My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
It’s been quite a long time since I read a Mariana Zapata book. The last one I read was one of her early releases. It burned me so bad I had to take a step back and reconsider ever reading any of her books. But I’m glad I finally decided to read The Wall of Winnipeg and Me. It was more like the typical Mariana Zapata stories that I’m used to with. Long storyline, kinda slow but great read with interesting characters to go with it. The romance more of a slow burn than anything rushed.
It seems that The Wall of Winnipeg and Me is related to Kulti, which was a sports romance (of sort) because the H Kulti was an ex-footballer who once used to be extremely famous. The h, Sal, was a budding footballer with a bright future, who also happen to had a HUGE crush of Kulti when he was still playing. When Coach Kulti came to town, it seemed like it was a dream come true for Sal. Best of all, coach Kulti was the coach of HER own team. Oh boy! I really enjoyed Kulti but I don’t really remember if the h of this book, Vanessa, was featured there or not. But I do know Diana, who is a secondary character here and Vanessa’s best friend, is Sal’s cousin. She was seen or mentioned in Kulti a few times.
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me is also a sports romance. Vanessa, who is a budding graphic designer, has been working for ‘The Wall of Winnipeg’ Aiden Graves, the super famous soccer player for a while now. Aiden hails from Canada, most especially from Winnipeg (hence his moniker), is now settled here in the US because of his career which has taken off like a rocket ever since his arrival. He’s huge, as in a really tall, muscular guy who is also very handsome and quite popular with the ladies.
But Aiden is also someone who doesn’t talk much, likes to keep to himself. The only love of his life is soccer. He doesn’t bother much about anything or anyone else. Soccer is his everything and he’s devoted to it day in and out. Vanessa was recruited as his assistant about 2 yrs. ago because someone needed to do everything else in his home and cook him food. Things were going great, and even though she had a huge crush on Aiden at first, soon Vanessa realized it will go nowhere but heartbreak. Aiden doesn’t like communicating unless it’s absolutely necessary. His life is strictly routined; compartmentalized into eating, sleeping and loads and loads of practice until The Season rolls in when the games are what he puts all his energy into. Vanessa hasn’t even seen him going out or any women coming in so no one even knew if he was with someone or not. From the looks of it, Aiden Graves didn’t have time for anything else but soccer.
As a child, Vanessa’s life was a complete mess until she was rescued by social workers from her mother’s house. Her mother was a bad parent, no other way to describe how clueless and selfish she was, and Vanessa had to suffer sh!t from her psycho older sisters. There was one that made her life pure hell, the aftereffects of their nasty behavior can be seen in Vanessa later in the story. It seemed she hasn’t quite recovered from the physical, as well as the psychological trauma they caused. After she was rescued and put into Foster care with a really nice couple is how Vanessa learned to live and love. She has forged through ever since with the encouragement from her Foster parents. Also Diana’s family who have been there for her way more than her own have ever been. Vanessa wanted to learn graphic designing but she didn’t have the money. She was also unable to procure a good scholarship, yet she wanted to study in the best college out there, which put her in a huge debt. Getting a job as the Wall of Winnipeg’s personal assistant was more than what Vanessa bargained for. Funnily enough, she had no idea about Aiden’s popularity since......... um, I don’t know why actually. Probably she wasn’t into any type of games until she started working for Aiden? Anyway, she was in it for the good pay (mainly a way to pay back her student loan), even though it was a pretty much 24/7 job. The only thing she didn’t do was staying at Aiden’s. But Vanessa had been more than an assistant to Aiden. She was there for him when he was injured and needed someone because he had no relatives to call. She was there for him pretty much whenever he needed her.
Vanessa did what she had to do, part because it was her job. Part because she, somewhere along the way, came to care for him even if the initial crush was over before it blossomed. However, his aloof demeanor, demanding behavior without any thanks whatsoever had taken its toll. Plus he never bothered to wish her ‘Happy Birthday’ or any type of anything in these past 2 yrs. And it disappointed her really bad, even though she’d learned to not expect anything from him. Here she was working so hard to make life easier for him every single day of her life, where it seemed she had no life of her own, but to never get a single ‘thank you’ in return? It still grated! Vanessa was just gnashing her teeth trying to finish up a few more months when her saving would be good enough for her to leave without worrying over that student loan too much. She already had a good client base and hoped to expand. From book covers to tattoos to website designing, Vanessa did it all in whatever spare time she’d gotten after finishing up at Aiden’s. Now she was confident enough to work online, open her own graphic designing shop, go and do whatever she likes, wake up whenever she felt like it... she wanted to live her own life. At this point, it seemed like it’s gonna happen. Unfortunately, she hadn’t yet found a way to give Aiden her resignation.
But ultimately, Vanessa is forced to resign when something Aiden does simply hurts her too much. After that, she goes back to her place, planning on how to proceed from there with her own career in graphics designing. Things were going well, until one day a month into her resignation, The Wall of Winnipeg himself drops by in her apartment, where he’s never ever been before, and in his straightforward way asks her to return to working for him. After recovering from the initial shock of finding him on his doorstep, Vanessa’s reaction? That is so not happening sucker! Though Vanessa is tempted to give him the middle finger, she simply says ‘no’........ BUT Aiden keeps returning, and at one point, begins explaining the reason for his persistence. His passport and work permit is expiring soon and the only ‘easy’ way he can continue on working in the USA would be to marry an American. And Vanessa is his only hope at the moment. No, he doesn’t want anyone else, it has to be Vanessa. For the next 5 years (the amount of time they have to show themselves married), Vanessa would stay in his home as his ‘wife’. She won’t have to worry over anything financially. When he couldn’t entirely convince her, Aiden Graves throws in the punch: he’s totally willing to pay off Vanessa’s debt if she agrees. Not a part or anything, the entire thing! So, if nothing else convinced Vanessa, this totally did! She knew what she was planning on doing wasn’t exactly legal but Aiden assures her that no one will know. Plus that loan was like a millstone around her neck. With it gone, she’d be able to breathe a little better. 5 years, no big deal right? Only Vanessa didn’t know how the hell she will pass 5 years lying to a few people she loves and cares for, counts as her family, through her teeth about her marital status, which, in all intents and purpose, would be a marriage in name only.
Vanessa soon moves into the home she’d called her ‘work’. Things weren’t bad after that. Aiden had a roommate called Jake who was the total opposite to him. Jake was a smooth-talker with all the charm of a Southerner. He was Aiden’s teammate too, but he wasn’t as serious and disciplined like Aiden where the game was concerned, which caused him his place in the team soon. Vanessa and Jake had a strong friendship and she helps him get through the depression, trying to encourage him to start over again in a new team. Now that she didn’t have any other financial worries, Vanessa also starts working on her own graphic designing business. Soon she was making good money, as well as expanding it. It didn’t matter what Aiden promised to give her after their 5 yrs. were over, which may or may not have included a house. She wanted her career to build in the meantime so she can keep on working no matter where life takes her after that.
Vanessa also keeps supporting Aiden as she did before. It was not much different than how it was when she was working for him. Only this time, she was his wife even if name only and living in his home. But there WERE other differences in Aiden’s behavior. Previously, when he was trying to persuade her to marry him, Vanessa did rip him one about his aloof and cold behavior. The fact that it hurt her a lot that he wouldn’t defend her when it was needed or say something positive about her, even though, in his mind, it was a quite different scenario. Aiden understood that he needed to communicate more if he has to pull this one through. Needed to be more articulate. He didn’t like mingling with people much but he did like Vanessa... a LOT. He wanted her around, which is the reason why even though his rude manager wanted to fire her plenty of times just for the sake of it, he wouldn’t let him. It’s the reason why he turned to her for help. It had to be her who he’d marry. It was clear that Aiden trusted Vanessa more than his own manager. So in that department, it seemed Aiden was gradually doing well. Little things he’d do for her that proved that he cared. He was communicating more and more, which led to the blossoming of a strong friendship that Vanessa didn’t think Aiden can struck up with anyone, let alone herself. And she loved it. Loved it a LOT!
The rest of the story basically tells you how things unfold in their relationship, resolving both of their trust issues and taking turn to where they finally begin to realize they’ve fallen in love with each-other.
Already mentioned that The Wall of Winnipeg and Me was a slow build, but for me, it was way too slow. And I never quite got the chemistry between Vanessa and Aiden. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them both individually. Aiden, for all his faults, wasn’t a womanizer. He had his own brand of awesome when it came to dedication to his game, which, I found, was the same for the few people in his life that he cared for. He was a softy inside that big body but had trouble expressing his feelings. Vanessa was strong and would fight for the ones she cared for as well. Even with all the trust issues from her dysfunctional family caused her to have, Vanessa still knew how to care for someone. And I liked them together as a friend, but lovers? I don’t know. When they finally got to that part, I wasn’t convinced. Their relationship still came off more as ‘friends’ rather than anything else. It just felt something was missing. There were also a lot of repetition in the story, especially the names or how Vanessa liked describing Aiden as ‘The Wall of Winnipeg’, ‘The Big Guy’, ‘that warm, baritone voice’ or ‘those brown/chocolate eyes’ over and over and over again. It was told from her POV so the repetition kept happening. A few times I did feel like screaming just call him Aiden for crying out loud! *eyeroll*
Overall, I liked The Wall of Winnipeg and Me, loved the idea of it but I thought it could’ve been better written. 3.5 stars.