Dear Aaron (Mariana Zapata)

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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.

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So THIS is the book I was supposed to have read before From Lukov With Love. There were no real spoilers by reading them out of order but it still irks me to have done so. I like to read chronologically.

– sigh –

Dear Aaron is a very nontraditional book. The first half is written in the form of letters (technically emails and then IM chats) between the hero, stationed in Iraq, and the heroine, living in Texas.

I think this is such an interesting route for the author to take. She didn’t just use the pen-pal idea as a hook for five chapters to justify its use, before having the characters meet up. They literally corresponded by email for the first nine months that they “knew” each other.

I wonder if Ms. Zapata had a difficult time writing those messages? It certainly doesn’t seem like it, I sorta sunk right into their conversations and got lost in the story. The dialogue between the characters certainly seemed natural to me. At times it is frequently hilarious. ie; conversations about buttholes.

Momma Santos is hilarious and I hope we get to read about Tali falling in love, because I am not done with this family.

The hero Aaron is attractive, kind, and mild-mannered. He and Ruby both have a fantastic sense of humour and are more than a little geeky. Aaron reminds me a bit of Channing Tatum’s character in Dear John.

Except there is a happily ever after in this romance story.

I do wish that the book had covered more time after Aaron and Ruby come together as an official couple but I guess that it is the benefit to reading about Ruby’s sister Jasmine in the follow-up. Updates!

For me, Ruby was the easiest (thus far) of Zapata’s characters to relate to which might have helped me to fall into the rhythm of this book. It is one I would recommend in a heartbeat but the writing style will not appeal to all readers.

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xx

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From Lukov With Love (Mariana Zapata)

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If someone were to ask Jasmine Santos to describe the last few years of her life with a single word, it would definitely be a four-letter one.

After seventeen years—and countless broken bones and broken promises—she knows her window to compete in figure skating is coming to a close.

But when the offer of a lifetime comes in from an arrogant idiot she’s spent the last decade dreaming about pushing in the way of a moving bus, Jasmine might have to reconsider everything.

Including Ivan Lukov.

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It’s funny how the last book I read from this author seemed waaaayy too long, but this one was barely long enough! From Lukov With Love is a fantastic romance novel that I read in one sitting.

All 552 pages.

The author, Mariana Zapata, certainly timed the release of this book well to coincide with the Winter Olympics 2018. But it does not feel in any way like a rushed book that was pushed out as a get-rich quick effort. I honestly believe that the story would have evolved the same way and been just as good if there wasn’t a major international competition taking place in figure skating right now.

Hero/ines who start out quarrelling but are forced into closed proximity by circumstances seem to be Zapata’s bread and butter. This same has been true of each book of hers that I’ve read, yet the romances still develop differently. More than any other couple, Ivan and Jasmine start out detesting one another and are stubborn, mouthy jerks. Neither is remotely shy about sharing their thoughts with the other but they are forced into extremely close circumstances when they partner up professionally.

There is no such thing as personal space in pairs figure skating!

I love that the author paid tribute to the astonishing amount of work that professional athletes put into honing their bodies and their sport. Especially something like pairs skating, where two people have to become one, and make it look easy. This is an art form. Some readers might think that the amount of training Jasmine did every week was overkill but she was trying to do something that is inhuman. It only makes sense that the training would be as well.

From Lukov with Love is a sweet, mostly clean romance with a slow burn. It follows the couple over the course of three seasons and includes a strong cast of background characters that I hope we see more of. Ivan was more dominant and protective than I expected, which made my lady parts tingle.

Zapata is definitely my favourite sports romance author and I am going to be checking out Dear Aaron – which I technically should have read before this one I now realize – pronto.

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Wait For It (Mariana Zapata)

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If anyone ever said being an adult was easy, they hadn’t been one long enough. Diana Casillas can admit it: she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing half the time. How she’s made it through the last two years of her life without killing anyone is nothing short of a miracle. Being a grown-up wasn’t supposed to be so hard. With a new house, two little boys she inherited the most painful possible way, a giant dog, a job she usually loves, more than enough family, and friends, she has almost everything she could ever ask for. Except for a boyfriend. Or a husband. But who needs either one of those?

—                         —                         —

Wait for it is a sweet romance novel between two neighbours who start out as … let’s just say less than friends … before their relationship evolves into best friends and soul mates. There are only a couple of sex scenes in this book, both near the end and not at all descriptive, but there is swearing, so I consider it a clean romance but more conservative folks may disagree.

That’s my one disclaimer.

Diana is a single mom of two boys, struggling to make ends meet as a hair stylist, and feeling like she is running everything into the ground. I loved Diana. She is patient (even though it does NOT come naturally to her), loving, generous, friendly and the hardest frickin’ worker in the universe. Nothing is more important to her than raising happy and healthy kids.

Diana was a secondary character in the book The Wall of Winnipeg and Me which I loved, and is also a cousin to the hero in Kulti, but do not mistake these books as a series. They are more like companion novels to each other with limited crossover.

I initially loved Wait for it, but the book just dragged on for way too long. Goodreads and my kindle disagree slightly on the length of the novel, but it is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 670 pages. I started getting bored around 400/450. There just wasn’t enough plot development to keep me going. No explosions. No gunfire. No raunchy sex scenes eating up the pages.

At the end of the day, I loved this book for a while, but I really had to push myself to finish it. I would have rated it higher if the author had compressed the story into roughly 200 fewer pages. If you like long romantic arcs and clean(ish) romance, this is a great book to try out, but it isn’t one that I will read again.

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The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me is a sports romance novel featuring football star (Aiden) and his personal assistant (Vanessa). I took a big chance with this novel since I was unfamiliar with the author and rarely enjoy sports romances. They seem (to me) to all have the same plot and characters; eager-to-succeed, mild-mannered, well-behaved female assistant to a cocky superstar asshole in need of reputation rehab. Not this time!

Aiden and Vanessa at least partially reinvent this stereotype and the plot proceeds without the usual shenanigans splashed across the tabloids.

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Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Vanessa Mazur knows she’s doing the right thing. She shouldn’t feel bad for quitting. Being an assistant/housekeeper/fairy godmother to the top defensive end in the National Football Organization was always supposed to be temporary. She has plans and none of them include washing extra-large underwear longer than necessary.

But when Aiden Graves shows up at her door wanting her to come back, she’s beyond shocked.

For two years, the man known as The Wall of Winnipeg couldn’t find it in him to tell her good morning or congratulate her on her birthday. Now? He’s asking for the unthinkable.

What do you say to the man who is used to getting everything he wants?

—              —

Oh my goodness, I freaking loved this book. It is such a sweet romantic story. The main characters exhibited incredible emotional intimacy with each other. I appreciated the honesty and lack of drama in their relationship and the fact that both felt like “normal” people to me. The characters were not overdone, larger than life personalities or unrelatable. Yet Zapata’s writing was compelling and moved forward at a good pace. I could not put this one down!

When I was a kid, I learned the hard way how expensive the truth was. Sometimes it cost you people in your life. Sometimes it cost you things in your life. And in this life, most people were too cheap to pay the price for something as valuable as honesty.

I like that the author went deeper than most with this one. Vanessa is a complicated person who is trying to balance many balls… debt repayment, twisted family ties, strained friendships … and doing the “smart thing” (aka working for Aiden and making good money) at the expense of her personal and professional goals… the cost of fulfilling her responsibilities is not following her dreams.  Sound familiar? It should. Because it is the life story of every new graduate in our generation. 

I loved that Vanessa had a silly little crush on Aiden, but that it in no way guided her actions. She offered him friendship and then a distant professional assistant when he remained aloof. Sure she thought that he was attractive, but otherwise can’t stand the man and his unappreciative, mono-syllabic attitude towards her and everything she does for him. She is much friendlier with his room-mate (the stereo-typical partying superstar jock).

I wasn’t shooting for the stars or aiming to become a billionaire. I didn’t want to be a celebrity or anything close to that. I just wanted my own small business doing graphic design work that could pay my bills, keep me fed, and still have a little extra left over for other things. I didn’t want to have to rely on someone else’s charity or whim. I’d had to do that for as long as I could remember, hoping my mom would come home sober, hoping my sisters would make me food when my mom wasn’t around, and then hoping the lady with social services could at least keep me and my little brother together…. Why was I even thinking about that?

After Vanessa quits and disappears back home, Aiden tracks her down and begs her to come back to his life, proposing a startling question: Will you marry me [so I can become a US citizen]?

I love that she says no a few dozen times and that Aiden has to keep coming back to her [shitty] apartment to come at her from different angles. Vanessa isn’t a pushover and has not intentions of going back to work for Aiden in any capacity.

Despite what some people thought, the defensive end of the Three Hundreds, Dallas’s professional football team, wasn’t really an asshole or hard to work with. For all his faces and grumbling, he never cussed and hardly ever lost his temper without good reason. He was demanding; he knew exactly what he wanted and how he liked every single thing in his life. It was honestly an admirable quality, I thought, but it was my job to make those requests come true, regardless of whether I agreed with his decisions or not.

I can’t tell if the author wrote Aiden to have an undiagnosed disorder or if he is just a little odd. The characters never wonder if he has a mental illness. At the end of the day, I supposed it is left for the readers to decide, and I prefer to think that Aiden is an independent, driven, goal-oriented individual with little need or desire to rely on emotional connections to add purpose to his life. He loves football, is the best defensive-end in the league and is perfectly content to be alone.

Of course, once Vanessa moves in and become his “paperwork” (I think their terms for each other are the cutest!), the walls start to break down and Aiden undergoes a slow but recognizable period of self-realization. He acknowledges how much Vanessa did and how poorly he treated her when she was his assistant and starts to pay attention to her as a person, instead of someone who makes demands come true.

Neither one of us said a word as he climbed onto my bed and under the covers as if it was no big freaking deal, like this wasn’t the first time he’d done it. I didn’t let myself get all shy and prude-ish, or anywhere near it. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and I wasn’t going to say no to the other half of my paperwork getting into my bed when I’d rather not be by myself.

The only drawback to The Wall of Winnipeg and Me, IMHO, was the [American} author’s misunderstanding of the Canadian “eh”. Aiden is Canadian born and raised but he uses the term incorrectly throughout the novel. It isn’t over-used but it isn’t used how we would either. A reader from another country may not even realize this though so it probably isn’t an issue in those cases.

Mariana Zapata has written the best slow burn that I have ever read. If she ever wrote a sequel, I would pick it up in a heartbeat.

Even though this book was outside of my normal comfort zone it has skyrocketed to one of my favourite romance novels, and I have actually read it twice this summer. I need to go find some other books by this author!

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Mr and Mrs by Alexa Riley

Mr and Mrs is a sweet, romantic novella about a young couple passionately in love with one another, but a little lost in the intense emotions and busyness of life.

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This isn’t my normal type of romance, but I randomly found it while home sick from work and was desperate for something to read. What I did like about this novel is that there is a distinct beginning, middle and end. Oftentimes in romance, particularly with novellas, the book appears to just end, a style that I do not enjoy reading.

While the book lacked depth – which I’m not really faulting the author for because that is difficult to achieve in the shorter word count of a novella – there was enough there that I felt it could have been flushed out into a full length novel.

My favourite aspect of Mr and Mrs was its sweetness (unusual for me!). Neither of the protagonists were difficult to relate to or like. Neither was overly dramatic, which is another big turn-off IMHO. I admired the Mr for his passion and ruthlessness and related to the Mrs for her sweet desire to have a family and put it first.

If you are looking for a short story that you can read in an hour or so, this one is for you.

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