S.E.C.R.E.T.: A Novel

S.E.C.R.E.T. - L. Marie Adeline Initial reaction: I need to stop letting books with pretty covers fool me. But then again, I was fooled by a lot of things about this book. This should've been something I ended up liking. Actually, this is probably a book I would've liked a lot more given the elements. Self-discovery! Set in New Orleans! Features characters of color in prominent roles! Sexy time fantasies with cute guys! But instead of "Wow!" all I pretty much got was "Ow, ow, ow!"And that ending. THAT ending. What on ever lovin' Earth was that? Argh.Skip this one. Please. It's not sexy or a true coming of terms, it's really stupid.Full review:I think like quite many people, I saw the advertisements flashing along the sidebars in Goodreads for this book and that somewhat played into my reading of this much sooner than I thought I would've. I had an ARC of it from NetGalley, and from reading the premise - I was very excited about this book and hoped it would prove to be a good reading experience. I love self-discovery stories, and that's probably playing into my interest and previous studies/work in the spectrum of personal wellness. I may have had background exposure in the measure of physical fitness and wellness when it comes to physical/mental dimensions, but my passion/interest also lends to other dimensions of wellness including spiritual, emotional, sexual, and between and beyond those lines. I think they're all important in the collective umbrella of one's health and well being fulfilled.Not to say that I expected this book to go into any of that measure of detail. Nah. I just wanted a fun, sexy, exploring read perhaps where the heroine comes into her own and finds her own sense of happiness with either someone she cared about or maybe being put on her way towards being more confident, sexy and going in her own path in that measure for her life. I wouldn't have minded either of those things. The blurb of this really has some very cool ideas and promises to it (and LOOK at that cover! The charm bracelet looks nice with the colors - in both the U.S. and U.K. editions).At the beginning of the book, we meet Cassie, a 35 year old waitress who's lost her ex-husband (who really wasn't even good to her and made her feel like crud) and hasn't had sex in about five years. I at least appreciated the way that L. Marie Adeline introduced Cassie and her background, because a lot of erotic novels don't really take the time to develop their characters. Cassie's pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place with respect to being comfortable about going out and being in a relationship with someone. I don't really blame her for that, and I even forgave some of the things she said initially in her mental filter that I didn't like/see eye-to-eye with. She likes her boss (Will), but turned him down so now he's going out with another woman. She still kind of pines for him, and in general wants some form of a relationship with someone.One day while at work, she comes across a notebook that one of her customers leaves behind. Guess what she does? She opens it, and "accidentally" reads some of it's rather explicit sensual details. Which turns her into a blushing, harried mess of things and she realizes she needs to return it. At this point I realized that I was at least in part reading an erotic novel about a woman reading a part of an erotic account and there were some Inception type vibes going on (couldn't help the reference, ha!).But here's the thing - Cassie *lies* about how she came across it and has one of her coworkers a part of the measure, but then ends up confessing later to the woman that she lied, found, and read a part of it. I never understood why she lied in the first place, even with understanding she was frazzled about reading someone's personal accounts of sexy times (I mean, I know I would be, but that's with a different consideration), but to lie about it to that extent? Meh.I have other issues with Cassie lying with respect to other parts of this story but I'll get to that later. In any case, the owner of the book, as well as a mysterious woman, invites Cassie to be a part of this "secret society" called (you guessed it) S.E.C.R.E.T. Now I actually had no problem with the secret society in itself or that it was composed of women, who may I add were of various backgrounds - there was an Argentine woman, a Indian woman, and there are various other characters of color in this book. At first I would've like to say that's a positive inclusion, especially with this taking place in New Orleans, buuuut there's not much done with them and the fact that they're this secret society that's watched Cassie for a time and supposedly want to fulfill her sexual desires kind of creeped me out. Not to mention Cassie's sort of goaded along this whole stretch of things and I don't really feel like she was an active part of making all these decisions. I could understand her not having much confidence, but I don't think that changed at any point during the entire narrative of the story. ESPECIALLY with the ending.I'm not one to judge anyone on the level of their sensual fantasies, but I have to admit that the portrayal here of the different realms that Cassie went through over the course of a year in each of the steps of the S.E.C.R.E.T ideology felt very detached and uninvolved to me. The initial questionnaire that Cassie's given by the society was really threadbare, I thought. They weren't even fun questions, because you'd think for a woman who wants to try new things and explore her sexuality and build her respective confidence, it wouldn't be so mechanical and it felt that way even to me at the jumping point. So I had issues with that, but I decided to see where it would go.The fantasies weren't really that much and ended a bit sooner than they began, with some degrees of repetitive elements. The guys, who were a mix of different backgrounds, were kind of in and out. While I understood that was a part of the process, it made me want to know more about their involvement and who they were, especially given the time frame that's supposed to measure in this book. I actually felt the only scenario that did anything for me was the tattoo guy who said he had a kid, because his personality and klutzy nature was actually kind of cute (what little could be seen of it). There were activities of a term with each dimension, but they lacked a certain degree of intimacy. What made it worse was that Cassie's voice didn't really carry these scenarios that well. A lot of telling, not showing, very threadbare presentation.During this time, Cassie lies very much about her involvement with this group, and even lies to herself in measures - which for a novel that's about self-discovery and coming to terms, I thought that didn't mesh well. Ultimately, Cassie realizes that in the course of her journey, she loves a certain guy all along and goes to be with him, only to find out that she can't because of a certain other consideration and then she takes what I thought was a really stupid route in the consideration of this entire narrative.And then it ends, just like that. So abrupt, it wasn't sexy, it wasn't even in the measure of any path to confidence or competence or whatever the author was going for. It just ended like that.I imagine any person picking up this book wanting Cassie to have a happy ending or a true coming to terms would throw this book at the wall and never want to pick it up again. It was really stupid. I would admit for my own reading experience, I had problems throughout this entire narrative, but the ending was the last straw. My inference would be that the author tried to end it in a way where Cassie was coming into her own sexual liberation or something of that nature, but it wasn't done well. It really wasn't conducive to what the promises of this book lent. I couldn't have been more disappointed with reading it.If this is a part of a series, it did nothing to make me want to read onward. Just confirmed a level of disappointment of this book's promises and what it could've become from its respective blurb. No, this is not "emotionally powerful", no this is not "liberating" or even close to being "enticing" - it's just a really silly novel that I don't want to pick up again.I guess if there's something to be said positively about this read, it made me want to do two things in its aftermath. First, I've decided the next time I go to a special stationery store or bookstore with specialty journals - I'm going to buy a special journal with letters I can run my fingers over, have a gold plate with my name on the inside, and use it to explore different personal dimensions of wellness and confidence building questions that I can keep in a daily format, because I like keeping journals and special stationery measures (see my review on Megan Hart's "Switch" as to why).Second, if there's something to be said about fantasies and the constructiveness of them, I'm going to share one of my own. It's not even that graphic, it's not even that steamy or daring compared to some considerations - probably more of a romantic thing than anything else. But it's more of a thing to say that we all have different things that make us happy and feel fulfilled in our relationships. I'll put it under a spoiler tag for my GR review of this, but if you want to read it, it's up to you. (This won't be included on my blog posting of this review, however.) Still working on it, bear with me. Otherwise, I'd recommend giving this book a pass. It wasn't good, and the measures behind it aren't even profound or worth writing home about.Overall score: 0.5/5Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.