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"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." - Oscar Wilde

Playing for Keeps

Playing for Keeps - Avery Cockburn

4.5 stars for an awesome Scottish love story

Oh dear, where to begin?

Let's meet Fergus first. He's an architect who likes his job, but is even more passionate about football/soccer and especially his LGBT team. After a personal and professional betrayal, Fergus has a hard time moving on, and so does his team. In order to survive and get over the humiliation he and his mates had to face in the straight league they're playing in and in their personal life, Fergus has to step up and be the leader he never wanted to be and the master of his own fate. The last thing he needs is a powerful attraction to a stranger who has his own cross to bear. But what can you do when a charming, hot and interested guy like John Burns comes into your life and makes you feel things you thought you never would experience again? Start something new and exciting, but always keep your wits about you. At least a little.

Long story short, I loved this! But I'm not sure how much other readers would be able to enjoy it. Firstly, there is the dialect. Scottish is not your "standard English" as such. For me, it wasn't that big of a problem. I studied British English - including Old English, Middle English, a little bit of Scottish, Welsh, Galic - you get the drift. So, I don't really have a problem with the written Scottish, understanding the spoken words is far more difficult for me. So I enjoyed the writing very much and had no issues with comprehension. I do see possible difficulties for others who had no contact with this dialect before. Some of it might be hard to understand and might even dimish the joy of reading because even though you're reading a variation fo your native langugae, you actually might need a translator. For me personally, it added to the charm of the story and made me like the book more.

Secondly, the topics involved.

The romance plot is important and I liked how it developed over time. Although I did have some issues with the way the secrets were handled (especially the "big crash"), I still enjoyed it very much and found it realistic and believable.

But, and I understand where some readers are coming from with their issues, there are other topics involved in the story. And they do play a rather big role. The historically grown conflicts between Catholics and Protestants are issues in modern day Scottland you problably haven't heard a lot about if your not a Celtic or Rangers fan, or very interested in Scottish history and or/ politics in general. Again, I have a degree in English language and literature, as well as in history. These conflicts are not new to me, even though I'm far from an expert in Scottish history specifically. But I have a good basis, something that some readers might not have and therefore might not enjoy these story lines as much as I did. I don't think that it's harder to understand the book without the backround knowledge. Avery Cockburn does a fantastic job by telling a tightly knit story of two young men deeply involved in these issues. There are enough explanations, and also self-explanatory scenes, to make you see and understand what is happening. But I can still see why it might be a tad boring or confusing for readers who are not innately interested in politics today and/or history. As I said, these are things that made me like the book that much more. Because it was something special for me, to read a story involving so many things I love - langugage, history, culture, politics, soccer and romance.

I honestly don't have a lot to complain about, except for the one thing I already mentioned earlier. The secrecy. In a way, I understood John perfectly. His family, his backround, his duties. I GOT it. There is no easy solution when family, love and politics collide in such an extreme way. On the other hand, I got frustrated so much with him after a while. Because we both knew where this was headed. We both understood perfectly what he was doing wrong, when he should have acted differently, when he crossed the line from not saying anything to actively deceiving Fergus. But he did it all anyway and drove me up the walls. Therefore, the resulting conflict was too predictable for me, even though the actual solution was a little unusual, if not frustrating in its own way.

All in all, I was very impressed with this book. Avery Cockburn managed to write a complex, yet not too angsty or heavy book about two young men, soccer players at that, who not only found love but also a way to come together despite some very serious and difficult issues. Considering my small niggles here and there, I'll give it 4.5 stars and a recommendation for everyone. Yes, everyone. Just be prepared for some things that might not fit your idea of an "average british romance".