Tag Archive | Porthkennack series

Count the Shells (Porthkennack #6) by Charlie Cochrane

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Michael Gray returned from World War One injured, but at least he returned. Others were not so fortunate, including his first and greatest love, Thomas Carter-Clemence, with whom Michael had parted bitterly before the conflict began.

Broch, the Carter-Clemence home in Porthkennack, was an integral part of pre-war holidays for the Grays, the two families drawn together in the wake of their sons’ friendship. Returning to the once-beloved Cornish coast for a break with his sister and her family, Michael has to find the courage to face old memories . . . and dare new relationships.

When Thomas’s brother Harry makes an unexpected appearance, Michael is surprised to find himself deeply attracted to Harry for his own sake. But as their relationship heats up, it unearths startling revelations and bitter truths. Michael must decide whether Harry is the answer to his prayers or the last straw to break an old soldier’s back.

Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, October 2017

Time and Setting: Cornwall, post WW1
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Em

Count the Shells is the sixth standalone novel in the loosely linked Porthkennack series.  The series – comprising a mixture of contemporary and historical romances – started off strongly, but I have to confess the last few novels haven’t quite lived up to their predecessors and sadly, Charlie Cochrane’s entry fares much the same.  Set during an idyllic summer on the Cornish coast shortly after the end of the World War I, Count the Shells is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for Michael Gray, a soldier who survived the war but can’t seem to shake off his memories of the friends and lovers he lost.

The novel begins on a promising note.  Holidaying with his sister Caroline and her family, Michael is on the beach with his precocious nephew Richard, counting the shells in the many languages he knows – much to Richard’s delight.  Ms. Cochrane paints a lovely picture of the pair enjoying a splendid summer afternoon together… until Michael’s counting segues into a mental tally of former lovers.  I couldn’t help but wince as Ms. Cochrane juxtaposed the innocence of Richard’s enjoyment with Michael’s memories of sexual partners and liaisons.  His thoughts seem off-note to the setting and scene until it becomes clear that the counting ritual is simply the means by which Ms. Cochrane introduces the other principal character of the story, Thomas Carter-Clemence.  Killed shortly after the start of the war, Thomas was the love of Michael’s life, and his memories of Porthkennack are linked inextricably to Thomas and his lingering regret over their angry parting before the war.

This first, best part of Count the Shells details Michael’s return to Porthkennack and High Top, the house he where he spent halcyon summers with this family and with Thomas, who lived nearby.  This is Michael’s first trip back to Porthkennack since his fight with Thomas, and he’s a bit overwhelmed by memories of a happier, simpler time in his life.  Thoughts of Thomas creep up on him unawares and are triggered by the inquisitive nature of his nephew, who likes nothing more than to hear about his uncle’s history and friendships during summers on the coast.  Michael is filled with longing and regret for Thomas and the other men he loved and lost over the course of the war.  His nostalgia, tinged with regret over Thomas, have prevented him from moving on with his life.

One afternoon walking with Richard, the pair are nearly run over by a motorbike.  When Michael angrily approaches the rider, he’s shocked when the man removes his helmet – it’s Thomas.  Only it isn’t – it’s Harry Carter-Clemence, Thomas’s younger brother.  After getting over their initial surprise, the men exchange pleasantries and Michael feels a frisson of attraction for the younger man, though he assumes it’s because he reminds him of Thomas.  Later that day when his sister encourages him to invite Harry for a visit, Michael is anxious – seeing Harry has stirred up long repressed memories of his parting with Thomas, and he isn’t sure he’s prepared to deal with them yet.

Nevertheless, Harry visits and Michael enjoys the visit more than he anticipated and the pair make plans for Michael to visit the Carter-Clemence estate, Broch, the following afternoon.  Michael initially avoided a visit – too many memories of Thomas and afternoons sneaking away to make love – but he finds himself eager to spend time with Harry.  Reader – are you sensing a theme here?  You should be! Michael spends an inordinate time thinking about sex, his former lovers (especially Thomas), and wondering who his next lover will be (maybe Harry?), and truly not much else.  Oh, he also spends a good bit of time entertaining his sweet (if overly mature) nephew.  But that’s pretty much it.  Anyway, the visit goes surprisingly well and as he gets to know the charming Harry – visiting him at Broch, Michael finally begins to feel the return of a sense of hope and happiness.  Despite barely giving him a passing thought before the motorcycle incident, the relationship between Michael and Harry progresses quickly (this is an understatement), setting in motion several plot lines, not the least of which is an affair between the men (which apparently seems strange to no one but me).  Unfortunately, during a post-coital cuddle wherein Harry admits to having admired Michael for years, he also inadvertently makes a revelation about Thomas that shakes Michael to his core.  [Side note: They’re talking about Thomas – Harry’s brother and Michael’s former lover – in bed after having sex.  It’s weird.]

Harry’s inopportune words – and the secret he reveals – drive Michael from his bed.  Upset, angry and unwilling to hear anything else Harry has to say, Michael returns to High Top determined to ferret out the truth.  The secret has profound repercussions for everyone Michael loves, and leaves him feeling bitter and betrayed.  I won’t spoil it here except to say that Michael’s reaction and easy assignment of blame, grew tiresome.  Thomas, as any astute reader would have cottoned on to by this point, wasn’t perfect.  But Michael, who has embarked on an affair with his former lover’s brother, comes across as sanctimonious and hypocritical in equal parts.

I liked the Thomas plot twist.  It made sense in the context of the story and I think Ms. Cochrane shows a deft touch as she details Michael’s bewildered response to it – and the reactions of those close to him – as Michael finally begins to accept that Thomas wasn’t quite the man he remembers.  Michael’s relationship with his family is particularly well done, and his extended family – especially his kind and practical brother-in-law – are a nice contrast to Michael’s rather mercurial temperament.  It’s unfortunate that the same can’t be said of Michael’s other relationships.  Thomas was the love of his life, but after a foolish prank, Michael refused to speak to him again.  He instead spent the following summer with a different lover (number two if you’re keeping count).  Discovering that Thomas also had a liaison with someone else angers Michael – but his inability to see the hypocrisy of his anger, especially in light of his own behavior, is ridiculous.  Ms. Cochrane doesn’t spend nearly enough time developing Harry’s character or the relationship he forms with Michael, and in a novel that purports to be a romance, it’s a shame.  Michael barely had a thought for Harry even as a boy, but he suddenly develops a tendre for him and after a bit of perfunctory lovemaking, they’re talking about a future together in London.  The relationship simply isn’t well developed or romantic… and frankly, it was odd.

The setting, the sense of time and place, and the premise of this story are highlights in Count the Shells. Unfortunately, the central romance is disappointing and underdeveloped, and despite its strengths, the novel ultimately left this reader unsatisfied.

 

A Gathering Storm (Porthkennack series) by Joanna Chambers

a gathering storm

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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.

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Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, April 2017

Time and Setting: Porthkennack, Cornwall, England, 1853
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Em

A Gathering Storm, part of the Porthkennack series of books by five award-winning, British LGBT!+ authors is terrific.  It’s romantic, tender, frustrating and sexy and I gobbled it up in one sitting.  I loved nearly everything about it (my only quibble is a major spoiler you’ll have to read the book to discover for yourself), and I recommend it heartily to fans of both historical and contemporary romance.  Although the Porthkennack books are somewhat linked, A Gathering Storm can be read as a standalone.

After being ridiculed by his peers for publicly defending a spiritualist in London, famed scientist Sir Edward  – Ward – Fitzwilliam has retreated to the remote village of Porthkennack on the Cornish coast.  Grief stricken following the death of his beloved identical twin, Ward is convinced his brother spoke to him from beyond the veil during a particularly violent electrical storm he witnessed whilst at sea, and he is convinced that if conditions are right he can recreate the experience and commune with the dead.  He’s chosen to build a home, Varhak Manor, in Porthkennack because the location and weather (with a bit of his own manipulation) seem conducive to recreating the stormy conditions he experienced at sea.  In order to prove his theories, Ward will also need the assistance of human subjects, but false rumors about his research abound meaning that few of the locals are willing to help him.  Desperate, he heads to the village pub to solicit additional candidates, which is where he learns some tantalizing information about the handsome man at the bar.

Nicholas Hearn is land steward for the Roscarrock family, the wealthiest landowners in Porthkennack.  The illegitimate son of Jacob Roscarrock, who abandoned him and his Romany mother shortly after his birth, Nick lives a mostly solitary life.  Handpicked by his grandfather – who does not publicly acknowledge him – to train as a land steward (following Jacob’s sudden and untimely death), Nick is neither family or servant; the ‘gypsy bastard’ lives alone in a cottage on the edge of the estate.   Despite his recently deceased mother’s reputation as a clairvoyant, and an all too real experience with a horrific ghost when he was younger, Nick is skeptical about the possibility of reaching through the veil to speak with the dead. He’s curious but not interested in participating in Sir Edward’s experiments, especially as the handsome, wealthy aristocrat strikes him as just the type of high-handed toff he usually avoids.

Shortly after the scene in the bar, Nick is forced to reconsider.  When Sir Edward witnesses Nick and another man kissing in the woods, he doesn’t threaten to reveal what he’s seen but the threat is implied.  Angry with himself and the circumstance in which Sir Edward discovered him, Nick agrees to help with his research. His indiscretion, and Ward’s reaction, set the narrative in motion.

Stoic about how events have unfolded, Nick arrives at Varhak Manor unwilling to be charmed by his handsome host and blackmailer.  With his harsh voice (a permanent side effect of a childhood bout of diphtheria) and aristocratic manner, Nick expects Ward to act every bit the entitled and wealthy gentleman he is.  He doesn’t expect Sir Edward to be nervous or uncomfortable, or for him to treat him as an equal.  He is, and he does, but he’s also fascinating, engaging, and convinced he can commune with the dead.  Experience has taught Nick to be cautious, so he carefully masks his emotions even though he’s secretly charmed by his host.  Ward is similarly smitten with Nick, but because he finds him so hard to read, he also keeps his growing fondness for his ‘volunteer’ under wraps.

A Gathering Storm is broken into chapters that span the weeks and months Ward and Nick spend together attempting to recreate Ward’s shipboard experience. Ward is frustrated by their lack of progress, Nick is skeptical as to whether it’s even possible, and both are increasingly infatuated with the other.   Nick begins to spend increasing amounts of time at Varhak Manor, and I loved how Ms. Chambers slowly builds the sexual tension and attraction between the men.  She truly tortures the reader as we wait for these two lovely people to admit they’ve fallen for each other.  But they persist in denying their feelings until Ward has a close brush with death and Nick finally kisses him.  Their first kiss is passionate, frantic and blissful and it’s clear to them (and us) they belong in each other’s arms.

Ward and Nick have each had a past relationship with another man, but those experiences were vastly different. Nick gives Ward his first ever kisses, and Ward gives Nick an education in the pleasures of lovemaking.  When they’re intimate, it’s explicit, sexy, wicked and wonderful.  Despite their differences – and they’re truly opposites in every way – they fall hard and fast for each other and Ward is particularly appealing.  He often reads as a slightly nerdy, naïve scientist, but when his clothes come off, he’s confident and delightfully dirty.  It’s a nice contrast to his everyday persona (Nick likes it too).  When Ward invites Nick to travel with him on an overnight trip and attend a seance with him, Nick agrees to go.  He’s eager to spend time with his lover, and worried that Ward’s grief might make him prey for those who might seek to take advantage of it.

Their trip starts on a high note but ends in disaster.  The crisis that tears Nick and Ward apart (reader, you knew it was coming) is brilliantly played.  In these few small pivotal scenes, Ms. Chambers returns full circle to the themes she developed at the start of the book.  Nick is left struggling against feelings of inferiority in his relationship with Ward and confused about his place in Porthkennack.  Who is he? Gypsy? Bastard? Or someone still to be discovered?  Lost, miserable and unwilling to give Ward a second chance, Nick doesn’t know who he truly is.  Ward, knowing he precipitated their break-up with just the sort of high-handed, unfeeling behavior Nick expected, is horrified and sickened.  He’s left to grieve the loss of his brother, and of his relationship with Nick.  He loves him but doesn’t know what to do to fix things.  Their separation persists until a storm forces them together once again.

A Gathering Storm features terrific storytelling, wonderfully developed characters (principal and secondary) and holds you in its thrall from start to finish.  An epilogue offers a delightful peak at Ward and Nick’s life months later.  I loved it – but kept waiting for one scene that never came (it’s the reason I deducted half a star).  I’m hopeful the author revisits these characters (and she’s hinted there’s more of the story to come), because I’m not ready to let them go.  You won’t be either.