After I absolutely devoured Kulti, I was craving more slow burn romances, so I dove into Mariana Zapata's back catalogue. There were a couple that I wasn't interested in, but more that I was--and someone in my reading group had mentioned liking The Wall of Winnipeg and Me, so I decided to start there. The story is about football star Aiden Graves and Vanessa Mazur, his assistant. The book starts with Vanessa trying to build up the confidence to quit her job; she's finally saved up enough money to have a cushion while she works on building out her graphic design business, which is her true passion. When Aiden's manager talks trash about her where she can hear, and Aiden doesn't defend her, that's the last straw; she quits on the spot. But Aiden starts showing up at her apartment, asking her to come back and work for him again, and then he drops the real bombshell: his visa is expiring, and his contract will be up, and he's unsure of his future and doesn't want to have to go back to Canada. So he wants Vanessa to marry him and help him get his citizenship...and in return, he will pay off the massive amount of student loans she accrued in pursuit of her degree. It's tempting, very tempting--and Vanessa, though she has qualms about the illegality of all, eventually agrees.
They're not a real couple, of course; this is, after all, a slow burn. (Yum.) They don't sleep in the same room, they don't do a heck of a lot together. But as the book goes on, they grow closer and closer, spurred on by a few key events. There's obviously chemistry there, but Vanessa is slow to realize it. When it finally really surfaces, there are a couple of yummy scenes, and it's pretty great overall. Vanessa is also friends with Zac, another football player who is Aiden's housemate, and their friendship was a really appealing part of the book. It's a great example of how men and women really can be friends without spiraling down into romance. Zac was a real sweetheart, too, and I would actually love to see a spin-off in which he finds a love interest of his own. (I totally love spin-off stories like that.)
There were a few things in the background that bothered me, though, things that appear and then are just never mentioned again. For example, Aiden never appears to get a new assistant after Vanessa's departure; she eventually starts cooking some again once they're living together, but other things are being accomplished and there's no assistant in sight. Vanessa wonders where Vanessa 2.0 is; she figures out that he's hired someone in Washington to answer emails and do social media for him, but that's it. It seemed like the Vanessa 2.0 thing was going to be built up to be more than it actually was, which was kind of weird. And then there's another thing, a thing that bothered me in Kulti too, but now that I saw it here, seems like it might be more prevalent through Zapata's works... Here's the thing: Vanessa doesn't get along with other women. That's fine. Some women don't. But Sal, the heroine of Kulti, didn't get along with other women, either. In both cases, there were people that I'm going to deem "token female friends" who really felt like they were planted in the narrative to make it seem like the heroines got along with women, but they really didn't. For example, in TWOWAM, Diana is Vanessa's supposed best friend, but she basically disappears from the narrative and they're always bickering with each other. Zapata throws in an "abusive significant other" storyline for Diana in order to beef up this apparently great relationship that Vanessa and Diana have, so that Vanessa can rush to the rescue. But given Diana's real lack of presence in the book, it's just kind of...eh. I'm curious to see if this will continue in Zapat's other books, because if it does, I think that really says something about the author...and honestly, it gets kind of old reading about how all women except the heroine and her token friends are slutty bitches.
I like the romance in Zapata's books so far; I like the slow burn of it, the way that the characters gradually grow closer and strengthen their chemistry and their bonds. And I generally like the male characters, and the heroines, for the most part... But sometimes things appear and disappear without explanation, and I really do wish that the "all women but me are slutty bitches" thing would stop. I'm still interested in reading more, because I think the romance itself is strong and that's what I came for, but seeing Zapata pay a little more attention to the background messages she's sending would be nice.
4 stars out of 5.