Susan reviews Stranger on Lesbos by Valerie Taylor

strangeronlesbos

Valerie Taylor’s Stranger on Lesbos is an example of classic pulp lesbian fiction. It was published in 1960, at the midpoint of the genre, and it seems like a really tropey example of it!

Frances Ollenfield escaped a childhood of abuse and poverty into a marriage that is slowly becoming more and more loveless as the family’s fortunes improve. When her husband suggests that she go back to university to finish her degree, Frances leaps at the chance – which happens to bring her Mary Baker, Bake to her friends, who soon becomes her lover.

When I say that Stranger on Lesbos a tropey example, I’m not exaggerating; my understanding of lesbian pulps is that the repeating tropes include bar crawling, jail time, and often a dark-haired worldly woman somehow “leading an innocent astray”, and an ending where the lesbian characters must be separate – all of which is present here, in a fast-paced and melodramatic story, as I’d hope a pulp story would be. The story focuses on the conflict between Frances’ love of her husband and son (and her boredom and disappointment with the life they’ve built as her family’s interests move away from her) and her love for Bake (with its excitement and danger, which brings her new friends and experiences, even if they sour for her as well).

The narrative is at times quite distant, which I think is a stylistic choice as it matches fairly well with Frances’ feeling of disconnection from her life and the people around her. However, there are strange time skips, in one case of two years between chapters, which don’t seem to have changed much in the character’s lives except that Frances abandons her degree again in favour of a job and the conflicts in her relationship with Bake to start to bubble through. There are also scenes that revisit Frances’ past in a mining town with her abusive father, and the emotions in those scenes are harrowing and explain a lot about where Frances came from. (I was not kidding about the melodrama!)

I have to admit though that I genuinely rooted for Frances to leave all of her relationships in the dust and walk away from about halfway through. While it’s easy to see why she fell in love with Bake (she is charming and intelligent, and presents herself as very confident and controlled), and Bill, Frances’ husband, clearly had moments where he was sweet and affectionate… None of Frances’ friends seem to make her happy, and by about half-way through both of Frances’ romantic partners treat her terribly. Bake is charming and intelligent… But also a drinker, a cheater, and lets Frances down in the worst ways when she needs her. Bill alternates between distant and actively abusive (more on that later.). Frances wants to stay with her husband for the sake of her son… But her son seems to feel contempt for the women she keeps company with, and by extension her. There is a point in the book where he asks her to give up her queer friends, with every expectation that she’d comply, and while that’s depicted as selfish and awful on his part,

(Caution warning for this paragraph: rape) As a fair warning, there are minimum two rapes and a third attempted one in this book; strangely though, the marital rape is never referred to as such, whereas the lesbian one is clearly stated to be rape. I don’t know if it’s just the time that the book was written (marital rape didn’t become a crime in the states until the 1970s), or if it’s because the circumstances around the lesbian rape (it was by a stranger, with violence, and she was drunk), but it seems really odd that they’re treated so differently. Especially because one is treated as actively reprehensible, and the other as something that could be worked past. That sound you heard was me angrily shrieking at the book.

Without any spoilers; the ending is infuriating, to the point where I had to put it down and walk away for a while. But the afterword assures me that Stranger in Lesbos is the first book in a series, and that my problems with Frances’ romantic choices might be mitigated by the third book. And while parts of this book made me angry, the writing was good enough and I was emotionally invested enough that I am considering seeing if I could track down the rest of the series. So, if you’re interested in lesbian pulp fiction, this is a solid example of it, but there are parts of it that I have significant reservations about.

Trigger warnings: homophobia, adultery, abuse, incest, rape.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Marthese reviews The Tchaikovsky Affair by Marie Swift

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“She’d been utterly transfixed by the brunette practically making love to her cello”

The Tchaikovsky Affair by Marie Swift is a romantic novella about two musicians in the New York Philharmonic orchestra. It starts more like a romantic comedy then evolves more towards drama but in between there is a lot of fluff and probably some of the sexiest sex scenes ever!

The story is about Shannon McClintock who’s the concert master and first violin of the orchestra and Jacinta (Jackie) Ortiz, the new first cello. Sparks fly from the start but it takes the conductor’s intervention to get their relationship started. In many ways their relationship is tied to music and to the orchestra and they have to find a way to make their relationship stand on its own two feet.

The two musicians are paired together in a duet, of course they are playing Tchaikovsky and for a while, their relationship mirror’s his and Kotek’s relationship- don’t you just love historically queer relationships in other books?

I learned a bit about music. For sure I knew that music is sexy and sensual but after reading the first intimate sex scene…I see music in a new light. I’m not one that reads books just for the sex, I find that usually it’s the same descriptions over and over again. Not so much with this book!

Shannon has been hurt before and had promised to put her career first while Jackie has had many relationships mostly due to her music but because of her music, they tended to fizzle out. There is of course some drama in the book, from the middle of the story onwards but don’t worry, it’s worth the wait!

As this book is so short, it is mostly about the two with side characters acting as support (or hindrance) for their relationship. The two balance each other, even in their music. They must harmonize technique with passion, in their personal and professional lives.

I had been meaning to read this book for a while, and I’m glad I finally read it. At first, I thought it was going to be a light average read but after two chapters it got so much better! There was sexiness, fluff, drama, comedy and music- all done well if sometimes a bit trope-y.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone with a passion for music, or to those that want to read a romance that is a bit different.

Marthese reviews Dare Truth Or Promise by Paula Boock

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“It’s dynamite, Mo. It’s dynamite”

I have not read many classic queer literature, so when my friend lent me this book – no matter how many ebooks I have, nothing beats a paper book- I jumped on the bandwagon.

Dare Truth Or Promise is a classic romance that takes place in Dunedin, New Zealand between Louie and Willa. Willa just moved in to town. She and Louie meet at Burger Giant where they both work but soon they discover that Willa will also be going to the same school. The story is told from both of their perspectives.

From the moment that they meet, there is great camaraderie between the two protagonists and although they aren’t open with everyone, they aren’t scared. Until they are.

Louie is a theater geek who is very hardworking. Sometimes she puts words to a feeling by quoting literature. Willa is more reserved because of what happened to her in her past school probably. Willa is a no non-sense type of person while Louie is always jokes, but somehow they are both serious with their feelings and try to support each other in life, more mature than one would think for their age.

A scene that I found really great was in the beginning where Louie was performing in the comedy club. I think most of the performance can still be applied today. It is also I think where Willa seriously starts to have feelings for Louie.

Their first date (or second depending how you see it) was adorable. It was something very Willa and she shared it with Louie and they both had fun and did it again after. Their love started as a bit clueless, although they both seemed to know where it was heading just shy to act, however, I think it evolved into them being able to read each other so well.

This book, while short and really easy to ready, highlights a point that everyone going through maturity (and coming out but not only) has felt at least once: the difference that parents make. Jolene, Willa’s mother and Tony and Susi, Louie’s parents have different lifestyles and different ways of interacting with their children.

Another point which was important to the plot and gave it depth was the namesake of the book. Willa and Louie played Truth Dare or Promise between themselves. I thought of this a childish game but with decisions and actions being taken that are mature so in a way this game helped them bridge their past with their future.

The book has a great introduction, which I found funny and a great conclusion which reminded me of movie type closings. There is a light beginning with some angst in the middle and a hard but sweet ending- a happy ending! Although the book is not all lovey-dovey with some dark themes brushed upon, overall it’s pretty light-hearted with some frustration and fear thrown in.

This is probably the first book I read that is set in New Zealand. You will learn some fact and want to look up more. A handy glossary of terms is found in the beginning of the book. As well, the writing sometimes picked up small details mentioned previously and continued on them.

I would recommend this book for people that want to read something quick and fast flowing that is mostly light-hearted with some drama thrown in.