Enlightened (Enlightment #3) by Joanna Chambers and Buckwheat, Blueberry and Maple Scones.

enlightenedOh this series…What can I even say? I loved it, and this last book in the trilogy might have been my favorite. Joanna Chambers is the real deal when it comes to historical romance. Not only is she on the money when it comes to setting, language, and character development…She completely captures all the nuances that really engage those of us who love period romances. This third and final novel was the PERFECT ending to one of my favorite historicals to date. Murdo and David literally walk into the sunset, and everything about letting them go felt right. It is rare that I finish a series that I love as much as this one and don’t feel like I need more. This was just right. David and Murdo were is such a good place at the close of this book, that the only thing I had to give was a happy sigh.

For this book I wanted to do something that I could see Murdo and David sharing at a meal. I loved the scenes of the two of them having a breakfast at Laverock House, so I came up with a delicious scones recipe that I am 100% sure they would be all over. Buckwheat, blueberry and Maple scones to be enjoyed with LOTS and LOTS of sweet cream butter.

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Back to the story. We come back to Scotland a few months after David suffered a serious injury while helping his friend Elizabeth escape her abusive husband. David has been recovering at Murdo’s home, Laverock House since then. The months living with Murdo have been the best of his life, he has been whole in ways he never thought he could be. But he knows it can’t last. He has to go back to Edinburgh and his practice, and Murdo has his obligations too. It has been so good to have him all to himself, but it will be over soon, how can it not, men like them don’t get to have that kind of happy ending. The thought of walking away from what he has now is too painful to talk about though. Murdo on his part is torn because he is unsure what David is thinking. He doesn’t want to push, because their happiness just seems so fragile, but he wishes he could make promises and say things that will help them both feel like whatever it is they have stands on solid ground. If there could only be a way to convince David that they could make things work in the long term.

However news from Edinburgh that his friend and mentor, Chalmers, might no have long to live, make the decision of returning to the real world one  David can delay no longer. Once they arrive there, they realize that the situation with Elizabeth is still not fully resolved. When Chalmers requests from his deathbed that David go to London and make sure that Elizabeth is safe from ther husband for goood, David does not hesitate. Murdo on his part will not let David, who is still recovering, make that journey alone. So, they head to Murdo’s London home, hoping they can put to rest any possible danger for their friend. Pretty soon it becomes clear that Elizabeth’s husband is not going to go away easily, things escalate quickly and they have to act fast before tragedy strikes.

What I loved best about this series, other than Murdo and David who were magnificent, was the accuracy and coherence of the setting. I really enjoy a historical that is authentic and educating. David and Murdo were both men of their time and their own class, and they acted accordingly ALWAYS. It made their story so much more genuine, they both acted and made decisions based on their circumstances, which made every step they made toward their happy ending that much more solid. There was some ambivalence and a lot of insecurity that happened on both their parts, that’s true, but for me that made complete sense. For men of their time to even contemplate having what they both wanted was not only unlikely, but it was dangerous even for someone with Murdo’s means. When it comes down to it, they both would have to walk away from a lot to be able to be together, the question is how much they were willing to leave behind to have a future.

Again, this trilogy is in my absolute favorites list and definitely one of the best historicals I’ve read in any genre. I really hope Joanna Chambers is just getting warmed up, because I want A LOT more from her.

Totally and completely recommend.

Enlightened will be released tomorrow on Samhain and is available for pre-order here.

Buckwheat, Blueberry and Maple Scones

Adapted from The Bojon Gourmet

Makes 8 medium scones

1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup maple sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted Earth Balance buttery spread , in 1/2″ pieces
about 1 tablespoon coarse sugar, for sprinkling


If using fresh berries, rinse and dry them, then place them in a loaf pan or pie plate in a single layer and freeze until firm, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle), combine the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter, and work in with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or mix on low with paddle attachment) until the butter has broken down into tiny bits with some larger, pea-sized chunks remaining.

photo 1 (6)Use a rubber spatula to gently stir in the frozen berries. Begin drizzling in the cream, tossing gently with the spatula (or a plastic bench scraper or your hands), adding cream directly to the dry bits, until the dough will hold together and no floury bits remain.

Gently press the dough into a ball and place on a surface dusted lightly with buckwheat flour. Pat the dough into a 6″ round that is 1 1/4″ high. Cut the dough into 8 wedges. Place the scones evenly apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes. (At this point, you can wrap and freeze the scones to bake off later.)

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Meanwhile, position a rack in the upper-center of the oven and preheat to 425ºF.

Remove the scones from the freezer, brush with cream and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.

Bake the scones until they are golden-brown, 20-25 minutes. Remove immediately from the pan to prevent from sticking. Let cool until warm as the scones are still cooking from residual heat. Serve warm with butter and extra berries.

The scones will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature. For most delectable results, re-heat in an oven or toaster oven before serving.

Hope you enjoy the book and the scones!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

 

 

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Enlightment Series Book 1 and 2 by Joanna Chambers and a Funny Little French Pinot

provokedBeguiled

I LOVE historical romance. My very first experience with romance was reading Elizabeth Lowell novels as a teenager.  Later my full on dive into romance reading as a full on addiction (thank you kindle!) was with the Outlander Series  which is initially set in Scotland,  same place where Joanna Chambers has set her wonderful Enlightenment Trilogy (kilts!). I picked up the first two books last week, and read them fast and furiously, one after the other. I love a historical that actually focuses on the HISTORY, and gives me a story that not only appeals to my love of romance, but that enriches my knowledge of the time and place I’m reading about. Ms. Chambers did that incredibly well in her novels. I was fascinated with her retelling of King George’s visit to Scotland. Moreover, I truly loved getting to read about the different sides, and perceptions of what the visit was like… But I digress. The stars of these books are David Lauriston  advocate of the law, and Lord Murdo Balfour. The man who  from the moment they meet changed David  forever. These two were something. I loved the accuracy with which Joanna delved into the troubling nature of this type of relationship during that time.  Her accuracy writing that part of their story, did a lot for me in terms of relating and caring for both these men.

For this book I decided a French red was my safest option to stay close to what these boys would have been drinking those days. I found a delightful French Pinot Noir from Tussock Jumper Wines…This is a great brand. These guys travel all over the world to find wines in the regions that produce each variety best , bottle them and sell them under their label at VERY reasonable prices. What’s not to love?? The Tussock Jumper 2010 French Pinot Noir is incredibly delicious. It is spicy without being to overwhelming, and goes well with pretty much anything. For about $8.99 a bottle it is a STEAL.

joanna chambers

These books are nice to read together, mostly because the first one has a hell of a nail bitter for an ending (the second one does too for that matter!). There is much to love here guys, the writing itself was excellent. The character development was believable and coherent. Mostly though I enjoyed the fact that the author took her time with getting these boys warmed up to their love story. This book is set in 1820s Scotland, homosexuality is not only illegal, but it is considered HIGHLY immoral, damnig, an abomination. Gay men had to deal with this perception of their nature not just from society, but from themselves. That is something you DO NOT get over easily or quickly. David struggled with his inclinations. Being homosexual had cost him a dear friend, and in some ways he felt it had taken some of his father’s regard. Those are hard things to deal with, specially when you love and respect your family.

Something else I enjoyed was the political intrigue in the book. This book is set during a critical time in the history of Scotland. General Suffrage is a heated issue, and people sit strongly on both sides of the fence. David being the son of a farmer stands with the people…Murdo he’s an aristocrat, and even though he is definitely a man of intelligence and decency, it’s hard to separate him from the opulence in which he lives.  Murdo, unlike David has no issues with his own nature, he is also very pragmatic about who he is, and the time he lives in. So, despite the fact that he completely accepts who he is, and is not bothered by his attraction to other men, he still considers marriage as a woman to be a possibility for him. David on the other hand, he cannot fathom being duplicitous in any way, with anyone. All these things are surrounding them as they get closer, and more intimate. It’s complicated.

In the first novel of the trilogy, Provoked, Murdo and David meet for the first time as travelers stopping for the night at an inn. They are heading in opposite directions, there is an immediate attraction between them. They have a quick and passionate encounter, which they both assume is a one time thing. Not long after their paths cross again. One of David’s mentors is an acquaintance of Murdo’s, once they see each other it’s hard to stay away. They meet again and again, the more the see of each other, the harder it is for David to keep himself from succumbing to his desires. Murdo is all for the trysts, and instigates as much as possible, but the further things go with David the clearer it is to him that this is a lot more than just a physical thing.

At the same time, a friend of David’s. Euan, the brother of one of a group of radicals he defended has come to him asking for help locating a government spy. The man, apparently was who gave up his brother and friends, and ultimately resulted in two being executed and the rest transported to Australia.  Euan wants revenge and David feels obligated to at least help him find out the truth about the supposed spy. Things begin to add up, and they are looking a lot like Murdo may have something to do with it…What to do? Clearly the honorable thing. For David, there is never another choice.

This book has a morose feel to it. The opening scene is pretty grim, and in a lot of ways it sets the tone. There is much happening in David’s life that is troubling. He is still young, finding his footing in his profession and life. He is also desperately hoping that his sinful nature won’t cause to relapse…He knows it will. It’s who he is. He’s given up hope that he can ever be normal in that way. It make’s him feel hopeless.  As for Murdo things for him are also confusing, he clearly is strongly drawn to David, but the man frustrating. Yet he can’t stay away.

In the second book, Beguiled. We meet up with David after a long hiatus. Things were very tense at the end of the last book, and that whole situation is now under the bridge. King George is about to visit Scotland, and all of Edinburgh is in a frenzy. He runs in to Lord Murdo (who he has been out of touch with for awhile), who is in town as part of the entourage to host the king. Instantly they are drawn to each other just as powerfully as the last time. In the time since he last saw Murdo, David has changed how he sees himself and what he wants, WHO he wants. He is a lot more accepting of himself, and this leads them to rekindle their affair.

All is not well though, his good friend Elizabeth, daughter of his friend and mentor, seems to be in trouble in her marriage. David feels responsible for the situation. So, when his old friend Euan shows up back in town and offers to help Elizabeth escape her abusive husband, David’s sense of honor once again pushes him to put his life at risk in order to help his friend. Murdo is all over the situation of course, since he seems helpless in his attachment to David.

The tone for this second book is not as dark and the romance is certainly up a level or TEN from the first installment. David is all in with Murdo and that leads the Lord to seek out more and more of the man he can’t seem stop wanting.  Once again things get pretty intense in the final chapters. I ended at the edge of my seat, and DESPERATE for the next one. These books are certainly the right kind of historical romance. They are beautifully set, consistent in the ways characters behave and evolve, and most of all, full of dramatic and romantic gestures.

The Enlightenment Series book 1 and 2 are available for sale at Samhain Publishing and the third book, to be released on May of this year will be available for pre-order soon.

I hope you pick up this series, it is FABULOUS even for those who don’t go for historicals. The wine is also pretty awesome if you find it!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Whyborne & Griffin Series: Books 1, 2, & 3 by Jordan L. Hawk and my take on Blueberry Boy Bait Cake…Life will never be the same.

widdershins treshold stormhaven

Well, I don’t know where the hell I was back in June when the first book in this series came out, but clearly I was NOT PAYING ATTENTION!!!  How did I miss two of the best things to come to M/M Romance last year?! Percival Endicott Whyborne, expert in languages and scholar at the Ladysmith Museum in Widdershins, MA, and Griffin Flaherty private detective and recent newcomer to town, what a pair these two are. Three books in the series so far.  I read them like I was on a mission, back to back, and every adventure was better than the next. What’s more, THEY were better each time, the character development that Jordan L. Hawk has done with her heroes is pure magic. It’s like I KNOW them, I feel for them, and I understand what they have together. Because that’s how close they are to me when I read these books. These guys they are so imperfect, they both bear scars inside and out from what their lives where before they found each other. But to each other, they are amazing. A miracle that has happened in their life. I fell in love with these two men. I want to take them both and spoil the hell out them, just because.

What to do? What could be good enough for these boys?!?! For Whyborne and Griffin I had to do something EXTRA special, and so incredibly delicious and comforting biting into it feels like happiness. The ONLY thing that fits the bill is the outrageously delicious Blueberry Boy Bait Cake, this cake is so good. There is NO WAY that if you make it, it will last through the day. The fresh blueberries, the caramel taste from the brown sugar, the cinnamon that blends perfectly, and the buttery taste. SO GOOD.  Just like these boys it lures you in, and you seriously cannot stop until there is nothing left!

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Last weekend was my husband’s birthday, and since we were in a celebratory mood, I paired the cake with a St. Germain Cocktail. St. Germain is an artisanal French liqueur made from elderberry flowers. It has a distinct and subtle floral taste, and it is pretty much made to go with champagne and fruit. St. Germain has been around since the 1880s, so this cocktail could very likely have made it to Widdershins for Ival and Griffin to enjoy ( with moderation for Ival!).  A large bottle of St. Germain is about $30.00, but you can usually get a small one for about $5.00, and that is more than enough to make about 4-5 cocktails. To mix the cocktail, just pour one to two tablespoons  of St. Germain in a champagne flute, drop three fresh blueberries into the glass, and top off with your favorite WELL CHILLED sparkling wine. I used a prosecco this time, but any dry sparkling wine works.

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Now back to the story…As I mentioned earlier, I read the books one after the other over a week and had a total blast with the stories. All three are packed with a lot of action and adventure. The mysteries are intriguing and complex and there is always a serious paranormal element to the plot. Whyborne and Griffin team up with Dr. Christine Putnam, archaeologist, and Whyborne’s colleage at the Ladysmith Muesum. Christine is a FANTASTIC character and brings a lot of comic relief and not a little bit of chutzpah to the books.

In the first installment, titled Widdershins, we meet Whyborne, our narrator, who from the get go is an incredibly endearing character. He is quiet and awkward and is most comfortable out the way with his books. There is too much he’d rather people not realize about him. For starters, his ‘inclinations’ which are not only against the law, they would be a disgrace for his family…That’s the second issue, Whyborne’s father is the head of the one of the biggest railroads companies in the United States. Choosing not to be in the family business has made Whyborne an outcast with his father and brother. So, the less he gets noticed the better for him. It’s not like anyone WOULD notice him, with his tall, lanky body and unruly hair. He is not anything anyone would find remarkable, he could be invisible…In comes Griffin Flaherty. Griffin, has been hired by one of the board members of the Ladysmith to investigates the mysterious death of his son. The man was brutally murdered and the only clue is a small ancient book that was found in his possession. The book is in a strange language, so Griffin under the advise of the victim’s father calls upon Whyborne for help translating.

From the moment they meet there’s a spark. Whyborne is always VERY careful to keep the sexual side of himself under control. Those feelings are dangerous, and nothing is worth letting them get out of control. Except Griffin lowers all his defenses and pretty soon the pull that is between them evolves, and for the first time in his life Whyborne feels like there is a place where he belongs. In Griffin’s arms he is home. They have such a beautiful connection, and they are so expressive of how they affect each other…Things are not perfect, far from it. They need to be discreet, and they have insecurities and things from their pasts that all come to peck at the frail thing that is building between them. Griffin has been through horrors which still haunt him. All Whyborne can do is be there for him, SHOW him that there is nothing in the past that could make him want to walk away form what they have.

There is also the murder…Once Whyborne discovers that the book found with the victim is actual a sorcery book, with incantations go from simply making fire to bringing back the dead, things become sinister very fast. The Arconorum is a powerful tool for sorcery. There are bad BAD things happening among the most powerful people in Widdershins, and that group just so happens to be too closely tied to Whyborne.

The mystery in the first installment is very involved, there are a lot of parts to it, and some are truly horrific. I might have gotten more than a bit scared during some bits. The complexity did not affect the fun though, I was at the edge of my seat to the very end. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure and the romance. Sweeping is a word I’d use to describe these stories.

In, Threshold, the second book of the series, we catch up with Whyborne and Griffin four months in their relationship. Ival has moved into Griffin’s house as a “boarder” and things are going very well. They are in love, and Ival has never been happier. That’s when his estranged father calls upon Griffin to try and look into some strange occurrences taking place in one of his mines in Treshold, West Virginia. Despite the less than amicable way that Griffin got acquainted with Whyborne Sr. in the previous book he takes on the case. Well, Whyborne and Christine are NOT going to miss out on the action and they all take off on a trip South.

This book was just as fast paced as the first, but with a completely different, and just as involved mystery. There are other wordly forces at play, and the horrors taking place in Treshold take our trio for a loop. There is also some romantic drama…A man from Griffin’s past is in the middle of things, and some truths come out. Whyborne is so new to these feelings, and his skin is thin. He is so unsure of his standing in Griffin’s life (not because of Griffin, but his own insecurities). At the same time Griffin just can’t see how he can ever live up to Whyborne’s status in society. Things come to a crux for them here, in terms of their relationship. They have to TALK about what they are to each other.  Meanwhile the entire mining town is in bad shape with some pretty scary critters roaming around underground…Things get dicey fast, but Ival, Griffin and Christine save the day once more.

Stormhaven, the third book in the series takes us back to Widdershins nearly a year after we first met Ival and Griffin. One of Ival’s museum colleagues has been accused of murdering his own uncle, and taken to the insane asylum being diagnosed of with a mental break. The man insists he has been wrongly accused, that he has no idea what even happened. His brother begs Griffin to take the case, and despite the fact that Griffin is VERY uncomfortable with being anywhere near the asylum he takes it. Once they start looking into things it is clear that something is VERY VERY wrong , Ival and Griffin start to fear that bad bad things may be taking place in that asylum. So, our trio sets out to uncover a mystery, that turns into another web of very dark events that put them all at peril. But Griffin refuses to give up on the accused, and they do what it takes to clear his name.

At the same time Griffin’s family is in town visiting from Kansas, and Ival agrees to go along with hiding their relationship to keep Griffin’s family at peace. Things are fine at first, but the more Ival has to lie and conceal who they are to each other the more tense things get. Girffin tries to keep things under control, but circumstances force him to make a difficult choice. There is nothing he won’t do to keep Whyborne at his side.

Since I read them together, I see these first three books as a whole. I got to follow the progression of Ival and Griffin’s relationship in one go. So that eliminated any angstyness for me. I loved how close I was able to get to Whyborne, he is such a insecure and self-deprecating man. There is so little that he sees in himself as good. Yet, he can SEE that in Griffin’s eyes he is EVERYTHING that is desirable, beautiful and good. He may not understand it exactly, but he knows it…Most of the time anyways! As for Griffin, he is broken, he went through horrific things and they haunt him deeply and continuously. His fear is that it will eventually grow tiresome for Ival, yet it doesn’t, ever. Ival seems to believe that he is worth it. It marvels Griffin that a man so honorable, a man of his stature looks at him, and sees his greatest treasure.

They are so dear, and SO in love…They kill me. Also the erotica, top notch. I adored them as the center of the books, but I must say the adventures were just as engaging as the romance. I had a grand time with them, they all felt new and different, and the camaraderie from our dynamic trio kept a constancy in the tone that was nice to rely on for comic relief and lighter moments. The settings played central roles as well, and I was able to really immerse into the surroundings. Jordan did such a great job of creating a clear picture from the scenery, to the mood, to the atmosphere. Fine writing all around.

I HOPE beyond all hope that there are many more stories coming from Whyborne and Griffin. They have many places to go to yet!

I recommend this series enthusiastically, and if like me you are late to this, don’t hesitate to pick them up, you will have a BLAST!

All the Whyborne and Griffin books are available on Amazon.

Blueberry Boy Bait Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, which adapted it from Country Cook

Makes a 9×9 pan

2 cups plus 1 teaspoon all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread (2 sticks), softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated organic sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (although whole or soy would work)
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not defrost first as it tends to muddle in the batter)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

For topping:

1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (do not defrost)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cake:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9 by 9-inch baking pan. Grease it GOOD.

Whisk two cups flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. With electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, about two minutes.

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Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated and scraping down bowl. Reduce speed to medium and beat in one-third of flour mixture until incorporated; beat in half of milk. Beat in half of remaining flour mixture, then remaining milk, and finally remaining flour mixture. Toss blueberries with remaining one teaspoon flour. Using rubber spatula, gently fold in blueberries. Spread batter into prepared pan.

For the topping:

Scatter blueberries over top of batter. Stir sugar and cinnamon together in small bowl and sprinkle over batter. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 20 minutes, then turn out and place on serving platter (topping side up). Serve warm or at room temperature. (Cake can be stored in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.)

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I hope this post encourages you to pick up these book! If you decide to makes the cake I hope you enjoy it as well. With or without the St. Germain sparkling wine is a great choice to enjoy the books and/or the cake with.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura