I’m Reading: I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

As a writer and beta reader, I know it’s tough to make your main character’s life miserable. They’re our friend, after all. We invest in them emotionally and spend a lot of time in their heads. But most really great books require at least some suffering on the part of the protagonist for the sake of personal growth and sustained tension. This is especially true in romance because the genre requires a dark moment where all seems lost, right before the happy ending.

Sophie Kinsella is a master class in MC misery, balanced with tenderness, laugh-out-loud hilarity, and multiple plot threads all crashing down together on the character’s head like a vengeful curse. This story is a slow-motion train wreck in the most entertaining way. We cringe in horror as each new embarrassing disaster looms watching helplessly as it strikes. We laugh in horror as everything unravels in the worst (and funniest) possible unlucky outcome. Because the theme of the story is that we make our own luck. No one finds happiness pretending to be something they’re not.

Kinsella puts us right in Fixie’s head from the get-go with a strong voice and deep POV. Fixie’s a doormat without being wishy-washy or dull. She feels with her whole heart without being able to articulate it. She’s our disaster BFF we want to wrap up in a blanket fort and defend to the death from her own bad choices.

The deep POV is masterfully done, giving us Fixie as an unreliable narrator trying genuinely to make everyone around her happy, and with no idea the reader is looking at the self-centered users around her and muttering, “Oh honey…oh no…”

(And sometimes shouting, “YOU THROW THAT WHOLE MAN IN THE TRASH FIXIE FARR.” So I’ve heard. Ahem.)

Sophie Kinsella’s books can probably be found at your local library, or through her website at:

Sophie Kinsella

I’m Reading: Hands Down by Mariana Zapata

(Warning: Contains spoilers).

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me was my first Mariana Zapata. It was for a lot of folks as it became the exemplar for slow-burn, enemies to lovers with a fake relationship. I went on to read almost everything in Zapata’s catalog, and they continue to be comfort-food favorites I return to again and again. In her series there are two vivid, dynamic side characters I’ve been chomping at the bit to see in their own HEA, and Sweet, loving, loyal Zac “Snack Pack” Travis is one of them.

So I was a little disappointed when I read it the moment it came out. It was unlike any of Zapata’s other pairings, really. The angst was light. There weren’t any tortured dark anti-heroes to tame. There wasn’t that edge of barely-restrained violent tension. It was the first Zapata book I could safely recommend to a friend with PTSD because it lacked triggering events like domestic violence or stalking. It was even slower-burn than usual, with only a sweet kiss or two at the big moment, and a later sex scene almost as an afterthought. The attraction throughout was more playful than sexual.

I didn’t like it at first. I was looking for dark, tortured anti-heros, fierce sexual tension, and rough angst. But I read it again a few months later and realized quickly what I had missed. The book was an absolutely spot-on-perfect story for Zac. Everything from the laid-back pacing to the sweet, playful atmosphere and the struggle with self-doubt was everything we loved about Zac in Wall of Winnipeg.

Part of why I admire Zapata as a writer so much is her range. Many of my favorite authors perfect a very specific kind of romance trope and specialize in that trope. Zapata, while keeping her slow-burn, dabbles in everything from enemies to friends, figure skating to biker gangs. Some of her books took longer for me to really appreciate because I had slipped into expectations based on previous books. In this case, I expected a certain kind of tortured hero, and forgot everything I fell in love with when I first met “Big Texas” Travis. He has always been, at core, the most loyal friend anyone could have.

That’s what brought me around and put this book in my top-five Zapata re-reads. So many writers take a beloved side character and either flatten or twist them to make them fit a preconceived pattern when they take the spotlight. Instead, Zapata preserved Zac’s essence. He’s a goofball, a loyal friend, and cinnamon roll all the way down. True to his nature, his story is one of a deep, intimate friendship, full of trust and laughter, tipping ever-so-gently into romantic love. It’s the only love story that makes sense for him, the only way it could ever have been.

Most of Zapata’s work is available on Kindle Unlimited. Visit the author at https://www.marianazapata.com/