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REVIEW: AJ’s Angel by L.A. Witt

Dear Ms. Witt,

I foresee quite a few reviews of your books over the next few months as I work my way through your backlist. I discovered you through a review copy of a book of yours coming out in August (which will be reviewed on or after the release date), but I liked that so much that I hunted down your other books. This one intrigued me because of Jane’s recent post about infidelity in romance and because I think tattoo artists are hot.

Seb is a tattoo artist. His ex-boyfriend Luke comes in asking for a custom tattoo: an angel holding an American flag with the initials AJ — obviously someone Luke loved very much in the four years since he left Seb. Seb is still hurt and betrayed by Luke’s constant cheating during their relationship. Luke has come to ask for the tattoo and for forgiveness. Of course, before he can do that, he and Seb fall back into bed with each other.

This is a short little story which I enjoyed very much. Your writing doesn’t sparkle (for me). It’s utilitarian and while it doesn’t get in the way of the story at all, it doesn’t really stand out either. But I enjoy your characters a lot and I love the unconventional situations you seem determined to put your characters in (more on that in future reviews). This story seemed to be you asking, “Can I do a believable reconciliation story of a serial cheater and this cheated-on boyfriend?” and, with the four year gap and the obvious and well-demonstrated maturation of both characters, I’d have to say, yes, you pulled it off.

I liked the tenderness and urgency of the sex scenes:

His lip brushed mine, and that flash of gentle contact startled us apart. Only a fraction of an inch, but that was ground that had taken an absolute age to gain.

“Seb,” he breathed, his voice unsteady, “I want you so fucking bad right now.”

“I know.” I gulped. When I spoke again, barely whispering as I stared into his intense blue eyes, my voice shook more than his had. “That’s why I’m here.”

“I’m…” Luke exhaled, releasing a long, warm breath against my lips that raised goose bumps along the entire length of my back. He drew another, and I thought he was about to speak again.

All at once, he seized the front of my jacket, slammed me up against the wall and instantly overwhelmed me. His desperate, demanding kiss. His hard cock against my own. Hands in my hair. His hair between my fingers. Stubble grazing stubble.

“Fucking Christ,” he whispered, breaking the kiss and touching his forehead to mine. “You’re…” His hands trembled in my hair. He pulled back a little, drawing away just enough to send panic surging through my veins. “Fuck. Seb, this is—”

“Kiss me again.” Don’t you dare have second thoughts now.

“What?”

“You heard me.” I swallowed. “Just…kiss me again.”

Sometimes the sex seems a little too…intensely amazingly wonderfully awesome. I get that it was the main basis for their relationship — although you do a great job showing that they had and will have a real relationship — but still, it was a bit much at times. And I could have wished to see more of them figuring out how to work things at the end. They’ve got the HEA and then you gave me a “1 year later” epilogue, after they’ve figured out how things work. But, it was a short(ish) story (although Samhain claims it’s category length), so there’s obviously just not time.

But I loved the characters. I loved Seb’s battle to stick with quitting smoking and with choosing the right path with Luke. I loved Luke’s real contrition and obvious maturation. I enjoyed the story and believed they’d make it, even without the epilogue. If readers want a story about infidelity that works, this is it, to my mind.

Grade: B

Best regards,
-Sarah

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Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

14 Comments

  1. Mia
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 16:46:15

    Does he get the tattoo in the end or not? I hate to be judgmental (okay, maybe not), but that sounds…kind of hideous.

  2. Joan/SarahF
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 18:26:19

    @Mia: It works in the story, I promise. It’s not hideous or awful. It works.

  3. E.D. Walker
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 18:48:20

    I love tattoo artist stories. Do people know of anymore of these? I read that one by Sarah Mayberry a few years ago but I’d like more.

  4. Jane
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 19:06:56

    @E.D. Walker: Lauren Dane has one although the story is kind of mundane (not much romance conflict) and Rock Me by Cherrie Lynn. Both feature hetero romances.

  5. Debra Kayn
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 19:16:03

    Lorelei James has a book called Branded as Trouble that has a heroine in it that’s a tattoo artist. It’s book (goes to double check) 6 in her Rough Riders series.

  6. Kinsey
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 19:18:35

    E.D. – it’s real short, but over at Heroes and Heartbreakers (the new-ish MacMillan blog) there was an original story about a tattoo artist. I want to say it was a Regency – it was definitely historical. I’ll see if I can find it.

  7. Kinsey
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 19:32:52

    Here we go: The Duchess’ Tattoo.

  8. Merrian
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 20:47:33

    @E.D. Walker:
    Jacqueline Carey’s, fantasy novel”Kushiel’s dart” has the heroines tattoo as a significant part of her life because it marks her profession

  9. Eden Bradley/Eve Berlin
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 21:38:22

    My novella The Art of Desire in the Bantam antho Hot Nights, Dark Desires. I’m also currently working on another where the heroine is a tattoo artist-Temptation’s Edge will be out from Berkley Heat um…sometime in early 2012 (written under Eve Berlin).
    And I know of two others, but the authors and titles escape me ATM-too close to my bed time. Let me see if I can remember…

  10. Kaetrin
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 22:30:37

    Sold Sarah! your reviews are almost always gold for me.

  11. orannia
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 02:43:13

    Your review coupled with that excerpt…. Sarah, you are so not good (in the best possible way) for my TBR list :)

  12. Sirius
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 14:24:20

    Oh I did like this one, I have read it before I saw your review and I agree that infidelity in this one worked for me. But for me infidelity never was a topic I will not read automatically, simply depends on how well written I think it is. Thanks for the review.

  13. CourtneyLee
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 10:12:07

    For MM romance with tattoo artists, I have a couple I can recommend. Under My Skin 1 and 2 by ML Rhodes were enjoyable, about a slightly geeky bookstore owner and the owner of the tattoo studio in the storefront next door. It’s a fun opposites-attract, disproving-stereotypes story. Inking Aaron by Cheryl Dragon, also an opposites-attract story, is about a straight-laced caucasian businessman and an Indian tattoo artist/shop owner. I haven’t read either book in a while, but they both incorporate the non-mainstream nature of tattooing and tattoo artists and how it affects each relationship. Good stuff.

    I also recall a short trilogy with a tattoo artist that was a MMM, but can’t remember the name, author, or publisher. One of the guys was British, the tattoo artist had some serious psychological issues, and the third guy was just this random dude who got caught up in the whirlwind sexual adventure of the crazy-sexy couple he ended up in bed with. It was kind of odd, one of those iceberg stories that had a lot of stuff under the surface that you merely got hints of. I do remember that the romance/HEA storyline was kind of weak, but wanting to know the backstory of the tattoo artist made an impression nonetheless.

  14. Smexy’s Top Ten–June 17th | Smexy Books
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 12:31:23

    […] I just bought this book based on a review at Dear Author. It involves infidelity. Are we yay or nay with the infidelity? I’m not sure. I’ll report back […]

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