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: 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. 

Donna Reads: Sin & Chocolate (Demigod of San Francisco #1) by K. F. Breene

Alexis is magical, but she thinks her magical skill is nothing special. She lives in the area between magical and non-magical people, and she’s raising two teenagers she’s taken in. She can see dead people, and she helps them cross over when they are stuck between worlds. She attracts the attention of the demigod, Kieran, and he asks for her help with his recently deceased mother who is one of the souls who is stuck. 

This one was just okay for me. The story wasn’t particularly interesting. Alexis was not likable, and sadly she did not grow on me over the course of the book. She was sarcastic and rude, and although the hero repeatedly expressed interest in her, she wanted no part of him. There was little to no romance here. They kissed a few times. There was no heat, no banter, and no charming back and forth. It was just boring to me. 

The best parts were when Alexis spoke to ghosts. I had to backtrack several times, though, and re-read because it wasn’t always obvious to me that people she saw or spoke to were deceased. There was no indication that they were dead until I realized no one else was interacting with them. This brings up another peeve – the writing style. It wasn’t always clear. 

Had I known this book wasn’t really a stand alone, complete story, I probably wouldn’t have read it. It seemed to ramble and not really get anywhere. I’m not sure I’m going to bother with the second book as I think the author intends to drag this on and on.