Book Review: An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole


Author: Alyssa Cole
Title
: An Extraordinary Union
Publication Info: New York, NY : Kensington Books, [2017]
Summary/Review:

Set in the early days of the American Civil War in Richmond, Virginia, this historical romance tells the story of two spies for the Union working undercover behind enemy lines. Ellen Burns is a freed woman with a photographic memory who disguises herself as a mute slave and is hired out to the estate of a Confederate Senator. Malcolm McCall, a Scottish immigrant, works as a detective for the Pinkertons and poses as a Confederate soldier.  Together they uncover a Confederate plot to build an ironclad ship that could break the blockade of Southern ports.

Upon meeting and discovering that they’re working on the same side, the pair find a mutual attraction.  Malcolm is more overt in trying to act on that attraction, getting quite rude and handsy, which makes this book uncomfortable.  I appreciate that the author clearly will not let Malcolm coast as a “noble abolitionist” but calls out the power and privilege he has as a white man and how that is a threat to Ellen even when he has good intentions.  Both characters are well developed and interesting people.  Even a major antagonist, a loathsome Southern Belle named Susie McCaffrey, turns out to be more complex than she initially appears.

Of course, Ellen and Malcolm have lots and lots of sex, which I find awkwardly worded, but that may be just me.  Nevertheless, this is a well-written and engaging novel touching upon mystery, adventure, history, and social change.

Favorite Passages:

“Malcolm’s mind got muddled with anger thinking of how, in these lands, institutionalized sin was seen as a way of life that needed defending.”

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


Title: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Release Date: December 14, 2018
Director:  Bob Persichetti | Peter Ramsey | Rodney Rothman
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Sony Pictures Animation | Marvel Entertainment
Summary/Review:

There has been a glut of Spider-Man movies the past 17 years or so, but this one has the most spider-people of all!  This animated feature focuses on Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), an Afro-Lation teen from Brooklyn in a universe where Spider-Man comic books relate the adventures of the real life hero, Peter Parker (Chris Pine).  Miles, like Peter before him, is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains super-powers.  Peter offers to train Miles to use his powers, but dies attempting to shutdown the Super-Collider built by the villain, The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber).

The Super-Collider opens up other dimensions and pulls other people with spider powers into Miles’ universe.  All of these characters are from various Marvel comics series, but if you’re not a comics reader (like me) they have a nice running gag where each of the heroes quickly goes through their back story. They include Peter B. Parker, an older and out of shape version of Spider-Man who Miles refers to as “the janky old, broke, hobo Spider-Man,” and Gwen Stacy, who is the teenage Spider-Woman in her universe.  Three more spider-beings play supporting roles, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a Looney Toons style cartoon spider-pig; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), an anime-style character in a biomechanical spider suit; and Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), who is a 1930s gumshoe.

This movie has a lot going for it.  First of all, the animation is terrific, emulating the pages of comic books and multiple animation styles, with terrific colors, imagery, and flow.  Second, it is very funny, not taking the premise of the Spider-Verse too seriously and having fun with the conflicts and meta moments.  Finally, it is very sweet, working as a symbolic coming-of-age story for a teenager grappling with new responsibilities and changes in family relationships, as well as a fun adventure.

The ending indicates future movies in the Spider-Verse, and I for one would like to see the addition of the newspaper comics Peter Parker (who frequently yells at the television) and the pantomime Spider-Man from the 1970s children’s show The Electric Company.

Rating: ****1/2