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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 288 - On the Shelf for June 2024

Saturday, June 1, 2024 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 288 - On the Shelf for June 2024 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2024-06-01 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for June 2024

News of the Field

New podcast-of-interest alert! I had a lovely time this month talking to Claudia Cox and Yasmin Vince, the hosts of a new podcast with a feminist take on period dramas. Here’s the podcast description: “Each episode, we break down how women are presented in a different historical film or TV show. A historian tells us how that period drama has changed our understanding of real women from that time period. Were corsets really as grim as TV tells us? Have the makers of Bridgerton ever opened a history book? Have the makers of Gladiator ever spoken to a girl? We shall discuss all this and more, while fangirling over Keira Knightley at any given opportunity.” They invited me to talk with them about the movie “The Favourite”—which long-time listeners may recall I discussed on this show, with guests Trystan Bass and Farah Mendlesohn. The new podcast is titled “Period” which makes for fun wordplay. I’ve provided a link in the show notes and I encourage you to check it out. The episode I’ll be in will come out sometime in the next month, I think, but I don’t have a link yet.

Another item you folks might want to check out is a limited periodical series titled “Lesbiantiquity,” which is publishing all the known classical Greek and Latin texts relevant to female homoeroticism, in both original and translation. The series is covering one author or work per issue, coming out weekly. The issues are available to read online for free, but you can also subscribe to support the project and receive notification of new issues. See the link in the show notes.

For the first time since the start of Covid, I went back in-person to the annual medieval congress in Kalamazoo. There was a wealth of papers on queer history, including a significant number on the Romance of Silence, a surprisingly modern-feeling gender-bending chivalric romance. Next year at the congress a group is presenting a stage version of the romance, so I expect there will be more papers on the topic as well.

Publications on the Blog

Still no new blogs covering books or articles – honestly, I don’t know where the time goes or how I ever managed to keep up before. And in the mean time, the new items to cover just keep piling up!

Book Shopping!

Speaking of which, the medieval congress has always been a hazardous book-buying experience for me, and this year was no different. Only three items were relevant enough to the Project that I’ve listed them in the show notes. I picked up another in Ian Mortimer’s “Time Traveler’s Guide” series, this one covering Elizabethan England. Books of this sort can be useful in grounding you in a period, before you move on to more specific research. I picked up a bilingual edition of Pompeo Colonna’s In Defense of Women, part of a genre of philosophical writings pushing back against the misogyny that was endemic in the European middle ages. And I received a book I’d ordered previously for my “women on stage” topic – a collection of papers titled Women Players in England, 1500-1660, edited by Pamela Allen Brown and Peter Parolin, which offers a good counter to the misapprehension that there were no female actors until the Restoration.

But in addition to those, I picked up several books on textile and clothing history, magical texts in Tudor England, medieval Welsh poetry , and the depiction in medieval art of King Balthazar (one of the three wise men) as a Black man. Oh, and also some fun Latin reading matter: an “easy reader” edition of a text on bird omens, a collection of tomb inscriptions giving glimpses into everyday lives, and a phrase book of “conversational Latin” illustrating everyday scenarios. Just in case you ever wondered what an amateur historian thinks of as “light reading.”

Recent Lesbian/Sapphic Historical Fiction

But until someone writes a lesbian romance in ancient Latin, what we’re really here for is the new releases.

I found one more April book. Uncharted Waters (The Savages of Falcote) by Ally Hastings from Attwater Books, which is part of a connected family romance series, but I think the only book with a sapphic romance.

1816. A young widow, a marquess’s sister, and the year without a summer.

Sarah Fitzrobert has lost much. Her husband, her youthful optimism, and, she sometimes fears, her liking for other people. When she was first out in society she couldn’t wait to be a wife, and the months of her engagement had seemed endless. Now, only four years later, she is a widow with nothing to look forward to except tagging along on her siblings’ social engagements, the future as wide and flat as a calm sea.

Lady Mariana Sinclair, née Savage, has everything she ever hoped for. Enough money to dazzle society with her dressmaker’s daring creations, frequent visits to her family home, and an agreeable husband to whom she is only married in name. So why does she still feel as if there is something missing?

Staying at Falcote during a sunless summer, Sarah and Mariana hesitantly start to talk about their hopes and disappointments, and ask the questions they cannot ask anyone else. But they are not the only ones who are curious, and when one of the other guests sees something she shouldn’t have, the precious safety of Falcote is threatened…

I also found one more May release that I’d missed, a western:

Three Times Elspeth Harris Rode to Town by Becky Black from JMS Books.

There had never been as much excitement in the town of Ghostbrook as there was the day Elspeth Harris faced trial for shooting a man. But it’s a clear case of self-defense, and she’s soon free to attend a wedding, where she meets Rose O’Sullivan, the town’s only seamstress, and engages her to make some unusual alterations.

Rose knows Elspeth has a secret she is protecting, one Rose has only seen hints of. As a lover of dime novels and tales of adventure, Rose’s imagination runs wild. Could Elspeth be a government agent? An undercover lady Pinkerton?

When they meet again at another wedding and share confidences about their lives and the difficulties of being a woman alone in the world, Rose grows ever more intrigued by the mysterious Elspeth. What secrets lie behind her beautiful, but aloof exterior?

Rose will finally learn those secrets when the third wedding of the summer comes around and with it, a bold proposal.

The rest of the books will be June releases.

Lee Swanson finishes up his medieval series “No Man is her Master” with the fourth volume: She Serves the Realm from Merchant's Largesse Books.

At the conclusion of the third novel, Her Dangerous Journey Home, Christina Kohl learns of the death of Sir Edgar Baldewyne, the boorish and abusive husband of her beloved Lady Cecily. At last free to marry, Christina and Cecily lack only the permission of the king to fulfill their heart's fondest desire. This seems only a modest hurdle, as they both enjoy his favor. But in the turbulent times of Edward II's reign, he is much more concerned with making use of Christina's considerable talents than in bringing happiness to her life.

In She Serves the Realm, Christina is torn from her merchant trade and the woman she loves to become an officer of the king. She is placed in ever-growing danger as civil war seems all but inevitable; the Lords Ordainers demanding the banishment of the Earl of Cornwall, King Edward just as adamant to retain Gaveston by his side. Complicating matters further is the always present peril of her disguise being discovered, revealing her not to be Sir Frederick Kohl, but in actuality a woman.

With her mentor and friend Herr Ziesolf no longer by her side, Christina finds herself devoid of her staunchest ally. But she is not left to fight alone; the irreverent Reiniken, erstwhile Jost, and noble Sir Giles join her on her adventures, as well as others both old and new to the readers of the series.

Many of the popular sapphic pirate stories we’ve seen lately fall more in the realm of fantasy, a la “Pirates of the Carribean”, but Briony Cameron’s The Ballad of Jacquotte Delahaye, from Atria Books, is inspired by a relatively historic figure.

This epic, dazzling tale based on true events illuminates a woman of color’s rise to power as one of the few purported female pirate captains to sail the Caribbean, and the forbidden love story that will shape the course of history.

In the tumultuous town of Yáquimo, Santo Domingo, Jacquotte Delahaye is an unknown but up-and-coming shipwright. Her dreams are bold but her ambitions are bound by the confines of her life with her self-seeking French father. When her way of life and the delicate balance of power in the town are threatened, she is forced to flee her home and become a woman on the run along with a motley crew of refugees, including a mysterious young woman named Teresa.

Jacquotte and her band become indentured servants to the infamous Blackhand, a ruthless pirate captain who rules his ship with an iron fist. As they struggle to survive his brutality, Jacquotte finds herself unable to resist Teresa despite their differences. When Blackhand hatches a dangerous scheme to steal a Portuguese shipment of jewels, Jacquotte must rely on her wits, resourcefulness, and friends to survive. But she discovers there is a grander, darker scheme of treachery at play, and she ultimately must decide what price she is willing to pay to secure a better future for them all.

Jess Everlee has a historic romance series out from Carina Adores, with the series title “Lucky Lovers of London.” Volume 3 focuses on a sapphic couple in A Bluestocking's Guide to Decadence.

London, 1885

A lesbian in a lavender marriage, Jo Smith cuts a dashing figure in pin-striped trousers, working in her bookshop and keeping impolite company. But her hard-earned stability is about to be upended thanks to her husband’s pregnant paramour, who needs medical attention that no reputable doctor will provide.

Enter Dr. Emily Clarke, a tantalizing bluestocking working at a quaint village hospital outside the city. Emily has reservations about getting mixed up in Jo’s scandalous arrangement, but her flustered, heart-racing response to Jo has her agreeing to help despite herself.

There’s a world of difference between Jo’s community of underground clubs and sapphic societies and Emily’s respectable suburbs. Perhaps it’s a gap that even fervent desire can’t bridge.

But for those bold enough to take the risk, who knows what delicious adventures might be in store…

Short fiction is hard to summarize without giving away the entire plot, so the description of Her Runaway Bride by Brooke Winters is also short and sweet.

When Lady Rachel fled from her home the night before her wedding, she never expected to find happiness in the arms of another woman. In disguise as a maid, Rachel has never been happier. When her identity is discovered, her new life and love are threatened. Anne has always struggled with trust and when she finds out that her lover isn't who she says she is, her heart is broken and her trust shattered. Rachel is determined to win Anne back.

So I confess that if I read the cover copy for Tides of Captivation: A sapphic pirate tale (Daughters Under the Black Flag #1), by Eden Hopewell, without that pointer in the sub-title, I wouldn’t have known this for a sapphic book. But I’ll take the author’s word for it.

A gilded cage. A rebellious heart. A journey that will rewrite her destiny.

Isabella Montgomery, stifled by the constraints of 18th-century Virginia society and the expectations placed upon her as a young woman of privilege, dreams of a life beyond the confines of her gilded cage. She yearns for adventure, knowledge, and the freedom to choose her own path.

When an arranged marriage to the arrogant and controlling Lord Frederick Ashworth threatens to seal her fate, Isabella takes a daring leap of faith. She escapes the suffocating world of balls and social obligations by stowing away on a ship bound for the open sea.

But the ship, the Lady Liberty, is not the escape she envisioned. The captain, Nathaniel Reynolds, is a man of mystery and intrigue, but also of harsh discipline and hidden motives. As Isabella navigates the challenges of life at sea, she faces dangers from storms, pirates, and the unpredictable nature of the captain himself.

What Am I Reading?

And what have I been reading? Somewhat surprisingly, it hasn’t been all audiobooks this month—just two out of three.

I rather enjoyed The Witch King by Martha Wells, which is a twisty fantasy about human-demon politics and adventures of the sort I love, where the worldbuilding is back-loaded and you figure out what’s going on along the way. There was one point at the very end where I felt this structure failed me, and a plot twist felt like it had come out of nowhere without enough set-up. But on the whole I enjoyed it.

I was just a tiny bit disappointed in Travelers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi, because I felt the advance copy had hinted at more sapphic content than it delivered. There is a background sapphic romance that is relevant to the plot, but given that I’d included it in the podcast listings on the basis of advance information, I did feel a bit misled. The story is a sort of Robin Hood re-imagining, set in the Holy Land during the crusades, with a slowly-accumulating band of misfits finding adventure and purpose while just trying to survive.

The last item I finished was in hard copy, which is why it took me almost 4 months to finish it. This is Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend by Emma R. Alban. I had a lot of interesting thoughts about the structure and voice of this book—which I’m planning to put in an essay doing a compare-and-contrast with several other historic romances that got me thinking along similar lines. What it comes down to is: there are historic romances that actually feel like modern people dressed up in costume. And that doesn’t automatically mean that I won’t enjoy reading the book. In point of fact, I definitely enjoyed Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend. But only after I’d shifted gears and stopped reading it as a historical. At that point, the book has to stand or fall on the writing and characters. If a historic romance works for me as a historical, then it doesn’t have to work quite as hard on the prose and the characterization. It still has to work, but not as hard. But if it doesn’t work for me as a historical, then I find myself asking the question, “would I even be reading this book if I hadn’t been promised it was historical?” Anyway, Best Friend is allegedly set in Victorian England, and is something of a “Parent Trap” take-off in which two best friends (who develop romantic feelings for each other) are also trying to match up their widowed parents, which would completely solve the problem of being expected to get married to men.

If you’re interested in my overall thoughts on what I’ve found people are calling “wallpaper historicals,” it’ll probably go up on my Dreamwidth blog, because that’s where I’ve been putting my book reviews lately. It feels like a better separation between my personal opinions on books versus the boosterism I prefer to focus on in this venue. I’ve been working on getting caught up on posting about the last couple years of reading over there, so with the caveat that I may be more opinionated there, you can check out hrj on Dreamwidth.

Show Notes

Your monthly roundup of history, news, and the field of sapphic historical fiction.

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Major category: