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Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 14th August 2017
Under Locke by Mariana ZapataUnder Locke by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on June 24th 2014
Pages: 496
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one-star

He was my boss, my brother's friend, a Widow, an ex-felon, and a man I'd seen casually with a handful of women. But he was everything that gripped me, both the good and the bad. Worst case scenario if things turned awkward between us, I could go somewhere else. I'd gotten over epic heartbreak before, one more wouldn't kill me. -- After moving to Austin following six months of unemployment back home, Iris Taylor knows she should be glad to have landed a job so quickly... even if the business is owned by a member of the same motorcycle club her estranged father used to belong to. Except Dex Locke might just be the biggest jerk she's ever met. He's rude, impatient and doesn't know how to tell time. And the last thing they ever expected was each other. But it was either the strip club or the tattoo shop. ... she should have chosen the strip club. -- "Babe, I've handpicked everythin' and everyone in here. I know what I want and I get what I want," he breathed. "And I keep what's mine."

Lordy, I had a tough time with this one.

I think it takes a special sort of day and strength to read Mariana Zapata’s intimidatingly long books. They go on so long on a slow burn that you feel torn between tossing it and wanting to just finish it for the perverse pleasure of saying you’ve triumphed over the convoluted plot which could definitely have benefitted from about a hundred fewer pages of inner monologues. I’d managed ‘Kulti’ and ‘Dear Aaron’ without too much trouble, but ‘Under Locke’ proved a huge challenge to say the least.

My biggest problem nonetheless, was my inability to like both protagonists consistently throughout the book. Frankly, I was so put off by Zapata’s characters that I still ask myself why I tried to finish the story as it became apparent that my struggle began about halfway through when the problems with the MCs turf war, Iris’s deadbeat father and her supposedly one-sided love for her dominating, unreasonable bastard of a boss started to dovetail.

Zapata typically only writes in the female POV, so that pretty much shunts what every male lead of hers is thinking. You’ll need to infer from what everyone else in the book says about the hero in question and what you think you might be able to glean from the unreliable narrating of the female lead. Which isn’t to say Zapata’s female protagonists aren’t likeable though; they are mostly very relatable, sometimes wryly funny and I definitely can see shades of the everyday (wo)man in these leads.

Yet I mostly vacillated between sympathising for Iris’s honest, stuttering, down-to-earth blabber and hating her spineless, rollover behaviour, while pretty much despising Dex for being everything I hate in a male protagonist…who, despite being a mega-prick, actually amazed me when he got the woman he insulted crudely and for generally existing as an all-round possessive chauvinist pig. Throw in the manwhore and virgin extremes here and that just derailed the reading experience for me.

I had to call it in, which is a pity because I do like Zapata’s writing style. But ‘Under Locke’ just wasn’t the book for me—particularly so when I felt relief to put the story behind me.

one-star

Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ New Adult/ Reviews 16th June 2017
Dear Aaron by Mariana ZapataDear Aaron by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on June 10th 2017
Pages: 485
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three-stars

Ruby Santos knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she signed up to write a soldier overseas.The guidelines were simple: one letter or email a week for the length of his or her deployment. Care packages were optional.Been there, done that. She thought she knew what to expect.What she didn’t count on was falling in love with the guy.

Mariana Zapata’s penchant for the slowest of burns and intimidatingly long stories was what got me tentatively reaching for ‘Dear Aaron’, as the blurb promised to be exactly the kind of story I wanted to read in a long long time.

But it was a surprisingly easy read through it all, with the first half of the book spanning nearly a year and focusing solely on emails (that range from disgusting body functions to familial relationships) and text as Aaron’s and Ruby’s own communication take a turn for the intimate. Strangely enough, it was only when the first person POV came in later that my own reading slowed down, when the transition from letters to messaging to (sometimes neurotic) inner monologues caught me by surprise.

That said, Zapata’s characters do resonate with me, at least from what I’ve read of her books so far. Zapata’s amazing consistency of her characters, the unexpected bursts of humour, the wry and ironic perfection of the aw-shucks girl? It’s pat down. I loved Ruby and her self-deprecating humour straight out, down to the insecurities and the uncertainties that an average person can relate to.

Yet with Ruby providing the sole POV, her insights into the male protagonist through her own skewed observations are the only cues in a narrative given so subtly that it does leave the hero in question in danger of becoming a jaw-tightening, mute and jealous arse who doesn’t want to say what he thinks or feels. There isn’t much I can say of Aaron sadly, who remains somewhat a mystery despite what his letters seem to say and not say and is somewhat of a player by Ruby’s standards.

That said, this doesn’t really change the fact that ‘Dear Aaron’ of definitely one of the better, cuter and sweeter reads I’ve had in a while. I just couldn’t help the nagging feeling that it could have been sharper, possibly shorter and more hard-hitting where it really mattered.

three-stars

Kulti by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports/ Young Adult 3rd September 2016
Kulti by Mariana ZapataKulti by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on April 11th 2015
Pages: 572
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three-stars

"Trust me, I've wanted to punch you in the face a time or five." When the man you worshipped as a kid becomes your coach, it's supposed to be the greatest thing in the world.

Keywords: supposed to. It didn't take a week for twenty-seven-year-old Sal Casillas to wonder what she'd seen in the international soccer icon-why she'd ever had his posters on her wall, or ever envisioned marrying him and having super-playing soccer babies. Sal had long ago gotten over the worst non-break-up in the history of imaginary relationships with a man that hadn't known she'd existed. So she isn't prepared for this version of Reiner Kulti who shows up to her team's season: a quiet, reclusive shadow of the explosive, passionate man he'd once been. Nothing could have prepared her for the man she got to know. Or the murderous urges he brought out in her. This was going to be the longest season of her life.

I can’t ever remember a time when football hasn’t been a part of my life and reading a book so dedicated to it – and all its intricate byplays – is such a joy, even if it’s just to see the minutiae of practice and a game come to life on paper. Mariana Zapata carefully catalogues these moments though Sal Casillas’s down-to-earth and sometimes hilarious perspective as she finally starts to separate the man (and her coach) from the soccer legend that she’d idolised all her life.

Slow-going at first, the story gets a lot more interesting as Kulti’s and Sal’s paths converge more and more over the weeks and months to come and I did find myself enjoying the second half of the book way more than I did the first. Their relationship is long drawn out over a football season and it’s only after the season when it all begins – and ends abruptly.

But if I liked Sal’s very distinct voice and personality, I thought Kulti was mostly unreachable and way harder to grasp as a male romantic lead. Seen through Sal’s eyes, he seemed for most of the book, like a gruff and threatening arse who thrived on staying aloof, rude and difficult while treating everyone around him badly. The hints of him falling for Sal do come later, but it was nonetheless frustrating because I didn’t feel as though I’d uncovered his layers – his personal history, the story behind the DUI, his broken marriage – at all by the end of the story when they kick off their HEA. Without greater insight into Kulti, it always seemed that the growing friendship between him and Sal was one-sided and developed on his terms. There were other small quibbles I had as well: the weird, changing eye-colour and the descriptions of Kulti’s eyes, the funny way that Sal kept calling Kulti ‘The German’, for instance.

The long and short of it is that I don’t quite know what to make of this at all. It’s about the most beautiful game after all and Sal’s childhood fantasy come to life is really the stuff of dreams (even though it’s hard to believe that she’s loved Kulti all her life) I loved reading about. Yet the reality of when they meet and go on for periods as dysfunctional friends made me wonder just how anyone wanted to have anything to do with this jerk of a ‘hero’. The main draw had always been Sal – Zapata does a great job of endearing readers to her – for me and by the end of the story, she shone way more brightly than Kulti and for her alone, I’m glad she got what she needed.

three-stars
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