Review: The Wall of Winnepeg by Mariana Zapata (2016)

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My Rating: 5 stars                                          Read: 3/29/2017

Blurb:

 

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?

My Review:

“The Wall of Winnipeg” is on both the Amazon list of best romances of 2016 (editors’ pick) and the Goodread’s Choice awards (readers’ vote).  Plus it has a 4.35 star average with over 25K ratings on Goodreads. So I decided I really wanted to read it, despite the fact that this bad boy, like the hero of the story, is way over the legal weight limit at 673 pages.

673 pages for a romance? Let me catch my breath for a moment here.  I don’t read books this length as a rule. There’re just too many books on my TBR list to spent that long on one title. So this was a big exception. The good news is, it doesn’t feel like 673 pages. At all. I read the book straight through in two days. Do not let the size put you off. It’s totally worth it.

First the bad. I nearly dnf’d at 15% because the first 3-4 chapters are an info dump of epic proportions. Seriously, there’s a single line of dialog followed by three pages of internal monologue info dump (“I’d been picking up his groceries for two years, but I really wanted my own business….”) Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat for far far too many pages.  I hate info dumps.  I worried the rest of the book, all 600-some pages of it, would be equally wordy and “telling”. I don’t mind first person narration, though I think it’s been overused lately, but I dislike it when it’s an excuse for reams of internal monologue that replaces actual in-the-moment action. Fortunately, this book doesn’t stay in that vein and there’s plenty of action on page after the first few chapters.

All the glowing praise over this book kept me from putting it down. I figured it had to get better. I’m so glad I stuck with it because, yes, it really got so much better.  Better enough, that my 3-4 star rating simply had to become a 5 by the time I put the book down. No choice. It was just that good.

The most epic part of this story is the football-playing hero, Aiden Graves, aka the Wall of Winnipeg. How can you not love a guy with that nickname? You had me at “The Wall”. He’s a massive Canadian guy playing football in Texas. Besides being enormous, Aiden is super serious and focused. He doesn’t have friends, he doesn’t date, he doesn’t do fun things (except nap and assemble jigsaw puzzles), he works out and he glowers. That’s about it.

I adored him.

I’ve always been a sucker for Beauty and the Beast type stories.  While this isn’t that–it’s more “quirky gal-pal assistant and beast”–Aiden himself is definitely a beast. I loved seeing him slowly soften up and accept that he could have friends and care about people and still have his career too. Both h and H come from difficult family backgrounds and have to learn to trust.

Seriously, Aiden’s character was perfect in every way, from his gruffness and introverted nature, to his eventual sweet side. He never becomes too saccharine, and always remaining blunt and practical. The author got him so totally right.

The story is told entirely from the POV of the heroine, Vanessa, who is a possibly half-Mexican (her father is unknown) daughter of an alcoholic mother and comes from a large family of very mean and rather wacko siblings.  She’s left her crazy family behind to make her own way in the world and works at a P.A. for Aiden while also trying to get her graphic design business off the ground. She’s a very real, no-bullshit kind of person, more quirky and funny than beautiful. I liked that she wasn’t a gorgeous super model type. She stuck up for herself and didn’t take any crap from anyone. She tried to treat Aiden like a brother or a friend, not a bank or a piece of meat, as so many in his life did.

At the start of the story, Vanessa has been Aiden’s PA for two years and yet he barely deigns to greet her “good mornings” with a grunt. Fed up at being taken for granted, Vanessa quits, leaving “the big guy” to his future with some other P.A. But Aiden surprises Vanessa by going after her. He doesn’t want another P.A. He actually admits he’s been a jerk at times. Most surprisingly, he wants Vanessa’s help. Aiden wants to become a US citizen. He wants a green card marriage — with Vanessa. She’s the only woman he trusts not to take advantage.

So yes, this is both a Cinderella trope and a marriage-of-convenience trope. And it works. The story has a very slow build of Vanessa and Aiden spending more time together (she moves into his house as soon as they’re married). They become “friends” rather than employer/employee, and eventually become more. The progression felt very natural and kept me turning pages wanting to see them finally get together.

The couple thing doesn’t happen until 80% of the book. But I didn’t mind.  There are many sweet moments, and lots of funny ones, leading up to the actual physical relationship. I loved the side relationships too, especially Zac, a quarterback who rooms with Aiden, and becomes good friends with Vanessa (I have a feeling we’ll see Big Texas get his own book later on). There are two sex scenes late in the book, fairly explicit, but not dragged out. That worked fine for me. This book is written in a realistic, down-to-earth tone that’s not sexy so much as funny and a little heartbreaking at times. Vanessa and Aiden’s relationship really isn’t about sex. That was refreshing for a change.

I guess what set this book apart for me was how much I liked the heroine and hero and the natural, bff tone of it. It really kept me glued. No doubt this will be on my 2017 favorites list.

Book Links:

Goodreads

Amazon  (Currently on Kindle Unlimited)

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