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REVIEW:  Cover Him with Darkness by Janine Ashbless

REVIEW: Cover Him with Darkness by Janine Ashbless

Cover Him With Darkness by Janine Ashbless

Dear Ms. Ashbless:

This was a provocative dark romance with quite a bit of suspense. The PNR aspect read fresh to me even though I was familiar with the “fallen angel punished for sleeping with human women” storyline. It’s told from the heroine’s point of view. Her father has raised her in a remote village in Serbia and her family’s mission is watch over a captive chained to a hidden rock inside a mountain accessible only to her family.

She first sees him as a young girl and is moved by the sight of his body lashed to a rock, fed and watered only by her father’s hand. As she grows older, she falls in love with him and that is her doom. Or at least that’s the question posed by the book. Is the man in the mountain punished by the heavens demon or angel?

It’s a provocative book and through most of it, in true gothic fashion, I’m not certain what will be the end result. In some ways, even though I was reading a romance, I felt refreshed by that.

It was sexy but not in the overt, hammer over the head way. The sex scenes all said something about her, about him, and about the plot. I found some of the prose to be quite beautiful.

Rapt with my pleasure, Azazel watched as I twisted and gasped and shuddered beneath him. His lips moved in silent echo of my cries.

But when the last tremors rippled through me and died away, he forgot mercy. He didn’t give me time to recover. He ran his hands over my slick and shuddering body and lodged one on my hip for a good grip. Then his weight came down over me like the slow press of a mountain on the spaces beneath the earth.

I lifted my knees and wrapped my legs tight about him as he began to thrust. Every stroke was an earthquake. He beat the breath from my lungs. His hair hung in my eyes, and the surge of his breath was a growl in my ear. I couldn’t see his face anymore, but my blurred gaze took in the faces above me and over his shoulders: the sad eyes and the glimmering halos and the hands raised in blessing.

The set up in this book is that everyone is bad and you are left wondering if Azazel truly loves Milja or is in love with love itself. I liked that it presented these questions even within the frame of a romance novel but the ambiguous ending, the words of love that are said, might not be satisfying for some.

Each person makes bad choices in this book. Azazel was forbidden from copulating with humans but he defies the higher being and not only fornicates with humans but begets children. He introduces the mysteries of metal and machinery which some say leads to destructive war machines. Azazel disclaims all responsibility for how humans have used the knowledge he and his fellow angels have given.

He also presents the case that his greatest sin was to love and he was endlessly punished for it. The text doesn’t provide a good rebuttal to Azazel–why they shouldn’t join with humans–which I think it should have done.

The other draw back to the story is Milja who is often doing dangerous things, trusting the wrong people, and having to be rescued. I would have liked to have seen her have more agency but the confusion she presented was understandable. When faced corporeal evidence that challenges your faith, poor decision making is likely common. 

It could be that the story resonated strongly with me because I’ve had my own dilemmas with faith. One of the reasons I liked the Last Hour of Gann was because it explored both sides of the coin–belief in a higher power and belief in the rational. The question of faith in this book is what is good and what is bad and by extension who is good and who is bad. I liked being challenged within the confines of the romance trope. B

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Afternoon Delight by Anne Calhoun

REVIEW: Afternoon Delight by Anne Calhoun

Dear Ms. Calhoun,

I’ve read and enjoyed a few of your novellas in the past, so when an ARC of your new 164 page offering, Afternoon Delight, was made available to DA’s reviewers, I requested it. Afternoon Delight is set in New York City and features a hero whom readers of your novella Breath on Embers have met before.

AfternoonDelight-final-250x374Tim is a paramedic with the FDNY. Racing from one rescue attempt to another, he finds it easier to live life at a fast pace because it keeps him from feeling too much. Since he sees so much aging and death at his job, he is afraid to slow down and really feel. Casual hook ups fit his life and serious relationships do not.

So it’s a good thing that Sarah, a food truck chef Tim meets in the park one day, isn’t looking for a serious relationship. Sarah used to be just like Tim, footloose and fancy-free, until she cared for her dying aunt. That experience taught her to slow down and savor the moment. Before she died, Sarah’s aunt made her promise to go back and find the carefree girl she used to be.

Tim is a New York native while Sarah has only recently relocated from San Francisco. The first time they meet, Sarah and her business partner are trying new sauces, and Tim is willing to be her tasting guinea pig. The second time they meet, Tim asks her over and at his tiny apartment, they have hot, competitive and enthusiastic sex.

Tim loses a bet that he can keep from grabbing Sarah, and Sarah issues him a new challenge—if he can keep from getting off for a whole week, he can do whatever he likes to her when they meet again. The dinner Sarah cooks for Tim on that occasion is sublime, and as for the challenge, well, I won’t spoil it.

Sarah and Tim see each other while never officially dating. Tim shows Sarah New York’s sights, sounds and tastes and helps her learn to appreciate the city despite its frenetic page. Sarah begins to realize she is developing feelings for Tim, and Tim gets a glimmer of a clue that sex with Sarah is so hot because it’s more than sex.

But can Tim keep from slowing down and feeling if he and Sarah progress to a relationship? Can he overcome his fears enough to do so? And how will Sarah handle it if he tries to prevent the connection between them from growing beyond a simple afternoon delight?

Afternoon Delight is fun and well-written. There were many things I enjoyed about it, from the New York City milieu to the sex-positive approach to the story. Sarah was never slut-shamed or judged for liking sex—not by Tim, not by her friend and business partner Trish, and I never, ever felt the author was judging her. Thank you for that.

I also really, really liked that like Tim, Sarah could be playfully bossy in the bedroom. It is so nice to come across a heroine who isn’t a “natural submissive” but rather one who can enjoy both top and bottom. I wish there were more heroines like that.

Sarah was as a good sport, someone who knew how to have fun, but she could also be gentle and compassionate when a compassionate and gentle touch was needed. She was there for Tim when that moment came.

Another aspect of Sarah I enjoyed was her love of cooking and the way it was incorporated into the novella. Sarah’s awareness of good flavors and desire to savor each bite facilitated and enhanced Tim’s journey from speeding through life to slowing down enough to smell the coffee – or the split pea soup.

I thought the chemistry between Tim and Sarah was very nice but Tim was a harder character for me to connect with. I liked his attitude toward the guys he worked with and toward Casey, a new guy whom Tim was helping train on the job. Tim was a good guy down to his bones, so I couldn’t help liking him even with his approach to getting through life, from shoving food down fast to keeping his relationships simple. But his determination to speed through everything so as to feel nothing took me a long time to empathize with.

Tim saw a lot of death and suffering at his work but I think what tripped me up was that he hadn’t raced through life the same way in earlier years at the same job. For that reason, I expected there to be a revelation about an event that had caused him to choose to change his pace. There wasn’t any one thing that had caused that, it turned out. And when I think about his job and his past, his choice makes perfect sense, but I wanted that to be something I felt in my heart and not just understood in my head.

Even so, there was so much to like in this novella, from the fun challenges Tim and Sarah set for each other, to Tim’s relationships with his fellow paramedics and an elderly couple he got to know on the job, to Sarah’s relationship with food, and of course, Tim and Sarah’s journey to coupledom. I especially liked the last few scenes and the romantic gesture near the end. B-/B.

Sincerely,

Janine

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