by Mariana Zapata
This is a hard one for me to rate. On the one hand, I enjoyed it. On the other… this isn’t a romance novel.
I consider myself to be a die-hard Mariana Zapata fan. The Wall of Winnipeg and Me is easily my favorite contemporary romance of all-time, but I love a lot of MZ’s other slow-burn romances as well.
One of the reasons I enjoy them so much is because she writes such amazing heroines. Most of her stories are slow-burn because the female leads are working on themselves in some way – they’re coming into their own, learning to run a marathon, training to hike epic mountains, getting over past trauma, etc. I’ve seen other readers discuss (in great lengths) how close to the line some of MZ’s books come to tipping from romance into “chick-lit”, and while I’ve agreed with a lot of points made by both sides, I’ve never personally felt that any of her books have fallen into the latter category.
This, to me, really read more like women’s fiction than romance. Very little time is spent on the relationship development of the male and female lead. It’s almost solely spent on the heroine and her journey. She’s recovering from heartbreak, facing her grief over her mother’s death, and trying to make a home for herself in the one place she feels like she might be able to.
For, like, 90% of this, the male lead feels more like a random side character she’s attracted to. He’s the typical grumpy MZ love interest, only more mature than most of the others (both age-wise and when it comes to communicating and voicing his emotions).
The main reason this didn’t work as a romance is because much of the development of their relationship happens off page. There are big time jumps in which a lot of their interactions are back fed to the reader in chunks of narration. For example, they might share their first kiss at the end of a chapter, then the next chapter opens like, “Three weeks later…”
I kept being like, Woah, woah, woah. Back up. What happened right after the kiss???
Because of this, their whole relationship comes across as tell instead of show. It makes the romance seem like a subplot because it doesn’t dominate the book. The level of detail put into it pales in comparison to the level of detail spent on all of the hikes the female lead goes on, which is a shame because this male lead is awesome. He’s easily one of my top three MZ love interests, and I would have liked to see more time devoted to him.
I had a few other issues with this one – there were some plot threads left to dangle in the wind with no satisfying resolution, and a really weird lack of fear from the MC during key aspects of the book – but my main complaint is that I went into this expecting a romance and felt like I didn’t get one.
That said, I still enjoyed this for the most part. My rating is really dragged down by not having my expectations met and feeling like I was left wanting more from the story than I got.