A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Playing for Keeps by Avery Cockburn

This is one of the most fascinating romances I’ve ever been not all that into. To clarify, the romance itself didn’t do much for me, even though I’m no more immune to kilts and brogue than the next gal. But the conflict and setting kept me glued to the pages.

It’s the first in a series about a Scottish LGBT football (soccer) team and — much coolness — there are actually characters other than gay white men on the team! Even cooler, the author plans to write about some of those characters. The captain of the team is Fergus, who’s in a bad place emotionally since his former lover/former captain cruelly dumped him and the team. Then he meets John, a politics student who’s organizing a match to raise money for gay asylum seekers.

Although I really enjoyed the dialogue, liberally sprinkled with Scottish slang — “It’s you I love, ya big numpty” — Fergus and John didn’t work all that well for me. Their feelings come off as more mushy than sincere, and I felt like a voyeur during the explicit sex scenes. And Fergus is such a jerk. He not only stalks John — admittedly with some reason, since John is lying to him — but deserts him at the worst possible time. I couldn’t give him a pass just because of his previous experiences.

What drew me in was the setting, and fresh take (for an American reader) on star-crossed lovers. Apparently Protestant/Catholic conflict can be almost as fierce in Scotland as it is in Ireland. Fergus is Catholic, and John grew up as a member of the Orange Order, which he loathes but feels a complicated loyalty towards. The author draws a parallel between the anti-Catholic Orange marches and those in the American south glorifying the Confederate flag — justified by the marchers as “tradition” rather than bigotry. I don’t have the knowledge to comment on how accurate the portrayal is, but it’s certainly heartfelt and convincing. Discussions of class and immigration issues — Fergus’s housemate is from Nigeria — are also pertinent.

So although not a complete success for me, as a fictional trip to another culture it really worked. And there’s a powerful conclusion to end things on an upbeat note.

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Special Interests by Emma Barry

Review Copy Source: submitted to Dear Author

What tickled me: A book about politics that didn’t shut me out.

What ticked me off: The characters (briefly) treat a person with Alzheimers like furniture.

Who might like it: Readers who enjoy contemporary romance. Not too fluffy, not too dark.

In a recent Twitter conversation about Julie James, someone — as usual, probably Liz Mc2 — said something about having trouble relating to her characters and their ambitions. Despite my complete inability to remember any concrete information about the comment, this really nailed for me why James’s books don’t work well for me. The stories are always very readable, but her characters live in a world that feels completely alien to me. I don’t care about what they care about.

Special Interests is seemingly the same sort of book James writes; it’s the first authorial comparison that comes to mind. Yet despite being about the mind-boggling subject of lobbyists in Washington D.C., it worked for me. I don’t think it was even just because the main characters are both Democrats, though that undoubtedly helped. They’re overworked and troubled and leading kind of messed up lives, but they don’t feel like they’re on another place of existence.



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