Possible SPOILERS Ahead! Read at your own risk.
Zac Travis and Bianca Brannen used to be best friends but ten years have gone by since the last time they spoke. When her brother Boogie, the third leg in their friendship, asked her to swing by Zac’s house to give him a message about his grandpa she sucks it up and does the right thing. When he doesn’t recognize her? It’s devastating. Now that she’s back in his life, Zac is determined to not let her leave.
I was beyond thrilled that Mariana Zapata was releasing a book about one of my favorite side characters, Zac “Big Texas” from the Wall of Winnipeg and Me. I’ve read Winnipeg about 8 times, so Zac is a very familiar character. His aw shucks attitude and sweet charm makes him super easy to like, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a main character hero. For me, that usually depends upon the leading lady, which in this case is also a side character but one that barely blipped on my radar. Bianca was the receptionist at the Maio House gym in The Best Thing. She was pretty minor but as I was reading Hands Down I admired how Mariana Zapata, again, tied the characters from her books together.
As I was reading this novel I found myself getting restless. For me, that’s never a good sign and meant I had some reservations about these characters love story. What was it that bothered me? I believe in love at any age, so the age difference between Zac and Bianca wasn’t that big a deal (it’s an 8 year difference). After all, I married a man 5 years my junior and it’s the maturity of a person that matters, not the age. Part of Zac’s charm in Winnipeg was his aw shucks attitude, which was on overdrive and may have been a bit overused in Hands Down. His nicknames of “sugar” and “darlin” were part of his identity, but there was one nickname that he used with Bianca specifically that I disliked. Well, at first I was ok with it, but after their feelings developed my feelings changed. Zac called Bianca “kiddo”. If this was a story about a brother and sister I’d think that was sweet, but at the end of the book he was still saying “I love you kiddo” and well, I found it kind of creepy. Why didn’t the author change that nickname like he did when he started calling her Bibi? I felt like that would’ve been an easy resolution. Insert “Bibi” wherever he says kiddo as his feelings had started to change. This may seem like a very small point but for me it’s one that would’ve made a huge difference in how I felt about the characters.
I love a strong female protagonist and Bianca had moments of strength but those moments were interspersed with quite a lot of insecurity. I get that she felt like Zac dumped her for his successful career but the number of times she said something like “if you want to” or “if you don’t have anything better to do” or spoke down about herself, got kind of frustrating. It actually frustrated Zac too as he addressed it quite a few times in the book, but when it starts getting on a readers nerves it’s like that tickle in your throat that won’t go away. When attention is drawn to it, it just itches even more. I was never allowed to get past it because it was brought up too often. Would I have felt differently if Bianca had started feeling more secure about herself a little sooner? Possibly.
Despite those two things, I did enjoy reading Hands Down. There’s a safety in reading a Mariana Zapata novel. You know you’re getting a great story, you look forward to seeing how these characters connect to past novels, and when they finally reveal their love for each other after that long build-up to it, it’s just so satisfying. Despite being let down on that last point just a smidge, it was still a nice get away from the stresses of my everyday life which is a win in my book.
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