Awaken to Pleasure, by Nalini Singh

>> Monday, July 24, 2006

Another book from right before I left for Japan, so again, please forgive any vagueness and/or factual inaccuracy!

I've had Nalini Singh's Awaken to Pleasure (excerpt) for a while. I can't really remember why I bought it -I must have heard something good about it-, but once it got here, the Harlequin Presents-sounding back copy made it languish in the depths of my TBR.

So what made it resurface? Actually, comments about another of Singh's books, Secrets in the Marriage Bed. In a short period I read first Meljean Brook's review and then jmc's, and the book sounded pretty interesting. I ordered it (it still hasn't arrived!), and searched my wonderful Excel to see if I happened to have something else by this author.

So that moved the book to the top of Mt. TBR. And when Nalini emailed me and kindly offered some suggestions about what I could do while in Japan, curiosity inspired me to actually pick up her book.

The proposal was as unexpected as her feelings for the man whose dark good looks rivaled an even darker past. Painful experience screamed that Taylor Reid should run far and fast from Jackson Santorini. But keeping custody of her brother meant becoming her former boss's bride. And giving Jackson a baby.

Despite his powerful size and presence, Jackson had been wounded… deeply… by a woman. Yet he'd protected her at a personal cost, if his restrained ardor in deference to her virginal apprehension was one indication. Suddenly, for Jackson's sake, Taylor wanted to replace pain with pleasure. Only, she'd never imagined what sensations-and secrets-she would awaken…
Well, considering I like the author very much personally, I'm pleased to report I liked her book, too. I'd rate it a solid B.

A few years back, Taylor Reid used to work as a secretary for movie producer Jackson Santorini. Back then, Jackson had been very attracted to her, but since he was married and an all-around decent guy, he considered her off limits.

Fast-forward a few years, and Jackson is now a widower with a bad reputation for cruelty, since his late wife killed herself and the tabloids had a field day accusing him of driving her to it. He's also got a weight on his conscience: his wife was pregnant when she committed suicide.

As for Taylor, she's got problems of her own. She's got guardianship of her younger brother, but his good-for-nothing father has began making noises about suing for custody.

When Jackson rans into Taylor while she's waiting for the bus under the rain, she drives her home and soon the truth about her problems comes out. To which Jackson has a very simple solution: they can get married. Taylor's former stepfather won't dare to bother such a powerful man and Jackson will get the child he longs for.

The only problem is, Taylor fears men, due to some bad experiences in her past, and she's not at all confident she can give Jackson the child he expects

I mentioned that the back cover copy sounds very Harlequin Presents-ish, and while this is a Desire, not an HP (I actually had to check back a couple of times as I was reading, just to make sure), I guess the storyline is very reminiscent of HP, too. We've got:

  • the virginal heroine (only this particular heroine has a good reason to still be a virgin)

  • the hero who's been hurt by his bitch of a former wife (only this particular hero hasn't let this turn him into a cruel, mysoginist bastard. Jackson is always perfectly kind to Taylor and never demeans her in any way)

  • the Italian hero (only this particular Italian doesn't use his heritage as an excuse to behave like a sexist pig)

  • the boss-secretary romance (only here they were boss and secretary in the past, but aren't any more)

  • the marriage of convenience (only the reasons for this particular m-o-c do make sense)
Are you getting the picture of why this book worked for me? Every single element that could have been groan-worthy was either perfectly justified or had something that offset whatever was objectionable about it.

Most of all, the worst element that comes to mind when I think HP isn't here at all. I'm refering to total and unreasonable miscommunication. If I think back to the old HP books I used to read, it feels as if in 99% of them, whatever the conflict was between the hero and heroine, it could have been resolved with a 5-minute (in some cases, 5-second) conversation.

Awaken to Pleasure is nothing like that. What most appealed about Meljean and jmc's comments on Secrets in the Marriage Bed was their assertions that the hero and heroine actually talked about their problems and dealt with them maturely. It was exactly like that here, too. Taylor soon shares with Jackson that she has a certain fear of men and the reasons why she does... and they work on that. Jackson soon shares with Taylor what his late wife did... and they work on Jackson's issues, too. However younger than Jackson Taylor was, they were both mature adults, and behaved as such. It was so refreshing! :-D

Some things didn't work so well for me, like the dynamics of Taylor and Jackson's relationship (the whole breadwinner / hostess thing, basically), which wasn't anything at all like what I aspire to in a relationship. However, even if their HEA looked nothing like what would be a HEA for me, I have to admit it worked for them, so this was a very minor objection.

On the whole, this was a solidly enjoyable, nicely steamy, character-driven romance. I especially recommend it to those of you for whom HPs are a guilty pleasure... this one will be a pleasure, without the guilt. As for me, I'm off to start Singh's upcoming paranormal, Slave to Sensation (I've got an ARC, nyah, nyah, nyah!). It sounds very good!


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