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.

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. 

Donna Reads: Close (Ryder Brothers Book One) by Laurelin Paige

Natalia Lowen is an actress, 36, with a reputation as a good girl. She’s America’s Sweetheart. When she meets former boy band icon, now rockstar, 23 year old Nick Ryder, in a bar and they share a sexy dance together, she doesn’t expect to fall for him. She doesn’t expect him to feel the same way about her. 

This story was okay. Nick was much more mature than Natalia was. He knew what he wanted in life. She spent way too much time worrying about her reputation and what others thought of her. About 74% of the way through when she decided she was too old for him and wanted to end things, I got fed up and put the book aside. I did eventually finish, and they do work things out, but in my opinion the angst wasn’t necessary.