Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Avery Cockburn - Playing for Keeps

Rule One: No Drama!
Fergus Taylor is damaged goods. Reeling from a brutal breakup, he’s determined to captain his LGBT soccer team out of scandal and into a winning season. For that, he needs strict rules and careful plans. He does NOT need a brash, muscle-bound lad messing with his head and setting his body afire.
John Burns has a rule of his own: Don’t get attached. Boyfriends are for guys with nothing to hide. Nobody—not his university mates, not the men he beds—knows his family’s shame. Now his double life is starting to unravel, thanks to a certain Highlander whose storm-riddled eyes turn John inside out, who wears a kilt like he was born in it.
Fergus is the first man John wants to share his secret with—but he’s the last man who could handle it. John knows the truth would shatter Fergus’s still-fragile heart. But how can he live a lie when he’s falling in love?

Comment: A little more than three years ago I read the prequel to this Glasgow Lads series, featuring a LGBT team in a Scottish university. The prequel was OK but the romance wasn't one I'd remember much (which ended up being true) and the general feeling was one of  "just OK" as opposed to have been something amazing. I hope this first full length installment would be great.

In this story we meet Fergus, he is the new captain of the team after his ex left him and the team at the same time, leaving both, but especially Fergus, feeling lost.
John is another student who is working to promote the equality in the LGBT teams by finding a way to call the public attention by a charity game but they all need another team that might accept the challenge of playing against the Lads. 
He finds Fergus incredibly cute and they seem to hit if off but will John's secrets affect his choices and will Fergus' fears stop him from believing he can be happy again?

This was an OK story for me. I was hoping for something spectacular but it turned out to be simply OK. I think what left me down was the romance (it really didn't feel the characters had that much chemistry) and the writing.
What felt like a a detail in the prequel was more evident here and I'm not talking about the Scottish words/accent because one can get used to it as long as we read. I think the story didn't have that excitement of showcasing how two people would start falling in love. The religious background the author addressed has a lot to be said and I liked seeing its portrayal here but it certainly didn't convince me those two guys were really falling in love despite their differences.

The main idea of this novel is how the game can happen between the two teams. I like football/soccer so I liked the game talks. I also liked the idea of a equal gender and LGBT team playing and how the logistics happened, how that would be dealt with, etc. 
I liked this was centered at university level but I missed more university talk, it's as if this detail was just a means for a purpose.

The main conflict between the characters, catholic Fergus and protestant John, is not much they are in different sides of the political and religious issue that still divides people in the UK and Ireland. The biggest conflict is how that affects the way others see them and how they think the other sees them.
Basically John is ashamed of how protestants treat catholics so he fears Fergus won't accept him and Fergus is mostly concerned by how John might not like they are from different sides.
I figure these issues are very realistic and actual and it was an interesting choice for the author to pick on this and the meanings and family expectations that come with it.
However, this is very distracting from the romance because the focus is on their differences and uncertainty and not in how in sync they are.

The relationship between Fergus and John happens incredibly quickly. From their first time seeing one another in the pitch to their first date and intimacy scenes... I mean, where's the fun of the sexual tension scenes and the teasing and the steps towards admitting they are attracted? This happened so fast I don't think it was given enough importance. I felt the romance was the secondary theme so I missed the fun parts of their "courtship", let's call it that, and the connection didn't feel vital to me.

When the family and religious issues affect them and the expected big misunderstanding moment happens, it felt very bland to me.I was no longer very dedicated to this book and was looking mostly at the number of pages left to finish.
The writing style is unique to the author and I could envision she thought about the structure of this book very well, she obviously wanted to convey a message with this book but I, again, felt the balance between all the elements, just like in the prequel, wasn't well achieved.

The next story features a different class couple and I like to see how authors develop this theme but the writing was not very appealing to me so I think this will be it with this author.
Her stories are not bad, just not very... exciting.
Grade: 6/10

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