Sunday, April 16, 2017

ARC Review: A Gathering Story by Joanna Chambers

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.

Dani's rating:

Sometimes a book gets everything right. A Gathering Storm is such a book: flawless writing, flawed but likable characters, strong sense of time and place, slow burn fraught with sexual tension, gorgeous romance, and a beautiful HEA.

"You kissed me because you thought I was going to die?"

"I wouldn't have had the nerve otherwise."

"In that case, it was worth it—almost dying, I mean."

Sir Edward has been obsessed with spirits since his brother died. Ward was on a ship in the middle of a great storm when George's spirit spoke to him, and then George—his best friend, his TWIN, his other half—was gone.

Ward had a reputation as a man of science, but when he began attending séances and defending clairvoyants, he lost the respect of the scientific community.

Lost and alone, Ward moves to Porthkennack in Cornwall and builds a great big hole with platforms that offers a free fall into the sea. The year is 1853, and all Ward needs are subjects who'll help him prove (scientifically, of course) that, given the right set of circumstances, one can communicate with spirits.

With his harsh voice (a permanent side effect of his long childhood battle with diphtheria) and aristocratic bearing, Ward doesn't make an easy sell, particularly when the rumors about lightning and "mesmerism" start swirling.

Nick is the illegitimate son of a wealthy, landed gentleman who left him and his Romani mother behind when the fling ceased to be fun. But Nick's mom, a clairvoyant herself, wasn't easily cowed. Now Nick is a steward tending his grandfather's lands. Old man Godfrey is his grandfather by blood only. Nick is less than family, more than a servant. He's the "Gypsy bastard." He doesn't belong.

Ward's money and title allow him privileges he takes for granted. Ward can be thoughtless and self-centered at times, his obsession making him blind to other people's needs and intentions. He essentially blackmails Nick into being his subject.

Nick is at once suspicious of and fascinated with Ward. Nick doesn't believe in spirits; he grieves his mother's death, but sees séances as a way to prey on the bereaved.

Nick and Ward are polar opposites: Nick, dark, isolated, silent; Ward, blond-haired, confident, wealthy. Their connection can't be explained (not everything can or should be).

The unfulfilled sexual tension is absolutely divine. The more time Nick and Ward spend together (their weekly sessions involve hypnotism, conversation, and dinner), the more they want. While Nick is initially the instigator, seemingly the dominant one, Ward is better versed in the art of lovemaking (except kissing; Nick gives Ward his first breathtaking, heart-pounding kiss).

I wasn't expecting a steamy read, but the few intimate scenes between the men were about perfect: passionate yet so very tender. When Ward called Nick "Nicholas," I melted every time. Ward's dirty mouth is a thing of beauty.

The historical setting is so well-sketched, I felt like I was walking the cliffs of Cornwall with Nick and Ward. The dialogue is pitch perfect and authentic.

The secondary characters, including Nick's arrogant grandfather and Jed, Nick's antagonist, come alive. Jed is a bully without any redeeming qualities, but Godfrey, Nick's cousin Isabella, and his ex-lover Gabe are amazingly nuanced characters. Nick's relationship with Godfrey is particularly complicated, full of expectations, resentment, and things left unsaid.

While A Gathering Storm is relationship focused (the paranormal element is ambiguous and open to interpretation), the story is more than just a romance. It's an exploration of small-town phobia, racism, and classicism; the oppressive, sometimes obsessive, nature of grief; and the secret ways we escape our fears. None of these themes feel heavy handed or preachy; the men's experiences, their quirks, past hurts, and assumptions, are as much a part of this story as their love.

Because the story is told in the third-person alternating POV, I sympathized with both men. Even as I was screaming at Ward for being such a bloody snob, I wanted to take away his pain. And when Nick came across as standoffish and distant, I saw his insecurities, the way he protected his fragile heart.

I wish the last chapter hadn't felt so rushed, but the epilogue more than made up for it. I believed in Nick and Ward's swoon-worthy HEA!

Finally, a special shout-out to Master Snowflake, Nick's one-eyed bulldog, who stole my heart. I adored Nick so much more because Snow was his priority always. Even in the midst of a crisis, Nick thinks of Snow first. And Ward risks his own life to save Snow. Nothing, NOTHING, warms my heart more than men who love animals!

A Gathering Storm is one of the best books I've read this year. Unforgettable!

Get the book:


A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, A Loaf of Bread—and Thou
~ Omar Khayaam

An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Download links are provided as a courtesy and do not constitute an endorsement of or affiliation with the book, author, publisher, or website listed.

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