Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beguiled by Paisley Smith

Beguiled
by Paisley Smith
Nov. 16, 2010
Historical (Civil War time)/ Lesbian/bi
Short Novel- word count UK
Ebook- Loose- Id

Buy it Loose-Id

The Civil War has torn Belle Holloway’s world apart. Left to manage her Georgia plantation with little help, she is exasperated when the Union Army adds to her burden by leaving a wounded soldier behind. But upon closer examination, Belle is shocked to discover the soldier is actually a beguiling woman.

Clad in male attire, stubborn, brash Alice O’Malley awakens a passion in Belle she never knew existed. Alice dominates Belle’s lonely existence with taboo pleasures and erotic escape. Soon Belle realizes she is more than willing to submit her body and her heart to the woman whose strength and compassion she admires -- until those very attributes prove to be the catalyst that could destroy their newfound love.


I’ve read all of Paisley Smiths f/f books so far and I’ve enjoyed all of them. So picking up this one was a no-brainer. Again, I wasn’t disappointed. Moreover, the time period Beguiled is set in-- late 1800’s-- coupled with one of my favorite scenarios--- a woman passing herself off as a man— made this a yummy and favorite book.

While overall I really enjoyed this book, there were a few niggling things that bugged me. I’ll get to that first so I can get to what I loved.

There were a few inconsistencies that pulled me out of the story here and there or made me wonder. At one point Alice thinks to herself:

Alice knew from Belle’s passionate reaction that she would go all the way with her, and the knowledge that the prim, proper southern lady would spread her legs for another woman drove Alice mad with desire.

Her mouth went cotton dry at the thought of Belle lifting all those frilly petticoats and then beckoning her to touch her—taste her. Alice tried to swallow but couldn’t. She’d seen the look of desire in Belle’s eyes. The curiosity to explore, to not only be touched but to touch as well.


First, Belle comes across as tough, efficient and competent right from the get go. She reacts to horrific events that would make even a more hardened person flinch, with aplomb. I didn’t see any of what I thought would be an uptight, prim and proper, gentile southern belle woman in her characterization that would make Alice hot on that level. Maybe if Alice had met Belle before the war it would have been the case.

And also, again, due to the ravages of war, of Belle needing to do all the house work and tend to repairs and the animals, I didn’t picture her in frilly petticoats either. I pictured her more in tattered and dirty older dresses.

That was another inconsistency that I felt as well. Belle tells Alice when they are talking about their lives, that she had a great education and learned several languages, that their slaves were taught to read, that she basically lived the life typical to a woman of her station as the daughter of a plantation owner, meaning, she was a lady living a life of ease and refinement. But there was nothing in the way she spoke,or acted that gave that impression even if the current circumstances required her to adapt to a harsher life. I would think she’d still react according to her background and upbringing even if she did adapt.

Alice also uses fuck and said at one point:

“I don’t suppose I’ve made figuring this shit out easier for you.”


Shit and fuck? I know people said those words at that time, but I guess I always think of ladies at that time not using such words, even if Alice was in the Union Army pretending to be a man and she did come from a poor childhood in Boston. Belle is not shocked at all of Alice talking like that, like that’s the kind of language she’s always heard from women or men even.

Another question I had was that it seemed that the Union soldiers of Alice’s troupe knew she was a woman dressing as a man acted as if it were normal. Does anyone know if that’s so that it was accepted? I know women did serve, but it was only if they could really pass themselves off as a man. I would think once they knew she was a woman, they would have dumped her or worse. And in fact they did, but only because she was wounded at the time.

Now that I’ve said those things, none of them changed the way I felt about this story. Alice and Belle are very real and colorful characters. I suppose that Belle in an earlier time might have balked at such advances from Alice, but in her new situation and life, it seemed on par with the changes in her life.

Belle is a strong woman and she deals with the trials of war and her life without freaking or acting put upon. She’s lost just about everything. She’s so intrigued and impressed by Alice dressing and acting like a man and fighting in the war; Alice is like no woman she’s ever known and this attracts her.

Some might question her really going for it with Alice when she didn’t know if her husband was still alive or not, but I wasn’t bothered by that. Mainly because there really wasn’t much discussion about her relationship with her husband before he went off to war. Outside of some inconsistencies in character, I loved Belle as a character. She's got fortitude and doesn't shy away from much.

Alice is also an intriguing character. She grew up poorer than poor and had nothing left to lose by leaving her family and Boston. She’s definitely a lesbian and having been disowned by her family for being “different” she joins the army. And she gets away with it for a long time, at least until she’s wounded and left at Belle’s.

Alice pretty much seduces Belle and Belle doesn’t resist. Not only that, but Belle is all over that. She even gets into it asking Alice for more. This is one of the best parts of this story, these two women go at it with nary a real conflict. Of course, Belle wonders about being with a woman, thinking it’s wrong, but wondering how wrong what she feels could be? And Alice, while having her fears about falling in love with a woman who is married and whose missing husband could return, follows her feelings anyway.

The conflict in this case comes from outside actually in the form of bushwhackers and other sundry soldier types floating in and out making life harder. This draws them together even more.

The sex is pretty hot and nicely written with a touch of D/s going on, which added a bit more spice to their interactions. I thought the characters, while not getting too much of their backgrounds, were well fleshed out and the general plot line kept this story entertaining. I got a good feel for the time period and how it would have been. Overall, it’s a good read.

I definitely recommend Beguiled if you’re in the mood for period f/f and one with a sweet/spicy love story.

Heat level- 5- fairly graphic sexual scenarios. Interesting dildo use.

Grade: B/+

18 comments:

Paisley Smith said...

Thanks so much for the wonderful review of Beguiled.

I also appreciate the opportunity to address a couple of issues you had. As far as Belle's being shocked by Alice's speech:

~ Her thick lashes dropped as she averted her gaze. “Hell no! They left me because I’m a woman.”

I’d never heard a woman with such coarse speech before. She fascinated me, and I couldn’t resist asking, “What possessed you to don a uniform and invade a country?” ~

Historically, plantation mistresses didn't live lives of leisure. They kept the books, ran the plantation, saw that everyone was clothed and fed, and oversaw the running of the household. To me, Alice saw Belle's conformity to this lifestyle as making her a prim and proper woman, certainly very different from the fishwives and poor Irish among whom Alice had grown up.

:-) As far as what Belle did with Alice while Belle's husband might have still been alive, did you notice the one thing they didn't do until Belle discovers what happened to him?

And no, the soldiers did not know Alice was a woman until she was wounded. I had all that in a prologue which I think I'll post on my blog. My editor thought the prologue a bit superfluous and obviously I could have spent more time fleshing out what happened to Alice during the fighting.

There were several women who fought during the Civil War, and one who even collected a pension after the war, however, if they were discovered, they were sent home.

My favorite part of writing this story was writing about the goats. I loved visiting a dairy to research how goats are milked and how that milk is made into cheese and yogurt and other dairy products.

I also adored all the secondary characters who I felt contributed to the story without overshadowing the heroines.

Thanks again, Leah. You write the best reviews.

LVLM(Leah) said...

Heh, Paisley-- this is what happens when you read a book, you miss some things, some things stick out at other times. I knew that Belle was impressed and shocked that Alice would dress like a man and join the army, but my overall impression was that she wasn't that shocked. Those points that I latched on to were towards the end when Alice is saying fucking this and shit that and Belle didn't freak. By then, I guess Belle would have been used to it! But I was focusing on other things in the beginning of the book so I guess it didn't really register that Belle was that shocked.

I had no idea that plantation mistresses did any work really. I guess this is what happens when your only exposure to such things is from movies like Gone With the Wind. It seemed all the ladies did was sit around having tea and doing other things of leisure at that point. I could see them telling the slaves what to do and doing that kind of work.

But this is one of those things about historicals. Unless people actually do a lot of historical research and know the facts, most readers base their experience of a book based on general pop culture versions of the facts.

I had no problem about Belle and Alice being together even though technically until Belle found out the truth she would be considered a married woman. On this level, during war time when people are thrown into situations they aren't used to, I'm forgiving of impropriety. But no, I didn't really take note of something special they did after Belle found out the truth. Maybe only that Belle then was more relaxed.

I'm sure now it was something sexual. But the sex scenes kind of all blur together for me and I guess I could take more note of that since sexual scenarios often do indicate a change in situation, as is the case in the current book I'm reading.

I know I didn't mention the secondary characters, yes, they added a lot. It was a good book all around. It's weird though how some things jump out at you and others don't.

I know others reading this blog have read it so I'm curios to see what their take on it was.

I'm willing to be told I was totally off! LOL

Cathy in AK said...

I haven't finished Beguiled so I'm not reading this review yet! : )

Paisley Smith said...

SPOILER!!!

Leah, it was kissing that Belle waited for. :-)

And one more time, I love, love, love your reviews!! They make me a better writer.

M. A. said...

LVLM:

I had no idea that plantation mistresses did any work really. I guess this is what happens when your only exposure to such things is from movies like Gone With the Wind. It seemed all the ladies did was sit around having tea and doing other things of leisure at that point. I could see them telling the slaves what to do and doing that kind of work.


The stereotype of the leisurely plantation lifestyle is pure propaganda.

For a realistic presentation of how the average plantation mistress lived, check out Catherine Clinton's "The Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South."

I agree with several points you brought up in your review. Alice's swearing, IMHO, was completely out of place, as was Belle's response to it. I didn't find it "weird" that Alice swore -- she'd been living in the army and wasn't particularly high-toned or educated -- but her swearing at a lady or in a lady's presence was inappropriate whether she was disguised as a male or not.

I disliked Alice at first because, quite honestly, her hostile, self-righteous attitude towards the South offended me. Alice grew more likeable as the story progressed, though.

What I enjoyed most bout "Beguiled" was the credible, gradual progression of the love story. Paisley allowed the reader sufficient time and space to absorb the setting and the circumstances, and to get to know and care about the characters until a relationship seemed plausible. Many erotic romances portray the main characters getting together pretty quickly, often unrealistically, and I feel let down when that happens. Paisley's strong point is her ability to construct compelling, believable love stories, and "Beguiled" is no exception.

I found the subplotting a bit dramatic and over-the-top in places. I would have liked to see greater consistency and a bit more plot development.

LVLM(Leah) said...

M.A.- The stereotype of the leisurely plantation lifestyle is pure propaganda.

Unfortunately, unless you're an history buff, it's hard to know the truth. We certainly don't learn this kind of thing in school.

I do like this time period and sometimes I do look things up when I read an historical from this time period. Just because I become curious.

I disliked Alice at first because, quite honestly, her hostile, self-righteous attitude towards the South offended me.

Heh, I wasn't bothered by this at all. Although I don't know, I would think that those of the North did have a lot of prejudices against the South and Southern way of life. After all, there was a civil war over these differing ideologies.

M.A and Paisley:

But I totally didn't get the idea that Alice was judgmental of Belle's lifestyle based on her conforming to a plantation Southern woman's life. I took it from the POV that Alice thought Belle had come from a higher station in life and she would delight in being able to seduce a woman of richer past.

But thinking about it, I can see that because Alice was rebellious enough to join the war and dress like a man, that she would also feel something like judgment against Belle acting like a typical woman. Sort of like feminists get on housewives cases these days.

Anyway.. I totally agree with you M.A on your take of the love story build up. It was just right and therefore believable and yummy. :-)

Paisley- too bad your editor convinced you to ditch the prologue. I think it might have been nice to see more of what Alice was about.

M. A. said...

Unfortunately, unless you're an history buff, it's hard to know the truth. We certainly don't learn this kind of thing in school.

Obviously, the government has a vested interest in misrepresenting the Antebellum South and in mischaracterizing its residents and its culture. I've always found it both entertaining and disgusting.

Heh, I wasn't bothered by this at all. Although I don't know, I would think that those of the North did have a lot of prejudices against the South and Southern way of life. After all, there was a civil war over these differing ideologies.

It was fought over money and resources, like most wars. The Abolitionist slant does give a dirty, illegal war a more respectable slant, but at the end of the day, it was about money.


I just found Alice's attitude annoying. If she had issues with "slave owning Southerners," she could have just left the house and nursed herself. There's such a thing as diplomacy, just basic decency, and for her to give attitude to the woman agreeing to shelter her, feed her, and see to her nursing and care just didn't sit well with me. The slogan "Be Nice Or Leave" comes to mind.

Paisley Smith said...

MA - To me, Alice need motivation to shirk dresses and fight in a war, thus ending up in Belle's bed. By 1864, the abolitionists were what kept the North in the war. Most Northerners would have been content to let the South go on its way. Keeping common people stirred up over an emotional reason is a great way for a government to prolong a war. It's happening now.

Alice had fought alongside comrades she'd watched die in some of the bloodiest scrabbling for ground in the war. She was pissed she didn't get to remain in the fight. And if she'd started out a little less belligerent, she wouldn't have had room for character growth.

Leah - Think back to Ellen O'Hara in GWTW. We are first introduced to her when she returns from the Slattery house where she'd nursed Emmy Slattery who had a child out of wedlock. And then, she doesn't go to the BBQ because she's attending to accounts with the overseer. The women ran the household.

If you read Civil War letters and diaries, which I did during my research, they cursed and whored and took laudanum until they were addicted. The whole notion of not cursing in front of ladies is a bit fostered by propaganda as well.

The most unrealistic part of the Beguiled is the fact that Uncle Hewlett could read. I had to fight one of my historian consultants for that one. :-)

LVLM(Leah) said...

It was fought over money and resources, like most wars. The Abolitionist slant does give a dirty, illegal war a more respectable slant, but at the end of the day, it was about money.

Wow, times so don't change for US politicians. But that's another discussion. What I wanted to say was that, while yes, I knew the civil war was ultimately about economics and money, you can't get young boys to sign up and fight over that.

Average people need an ideology to fight for, like the constant, fight for a free way of life that the US constantly tells Americans is the reason for war. If people don't feel some sort of altruistic ideal to fight for, they won't fight unless it's to defend themselves. And people have to whipped into feeling fear and anger, so they can be more easily manipulated into action.

So I'm sure many signed up because of the idea that they were against slavery and such. A manipulation, of course, but I imagine that many did feel that.

I think it would have been good to know more about Alice going in. What she was about other than that she grew up dirt poor and was gutsy enough to dress as a man and fight and loved a woman that got her into some hot water in that way.

Paisley Smith said...

I'm definitely going to post that prologue on my website. I may flesh it out a little and tell more about Alice's past. Thanks, peeps!

Paisley Smith said...

http://paisley-smith.com/beguiled-unpublished-prologue/

M. A. said...

Hi, Paisley!

Everyone: WARNING! SPOILER-ISH

MA - To me, Alice need motivation to shirk dresses and fight in a war, thus ending up in Belle's bed. By 1864, the abolitionists were what kept the North in the war. Most Northerners would have been content to let the South go on its way. Keeping common people stirred up over an emotional reason is a great way for a government to prolong a war. It's happening now.

Alice had fought alongside comrades she'd watched die in some of the bloodiest scrabbling for ground in the war. She was pissed she didn't get to remain in the fight. And if she'd started out a little less belligerent, she wouldn't have had room for character growth.


I understand your point, but I found Alice's behavior pretty jarring and insensitive. My problem with Alice was not her Abolitionist sensibilities, but rather her insensitive display of them in the circumstances.

Belle's father had just been murdered -- what amounted to a lynching, really -- by Alice's company. Despite this attrocity, Belle still agreed to offer Alice and her fatally wounded comarade shelter and care within the family's home. Alice's resentment and her lashing out at Belle just struck me as misplaced, inappropriate, and frankly ungrateful. I disliked Alice because of it, and I respected Belle less for tolerating it.

I would have had greater respect for Alice's opinions and ideas if they'd been revealed differently. Example: If Belle overheard Alice protesting to her comarades, "Don't leave me with that Secesh Miss Priss and all her slaves!" Alice's views would have been known to Belle and to the reader, but it's not so much rudeness -- Alice in Belle's face, mouthing off and scorning Belle's hospitality -- as it is Alice "venting" and lamenting her situation.

Again, this is only my opinion, feedback based on my negative first impression of Alice. She struck me as a clueless, insensitive zealot. By 1864, Alice should have been well aware of the more sinister machinations and motives behind the Union's invasion of the South, even if she believed her cause to be just and right.

As for how the Union military regarded women -- all women -- nothing speaks louder than the infamous Order No. 28 issued during the New Orleans occupation in 1862:

...when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.


This scandalous order rocked the international stage; European diplomats angrily censured the United States and threatened to break off diplomatic ties. Was Alice aware this was the type of government to whom she donated her courage, her time, and her services? If yes, how could she continue to hold such spite towards the people her government terrorized? If no, how could she be so ill-informed?

With all that said, Paisley, I really enjoyed "Beguiled" and it is a story of which you should be proud. I am probably not the average reader of your target audience and most would probably neither notice or care about the parts that struck me as "quirky." : )

Kudos to you, also, for your beautiful dedication to U.S. servicewomen now legally permitted to volunteer service for their nation. Times, they be a-changing.

P.S. -- Uncle Hewlett's intellectual studies, while not usual, certainly would not have been impossible. I found him a remarkable and loveable character.

N.B. -- Keep writing. *throaty, breathless whisper imitating Claudia in "Interview With A Vampire"* I want some more.

M. A. said...

Wow, times so don't change for US politicians. But that's another discussion. What I wanted to say was that, while yes, I knew the civil war was ultimately about economics and money, you can't get young boys to sign up and fight over that.

The entire war was extremely unpopular. Both the Union and the Confederacy had to conscript troops.

Paisley Smith said...

This is such a compliment to the story that it has generated such thought provoking discussion.

Order No. 28 (which was mentioned on the History Channel's More Sex in the Civil War) occurred in 1862. My story starts in 1864 and Alice had been in the army for one year.

The women who sparked Order No. 28 were dumping chamber pots on Union soldiers. It was more of a case of name calling and the Union Army name calling back. More harmful was Sherman's removal and relocation of civilian Roswell Georgia women from the mills there.

Alice would have been exposed to news stories that would have depicted the behavior of these women as reprehensible. These women were trash talking men who she saw were fighting to free slaves. (Imagine how you might feel if Afghan women were doing this to US soldiers)

For certain, Alice was a zealot. She was an abolitionist who'd been told Uncle Tom stories up in Boston and had formed her opinions on such stories. She grew as a character once she actually lived with Belle and Uncle Hewlett.

I felt that Belle wanted Alice out of her house at the beginning but that she hoped someone would treat her husband with the same compassion she showed Alice.

M. A. said...

Order No. 28 (which was mentioned on the History Channel's More Sex in the Civil War) occurred in 1862. My story starts in 1864 and Alice had been in the army for one year.

If Alice was an active Abolitionist and activist, and keeping up with events related to the war, Order No. 28 should have been well-known to her IMHO. Throughout the narrative, Alice indicates interest in women's suffrage, it is clear she supports the female citizen's right to serve her country via force of arms. That she could turn a blind eye to the obvious, well-documented attrocities occuring in the war strikes me as unbalanced. Again, just my opinion.


The women who sparked Order No. 28 were dumping chamber pots on Union soldiers.


*broad grin* I know. I have a replica of a chamber pot with Beast Butler's face painted in the bottom.

No Union soldier would ever have been at risk of a New Orleans lady's chamber pot had the Union soldiers not illegally occupied the city.

The general childishness and "tit for tat" timbre of Order No. 28 aside, I am unawre of ANY legislation, regulation, or any other military orders issued by U.S. military superiors actively permitting military authorities to arrest and detain civillian women under charges of prostitution for "impoliteness." In ANY country.

The war criminals occupying New Orleans also hanged a civillian for striking Union colors from a public building AND they vandalized the Jackson monument.

A female citizen was arrested and deported to Ship Island for the "crime" of laughing aloud when a Union soldier's funeral procession passed her home.

This was a war of terrorism and the deliberate and systematic degradation of Southerners.

If you don't believe me, visit the surviving plantations along the River Road. Some of the houses STILL have bullets embedded in them when Union soldiers used private civillian residences for target practice as they sailed downriver to New Orleans.

It just seemed to me that if Alice really cared about women's rights, Abolition, and other human rights causes, these issues would have mattered to her.

M. A. said...

P.S. -- More food for thought: the U.S. government has never issued a formal apology or expressed regret for Order No. 28 or any of the other indignities heaped upon the area during the occupation.

The U.S. government has tacitly endorsed a military order permitting a "rude" woman to be treated as a common whore.

Paisley Smith said...

MA, it was always said we Southern women continued fighting the war long after the men gave up. You're a good Confederate! :-)

Have you read any of the Roswell stuff? Very interesting and terrible for those women who were shipped off and never able to get back to their homes. http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/frances-patton-statham/roswell-women.htm

I'm toying with a plot about two women who fell in love and get shipped to different locations.

Cathy in AK said...

Chiming in late (as usual) to add my $0.02 : )

I'll second Leah's assessment of the book. I enjoyed the way the relationship between Belle and Alice was handled, particularly making that one action so meaningful to both of them. As for the husband, I too got the feeling that Belle had loved Dalton but wasn't in love with him, even before the war. So her relationship with Alice wasn't a problem for me either.

Belle and Alice were a little hard to warm up to at first, but I grew to like them both quite a bit as the story progressed.

I love this period and it was fun to read about women in these times, both in the book and in the comments : )

Thanks for the book, Paisley!