This book has been an interesting experience and please read this review until the end, because I loved it but that’s not how it started.
As a kid, Eden Bauer was saved from a rough childhood by Jin, who became her mentor and father figure, bringing her all the way to UFC featherweight world champion. Eden loves the competition as much as she loves coaching other underprivileged children at the Taekwondo dojang. Her life is everything she wants, until she has to fight a newcomer on the MMA scene. Brooklyn Shaw may be new but she comes from a legendary family. She’s impressive, she’s cocky, she’s talented, and as Eden will find out, she’s also under a lot of pressure and much sweeter than her brash – but gorgeous – exterior leads to believe.
During the first third of the story, all sorts of negative emotions went through me. I couldn’t understand how people put themselves through this (fight almost to death and call it sports or art), why I was putting myself through this (reading this book), it made me angry and anxious to the point of not breathing right. I had to keep reminding myself that more than a few of my trusted reviewers loved this book. I think part of why it triggered my anxiety is that my mum made me take judo for a few years as a child and I, unlike my brother, hated it. I’m hypersensitive to touch and all the contact – with people and with the floor – was horrifying. I guess some of that came back as I was reading. Also, that first third is really intense, as it sets the scene for Eden’s new life. Some life transitions are easier than others and Eden’s definitely not in the easy category.
As soon as I could breathe again, I fell in love with the characters and with the writing. It’s not flashy but it’s smart. The Clinch was my first book by this author and I’m very curious to read her previous and future ones. As for the characters, I love that Eden never takes the easy way out. I’m not sure how to explain it, but especially in her interactions with Brooklyn, Disney could have made her settle in some decisions but she never does. She always goes the extra mile. Whether it comes from her childhood, her athlete mentality, her personality, there’s a constant strength in her that I found captivating. And because the story is told from her point of view and in present tense, the reader falls in love with Brooklyn along with her, through her eyes and through her heart.
Eden and Brooklyn are at once very different and similar in some respects. They have the same passion for their art, for one. However, they come from contrasting backgrounds, Eden a white kid from the Bronx with no family, Brooklyn having grown up partly in Brazil, with a Brazilian mother and a Black American father and three brothers.
In sports romance novels, there’s always some emphasis on bodies, strength and agility and all that. Athletes’ bodies aren’t regular bodies, and that’s part of the appeal. With Mixed Martial Arts being made of, well, mixed arts, Eden and Brooklyn take part in the same competition, fight each other, but with different tools and their body types are very different. One is long and lean, the other is shorter and more muscular. The chemistry is off the charts but what makes it really fun to watch is that it starts with a professional appreciation of a peer’s work tool, in a way. When Eden first sees Brooklyn, all she knows is the brash and rude façade Brooklyn shows the MMA world. Even then though, she appreciates Brooklyn’s body and muscles for what they are: stunning and intimidating and extremely dangerous in the octagon.
There are a few very steamy scenes, made even hotter by the fact that these are two women in complete control of their bodies. Two very powerful – physically powerful – women. And when they give up that control, that power, that command over their body, it doesn’t get much sexier than that. Being me though, always looking for that vulnerability that makes power beautiful, what I loved most were the tender moments. The first kiss took me by surprise and I loved it.
The training and fight scenes are excellent and breathtaking, even for someone – like me – who has no idea what’s going on.
I can’t list everything I love, I’d rather you read the book, but I’ll end with a final comment on the pacing: it’s perfect. Thrilling. There’s no downtime, no lull when it would feel right to stop reading. I had to make myself stop because the words were becoming blurry and I needed sleep.
A couple of days ago, I posted a list of my favourite releases of 2021. I’ll be adding this one.