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REVIEW:  Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

REVIEW: Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

Note: I wrote this review back in January and it is just now cycling up for posting. Previously, I had recommended it to friends on Twitter, Goodreads and Facebook. It’s been brought to my attention that this book may contain similarities to other books such as the Artist’s Trilogy by Karina Halle (which I’ve not read).

The main initial conflict of the heroine overhearing the hero, Dex, speak poorly about the heroine reminded me distinctly of the first meeting between Tate and Lauren in Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley. There is another scene in the book where the heroine goes to the villain and the villain obtains a kiss from her that causes conflict between the main couple later. This is a similar conflict between Brooke/Remy in Real by Katy Evans.

Karina Halle’s Experiment in Terror series contains a heroine who is a prodigal daughter returning home with no options and a hero named “Dex” and her Artists’ Trilogy has a tattoo parlor named “Sins & Needles” and Under Locke has a hero named “Dex” who owns a tattoo parlor “Pins & Needles”. Under Locke has a MC called Reapers which is the name of the MC group written by Joanna Wylde.

I emailed the author herself and she informed me she has not read any author named above but Kristen Ashley.

I didn’t see any line by line copying but similarities in plot points and characters. I thought a lot about whether to post this review but I figured I would, as I’d been vocal about it before but that I would add the note at the top so that readers could make their own judgment about it.


Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

Dear Ms. Zapata:

This book, like so many recent motorcycle books, draws heavily on the writing of Kristen Ashley. There are entire scenes and conflicts that are reminiscent particularly of Sweet Dreams and the main protagonists, Lauren and Tate. And like Kristen Ashley, this book is rather long. The Amazon entry says it is 900 pages and it’s more like 140,000 words or so. It could have been reduced by about 40,000 words and been a tighter, more readable, and less repetitive story.

Still, I enjoyed it even though there were problems with both the editing and the characterizations.   Iris Taylor moves to Austin after six months of unemployment, after her mother loses her fight with cancer and moves in with her brother Sonny.

Sonny is part of the Widowmakers Motorcycle Club (“Widows” for short) a lifestyle that her mother and father had warned her against for years. But he’s the only one who is offering a helping hand. Sonny also arranges a receptionist / officer manager job at a tattoo shop run by Dex Locke, another member of the Widows.

Her new world is imperiled when an outlaw MC decides that she and Sonny could pay for their father’s debts. Iris is drawn into the Widowmakers MC against her better judgment but finds that it is full of both drama and family.

Dex treats Iris with contempt and Iris overhears Dex calling her stupid to someone on the phone. This scene was pretty much Lauren and Tate’s initial interaction in Sweet Dreams. After Iris has worked for Dex for some time, he eventually apologizes after explaining to Iris that he has a foul temper and a worse mouth. Iris spends chapters not forgiving Dex, even after he apologizes repeatedly. I think the grudge was designed to keep up the conflict between the two but it went on far too long for my taste. Iris also engages in some really eye popping stupid behavior which she acknowledges in the text is stupid (but doesn’t refrain from doing it) and there’s an issue with her past medical history that implies she is somehow unattractive to the opposite sex which I found to be a fairly worthless storyline.

You can’t help but like Iris though. She sticks up for herself and tries hard.  Because the story is told from Iris’ point of view, Dex is somewhat of a mystery. He’s surly at first but he makes a concerted effort to win Iris over even if she is somewhat dense about his advances. It’s not entirely clear why Dex is so rude to Iris in the first place other than he believes her to be spoiled. Because we know that Iris is not spoiled and has a good heart, this misunderstanding of her intentions only serves to make us sympathize with Iris.

Iris and Dex’s story is a slow burn. For the first twenty-five percent, Iris really does not like Dex. She acknowledges he is attractive but he’s mean and she’s just not attracted to mean people. I liked that about her. I also enjoyed the relationship between Iris and her brother Sonny.  For instance, when Iris revealed how Dex had made her feel stupid, Sonny calls Dex up and chews him out. 

The group at the tattoo shop were a real family and each character, even though they only had a few scenes on the page, were well drawn. I loved reading about their interaction and their love for tattooing.

There were a few writing tics that drug down the story in places. She’d have the heroine spout off a spontaneous joke after about ten paragraphs of setup which undermined the moment. Further, the that’s what she said joke became old after the second use. It was the only joke Iris knew and she used that line repeatedly. In the book, everyone laughs uproariously whenever she says which caused me to roll my eyes. 

Overall if a reader enjoys a) a slow burn b) piercing and tattooing c) protective males and d) MC books then I think this would be a recommended read so long as she can overlook a few writing quirks and some irritating heroine behavior. C+

Best regards,



If other authors want to share their similarities

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REVIEW:  Impossible Things by Kate Johnson

REVIEW: Impossible Things by Kate Johnson

Impossible Things by Kate Johnson

Dear Ms. Johnson:

Has Bookpushers recommended this book to me and I really needed a break from contemporaries. There was so much to like about this fantasy romance that took place in some alternate world reality that included longboats, an empire, pirates and smugglers.  Our hero is Kael Vapensigsson, a twice marked warrior of the Chosen.

The Chosen are magic imbued humans who, with the help of crystals, are especially talented in certain areas. Tattoos appear on the body to indicate which gift a Chosen is given.  For Kael, he has two marks–one of a warrior and other mysterious mark which is revealed later in the book.

He is attempting to run down the source of a dangerous drug that poses a threat to the Empire when he comes across a slave that is thrice marked.  She’s been beaten and starved to the point of death but he can’t leave her there–a thrice marked Chosen. He fakes Ishtaer’s death and spirits her back to the Empire where she is fattened up, trained, and begins to recover from her physical wounds.

The romance kind of slips upon us which suited both the characters, particularly the heroine who suffered severe emotional, physical and sexual abuse prior to being rescued. But the romance plays a vital role as we watch the characters grapple with new feelings and then come upon the realization that what they feel is so strong that it must be love.

There are two major problems with this book. The heroine is a real Mary Sue.  She is beaten, blind, maimed but the only known thrice marked Chosen. Despite being blind she is able to fight seasoned Chosen warriors without training; she is able to heal wounds others can’t or won’t try. She graduates third fastest ever in the history of the Empire’s Academy in healing and first fastest in Foresight. She’s pretty perfect in every way except she’s too timid. Most everyone loves her including the other outcast Chosen who has a wooden leg, Kael and all his fierce warriors. Even a bully comes around to praising and recognizing the heroine’s worth later in the book.  In one scene, Ishtaer is able to rescue a grievously wounded Chosen by taking her pet wolf and one legged companion on a wild boat ride through the croc infested waters, avoiding poisonous darts, killing all enemies in her path (while blind) and burning the evil settlement–all because of her Chosen gifts of Seer, Healing, Fighting.

The second problem was the language. The character’s dialogue, in particular, was very modern for a historical fantasy set with longboats, horses, and swords. At one point, one of the “viking” characters comments about how cool something is. “Probably she was some runaway who thought tattoos were cool and had got herself kidnapped into slavery.” 

But beyond those two issues, there is some very good character development between Ishtaer, as she gains confidence in herself, and Kael, who looks beyond his own circumstances and learns to overcome his fear of loss.  There are swashbuckling fight scenes and the author does a great job of grounding us in the world with descriptions of the political structure in the Empire and the land and scenery. I’d read this author again in this world. C+

Best regards,


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