Grade : A

Do you like a boss/employee taboo scenario that takes consent and power equality seriously? A hero who wants the heroine’s submission to come from a position of choice and strength, and to also make space for her own pleasure? Are you open to a ‘meet cute’ in a glory hole? Then Suzanne Clay’s Release may be the book for you.

Danielle Higgs is the personal assistant to Victor Hughes, the carpenter-turned-business owner of an upscale furniture business. She sublimates her crush on him by making his life run impossibly smoothly – that and sneaking off to a glory hole for anonymous sex. Except it turns out that the best sex she has ever had there… is with Victor. Awkward – or an amazing opportunity?

I was leery of the age difference here, because there are so many daddy kink age-gap stories, or ones that pair teens/new adults and forty-somethings, so when I realized that Danielle was thirty-two to Victor’s fifty-five, I heaved a sigh of relief. These are two different age groups, but both characters are fully formed adults with experience of being in relationships and having other sex partners, and Victor was married before (to a man; he and Danielle are both bisexual). The author does such a good job capturing his generational difference when he explains the joy of being able to marry his ex even though they both already knew it wasn’t a perfect match,

“You must know how incredible 2015 [the legalization of gay marriage in the United States] was for so many of us… For the first time, there was no more jumping through hoops to make sure our life partner ws on our medical insurance. No more worrying about who would have control over our decisions, if we passed on early. No more asking ourselves if one of us should legally adopt the other, just so we’d be able to have the right to take care of each other in the eyes of the law.”

Maybe because so many authors want to write in a vague and mythical ‘permanent present’, I rarely see age gaps written that show how the characters are authentic products of different eras. I liked the specificity of anchoring Victor’s bisexual male experience to a particular age cohort.

Danielle was in an abusive relationship with a man who used her for sex without caring about her as a person. In fact, he verbally abused her for the same sexuality he initially prized, making her, for instance, uncomfortable being looked at when she’s aroused because she feels her faces are undignified. She finds this very difficult to move past, since she also has a submission and ‘usefulness’ kink: she both hated this treatment and got off on it. This past is what gives Release the richest core of its conflict: how can Danielle and Victor both be healthy individuals and a healthy couple? I’m not a fan of ‘enmeshed’ erotic romances in which being fully subsumed in each other is #couplegoals. I loved that Victor supports and encourages Danielle to have her own desires apart from what pleases him, whether that’s making new friends, having her own suggestions for dinner options, or speaking up for herself during sex. It’s healthier for both of them if their kink is part of their relationship, not the only dynamic they experience.

Release is one of those erotic romances enriched by the characters enjoying each other’s company outside of sexual scenarios. On their weekend getaway, Danielle muses, “She hadn’t realized how starved she was for this – just sitting in a room with someone she loved while they read together.” As someone companionably sitting near my spouse of several decades while we both work on different laptop projects – don’t underrate the long-term essentialness of companionable parallel activities.

There is a huge focus on consent here, but in a way that feels human and natural rather than performative for the reader. When Victor realizes, based on some garters, that Danielle is the same woman he had sex with at the glory hole, he immediately discloses that information to her. THANK YOU, AUTHOR, for having your character do the respectful and mature thing, instead of stretching a plot out of a Big Mis. Victor is very concerned about a relationship with an employee, and even once Danielle argues for their relationship, he works to devise a way to mitigate the power imbalance. During sex, he constantly checks in to ensure Danielle gets sexual fulfillment, not just fulfillment of her desire to please. Even the supporting characters are doing it right: when Danielle finally confesses to a friend that her new boyfriend is her boss, he asks all the right questions: Do you feel safe? Did you feel pressured?

I waffled over taking this to an A-, but ultimately, even though it has a couple of small issues, I’d say it’s still an A. What are the issues? Even though Victor never gets angry or frustrated with Danielle, we know he’s capable of it since it happens with a third party. I would have liked a scene where he was angry in front of or with Danielle, since that’s when she’d be most likely to have a trauma response. I wasn’t fully confident that she was ready to manage that. Some of what I wanted for the characters got pushed to the epilogue (especially having Danielle start therapy), instead of being developed in the main narrative. One time, Danielle was having lunch with coworkers, and one of them was so weirdly in-your-face about her polyamorous bliss that I thought she had to be a previous heroine getting an epilogue (not to my knowledge). There is also occasional implausible and flowery language which pulled me out of the relationship conversations. On the whole, though, the writing prose is solid with moments of excellence, as when Danielle worries that she has brought too much for a weekend at Victor’s: “He was going to take one look at her bag and think that she’d stuffed a whole body in it that she needed to hide in his backyard.”

I rely heavily on the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon when I try a new indie author, because it lets me rule people out for fundamental illiteracy. In this case, the author sold me with her prose, but also with her author’s note warning me that the story contains “no third-act breakup or bleak moment.” I’m honestly thrilled by a book that doesn’t force that structure and just lets the characters make slow but steady growth. I am also newly aware of the tag combo high heat/low conflict and damn if I won’t look for that everywhere now.

Erotic romances are, for me, the most unnavigable of all the indie categories (weigh in if you disagree!) and one of the hardest ones to recommend to people because likes and dislikes are so personal. If what I’ve described here sounds like your style, then definitely give Release – and Suzanne Clay – a try.

Grade: A

Book Type: Erotic Romance

Sensuality: Burning

Review Date : April 10, 2023

Publication Date: 03/2023

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  1. I read Ulrich’s book several years ago,it was excellent. American Experience on PBS did an adaptation of the book, it…

Caroline Russomanno

I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.

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