So at this point, I think I'm well on the way to becoming an unofficial Mariana Zapata expert, having read 5 of her books. It's fascinating to me how her style can remain consistent and yet the quality of how she applies it can vary so much. Take KULTI, which is an amazing book and movie-worthy in terms of pacing and plot, and then take LINGUS, which deserves to be blasted into the sun because I think it's unspeakably awful. Calling it a "piece of sh*t" would be generous, because at least sh*t can be used as fertilizer, but this garbage was utterly toxic and I loathed it.
THE WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME falls squarely between those two extremes. I did not think it was as good as KULTI. I felt like Aiden was much less endearing than Kulti, maybe because Kulti's gruffness made sense, whereas Aiden just kind of looked like a jerk. I also did not like Vanessa as much as I liked Sal. Sal, with her iron backbone, was of no endless source of amusement to me, whereas Vanessa felt much more timid and doormatty.
I guess if I was describing the plot of THE WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME, I'd say it's one part Devil Wears Prada, one part The Proposal, and one part Muriel's Wedding. Van has been working as Aiden's personal assistant for two years, and both he and his agent have treated her like garbage the whole time. Finally, she's decided that enough is enough and she's going to quit for her own sanity. Aiden asks her to reconsider and then, after that, requests her to marry him so that he can get citizenship and continue to play American football (he's from Canada). Initially, she refuses, but she's several hundred thousand dollars in the hole for her student loans, and when he agrees to sweeten the deal by paying them all off and buying her a house, she decides to agree to his scheme. After all, they only need to be married for five years. That's practically nothing, right?
I have had a lot to say about Zapata's books and how they upset me. Fecal humor and homophobic jokes are not uncommon in her books and I'm not sure why. I think it's because that's how she thinks dudes are like, and maybe some dudes are, but I don't want to read about them in my escape (fluffy romance). Regardless of the reason, they annoy me. Zapata seems to have cottoned on to that because in KULTI there was a marked reduction in this sort of "locker room talk," and in THE WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME it was totally absent, as was most of the slut-shaming that I've seen in some of her earlier books. I found this very refreshing and it pleased me that Zapata actually seems to be taking the opinions of her readers into account, because this is something that other readers (not just me) complained about as well, especially LINGUS, which was the worst of the lot.
The beginning of the book is good, because I think Zapata really captures that overworked, under-appreciated mindset of personal assistants. No, the biggest setback of THE WALL OF WINNIPEG is that it's slow AF. I know that "slow burn" is kind of her thing, but this was really slow and felt boring as a result. There's almost no romance between the characters until the very end and I don't think they even have sex until 97%. In the meantime, there's a lot of drama about Van working things out with her incredibly abusive family (especially her sister - ugh), Aiden worrying about his possible deportation and basically being a grump on wheels, and bonding between the characters, which can be cute (I liked their Dragonball Z marathon), but sometimes feels almost gruelingly slow.
I think after KULTI, WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME is Zapata's second-best book that I've read so far, followed by DEAR AARON, and then RHYTHM, CHORD & MALYKHIN, and then LINGUS coming up dead-last. It certainly isn't a bad book but people were hyping it up to me and saying that it was better than KULTI and I disagree. KULTI is her best book by a long shot. THE WALL OF WINNIPEG AND ME is, at best, inoffensive. I don't regret reading it, but it's not great, either.
3 out of 5 stars