18 January 2016

Playing for Keeps by Avery Cockburn

Hey everyone,

A romance where one of the characters is a member of a Scottish LGBT football team? Even though I have no clue or passion about football (soccer) I couldn’t resist buying this book! Add into that a pinch of secrecy and the potential for drama and my finger was the on the ‘buy now’ button for Playing to Keeps.

The book:
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?

My thoughts:

Even though it isn’t mentioned in the blurb I feel I can’t avoid talking about the religious element of this book. Partly because it could be a sensitive issue for some people and also it was such an important part of John’s and Fergus’s story. If, however, you prefer to read books completely blind then please go no further and instead check out some of the other m/m books I’ve reviewed.

“Aye, he’s single”. Charlotte raised somber eyes to John. “But grievously wounded.” 

Religion isn’t generally an element I look for in my romance books. Not due to an aversion to religion but just because I’m drawn to other topics and themes more. So for me Playing for Keeps made an interesting change as not only did Avery Cockburn tackle the theme of religious differences, but she also draw upon the extreme-end of Protestant faith. John’s family are passionate and proud member of the Orange Order in Glasgow, an international Protestant organisation. As John grew-up he started to question his family’s beliefs and opinion towards Catholics and other religious groups. Yet still struggled to stand-up to his family and completely abandon all they believed in; instead choosing to keeping his family’s involvement with the Orange Order a secret.

John let go at last. The last thing he saw before blood filled his eyes was Fergus’s face floating away, blurred by glass and tears.

Religion and the secrecy surrounding John’s family is without a doubt the biggest obstacle facing Fergus and John’s relationship. I loved how the dual POV gave the reader an insight into both John and Fergus’s growing feelings. I could feel John’s pain and worry over the lies he was being forced to tell Fergus. It also made it understandable why he hadn’t cut ties with the Orange Order and his family before meeting Fergus. In my opinion the characterisation of both John and Fergus and the believability of them as people is what made Playing for Keeps such a fascinating and interesting book.

Having a boyfriend was dangerous. But after the way Fergus had run to his side at the hospital, and the way they’d connected this week during their long nightly phone calls, what they had felt was too real to walk away from.

So I’ve mentioned the religious aspect but I also need to talk about the football team that Fergus is a part off. After his boyfriend leaves for Belgium Fergus become captain of an LGBT football team that is starting to gain national recognition. Yet Fergus is worried about bringing any negative limelight to the team, hence the rule about no drama! In his opinion relationships and any crazy publicity stunts that John’s charity want to support are the definition of drama. I also felt that the balance between John and Fergus battling their own demons and learning to trust and love each other was just right.

His players seemed to be watching him closely for lingering symptoms of heartbreak. It was best for everyone if Fergus pretended he was fine.

As a reader I got a good feeling about who John and Fergus where as individuals, but also how they grew and developed as a couple. Did their relationship have an element of insta-love? Perhaps, but Avery Cockburn made me believe in Fergus and John as a couple through the interactions they had throughout the book and also the fact that they didn’t jump straight into a full-fledged relationship. This wasn’t we’re in love, now we’re going to be together for other. Instead Fergus and John approached the relationship like adults. They had problems, moments of miscommunication, lots of laugh and of course some sexy times. They aren’t two guys in their 20s after all!

The connection was pure electric. Stunned by the mix of confidence and vulnerability in John’s gaze, Fergus managed only a shaky nod.

Overall I would highly recommend Playing for Keeps. It had a great and believable romance between too flawed but loveable characters. Scotland and the culture of Glasgow felt like a living breathing presence. For me it also had the perhaps balance of angst with laughter and lighter moments. Recommended to anyone who enjoys New Adult M/M romances.

My rating:
Happy reading and see you next time!