Publication Date: March 20th 2015.
My rating: 5 stars.
“Trust me, I’ve wanted to punch you in the face a time or five.” When the man you worshipped as a kid becomes your coach, it’s supposed to be the greatest thing in the world. Keywords: supposed to. It didn’t take a week for twenty-seven-year-old Sal Casillas to wonder what she’d seen in the international soccer icon—why she’d ever had his posters on her wall, or ever envisioned marrying him and having super-playing soccer babies. Sal had long ago gotten over the worst non-break-up in the history of imaginary relationships with a man that hadn’t known she’d existed. So she isn’t prepared for this version of Reiner Kulti who shows up to her team’s season: a quiet, reclusive, shadow of the explosive, passionate man he’d once been. Nothing could have prepared her for the man she got to know. Or the murderous urges he brought out in her. “Sal, please don’t make me visit you in jail. Orange isn’t your color.” This was going to be the longest season of her life.
I was a huge fan of Zapata’s The Wall of Winnipeg and me when I read it a few months ago, she worked the hate to love trope to well and created such a great and unbelievable relationship between the characters, that when Kulti properly hit my radar a few weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to read it. It was a mammoth 570 pages long, so I was looking forward to slowly savouring this book. But of course this didn’t happen; I managed to avoid all of my family for two days just so I could devour this epic book.
Sal is a fantastic soccer player; she’d wanted to be a football ever since watching her idol Kulti make a name for himself. Things are going well for Sal, so she never expected that Reiner Kulti would become one of her coaches. Sal’s sure she’s over her crush, but she really didn’t expect such a tough time with him. At first he seems nothing like the guy she grew up adoring, he’s aloof and doesn’t pay a bit of attention to the team he’s meant to be working with and then when he treats Sal’s father the way he does, she’s had enough, who the heck does Kulti think he is?
To be honest I was super intrigued by Kulti, why would such a big football legend come to coach the Houston Pipers? No one’s heard from him since he retired two years ago, but now he’s going to have such a pivotal role in Sal’s next season. Even though Kulti gave an earlier impression of being an aloof, egoistical guy, that didn’t want anything to do with anyone on the team and just seemed stuck in his own world, I really couldn’t wait to get to know the guy more. As soon as I found out he was German though, I was a goner, (Irish or German men are my biggest downfall, and I can’t even form a coherent sentence when they start talking). Also I knew there had to be more to this closed off guy, and Zapata really let us get to know him in the best possible way. The relationship between Sal and Kulti was such a slow burn one, but done so well, I loved the slow build up of Kulti slowly allowing us to get to know his character, my gosh I was a complete sucker in the first few pages, but as the story progressed I absolutely fell in love with Kulti. Where did the caring, protective guy emerge from? I wanted to give the big guy a hug or even a kiss! What Zapata also worked well on was the age gap between Kulti and Sal, there was a 13 year age difference and with Kulti being Sal’s idol for a long time, this story could have really fallen apart. But Zapata truly made the relationship between Kulti and Sal a believable one, so much that when the age gap was bought up a few times later on, it didn’t seem like a big deal to me at all. Both Kulti and Sal were mature individuals who were happy with who they were and knew what they wanted from their lives. On top of that the slow build up of the chemistry between them was something I loved watching. Their interactions were ones I extremely looked forward to, as they had me laughing out loud, swooning and at times making me want to punch someone. It really did take a long time for both to realise each other’s feelings for one another, it was apparent to me as a reader that something so wonderful could come out of them being together, but with the position Kulti was in (as Sal’s coach) and with Sal not expecting anything in return, I could accept why it took so long for both of them to get their acts together.
The brilliant romance aside, Zapata also worked really well on another aspect I love in real life; sports. There are only a handful of books that I’ve read which have featured sport as a central theme and has actually worked well for me. Zapata in my eyes did a great job with the focus on the sport aspect, there was so much always going on, training, making sure they made the team, and going as far as they could as a team. Zapata was not only able to bring the Pipers story to the forefront, but dealt with other underlying issues a sports person would have to deal with really well; competitiveness, bitchiness within a team and how difficult it can be to keep your private life private. With so much going a non sports fan would still be able to enjoy this book.
I also enjoyed how family played a central part to this book, Sal’s family were supportive of what she was doing in their own ways, but Sal’s dad was one of my favourites. He was always there for Sal whenever she needed him and couldn’t be more of a proud father. I also loved how he was always around Kulti, being a fan of him since the very beginning; it was funny seeing his inner-fan come out in full force.
Overall Kulti was an absolutely fantastic read; it’s one of those underrated books in my eyes that everyone needs to read. The build up of the romance is one of the best ones I have seen in a long time and the characters ones that you can’t help but fall for. I really can’t recommend this book enough!