– by Erin Zak
I didn’t think I would be reading this book, “Breaking Down Her Walls” by Erin Zak until I read Rachael Byrne‘s review posted on Les Rêveur that piqued me interest. Not having had any experience with this author or her books, I dug in without any expectations, really. Am I glad I did because the first act itself hooked me right in!
First off, I have to mention that the style in which Zak utilised was something I’d only experienced once before (if me memory serves me right!) or let’s just say, a rarity in me reading history – third-person in present tense. Me reckons it’s not a common style authors use. In fact, the only time (if I remember correctly!) I came across it whilst reading, I remember it being very jarring for me that I noticed it immediately. I had to really get used to it. Fortunately the storytelling and the writing was solid so I didn’t mind it one bit. THIS book, however, I must say, I didn’t even notice it until my realisation hit after I finished because Zak somehow infused the style with such smoothness in the word flow that I read it like it was in any other usual style of writing! Another thing to point out about Zak’s use of this unusual style that instantly comforted me reading experience is that all throughout, I felt like I was in a convo with Zak (albeit she was the only one talking!) where she’d just observed an event (story) in its entirety and was now recapping everything to me ever so meticulously whilst I was listening to her intently, quietly taking in everything. That was how her third-person-in-present-tense storytelling style felt for me! It was strangely soothing, like I was listening to the story rather than reading it meself! Yup, first time experiencing this effect with this particular style. So, I think it’s Zak’s way of structuring the word flow and expressions that did the trick! I absolutely loved it and enjoyed that feel!
Now that I’ve got me viewpoint about Zak’s brilliantly expressed writing style squared away, I have to comment on her story plot. Ok, a story about a woman arriving in a small town to live a new life (in town or on a farm, a ranch, etc..) is no stranger to lesfic and I’ve read several of them. But Zak’s version of this type of plot tweaked into something that piqued me sense of curiosity and interest almost right away! I honestly didn’t expect it. So, well done, Zak, for creating a refreshing take on this trope. I was instantly curious about Julia and what she was running from. The fact that Julia was a “runner” just upped the game of curiosity and intrigue for me as a reader! Zak’s storytelling style, dropping a series of nuggets strategically as she weaved Julia’s journey from the town to the ranch just made it addictive that I couldn’t put down the book until I finished it because I HAD to know what it was that Julia was hiding from! *Yes, that’s why I’m an unapologetic binge-watcher AND binge-reader, so there!*
Normally, I shy away from stories involving farms or ranches (except if they’re written by me favourite authors, that is!) because of certain reasons I won’t bore you with. So imagine me surprise when I unwittingly discovered that I was really drawn to all the ins and outs, the inner-workings of a ranch – the horses, the farm animals, the herding, the manure collecting/storing, the barn cleaning, all the rest of the “farm/ranch” physical labour activities, basically! In fact, I couldn’t get enough of all the details that Zak so richly depicted in the story especially the horse riding, training, and the herding! The way Zak described the surroundings had me feeling like I was actually there, breathing the same fresh air, smelling something distinctly (I’m sure!) “ranch” (you know what I mean!), observing what was going on with Julia as she went from behaving like “a bull in a China shop” to feeling more at ease, comfortable and eventually more (gasp!) at home…which was a foreign concept for her – for reasons you need to read to find out because it was very refreshing, compelling and heartbreaking.
I loved Elena, the ranch owner, the ice-queen. I wish Zak would have delved into her POV, though, but I understand why she decided not to because this story was primarily about Julia’s journey of self-discovery, transformation and letting go. Elena, obviously much older than Julia and had a teenage son (I loved Cole! He was adorable!), was also going through something from her past that truly affected her, which lent to why she was the town’s ice queen. Her story (past) was very resonating and heartbreaking, which you’ll need to read it to find out.
Speaking of, I absolutely loved how scrupulous Zak was in weaving Julia and Elena’s stories. They were uncovered at every stage of their journey at the right moment, with each secret or discovery revealed like the peeling of an onion – in layers. The slow-burn between Julia and Elena was authentically portrayed. It was never hurried but in-line with the very realistic circumstances in which Elena started to thaw when it came to her behaviour toward Julia, from being utterly against Julia being hired as a ranch help initially. It was truly exhilarating to read about the turn of the tide where Julia and Elena were concerned. Hence when their budding friendship began to take shape, slowly but surely progressing into something much, much more, I was well and truly captivated! Once again, Zak did brilliantly with writing situations that left me, the reader, wanting more!
Back to Elena, I loved how Zak developed and grew her character throughout the story even though much of it was from Julia’s POV. But the way Zak structured Elena’s dialogue and interaction with Julia was not passive at all. In fact, they were dominant, laced with strong emotions and feelings, her presence alone was so affecting that Julia could only react to Elena in every way that slowly gave rise to her own growth and eventual self-discovery. I ended up wanting to see more of Elena, not just with Julia but in her own element. Such a fascinatingly intriguing character Zak had created in Elena, which I’m sure you’ll agree when you read this book!
And, let’s not even mention just how sizzling their growing chemistry was! The abrasiveness of Elena toward Julia in the beginning was already fanning the undeniable flame. As they grew closer and more comfortable with each other, Zak’s expressive description of their interactions, their push-pull, Julia’s monologue was already erotic enough without any kind of physical intimacy. So when it eventually happened, it just exploded! So well worth the wait!
That’s the thing about slow-burn romance. When weaved and crafted well, when the author knows what expressions and words to play with, the entire slow-burn build-up can be oh-so intoxicating! Oh…I especially loved Elena’s confrontation with Julia toward the end of the final act – it was written with so much passion and emotion I could feel the helplessness in Elena’s words and state of mind! And witty, too.
The heartwarming moments between Julia and Leia, her natural affinity with the horses were written with so much heart it endeared me deeply. She was literally a horse whisperer (there was one moment at the end between Elena and Julia where Elena alluded to that which was really funny!). Not being a horse person, yet I was captivated by every brush of the horses, their scent, how they interacted with Julia, their movements, from Zak’s vivid descriptions. Throughout the book, I felt like I turned into a horse person! The natural simpatico that Leia and Julia instantly achieved (from the get-go, really), their bewitching affection toward each other were so endearingly depicted it was utterly mesmerising. Just wait until you read what happened with Leia and Julia in the final act. Guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings and warm your soul! It was utterly sublime, tbh! Wow!
As for the secondary characters, I really enjoyed their presence especially when interacting with Julia. All the banters that made for some facetious humour that I thoroughly enjoyed! Grounded Julia’s journey and the entire story about her, Elena, her son, the “family” and the ranch with much realism, really. There was one secondary character, in particular, that whilst others may not appreciate her presence, and normally I wouldn’t but surprisingly I did, primarily because I thought Zak did very well in creating this cloud of uncertainty, angst (light), sense of threat in this character, not to mention an opportunity to highlight the cantankerous mood of everyone involved. So, well done, Zak!
All in all, I absolutely enjoyed this story from start to finish. Personally, I didn’t think the epilogue was necessary because the ending already presented me with utter satisfaction. There was one development in the end that I thought was a little superfluous, imo, but I reckon Zak wanted to give Julia a full circle kind of closure. I loved Zak’s take on how Julia’s character evolved and her style of using the uncommonly used third-person-present-tense format heightened the level of authenticity for me as a reader. In the end, I thought I just finished hearing Zak telling me the entire story in person in our “fake” convo…in me mind, if you know what I mean!
Sidenote: Can I just say, Julia’s insistence on wearing her Chucks and baseball cap whilst working on the ranch was simply adorable and downright hilarious? Speaking of Chucks, I’d seen quite a few covers with them on other book covers before but they were all pretty much for aesthetics purposes only, imo. So naturally I expected the same for this book. Never would I have guessed its utter significance to the story! Brilliant cover! Love it! Especially its significance!
This splendidly crafted age-gap, slow-burn romance with quite a few compelling reveals about the protagonists’ past made this story even more captivating and so well worth a reading experience!
In other words, a BLOODY GOOD read! Totally RECOMMENDED!
“I was given, with much thanks and appreciation, an ARC of this book from BSB via NetGalley in return for an honest review.”
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