Thank you so much to Alyssa Cole, Rose Lerner, and Courtney Milan for allowing me to read this collection of their short stories in advance of release day so I could tell all of you about it! I adore Courtney Milan, as you likely know, so I was obviously interested in this book immediately. Additionally, I’ve finally begun my read of all things Alyssa Cole (or well, kind of. I’ve acquired all of them anyway!) and I loved An Extraordinary Union so I was also really pumped for her story. Rose Lerner was my only real unknown, which was also exciting because HELLO NEW TO ME AUTHORS. I think I’m going to make it a goal in 2018 to read more new to me authors, specifically romance authors, but we’ll talk more about that in December.
The common thread in this book is that Eliza Hamilton, after becoming a widow because, you know, Alexander is ridiculous, reaches out to all the people who fought with Alexander to preserve his legacy (what is a legacy?). I, as a lover of all things Hamilton (especially Eliza) was obviously intrigued by the concept, but was a little confused about how it would work in execution. Fabulously, is the answer. Now to take each story on it’s own. Enjoy!
Promised Land by Rose Lerner
This short story features Rachel, who is pretending to be Corporal Ezra Jones, which is to say that Rachel is Corporal Ezra Jones, but she is also Rachel. Except Rachel is dead. I mean, supposedly. So it comes as a bit of a shock to Nathan Mendelson when Rachel has him arrested in the American camp he’s wandering through, claiming he’s a British spy. As the two reconnect, they begin to evaluate their past choices and what they want their own–and America’s future to be. This short story emphasizes their Jewish heritage and what that means to each of them and what each of them wants it to mean in the future of America.
This is a second chance romance, which is not at all my favorite trope, which I think is part of why it took me a bit to get into the story. But I also want to point out that (weirdly) I wasn’t in the mood for a historical romance when I started. I don’t know why because I’m generally always in the mood? Honestly, who knows. So anyway, I felt like it got off to a slow start and I wasn’t liking Rachel. To me, it seemed like Rachel was blaming Nathan for things that weren’t really Nathan’s fault or that I felt were just unfair characterizations of Nathan. It’s exceptionally rare that I take the hero’s side, but you know, there’s a first time for everything.
However, the second half of the book had so much emotional growth and I adored it. I felt like the characters really started to come together, to understand one another, and just… To accept themselves too, in some ways. Additionally, the way Rachel’s sexual attraction to Nathan is written is absolutely incredible. The only sex scene in the book is both quick and EXCELLENT. (My rating scale of excellent tends to mean female orgasm and female pleasure shown as very important, in case you’re wondering.) Ultimately, I think I would give this short story a four because of how much I loved the second half of the book!
The Pursuit Of… by Courtney Milan
First of all, look at this dedication:
So yes, needless to say, Courtney Milan remains my favorite. She’s so wonderful. Anyways, about her story, The Pursuit Of… is about two men who tried to kill each other (one is a freed man fighting for America and the other is a British Officer who can’t stop talking) and then save each other. Literally, but also in the ways that matter.
In contrast to A Promised Land, this story caught me immediately. I loved the first chapter. Henry Latham is hilarious and lovely and wonderful. The story begins with The Battle of Yorktown (are you singing the song now?) and Henry and John are fighting for their lives, but Henry won’t stop talking. When John starts to struggle with the prospect of killing Henry, I couldn’t help but think of one of my least favorite scenes in Grey’s Anatomy, where (spoiler alert) April prevents Gary from shooting her because she starts telling him about who she is and where she’s from and her family. So, yes, I loved this story.
I did learn that I’m apparently never going to be able to read the Declaration of Independence without singing “The Schuyler Sisters” though. So that was a fun lesson. And I now have a new word to aspire: necessary. This may not make sense to those of you who don’t fall in love with being called a word or seeing a word applied to someone else. The first time I did this it was because my boyfriend at the time called me amazing. I loved it. I wanted to always be amazing. This word though… It’s not really about romance, it’s just that… Well, hopefully you’ll see, but if you don’t get it once you’ve read it, come back and we’ll have a spoiler filled discussion of my feelings related to this word and the scene in which it is used.
I feel like I should talk about the rep in this since it is a m/m romance and features a black MC, but I can’t do that without noting that I’m neither a gay man nor a black person so take my opinion in the spirit that it is offered. This romance does not feel exploitive of male/male romances. The characters feel real and they navigate the discussion of the difficulties they face for being gay with a frankness that I think is necessary in historical fiction. As for the fact that the black main character is a freed slave, the book does not shy away from discussions of imperialism and racism. These discussions feel natural, not forced, and the most important takeaway of the book to me is how witty and clever Courtney Milan is.
This book got an easy five stars from me!
That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole
To be honest, I was ready to cry before I even started this story because ELIZA HAMILTON, LOVE OF MY LIFE. And then this is the dedication:
So yes, investment from the get go. This story is about Mercy, Eliza Hamilton’s maid, writer of words, unbeliever of love, and genuinely good person. This is also the story of Andromeda, small business owner, supporting other black women entrepreneurs, resourceful, patient, kind… Okay, I love Andromeda. But I really love Mercy too, I promise! Anyway, so Andromeda comes to deliver to Eliza Hamilton the story of her grandfather (featured in Be Not Afraid, by the way!) and Mercy is like, “holy cow, that woman is a gorgeous angel!” And then Mercy freaks out because she’s been seriously hurt before. And you know, shenanigans ensue.
I highlighted three passages in two pages, which is a testament to Cole’s writing. I love her prose. I’m not sure how to describe it because I’m really bad at that (hah, aren’t you glad you’re reading my review?) but whatever it is, not too flowery and not too plain, Goldilocks style, is perfect. Ultimately, the story of Andromeda and Mercy is one of patience and of hope.
I think this story is important for countless reasons like, hey, queer ladies existed in the early 1800s and they could find places they were accepted because some people actually care more about whether you’re a good person than who you’re sleeping with. A novel concept, I know. Anyway, this story was brilliant and as stated above, though I cannot personally speak to the rep, the black women’s voices is Own Voices representation and the queer ladies did not feel exploitive. It felt sweet and genuinely good and kind. So I loved it. FIVE STARS.
I cannot recommend this book enough honestly. These stories are each so sweet and, yes, necessary right now. Courtney Milan’s notes in her acknowledgements about made me cry because it is hard right now to see what looks and feels like the country moving backward. And I’m quite privileged, all things considered. Romance novels like this can remind us of how important it is that we believe in the America the 14th Amendment promises. The America the Declaration of Independence could have meant if it’s words were more literal and also women were included in the sequel (or the first time, you know?). Anyway, I highly recommend you purchase this book today and read the stories as time permits. You will not regret it!