Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view


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

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

REVIEW:  Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams

REVIEW: Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams

Dear Ms. Adams,

Other readers might glance at the blurb and think, “A hero who’s a preacher? Really?”

I, on the other hand, thought, “Sexy pastor, bring it on. A contemporary marriage of convenience? Yeah, right. Whatever. Good luck with that.”

Married for Christmas by Noelle AdamsAfter years of dreaming, Jessica is finally getting married, but the marriage isn’t exactly what she thought.

Daniel is her best friend, and she’s known him all her life, but he’s never gotten over losing his wife two years ago. His dream is to become the pastor of the church in their hometown, but the small-town congregation keeps balking over calling an unmarried minister. Since Daniel needs a wife and Jessica wants a husband and family, she proposes an arrangement that benefits both of them.

They can get married. They can build a life together. They can celebrate Christmas as a couple. It’s fine that he doesn’t love her. And it’s fine that she’s not exactly suited to be a small-town pastor’s wife. And it’s fine that she’s more attracted to her sexy, brooding husband every day.

Jessica can be practical about this marriage. She knows what she’s getting into, after all…

I apologize for my unvoiced and uninformed snark. This was by far the best contemporary marriage of convenience romance I’ve read, and it’s a helluva Christmas story too. (Is that blasphemous? I did my penance with all those tear-stained tissues, right?)

Married for Christmas isn’t perfect, but I didn’t even notice until about the third or fourth reading, because I was rooting for Jess and Daniel from very first chapter. Friends-to-lovers. Strong but vulnerable heroine. Quietly sexy beta hero. Angst-o-rama unrequited love resolved by Grand Gesture Groveling. Big slobbery dog. All buttons pushed.

On the surface, heroine Jessica is a bit of a mess. She sees herself as utterly ordinary (“average, forgettable, no frills”), and the few lackluster dates she’s had over the years have reinforced her belief that romance and passion are out of her league. In reality, Jess is strong and smart – she’s brilliant at her job as a web designer – but she’s so quietly capable and unwilling to draw attention to herself that she’s overlooked by nearly everyone.

The one exception to her desperate loneliness is her childhood friend (and unrequited love) Daniel. He’s a widowed pastor who longs to return to his hometown congregation, but his age and marital status are red flags to the stodgy church elders – which sets the scene for the marriage of convenience.

What makes this story work is the constant negotiation that takes over their formerly lighthearted friendship. In the first scene, he steals food off her plate and she snipes at him for rebuffing her beloved pet (“Her name is Bear. Not ‘the dog.’”) and refuses to let him try to fix her car. But once The Proposal is out there, the boundaries are completely reset – all the inherent trust of their shared history is overwhelmed by the over-analysis of every word and action. Jessica consciously rationalizes everything, refusing to acknowledge her emotions because she doesn’t want Daniel to feel obligated.

And in all its awkwardness, the negotiating continues into the bedroom. I was really impressed with how the heroine’s virginity was treated as a simple fact and not a major plot point – and how the wedding night scene evolved from hesitant suggestion…

“You can read, if you’d rather…”

“If I’d rather read than what?”

Her cheeks warmed, but she was determined to be adult and mature about this topic. “Well, I was thinking we might…we might have sex. But we really don’t have to.”

“I didn’t know if you’d want to right away.” He placed the book on the nightstand, which was an immense relief. At least he didn’t prefer Bonheoffer to having sex with her.

…to teasing banter:

“So we got all this worked out then?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“So sex tonight?”

He nodded, a warm look in his eyes that made her shiver. “Sex tonight.”

While all that negotiating is great at showing the reader how Jess and Daniel rebuild their relationship, it’s also the source of some rather extreme emotional whiplash – hence the bump down on the letter grade. For each step forward, there’s an immediate step back. Every breakthrough is followed by a clueless remark that kills the fleeting rays of hope. It might be realistic, but both Jessica and the reader need a chance to enjoy a bit of momentum before the next crash of misunderstanding.

So – the Sexy Pastor thing. Yes, Daniel is a pastor. He writes sermons and reads Bonhoeffer in bed and wrestles with his faith. And ohhhh, yes, he’s sexy. Scruffy, brainy, beta sexy. Let’s just say he’s not a celibate priest.

Does Daniel’s profession make Married for Christmas an inspirational romance? Yes and no. According to the author’s note in the front matter:

The point of this story is not to present any sort of religious message, but because faith is important to these characters, the plot and their development turns on their spiritual condition as much as anything else. In writing a story like this, there’s likely to be too much religion for some readers and too little for others. I don’t know if I’ve navigated this challenge successfully, but I do believe it’s worth the attempt.

Goal achieved. The characters’ beliefs are an integral part of their daily lives and their relationship, but their “spiritual condition” is never beaten into the reader’s brain with self-righteous preaching or Magical Bible Verses.

Could this story have worked if Daniel was a Billionaire CEO With A Tragic Past or Navy SEAL With PTSD or some other romance hero archetype? I don’t think so. We would have gotten the requisite internal struggles over self-doubt and trust, but Daniel’s unique and highly visible role in their small community, and Jessica’s ambivalence about being the “perfect pastor’s wife,” is a much-needed source of external conflict (and humor) that keeps the story from turning into just another predictable Plain-Jane-Redeems-Manly-Man trope.

And, of course, the Sexy Pastor thing allows us to get that Gloriously Groveling Grand Gesture ending:

“Why are you panting?” she asked stupidly.


 Pass the tissues, please. I’m a little weepy again.

Grade: B+

~ Kelly

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle