From Lukov With Love (Mariana Zapata)


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.

—                         —                         —

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.

* * * * *



Fighting Attraction (Redemption #4)


My sweet, sexy Penny has a dark side. Just like me.
I will have her. And then I will lose her, and suffer a lifetime of regret.

Rampage. Everyone loves him. He is Redemption’s top heavyweight fighter and the biggest gossip in the gym. But he isn’t the teddy bear everyone thinks he is. He’s hiding a dark secret-and he hates himself for it.

Twice a week, Rampage transforms into Master Jack, a notorious dom only the most hard-core submissives will play with. How can he-a Southern gentleman, bred to respect and protect women-want to dominate them?

But Penny Worthington wants him. Beneath her pearls, kitten heels, and prim British exterior beats a tortured heart…Master Jack is the only one who can set her free.

—                         —                         —

Fighting Attraction is the fourth book in the series Redemption, which features alpha heroes who train mixed martial arts at a fight club called (you guessed it) Redemption. This instalment is about club favourite Rampage, who has a secret life as a prominent Dom/sadist at the local private kink club. When friend Penny accidentally stumbles upon his secret, something in her is piqued at a healthier way to mix pain and sex than the abusive relationships and self-harm she hides in her past.

In many ways I felt that Fighting Attraction was the best written book in this series so far. Many of the interactions and conversations were more realistic to how people actually talk and I could appreciate the way that Penny and Rampage tried to overcome some pretty big differences to work things out.

However, I felt like the author got some ideas in her head about how to write Rampage as the hero for this book, ideas that were inconsistent with her past descriptions of him. Here, Rampage is both an up and coming professional athlete, a past underground champion and still maintains a secret life as a top Dom in the city of Oakland where the whole story takes place. I found it difficult to believe that he could be so well known in one life and so low-profile about his secret at the same time.

Also, Rampage is the club gossip who knows everything about everyone but somehow disappears a few nights a week to attend the kink club. You would think he would value other people’s privacy more when he has such a potentially devastating secret to hide.

He also is seemingly able to turn down his need for a sexual submission in an instant when Penny indicates that she is a masochist but not a submissive. It made it seem like that was a fun kink he played at rather than a strong part of his personality and I felt like it did the real work D/s lifestyle a disservice.

Rampage is also charmingly southern in this book. Its not overdone, but he was most definitely raised a southern gentleman, something that didn’t come across in previous books. He also apparently has access to his family’s “old money” despite being estranged from them. These inconsistencies kept popping up throughout the story, distracting me from the romance at hand.

Overall, Fighting Attraction was entertaining but I hope the author keeps improving in her writing. I noticed she has the fifth book coming out in early 2018 and will be happy to jump back into this world then.

* * * *



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.


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!

* * * * *