Despite not having an individual book or series that cracked the top 30 (books that were mentioned six times or more) in my online examination of 50 Shades readalikes, Beth Kery's name came up a combined ten times. The most popular readalike mentioned was Wicked Burn, but my library happened to have a mass market copy of Release on the shelf--ordered by me--so I checked it out and read it in one afternoon. A variety of spoilers below.
Genevieve's husband Max, a security firm honcho and professional secret-keeper, was murdered over three years ago. Now someone seems to think that Genevieve has something to hide--her house has burned down, her business has been burgled, her storage unit ransacked--and her life may be in danger. Genevieve seeks refuge in the penthouse apartment attached the the firm and finds it unexpectedly occupied by Sean Kennedy. Although her marriage to Max was functional, Sean was the man who attracted her, and it was with him (at Max's instigation, and with his participation) that she spent a night of breathtaking pleasure . . . shortly before her husband's death. Seeing Sean again stirs up all sorts of feelings in Genevieve, especially desire. The trouble is, she's always assumed that Sean was the one who killed Max.
Sean still has feelings for Genevieve, even though they haven't spoken for years. When she arrives at the penthouse in the midst of a Chicago blizzard, he's determined not to let her go until they work through the past and make a fresh start together. The trouble is, he's pretty sure that Genny killed her husband. I'm not a fan of romance novels in which a fundamental misunderstanding persists between the protagonists, particularly when it could be resolved by a simple conversation, and this one lingers until page 268 of a 312 page book. By the time I hit that page, I was actively rooting for one of them to have committed the murder and turn out to be a psychopath, but I suppose that might have interfered with the Happily Ever After. Despite the obfuscation around the circumstances of Max's death, the identity of his killer--suspected by Sean from the beginning of the novel--is a complete non-surprise. Kery does throw in a last-minute twist, but the "tension" is so drawn out that it falls flat when everything is finally revealed.
So, you've got a woman who thinks her husband was killed by a man she was in love with at the time. She interrupts him with a bound and naked woman in the midst of a sexual scene, and he promptly escorts the woman out and locks Genny in the penthouse with him. Rather than call him out on any of his behavior or question him about Max's death, she consistently says she doesn't want to talk about it and quickly becomes intimate with him instead. While I understand that this behavior might be an indication that she doesn't want to hear Sean confirm he committed murder for her, it's not as if he's taken any real steps in the past three years to connect with her, or that she has used her position of power as co-owner of the firm to do anything at all, such as have him fired or sent elsewhere. Rather than address any of this, they have sex. Lots of sex. And she refuses to believe that she might be in danger, despite the fact that all signs point that direction.
Why was this book set three-plus years after Max's death if none of the characters have done anything to advance their lives in the intervening time? Genevieve has a boyfriend who is addressed so little by the text that she constantly forgets about him, until Sean forces their breakup by bringing her to orgasm on speakerphone. Super classy, right? As with many of these erotic romances that try to incorporate suspenseful elements, the plot always seems secondary to the sex, and neither of them make a ton of sense when examined in the light of day.
It's probably very clear by now that I was not a fan of the book, despite the fact that it edged into "so bad it's good" territory--the "toast porn" scene being the most salient example of this. It has less in common with the EL James trilogy than it does with books like Forbidden Pleasure and, especially, Mine to Hold, which has a similar husband-initiated threesome and adheres to the concept that it's perfectly fine for men to force women into admitting their feelings through sexual intercourse/withholding. Plus, Sean is from New Orleans and spends a lot of the book calling her "girl." The annoying nickname at least is in line with 50 Shades, and many of the other books I've read for this project.
I wouldn't class it as a good readalike for 50 Shades, and not only because both Christian and Ana have a great deal more sense than Sean and Genevieve. I know that I can't judge Kery's oeuvre based on this example, but--despite the sexual content--the book just doesn't work very well and doesn't have the same appeal factors. However, it does seem like Kery might be a great fit for fans of Lora Leigh and Shayla Black.
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