Top of Her Game – M. Ullrich

Soccer player Kenzie Shaw is drafted by the New Jersey Hurricanes, where one of her new teammates is her all-time idol Sutton Flores. Already convinced Sutton is the best player ever, Kenzie falls under the team captain’s charm as a person too. Sutton already has a girlfriend, a player from another team, in a relationship that’s more convenient than loving. Neither Sutton nor Kenzie can deny what they feel for the other but Kenzie won’t get involved with Sutton if she’s not single.

I was worried, reading this so soon after Kate Christie’s The Road to Canada, that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate it the way it should. I shouldn’t have been. The soccer game scenes were excellent, and there was just enough of them to build tension but not so many that the romance falls in the background. I really liked the fact that while the national team played a part, most of the story takes place while the players are with their major league team.

I loved Kenzie from the start, her awkwardness is so adorable I was laughing right from the first scene. Not because she’s ridiculous but because she’s so cute. Sutton is an interesting character too, with flaws she’s aware of and the desire to do better. The chemistry between Kenzie and Sutton is obvious, and I liked how the author makes sure pretty soon that we know it’s not only about Kenzie being a fan girl (even though she is) or Sutton having the reputation to fall for rookies (even though she does). The characters believe what’s between them is different, and I believed it with them.

One thing that keeps coming back in reviews is how the sexual harassment part was dealt with, both by the author and the team. It does feel unresolved, obviously something happened between the last chapter and the epilogue that we don’t know about, and it makes the ending feel rushed. But the way the team fails to address the problem doesn’t surprise me. I’m aware more and more women have spoken up and keep speaking up against sexual harassment, including in professional sports, but the journey to making things right isn’t a straight line and I can completely see a manager reacting the way the Hurricanes’ manager does, even in a post #MeToo world. Whether his threats would have held if the players had called his bluff doesn’t matter, all that matters is that they believe they would have. However famous or talented they are, he holds the power. It’s still very often true today.

4-stars

Top of Her Game @ Bold Strokes Books

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