The best books about brothels

6 authors have picked their favorite books about brothels and why they recommend each book.

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The Flower Boat Girl

By Larry Feign,

Book cover of The Flower Boat Girl

The Flower Boat Girl is a historical novel about the life of Zheng Yi Sao, the most successful pirate in history (and, yes, a woman). Sold as a child to a floating brothel, at 26 she buys her freedom, but then is kidnapped and forced to marry a pirate. From there, she uses her strength and cunning mind to carve her destiny and practically make history. I loved this book, because it gives us an honest portrayal of a pirate's life and how a woman has no place in it, yet one woman makes it against all odds.

Who am I?

I'm a hybrid author from Bulgaria, and my work mostly focuses on historical fiction and fantasy. History has always been mainly centered around the male point of view. But many female heroes would also like to tell us their stories. My fascination started with the women Haiduks of Bulgaria, which gave birth to my first book Sirma. And the more I researched, the more I realized countless historical female figures worldwide deserve just as much attention. I hope this list is enriching to all readers and helps them see their captivating point of view.


I wrote...

Sirma: A historical fiction novel about a woman Haiduk

By Reni Stankova,

Book cover of Sirma: A historical fiction novel about a woman Haiduk

What is my book about?

Sirma's life changed forever when she lost her two best friends to mountain outlaws. The village elders did nothing, fearing the wrath of Hamza Bei—the head outlaw in the area. So, Sirma disguised herself as a man and forms a new mountain gang dedicated to protecting the villages and searching for Hamza Bei to put a stop to his tyranny. Her life is one of clashing with gangs of outlaws, surviving in the mountain wilderness, and keeping her comrades from finding out they were led by a woman. This is a novel about the Haiduk movement in Eastern Europe during the reign of the Ottoman Empire.

The Brothel of Pompeii

By Sarah Levin-Richardson,

Book cover of The Brothel of Pompeii: Sex, Class, and Gender at the Margins of Roman Society

Tourists, who are marched through the only designated, purposely-built brothel in Pompeii, stare at the cubicles with built-in masonry beds and wall paintings depicting sexual acts. Richardson pieces together an array of evidence, from various finds and graffiti to the early excavation reports, to assess the experiences of both the male clients and the female prostitutes. According to Richardson, more than sex was provided by the women of the brothel. This book imaginatively reconstructs the activities of the brothel in an intriguing way.


Who am I?

I am a professor of ancient art at Vassar College where I teach Roman art and archaeology. I have published widely in the field and traveled extensively in the Mediterranean. My first encounters with Roman art occurred as a child in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC where I would stand before Roman portrait heads because their faces seemed stern and grim, yet ordinary and matter-of-fact. I have continued to observe Roman portraits over the years, but admit that I still sometimes find them daunting.


I wrote...

Roman Women

By Eve D'Ambra,

Book cover of Roman Women

What is my book about?

This book examines the daily lives of Roman women by focusing on the mundane and less celebrated aspects of daily life—family and household, work and leisure, worship, and social obligations—of women of different social ranks. Using a variety of sources, including literary texts, letters, inscriptions, coins, tableware, furniture, and the fine arts, from the late Republic to the high Imperial period, Eve D'Ambra shows how these sources serve as objects of social analysis, rather than simply as documents that recreate how life was lived. She also demonstrates how texts and material objects take part in shaping realities and what they can tell us about the texture of lives and social attitudes, if not emotions of women in Roman antiquity.

A Lady in Defiance

By Heather Blanton,

Book cover of A Lady in Defiance

I loved the heroine’s grit! Boy howdy, no one’s going to get anything over on her. The story is both gritty and sweet. Real. Full of truth and hope and opposition. Her setting puts you right in the action and her characterizations leave you feeling like you know these people. This was the first book I read from Blanton, and I have since read a couple more. 


Who am I?

As a child, I fell in love with horses. As a teen, I fell in love with a cowboy. That’s how I became the wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters and wrote for rodeo magazines. Today I write historical cowboy romances. The Western way of life is down-to-earth, honest, and God-fearing—even in our contemporary world, and I’ve written several of those stories as well. But my favorite challenge takes me back to the 1800s when life was simpler. Not easier, just simpler even though people faced the same emotional challenges we face today. I love writing about their journeys and encouraging readers that there is hope.


I wrote...

An Improper Proposal

By Davalynn Spencer,

Book cover of An Improper Proposal

What is my book about?

When a mail-order bride’s groom is shot dead on their way to the wedding, she does the only thing she can in an unfamiliar town with no money or friends—she proposes to a stranger. Mae Ann Remington isn’t afraid to fight for what she wants—a home and respectability. If that means becoming a rancher’s wife, so be it. 

Colorado rancher Cade Parker’s biggest problem isn’t catching the rustlers that are thinning his herd. It’s keeping his heart from stampeding after the last person in the world he should be falling for—the bride he didn't want.

Simply Sinful

By Kate Pearce,

Book cover of Simply Sinful

Quick notethis series is (IMO) the spiciest of the 5 recommendations I include on my list. And Pearce takes some liberties with historical accuracy. However, her characters are deeply damaged and it takes a powerful loveand storytelling abilityto make them whole and able to fall in love. Those elements are particularly well represented in this tale. I try to avoid recommending book 2 of a series and yes, you really should read book 1 first, but this book does stand alone and I find it the most powerful story of the series.


Who am I?

Like many of us over (ahem…we’ll say) 40, I grew up reading historical romance—those were the first full-length romance novels on store shelves. My mum is British and visits there added to my interest in Regency England. Then 50 Shades exploded and people’s spice level tolerance increased. But mainly in contemporary romance, with all the tools and toys. Curious as to how spice in the Regency would look, I went searching. I found a few of these fabulous authors, but not many choices, so I decided to write one. Now there are more authors published in this subgenre, and I’m proud to be one of them.


I wrote...

Sophia's Schooling

By Maggie Sims,

Book cover of Sophia's Schooling

What is my book about?

Orphaned at eighteen, Sophia has learned love means loss.  Now she must leave her country home to navigate the opulence of the London Season, although she has no desire for romance or a husband.

Edward, the newest Earl of Peterborough, is struggling with the business of his family estate. He has shunned marriage due to a shameful secret, but with his title comes the need for heirs. Despite their misgivings, Sophia and Edward cannot resist their attraction.  When she accidentally discovers his penchant for spankings, her curiosity is her undoing.  A clandestine meeting risks a scandal. Only marriage to a reluctant bridegroom can save her reputation. But perhaps the School of Enlightenment can give her an education in love.

Nell Kimball

By Nell Kimball,

Book cover of Nell Kimball: Her Life as an American Madam, by Herself

Nell Kimball was the least educated of the prostitute authors I read but also the most colorful. And the only one who didn’t feel trapped in the profession. Like Josie Washburn, Nell couldn’t find a publisher for her memoir when she looked for one in 1932. She was 78 years old and reportedly in dire straits financially. Nell had started in the “trade” in St. Louis at the age of fifteen in 1867 and worked as a prostitute and then as a madam, lastly in New Orleans’s famed Storyville red-light district, until it was shut down in 1917. Nell died in 1934. Her book was finally published by Macmillan in 1970.

I’m grateful that Madeleine, Josie, and Nell were fortuitous enough to pen their stories, to record a first-hand account of an era that we otherwise would not be privy to in such a personal way.


Who am I?

As a young teenager, I lived in a small Texas town and loved touring the Victorian “gingerbread” homes full of antiques. I had an overwhelming desire to time travel back to the mid-1800s. When I learned of Diamond Bessie’s story, I was immediately intrigued because of the period, and also by the circumstances of her life. Why does a woman enter the world’s oldest profession? I discovered that I absolutely love research and “time traveled” back to that era by devouring everything I could get my hands on about life in the 19th century, especially for a marginalized woman like Bessie. 


I wrote...

The Lives of Diamond Bessie

By Jody Hadlock,

Book cover of The Lives of Diamond Bessie

What is my book about?

In a time when women have few rights or opportunities and being pregnant out of wedlock makes you a societal outcast, sixteen-year-old Annie Moore resorts to prostitution to survive. As a highly sought-after demi-mondaine, Annie—now Bessie—garners many jewels from her admirers. Her dream of returning to proper society appears to come true when she meets and marries the son of a wealthy jeweler. In the end, Bessie endures the ultimate betrayal, but she doesn’t let her story end there.

Inspired by a true story and set amid the burgeoning women’s rights movement of the mid-1800s, The Lives of Diamond Bessie is a haunting tale of betrayal, revenge, and redemption that explores whether seeking revenge is worth the price you might pay.

The Raven Prince

By Elizabeth Hoyt,

Book cover of The Raven Prince

Elizabeth Hoyt was the first historical romance writer I read, and she hooked me on the genre. The Raven Prince is probably my favorite of hers. I love how the meet-cute is actually more of a meet-hate, and how Anna pursues her own happiness with guts and determination, even when Edward has his head firmly planted where the sun don’t shine. This book is also notable for the fact the hero has noticeable scars that to the casual eye might make him unattractive. There is a realism to the couple that you don’t find in a lot of historical romances. Definitely a top pick.


Who am I?

I grew up reading nothing but mystery novels, which is why when I discovered romance, I found the ones I liked the best had a bit of intrigue to them. As Alyson Chase, I write Regency romances I like to read: full of adventure and mystery, deep emotional connections, and, yes, quite a bit naughty. Character is the most important thing to me, whether as a writer or reader, and the books on this list are full of characters you can’t help but fall in love with.


I wrote...

Disciplined by the Duke

By Alyson Chase,

Book cover of Disciplined by the Duke

What is my book about?

The day her sister murdered their abusive father, Elizabeth Wilcox stopped being a gentleman’s daughter. Willing to do anything to save her sister from the hangman’s noose, now she is a spy... A servant. A liar. A submissive.

Masquerading as a parlor maid in the Duke of Montague’s estate, Liz is willing to risk all to uncover the secrets that would save her sister. But submitting to the duke’s peculiar brand of discipline surprises her with a heady mixture of pleasure and pain. Eager to relinquish control of her messy life, Liz soon craves the rough hands of Montague and his powerful, passionate attentions. Can she succumb to the hot sting of his hand and the gentleness of his kisses without revealing her darkest secrets?

Far Away Bird

By Douglas A. Burton,

Book cover of Far Away Bird

This is a historical novel about the life of Theodora, Empress of Byzantium. She was born in the sixth century and worked as a prostitute, but eventually became the most powerful woman in the Byzantine Empire. The book is very introspective and we learn a lot about Theodora's inner world. Even though the world throws the worst at her, she still finds the strength to continue onward and keep a sense of justice and positivity.


Who am I?

I'm a hybrid author from Bulgaria, and my work mostly focuses on historical fiction and fantasy. History has always been mainly centered around the male point of view. But many female heroes would also like to tell us their stories. My fascination started with the women Haiduks of Bulgaria, which gave birth to my first book Sirma. And the more I researched, the more I realized countless historical female figures worldwide deserve just as much attention. I hope this list is enriching to all readers and helps them see their captivating point of view.


I wrote...

Sirma: A historical fiction novel about a woman Haiduk

By Reni Stankova,

Book cover of Sirma: A historical fiction novel about a woman Haiduk

What is my book about?

Sirma's life changed forever when she lost her two best friends to mountain outlaws. The village elders did nothing, fearing the wrath of Hamza Bei—the head outlaw in the area. So, Sirma disguised herself as a man and forms a new mountain gang dedicated to protecting the villages and searching for Hamza Bei to put a stop to his tyranny. Her life is one of clashing with gangs of outlaws, surviving in the mountain wilderness, and keeping her comrades from finding out they were led by a woman. This is a novel about the Haiduk movement in Eastern Europe during the reign of the Ottoman Empire.

The Underworld Sewer

By Josie Washburn,

Book cover of The Underworld Sewer: A Prostitute Reflects on Life in the Trade, 1871-1909

After not being able to find a publisher in the early 1900s, Josie Washburn self-published her memoir. In The Underworld Sewer, Josie not only describes her life as a prostitute and madam, but she also debunks the notion at the time that women became prostitutes to “satisfy their own unnatural lusts.” Josie wanted to educate the public about the true horrors and plight of the unfortunate women who had to resort to prostitution to survive and, ultimately, to motivate the public to effect change. Her memoir is as much a scathing commentary on society’s double standards as it is an account of her life as a demi-mondaine.


Who am I?

As a young teenager, I lived in a small Texas town and loved touring the Victorian “gingerbread” homes full of antiques. I had an overwhelming desire to time travel back to the mid-1800s. When I learned of Diamond Bessie’s story, I was immediately intrigued because of the period, and also by the circumstances of her life. Why does a woman enter the world’s oldest profession? I discovered that I absolutely love research and “time traveled” back to that era by devouring everything I could get my hands on about life in the 19th century, especially for a marginalized woman like Bessie. 


I wrote...

The Lives of Diamond Bessie

By Jody Hadlock,

Book cover of The Lives of Diamond Bessie

What is my book about?

In a time when women have few rights or opportunities and being pregnant out of wedlock makes you a societal outcast, sixteen-year-old Annie Moore resorts to prostitution to survive. As a highly sought-after demi-mondaine, Annie—now Bessie—garners many jewels from her admirers. Her dream of returning to proper society appears to come true when she meets and marries the son of a wealthy jeweler. In the end, Bessie endures the ultimate betrayal, but she doesn’t let her story end there.

Inspired by a true story and set amid the burgeoning women’s rights movement of the mid-1800s, The Lives of Diamond Bessie is a haunting tale of betrayal, revenge, and redemption that explores whether seeking revenge is worth the price you might pay.

City of Lingering Splendour

By John Blofeld,

Book cover of City of Lingering Splendour: A Frank Account of Old Peking's Exotic Pleasures

English expat John Blofeld spent two decades in China (1932–51) before living out the last three of his life in Thailand. A renowned scholar of Buddhism and Taoism, Blofeld (like fellow expat Sinologists Edmund Backhouse and E.T.C. Werner) effectively disappeared into the woodwork, consorting almost exclusively with locals and mastering both vernacular and classical Chinese. In his City of Lingering Splendour, he looks back on his sojourn in the capital in the bustling 1930s-40s. But in contrast to standard accounts of Beijing’s palaces and temples (such as by Bredon and Arlington & Lewisohn above), Blofeld evocatively spotlights the often overlooked secular sites, the bathhouses and restaurants, opium dens, and bordellos, along with his connoisseurship of Chinese tea, thus conferring important archival value on his portrait of the city. This is also the side of Beijing I can relate to – the dark side, the underbelly of the great city –…

Who am I?

Having lived in China for almost three decades, I am naturally interested in the expat writing scene. I am a voracious reader of fiction and nonfiction on China, past and present. One constant in this country is change, and that requires keeping up with the latest publications by writers who have lived here and know it well. As an author of three novels, one short story collection, and three essay collections on China myself, I believe I have something of my own to contribute, although I tend to hew to gritty, offbeat themes to capture a contemporary China unknown to the West.


I wrote...

At the Teahouse Cafe: Essays from the Middle Kingdom

By Isham Cook,

Book cover of At the Teahouse Cafe: Essays from the Middle Kingdom

What is my book about?

It’s 1949 at Revolutionary University. Chinese students spend all their waking hours in political meetings—when they’re not hauling feces from the latrines to the manure fields. Jump to 2015. Chinese endure endless meetings at the hands of bosses and are required to keep their cellphones on around the clock and pick up at once—or be fined. They live in a technological utopia while enslaved by the same structures of psychological control of over half a century earlier. Underlying the myth of a “New China” are the contemporary Middle Kingdom's numerous continuities with its past. This wide-ranging collection, which includes essays on old and modern Beijing, reaffirms the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Hotel de Dream

By Edmund White,

Book cover of Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel

Stephen Crane is most famous for his 1893 novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, but it is his lost companion novel, about a male sex worker in late nineteenth-century New York, which is the focus of Edmund White’s Hotel de Dream. White moves between a frame story about Crane’s last days with his “wife” Cora and the story of Elliott, the supposed inspiration for the manuscript. I’m a New Yorker by choice so love reading books set in the city and I very much enjoyed this gritty portrayal of love and sex between men in the past. Crane isn’t the only writer who makes an appearance here—there’s a cameo from Henry James too!


Who am I?

I grew up exploring the worlds of the Brontës, Dickens, Braddon, Hardy, and more. So, for my Master’s in literature from the University of Oxford, it was the 1800-1914 period I focused on. When I started writing fiction, I chose the nineteenth century as my setting and a scandal that rocked the lives of the Bronte siblings as my topic. I hold myself to a high standard of historical accuracy when writing about real people (e.g. I cut moonlight from a scene in Brontë’s Mistress when I realized it would have been a new moon that night!). And I love discovering and sharing other novelists who take the same approach. 


I wrote...

Bronte's Mistress

By Finola Austin,

Book cover of Bronte's Mistress

What is my book about?

This dazzling debut novel explores the scandalous historical love affair between Branwell Brontë and Lydia Robinson, giving voice to the woman who allegedly corrupted her son’s innocent tutor and brought down the entire Brontë family.

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