Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What have I been reading?

What have I been reading? The short answer – books. Often several at the same time, but I like to keep my reading matter in different places and different formats to suit the way in which I choose to read. 

Allow me to explain.

In the olden days, books were simple. They were made of paper with nice glossy covers on, as often as not adorned with some juicy bodice-ripping imagery, such was my taste. In fact, my penchant for erotic dom/sub romances hasn’t dimmed one iota over the years, it’s just that my preferred delicacies are dished up in so many new ways. No longer do I have to suffer the approbation – imagined or otherwise – of other commuters on the train. No one knows what smut and filth I have on my kindle, and I like to keep it that way.

A body’s eReader is sacred, in my view.

But I digress. Back to books, the old-fashioned type.

Twenty years or so ago I used to spend many happy hours poring over the romance section in WH Smith (a huge British bookseller, for those not of these shores). I had my favourite authors, but mostly I was swayed by raunchy cover art (and here are a couple of my personal favourites from back in the day) as well as cleverly crafted morsels on the back. I liked my romance dark even then, edgy and with non-con undertones. Rape and abduction were commonplace in my choices and there was no prissy reader advisory to protect the inadvertent.

I lapped them up. My bookshelves groaned with sexy pirates and dominant, demanding outlaws. Regency dukes and medieval warlords were among my preferred reading fodder, and an untamed, kilted Highlander would have me at the first paragraph. To be fair, not much has changed.

I haunted my local library too and I definitely got my money’s worth there, often staggering out with a dozen books that I would shovel into my huge carrier bag the moment the librarian stamped them. I’d plonk my selections on the desk face down, as though that would prevent anyone else seeing what dubious literary taste I had been blessed with. Sadly, the local council closed the library when it was brought to their attention that the building was a death-trap. The city fathers did their best. They opened a swanky new library a few months later, right in the heart of the city centre, but it isn’t the same and my membership has lapsed.
The advent of the kindle revolutionized my reading experience. No longer do I need to cram my suitcase to overflowing with enough reading matter to fill a fortnight on the beach and the choices on line are so much more plentiful than in WH Smiths. There are no disapproving checkout operators to stare down, and the one-click experience is fatal for a bookaholic like me. Despite the best and most prudish efforts of the Amazon decency police my kindle is packed with smut, filth and generally debauched erotica. I love it.

I keep my kindle close at hand and I read all the time, every spare moment. Just to be on the safe side I have the kindle app on my phone and tablet, too. I usually finish books before starting the next, but not always. It’s not unusual for me to have three or four books on the go at one time.

Then came audio-books. My first encounter with these was via the local library where I discovered the joys of feeding CDs into the audio system in my car. Long, solitary drives for work were transformed. I was overjoyed. But CDs are fiddly, and motor manufacturers stopped putting CD players into new cars – I know, such lunacy… But there you are. Progress.

I was saved when I signed up for Audible. No more juggling disks, or worse, spending hours converting CDs to mp3 files. My phone did it all, I was one-clicking again, and couldn’t have been happier.

But, there’s a difference. I do have some erotic romance in my audio-book library, but not much. Here is where I read – or more accurately, listen to – mainstream books. I don’t know why, it amazes me that it should be so, but it is. This is the home of my modern classics – suspense, thrillers, and my favourite for motorway entertainment, historical novels.

So, what am I listening to right now? Philippa Gregory’s latest Tudor offering, Three Sisters, Three Queens. The story is narrated beautifully by Bianca Amato, and I will definitely look out for her in the future.

I simply adore Ms. Gregory’s ability to bring history to vivid, throbbing life through the eyes of her characters, without deviating from the purity of historical accuracy. She is first and foremost a historian so she knows her shit. I respect that, and in this genre she is up there among my idols. She’s not alone. I grew up with Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton, Sharon Penman. All are utterly wonderful and when I write historical stories I try to be as true as they are to the facts of the matter.

The Three Queens of the title are Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, Margaret Tudor, Henry’s elder sister, and Mary Tudor, his younger sibling. Katherine was, of course, Queen of England, at least until Henry dumped her for Anne Boleyn. Margaret married James IV of Scotland, and Mary was briefly Queen of France when she married Louis XII. The story is told from the perspective of Margaret, not a particularly well-known historical figure, and relates her ups and downs following her marriage, aged fourteen, to the Scottish King, then aged thirty.

It is a tale of love between women, of connection, and of bitter rivalry, exploring the political turbulence of the sixteenth century through the eyes of the most powerful – and powerless – women of the time. The worth of females of the Middle Ages, however high born, was entirely driven by their success at marrying a powerful male and producing the next generation of healthy male babies. 

Margaret succeeds in her core mission of heir producer but is widowed at age twenty-four when Katherine’s army defeats James IV’s forces at Flodden and he dies in the battle. Bitterly angry at this betrayal by her sister, Margaret re-marries, disastrously, and from there struggles to hold her own in the male-dominated and complex political minefield which was the sixteenth century Scottish court.

Throughout her life Margaret constantly compares her fortunes to those of her sisters. The three women manipulate, use, and betray each other, all driven by a quest for power and a compulsion to see their children set on the thrones in whose shadow their fragile lives are played out. As she grows as a woman, and as a queen, Margaret finds she has less and less in common with those she initially thought were her soulmates. 

We all know how this story ends, and I anticipate no happy ever after for these sisters. 

This is a book which will appeal to any devotee of historical fiction who likes the action to be gritty but realistic, and who appreciate a compelling taste of the intensity of passion, bitter grief and bone-numbing terror that was the lot of women caught up in medieval politics.

There is only one bond that I trust and that is between a woman and her sisters. Only the three of us are indissoluble. We never take our eyes off each other. In love and rivalry, we always think of each other.


  1. When I look for something to read for my own pleasure, it usually winds up being mainstream stuff. My gig as Storytime editor @ ERWA supplies more than enough erotica and erotic romance. I also have plenty of books as backup. Being an antique dealer, I come across things at random. That's a good thing. If I just depended on what I search, I'd never see some of the stuff.

  2. Ah, Kathleen Woodiwiss! I remember when The Flame and the Flower came out, and I resolved never again to waste my time on romances without as much sex as hers. Her history wasn't impeccable, but the sex was hot. Eventually I read historicals with better history and even better sex, especially those by Roberta Gellis, but Woodiwiss may have been the first to go there and make it work commercially.

  3. As you like historical fiction, what do you think of Robert Graves ('Claudius'), Choderlos de Laclos ('Dangerous Liaisons'), and--particularly--Bernard Cornwell? I read Cornwell's 'Agincourt' a few years ago. I've always admired the real David v. Goliath history of the battle, and Cornwell explains much detail of the art of archery. I was so inspired that I ATTEMPTED to read a downloaded free copy of Shakespeare's 'Henry V' (that's for another day...or PBS).

  4. I haven't tried audio books. It probably has something to do with my generation, but when I have headphones or earbuds on, I feel cut off from my environment. And I don't have a car anymore, so I don't need distraction while I drive.

    I do find it fascinating that you prefer to consume different genres through different media.

    And given your youthful romance reading choices, I can understand why you just love to write the stuff you do! Just think, you are nurturing a whole new generation of edgy romance readers!

    1. No headphones or earbuds - can't stand them either. I play the audiobook through the car speakers

  5. "the one-click experience is fatal"

    Story of my life, Ashe.

    Like you, I have different preferences for different formats. I've noticed my recall is best when reading in print, so if I really want to get into a book, I read it that way. I blow through a lot of stuff on the Kindle, too, and I love audiobooks while in the car or at the gym. Audiobooks let me get through big novels I'd never make it through in any other form (I get intimidated by thick books, funny as that is). Recently, I've been using audio to conquer the giant Marketplace series.

    To the historical fiction fan above, Robert Graves was absolutely formative for me. I lived for I, Claudius and Claudius the God, and then I was delighted in college when I discovered Tacitus and realized how much Graves had cribbed from that.

  6. You seem to read as much as you write, Ashe! I have a library of ebooks (PDFs) in my "Documents" on my home computer and my work computer, mostly because I agreed to review them. I can also read them on my phone, since I get into my inbox that way. A Kindle would probably be more efficient, but I know Amazon owns them, and I hate to give that company more than it has already. Audio books sound cool, but listening to them in public and being overheard would be MUCH worse than accidentally showing cover art to a librarian or snoopy bystander! The audio experience really seems designed for solitary drivers who need to make fairly long trips.

    1. Oh, do I agree about the Kindle, Jean! I refuse to give the 800 pound gorilla even more business. I buy my ebooks from Smashwords or All Romance if I can. Amazon makes my stomach hurt!


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