Before you purchase this title, there's a few things you need to know...
Like many readers when selecting a title, I choose carefully, whether it’s an Amazon purchase or an advanced reading copy. Like some it’s because we have busy lives outside the reading community and time can be a precious commodity. Like others it’s because there are certain content we seek to find or to avoid in order to optimize our reading pleasure. Also like many readers in the romance genre, I have certain tastes and most definitely certain expectations of romance, one of which being an HEA.
HEA, an acronym for “happily ever after,” or more specifically short for the phrase many of us have heard since reading stories as little girls, “they lived happily ever after.” The key word now being they, a plural pronoun referring to the romantic lovers featured in the story. In this day and age it certainly doesn’t have to be one man and one woman, but they clearly implies a romantic unit. More than one.
For this reason, I find it useful when books are listed with certain tags or disclaimers. It helps readers find the right books while avoiding content, plots, and tropes they wish to steer clear of. Aside from the interesting plot description of Dirty Hacker, I was pleased with the following statement that accompanied the review sign-up:
“Dirty Hacker is a steamy standalone alpha billionaire romance novel. It’s only recommended for audiences 18+. No cheating. No cliffhangers. Guaranteed HEA.”
And then again in the front matter of the ARC at 2%, it reiterated before the story begins:
As the story progressed and the plot began to unravel, I had my doubts about the favorable outcome of this novel. But in my mind, I kept going back to the assurance at the beginning of the book—HEA. Why would the authors lie?
To say that I felt frustrated would be an understatement. To say that I felt cheated and deceived would be spot on. Readers trust that book disclosures such as “No cheating. No cliffhangers. Guaranteed HEA” given by the authors are to be true. When those statements are no longer trustworthy, readers feel duped, and must rely even more on the book community for honest, unbiased reviews.
Imagine my disgust after closing the last page to find that the assurance of an HEA was not only incredibly misleading, but now as an ARC reviewer I was being asked to withhold my honest review:
“If you feel this story deserves less than a 4-star rating, please refrain from leaving your review on Amazon and contact me,” reads the author’s note.
Unequivocally, placing stipulations or conditions on any review, whether it be an ARC or a verified purchase, negates the entire purpose of reviews being honest and unbiased. It affects the integrity of the entire review system. Readers must then be skeptical of every review they read. Did this title have all 4 and 5 stars because it’s so stunning? Or were all reviews rating less than 4 stars withheld? Those are both valid question every reader is forced to ponder when statements like the one above appear in books.
Furthermore, ARC readers are not reading the book to “fix any issues before the book goes live.” That’s what editors and beta readers are for. Reviewers provide analysis and honest opinions as post-publication feedback to the author and to assist other readers in selecting books. As a courtesy, they may bring a wording or grammatical mistake to the author's attention prior to publication; however, it is not their responsibility.
Perhaps some readers did bring to the attention of the authors the fact that this book does not contain the promised HEA. Because once live on Amazon, the new description now reads:
Dirty Hacker is a full length steamy standalone romance novel for mature audiences only. There are NO cliffhangers. NO cheating. Be prepared for a wild ride of self-discovery and not just your traditional girl meets boy love story.
Sorry, but this is still misleading. This isn't just a non-traditional love story, it's not a love story at all. This is a story about using sex, money, technology, and power to manipulate the actions of someone who is barely legal. Any readers who have ever been the victim of emotional abuse might even find this story a trigger.
So what will you really get if you read this book?
Well, Dirty Hacker is an engaging, compelling dark coming of age story that exposes the dangers of naivety and trusting too easily, letting emotions blind you, and thrills cloud your judgment. Told via eighteen year old social recluse Sophie Hanson’s sole first person POV, the reader is introduced to the radical hacking group The Alliance which Sophie becomes enthralled with as she hones her hacking skills. Reaching out to them, Sophie meets the attractive, alluring, and mysterious Preston Phillips, 37. She becomes immersed in his spell, following his commands while still living largely in the dark about the rest of the group’s members and activities.
As a coming of age story with strong themes of naivety, innocence, and corruption as well as finding a place to belong, this should almost be a must read in the modern, technological, social media obsessed world for all young adults. However, the story has a very strong erotic theme; it’s most definitely a hot and dirty read for adults. So perhaps the new adult market is where this fits best. More specifically though, the new adult, dark, erotic, suspense market is what this story is really geared towards. Despite the word 'romance' in the subtitle, I hesitate strongly to classify it as romance as ultimately that’s not what the reader gets. While the climax of the plot is certainly jaw dropping, and most of the story is engaging enough to easily keep readers turning pages, the ending is an epic fail, flat and unfulfilling (to both the reader and the main characters), perhaps even leaving more questions to ponder.
As a final note on this topic–—This blog does not withhold reviews. Not only would it be misleading and unethical, but it would mean participating in a form of censorship in the book community that sacrifices the integrity of the entire review system. These authors owe a sincere apology to all of their ARC readers for deceiving them about the ending and asking them to withhold less than 4 star reviews. If they value any kind of professionalism and wish to be taken seriously as trusted authors, they need to clarify their mistake and insist that ALL reviews be posted. And they also owe an apology to every reader out there for attempting to influence the reviews for this book, which in turn impacts the authenticity and intended unbiased nature of book reviews as a whole.