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: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

fikryIn The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, we meet A.J. Fikry, a curmudgeonly bookstore owner. A.J. lives on a small island called Alice and runs Island Bookstore. He is a widower, and he’s not altogether likeable at the beginning of the book. He’s rude to a publisher’s sales lady, a theft occurs, he meets a local Police officer who becomes a friend, and he ends up adopting a little girl almost by accident. His life changes in many ways.

I am not quite sure how I felt about this book. It has been on my TBR list for a long time.  I received it as a birthday present, and I was pleased to finally give it a go.  It left me feeling strangely unsatisfied.

I tried listing things I did not like about it:
1) A.J.’s sister-in-law and what she did;
2) how quickly time passes and how things are glossed over in the book; and
3) the ending.

Then I tried listing things I liked about it:
1) the cop;
2) how each chapter was introduced with a literary note and different books were mentioned (it made me scramble to look things up online); and
3) how A.J. changes (as a person) for the better.

It reads fairly quickly, but I never felt like I got to know any of the characters in depth. I’m not even certain I can say it was well-written. It felt superficial and different. Maybe that was it – it tried too hard to be different.  I liked that it made you think about and perhaps remember different books.  It made you want to read some of the books that were mentioned. The pacing of the story always felt rushed to me. The storyline would jump forward in time several years at a clip. I didn’t care for that. We never got to savor or enjoy anything in a deeper, more meaningful way.  Even the “bad” parts zipped by too quickly.  When I started this book, I wasn’t bowled over by it and found myself putting it aside for days at a time. I had to actually make myself finish it. When a book leaves me that uninspired, I guess I didn’t like it that well after all. It just didn’t do it for me.

Fifty-Six

This is what fifty-six looks like. It’s actually not much different than what fifty-five looked like yesterday. Although this is fifty-six first thing in the morning. Unadorned. Unmade up. Unconscious. This is what I asked for – to sleep in, and I got it – after a fashion.

fifty-sixYes, I got up at 6:00 to feed the cat and give him his insulin. Yes, I made my younger son’s lunch and hugged him before he left. I also opened my first birthday present (from him). Then I went back to bed. Yes, I woke up to answer my older son’s birthday text. Then I went back to sleep. Yes, I woke up to answer my hubby’s text, saying he was on his way home. That was two hours ago so I’m not sure where he disappeared to. He’ll turn up soon.

Fifty-six sticks in my head because I remember learning my multiplication tables when I was in elementary school. For some reason 8 x 7 was a hard one for me. To help me remember the answer, I recall my mother using a rhyme. She said, “My dog, Fido can do tricks. Eight times seven is 56.” Yes, that silly rhyme has stuck with me almost 50 years later. ‘Do tricks’ indeed.

Fifty-six marks another milestone for me – a sad one. My Father died when I was 28. This year he will have been gone for 28 years. He’s been gone half of my life now. It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. Time does march on.

Time was simpler when I came along. I was born in 1959 so I just made the 1950’s decade. Life itself was simpler back then. We shopped at the Five and Dime – either Woolworth’s, Kresge’s or Neisner’s. We could buy clothes, housewares, linens, tropical fish, plants, candy and more. When we tired of shopping, we grabbed a stool at the lunch counter (in the same store) and had a sandwich, a float, an ice cream sundae or a milkshake. A big weekday outing (before school) was the bank, the post office or the grocery store. We spent time at the library, and we borrowed books. There was no such thing as computers, the internet or downloading. My Mother was my idol, and I aspired to someday be just like her. In my child’s mind, women did not work. My Aunt worked, but that was because she was divorced. I thought when I grew up, I’d marry and be a housewife. That was all I ever wanted. TV was Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, and the Wonderful World of Disney – all usually watched at Gramma and Grandpa’s house – either a Friday evening or a Sunday evening. We usually spent those nights at Gramma’s house. TV at my house was shows my Dad enjoyed – Combat or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. If you didn’t like what was being watched, you went and played in your room, or you read a book. Kids didn’t control the entertainment. My Mom sat up late watching the Johnny Carson Show. When I had time off from school, it was a special treat to sit up late with her and watch the old comedians or actors and actresses that Johnny was interviewing. Vacations were family camping trips – usually centered on a body of water where Grandpa and Dad could go out fishing in Grandpa’s boat. We kids usually spent our vacations running up and down, getting bitten by mosquitoes and sun burned. We usually never went any farther away than the Thousand Islands. I never went to Disneyland or Disneyworld, and I never wanted to.

Fifty-six. I’ve been married for most of my adult life, and I’m also fast approaching the point in time where I can say I have been married as long as I was single. Being single wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I had lots of fun with my cousins, but once everyone started going their separate ways, being single was lonely at times. Being married and sharing my life and love with my best friend is much better than single ever was. It completes me to know that someone has my back and understands me like he does. We don’t see each other as often as I’d like since he started driving a truck, but hearing his voice on the phone makes my day every day. Saying “I love you” is very important to both of us. I also am blessed to know the joy of motherhood, having experienced the miracle of birth twice. I am Mom to two fantastic young men who I am also thrilled to call good “friends” as well as my children. They are polite, funny and kind, and I am proud to call them mine.

Fifty-six is a day for celebrating. I always take my birthday off from work. Do I ever do anything exciting? Occasionally. Even if I never leave the house, it’s a day to reflect, regroup and recharge. Have I stuck with the New Year’s resolutions I made a month ago? Nope. Do I hope to get back to them? Of course I do. Am I happy where I am in life? Very much so. Was I thrilled to see all the birthday messages and greetings waiting for me in my email in-boxes when I woke up today? Most definitely so. I am blessed to have friends and family, near and far. Thank you, everyone. You made this fifty-six year old’s day just a little bit brighter and a little bit happier.