A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers with Savory Scones

34093599I don’t have the skills to impress upon the page the level of joy I felt when I saw that Joanna Chambers was back with a historical romance, all I can say is that the joy was substantial.  Joanna’s Enlightenment Series is one of my absolute favorites. Her writing just works for me. Her novels are exquisitely set, they always have pointed commentary on the issues of the time, and most importantly her love stories are gorgeous to read.

“A Gathering Storm” is exactly the kind of novel I have come to expect from JC, smart, well researched, and with a solid and lovely romance. But, before I get to the review, I’ll share the recipe!

What could I make for this story? A historical sent in Britain…Scones, of course! I love me a good scone and I don’t think I’ve read a novel by Joanna that does not feature a delicious scone at some point, so I thought it would be fitting. So, I made savory Wild Ramps (wild ramps are a wild spring onion that grows here in the Northeast, it is also know as wild leek in some places) and Gruyere scones to go with this book, and I know I am biased, but they are to die for.  Delicious, crumbly and the subtle garlic/onion taste of the ramps with the Gruyere is just YUM. I made a double batch and it they did not last through the day…

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Now the book…As I said before I think Joanna Chambers is one of the best historical romance writers out there. What I loved about this story, in particular,  is that she gives us two heroes with a lot of insecurities and a bit of callousness, but who  are so genuine in their search for ways to be good to each other. I love a story where people are just people, you know? Most of us would like to think that in the face of certain circumstances, true love or adversity, we will be our better selves, but the reality is that most times, we are just our human selves. That does not mean we are not truly questing to be the best we can be for the one we love.

So Ward and Nick…Ward is fixated on finding a way to gain some connection to his dead brother, even when it comes at the cost of his own reputation. He is adrift without his brother and losing the one person who made him feel known. Nick has never belonged anywhere, his mother, the only person who he had a real connection to is now gone, an he is also adrift.  Finding each other gives both Nick and Ward a place to be anchored.  And yet, they are so different, their birth and stations in life are so distant from each other.

One of the things I love about this novel, is that is does not sugarcoat the disparity between Nick and Ward. They were born to very different circumstances, and this has shaped their worldview.  Nick is guarded and cautious, because he knows a man like him is at the mercy of the will of those who have a higher station than him. Ward expects the world to bend to his will.  Yet, they can still fill the empty spaces in each other. What made this novel so good for me, was how true the emotions felt. It was almost like that supernatural plane that Ward was so preoccupied with was always there for him to find, he just had to fall in love.

Lots to love here, the happy ending is locked tight, the erotica is solid and the book will read again very nicely I reckon…So, get the book and make some scones!

For the recipe:

Wild Ramps and Gruyere Scones (Adapted from Not Derby Pie Blog)

1 3/4 cup flour, plus some extra for rolling
1 tablespoon & 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup Shredded Gruyere
1/4 cup chopped ramps (or very finely chopped chives)
3/4 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing scones
1/4 cup buttermilk

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the butter. Put bowl in freezer for 5 minutes to chill the flour. Then beat the mixture on low speed if using a mixer) until the butter is broken up into pebble-sized pieces, about 3 minutes.

Add the cheese and ramps. Then pour heavy cream and buttermilk into the bowl and mix just until dough comes together. Scone dough can be very sticky, so make sure you have a well floured surface to knead. Don’t knead too long, just enough to get the dough into a ball. Mold the dough into one or two disks, and refrigerate about 2 hours or stick in the freezer for 15 minutes.
IMG_0170Preheat oven to 375. Roll out disk on lightly floured surface to form one 7-inch round or two 3-4-inch rounds. Cut 12 slices from the large round or 6 wedges from each of the smaller rounds, and arrange on a baking sheet (no need to leave much room between the scones). Brush with cream (this will aid the browning process).

Bake about 20 minutes, until golden on top and browned on the bottom. Serve warm with some butter, I also had a bit of ramp pesto at hand and it was delicious.

Enjoy the book and the scones! Come back and let me know how they turned out!

You can buy “A Gathering Storm” HERE.

You can read about, and buy Joanne Chambers back list HERE.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

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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

 

 

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