like Malcolm and Elle were in peril at that point, but instead, I felt like the author was hinting at danger without really taking the time to fully develop it.

EBW:  Agreed.  Like almost everything else in this novel, things seem to conveniently work out whenever Malcolm and Elle need them to.  Discovering the South’s master plan was more stroke of luck than spy work, Malcolm’s charming personality seems to get them out of any and all tricky and dangerous situations, and secondary characters are always conveniently able to extricate them whenever necessary.  Much like the rest of the novel, the ending tries to be more dramatic than it actually is and just when you think a character might actually be in jeopardy, he or she miraculously escapes from harm.

SD: And as for the epilogue; without giving away too much, I think it was a bit too idealistic. It would be wonderful if everyone was super accepting of everyone else, but that isn’t true today and it certainly wasn’t true in the 1860’s. Malcolm’s mother is the only one who seems to have reservations about Malcolm and Elle being a couple, and I’m just not convinced things would have really been that easy for them.

EBW: I completely agree with you there.  So what would your overall grade for the book be, and would you recommend this novel to others?

SD: This is a difficult one. Initially, I would have said that I enjoyed this book in spite of its faults, but this discussion has made me more aware of the holes in the story. Unfortunately, the premise of the book turned out to be so much better than the story itself, and so, I’m going to have to rate it a C+, and I’m honestly not sure I would recommend it to others. It might work if you’re looking for a quick read that you’ll like if you’re willing to suspend disbelief quite a bit, but not if you’re looking for something you can really lose yourself in.

EBW:  Though I think An Extraordinary Union was full of great ideas, I didn’t like the execution or the relationship at its heart.  I wouldn’t recommend it and would rate it a C-.
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A romance novel set during the American Civil War. Elle Burns, a black woman with photographic memory, works as a spy for the Loyal League, a (fictional? I think?) network of black men and women working to end slavery. Her first independent mission requires her to travel to Richmond in the opening days of the war, where she goes undercover as a slave in the house of a Confederate senator. She soon meets Malcolm McCall, a confederate soldier who is strangely kind to her – and who turns out to be a spy himself, employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency to gather information for Lincoln. Their immediate attraction to one another is constantly hampered by distrust, the need to maintain their cover stories (which includes Malcolm's flirting with the senator's daughter), rumors of the Confederacy developing a new superweapon, and general social stigma (even without the complications of spies and war, an interracial relationship in the 1860s isn't exactly easy or welcome). There are kidnappings and burning buildings and gunshot wounds and dramatic escapes to add adventure to the love story, but ultimately it is very much a love story. 

This was a great book, but unfortunately it wasn't quite as great as I had wanted it to be. I can't quite put my finger on why – maybe I needed slightly fuller characterizations? a longer timespan for the relationship to develop? richer dialogue? maybe my expectations were just too high? – and I absolutely don't want to discourage anyone from reading it. It's great! It's just not, you know, the GREATEST. Although bonus points for including a slightly fictionalized version of the story of Robert Smalls!
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a wonderful read...thank you for sharing it w/ me....have recommended it to all of my reading friends.
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An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole introduces readers to an outstanding female protagonist. Elle is a former slave who works as a spy. On the other hand, Malcolm is Scottish and also a spy. The two work for the union that is trying to bring establishment of slavery. The story begins with both of them working undercover when they end up on the same mission.

Elle stood out  because of her bravery and skills. She had an eidetic memory which made her a great spy. Her work was to collect intel for the union. She could fit in different situations and blend in effectively. Her undercover assignment meant that she had to work as a mute slave. I can’t imagine what its like to be in such a sensitive assignment where you are treated poorly but have to act mue so you never say anything.  Elle is portrayed as smart and confident. On the other hand, Malcolm is working undercover as confederate soldier. At a time when cordial racial relations were almost non-existent, Malcolm was different. He treated everyone equally. He was charming in everyway. As you can see, the author did a great job of creating two very likeable characters. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised when I read the author’s note at the end of the book and found out that the main characters were inspired by real-life historical figures. Elle was inspired by Mary Bowser and Malcolm by Timothy Webster.

Well not everyone in the story was likeable. There were a number of bad guys but the antagonist, Susie, takes the crown. She was just despicable although I admit that I enjoyed reading about her. Her drama added to the conflict and intrigue of the story.

The book is filled with drama and action. Working undercover is risky and I was constantly worried about the MCs covers being blown. Their union was even riskier and I couldn’t imagine how society would have reacted if they had been found out. The book has enough twists and suspense to make it quite an enjoyable read. The setting and time period was also interesting although sad for the most part. The author does a great job of portraying the different aspects of the era. If you are interested in American History, I think you will like this book.

My only issue with this book was the romance. I am not a fan of romance though I don’t mind if it is subtly incorporated into a story. In this case, the romance was a huge part of the story. I think the only reason that it didn’t totally put me off was that this was no ordinary romance.  A black woman dating a white man in the south at that time was not just frowned upon. It was a risky affair that endangered the couple. The couple being so likeable made it easy to root for them. If you like historical romance then this will work out great for you. I recommend this book to all fans of this genre.
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This was a historical romance featuring a black heroine and an interracial relationship. That alone is a giant breath of fresh air and I was super eager to read this. 

I enjoyed this. The characters are interesting and likeable, and the plot--though not surprising or original--was executed nicely. It seemed a bit anachronistic at times, though, with flippant dialogue or the use of modern words or phrases, which threw me out of the book.

I will also honestly say I was more interested in the spy plot than the romance plot and ended up skimming through those bits. But it was a fun read, and I'm looking forward to book two.
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"No one's ever written anything that 
                captures how I feel about you.  
                My paltry word will have to do." 
          "Paltry?" he asked, shaking his head. 
                     "Perfect. I love you, too."

Exceptional book for all to read!!! Those who love romance, historical romance, or just want to be moved to feel something unbelievably real will not be let down. This book moved me from the characters to the storyline. I was hooked from the very first pages.

Author Alyssa Cole had a way of drawing me into the story and captivating my mind so I felt like I was really there living with the characters. This story takes place during the Civil War and it's heartbreaking read at times. It also will have you laughing, feel your heart with joy, make you want to cry happy tears and put you on the edge of your seat because it's full of thrills.

Elle Burns is a free black woman with an eidetic memory. This helps her to become an agent in a league of spies called the Loyal League. She goes undercover as a slave working for a Senator and his spoiled daughter trying to get information for the league. Since she can remember every word spoken around her or anything she reads it becomes very convenient that her owners think her dumb and mute so they speak freely around her. They also don't know that Elle will do anything to help the north win and see her people set free.

Then walks in Malcolm McCall a guest at the Senator's house and enemy or so she thinks. Ellie and Malcolm find out that they are working on the same side he's also a spy a member of the elite Pinkerton detectives and is constantly changing identities for the cause. A handsome and charming white man that Elle can't help but be drawn to even though she doesn't want to be.

Malcolm has strong feelings about equality of all people. The more he gets to Know Elle the more he falls for her. But these are the times when society will not look at them and see an equal couple. There is great danger around every corner for them never knowing if they will be discovered.

This is exciting and fast-paced book. A passionate love story that keeps you on your toes. A must read for 2017. 

I also found it interesting that the author based these characters off of real people during the Civil War Elle Burns is based off of a woman named Mary Bowser a former slave with a eidetic memory who is placed in Jefferson Davis's White House to funnel information to the union. Malcolm is based on Timothy Webster, one of Pinkertons top detectives during the war. The character Robert who plays Mary's husband is based on Robert smalls who is a brilliant river pilot and use this to his advantage.
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This is a well done historical romance that explores issues and situations that few others have.  Malcolm and Elle take chances every moment of every day, not only fighting for what's right but also due to their love for each other.  Elle's decision to travel back South was not one many would have made but she's a brave woman and a terrific character.  Malcolm is so dynamic. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC.  Try this one for an inspiring love story.
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Deeeeelightful. Can't wait for the rest of them.
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Alyssa Cole has penned a well-written story worthy of the genre African American Historical Romance. I highly recommend it.
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It’s true that most Civil War romance tends to take place in the drawing rooms and ballrooms and battlefields so I was eager to get a unique ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ take on it.  History came alive in this one while paired with suspense and romance.

The heroine is strong and fiery and determined to place herself in an untenable position for her convictions.  The same can be said for the hero.  She acts a part and so does he.  Elle has no reason to trust and every reason to doubt Malcolm.  He’s white and she’s black.  He plays the role of a Casanova and charmer to gain the trust of the Confederate elite and she acts the part of a mute slave in the household gleaning what intelligence she can.

I enjoyed the tension and the push and pull of such a situation.  Elle thinks she has Malcolm pegged because he’s a man and he’s white not understanding that Malcolm understands oppression rightly enough coming of age as a Scot who lived through the Highland Clearances done by the English, but he, too, must learn to grasp just how much he is asking of Elle when he sees the world around them through her eyes.  This pair might be attracted and even later want something more, but they face a dim reality that both must understand.

The action and suspense of the plot could be nailbiting at times as both spy on the same group from different angles and have to be cunning and keep from getting caught even while doing their jobs.  Oh man, I really came to loathe the family and group they were spying on.  I know there were genteel Southerners that are on the opposite end of the spectrum from these beastly types, but whew, this group needed to come to a nasty end particularly the vixen poor Malcolm is forced to pretend to cozy up with.

Incidentally, in her author’s note, the author admits to admiring and being strongly influenced by author, Beverly Jenkins.

Fantastic start to a new series and I can’t wait to see what happens next with more operators in the Loyal League.  Those who are looking for strong POC stories set in history with a well-drawn romance and characters against a tension-filled plot should have a go at this one.
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This book was beautiful and amazing and it just gave me too many emotions. First of all if you all have an opportunity to read an Alyssa Cole book, I will recommend to leave everything you're doing and read it ASAP. They're all very very good; the ones I've read are epic, and I know the ones I haven't are even more. I'm highly waiting for more books, especially maybe more from this same timeline because that ending left me WANTING SO MUCH MORE??? 

I've read another historical romance book by Alyssa and yes, both of these are BEAUTIFUL. Alyssa's heroines are black, powerful woman that take shit from no one ever. They're so beautiful and amazing and I wish I could be like them. I am so happy to see more WOC in historical romance, because to be honest there aren't many and if there are some authors write them as "exotic" which it is so many levels of wrong. 

What you can expect from this book?
~ An interracial romance
~ The hero is Scottish and a roguish detective that just loves Elle completely since the first meeting
~ Both of them are spies and are on a undercover mission when they meet
~ Sex scenes are A+ just sayingggg
~ I loved Elle and Malcolm together they had SO MUCH CHEMISTRY I'm so in love will always be in love with their love
~ It's set during the Civil War
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