I wanted to read, not necessarily Awakening His Shy Cinderella, but Sophie Pembroke because Wendy the Superlibrarian loved one of her books. Pembroke’s writing and some scene setting can be lovely, but her “awakening Cinderella” was uneven. It started out great and I was excited to find a new category author to follow. Here is the blurb to set us off:
Can a festive flirtation last…
After the final cracker has been pulled? Damon knows Rachel’s always prioritized her family’s needs above her own. But one close encounter between them changes everything… It’s time for Rachel to step out of her comfort zone! Damon usually steers clear of commitment, but neither can resist indulging in a very temporary affair! Only, when the time comes, can he walk away from the captivating woman he’s discovered?
There are way too many question and exclamation marks in the blurb, offering a tenuous description. Damon Hunter and Rachel Charles have known each other for years. Rachel is Damon’s older sister’s BFF. Their lives have intertwined, but Rachel, who’s carried a torch for Damon, is plain-Jane curvaceous to his player good looks. In the background are Rachel’s family, her step-mother and -sisters, putting her down, giving her the lowliest tasks in the world-famous department store family business, her ineffectual father doing nada to help her. This made Rachel into a hard-working mouse of a woman, toiling but never asserting or asking for anything for herself (hence, the Cinderella title).
When the novel opened, it opened well: Damon and Rachel are attending a taping of his sister’s appearance on a Jeopardy-type show. They are soon recruited, thanks to a tube delay, to play a couple at the new year’s eve taping of the local show. Wild stuff, but it works. And there’s a fake midnight and a real kiss … and off we go. For the novel’s first bits, I was convinced I was reading an HP: virginal “Cinderella” heroine; rich, self-made successful hero … and, if Pembroke were willing to write the love scenes, I think she might write a finer HP than what we have here.
The narrative switched modes and we soon learned about Damon’s vulnerabilities, how his professor parents never thought he measured up to much because he wasn’t interested in academia. He’s a successful man, but feels diminished in their presence. As a result, he decided to remain untethered and devil-may-care. I never quite understood the connection, but Pembroke made it anyway. What followed was narrative-ho-hum; the action slows to cold molasses and there are soooooooooooo many “thoughts”: how Damon feels, how Rachel feels, what they want, why they can’t have it. On and on and on.
Things pick up near the end (like the last 25 pages or so) when Rachel and Damon decide to have an until-Christmas-Day fling, wherein Rachel sloughs off her Cinderella-self and emerges a woman who asks for what she wants. Damon remains happy-go-lucky as ever, but wavering in the emotional department because Rachel is an “amazing woman” and he has feelings. Doubts and fears are dispelled, sadly without a fairy godmother (but with a strangely tacked on romance for Damon’s sister and Rachel’s BFF, Celeste). Damon recognizes his feels and – pumpkin-to-chariot POOF – HEA, bended knee and all. Pembroke has moments of great writing and compelling whimsy, but her romance is devoid of banter and impetus. Yup, most uneven. With Miss Austen, we deem Awakening His Shy Cinderella “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Sophie Pembroke’s Awakening His Shy Cinderella is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in December 2020 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-galley, from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley, for the purpose of writing this review.