A Gathering Storm (Porthkennack #2) by Joanna Chambers (audiobook) – Narrated by Simon Goldhill

a gathering storm

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When grief-stricken scientist Sir Edward Fitzwilliam provokes public scorn by defending a sham spiritualist, he’s forced to retreat to Porthkennack to lick his wounds. Ward’s reputation is in tatters, but he’s determined to continue the work he began after the death of his beloved brother. In Porthkennack, Ward meets Nicholas Hearn, land steward to the Roscarrock family. Ward becomes convinced that Nick, whose Romany mother was reportedly clairvoyant, is the perfect man to assist with his work. But Nick—who has reason to distrust the whims of wealthy men—is loath to agree.

Until Fate steps in to lend a hand. Despite Nick’s misgivings, he discovers that Ward is not the high-handed aristocrat he first thought. And when passion ignites between them, Nick learns there’s much more to love than the rushed, clandestine encounters he’s used to. Nevertheless, Nick’s sure that wealthy, educated Ward will never see him as an equal. A storm is gathering, but with Nick’s self-doubts and Ward’s growing obsession, the fragile bond between the two men may not be strong enough to withstand it.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

It’s taken a while for Joanna Chambers’ 2017 historical romance, A Gathering Storm, to make it into audio, but I remember enjoying the story back when I read it, so, despite the fact that the narrator is new-to-me, I decided to give the audiobook version a listen. The book is part of the multi-author Porthkennack series, all set in and around the Cornish seaside town of the same name, but it’s a standalone, so it’s not necessary to have read any of the other books in order to enjoy it.

The story begins on the night of a terrible electrical storm, when Sir Edward Fitzwilliam (known as ‘Ward’) is aboard ship, crossing the Irish Sea from Dublin to Anglesey. The storm is at its height when Ward experiences something very strange – he hears the voice of his twin brother George calling out to him and assuring him that all will be well. Realising later that this must have been the exact moment of George’s death and believing he’d received a communication from ‘beyond the veil’. Ward dedicates himself to recreating the conditions that allowed it to happen, in spite of the disapproval and dismissal of the wider scientific community of which he is – or had been – a respected member.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Home Grown Talent (Creative Types #2) by Joanna Chambers & Sally Malcolm

home grown talent

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Are you for real?

From the outside, it looks like model and influencer Mason Nash has it all—beauty, fame, and fortune. With his star rapidly rising, and a big contract up for grabs, Mason’s on the verge of hitting the big time.

When an opportunity arises to co-host a gardening slot on daytime TV with his ex’s brother, Owen Hunter, Mason is definitely on-board. And he intends to use every trick in the book to make the show a hit—including agreeing to his ruthless producer’s demand to fake a ‘will-they/won’t-they’ romance with his co-host…

Owen Hunter is a gardener with a huge heart and both feet planted firmly on the well-tilled ground. He’s proud of the life he’s built and has absolutely no desire to be on TV—yet somehow he finds himself agreeing to do the show.

It’s definitely not because he’s interested in Mason Nash. The guy might be beautiful—and yeah, his spoiled brat routine presses all Owen’s buttons in the bedroom—but Owen has no interest in a short-term fling with a fame-hungry model.

As the two men get closer, though, Owen starts to believe there’s more to Mason than his beautiful appearance and carefully-curated online persona—that beneath the glitz and glamour is a sweet, sensitive man longing to be loved.

A man Owen might be falling for. A man who might even feel the same.

But in a world of media spin and half-truths, Owen is dangerously out of his depth. And when a ridiculous scandal explodes online, with Owen at its heart, it starts to look as though everything he thought was real is built on lies—including his budding romance with Mason…

Rating: A-

Joanna Chambers and Sally Malcolm earned a DIK from me for their first collaboration, Total Creative Control, a funny, sexy grumpy/sunshine romance set in the world of television production. Now they’re back with its sequel, Home Grown Talent, an opposites-attract romance between a cinnamon roll and a “lemon tart” (this NEEDS to be a new trope!) that takes a long hard look at the intrusiveness of social media and the behind-the-scenes toxicity found in certain types of broadcast media. The characters are loveable, complex and fully-rounded, their romance is beautifully written and although the story is perhaps a little more serious in tone than the previous one, it’s every bit as full of warmth, humour and feels.

Owen Hunter (older brother of Lewis from book one) is a private and very down-to-earth sort of guy with a big heart and a desire to smooth the way for those he cares for. He runs a successful landscaping and gardening business, and, okay, so maybe he isn’t loved up like Lewis and his boyfriend Aaron are – they’re just a bit sickening in their lovey-dovey-ness – but he’s happy for them and content with his life, even though he wouldn’t mind finding someone to share it with. He’s been attracted to the gorgeous Mason Nash – Lewis’ ex – for a while, but has resigned himself to the fact that beneath the beautiful exterior, Mason is probably shallow and a bit dull. Even if he wasn’t and Owen ever got up the courage to actually ask him out, no way would a guy like Mason look twice at a guy like him.

Mason makes a pretty good living as a model and is good at his job, but it’s not something he ever envisaged himself doing and can’t say he likes it all that much. The main thing is that it pays well and he needs to keep earning good money so he can support his mother and younger sisters, but he’s looking to move on from modelling. He’s working on building his Instagram numbers so he can attract more lucrative sponsorship deals and has just picked up a temporary presenting gig on the health, beauty and fitness segment of a magazine TV show called Weekend Wellness. If rumours are to be believed, one of the main presenters is leaving, and Mason hopes maybe something permanent will open up for him there.

Lewis invites Owen to an awards dinner, and even though it’s not really Owen’s scene, there’s no way he’s going to miss out on his little brother getting recognition for his work on his TV show, Leeches. He doesn’t know anyone else at their table – other than Mason, who is there as the guest of Leeches’ lead actor – and is surprised when Misty Watson-King, the producer of Weekend Wellness, takes an interest in him. Owen is astonished when she suggests that maybe he would consider taking part in the gardening segment she wants to add to the show, and although he insists he’s not the TV type, Misty won’t let it go, delighted with her idea that the slot should feature Owen teaching basic gardening techniques to a total newbie. Mason.

Owen isn’t wild about the idea, but does eventually agree to do the show, and over the next few weeks spent preparing – working out what each week’s segment will include, what plants and techniques to use – Mason and Owen get to know each other better and find they really enjoy each other’s company. As the chemistry between them crackles and their attraction grows Owen realises he’s misjudged Mason and, far from being a spoiled air-head, he’s bright, quick and curious, able to talk to anyone about anything. In Owen, Mason discovers the kind of friendship and support he has never really known and opens up to him, explaining that before he became a model, he’d trained as a chef – cooking is obviously something he adores – but he gave it up because modelling was better paid. His dad left his mum and younger sisters (who are ten years younger than Mason) when the girls were little, and Mason is pretty much supporting them financially because his dad rarely makes his maintenance payments on time, and his mum is not good with money.

Despite their outward differences, Owen and Mason really are a great fit. Their chemistry is palpable and the authors create a very real and strong emotional connection between them. Even though Owen isn’t completely comfortable with what he sees as Mason’s obsession with social media and doesn’t really understand it, he does realise Mason is using it as a tool to build a career. He’s falling head-over-heels for the Mason he’s coming to know, the real Mason who is so much more than the fake one with the fake life plastered all over Instagram. But he worries about losing his Mason to the fake one somewhere along the way.

Mason is as deeply invested in the relationship as Owen, and loves how straightforward and true to himself he is – but he worries that maybe he’s too honest to be working in the world of spin that is reality television. Also worrying is the pressure Misty is putting on Mason to play up his and Owen’s obvious chemistry to whip up interest in the show by engaging in some flirty teasing on social media, and getting a whole ‘will they/won’t they’ thing going. And if things between them go a bit further than that in private, well, it’s all great publicity. Mason instantly draws the line at the idea of sleeping with Owen for ratings, but he also knows Owen won’t be up for using their relationship for the show’s benefit. But… if they’re really together – which they are – then all the flirting and couple-y photos won’t actually be a lie – will they?

Of course, we know this isn’t going to turn out well and sure enough, Mason is pushed into making an unwise decision which then spirals into a silly yet plausible scandal that quickly has serious consequences for Owen – who can’t help but wonder if what he had with Mason was ever real.

At the heart of Home Grown Talent are two charming, likeable but very different men, who have, in different ways, spent most of their lives looking out for other people and have forgotten to look after themselves. In continually bailing out his mother, Mason has basically enabled her to give up responsibility for looking after herself and her daughters; he’s assumed the parental role in the family, but needs to learn to put himself first and live his own life. Owen had a parental role thrust upon him in his teens (he brought Lewis up after their parents died), and he’s become so used to being a fixer, a “white knight” who rides in to sort out other people’s problems that he finds it difficult to be vulnerable and accept that sometimes he doesn’t have all the answers. Unfortunately, his reaction to that is usually to shut people out and try to bulldoze his way through problems rather than communicate his thoughts and feelings and work through them.

The intrusiveness of social media and the way it’s used to sell everything from actual products to lifestyles and relationships and people is a key part of the story and the authors do a good job of showing just how invasive and damaging it can be. Being an old fogey myself, social media is something about which I maintain a healthy scepticism, but you’ve only got to lurk around on it for a short while or look at the headlines to find, day after day, stories about how it so often brings out the worst in people.

Home Grown Talent is insightful, funny and touching, boasting two likeable leads, a lovely romance with some seriously sexy steamy moments and a well-realised secondary cast. It works perfectly well as a standalone, although Total Creative Control is excellent and well worth reading, too. More, please, ladies!

Total Creative Control (Creative Types #1) by Joanna Chambers & Sally Malcolm

total creative control

This title may be purchased at Amazon

Sunshine PA, meet Grumpy Boss…

When fanfic writer Aaron Page landed a temp job with the creator of hit TV show, Leeches, it was only meant to last a week. Three years later, Aaron’s still there…

It could be because he loves the creative challenge. It could be because he’s a huge Leeches fanboy. It’s definitely not because of Lewis Hunter, his extremely demanding, staggeringly rude…and breathtakingly gorgeous boss.

Is it?

Lewis Hunter grew up the hard way and fought for everything he’s got. His priority is the show, and personal relationships come a distant second. Besides, who needs romance when you have a steady stream of hot men hopping in and out of your bed?

His only meaningful relationship is with Aaron, his chief confidante and indispensable assistant. And no matter how appealing he finds Aaron’s cute boy-next-door charms, Lewis would never risk their professional partnership just to scratch an itch.

But when Lewis finds himself trapped at a hilariously awful corporate retreat, Aaron is his only friend and ally. As the professional lines between them begin to blur, their simmering attraction starts to sizzle

… And they’re both about to get burned.

Rating: A-

Two of my favourite authors teaming up to write a grumpy/sunshine “angsty rom-com” ? YES, PLEASE – sign me up! Total Creative Control is a captivating read and I blew through it two sittings. Featuring two complex, superbly characterised protagonists, and a small but equally well-written supporting cast, it’s full of humour, witty banter, delicious sexual tension and a multitude of feels – and I loved it.

The ”grumpy” part of the pairing is Lewis Hunter, creator and writer of the hit TV show, Leeches (an urban fantasy-type show with vampires!) which, when the book opens, has been on air for three years. He’s dynamic, hugely talented and very charismatic… but he’s also brusque, demanding, doesn’t seem to have a verbal filter, and is hell to work for. Which is why he goes through assistants like a knife through butter – until the morning his most recent one quits, and he’s assigned a temp named Aaron Page for the rest of the week. Aaron is a big fan of Leeches – which Lewis is both surprised and pleased at – and very quickly shows his aptitude for the job. He’s just finished teacher training and has a job lined up for September; Lewis has never had a PA who actually loved Leeches before, and is already thinking of ways to keep him on for longer. He suggests that if things go well that week, he’d like Aaron to stay until September. Aaron agrees.

The story then skips ahead three years – and finds Aaron still working for Lewis. In the intervening time, he’s made himself pretty much indispensable – not just because he knows Lewis likes brown sauce in his bacon rolls or how many sugars he takes in his tea, but because his knowledge of and love for the show is second only to Lewis’ and he’s provided a lot of valuable feedback and insight into the scripting process during that time. He’s far more than a PA now, and Lewis is a decent enough boss that he’s made sure Aaron is properly compensated for his expanded role. But, as one of Aaron’s colleagues points out, although Aaron well paid for what he does, shouldn’t he be looking to move into a job that would stretch him creatively and make greater use of his talents? But Aaron is happy where he is – and refuses to let himself dwell on the real reason for it. That moving on to a different job would mean leaving Lewis – because that way madness lies. Lewis made it clear on Aaron’s very first day that he doesn’t get involved with colleagues, EVER, and despite the stirrings of attraction they felt for each other when they met, they’ve kept things perfectly professional between them ever since. They’ve both worked hard to maintain that fine line between colleagues and friends, not allowing themselves to be too curious about each other’s personal lives, never attending work functions together, carefully steering their way around anything too intimate – and it’s worked, for the most part, enabling them to carry on with their working relationship as though that’s all that lies between them.

But when Lewis is persuaded to ask Aaron to accompany him on a working weekend at the country home of the television exec who is keen to develop Leeches for the US market  – a complete and utter wanker Lewis can’t stand – those lines between the personal and the professional start to blur.  Under pressure to make changes to the very fabric of Leeches to satisfy the demands of the US production company, then forced into a number of difficult and uncomfortable situations courtesy of his host, Lewis – already on edge – starts to unravel.  A group therapy session unexpectedly unlocks un-dealt-with trauma Lewis has done his best to ignore – but through it all, Aaron is there,  unequivocally on his side and keeping him grounded.  And this time together, just the two of them against the world, or so it seems, forces them both to confront some long-buried truths they’ve managed to keep locked away so far.  And for Aaron, it’s the wake-up call he needs to start putting himself and his career first for a change.

Aaron is adorable – the perfect sunshine to Lewis’ grump – and their chemistry is combustible.  He’s sweet and clever and insightful, and I really enjoyed the way his love of Leeches and his love of fanfiction are woven together, and into the story.  Fanfic is denigrated in some circles (and Lewis hates it!), but although some of it is undoubtedly crap, Aaron embodies the best endeavours; he’s someone who really gets to know the characters he writes about, and gets into their heads to produce stories that are true to character and as good as – sometimes better! – than the storylines on the actual show.  This part of his life does create friction between him and Lewis – who is dismissive and says some pretty hurtful things – until he comes to understand why Aaron – and many others – love it:

It’s about the joy of writing for your own pleasure. And about sharing your work with a community of like-minded people.  It’s about… creativity for creativity’s sake.

The only real criticism I can level at the book as a whole is to say that Lewis’ no-relationships-because-I’m-too-selfish/closed-off-and-everybody-leaves-me-thing is just a bit stereotypical;  but that said, it is at least well done here, with moments that will make your heart break for Lewis even as you’re screaming at him to get out of his own way.

Both authors are adept at writing stories that tug at the heartstrings, and there are some lovely, angsty moments in this one that will do just that as both men grapple with their feelings for each other, Lewis trying desperately to lock them away, Aaron owning them to himself honestly, but knowing he needs to move on.  There’s a real emotional depth to the connection between the pair, a sense of ‘rightness’ when they’re together that just lights up the page, which is incredibly satisfying  – and incredibly frustrating when Lewis is seemingly  bent on self-sabotage.

There’s also a terrific secondary cast – from Toni, Lewis’ supportive (and long-suffering) boss, to the absolutely ghastly TV exec Charlie Alexander, who I would happily have pushed under a bus (although I suspect Lewis would have beaten me to it!).

Total Creative Control is a delightful feel-good romance full of warmth and good humour that will make you smile and hit you in the feels in the best way.  On to the keeper shelf it goes – and to the hint in the notes at the end that there may be more to come in this world, all I can say is I’m Here For It.

Restored (Enlightenment #5) by Joanna Chambers

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Eighteen years ago, Henry Asquith, Duke of Avesbury had to leave his kept lover, Kit Redford, in order to devote himself to raising his young family. Now, a lifetime later, his children are moving on and for the first time in years, Henry is alone.

During a rare visit to London, Henry unexpectedly happens upon an old friend of Kit’s and learns that Kit did not receive the financial pay off he was entitled to when Henry left him. Instead Kit was thrown out of his home and left destitute. Horrified, Henry begs Kit to see him and allow Henry to compensate him. But Kit, who now owns a discreet club for gentlemen of a certain persuasion, neither needs nor wants Henry’s money.

Kit thought he had put his old hurts and grievances about Henry behind him, but when he sees Henry again, he discovers that, not only is the old pain still there, so is the fierce attraction that once burned between them. When, in a moment of fury, Kit demands a scandalous form of penance from Henry, no one is more surprised than Kit when Henry agrees to pay it.

As Kit and Henry spend more time together, they learn more about the men they have become, and about the secret feelings and desires they concealed from one another in the past.

Henry realises he wants to build a future with Kit but can he persuade his wary lover to trust him ever again? And can two men from such different worlds make a new life together?

Rating: A-

Reading Restored was like a balm to the soul.  It’s a beautiful – and beautifully written – story of love, forgiveness and second chances that I practically inhaled and which left me with a warm glow and a book hangover of the best kind.  It’s book five in the author’s Enlightenment series, but it’s not necessary to have read the rest to be able to enjoy Restored, as it’s only loosely linked to them and works perfectly as a standalone. That said, if you haven’t read the other books in the series, they’re wonderful and you should add them to your TBR stat.

The central characters – club-owner Kit Redford and Henry, Duke of Avesbury – have appeared briefly in other books in the series, and readers will recall it being hinted at that Kit’s previous life wasn’t always an easy one.  Eighteen years earlier, Kit had been Henry’s ‘kept man’, set up in his own house and visited by his lover on a twice-weekly schedule, his contract brokered by the madam of The Golden Lily, the select brothel at which he used to work.  The year-long contract has another two months to run, and both Kit – or Christopher, as he was known then – and Henry realise that they have begun to feel a great deal more for each other than is wise.  Kit is a whore and Henry is a duke (and a married duke at that) and knowing that love was never supposed to be part of their agreement, neither man says anything about how he feels.

Henry inherited his title at twenty and takes his responsibilities very seriously.  He’s married to Caroline, with whom he has four children, although after the birth of their youngest, Caroline told Henry she no longer wished him to visit her bed and encouraged him to seek his pleasure elsewhere.  They are best friends and care for each other deeply – and when Caroline gives Henry the devastating news that she is dying, she asks him to take her and the children out of London to the family seat in Wiltshire immediately.  Henry can’t help but think of Kit; he wants a chance to explain and say goodbye, but Caroline is so distraught and has never really asked him for anything, so he agrees to leave town straight away, knowing that his contract with Kit stipulates that his lover will be well taken care of, given the house they’d used for their assignations and a large sum of money.

Henry takes his family to the country and rarely visits London after that, banishing all thoughts of Kit from his mind.  Caroline’s death just a few short months later shatters him, and leaves him with the sole responsibility for his children, who give him a reason to wake each morning, and who keep him going through some dark and difficult times.

Now, nearly two decades later, his children are grown, and Henry realises he has a lonely road ahead as they forge lives of their own.  A rare trip to the capital finds him thinking of Kit for the first time in years  – and when he learns that far from being well taken care of, Kit was left almost destitute when he they parted ways, he’s horrified.  Desperate to make amends, Henry gets a message to Kit that he’d like to see him – but Kit can’t see any point in their meeting again after so many years have passed, and refuses.

Henry knows he should let things lie; he learns that Kit is the proprietor of a highly successful and discreet club for gentlemen who prefer the company of other men, and that whatever happened in the past, he’s doing well now.  But Henry’s conscience won’t let him forget it.  He pays a call on Kit at his home, half expecting to be turned away – and is both relieved and a little shocked when Kit appears, still as beautiful as ever but with a new wariness and hardness about him, as though he’s holding himself back behind a mask of suspicion and barely suppressed anger.

Kit is astonished at the fury and resentment that rush through him at the sight of his former lover; he thought he’d put all that behind him long ago.  Even worse, however, he discovers that the attraction he’d also thought long dead and buried is still alive and kicking.  As he and Henry circle each other, prodding and testing each other’s truths and vulnerabilities, both men start to see a glimmer of possibility, a hope that perhaps there are some things that can be restored to the way they should have been all along.

Restored is a gorgeous second-chance romance which brilliantly charts the journey Henry and Kit take to find their way back to each other both physically and emotionally.  Old resentments and hurts are faced openly, engendering a new honesty between them and encouraging Henry especially to think seriously about the transactional dynamics and inherent inequality of their earlier relationship, and to realise that no matter how good he and Kit were together, no matter how he really felt about Kit, Kit was never in a position to make any choices for himself.  Adding that new clarity to the realisation he’s come to over the years that the desire he’d previously believed a weakness is actually a part of his nature he’s no longer willing to deny, Henry longs for the chance to convince Kit that they can have something different, something real where they can come together as equals with nothing between them but honesty and love.

There’s a well-written sub-plot featuring Henry’s younger son, and I really enjoyed the insight into Henry’s family life as a father, with its attendant ups and downs.  His relationship with the rebellious and often resentful Freddy is really well observed, and I liked the glimpses of the happiness shared by his daughter and her husband.  Henry’s eldest son George doesn’t appear on the page until near the end, but he has an important part to play in the story (and oh, my heart broke for him and his dad both!) and if Ms. Chambers decides to write a story for him one day, then I certainly won’t object!

Henry and Kit are fully-rounded, complex characters whose flaws make them that much more human and relatable; and there are some colourful secondary characters I’d definitely be interested in reading about in future. Restored is simply lovely, a poignant, emotional and immensely satisfying tale of two people finding one another again and choosing to make a life together on their own terms.  Happy sigh.

Master Wolf (Capital Wolves Duet #2) by Joanna Chambers

This title may be purchased from Amazon

HE MUST MASTER THE WOLF WITHIN…

Edinburgh, 1820. Thirty years after leaving Scotland, Drew Nicol is forced to return when the skeleton of a monster is found. The skeleton is evidence of werewolves—evidence that Marguerite de Carcassonne, the leader of Drew’s pack, is determined to suppress.

Marguerite insists that Drew accompany her to Edinburgh. There they will try to acquire the skeleton while searching for wolf-hunters—wolf hunters who may be holding one of their pack prisoner.

But Drew has reason to be wary about returning to Edinburgh—Lindsay Somerville now lives there.

Lindsay who taught Drew about desire and obsession.

Lindsay who Drew has never been able to forgive for turning him.

Lindsay who vowed to stay away from Drew twelve years ago… and who has since taken drastic steps to sever the bond between them.

Marguerite’s plan will throw Drew and Lindsay together again—and into a deadly confrontation with Lindsay’s enemy, Duncan MacCormaic. They will be tested to their limits and forced to confront both their past mistakes and their true feelings.

But it may be too late for them to repair the damage of the past. The consequences of Lindsay’s choices are catching up with him, and he’s just about out of time…

Rating: A-

Master Wolf is the eagerly awaited second instalment of Joanna Chambers’ Capital Wolves duet and concludes the story begun in Gentleman Wolf, which introduced readers to the beautiful, elegant, devil-may-care Lindsay Sommerville and Drew Nichol, the rather dour architect with whom he falls head-over-heels in love. This book is a direct sequel to the first and does not stand alone – and there are spoilers in this review.

Master Wolf opens just days after the shocking events at the end of Gentleman Wolf which saw Lindsay, in a moment of sheer desperation, biting a mortally wounded Drew in order to save his life. When he learns what happened, Drew is furious, filled with rage and betrayal at what was done to him without his permission, even though he knows he’d likely have died had Lindsay not acted as he did. He’s devastated and wants nothing to do with the man who, just hours earlier, had called him his mate and with whom Drew had finally begun to allow himself a small measure of acceptance of the needs and desires of which he’d before been so ashamed.

Now, Lindsay is getting ready to leave Edinburgh for the Low Countries, leaving Drew in Edinburgh with Francis Neville, one of Lindsay’s oldest and closest friends, to help him to adjust to his new reality and learn to accept his wolf. Normally, this obligation would fall to a wolf’s maker, but Drew refuses to see or speak to Lindsay and their parting – a parting which, if Drew has anything to say about it, will be forever – is painful and awkward. Lindsay is clearly grief-stricken and Drew is surprised at being able to feel such visceral pain – but he puts that aside, believing it to be due to the unwanted bond Lindsay created when he made him and bids the other man a cold, curt goodbye.

The story then moves forward by thirty-two years, to 1820 and to London, where Drew has become a successful businessman. He has never fully come to terms with his wolf, shifting only when absolutely necessary and determined never to give in to the pull towards Lindsay the bond still exerts. In a series of flashbacks, we learn that the pair has seen each other only rarely in the intervening time, and that although their mutual attraction burns as brightly as ever, Drew hasn’t forgiven Lindsay for what he forced upon him and is determined he never will. Now, twelve years after their last meeting, Drew has noticed a subtle change in the nature of the bond he’s always felt tugging at him, a gradual lessening of it, which makes him believe that perhaps at last he is getting a measure of control over his wolf and – finally – gaining freedom from Lindsay’s mastery over him. It’s what he has wanted for the last thirty years – so why does the prospect of losing that connection make him want to howl in misery?

Drew’s return to Edinburgh for the first time in more than thirty years is occasioned when Marguerite de Carcassonne, the leader of his pack, tells him she needs his help in acquiring the misshapen remains that have been recently discovered in the Nor’loch by St. Cuthbert’s Church.  (The remains are, of course, those of their adversary from the previous book.) There are several parties interested in purchasing the bones, and Marguerite wants to get to them first so as to prevent anyone from investigating further and discovering the existence of werewolves.  After their arrival in the city, it quickly becomes apparent that there is much more at stake than the recovery of a decades old skeleton.

Drew isn’t sure what to expect at his first sight of Lindsay in twelve years.  The tone of his recent letter to Marguerite was odd, to say the least, but even so, Drew isn’t prepared for Lindsay’s drastically altered appearance. He’s obviously very ill, his always slender body now little more than skin and bone, his still beautiful face etched with pain and exhaustion, and he leans heavily on the cane he’d before only carried as a fashion item.  He explains that he’s tired of running from Duncan MacCormaic, his maker and the man who had kept him prisoner for forty years and subjected him to utter degradation and humiliation, and that he has at last found a way to sever the bond between a wolf and his maker and free himself from Duncan’s hold – an incredibly dangerous way that will also finally enable him to give Drew the one thing he knows Drew wants above anything else.  His freedom.

This book will break your heart and make you want to break things at the same time.  Gentleman Wolf told the story of Drew and Lindsay’s romance from Lindsay’s point of view, and this continuation is told from Drew’s – and he’s not always the easiest character to sympathise with.  He views the wolf-bond as one of master and servant, knows that a wolf’s master can control him utterly, and is so completely focused on his fear of Lindsay’s having such power over him and of the depth and strength of the yearning he attributes to the bond, that he has absolutely no idea that what he’s feeling is love and the all-too-human desire to be with the love of his life.  He also fails to see that Lindsay is just as trapped by their bond as he is, and that he is trying to show the depth of his love regardless of the cost to himself.

The anger, despair and longing felt by these two simply leap off the page and the scenes between them are both heartfelt and heart-breaking, full of intense sorrow and deep denial; and witnessing Drew finally learning to accept his wolf while we watch Lindsay becoming weaker and weaker is poignant and utterly gut-wrenching.

While the main focus of the novel is Drew’s journey towards acceptance – of his wolf and of Lindsay’s place in his life – other plot-threads are tied up as well, most notably that of Lindsay’s master, Duncan MacCormaic, which comes to a tragic and unexpected conclusion.  Ms. Chambers’ writing is focused and polished, and her descriptions of nineteenth century Edinburgh and the other locations to which she takes readers are vivid and evocative.  Above all, the love story which takes centre stage is truly epic, with high stakes and a happy ending that is hard fought and hard won.  Master Wolf is a wonderfully satisfying conclusion to the Capital Wolves duet.

Gentleman Wolf (Capital Wolves #1) by Joanna Chambers

This title may be purchased from Amazon

An elegant werewolf in Edinburgh…

1788. When Lindsay Somerville, the most elegant werewolf in Paris, learns that the man who held him in abject captivity for decades is on his way to France, intent on recapturing him, he knows he must leave the Continent for his own safety. Lindsay cannot take the risk of being recaptured—he may have been free for a century but he can still feel the ghost of his old chains under his fine clothes.

… on a mission…

While he’s in Edinburgh, Lindsay has been tasked with acquiring the “Naismith Papers”, the writings of a long-dead witchfinder. It should be a straightforward mission—all Lindsay has to do is charm an elderly book collector, Hector Cruikshank. But Cruikshank may not be all he seems, and there are others who want the papers.

… meets his match

As if that were not enough, while tracking down the Naismith Papers, Lindsay meets stubborn architect Drew Nicol. Although the attraction between them is intense, Nicol seems frustratingly determined to resist Lindsay’s advances. Somehow though, Lindsay can’t seem to accept Nicol’s rejection. Is he just moonstruck, or is Nicol bonded to him in ways he doesn’t yet understand?

Rating: B+

After a few recent forays into contemporary romance, Joanna Chambers returns to historicals and to the city of Edinburgh for her latest novel, Gentleman Wolf, the first in her Capital Wolves Duet.  As the title suggests, this is a story with a touch of the paranormal, although the paranormal elements are fairly low-key, so if you’re looking for a full-blown shifter story, it might not be the book for you.  I should also point out that there is no HEA – or even HFN – in this book, but the second part of the duet (Master Wolf) is due to be published in early 2020, so there’s not too long to wait for the conclusion to the story.

When readers first meet Lindsay Somerville, he’s an abject slave; imprisoned, debased and badly used by a master he has no power to disobey and unable to end his suffering by seeking his own death. A former soldier in the Covenanter army, Lindsay was captured and brought before Duncan MacCormaic who, in a cruel act of frustration and warped revenge, turned Lindsay into a two-natured creature, a man with a powerful beast inside him that the moon could draw out.  Chained and forced to wear a silver collar that prevents his inner wolf from ever finding its way out, Lindsay knows that nothing awaits him but further pain and degradation – until something he’d never dared hope for happens and he’s rescued by a couple he can immediately identify as wolves from their scent.  They take Lindsay to Europe, and although time and distance lessen the unwanted bond between him and his ‘maker’, MacCormaic continues to make attempts to recapture him.

Over a century later finds Lindsay living contentedly in Paris with his rescuers, Francis Neville and his dear friend Marguerite.  It’s been a decade since Duncan last tried to find him, but Marguerite has news that chills Lindsay to the bone; Duncan is on his way to Paris and is expected to arrive in a matter of weeks.  To make sure Lindsay is well away by then, she asks him to undertake some business for her in Edinburgh, namely to meet with collector Hector Cruickshank and negotiate the purchase of a series of documents known as the Naismith Papers, a set of notes and papers pertaining to a number of witch trials that had taken place throughout Scotland some two hundred years earlier.

So Lindsay returns to Edinburgh, surprised to find the place still feels and smells like home after an absence of more than a hundred years, but also keen to complete his task and return to Paris once it’s safe for him to do so.  He arrives at the appointed time for his meeting with Cruickshank only to find another gentleman also waiting – and is completely unprepared for the coup de foudre that strikes him at sight of that other man, who introduces himself as Drew Nicol, the architect who has designed a house for Cruickshank in the rapidly growing New Town area of Edinburgh.

Lindsay is utterly smitten with the handsome but somewhat dour Mr. Nicol and decides to amuse himself a little by attempting to draw the man out.  At this stage, even he doesn’t quite understand what amounts to a near compulsion to find ways to spend time in Drew’s company, and his initial attempts to do so come off as just a bit selfish, as Drew is clearly uncomfortable with Lindsay’s amorous overtures.  I admit I was reminded a little of the pairing of the hardworking, closeted lawyer David Lauriston with the worldly, pleasure-seeking aristocrat Murdo Balfour employed to such good effect in Ms. Chambers’ earlier Enlightenment trilogy, although here, the PoV character is the hedonistic Lindsay rather than the quieter and obviously unhappy Drew.

Just as Lindsay is strongly drawn to Drew, so the reverse is true, no matter how torn Drew is over his attraction to a man, let alone one so obviously not of his world and who has already made clear his intention to leave the city in a few short weeks.  The author develops their relationship beautifully as Drew hesitantly allows himself to acknowledge his wants and needs and to act on them, imbuing their interactions with a palpable longing and sensuality that considerably heightens the poignancy of the book’s ending.

The secondary cast isn’t large, but Francis, Marguerite and Wynne, Lindsay’s devoted manservant, are all well-defined and have important roles to play within the story; and as always, the author’s descriptions of the Edinburgh of the time bring the place so wonderfully to life in all its ugliness and splendour that it’s like another character in the book.

An air of foreboding permeates the entire novel and only increases when Lindsay finally meets the shifty Cruickshank, who is clearly up to no good. The pacing is fairly leisurely on the whole, but it never drags as we build towards a shocking climax that leaves Drew and Lindsay at odds despite the nature of the bond that’s already developed between them.

Gentleman Wolf is a highly entertaining and engrossing read and one I can recommend wholeheartedly.  The writing is beautifully atmospheric, the characterisation is excellent, the story is most intriguing and the ending is equal parts frustrating and heart-breaking. I’m really looking forward to learning how everything plays out in Master Wolf when it’s released in January.

Enlightened (Enlightenment #3) by Joanna Chambers (audiobook) – Narrated by Hamish McKinlay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

David Lauriston has been recuperating at Lord Murdo Balfour’s Laverock estate for the last five months. At Laverock, he has regained his health and confidence and has found – with Murdo – more happiness and contentment than he has never known before.

David is all too aware that some day soon he will have to leave Laverock – and Murdo – and return to his legal practice in Edinburgh, just as Murdo will have to return to his life in London. But when David’s mentor, Patrick Chalmers, asks David to return to Edinburgh to visit him on his deathbed, it seems that day has come sooner than either David or Murdo would have wished.

Chalmers begs David to undertake one last piece of business for him: to secure the future of Chalmers’s daughter Elizabeth. But to carry out his old mentor’s wishes, David must travel to London, with Murdo.

No sooner have the two men arrived in the capital than they encounter Murdo’s ruthlessly manipulative father, who reveals a shocking secret that rocks David to his foundations. What’s more, when David discovers Elizabeth is facing far greater danger than even her father feared, he is determined to help her, no matter the cost to his own safety.

As the stakes rise, it is Murdo who must choose what he is prepared to sacrifice to keep David at his side, and ask whether there is any possibility of lasting happiness for men like them.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – A

Enlightened completes Joanna Chambers’ trilogy of historical romances set mostly in Edinburgh in the 1820s. Because there are overarching plotlines, it really is necessary to listen to all three books in order so as to enjoy the complete story; and because of that, there will be spoilers for books one (Provoked) and two (Beguiled) in this review.

At the end of Beguiled, we left young advocate David Lauriston and his lover, Lord Murdo Balfour, travelling north to Murdo’s Perthshire estate following an accident in which David’s leg had been badly broken. Enlightened opens some five months later, with David very much on the mend and enjoying his time at Laverock, where he has been acting as Murdo’s man of business. He is also very much enjoying his life with Murdo, one filled with affection, closeness (and great sex!), something he had never thought to experience. David dreads the end of their idyll, and the thought of parting from Murdo – probably for ever – is devastating, but the time is approaching when he must return to Edinburgh and his growing legal practice. David’s anxiety about the future is compounded by the still-nagging suspicion that Murdo is keeping something from him. He has never been able to forget Murdo’s long-ago declared intention to marry and continue to take male lovers (as so many men of their persuasion do) and he absolutely refuses to share or be relegated to the role of ‘dirty secret’.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Provoked (Enlightenment #1) by Joanna Chambers (audiobook) – Narrated by Hamish McKinlay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

David Lauriston is struggling to build his reputation in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world. His humble origins are enough of a hurdle, never mind his recent decision to defend a group of weavers accused of treason, prompting speculation that he may harbour radical sympathies. The last thing he should be doing is agreeing to help the brother of one of the convicted weavers find the government agent who caused his brother’s downfall.
David’s personal life is no more successful. Tormented by his forbidden desires for other men, and the painful memories of the childhood friend he once loved, David tries his hardest to live a celibate existence, castigating himself whenever his resolve slips.

But then into David’s repressed and orderly world bursts Lord Murdo Balfour.

Cynical, hedonistic, and utterly unapologetic, Murdo could not be less like David. Whilst David refuses to entertain the prospect of entering into a loveless marriage for propriety’s sake, Murdo is determined to wed one day – and has no intention of giving up the company of other men when he does so. But as appalled as David is by Murdo’s unrepentant self-interest, he cannot resist the man’s sway.

Murdo tempts and provokes David in equal measure, distracting him from his promise to find the agent provocateur responsible for the weavers’ fate, and forcing him to acknowledge his physical desires.

But is Murdo more than a mere distraction?

Is it possible he could be the very man David is looking for?

Rating: Narration – A- Content: B+

Joanna Chamber’s Enlightenment trilogy was originally published in print in 2013/14, and as the books are among my favourite historical romances, I was delighted when I learned they would be coming to audio with a carefully selected – Scottish – narrator. Set in Edinburgh in the 1820s, the three books in the series chart the relationship between hard-working advocate David Lauriston and Lord Murdo Balfour, two men of very different social standing and outlook. Their romance (which develops across the series, so it’s necessary to read all three books in order to reach the HEA) is set against a very strongly written historical backdrop in which the atmosphere of political unrest and uncertainty prevalent at the time is splendidly evoked. Scotland chafes under English rule, the new monarch, George IV, is deeply unpopular, and right from the start, the listener is left in no doubt that these are very troubled times.

David Lauriston is the son of a tenant farmer who, by dint of his own hard work and talent, has put himself through university, qualified as an advocate (the Scottish equivalent of an English barrister) and is now slowly building a practice in Edinburgh. One of his most recent cases was to represent a group of weavers accused of treason – in spite of the fact that their conviction was a foregone conclusion – and the book opens on the day two of the group are sent to the gallows. David has travelled to Stirling to witness the execution as a mark of respect to the two men, and finds himself almost caught up in an altercation when the crowd turns ugly.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Beguiled (Enlightenment #2) by Joanna Chambers

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Two years after his last encounter with cynical nobleman Lord Murdo Balfour, David Lauriston accidentally meets him again in the heart of Edinburgh.

King George IV is about to make his first visit to Edinburgh and Murdo has been sent North by his politician father to represent his aristocratic family at the celebrations.

David and Murdo’s last parting was painful — and on Murdo’s part, bitter — but Murdo’s feelings seem to have mellowed in the intervening years. So much so, that he suggests to David that they enjoy each other’s company during Murdo’s stay in the capital.

Despite his initial reservations, David cannot put Murdo’s proposal from his mind, and soon find himself at Murdo’s door—and in his arms.

But other figures from David’s past are converging on the city, and as the pomp and ceremony of the King’s visit unfolds around them, David is drawn into a chain of events that will threaten everything: his career, his wellbeing, and the fragile bond that, despite David’s best intentions, is growing between him and Murdo.

Rating: B+

Beguiled is the middle book in Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment trilogy of novels set in early nineteenth century Edinburgh, and I’ll say right off the bat that this is a series in which the books really do need to be read in order.  The romance between the studious advocate, David Lauriston, and the hedonistic Lord Murdo Balfour develops across all three books, plus there is an overarching secondary plotline running through them  – so there will be spoilers for book one, Provoked, in this review.

Provoked ended with Murdo and David parting and not really expecting to see each other again.  They move in very different circles, and while there’s no question that their brief ‘fling’ had affected them both deeply – in David’s case perhaps more deeply than he was willing to admit – both of them believed that a longer term relationship between them was impossible.  In the two years since they last met, David has continued to build his advocacy practice and has gained himself a reputation for diligence and efficacy that means that he is kept busy by a steady stream of work.

David is more confident and more self-assured than he was when we first met him.  He hasn’t forgotten Murdo, and realises now that he has learned something from their brief time together, which I suppose can be best expressed as “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone”.  Still, he is mostly content, although very concerned over the failing health of his mentor, Mr. Chalmers, whose daughter, Elizabeth, has recently married and moved away.  In Provoked, it was clear that both father and daughter had hopes of David, but while he was very fond of Elizabeth and was also struggling to really and thoroughly accept his sexuality, David felt that taking a wife would be hypocritical and wasn’t prepared to do as other men in his situation did (and as Murdo had declared was his intention) and marry a woman while continuing to take male lovers.

Beguiled opens with Edinburgh in uproar preparing for the visit of King George IV to the city.  While not a popular monarch (on either side of the border!) the genius of Sir Walter Scott has somehow managed to, at least temporarily, build bridges and heal breaches, meaning that the visit is generally looked upon with enthusiasm.  David is instructed to attend the King’s visit to the university and must therefore purchase a set of new clothes for the occasion –and is stunned when he arrives at the tailor’s shop to discover Lord Murdo Balfour attending a fitting also.

Over a drink later on, the men talk and express their regrets over the way things ended between them before, and as they prepare to part for the evening, Murdo makes it clear that he would like to see David again during the month or so that he will be in Edinburgh.  David can’t give him an answer – on the one hand, he is as irresistibly drawn to Murdo as he ever was, but on the other, he is reluctant to get involved again knowing that he will eventually have to say goodbye once more.

Because the story is told entirely from David’s PoV, we never get into Murdo’s head, but the author does a terrific job of showing us both what David sees and, more importantly, what he doesn’t see.  He sees that Murdo is slightly mellower than the last time they met; that he is less guarded and less prone to cynicism when he is with David than he was before.  What David doesn’t see – and what is abundantly clear to the reader – is how deep Murdo’s feelings for David really go.  Beneath the layers of aristocratic hauteur beats the heart of a romantic, and one who is more than half-way in love.  Murdo notices changes in David, too; he is “more amenable”, Murdo tells him, more open to allowing himself to feel pleasure without guilt, and David can’t argue:

“… I don’t think I’m precisely wrong either.  Not any more.  Not since… you.”

While Murdo and David continue to spend time together when they can, and become both emotionally and physically closer, David is also troubled by the situation of Elizabeth Chalmers, who is miserable in her marriage to a husband who is physically abusive.  Her father (who knows he is dying) has asked David to do whatever he can to look after her, and now that David has seen her with her husband, and seen how all the life and joy has been sucked out of her together with the bruises that are evidence of her husband’s mistreatment of her, David is more concerned than ever.

Ms. Chambers weaves her different plotlines together with great skill and also imbues the stories in this series with a very strong sense of place and time by means of subtle injections of social comment on the inequalities suffered by women and the poor.  The political situation in England and Scotland at this time was very volatile; George IV was not popular and two years earlier (as described in Provoked) an uprising by radical, disaffected Scottish weavers had been brutally put down and lead to several executions and transportations.  The author also highlights the situation endured by so many women who were, like Elizabeth, the helpless spouse of a controlling, brutal husband; under law, a wife was her husband’s property and nobody had the right to interfere in anything that went on between them.

Beguiled is a strong second instalment in this three-part story, but it does end on a cliffhanger, so you might want to make sure you have time to read the next book, Enlightened, straight afterwards.  All three titles have recently been re-published by the author following the demise of the original publisher (Samhain) and are certainly worth snapping up if you like character-driven romances with a strong emphasis on the history as well a sensual and well-developed central relationship.

A Gathering Storm (Porthkennack series) by Joanna Chambers

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

When grief-stricken scientist Sir Edward Fitzwilliam provokes public scorn by defending a sham spiritualist, he’s forced to retreat to Porthkennack to lick his wounds. Ward’s reputation is in tatters, but he’s determined to continue the work he began after the death of his beloved brother.

In Porthkennack, Ward meets Nicholas Hearn, land steward to the Roscarrock family. Ward becomes convinced that Nick, whose Romany mother was reportedly clairvoyant, is the perfect man to assist with his work. But Nick—who has reason to distrust the whims of wealthy men—is loath to agree. Until Fate steps in to lend a hand.

Despite Nick’s misgivings, he discovers that Ward is not the high-handed aristocrat he first thought. And when passion ignites between them, Nick learns there’s much more to love than the rushed, clandestine encounters he’s used to. Nevertheless, Nick’s sure that wealthy, educated Ward will never see him as an equal.

A storm is gathering, but with Nick’s self-doubts and Ward’s growing obsession, the fragile bond between the two men may not be strong enough to withstand it.

Rating: A-

Joanna Chambers’ A Gathering Storm is the sole historical entry in the Porthkennack series of queer romances written by five different award-winning, best-selling British LGBTQ+ romance authors. All the books – the others are by Charlie Cochrane, J.L. Merrow, Alex Beecroft and Garrett Leigh – can be read in any order and are standalone titles; the link is the setting of Porthkennack, a charming Cornish seaside town with a long and sometimes sinister history.

The story opens as Sir Edward Fitzwilliam Is travelling from Dublin to Anglesey on the night of a fierce, electrical storm.  The storm is at its height when Edward – Ward – experiences a strange phenomenon; he hears his twin brother, George, assuring him that all will be well at what Ward later realises must have been the moment of his brother’s death.  From that moment on, Ward becomes consumed by the idea of recreating the conditions that allowed the communication and devotes himself to the task, even though the wider scientific community – of which he had been a respected member – disapproves of his efforts to contact the departed and denounces him.

Following his disastrous public defence of  a sham medium in opposition to some of his highly respected colleagues, Ward retreats to the small seaside town of Porthkennack in Cornwall, where he purchases a plot of land close to a place known locally as ‘the Hole’, an eighty-foot-high cavern that stretches from cliff-top to seabed.  Stories of the supernatural cling to the place, but Ward’s interest is of a more scientific nature; he believes that the conditions experienced in that location during a storm will help him in his quest to recreate those he experienced on the night his brother communicated with him ‘from beyond the veil’.

But in order to prove that communication with the spirit world is possible, Ward also needs subjects willing to take part in his experiments, preferably people who have recently suffered a bereavement.  He asks his solicitor if he can help him find such people, but even though Ward offers to pay well, the locals are naturally sceptical; and once rumours begin circulating about his using mesmerism and electric shocks (he doesn’t) not even the promise of payment can induce anyone to sign up.

On a visit to a local tavern in hopes of drumming up some interest, Ward meets Nicholas Hearn, land steward at the neighbouring Roscarrock estate.  Nick is half Romany and, while it’s never publicly acknowledged, is the illegitimate grandson of his employer, old Godfrey Roscarrock.  Nick’s gypsy mother is widely believed to have been clairvoyant, and when Ward learns of this, he is convinced that Nick is the very man to assist him with his experiments – but Nick isn’t interested, or at least, he isn’t interested in what Ward is trying to do, although he is fascinated by the man himself.

But circumstances have a way of changing unexpectedly, and not long after their initial meeting, Nick is manoeuvred into striking a bargain with Ward and agreeing to help with his experiments until the end of the summer.  Over the ensuing weeks, the men fall into an unlikely friendship at the same time as the undercurrent of attraction that has been evident since their first meeting continues to bubble and simmer until it reaches a fever pitch they can no longer ignore or resist.

The romance between these two polar opposites – one fair, wealthy and privileged and the other a dark, reserved outsider – is incredibly well done and really quite beautiful. The sexual tension and the strength of the emotional connection the men share just leap off the page, and I really appreciated the way Ms. Chambers is able to put their romantic relationship on an equal footing in spite of their difference in social standing.  Ward has never been in love, but is sexually experienced while Nick had a lover, but the opportunities to thoroughly explore the physical side of that relationship were few.  But while Ward is rather deliciously naughty, the one thing he doesn’t have experience of is kissing – and the scene in which Nick shows Ward just how gloriously intimate a kiss can be is wonderfully tender and passionate.

They are very well-drawn, three-dimensional characters, both of them fervent about their beliefs and both stubborn to a fault.  Ward was born into an aristocratic family and, while not an uncaring person, doesn’t realise the degree to which his privileged position distances him from other, ‘ordinary’ people. Nick, on the other hand, is neither fish nor fowl; his position as a land steward raises him above the farmers and working men of the village, yet even though he is the grandson of the one of the most powerful men in the area, Nick’s illegitimacy and his Romish blood mean that he is not gentry either.  Ms. Chambers does a terrific job in exploring these differences, showing Ward and Nick recognising the need to make adjustments to their way of thinking and acting if they are to make a future together. Nick’s situation as being ‘between classes’ makes him particularly easy to empathise with; he feels he doesn’t really belong anywhere, and that sense of isolation is often compounded by his own, somewhat introverted nature.  Ward, on the other hand, comes across as a bit of a snob at first, although it soon becomes clear that his sometimes dismissive attitude is as much to do with his absorption in his work and an inability to read social cues as it is to do with his upbringing.

There is a small, but strongly characterised secondary cast, and the uneasy relationship between Godfrey Roscarrock and Nick is particularly well done. Nick resents the older man; even though he has given him a good position, Nick sometimes wonders if he wouldn’t have been better off if he’d been left as he was, a gypsy bastard left to run with his mother’s folk – yet it’s obvious that Roscarrock has some degree of affection for his unacknowledged grandson, and sees in him a man like himself, a man whose love of the land is deeply entrenched.

I should probably point out here that in spite of Ward’s obsession with communicating with the dead, this book is primarily an historical romance and the paranormal aspect of the story is a background detail.  It’s an important, very well researched and quite fascinating background detail, but that’s nonetheless what it is, so anyone coming to the book expecting a strong paranormal element may be disappointed.

A Gathering Storm is a wonderful love story, and at the same time, a subtly nuanced exploration of the nature of obsession and grief.  I’ve gone back and forth over a final grade for the book because while I enjoyed it very much, the final chapter is somewhat rushed, and there are a couple of pacing issues in the middle.  Ultimately, however, neither of those things would deter me from re-reading it, which means it belongs on my keeper shelf.