Donna Reads: Luna and the Lie by Mariana Zapata

We first meet our heroine, 26 year old Luna Allen as she’s being sworn at in a staff meeting by her boss, Lucas Ripley. Luna has closed her eyes because she’s tired, and he thinks she’s asleep.

Luna, raised in a drug-filled and abusive situation, left SanAntonio with nothing when she was 17. Her younger sisters were left behind with her grandmother. She fortunate enough to meet a kindly 60-something man, Mr. Cooper, in Houston who hires her to work in his auto body shop, and she (and later her sisters) live with him and his wife for a few years. She becomes part of his family. She’s also a valuable employee, having worked her way up to painting cars.

Forty year old Lucas Ripley, or Rip, as he’s known is Luna’s “newer” boss. He bought into the business three years ago, and he and Mr. Cooper do not get along. They are always fighting, and Luna is always intervening to get them to stop. Rip is huge, muscular, handsome, secretive and hard on the employees. He’s also always covered, wearing long sleeves, even in the heat, and it’s obvious he has lots of tattoos as they are on his throat and fingers and hands.

Although he’s not always nice, Luna has a big crush on Rip. Her life has not been an easy one, and she spends about 85% of the book in her own head, trying to convince herself she’s okay, she’s loved, and she has a good life now.

This has been called one of Zapata’s “darker” books. I’ll agree that it deals with some darker subject matter, especially Luna’s past and her family, and aspects of Rip’s past.

I had a really hard time with Luna. I didn’t like her very much. She was such a cheerful, sweet, smiling Pollyanna, and everybody she meets loves her except her own family and one co-worker.

For someone who was strong enough to escape what she had at such a young age and make a life for herself and her sisters, and to succeed in what was typically a man’s job in an all-male environment, she wasn’t tough enough. She was a bit of a doormat. She let people take advantage and walk on her (in particular, two of her three sisters), and that didn’t fit for me.

She was also a dope. It was so obvious that Rip cared for her. He stayed at her house after there was a break-in. He slept with her in her bed because she was afraid. He even kissed her, and she wonders if that’s what bosses (or friends) normally do? Come on. (Eye roll inserted here). He’s not friendly with anyone, but he gives her rides, takes her to the doctor when she’s hurt, seeks her out to take on business errands with him, makes lunches for her, and eats with her. Duh, Luna.

She insists she doesn’t hold grudges, but after she obnoxiously pushes and pushes and pushes at him in an extremely high stress situation (a hospital emergency room) to find out whether or not he wants something to eat or drink, he tells her to leave him alone. Suddenly she’s a little kid again with everyone yelling at her to leave them alone so she’s done with him. Then she refuses to accept his apologies or talk to him (other than professionally as an employee) for two weeks. Grow up, Luna.

I loved Rip. He was a perfect Zapata hero, hard to get to know, but underneath it all, he loves Luna and has a heart of gold. He had his faults and rough edges, too, and it was hard for him to express himself. He’s had a rough past, and he thinks he’s too old for Luna. I loved the part with the roses.

I listened to this one on Audible as I read it. Callie Dalton is Zapata’s go-to female narrator, and I’m starting to wish she’d switch that up. She reads all the heroines exactly the same. It’s starting to feel like the same book because the female voice never changes. Nothing changes.

The heroes’ voices change up from book to book. Rip was voiced by Gomez Pugh, and he did an excellent job. He made Rip real. He was awkward, not articulate, tough, yet endearing and sweet.

I did enjoy this book although Luna’s endless litany of self-assurances got on my nerves. She was not my favorite Zapata heroine.

This was a typical Zapata slow burn romance, well worth the time it takes to get there.

Donna Reads: Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata

Dear Aaron was a typical Mariana Zapata slow burn romance. It was written in a different format, though. I attempted to read it in 2018, and I gave up on it. I was in the mood for one of her books. They are usually long and take time to get into them and through them. I owned this one in electronic and audible format. I’ve been working from home since March so I decided to listen to it instead of reading it. I put it on while I worked.

It is a slow starter. A series of emails between Ruby Santos, a single 24 year old, shy girl from Texas with a quirky sense of humor and a soldier from Louisiana deployed somewhere overseas, 29 year old Aaron Hall. The narration on this one was spot-on. I fell in love with Aaron from the start. Teddy Hamilton nailed that character, and the slight drawl behind his words was charming. Ruby was cute. Given Aaron’s name in a solider, penpal-type program, she was so earnest and determined when he didn’t answer her at first. She doesn’t know that he’d just gotten a Dear John letter from his girl of two years, and he was a bit shaken up.

They start out emailing bits and pieces of their lives, and she even manages to send him care packages. If he could have anything from home, he wants a pizza. She figures out to send him freeze-dried cheese and a pizza kit so he can have a pizza. She was definitely a caring goofball. Sickly as a child and taken advantage of by an older man she thought she loved, she has low self esteem. Aaron is a steadfast and true friend. He encourages her. She makes him laugh and smile. He’s had a bit of a falling out with his family and went into the military because he didn’t know what else to do with his life.

I loved these two, and hearing their voices so charmingly playing out their story and building their solid friendship was a real treat. After emailing for a bit, he finally instant messages her, and they begin to speak in real time with no delay. She quickly forms a bond and a massive crush on him. I knew the exact moment he fell for her, and that was sweet, too. They talk to each other for nine months.

When he gets leave, he asks Ruby to meet him. He wants her to go to Scotland with him and his friends, but she doesn’t have the money or the nerve. After Scotland, he and his friends plan to stay for a week in Florida at a beach house, and he finally talks Ruby into meeting him. He buys her ticket. Her family is against it, but by then they were both in love with each other and don’t know and won’t admit it. She goes anyway. She figures she’s in the friend zone so she’ll meet him once and get it out of her system.

When he finally talked her into actually calling him on the phone so that they can finally hear each others’ voices was really cute. I loved their first actual in-person meeting, too. Aaron was sweet and charming, just as wonderful as his emails and messages. Ruby is a nervous wreck, of course.

Her week’s stay at the beach house isn’t without a few trials and tribulations, not so much on her part, but it takes her longer to break through Aaron’s reserve and hesitance. He’s very secretive. I read so many romances with brash, arrogant, alpha male leads that it was refreshing to read about a hero that loved the heroine but was still shy and blushed when she pushed him for more.

By the ending, I was in tears, and I usually don’t cry over books. After resisting this one for so long, I finally gave in, and I’m very glad I did. If you can’t get past the mundane emails at the beginning, I highly recommend that you listen to it on audio. You won’t regret it.

Aging Semi-Gracefully

You know you’re getting older most days just looking in the mirror. More wrinkles, gray hair, and things sagging that once were firm.

The gray hair has been there since I was a teen. My Gramma went white when she was in her 20’s and no one ever remembered her with darker hair. I have had my hair every color possible because why not? My biggest personal indulgence is my monthly hair salon visit. A natural brunette, I’ve gone blonde with pink highlights to help hide the white roots. You know you’re getting older when the few stray dark chin hairs you used to pluck out have turned white.

I was blessed with good genes as far as wrinkles go. It wasn’t until I turned 60 that wrinkles really started to catch up with me. I’ve been blessed not to have looked my age. Once the youngest in my office (I was 19 when I started my very first job, a temp job at a bank), I am now the old broad, the oldest one in my department. You know you’re getting older when you’ve been tasked with training (multiple) people. I spend a good portion of my day imparting my knowledge to others. After all I’m not going to be doing this forever.

I was never a star athlete or much of a fitness nut. I was fit enough in my 30’s to join a gym and work out every day at lunch time. Now I find myself working in the very same building with free access to the very same gym. I’m 60. I know I’m not dead, but I have zero interest in jumping around in an aerobics class as I once did. I could walk a treadmill or ride a stationary bike, but the things that once worked well enough for that no longer cooperate as they once did. You know you’re getting older when you add your name to the list of people in need of assistance during a fire drill.

I fell down the stairs a number of years ago and I have a knee that’s had physical therapy. It refuses to cooperate and swells up every so often. It buckles when I go down stairs. I have Achilles’ tendons with calcium deposits and a bum ankle from spraining it twice in my youth. I work on the 19th floor now. Walking down all of those stairs for a fire drill isn’t an option for me. If I don’t have to, I’m not going to. Period. Hell, yes, add me to the list. You know you’re getting older when your pride doesn’t hold you back from asking for help.

Yes, age has its benefits. I no longer care what others think nor do I walk around worrying about what they might be saying about me. Nope. I wear leggings, capris or yoga pants. No more tight waistbands for me. I remember lying down to zip up snug-fitting jeans and then looking damned good in them. I also got gas cramps and itchy grooves dug into my belly. Now I wear baggy, triple x sized t-shirts. I’m not that fat. I just don’t like anything tight or clinging. I wear flats 24/7. I used to stuff my feet into spiked heels, and I’m 5’9”. Now I wear sneakers to work, and I wear slacks and baggy blouses. I used to wear business suits, stockings and color matched high heels. I dressed for success. Did I ever succeed? Nope. So now I’m comfortable. You know you’re getting older when comfort comes before fashion.

I’ve reached the age where I can eat off of the 55 Plus menu or do the early bird specials. Do I? Nope. I’m not quite ready for that level of senior citizen label. I probably should because my digestion these days doesn’t allow me to scarf down bad food. I’d rather be hungry than sorry tomorrow. I only eat what agrees with me. You know you’re getting older when you order a full meal and walk away leaving most of it still on your plate.

You know you’re getting older when you can feel it in your bones. Age is freeing, but aging is permanent. The years slip by before you know it, and you can’t get them back. So take those instrument lessons you always wanted to or put pink streaks in your hair. Play live on stage with a band. Adopt a kitten while you’re still young enough to chase them around.

You know you’re getting older. Hurry up before it’s too late.

Donna Reads: Only You (One and Only #1) by Melanie Harlow

Emme lives across the hall from Nate. They are friends. They share a love of James Bond movies and often spend evenings together watching a movie and sharing a meal. Nate is a womanizing playboy who often lends a sympathetic ear to Emme’s love life woes. Emme secretly would like more from Nate, but he is convinced that he never wants to marry or have children. He believes he and Emme want totally different things out of life. When an ex leaves an eight week old baby  girl on Nate’s doorstep, telling him in a note that he is the father, Nate is forced to man up and take care of his daughter. 

I loved this one. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy Melanie Harlow’s writing. She is great with character development, and her story lines are humorous and have great depth. Nate had a very sad event in his childhood that destroyed his family and made him afraid of opening himself up to love. He was scared to love and lose again. Emme was convinced she only fell for jerks. In the opening scenes where she receives a wedding invitation to her ex’s wedding, I was laughing out loud.  Emme was sweet and adorable. 

The supporting cast of characters were also well written and added to the story the way that real friends and family would.  I highly recommend this one.