Desert Isle Keeper
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me
One of my favorite things about the Top 100 Romances reader poll is all of the suggestions that come in. When I first started reading romance it was my go-to place to find the most beloved books in the genre, and I continue to look forward to it as a chance to hear from our many readers about current reads they love. This year one author in particular stood out as new to AAR reviewers: Mariana Zapata. She has two books on the top 100 list, neither of which I’d read. So, I decided to take our readers up on their recommendation and take a copy of The Wall of Winnipeg and Me on vacation, to see what the fuss was about.
All I can say is that I’m glad I was reading it on the plane ride home and not during a day of activities, because I don’t know that I could have put it down long enough to participate! This book is one long, slow burn, and it totally sucked me in.
The premise is fairly simple, and one of my favorites. Vanessa (Van) Mazur has been the personal assistant to football player Aiden Graves for two years and is ready to move on, while Aiden isn’t interested in letting her go. To keep her from leaving his life, and to conveniently solve one of his own problems, Aiden convinces Vanessa to marry him. Per their agreement, she’s stuck with him for the next 5 years , and Canadian Aiden gets to keep his green card by marrying an American citizen.
Based on that short description, you may be imagining there’s all sorts of alpha-male posturing and jealousy in the book. Certainly, I expected that Van would passionately hate Aiden, her ‘terrible’ boss, and make him grovel to get her back. I expected sexual tension to crackle off the page as the two fought with each other. That generally seems to come with the falling-for-my-boss storyline.
But not here. Everything is slow to build in this book. When Vanessa quits her job, it’s not because she’s been lusting after Aiden or hates him with the fire of a thousand suns. It’s because she feels underappreciated and is ready to go full-time into her career as a graphic designer. When Aiden initially tries to convince her to come back after she’s left, she turns him down because her quitting was well thought-out, not impetuous. Even after she agrees to marry him, they don’t immediately jump into bed together. Instead they just live their lives side-by-side, and ever so slowly they become integrated and dependent on each other. This hooked me as thoroughly as any witty repartee ever did.
Of course, a big part of that draw was my liking for the characters themselves. The story is told in first-person narrative by Van, who is clearly wonderful from the start. She is strong and respects herself enough to know she deserves to be treated well by others, including Aiden. When she makes decisions, she stands by them. But even starting from this solid foundation, Van still manages to grow a lot over the course of the book. In the beginning, she’s overworked and exhausted doing a job she doesn’t really like. Once she decides it’s time to make changes, Van starts running more, relaxing more, and takes her life back. You can see her become more confident in herself with time, quietly supported by Aiden.
In fact, everything about Aiden Graves is quiet. He’s an enigma, and not being able to see into his head made him feel as unfamiliar to me as he was to Van. Although she’s worked for him for two years and knows the ins and outs of his daily life, Aiden has never shared much at all with Van. He doesn’t have many friends, doesn’t go out much, and mainly just lets his life revolve around football. Yet he is quietly honorable, and what glimpses he does allow into his thoughts show him to be a good man. Although I generally prefer third-person writing, the forced slow introduction to Aiden through Van’s first-person point of view is what kept this slow-burn book interesting. Like Van, I was eager to know him better, so they didn’t need to jump into bed immediately to keep things exciting. When he finally does open up, it feels worth the wait.
Overall, I’d say our readers knew what they were about when they recommended The Wall of Winnipeg and Me. Ms. Zapata managed to take a familiar premise and make it feel completely new. I’m glad to have taken a chance on this and will definitely be seeking out more of her work in the future.