Book Review Recommendations

In The Mood For Pen Pal Romance or Enemies-to-Lovers? — Dear Aaron and From Lukov With Love by Mariana Zapata {Mini Book Reviews}

Santos series by Mariana Zapata review

And the romance binge continues!

Though I’m usually a fantasy kind of girl, for the past few weeks I’ve been binging romance books like crazy. And in the midst of this romance binge, I discovered a new-to-me author called Mariana Zapata. An author who’s apparently known for her slow-burn romances. HELLO, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE? It only got better when I discovered one of her books featured a pen pal romance and another an enemies-to-lovers trope. I can’t help it, I am drawn to those tropes like crazy so obviously I immediately purchased them, listened to both of them on audiobook and had some thoughts, so please check out my mini reviews below!

Dear Aaron by Mariana ZapataTitle: Dear Aaron (Santos series #1)
Author: Mariana Zapata
Release Date: June 10th, 2017
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Genre: Adult – Contemporary – Romance


My rating in stars: 4,5 stars
My rating in words: Loved it!



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.


I’m new to Mariana Zapata and only picked up Dear Aaron because it promised a pen pal romance and I’m a sucker for pen pal romances. But now… I DEFINITELY need to check out more Mariana Zapata books because this felt like the perfect contemporary romance for me. And here’s why:

Pen pal romance. I can’t get enough of pen pal romances. There’s just something about falling in love with a person’s words, stories and personality before ever seeing them in real life. Maybe it’s because to me, it has always felt so much easier to open up to someone in writing than in person. That kind of love just feels so much more romantic to me. So that’s why Dear Aaron spoke to me so much. The first 60% of the books is told in nothing but letters and chat messages between Ruby and Aaron. We get to know each of them slowly, like they get to know each other, through their letters. And while I was happy to see when the prose started, I also loved every single minute of the letters. 

Slow burn. Well the thing about pen pal romances is that you can’t really rush it, can you? It has to be a slow burn. Which is probably the second reason I love them this much and why this book spoke to me on such a high level. Strangers becoming friends becoming best friends to something more, all before they ever met, that’s just amazing. But don’t fret, Ruby and Aaron do eventually meet and it’s every bit as wonderful as it has been building up to be.

The characters. A lot of reviews of people who didn’t love this book blame it on the character of Ruby. They think she is whiny. Me, on the other hand? I loved her from the get go and related to her a lot. Ruby is the sweetest little nerd, with a wonderful sense of humor and a whole lot of love in her to give. Yeah, she’s terribly insecure due to some things that happened to her in the past. This makes her a bit dense sometimes, and her internal monologue can get a little whiny. She should stand up for herself more and apologize less for simply being herself. But you know what, I related to her, even while I was also yelling at her sometimes. That’s a great multi-layered, deep character. Plus, she has the best character development throughout the book.

Aaron, though a bit less developed as he’s the quiet, reserved type and doesn’t get a POV other than his letters and texts, is still an equally great character. He is just absolutely PERFECT for Ruby, just as she is perfect for him. They bring out the best in each other and their chemistry is undeniable, both in written format as in person. #Ruron for life!

Overall, I highly recommend Dear Aaron to any romance lover who’s a sucker for slow-burn penpal romances and an adorable romance with sweet characters.

Favorite quotes:

“Everyone deserves hugs and to know that someone in the world still worries about them, no matter what they’re doing, or even if they’re mad at one another.” 

“Mostly though, Rubes, I want to go back in time and beat every single person’s ass who’s ever made you doubt yourself, because the girl who makes me smile ‘til my face hurts even on a shit day needs to see that in herself. I feel like I owe it to you.”

“Sergeant Major to a young soldier: “I didn’t see you at camouflage training this morning, soldier.”
Soldier: “Thank you very much, sir.” 


From Lukov With Love by Mariana ZapataTitle: From Lukov With Love (Santos series #2)
Author: Mariana Zapata
Release Date: February 1st, 2018
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Genre: Adult – Contemporary – Romance


My rating in stars: 4 stars
My rating in words: Really liked it



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. 


After finishing Dear Aaron, I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to Ruby and Aaron. Luckily for me, it turned out that Mariana Zapata had also written a book about Ruby’s younger sister, Jasmine. And as if the idea of finding out more of what had happened to Ruby and Aaron didn’t appeal to me enough, then the prospect of a good old enemies-to-lovers romance certainly did! But luckily the books stood on its’ own just fine and I quickly forgot about Ruby and Aaron (nah, not really forgot because I love them, but put to the back of my mind sounds more like it) and focused on Jasmine and Ivan, because they definitely had quite the story of their own to tell. Check it out if any of the following appeals to you:

Enemies-to-lovers. Jasmine and Ivan have known each other for years because A) they’re both professional figure skaters and both practice at Ivan’s family’s ice skating rink and B) Jasmine is best friends with Ivan’s sister. Yet, every conversation they ever had together is filled with insults, crude gestures and a whole lot of cursing. So naturally it comes as a complete surprise to Jasmine when Ivan suddenly asks her to be his skating partner for the season. These two, partnering up? Having to spend all day, every day together and train in a sport that requires you to trust your partner completely? Obviously I was over the moon and eating this up like crazy. I especially liked that their initial interactions really are brutal (in a sassy way where they both insult each other and each of them dish it as much as they take it) and it’s not like one of those romances where it’s clear from the beginning that they really, deep down, have feelings for each other.

Slow burn. Like I said, this is a really, really, reaally slow transition from enemies to lovers, and I am here for it. Jasmine and Ivan take a long time to even warm up to each other and to stop driving their coach crazy by constantly mouthing insults to each other (because they promised not to insult each other when people can hear them, so you know the logical conclusion is to just mouth insults…). When they do eventually decide to try and be friends and get along, it’s very awkward and takes them a while too. So you can only imagine how long it takes before they even think about feelings like love. Perfect for those slow-burn fans out there!

Family. Not only does Jasmine have a really big family, her family also constitutes as her best friends. So they play a really big role in her life and in the story and I was living for their family interactions. We already got to know the family in Dear Aaron of course, as Ruby is Jasmine’s sister, but From Lukov With Love focuses on the family more and we also get to meet more of the family members. Not only do we get to meet Ruby again (yay), we also meet Jasmine’s other siblings and parents and we deal with Jasmine’s feelings regarding her family and how they react to her figure skating career. Which brings me to my final point…

Figure skating. I’m not one for televised sports, however I could watch figure skating competitions all day if need be. Not to say I know a whole lot about it (mostly everything I know is from Yuri On Ice) or can do much more than keep upright and move forward on the ice myself (on a good day), but I am still in awe of the beauty of it all. So of course I loved this look into the life of a professional figure skater and how unbelievably hard and brutal, but also rewarding, their lives are. From painful practices to awkward photo shoots, we get an inside glimpse into it all!

Overall, I highly recommend these books for fans of slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romances who love ice skating and family relationships. 

Favorite quotes:

“You are who you are in life, and you either live that time trying to bend yourself to make other people happy, or… you don’t.”

“Please! Please! Tell me someone has recorded your practices together. Ooh! Tell me you’re doing a live video of them. I would watch every minute. Give me all your competition dates in advance. It’ll be the Hunger Games on ice. I’ll buy everyone in the family front row seats,” she cried out, her voice full of laughter.” 

“Love to me was honesty. Being real. Knowing someone’s best and worst. Love was a push that said someone believed in you when you didn’t.” 


I personally loved Dear Aaron a tad more, but that’s because Ruby is such a sweet character and I just related to her more than I did Jasmine. Jasmine is a firecracker and so much fun to read about though, so both heroines stood out in their own way.

After reading both books, I do have to point out one flaw and that is that the internal monologues of the characters can be a bit… long-winded and repetitive. I noticed both in Dear Aaron and From Lukov With Love that sometimes I was yelling at my audiobook ‘Oh my God I get it, move on already’, so that’s a sign that sometimes the story, but especially the internal monologue moved a bit too slowly for me. It reminded me a bit of this scene in The Emperor’s New Groove:


However, I also didn’t mind it enough to deduct too many stars from my rating so I’d highly recommend you to read for yourself and see what you think. 

Are you a slow burn fan? Are you more into pen pal romances or enemies-to-lovers romances?

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  1. Loved your mini-reviews. Never heard of this author before, but I’m a fan of slow-burn romance too. Guess, I need to check out these books. 🙂

    1. Ahh if you love slow-burn romances, you’ll likely love these books as they’re soooo slow-burn 🙂

  2. This author is new to me as well. I do enjoy a good enemies-to-lovers story so I’ll have to add From Lukov with Love to my TBR.

    1. Yay, hope you’ll enjoy From Lukov With Love!

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