Reading marathon, anyone??? I decided to read ALL of Mariana Zapata’s books marathon style. Under normal circumstances, I would NEVER do this. But it helped that I was recovering from a back injury, stuck in bed for close to three weeks. That made this possible, considering MZ’s books are pretty hefty, 600-page-masterpieces.
Disclaimer: I’ve never done something like this before. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. I fell in love with MZ’s writing style, her characters, and the ultra-slow-burn romance she’s known for.
Now I’m here to share the love. MZ has twelve novels. All of them are available on Kindle Unlimited (YAY!!!!). I’m here to rank all twelve in order of most favorite to least favorite. I say most to least because all of them still fit the “favorite” category. I enjoyed ALL OF THEM. Just some more than others. I’m also going to provide a little mini-review about each one and why I liked it.
If you’ve read a couple of MZ’s books, you’ll start to notice a trend in her characters and style. Firstly, almost all of her male main characters (MMCs) are super similar. Some readers might complain, but I appreciated it. The MMCs she built were the kind I like; she tweaked each one enough that their exteriors were different, keeping the gooey interior soft and lovable. I liked their quiet, abrasive natures. At first glance, they are off-putting, but once the FMCs got to know them, they discovered how kind, sweet, and caring they were. This reminded me of Pride and Prejudice. The big “mis-judgement” that happens, setting everything else in motion. Think of these books as a modern/contemporary exploration of this idea.
I also liked that there was always a deep friendship that developed (even if they started as enemies). You could say the trope was always “enemies-to-friends-to-lovers.” The transitions were smooth. BUT SLOWWWWW. When I say these are ultra-slow-burn, I mean it. And yet…the books are hard to put down, super compelling, and you’re excited each time you pick one up. After the 3rd or 4th, I developed a deep trust in MZ knowing I would enjoy a book even if the synopsis didn’t call to me.
The other thing I appreciated was the way MZ gave each female MC a deep wound/flaw/secret that got uncovered as the stories progressed. It gave them tons of depth. Her characters were multi-faceted and genuine. My favorite moment was each time the MMCs discovered what the FMC’s secret was. How they confronted that, and how their relationship strengthened because of it.
Okay, without further delay, let’s jump into my ranking!
1. KULTI by Mariana Zapata:
Main Characters: Rainer Kulti and Salome Castillas
Cameo: Dex Locke and Iris (from Under Locke)
—Enemies to lovers
—Confronting the emotional wound of giving up your dream
I freaking adored this one. There’s a reason it’s my favorite of her books. I can’t believe it’s so underrated. It’s also one of her earlier publications. It was the second book that I read. I kept waiting for the others to outshine this one. It just DID NOT HAPPEN! The way both MCs are forced to confront their past, and the flaws/wounds of their past was something that I really enjoyed. Especially when Kulti had to confront his, and grow through it.
Both MCs are soccer stars. Sal fell in love with her soccer icon at a young age, the world famous German, Reiner Kulti. He’s the reason she wanted to pursue soccer (that, and her older brother who’s also pro). But when she entered her later teens, Kulti’s posters were ripped from her walls and she developed a hate for him. Fast forward a decade. Kulti retires. Two years later, breaking news. He’s hired on as the assistant coach for her professional soccer team. What happens when the two of them are thrust together on the soccer field??? Magic, that’s what. Freaking magic.
2. FROM LUKOV WITH LOVE by Mariana Zapata:
Main Characters: Jasmine and Ivan Lukov
Cameo: Aaron and Ruby Santos (Dear Aaron)
—Enemies to lovers
—Ice Skating Sports Pairs Romance
I LOVE ice skating. I really thought this one would be my favorite. It’s a close tie. SO CLOSE. This was the first MZ book I read, about six months ago. I loved it so much. I will always love Ivan and Jasmine. I really enjoyed the close proximity, the growth between the two characters with the same goal, and there were some really funny moments. Plus, I just loved the depth between the two MCs.
Ivan and Jasmine have known each other a long time, and they’re pretty much swarm enemies. They both talk shit to each other off ice, and Jasmine can’t stand Ivan. When his partner retires, Ivan approaches Jasmine with a proposition: skate with him for one year. In exchange, he promises them a win, a medal she’s always dreamed of. This is her last chance. She’s already old enough to retire. It’s now or never. Except, it means spending time with the one man she loathes. When the two of them are thrust together, it’s the makings of a disaster. If they can’t learn to get along, they have no chance at winning gold.
3. UNDER LOCKE by Mariana Zapata:
Main Characters: Dex Locke and Iris
—Motor Cycle Club filled with bad boys and tattoos
—Enemies to lovers vibe
—Confronting the emotional wounds of cancer
—Confronting the emotional wounds of family problems
I am shocked that MZ’s first book is in my top five! What I liked the most about this one was the Dexter’s character flaws. He’s a total asshole in the beginning of the book. I don’t like asshole guys. But I do like when a guy realizes he’s an asshole and apologies for it. Bonus points for repeat apologies. He’s got to really work for it, and Iris is no push over. This book made me feel SO MUCH. Plus, I was all about Dex’s bad boy character.
Iris goes to live with her brother, who is in an MC gang. When he gets her a job at a local tattoo parlor, she comes face to face with the owner, Dex, who has a very shady past. They get off on the wrong foot. She can’t stand Dex. She wants to get as far away from him as possible. But as they start to get to know one another, things begin to change in the best possible way.
4. ALL RHODES LEAD HERE by Mariana Zapata:
Main Characters: Aurora and Tobias Rhodes
—Get off on the wrong foot
—Wilderness and outdoors romance
—musicians and song writing
This one was a little different than the others, but in a really good way. My favorite thing about this story was Aurora’s past and how she keeps it hidden, uncovering her wound piece by piece. It was so compelling that I couldn’t stop turning pages. I loved the way her relationship with Rhodes blossomed, and the moments she bonded with his son over their common love of music and song writing.
When Aurora goes through a bad divorce to a famous musician, she wants to start over. She returns to her childhood home to rent a garage apartment she found on a local rental site, with plans of taking as many of her mother’s hikes as possible. Using the journals her mother kept, she begins a path of rediscovery. The only problem, her landlord is a broody, moody, quiet, and abrasive man who doesn’t want her around. At first.
5. THE WALL OF WINNIPEG by Mariana Zapata
Main Characters: Vanessa and Aiden
Cameos: Zac Travis (Handsdown) and Diana Casillas (Wait for It) —both published later
—enemies to lovers
—famous football player romance
—troubled family past
I loved so much about this book, and the only reason it didn’t rank higher was because it felt so damn slow for the first half. I also got pretty annoyed by Aiden’s character a few times. But what I did love was the deep friendship they developed over time, and the way Aiden’s character blossomed and grew. I also liked that we got a lot of page time between Aiden and Vanessa because they were forced to be around each other so much. This one is a cult favorite and I’m not quite sure why, since it wasn’t as high on my list.
Vanessa has been working for two years as Aiden’s assistant/housekeeper/cook. She’s had enough of him. She’s ready to move on, and dive into her graphic art career full time. But Aiden has other plans and he approaches her with a proposition she can’t refuse. Marriage, so that he can apply for citizenship, and in exchange, he’ll buy her a house and pay off her student loans. What could go wrong?
6. WAIT FOR IT by Mariana Zapata
Main Characters: Diana Casillas and Dallas
Cameos: Vanessa and Aiden (Winnipeg), Salome Casillas and Rainer Kulti (Kulti), Characters from Under Locke
—Single mom (aunt) who inherited two of the cutest boys ever
—Dating the baseball coach
—Motor cycle gang bad boys
—“who did this to you?” Trope
This was a fun one, but it was a little slow in the beginning. The two nephews that Diana inherits are way too cute, but they get a lot of page-time; that slows things down. I liked the relationship that developed between Diana and Dallas, our tatted up bad boy, retired military. Being neighbors was definitely a plus! I especially liked the way Dallas was with Diana’s nephews, which brought them together. Everyone loves a bad boy who exhibits a soft spot for kids.
When Diana’s brother dies, she inherits his two young boys. Two years later, she’s doing the best she can raising them. Even if that includes all the scathing looks she gets by other baseball team moms who judge her for being a single mom. When she meets Dallas under unusual circumstances, things don’t start off on the right foot. He’s going through a divorce and thinks she’s trying to hit on him. But after they clear the air…well, let’s just say the rest is history.
7. HANDSDOWN by Mariana Zapata
Main Characters: Bianca and Zac Travis
Cameos: Vanessa and Aiden (Winnipeg), Maio House (The Best Thing/Luna and the Lie), Jasmine and Ivan Lukov (From Lukov with Love)
—Second Chance/friends from childhood
—Football star romance
Zac Travis is such a SWEETIE!!! This was a really cute read. My favorite thing about this story was Bianca’s “The Lazy Baker” vlog. She’s basically “WatchTube” famous, which is this book’s version of YouTube. And I love the way Zac’s football teammates love her show and even guest star on it. I usually don’t care for “second chance” stories, but since this one was a little different, in that Bianca didn’t actually have a romantic relationship with Zac before their falling out, I was able to see their romance develop on page.
Bianca knew famous quarterback Zac Travis back when he was “Zac Snack Pack” and they were just kids growing up together. But when she developed a crush on him at seventeen, and he stopped talking to her shortly thereafter, she moved on and never looked back. Ten years later, they come face to face and Zac wants to be back in her life. She just isn’t sure she can forget what happened between them.
8. LUNA AND THE LIE by Mariana Zapata
Main Characters: Luna and Ripley
Cameos: Lenny (The Best Thing)
—Boss and employee relationship
—Car girl female MC
—bad boy MMC
While I didn’t like the way this one started ( it was a little confusing) I did really get into it by the second half. It would have ranked higher if the beginning had been a little less confusing. It got pretty emotional and deep during the second half of the book. I especially liked the romance once things got going. It wasn’t my favorite MZ book but I definitely liked Luna and Rip’s relationship and the family secrets that surrounded them. Rip was one of MZ’s bad boy characters, but he still had a lot in common with all of them. Quiet, abrasive, etc.
Luna is secretly “in-like” with her boss. He’s a tough asshole around the shop, but she’s determined to peel back his exterior. She knows there’s something soft underneath. When Luna finally cashes in on the favor Rip owes her, they’re forced together and that sets things off.
9. DEAR AARON by Mariana Zapata
Main Characters: Ruby Santos and Aaron
Cameos: Jasmine Santos (From Lukov with Love)
—Lots of letter writing
This one was REALLY cute. The only reason it didn’t rank higher was because I felt like it was cut short. I wasn’t a fan of the final chapters. They were too rushed. And I also wasn’t a fan of the epilogue. It wasn’t up to MZ’s epilogue standards. Everything else was really cute. It was different from other MZ books because the first half is emails exchanged between Diana and Aaron as they get to know each other. Like all MZ’s books, I couldn’t put it down and didn’t stop smiling.
When Ruby gets her new Soldier Pen Pal as part of an “adopt a soldier” program, things don’t start off well. She emails him weekly for a month and all her emails go unanswered. Just when she’s about to put in for a different soldier, he emails her back out of the blue. What follows is a lot of fun back and forth as they get to know each other. And then Aaron returns from deployment. Instead of cutting off communications, they continue to talk. When Aaron admits that he wants to meet Ruby in person and invites her on vacation with a group of his friends, she goes against her nerves and agrees.
10. THE BEST THING by Mariana Zapata
Main Characters: Lenny (Elena) and Jonah
Cameo: Bianca (Handsdown)
—Famous rugby player romance
—Second chance romance
Okay, this one wasn’t…my favorite. It has all the depth you can come to expect out of an MZ book, with a lot of character background. But I’m NOT a fan of second chance romances. I don’t like knowing that a bunch of stuff happened, and not getting to actually see the characters fall in love. Sure, you get to see them fall in love the second time. But I want to see the first time two. Especially when I know they’ve already done the deed, even if it was long ago. However, there were a few hilarious moments in this book. One in particular had me laughing so hard for pages and pages that I got a literal stomach ache.
When Lenny is on tour in Paris, she meets famous rugby player Jonah. They immediately hit it off, and for two months, they spend almost ever night together. Their last moment is kissing before Jonah’s rugby game. Then he’s injured, taken to the hospital, and Lenny never hears from him again. She goes to his apartment, sends him emails, calls, texts. Everything goes unanswered. It’s as if Jonah has fallen off the face of the earth. She finally gives up and moves back home. Eighteen months later, just when she’s finally gotten over him, Jonah shows up at the gym she manages and he wants to fix things between him. But what he discovers is something he never imagined possible.
11. RHYTHM CHORD AND MALYKHYN by Mariana Zapata
Main Characters: Gabby and Sasha
You can definitely tell this is one of MZ’s earlier works, and even though it shows that it was published after Under Locke, it feels like it was written before, in terms of quality. The MC definitely felt more in line with MZ’s other MCs. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t crazy about it. Honestly, like the 12th book, I only read this one so that I could say I’ve read every single one of MZ’s books.
When Gabby breaks up with her boyfriend, her brother invites her on tour. What she’s not prepared for is the other band’s lead singer. Forced into close proximity across three continents, Gabby finds herself falling for the sexy singer.
12. LINGUS by Mariana Zapata
Main Characters: Tristian King and Kat
This one didn’t feel like it was written by MZ. It was my least favorite. It didn’t have nearly enough depth that I’ve come to expect from MZ’s characters. While it was a fun read, and “adequate” for a romance, it just didn’t give me the same thing I expect out of an MZ book. Compared to the others, it was an utter disappointment. I enjoyed it, sure. Read it quickly. It was much shorter than the others, too.
Kat is dragged to a porn convention by her friend. Here she meets the sexiest guy she’s ever seen. They hit it off immediately. It isn’t until the end of the convention that she discovers he’s got a double identity and is the famous porn star “Robby Lingus” but she knows him as Tristian King. He doesn’t “do” girlfriends. And he just wants to be friends. But when he begins getting jealous, both of them begin to see that they want more than friendship.