Secrets in the Marriage Bed & Desert Warrior, by Nalini Singh

>> Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My latest M-Bag arrived last week, and among the piles and piles of books there, I got the four books I was missing from Nalini Singh's backlist. And I've already read two! The first (the first I read out of the entire M-Bag contents, actually) was Secrets in the Marriage Bed.

book coverEvery marriage has its secrets.

They were reconciling. That was all Caleb Callaghan could focus on when his estranged wife, Vicki, shared the news of her pregnancy. He was determined that this time, the marriage would succeed, no matter what it took.

But was Vicki's price too high? She wanted more than his love and support…she demanded honesty between them, starting with his secrets. But there was something in Caleb's past he could not—would not—share. For the truth would only destroy them.
SITMB has some very impressive things, and I liked those so much that I'm overlooking the things that drove me crazy and giving it a B-.

This is a story about a married couple who've let lack of real communication destroy their marriage. The story starts five years after the wedding. Caleb and Vicki have been separated for a couple of months, since Vicki asked for a divorce seemingly out of the blue (at least according to Caleb). But it turns out Vicki is pregnant, and Caleb is determined to make the most of this second chance the unexpected pregnancy has afforded him.

But Vicki refuses to simply go back to how things were, so if Caleb is to get this second chance, he must agree to work with Vicki through the issues that separated him. He must be ready to face those issues, to accept they exist, no matter how embarrassing it is to talk about them.

What I loved about this book was that these are not superficial issues that they're facing, and that it takes effort and time to work through them. But they do, they buckle down and give it their best effort. They talk about everything... not just talk, they communicate. They listen to what the other is saying and basically lay themselves emotionally bare, revealing their deepest secrets and trusting the other to help them work through them. I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this, and I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of Singh's writing.

The only problem? Well, basically what the actual issues they had to work through were. The dynamic itself was great, as I said, but the issues themselves... not so much. This book sparked a thread in one of the AAR message boards about Things that work in historicals but not contemporaries. It wasn't started by me, but I very much agreed with the first poster that what these two considered oh-so-shocking made the book feel a bit dated. Just as an example (and this might be a bit of a spoiler, so read on at your own risk) Caleb's big secret, what he feared might totally disgust Vicki if she were to find out, was that he was illegitimate. His mother and her husband were serially unfaithful and his biological father was one of her mom's lovers. In this day and age, it just feels strange that he considers that so shocking. And same thing about Vicki's fear that Caleb was going to be disgusted if she responded to him sexually. In this day and age, would a woman, no matter how screwed up her grandmother was, really believe that? I just didn't buy it.

It's a shame, because if the issues involved had been more believable, this might have been keeper material.

The second book was Desert Warrior, which appears to have been Singh's first.

book coverThe fabled desert kingdom of Zulheina was Tariq's birthright, and he was a man who held tightly what belonged to him. And that meant he had to reclaim a very special woman—the woman who had broken his heart years before in New Zealand. And once he had lured her to this distant land, he meant to keep his new bride here forever…

But Jasmine Coleridge was not as easily tamed as he had imagined. Her beguiling blend of untouched innocence and dazzling sensuality threatened, once again, to bring the haughty sheikh to his knees—and made him wonder who was the true prisoner…
This one was a DNF, but very much an INYIM (It's Not You, It's Me) DNF. I know sheikh books are not for me, so I should have known better than to even start this, but I wanted to see if a talented writer might make me enjoy this particular type of story.

The answer, unfortunately, is no. It's not a matter of politics or real-world issues, because these books are very definitely not about the real world. They're are pure fantasy... an Arabian Nights-flavoured fantasy. But it's simply not a fantasy that appeals to me in the least, so near the half-way point, I decided it was silly to continue reading a book I wasn't enjoying and most probably wouldn't.

And if I didn't like this one, there's just no point in trying one again, because DW was definitely head and shoulders above the typical sheikh book. The hero, Tariq, had a sense of humour (shocking, I know!) and his imperiousness had a thread of teasing running through it. The heroine wasn't as good (her apparent relationship with her family drove me crazy. She was a bit of a doormat, and again, the whole illegitimacy issue raised its old-fashioned head), but it's usually the hero that I detest, and Tariq was all right.

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that even though I didn't like it, I would recommend it to anyone who either likes sheikh books or thinks they might enjoy this kind of story.


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