Kulti by Mariana Zapata wouldn’t have been a book I’d automatically pick up. Though it’s a contemporary romance, it’s also set in the world of women’s soccer which is something I don’t follow or have ever played as a kid. It’s a doorstop of a book. My copy was 560 pages long. I like long books, but in the romance genre it’s at least a hundred pages too long. The main character’s love interest is a retired legend of the sport, and he’s German. I’m sure there are plenty of friendly Germans in the world but I rode dressage for years. I’ve had several German coaches. They’re typically difficult as hell and demanding beyond words.
Mariana Zapata is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. This book has 1, 193 reviews on Amazon. The majority of readers like this book. So despite my very personal issues, I dug in and tackled my book club’s choice.
It wasn’t awful. As a matter of fact, mostly…it was quite nice. The writing was good; the internal dialogue funny.
The pacing of the romance was slow to the point of painful, which is a problem that I can’t ignore since this is supposed to be a romance first and a sports novel second. Two hundred pages in I couldn’t help but think, what the hell? Why didn’t her editor bother to rein in this author? I sighed, rolled my eyes, and then reminded myself that this is a bestselling author. That should mean something. Yes? There must be a big payoff coming. Hopefully. And then, I’d start reading again.
Sal, the main soccer-playing character, is in her late twenties. Despite being a leader, focused and driven to excel in her sport, and arguably the best player on her team, her reaction to Reiner Kulti is extraordinarily adolescent. I’m sure this might be endearing to some readers but not to me. I’ve been a tomboy all my life; horses, basketball, golf, cycling. I understand being competitive, giving your all, and hating to lose. Teenage crush or no crush, being a female athlete doesn’t automatically make you socially awkward.
What was far more endearing was her panic attacks around cameras. That sort of character flaw was palatable because it doesn’t play to stereotypes. Who doesn’t get nervous when a microphone is shoved in their face?
The very German Kulti, a David Beckham styled character, is not likable at the beginning of the book. As a matter of fact, he’s not all that likable for most of the book. That’s mainly because Zapata only sticks to Sal’s immature point of view. At the very end of this book, there’s a payoff of sorts. It’s not a huge payoff, but I can now understand why the single point of view was done.
Here are my final thoughts… If you like feel-good books or movies about sports, then Kulti is for you. If you are looking for your next steamy read-in-a-day romance, this book is a hard pass.
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