This is another one of those books I probably wouldn’t have touched were it not for the online book reviewing community. Specifically, all of you fellow romance-reading reviewers here at CBR, who read and reviewed Kulti to pieces starting late last year. I’d never even heard of Mariana Zapata until y’all started raving over this book. I’ve learned to trust our collective hive mind over the years, so I picked this up with one of my Audible credits earlier this year, and decided to save it for just the right time.
Kulti is not the best romance I’ve ever read. It’s probably not even in the top ten. (Perhaps worth noting, contemporary isn’t usually my genre.) But nevertheless, it was so fun to read. Well, listen to. I had it in my ears for practically three days straight. I listened to it while shopping, getting a car wash, running errands . . . any time I could.
Kulti is a slow burn romance, emphasis on slooooow. Sal Casillas plays soccer professionally in the US Women’s Professional League. She has wanted to be a professional soccer player since she was seven years old, when she watched a young Reiner Kulti make the game-winning goal for a very important game, and decided she wanted to be him when she grew up. Soon, this became her wanting to be him AND marry him AND have adorable soccer babies with him. But of course she grew up and her obsession with the King of Soccer (or Football, if we’re anywhere but the US) became just another piece of her past. Hard work, determination, and sacrifice brought Sal to where she is. Soccer is her life.
And then the famous Kulti, retired two years and long since off Sal’s radar, takes a position as assistant coach on Sal’s team, the Houston Pipers. Aside from the mysterious reason such a high-profile athlete* would agree to work in such a low-profile job, he doesn’t seem to actually want to be there at all. He won’t speak to anyone or look them in the eye. He doesn’t actually do any coaching, only sits on the sidelines and watches. He’s rude when on the rare occasions he does speak, and he quickly upsets the balance not only in Sal’s life, but the careful camaraderie of her team. Sal always knew her hero was something of a spitfire (the fights, the rumors he wasn’t a huge team player or easy to get along with, etc.) but she didn’t think he was THIS bad.
*Think of someone with a level of fame comparable to Beckham, Pelé, Lionel Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo, except German.
So the stage is set for two people to overcome almost every obstacle possible, and thus romance isn’t actually a huge focus. It’s a fight just for them to be friends. Kulti’s attitude is a huge problem, but so is his fame and his reputation, especially since Sal has her own career and reputation to protect. Soccer is of course a huge part of Kulti, but if you’re not super familiar with the sport, and even if you don’t care about it at all, you’re still okay to read it. The focus is really on Sal and her relationship with Kulti, of course, but also her family and friends and career.
I do have some minor criticisms, and they’re mostly to do with style and editing. Zapata is a self-pub author, and you can tell. Her prose isn’t fancy, and is actually pretty conversational and colloquial, and that’s fine. But she also has some tendencies a good editor would know to curb. She overuses some phrases and techniques in a way that is very obvious, and after a while begins to grate. Like, she constantly has Sal asking rhetorical questions and then answering them immediately as a way to keep her inner monologue flowing (the book is written in 1st person, which can go very badly wrong pretty easily). She also leans way too hard on several of her jokes, including a gag where Sal has to constantly remind herself that Kulti poops like everyone else. The joke was funny at first. But it got old pretty fast, and she used it A LOT. The book is also off in terms of pacing. It could have easily lost at least a hundred pages and not suffered for it, both in terms of some unnecessary details and scenes, and in some words in scenes that remained (like all that unnecessary repetition).
But really, I was quite obsessed with listening to this, and no matter my slight issues with it, I will definitely be checking out more of Zapata’s work (I’ve got The Wall of Winnipeg on my Audible wishlist ready to go). Kulti is an intriguing hero, VERY flawed and just the right amount of tortured and sweet, and Sal is great. She calls Kulti on all of his shit, and it’s sweet watching her draw him out. Also, I won’t lie, it was super satisfying getting to see a character live out a fantasy I’m sure many of us had, of our childhood crushes or idols coming into our lives and planting themselves there firmly.
Very much recommend, would read again.