S.E.C.R.E.T.
by L Marie Adeline, contemporary (2013)
Broadway, $15.00, ISBN 978-0-385-34643-3


According to the publicity material that follows the release of S.E.C.R.E.T., this book and its author L Marie Adeline - the pseudonym of television producer and writer Lisa Gabriele - are Canada's newest literary treasures or something. After all, with that upstart EL James making the United Kingdom proud by inventing tampon sex and billionaire angst to thrill mummies everywhere, Canada needs someone to restore the equilibrium and reassert the status of Canada as the center of the new sexual revolution.

When the publishing industry heard that L Marie Adeline had selflessly answered the call, they frantically bid on her book even it was nowhere close to completion. Well, the wait is over. Here it is. S.E.C.R.E.T.

Actually, S.E.C.R.E.T. has no resemblance to England's most recent literary triumph. It has more in common with a typical "thirty-something woman hitting a dead end" women's fiction thing cross-pollinated with a Black Lace book.

Cassie Robichaud has been drifting in an emotional void since the death of her husband four years or so ago. Her life with Scott wasn't exactly amazing - in fact, he drank and belittled her all the time, and she left him only when he started beating her - but you know how things can be sometimes. She doesn't know whether she should feel guilty for not mourning Scott, she resents him still for ruining the good memories of the early days of their marriage, and she now feels drained and numb. She waits tables at a run-down café in New Orleans, and when her gorgeous but financially not-there-at-all boss Will asked her out, she was scared to say yes. He's now dating another waitress, and she wonders whether she has missed her chance. She also wonders why she's not too broken up about that. Has she completely lost her ability to feel? She'd like to do something to make things better, but she's stuck in a rut.

That is, until she stumbles upon the existence of SECRET, a group started by a bunch of women to help other women get in touch with their sexuality. Cassie finds herself living out nine fantasies, somewhat predictably finding the self-confidence to live life again.

There's nothing really new here, as the tropes here are commonly found in erotica as well as more wholesome mainstream fiction featuring moody widows or divorcees looking for ways to move on and find love again. What works here, though, is the first half of the book. The author gives Cassie a distinctive first person voice. and her state of emotional numbness is raw and more painful to follow compared to outright grief. Even if I hadn't been in a situation like Cassie's, her emotional vulnerability feels real.

Something atrophied in me, then died, and soon five years had passed since I'd had sex. Five years. I often thought of this accidental celibacy like it was a skinny old dog, left with no choice but to follow me. Five Years came with me everywhere, tongue lolling, trotting on its toes. When I tried on clothes, Five Years lay panting on the floor on the changing room, its gleaming eyes ridiculing my attempt to look prettier in a new dress. Five Years also parked itself beneath every table of every tepid date I went on, slumped at my feet.

I personally think the whole "find yourself, the inner you - ooh!" mumbo jumbo is just a front to make pretty the fact that SECRET is a non-profit organization specializing in pimping out hot guys to women in need. Not that I am against this, mind you, as, if this story is anything to go by, I think every woman deserves a SECRET or two. The sex scenes are hot, and in a few cases, actually romantic and even profound - and considering that they are basically anonymous encounters with guys she'd never see again, that's really something. Even some of the sillier fantasies that would normally make me roll up my eyes - the one involving the hurricane (seriously) is ridiculous on paper - have me reading every word because, oh my, these scenes make my toes curl. They are hot, not because the author goes on and on about boinking, but because I am emotionally invested in Cassie's sexual awakening (okay, that sounds dirty, but you know what I mean) so when the scenes are hot, they become really hot, if I am making any sense here. I'm not? Okay, these scenes are hot - period.

My biggest issue is with the last few chapters, where I feel as if I had been forcefully ripped away from an intelligently written and occasionally thought provoking tale of one woman's sensual journey and was unceremoniously dumped into a typical horrid cliché of a romance story where the heroine is this amazing woman panting after a man who is involved with a caricature of the other woman. This hook sets up future sequels to this book, naturally, but it is so trite and stupid compared to the rest of the story, ugh.

So, S.E.C.R.E.T.. There is some romance here, but this book is all about the heroine's sexual awakening, so you really should view this one as erotica with some hints of romance instead of an erotic romance. The author breaks several rules of the romance genre - the heroine sleeping with only the hero after meeting him is the first rule that bites the big one - but I personally feel that the breaking of these rules actually makes this book far more stronger. Anyway, I'm saying this because, while the author most likely wrote without paying any heed to romance genre rules, the book is being marketed towards fans of those books by EL James and her fan club members such as Sylvia Day. This book is not at all like those books - no billionaires in sight, hello - and I understand that hearts had been shattered when readers opened this book expecting another Fifty Shades Of WTF carbon copy.

So, yes, I really like this one, although the last chapter ruins my mood considerably. I wouldn't be averse to checking out the sequel when it comes out. If you are looking for an erotic read that is different from the current stale state of every other author rushing to cash in on the "BDSM: Billionaire Doms Sell for Millions" craze, this one may just be it. I know, it's rather an amusing kind of irony, given how they are marketing this book and this author, but I guess sexy can be crazy like that sometimes.

Rating: 82


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