Soccer, MMA, ice skating, hockey, baseball... you name it, I want to read it. Here are some of my favorite sports romances (and favorite book athletes)!
Finding Home by Emilia Finn
Book 1 of the Rollin' On series
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5)
When Kit becomes responsible for her troubled teenage brother. Her stable life as an accountant is turned on its head. When Jack signs up for an MMA gym, Kit reluctantly comes face-to-face with MMA fighter Bobby Kincaid.
The oldest of the Kincaid boys, Bobby is all about family. He instantly takes Jack under his wing. It has everything to do with teaching the boy discipline (and only a little bit to do with wanting seeing his older sister again).
Unused to genuine affection and the ease by which Bobby carries himself, Kit is overwhelmed by his dimpled smiles and shameless flirting. Bobby doesn't pull any punches in his pursuit of Kit, smug even as his brothers give him shit for being so infatuated. Kit sees all the good in Bobby, and all the good he does for her. She calls the fight on the trepidation she feels and embraces the MMA fighter.
Bobby Kincaid is one of my all-time favorites. He doesn't front like a lot romance characters. He doesn't flaunt, doesn't play the tough-guy. He lives for his family and he enjoys what he does. The recognition never gets to his head, and he's down to earth, focused, determined. Bobby is a golden-retrieved character who packs a punch. He's brazen and unabashed, taking his brothers' ribbing with a smile as he works to win Kit over.
This series is pretty massive, but the first two focus on Bobby and Kit, and I can't get enough of the oldest Kincaid. He's just a genuine personality. In a genre filled with tough-guy athletes, Bobby is refreshing. I find myself coming back to this series over and over.
The Forbidden Man by Karina Halle
Thalia Blackwood is forty, recently divorced, and ready for fresh start. Eager to work somewhere she won't have to see her ex everyday, Thalia jumps on the opportunity to jump ship, leaving her position as a physical therapist with Manchester United to join Real Madrid.
23-year-old media darling, playboy, and partier, Alejo Albarado is splashed across the news for a new reason when he gets injured at the height of his career. Desperate to come back better than ever, Alejo finds himself taking orders from their new sports therapist. Soon -- as he spends days with her hands on him -- his thoughts stray from the professional. As Alejo's charm and personality begin to chip away at her, Thalia must decide if their connection is enough to ignore the age-gap and put her career on the line.
I read this novel at the start on 2020 and I'm still charmed by Alejo to this day. He's the typical play-boy turned sweetheart, with a splash of ambition and determination. This entire novel revolves around the soccer pitch, and we get to feel rush of Thalia's attraction for someone so much younger and so good at what he does. She and I were both taken with Alejo's youthfulness. Halle manages to pull off the age gap and still let Alejo act his age. There's no "wise for his age" justification. Alejo is simply grown, having spent years working for what he wants. He understands what it takes to hit the peak of a career, and he knows he's putting Thalia's at risk every time he touches her. But he's young and lively, and he brings a spart to Thalia life that she can't ignore.
Kulti by Mariana Zapata
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5)
Professional soccer player Sal is stunned when the international soccer star she worshipped as a child signs on to coach her National Women's Soccer team.
What's worse is that his first impression leaves her pissed off and wishing 10-year-old Sal had ripped his posters off her wall.
As time passes and Reiner Kulti continues to be an asshole -- refusing to coach yet driving Sal into a particular kind of hell -- Kulti and Sal clash on and off the field. As tension builds and Sal works hard to be the bigger person, they start to form a friendship. Kulti is close to Sal in a way he isn't with anyone else. But when their very public friendship starts impacting Sal's reputation and position on the team, her world tilts. Kulti is unapologetic and unrelenting, pushing Sal to recognize that she's the type of talent that can afford to take risks and that he'll be there no matter what.
Would it really be a romance blog without some Mariana Zapata? Her sports romances are top-shelf, and with the enemies-to-friends-to-lovers spin, Kulti is my favorite. Sal has always wanted him, is upended when he's nothing like she hoped, and digs her cleats in until she calls a timeout on their feud. After a little patience, Sal soon understands him like no one else. She turns that spite-fire attitude and unending understanding toward him, and he's a little in awe of her. Kulti finds himself looking at Sal in a whole new way.
This is probably my favorite sports romance. The slow-burn is just so good and there are so many of these unspoken moments where I'm constantly able to get in each of their heads, even Kulti who has zero POV, and start wondering did he mean it that way?? Does he like her?? The way Zapata falls into these reveal moments, the way the characters learn about the others' feelings through actions rather than words... *chef's kiss." Kulti is fantastic and it's currently available on KU:
Challenge by Amy Daws
Book 1 of the Harris Brothers series.
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3)
Camden Harris comes from a family-set of football (soccer) stars, so when he's injured, his entire life stops short.
Dr. Indie Harris has made schooling and career her focus her entire life. While she's now almost at the top of her game, being in charge of a footballer's recovery will either make or break her.
Camden's a player on and off the field. Indie is whip-smart but naïve. Prioritizing school and career has left her without some of the experiences most others have, and she's continuously frustrated by her own lack-of experience. Camden is the opposite, open, flirty, and free with his body and affection. Indie sees him as the perfect opportunity to lose her virginity. But what neither of them expect is for their emotions to change the game and up the stakes.
If you're not looking for a slow-burn, this book is for you. This book was good, but I wouldn't say it lives up to some of the heavy-hitters on the list. Amy Daws writes enjoyable, fun books though. This is one of them. Camden is your typical sports-star, well-known for his sport and how often he sleeps around. But he's never the "bad boy." He's not an asshole, he just likes to do what he likes.
The Harris Brothers' series gets better from here, which is why Challenge is on the list. In this, I just found the story is a little stilted due to how immature Indie is. She seems younger than she is and acts more immature than you'd expect from a well-respected young doctor. I really think there's a good way to write main characters that are virgins and ready to change that without making them "naïve" in the process, and this just didn't hit the mark in that regard.
From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4.5)
Sport: Figure Skating
Jasmine is a twenty-six year old figure-skater without a partner, without any significant wins, and without the likability others seem to acquire naturally. A year after her skating partner dumps her without a word, Jasmine is on her last leg.
Down from practicing six hours everyday to two, Jasmine's time is filled with responsibilities she never had time for before. But when she gets summoned to office at the Lukov Skating Complex, she never expects to find rival and asshole Ivan Lukov waiting for her.
Ivan is everything she's not. Successful, rich, beloved. He's had a slew of partners and he's won gold every time. Facing Ivan down across the office, Jasmine can't believe the offer his manager makes. His current partner is taking a season off. We want you to take her place. The proposition solves all her problems, gets her completing back on the ice, and gives her an opportunity to prove she's more than natural talent. The only catch? Having to skate with smug, smart-mouthed Ivan Lukov.
Jasmine is one of Zapata's best and most human leads. There's something about the vulnerability that grows between Jasmine - who's trying to defy everyone's view of her - and Ivan, the decorated skater she's known - and despised - for sixteen years.
The two of them are unassuming together. Funny, clever, and mean. But it's in the spirit of childhood ribbing, off-handed snarkiness exchanged in passing. You can see how each of their opinions of the other developed over time. How their mutual bullying is fun for both of them. They are so good together in this book. There's a gentleness and a longing in each of them that I can't get over.
This book is one of the more emotional reads by Zapata, and it really shines. Jasmine can't catch a break, and it's all wearing her thin as her career hangs in the balance. When it seems like nobody believes in her, she finds Ivan in her corner. The man who has pointed out flaws and missteps at every turn might not be who she thought he was, and he's determined to prove that she's more than she thinks she is too.