BLOG REVIEW: Wrecking Ball by B.N. Toler


32y.o. heroine thought that her comfortable life
as a stay-at-home mom to her 2 girls
and a constant support to her busy biology professor husband Hero of 10 years was fine.
Until she walked in on him kissing one of his graduate students on a night when he called to miss dinner due to work.
It shook her to the core.
Making her wonder about how Hero had changed from being so obsessed with her the instant they met in college
and what happened to the bliss of their early marriage.
 How did their scorching and frequent sexual connection
become reduced to a mild and routine one?
Heroine's decision to take some time apart from each other gave Hero a lot of time to think.
But, when he saw the photos taken of her recently at her vacation spot with a provocative note attached to them by the photographer,
it was now time for him to act.  Seeing her with another man brought a deluge of emotions
that he hadn't felt since their early years of marriage, bringing home how much his indiscretions could really cost him.  Was it too late?

What will it take to make her forgive him? What can he do to make her trust him again? 

This romance novel is more about marital infidelity than a groveling book. The physical cheating seemed minimal: one kiss that lasted mere seconds before Hero pulled away from the other woman (OW) and realized that heroine had witnessed the kiss. It was a quick kiss but it was still cheating because of Hero's intent. Looking at it in its entirety, it was more than just a quick kiss. It was not an accidental kiss, where they accidentally bumped each other & fell on each other's lips. It was not a one-sided kiss because he admitted to kissing her back in this confession to his friends:
               “She kissed me and I kissed her back, for a few seconds when it hit me 
                what a shitty husband I was and I pulled away.” (p. 109)
It was not an unwanted kiss, because Hero would've acted with repulsion or, at least, rejection when OW planted a kiss on him. But he neither turned his face or any other part of his body away from her. Instead, he put his hands around her waist and allowed her to place her hands on his neck for more intimacy in those few seconds of kissing. Looking like the mutually-shared embrace that heroine witnessed.

It's the emotional aspects of the kiss that undoubtedly puts it under the category of cheating. And what made it so devastating to heroine.

      ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details--------

The moments after Hero pulled back from kissing OW and contemplated things for a few seconds before they were interrupted was what devastated heroine all the more. She viewed the post-kiss contemplation (with Hero STILL holding OW's waist) as his indecision about whether to continue his intimacy with OW. She knew his expressions well enough to see that he was unsure. He was not definite in his rejection of OW and that's what hurt her the most. It gave the kiss she just witnessed the meaning she was afraid of. During the kiss, heroine was still giving Hero the benefit of the doubt. She gave him a chance to let the OW down in whatever manner, hoping that it was just the OW participating in that kiss. Or that it would somehow be explained away by something other than a mutual sexual intimacy. But his facial and bodily expressions and lack of immediate verbal or bodily rejection showed her that he, not only reciprocated the kiss, but was maybe open to more of it. Hero's defense about those post-kiss moments (ie, considering how to let OW down gently without ruining their professional relationship) was too weak to appease the great hurt heroine was feeling. It couldn't explain away why:
a.) it took him so long to stop the kiss
b.) he didn't make it immediately clear (verbally and non-verbally) that OW's kiss was unwelcomed or inappropriate.
b.) he was still holding OW's waist & she, his neck after the kiss.
c.) he kissed OW back.
What was clear to her was that Hero was open to getting his romantic and sexual needs met elsewhere.

Hero admitted to kissing OW back because she gazed at him with the same adoration and sensual warmth heroine used to look at him with in their early years together. So, he cheated because he was missing the worshipful attention heroine used to give him. It showed how self-absorbed & self-centered he'd become with heroine because:
  1. he ignored heroine's multiple initiations of sexy intimacy and sensual affection many years into their marriage, especially after they had kids.
  2. he didn't bother to tell heroine directly what he wanted or needed from her now (i.e, to be adored, to feel wanted as a man, to feel sexy)
  3. he instead took the easy way out by savoring another woman's attentions and affection for a few seconds.
  4. he didn't bother to consider heroine's own needs and wants.
  5. he neglected to see what heroine was doing/sacrificing to make life easier for him and to support him in his career.
  6. he was using OW as a tool to fulfill his needs and wants without seeing her as a person.
And it highlighted the problems in their marriage:
  1. Hero had become increasingly focused on building his career at the university.
  2. he took heroine for granted by seeing her more as a steady & undemanding support and the primary parent of their kids.
  3. their romantic life became scheduled around his time and needs.
  4. heroine had become a doormat, allowing Hero to set the tone and timing of their romance and choosing to surrender her needs and wants aside to make his primary.
  5. heroine re-defined her identity to be a passive homemaker and parent who catered around the needs of her husband and children, pushing aside her natural sexiness, assertiveness, frankness, and desires.
  6. their lack of openness and honesty with each other, suppressing their innermost desires and needs from one another and hiding their true feelings and thoughts about each other. For years.
  7. their lack of true intimacy, settling for routine sex and a comfortable but lackluster marriage.
         ------------------------------------------END SPOILERS------------------------------------------------

It was an emotional betrayal, first and foremost. The reciprocation of the kiss and Hero's post-kiss reaction was its expression. The OW didn't play any other part in the book apart from that kiss. But it's what she symbolized to Hero (ie, youth and excitement, sensual adventure, sexual attention) and, thus, heroine & Hero's marriage that made her a continuing sore point in their relationship. Heroine no longer wanted to be a part of their distant marriage. It had fallen apart and she wasn't sure if she was willing to fix it or call it quits.

What I liked best about the book was how they dealt with the cheating, especially heroine. I wouldn't consider this a good-groveling book. Hero did so some groveling (i.e, gave heroine the space & time she needed without protest, sincerely apologized, promised to do all he can to get her back & show that she was the only one for him). But what offset his groveling for me is that it took him awhile (2 months & 3 weeks, to be exact) to finally fight for heroine & their marriage. He acted helpless & dejected and moped around for weeks, wondering about the demise of his marriage and feeling part-mad & part-condemned when heroine would call or text without conversing much with him. It took the strong urgings of several family members & his close friends at varying times during that 2.75-month period to FINALLY get him to pursue heroine & fight for her. So, Hero was basically passive about his marriage falling apart until 75% of the book. That was a disappointment. I like Heroes who fight for the heroine they wronged as soon as they realize they're fault. I like Heroes who have the gumption to do what they can to get heroine back, no matter if they embarrass/hurt/impoverish/inconvenience themselves. This Hero didn't really do that. By the time 75% of the book came & he finally did some groveling, heroine had already evaluated things by herself and had already gone through some major healing process by herself. She just happened to be strong enough and ready enough when Hero finally went after her. Essentially, Hero's grovel was preempted by heroine's own process of healing and self-restoration. What Hero's grovel did was to add some vital pieces to her healing and her decision to reunite with him.

Heroine's character development was what made this a good read for me. She may have regressed in their marriage by becoming a doormat and losing her identity to Hero and their kids but she regained her own identity back within 3 months time. Like Hero, she did mope around and was passive and dejected but only for a few days,. Thanks to her willful sister. Once she realized some things about herself, she did the hard work of doing what it took to be the person she wanted to be. She wanted to be the confident, assertive, independent, sexy, and open person she used to be. What made it a quick recovery for her was that these parts of her were buried but not dead. She just had to revive them by doing things that expressed these characteristics (i.e., change of fashion, zip-lining, hanging out at the beach/pool, punching the guy who was assaulting her sister) and she became a new person. A stronger, more mature, more focused, and sexier version of her pre-motherhood self. She admitted her deficiencies in their marriage but without minimizing the wrong of Hero's cheating. She loved Hero and knew what she wanted (to keep her family together) but she wasn't going to sacrifice her identity any longer and go back to the kind of marriage she and Hero had. She had remembered her worth as a woman and she wasn't about to forget it again. And I liked that she made clear that Hero wouldn't either.

Her character development was what convinced me of their HEA(happy ever after) and that Hero wouldn't likely stray again. Her not weakening her resolve during their time apart made Hero realize what he was missing and was going to miss forever if he didn't do right by her. Seeing heroine again and experiencing her distance from him and mistrust of him confirmed what he needed to do to make her stay with him and improve their marriage. They both made an effort to rekindle their romance and to discuss things openly this time. Heroine had to work on forgiving Hero and he had to work on convincing her that she was loved and treasured by him as a woman, wife, and mother to their children. I liked that we were shown Hero becoming obsessed and possessive over heroine again. It paralleled how he felt about her when they first got together. It certainly made a strong case of his love and devotion to her. I just wished we got a better account of how their romance changed during the course of their marriage. It would've added more poignancy and emotional pull to their overall story. To really seeing where things went wrong and how it impacted both of them at that time. The back and forth accounts of their beginning romance and the present time showed Hero and heroine with very similar characters. We're only told that heroine's character regressed & their marriage declined in brief statements.

I recommend this book.
4-star

BLOG REVIEW: Yesterday's Husband by Angela Devine

28y.o. businesswoman takes a much-needed vacation to Bali, before she announces the demise of the company she's worked hard to manage since her father's death 7 years ago.  
The last time she was in Bali was 9 years ago on her honeymoon, which she's trying not to dwell on too much. 
It becomes much more difficult, when her estranged husband Hero, who she hasn't seen or heard from in 8 years, unexpectedly shows up.
And demands that she be his wife in full for 3 months, in exchange for him saving her bankrupt company. Heroine is dismayed at how hard and coldly calculating he had become. 
35y.o. lawyer-businessman Hero makes clear that he wants revenge for her choosing her father over him and cheating on him with the man her father approved of.
Heroine contests his infidelity accusations with her own. Their fiery arguments

match their fiery attraction and passion for each other. She agrees to his 3-month proposition.
In the next few weeks, their time together becomes more harmonious and she becomes hopeful about its permanence.
When she catches him in a compromising position with his beautiful company lawyer, 
all bets are off. Was this all part of his revenge scheme? 

The best things about this Devine book were the realistic portrayal of a separated couple trying to reunite temporarily and the character growth that came from being separated for about 9 years. We see the mixed emotions of love, lust, hurt, unforgiveness, resentment, and anger Hero and especially heroine have for each other. The book was told from a 3rd-person POV(point of view) from the heroine's end. What we know of Hero's was based on his words and actions and his confession at the end. Even so, the emotional atmosphere in this book was tangible. Part of what made it so was the frankness of Hero and heroine towards themselves and each other. They did keep some of what they really felt for each other from the other. But, for the most part, they were quite brutally honest about how they perceived each other in the past and now. For example, Hero told heroine that he was in love with her when they got married but now thought that she was only:
          "passably pretty and your nose is too long. Added to that you've been spoiled
           rotten from birth, you have no conception of loyalty, you're extravagant, willful, and
           heartless. I just can't imagine why I should still find you attractive. But, oddly enough,
           I do." (p. 16)
I really liked the play of honesty with secrecy. There was something in that mix and how it was done that pulled my emotions. 

The character growth that came from living life separately for 8 years and going through challenges on their was evident especially with heroine. Heroine's come back to Hero's aforementioned insult-compliment of her shows that she's become more assertive, astute, and self-reliant:
         "Really?...Now you, on the other hand, are God's gift to women. Handsome,
          charming, rich, irresistibly sexy and possessing a wonderful way with words.
          I just can't imagine why I don't find you attractive. But, oddly enough, I don't" (p. 16)
Boom! She gave it as good (or even better) than she got. We see these kinds of one-upping dialogue throughout the book. She made Hero grit his teeth in frustration from her snappy comebacks. Loved it.  It showed her progress from a naive & relatively spoiled 19-year-old to a sharper & more independent 28-year-old woman.

If I were to rate them on their emotional maturity level on a scale of 1 to 5(highest) when they first met & got married, 19y.o. heroine was a 1.5 and 26y.o. Hero a 2.5. Nine years later,  28y.o. heroine's maturity level went up to a 4 but 35y.o. Hero's only developed to a 3, if that. Her honest introspection showed her weaknesses as well as highlighted her strengths.  She had some doormat-y thoughts here and there but at least she acknowledged them for what they were & attempted to do differently. Although she promised to keep her true feelings from Hero until she figured out exactly where she stood with him, she tended to blurt out the truth before that. It was more out of a matter of being truthful than being impulsive, which Hero didn't share. Hero was only truthful when it served him. He often used his honesty to put down or snare heroine in his revenge plans. But she was self-confident enough to let it roll off her back and defend herself.  Hero's 3-month marriage proposition was a game he played to avenge himself for how he thought she mistreated him in the past.  

  ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details--------------

To understand their relationship problems accurately, I had to outline a timeline of their relationship since their relationship sequence wasn't easy to follow(another reason for my lower rating of this book). It's broken into 3 parts: timeline of when they met & married, heroine's viewpoint of events after their big argument (BA) , and Hero's viewpoint of events after their BA.

Here's what happened:

1. They met when Hero was working as a construction supervisor for her father's building. He asked her on a date & she accepted. 
2. They dated a few months before they got married at a register office without their family's presence. 
3. Her father was not pleased with their union. Heroine tried to appease things with her father and thought it was working. Hero didn't agree and thought her father was sabotaging his work, leading to their marital strife. 
4. Eleven months into their marriage, Hero and heroine had another big argument (BA) about her father sabotaging Hero's business. Hero left and, after 5 days of him gone and not knowing his whereabouts, heroine went to her father's house to stay with him until Hero came back.

Events after BA from heroine's viewpoint:

5a.) Heroine got a call from her jewelry insurance company a few days later to check on a ruby bracelet found at an inn. She confirmed the unique bracelet was hers. She was appalled at finding that it was found under the used bed of 1 of the inn's bedrooms that was registered under a "Mr. & Mrs. (Hero's name)" on the weekend he left her. 
Edited to add: This was all set-up by heroine's father to make her leave Hero. Hero never cheatd on her during their 11-month marriage. In fact, he stayed celibate the next 3 years, hoping she'd come back. 
5b.) A few days later she wrote him a letter acknowledging his infidelity and asking him to come back to her and have a fresh start with her anyway. She had her father personally hand-deliver the letter to Hero.
5c.) On the night of their 1-year wedding anniversary still without any word from Hero, she begun dating a man (OM) her father approved of and who worked for him. She broke up with OM months later, when she realized she wasn't in love with him and only dated him as revenge for Hero cheating on her. She never slept with him.

Events after BA from Hero's viewpoint:

5a.) Hero stayed at his sister's house after his BA with heroine & was frantically working on saving the important business deal he believed heroine's father was trying to damage. This business deal was going to make or break him and his family and heroine didn't know about it (more on this later).
5b.) He found out that heroine moved to her father's house. He thought she was being a spoiled & immature for doing so just because of their BA and thought she'd eventually come back to him once she cooled down.
5c.) On their first wedding anniversary and no word from her yet, he sent her a dozen roses as a peace and love offering. She never contacted him about it or about anything else.

6. Nine years later, they finally see and talk to each other again, when Hero followed her to her Bali vacation.

    -------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS--------------------------------------------------

It was quite sophomoric of him. He may have become mega-successful and mega-wealthy in the last 9 years. But he was emotionally stunted. What made it excusable (and made him still likable) was that his emotional state was rooted in how greatly heroine affected him. How he handled being hurt by her was what stunted him and 1 of the factors that caused me to rate this book less than a 4-star.

    ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details--------------

He declared himself in love with heroine since he met her. And that he never stopped loving her. If that's so, then:
1. why didn't he go after her as soon as he found out that she moved to her father's house?
2. why didn't he go after her and confront her when he learned about her affair with another man?
3. why didn't he make sure that she received the roses he sent her for their one year anniversary, given his belief that her father was actively sabotaging their romance? A phone call to her, asking her if she received them would've been a really good idea.
4. why didn't he call, write, or personally visit her during the 9 years they were separated? Especially within the first month or so after their BA? 
5. why didn't he tell her about his family's dire financial straits & the importance of the business deal he was busily working on right after their BA?
6. why did he not divorce her, especially 3 years after their BA when he started dating & smexxing other women? 

Heroine was also culpable. She also should've gone after him and confronted him about his alleged cheating with all the evidence she had. She did write him a letter but she easily gave up because of his lack of communication. Why not write him another letter and leave it at visible place in the home they shared? Or call him? Or why not start divorce proceedings if she thought their marriage over? But she did none of these. Instead she started dating another man as a way to get back at Hero just a month after their BA. 

     -------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS--------------------------------------------------

He railed about how his love for her made him feel vulnerable and emotionally controlled by her. Thus, her leaving him to go to her father's and cheating on him with her father's choice hurt him greatly. Hero was an aggressive go-getter with a successful entrepreneurial touch in law, business, and real estate. So, it baffled me at how passive he was at handling his problems with heroine and her alleged infidelity. He didn't fight for her. His flower offering was a very measly attempt without the needed follow-up. He just acted helpless, hopeless, and increasingly resentful. It changed to a more active yet still-childish anger 9 years later, manifesting as demands, mind-games and manipulation of heroine. It was only his cold calculation, alpha-male attitude, and his obsession with her that saved him from appearing totally childish. 

There was some angsty moments towards the end of the book that made me tear-up a bit. Their idyllic reunion was a time-bomb waiting to explode. And, when it did, heroine let it all out and Hero was baffled but finally worked to make things right with her.  He went after her, confronted her, and fought for her. For them. And they finally talked about all that happened and resolved things. Finally!

I moderately recommend this book.
3.5-star

BLOG REVIEW: Exorcising Sean's Ghost by Beth Kery

27y.o. psychologist has had a tough 15 months that she had to bear in secret.
No one knew that she's been grieving the death of her secret lover who was a successful U.S. prosecutor of high-profile terrorists.
She only has her memories of their 3 blissful & sensuous months together to sustain her.
She's not sure if her grief was making her a little crazy because she thinks the attractive stranger she just met at the park could be her deceased lover.
But there are many things about late-30s corporate lawyer Hero that are very different than her deceased boyfriend. He's too hard and cold. And looks nothing like her former boyfriend.
He's also demanding, dominant, and rougher as a lover 
unlike her romantic and affectionate ex-lover. He's much more closed-up and mysterious in his dealings.
However, he doesn't shy away from taking her out in in public like her ex did.
Neither does he shy away from answering her suspicions of him and demanding that she stop mistaking him for her ex.
Hero sets out to make sure that she knows he's the only one she's aware of.
Heroine was ready to bury her past for a future with him.
Until she saw an old picture of him and her deceased lover together.
Was all of it a lie? Who was this man she was with?

I can be quite nitpicky about flawed characters and often look for a good grovel when a major betrayal occurs. In this one, I thought the Hero was a hypocrite, demanding heroine to meet a standard (i.e., complete honesty) that he did not meet. He didn't even grovel for it. And I actually didn't mind. It's a testament to Kery's writing that I forgave him for his hypocrisy & putting heroine through a lot of angst and to still like him despite of it. There are 2 reasons for this. One, I really wasn't sure about the Hero's identity until it was disclosed at the end. Two, his reasons for being dishonest seemed valid and rooted in his concern for heroine's well-being.

I thought it was going to be pretty easy to figure out who the Hero was by chapter 3 but it ended up not being so predictable. Heroine often confronted Hero about his true identity and he was consistent with his answers, which befuddled me. He not only denied being her deceased lover but was jealous of him. He made sure she knew who she was with by making her say his name when they were intimate. He demanded that she stop confusing and accusing him of being her former boyfriend. The pictures showing both men together threw a big wrench on my guess. I empathized with heroine's plight. I felt confident in pegging Hero's identity during times when she seemed to deduce what was going on and felt confused as she when she was proven wrong. Although we got both main characters' 3rd-person POV, we got to know heroine more. Part of it was due to story following heroine's life since meeting Hero. Another was due to her frequent introspection & openness with Hero. The emotional tone in this book was often set by her emotional state. Hero was harder to figure out, although I could feel his tension at keeping things controlled & not be waylaid by his intense feelings for heroine. Their sexual tension leapt off the page, which is pretty typical of Kery's books. It was driven by their increasing feelings for each other and the barriers that kept them from being fully together. It made their plentiful sex scenes more tingle-inducing. My only grievance about the sex scenes was that there was a little too much backdoor details.What made the mystery enticing and Hero's dishonesty forgivable to me were his motives. Finally knowing what they were at the end answered my questions about his feelings for heroine & the merit of the emotional pain she endured.

         ------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details---------

Hero's big secret:

Hero was the man named Sean heroine was in love with and secretly dating for 3 months more than a year ago. But he now has a different face and identity that exactly matches Sean's best friend (BFF), Jack. Hero underwent facial surgeries to look like Jack after his BFF Jack had a car accident that severely injured him and killed his wife and his bodyguard the same day that Hero missed the car explosion set for him due to his involvement in prosecuting a known terrorist leader. He completely assumed his BFF Jack's identity & had himself Sean declared dead. He didn't tell heroine or anyone else that he was still alive. And he never planned on ever doing so.

His motives:

1. Hero sacrificed his old life & identity to protect heroine & his BFF Jack's family from further danger. He believed that the timing of the car explosion meant for him and his friend's fatal accident was deliberate. He believed both were connected to the high-level terrorist he was prosecuting at that time. 

He didn't take his sacrificing his relationship with heroine lightly. In the 15 months that he'd been separated from her, he remained celibate. He couldn't stomach being with another woman, even though the opportunities were certainly there with his new face, new identity, & the fact that heroine thought he was dead. He kept track of her. And, when he found out she started dating another man, he became even more obsessed with her and possessive of her to the point that he risked his well-oiled plans to stay hidden by personally following her and then, soon enough, "meeting" her at the park. It got more out of control from that point on, when he then rushed into claiming her from the man she was seeing for 2 months. 

2. Seeing his BFF Jack grieve his wife and watching him eventually die in the hospital pushed his resolve to not experience this with heroine. Ironically, his deceiving heroine about his death caused heroine much grief and loss. But he'd rather lose heroine this way than getting her killed because of her relationship to him. He believed that her grieving his fake death was worth it if it meant saving her life.  

3. His dying BFF Jack requested that Hero assume his identity, agreeing to a face transplant that would physically transfer his own face on to Hero's. His BFF's request was in conjunction with the US secret-service agencies' recommendation to have Hero assume another identity for his & his loved ones future safety. His BFF wanted him to spare his family the grief of losing him too. Jack's family had become Hero's family after his parent's death. So, sparing his BFF's family from more grief made sense to him too. And assuming his friend's identity was the easiest new identity he could assume since 1.) his BFF was dying 2.) he knew his BFF's character very well and, 3.) he & his BFF were similar in many ways (i.e., their physical build, their professions).

       ------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS----------------------------------------------

They both went through a lot and much of it was due to external factors out of their control. They both had to make some big decisions that entailed big sacrifices personally & for their relationship. It showed the depth of their characters & their love for each other. I had no doubt that they loved each other greatly. It helped to see Hero get possessive & obsessive over heroine. I loved how he got stalkerish on her & scared off her boyfriend of 2 months. I loved how the strength of his feelings for her made him break out of his firm plans & act uncharacteristically out of control. Although Hero was the dominant alpha male & heroine a willing submissive, both were well-matched in their inner strength, caring, and intelligence.

I recommend this book.
4-star

I'm Done With That

I. Am. Done.

I'm done being part of the rat-race of reviewing romance books for the sake of:
1.) building an audience
2.) marketing authors' books
3.) getting a free book
I didn't start out with any of these intentions. When I began blogging a year ago, I only wanted to shared my book reviews in a creative and unrestricted way. I felt limited by the review rules of Amazon and Goodreads and wanted a freer outlet. So I created this blog.

People say that knowledge is power. Sometimes though knowledge can open the wrong doors. And that's what happened to me. I heard that, in order to blog, I had to build an audience. In blogging book reviews in particular, reviewing advanced copies of books (ARC, for short) & finished book copies given by an author/publisher is supposed to get your blog “out there”. Book review sign-up sites like Netgalley, Edelweiss, and the multiple reader forums in Goodreads encourage this kind of audience exposure. Especially for new, indies, or self-published authors. I thought it was a wonderful deal, getting free books in exchange for reading and posting my reviews of them. But, after months of being increasingly irritated with and disappointed by this whole review-in-exchange-for-a-free-book process, I had to evaluate myself and what the heck I was doing. This is what I found:

1. I am no fan-girl.

One of my biggest pet peeves with current romance-novel reviews is the crazy fan-girl reviews. 
This is particularly evident in the New Adult romance sub-genre. Look up any popular New Adult author on Goodreads website & you'll see the review page filled with awe-filled comments about the book with accompanying photo images and lots of exclamation points. The thing is I've read thousands of romance novels so I don't get easily impressed any more. I don't “Oh my God!” or "squee!" about books or think a book Hero is “my book boyfriend”. 
Maybe its because high school was eons ago. But I didn't fan-girl any music bands or celebrities then either. 

Fake reviews can often be trailed to these ultra-loyal fans. They're like the family and friends of the authors who will post reviews of the author's books on Amazon and Goodreads websites without disclosing their relationship to the author. These reviews are fake because they're biased towards the author and is most likely done to help boost the author's book rating. These reviews mislead potential readers to spend their time and money on a falsely advertised book.

I read books because something in the story appeals to me. I don't follow authors and have no loyalty towards them. If they write a sucky book, then they get a poor rating from me & I likely won't buy their book again unless they prove themselves otherwise (thank God for public libaries!). I do appreciate authors who've written a slew of books I've liked. But a sucky book is a sucky book and being a fan of an author is not a reason for me to rate & review it differently. My reviews are all about the book and how it affects me. It's a momentary personal thing and I try to capture it in my reviews. And it only lasts until the next book.

2. Honesty isn't really what they all want.

A free book in exchange for reading it and posting an honest review. Sounds like the greatest deal for someone who already reads and review books, right? It depends.

If you won't sell your honest opinions in exchange for a free book. If you won't compromise your true book rating in order to please or not hurt the author's or publisher's feelings. If you'll risk never getting asked/approved to review another book from that author or publisher again. If you can brush off the backlash you may get (I'm telling you, some of those fan-girls are crazy in a bad way!) for posting a negative review, then yes. Multiple negative comments and those anonymous downvotes on Amazon.com have gotten to me at times. On particularly challenging days, I get aggravated with them. Especially when the negativity comes from the book's author. It's often made me wonder if they really want an “honest” review or are they angling for a positive review and high rating because they gave you a free copy of their book? Although I've never had an author or publisher tell me outright that they're expecting a positive review of their book from me, I've definitely felt the pressure from their emails before and after I review their book. It ain't pretty. 
Those invisible claws come out when I rate their books a 3-star or less. Rrrrawr.

3. Free isn't even worth it.

My blog is free. I review books for free. I'm not getting any money for it. Some may consider getting a free book from an author or publisher as payment but I don't see it that way. Not anymore.

My original intention was to post reviews of books I've acquired through the years. I have hundreds still waiting to be read (and it continues to pile up). Getting free books from authors & publishers to review seemed like a great idea a year ago. But now not so much. It's not worth the pressure of time and emotions. I put a lot of time and effort in my reviews. Those free books I get for a review don't even begin to "pay" for my time and effort.  
It's quite laughable that an author/publisher would think that I owe them a positive review and high rating just because they gave me a free book. My and other readers' reviews are helping them market their books for free. They really should be paying us much more than a free book. But that would get us into the sticky situation of unbiased reviews.

4. The personal cost is too much.

What started out as a fun hobby a year ago had become onerous.  Reading to review is no longer fun for me. And I don't want to do it anymore. Why?
  1. Because I end up reading books that are mediocre and sometimes awful.
  2. Because I put the books I really want to read on hold due to the ARCs & book copies I promised to review at an allotted time (i.e., the book's release date, blog tour date)
  3. Because this whole read-to-review process became feeling like serious work instead of a light hobby.
  4. Because I became so turned off by the fake reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and I realized I was part of this whole marketing scheme, even if my reviews come from the heart.
  5. Because it cost me my love of reading romance novels.
Reason #1 to #4 are quite bad but to have this reviewing and blogging experience cost me my love of reading romance is horrendous! Mind-boggingly, frustratingly, and depressingly horrendous. 

I endured over a month (from end of July 2014 to beginning of this month) of having no desire to read romance. I felt like an impotent man who really wants to get excited but can't. I couldn't get past the first sentence of any romance novel before I gave up and closed it. It was awful and I sincerely hope I'm completely over it. I thought that nothing could touch my love of reading romance. And the fact that this book-marketing scheme via reviews did is my wake-up call to stop this madness!

My new MO (modus operandi) is to go back to my original blogging plan. To read simply because I want to. And write reviews because I like doing so. What this means is that I'll be reading and reviewing books from my own reading pile from now on

I will probably accept an occasional ARC book/book copy but only when the right mood hits me & the book really appeals to me. For the authors and publishers reading this, know that my reviews do NOT whatsoever guarantee a positive or high rating. You will only get the truth of what I really think of your book from me. If you can handle the truth, then we have a deal. 
I expect respect, decency, and maturity in our dealings. Anything else is UNacceptable.