Heat Factor: Pretty standard Zapata slow burn
Character Chemistry: It kinda wasn’t there and then all of a sudden it was?
Plot: Let’s have a marriage of convenience because of reasons
Overall: I liked it but I kinda don’t know why
I’m a bit stuck on this one. Before I read it, Ingrid, who introduced me to Mariana Zapata, said this one wasn’t her favorite, and we discussed it a little bit after I finished the book, which was helpful. Because I’m stuck. I liked this book, but I’m a little hard pressed to understand why.
Easy bits first. Synopsis.
Vanessa worked as defensive end football star Aiden’s personal assistant for two years. Aiden was a diva. Vanessa didn’t care so long as she was earning money so she could meet her goal of eventually quitting and working for herself as a graphic designer. Finally, she stops making excuses to herself about why not to quit and gives Aiden a very generous, open-ended notice. Then Aiden acts like a jerk, so she rage quits. Aiden comes after her. She’s not having it. Aiden talks her into marrying him so he can get a green card (he’s Canadian), which she only agrees to because she has mortgage-level student debt. Since they’re married, they have to live together and BAM – forced proximity for the romance.
Now let’s talk a little about Aiden and Vanessa.
Vanessa has about a thousand pounds of personal baggage. We’re in her head for the whole story, so we get to process all of her feelings with her, and sometimes that’s fun and sometimes it’s not. She’s very fixated on feeling shame, which I didn’t always feel was appropriate because it resulted in a good deal of taking responsibility for things outside of her or Aiden’s control, but I acknowledge there are things about human emotion I am not very good at, and anyway, we need to fuel this slow burn.
Vanessa engages with Aiden primarily as a distant roommate most of the time. Frankly, her relationship with the other roommate, a quarterback, is more open and fleshed out. As Vanessa and Aiden are together longer, she becomes more emotionally involved with him, but she largely carries on her own life and treats Aiden like a friend.
Aiden is a little opaque, that that’s not a strange thing because Zapata writes in 1st person POV from the heroine’s perspective, so we have no insight into Aiden’s thoughts or feelings or motivations. He’s a vegan introvert who is solely focused on football, so his personal relationships are pretty much nonexistent. Vegan has nothing to do with anything, but I enjoyed having a vegan hero for a change.
Aiden shares pieces of himself with Vanessa, but they’re already married, and most of the interaction takes place in their own house, so there’s very little space for flights of jealousy or other indicators that Aiden wants Vanessa. I mean, they live with another football player who’s besties with Vanessa, so there was room for jealousy, but Zapata doesn’t go in for it. Aiden is not one of those football players who dances in the end zone. Waaaaaay too serious for that. (Also he’s a defensive player! Okay okay okay! I kinda sorta know how football works. Just…be cool for the sake of the narrative.)
Do you see my problem? It seems like there’s not a lot of meat in this one.
I didn’t necessarily need Aiden and Vanessa to have the same argument about why she wouldn’t come back to work for him or marry him quite so many times (on rereads I skip all those chapters), but… Aiden was really a jerk in a position of power in the beginning of the book, and that needed not to be the case. Once Aiden committed to being Vanessa’s friend, he was a pretty good friend to her – and she to him. But… We never get to understand why Aiden is really motivated to have what is effectively a personality transplant. Sure, he follows through on his commitments, but he really doesn’t struggle with befriending her, like, at all. So if he was able to have such an about-face, why wasn’t he less of a jerk when Vanessa was working for him? All of a sudden he married her so he miraculously gives a shit?
If you can get past that (and all the weird shame and the weird word turns of phrase sometimes), Aiden’s and Vanessa’s friendship develops kind of the way that friends falling in love should develop. Wild swings of big feelings can be fun and all, but let’s face it: in real life, most of those wild swings of jealousy would indicate a lack of trust, and those possessive behaviors would indicate biiiig red flags, and closed-off behavior would indicate a lack of emotional reciprocity in the relationship.
So it feels like there’s not a lot of meat, perhaps, when I’m done with the book and trying to process, and Aiden stays pretty flat, but… Aiden and Vanessa are good friends to each other, and it was nice to have a love story that, at the end of the day, felt a little bit normal.
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