Review: Side Line by Ben Ryder

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Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

Side Line coverJay Wells is a sales/promotional manager for a British beverage company that produces Side Line, a beer advertised as being a Sports aficianado’s beer.  When his boss tells him that the company wants him to go to Bahrain to promote their beer and makes sales to the city’s bars, he is less than enthused.  But his boss is sure than Bahrain is the next market to expand in and want Jay and his team to go.

During a beer promotion, Jay meets closeted Marine, Damon O’Connor, an encounter that goes wrong immediately.  Damon refuses to admit he is gay but his actions tell a different story.  When their attraction turns while hot, Damon’s refusal to admit his homosexuality and Jay’s impulsiveness threaten not only themselves but Jay’s business in Bahrain as well.

Never have I read a book so disconnected from its blurb from the publisher.  My expectations for this story was that it centered around a US Marine named Damon O’Conner, now overseas and ready to ship out for a tour of duty.  He meets cute little Brit selling beer in Bahrain and love ensues.  That is the story I expected and wanted to read, certainly not the mess that unfolded in Side Line.  That story is told from the pov of Jay Wells, gay British top beer salesman for a brewery that puts out a beer called Side Line, a beer marketed towards the sports minded.  It’s his story, and that of his beer promotions that take up most of the storyline. Certainly not Damon’s, at least not until almost the middle of the story.

This story takes place on Bahrain during the Iraq war, known also as The Third Persian Gulf War (2003-2011).  While a more liberal Arab state than the others, Bahrain still has rigid rules regarding homosexuality, womens rights and the use of alcohol.  A disregard for those laws (while giving them casual lip service) and the culture that created them is pervasive throughout the story to my astonishment. And that is only one of my issues with this story.

From the beginning, the story had an odd, disjointed feel to it. Here is Jay and crew arriving in Bahrain:

THE plane landed in a dark and very humid Bahrain in the early hours of the morning. Despite visiting the Middle East before, I was still unnerved by the sight of so many police and security guards, who patrolled the airport and looked at each person who passed with blatant suspicion. They all had wiry, slim builds, with dark features and a scruffiness about them that made them look as though they had just rolled out of bed unwashed and unshaven. The current climate of war in the region made them seem nervous and jumpy, which didn’t help when you saw that they held their guns with their fingers barely inches from the triggers at all times.

We are starting with Arab stereotypes? Where is the sweetness and innocence from Noah? It goes downhill from there as Jay sets up his local contacts and dates for his promotional acts.  Jay’s company wants to open up the market in Bahrain, selling its beer in venues that target service personnel.  Jay has a group of beer girls, The Side Line Girls, who promote the beer by wearing cheerleader outfits,  with skimpy underwear that is revealed in their routines.  The “girls” are composed of every known stereotype, including one so dumb that when their chaperone mentions “stoning” she believes that they are talking about weed.

“Also,” Jackie continued, “since we are in the Middle East, there are certain cultural differences that you should observe and adhere to at all times.”

“Yeah, women still get stoned for sex around some of these places,” Siobhan offered.

“What’s wrong with that? I’ve been stoned and had sex loads of times,” Emma said, as if it were no big deal.

“That’s not what she means,” the twins said in unison. It sometimes creeped me out when they did that.

“Thank you for your confession of drug use, young lady,” Jackie said sternly. “But I think Siobhan is referring to the fact that, should a young lady take a lover outside of her marriage, or is considered a whore within someone else’s marriage, she could be sentenced to be stoned to death.” Jackie saw that Emma was still confused, so she explained, “It means they throw rocks at her, dear, until she perishes in the street.”

Emma looked horrified.

“However, that isn’t in Bahrain. That usually happens in places like Saudi Arabia,” Jackie continued.

“Which is just a stone’s throw away,” I added, punctuating the point Jackie was trying to make.

The  author then has the girls  put on their Daisy Dukes, tight Side Line t-shirts and head out the door to the bar to sell beer.  For me, this was just one more example of what I disliked about this story.  From the dumb blonde cliche to the line about Saudi Arabia being “a stone’s throw away”, Side Line was turning sour and fast.

Another odd facet to this book is that there are pages and pages of descriptions of the girls, their routines on the stage, the reactions of the men in the crowd, that I began to wonder if Damon was ever going to make an appearance.  So much of this story is occupied with the beer promotions and girls that the romance is supplanted by pom poms and free beer.  This annoyed me at first, but by the time I did get to the “romance”, I speedily wished for a return to the beer games and “Girls Gone Wild” portion of the plot.

I am not sure the author knew which war all the service personnel were shipping off to.  Ryder says its the Third Gulf War but then has this exchange between Jay and Damon:

“What do you do? In the military, I mean,” I asked.

“I’m a staff sergeant in the Marines.”

I laughed. “I’m not surprised a big fella like you is a Marine. Those Iranians haven’t got a hope against you guys! Have you been serving long?”

Ryder seems to think that Iran and Iraq are interchangeable.  Throughout the story, the characters make mention of  “the majority of you are heading on to Afghanistan or Iran”.  If you can’t get such a simple thing right as to where the war was fought, then I should have expected the rest of the nonsense that followed.

That lack of attention to detail carries through the length of the story, including his portraits of Marines and Navy Seals.  I don’t think Ryder knows anything about the Marines or Seals, especially their codes of honor and behavior.  Instead he portrays the Seals as undisciplined young buffoons, aggressive and unruly.  Seals are not your ordinary soldiers but  the author seems unaware of that fact in his descriptions of their actions such as drunken brawlers in a bar.

The main characters too are  problematic.  The only character I connected with and enjoyed was Jackie, Jay’s assistant and good friend.  She was delightful and the only bright spot in this story.  Unfortunately, the book was not about her.  The character of Damon O’Connor is the one I had the most issues with.  A Marine Staff Sergeant, he is deeply closeted, aggressive to a fault, self delusional, a totally dislikable person.  He is responsible for an abduction, then forcing a person to commit several sexual acts (including one without a condom), and we are supposed to like him?  Feel a connection to such a thug?  I can’t begin to think of anyone who would find this man engaging, other than the author.  And Jay of course.  But the author has made Jay a complete doormat, just right for a thug such as Damon.  Their “romance” as such is unlikely, unsexy and off putting.

I know there is supposed to be a connection between Noah and Side Line but I can’t think of one as the two stories seem so far apart in tone and substance.  One was a sweet and endearing romance (Noah) and the other an offensive mess (Side Line).  I know a book is in trouble when my list of issues goes beyond two or three.    What is all adds up to a book I cannot recommend on any level and that surprises me because I enjoyed Noah so much.  N0ah and Side Line are part of a series but if Side Line is any indication of the direction the series is taking, I am stopping here and you should too.

Cover design by Paul Richmond is the best thing about this story.

Book Details:

ebook, 174 pages
Published June 12th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
edition language
English

Mired in the Miasma and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Miasma, such a wonderfully descriptive word.  Miasma: from the dictionary, literary the miasma from the stagnant swamp made us choke and gag: stink, reek, stench,fetor, smell, fume, odor, whiff; gas, cloud, smog, vapor.

Yep, that is exactly what it feels like in the Metropolitan DC area these days.  Most people forget that Washington, DC was built on a swamp and the regions around it are riddled with water.  There is a reason Foggy Bottom is called Foggy Bottom.  We have water everywhere.  The Potomac, the Patuxent, the Severn and a ton of other rivers and streams, the Chesapeake Bay and of course the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s delightful, it’s outstanding, except when our humidity is around 99% and stays there, making our area feel downright tropical and swampy.  The air is thick, stagnant, some call it soupy.  It is so heavy  it almost takes on a form of its own.  The skin feels clammy, your clothes stick to the skin as though they were glued, perspiration rolls down the face to disappear into your collar and sandals are the only footwear you can bear on your feet. And when someone mentions that they didn’t have air-conditioning in the “olden days” so we should all come outside and enjoy sitting on the porch…well,  you just want to swat them.

Back to miasma.  I grew up in a Southern family where the word miasma could be frequently heard in conversation, especially by my grandmothers.  It went something like this:

“Oh the miasma is so bad for you, stay away from the window.”

“Heah, keep those windows closed so the miasma doesn’t come inside.”

Or when my Mamaw smelled something bad, well, then of course, it was the “miasma”.

I love that word but it seems to have fallen out of favor.  I mean, scientifically, we know that swamps are a wonderful thing, necessary for the environment as delicate habitats and nature’s filtering system.  A swamp is not a purveyor of disease and that illness did not waft in on the moisture laden air (hey, we are not talking mosquitos today). So with knowledge in hand, the word miasma started to disappear.  But I want to bring it back.  Miasma a term rich in eloquence, laden with romantic images, mired in the gothic and teaming with meaning.  If I am to be drenched in sweat, with hair and skin soaked with moisture, miserable and lethargic, then I want to put a layer of something magical, otherworldy and significant on it.  I want miasma!  I will have my miasma.

And besides what other explanation is there for Congress?  Its miasma. Stay away from the windows.

We are all over the place in book reviews for the coming week. Plus I am still focused on the subject of short  stories so expect another Scattered Thoughts blog on the subject on Saturday.  This is how the week looks to play out:

Monday, July 15:                Tattoo You by Willa Okati

Tuesday, July 16:                Forever Promised (Promises #4) by Amy Lane

Wed., July 17:                      Worlds Collide (Sanctuary #7) by R.J. Scott

Thursday, July 18:              Waiting for Ty by Samantha Ann King

Friday, July 19:                    Side Line by Ben Ryder

Saturday, July 20:               Anthologies? Love Them Or Hate Them?

And to help fight the miasma, a Red Sangria recipe to cool you down:

Ingredients
1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup orange liqueur
2 tablespoons sugar
2 sliced oranges
1 sliced green apple
1 1/2 cups seltzer

FNM050111_143
Directions
Mix the wine, liqueur and sugar in a pitcher, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then add the fruit.

Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Add the seltzer just before serving.

Scattered Thoughts May 2013 Book Reviews

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mayIt was a great month in book reviews.  While most of the book fell into the contemporary fiction category, there was a book in just about every genre.  One of my favorites this month was Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler, a science fiction gem of a story from Riptide Publishing. I have also found new authors like Sue Brown and her outstanding The Sky Is Dead.  Don’t pass either of these by. And if you loved Country Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov, then you won’t want to miss the followup novel, City Mouse (Country Mouse #2).  I thought it was even better than its predecessor.

There are stand alone stories and new books in continuing series. This includes one series (The Night Wars) that I will be reevaluating on the basis of the third book in the series, a real stunner called The Hellfire Legacy by Missouri Dalton.  This is a terrific book and I had not rated the second book very highly.  Now I am going back in June, reading all three together and write a  review of the series in June (and probably a mea culpa or two on my part as well).

The titles are linked to my reviews.  Really, there is something for everyone here.  Here are May 2013’s book reviews in order of rating:

5 Star Rating:

City Mouse (Country Mouse #2) by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov (contemporary)
Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler (Science Fiction)
The Sky Is Dead by Sue Brown (contemporary)

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:
Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4) by S.J. Frost
Bad Attitude (Bad in Baltimore #3) by K.A. Mitchell (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Bullheaded by Catt Ford (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Closet Capers Anthology (4.25 stars) mixture
Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection by J.L. Merrow
Leaving Home (Home #4) by TA Chase (4 stars)
Moments by R.J. Scott (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Never A Hero (a Tucker Springs novel) by Marie Sexton (4.5 stars) (contemporary)
Night of Ceremony (Notice #4) by M. Raiya (4.5 stars) (fantasy, romance)
Noah by Ben Ryder (4 stars) (contemporary)
Shy by John Inman (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Still by Mary Calmes (4.75 stars) (contemporary)
The Hellfire Legacy (The Night Wars #3) by Missouri Dalton (4.5 stars) (supernatural)
The Isle of…Where? by Sue Brown (4.5 stars) (contemporary)
The Unforgiving Minute by Sarah Grainger (4.75 stars) (contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:
Chateau D’Eternite by Ariel Tachna (3.75 stars) Fantasy
Fire Horse by Mickie B. Ashling (3.75 stars) (contemporary)
His Heart To Reap by Erin Lane (3 stars) (supernatural)
It Takes Practice by Willa Okati (3 stars) contemporary

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

 

Review: Noah by Ben Ryder

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Noah coverCallum Walker, rising software designer, is called upon by his boss to supervise the installation of the communication software program he designed for the new Toronto Maple Arena, a new contract won by his firm in London.  It meant that Callum was spending the next 16 weeks in Toronto, supervising the work and trouble shooting the installation.  It also put him directly into the path of Noah Lukas, the highly popular star player of the Toronto Bobcats professional hockey team.  For Callum, his attraction for Noah is instantaneous from the moment they meet in the Arena gym but he is sure the hockey player is straight and settles for Noah’s friendship no matter what Callum’s heart is saying.

Noah Lukas is at a crossroads in his career.  Noah’s contract is up shortly, and he is not sure if it will be renewed, if he will be traded or even if he will retire.  Noah is gay but deep in the closet as he is sure that would wreck his career on the ice, a profession he loves.  But since meeting Callum, he is finding it hard to remain in the closet, especially as his feelings of friendship start to turn into love.  When it comes down to a choice between love and career, which will come out the winner?

Again, Ben Ryder is a new author for me and  I throughly enjoyed my first story from him.   I have to admit I am a sucker for a gay hockey player so this got to me right from the start.  Noah Lukas is a star player on the cusp of momentous change, both personal and professional.   Noah is playing at the top of his profession but as a star player, his contract is also up for renewal.  The chances that he will be traded are as great as his chances to renew his contract or even retire if no one elects him to play for their team.  He is also lonely and tired of hiding his true nature.  Ryder makes us feel the stress of the situation and the emotions pressing down on Noah time and again.  It is a wonderful, compassionate characterization and it certainly helps to connect the reader with Noah.

Callum Walker is Noah’s opposite.  He is out and comfortable in his skin.  And while he doesn’t quite feel he is in Noah’s league, he feels secure in who he  is.  I liked the slow build in their relationship, including the fact that they became friends first.  It is a realistic touch and nicely done. The only other character that really figures into the story is a grating female one, Amy.  She is believable in her ambition and the tactics she uses to get ahead, not merely a witch for witches sake.

Ryder uses a very effective format in which to tell his story.  It opens in present time in London with Callum checking his smartphone, clearly waiting for a call.  And with each succeeding chapter, the time progresses through the day with Callum getting increasingly nervous as he waits. That is followed by a scene in Toronto and another flashback to their relationship.  The author smoothly flows from one time period to the other, progressing both stories neatly while pulling the reader into Callum’s ever deepening anxiety over the phone call that hasn’t come in.  So well done, this narrative hooked me in immediately.

My one quibble is a large one however, and that would be the ending.  In my opinion, it felt as though we never got one.  It just ends and the emotional satisfaction we were expecting from a well deserved resolution never comes, and we are left hanging.  I kept thinking that we were missing at least one chapter or just possibly an epilogue.  Nope, not there.  I don’t know if we can expect a sequel to tidy up all the loose ends that frayed the ending, but I certainly hope so.  Both the readers and the characters deserve it.  Still, I enjoyed the story enough to recommend Noah and look out for more from this author.

Run over now to Dreamspinner Press where it is being offered up free for the taking.  You won’t be sorry.

Cover Photograph by Scott Henrichsen Cover Design by Paul Richmond.  Hard to argue with a cover this sexy so I won’t.

ebook, 122 pages

Published April 10th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623806675
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3749

Buy Link at Dreamspinner Press.  Noah is a free book at this moment. Go here to pick it up at Dreamspinner Press.

Endangered LGBTQ Youth, Books Proceeds, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Tis the season for winding down of the school year and various holidays,  Mothers Day and Fathers Day among them.  And while there are many families out there celebrating their love for one another, there are also many children, including 40 percent of LGBT youth*, who will be spending these holidays out on the streets, abandoned by the very families who should be their mental, emotional, and physical support.

The current fiscal situation at the Federal and local government levels has been devastating to the few shelters currently operating and a hindrance in opening new badly needed shelters and group homes.  In our area, a bright light has been the opening of a new LGBT shelter, Promise Place, on the Washington, DC/Prince Georges County, MD line.  But on the flip side, the Wanda Alston House is in dire need of donations and assistance in order to continue.  And the same can be said for the Ali Forney Center in NYC, whose outreach building was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy last year.

Every day we hear more about bullied or harassed gay youth in the  media, the politicians make speeches and little seems to be done at the practical level.  We  need more legislation, more enforcement of said legislation, and just an increase in overall awareness of the fragility of LGBTQ youth in our society today.

Luckily, there are a number of M/M authors who are helping the cause with donations of royalties from their books.  I will be listing some of them here.  If you know of others, please let me know and I will add them to my list.  This week, editor Kris Jacen introduced the anthology Lost and Found by Featherlight Press.  Her announcement and the book details are listed below.  I have not read it as yet but its on my list to do so.  If you have read it, and want to post a review, contact me.  Also listed is Sue Brown’s book, The Sky Is Dead, recently reviewed here and a must read recommendation for me.  Sue Brown is also donating proceeds of that book, here is her comment:

Thank you so much for the review. Your review highlights many of the issues LGBTQ kids face. The royalties from this book are going to The Albert Kennedy Trust, a UK charity supporting homeless LGBT kids.

And Kris Jacen on the Lost and Found Anthology:

From Kris Jacen, editor to various M/M author websites:
Hi all,
Some might know, others might not, but I’ve been working with ten very talented authors on an anthology entitled, Lost and Found. The book released last night from Featherweight Press. All of the stories deal have the theme of hope for those teens that are kicked out/told they don’t matter by their families for being who they are or loving who they love. Each author (and me) is donating their royalties to charity. Below is my editor’s note from the front of the anthology. I hope you pick up a copy or help spread the word so that we can make the most of the donation to help these homeless LGBT teens.

Lost and Found http://www.featherweightpublishing.com/ShowBook.php?YA=ANTH_LOSTNFND
In the Fall of 2012, DH Starr approached me about Featherweight publishing an anthology that he was a part of. It was a special project being organized by Michele Montgomery. All the authors wanted to donate their royalties from the anthology to charity. They wanted the monies to go to a specific cause—they wanted the money to go to a charity that worked with LGBT homeless teens.
The inspiration for the anthology was a picture that they had seen with the text over the image that said “40% of homeless youth are LGBT. The #1 reason they’re on the streets in family rejection.”
Once we got to final editing stages we realized, we didn’t know WHICH charity to donate the monies to. There are so many great charities out there working with LGBT youth that we weren’t sure which to choose. We wanted to make sure that no matter how much, it would make a difference. So the search was on.
I was pleasantly surprised to come across one that had the name of the anthology almost exactly—Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc. It seemed like fate talking to me and after speaking with one of the board members, I was convinced of it. You see the board member told me that the day before we spoke, they received a call from a teen that had been on vacation with his parents and when they found a gay romance on his eReader, they left him on the side of the road. Yes, you read that correctly, abandoned him for reading a gay romance.
Our hope is that with these stories, these teens realize that there are many out there that care about them. That no matter what anyone says—THEY MATTER.

~~~
Kris Jacen
Executive Editor
ManLoveRomance Press http://www.mlrpress.com
Passion in Print Press http://www.passioninprint.com
Featherweight Press http://www.featherweightpublishing.com

So I am making a list of books whose proceeds or part of their proceeds will be donated to LGBTQ youth shelters and organizations.  I know I am missing quite a few so help me fill in the list and send me the names and publishers.  Here are the first two  three books to start the list:

Finding a Dream coverFinding a Dream by  SJ Frost

Bullied and harassed at school for his sexuality, Dillon Davis can’t see his life getting any better, but he can see it getting worse. Depressed, wounded in spirit and body, he’s nearing a point of hopelessness, until he sees a picture of his favorite stage actor, Brandon Alexander, with his partner, Shunichi Miyamoto. At learning Shunichi runs a karate dojo, a spark of hope comes to Dillon of learning to defend himself, and most of all, meeting Brandon.

Brandon Alexander is filled with compassion for Dillon the moment he meets him. He knows all too well what it’s like to be scorned for being gay. He and Shunichi want nothing more than to help him, but when Dillon never returns to the dojo, they fear what’s happened to him

Per SJ Frost: “Kris Jacen and I are donating our royalties from this story to The Trevor Project.It’s with the support of all who buy this book that we’re able to do this, and from both of us to you, thank you, so very much, for joining with us in giving to those in need.”

ebook, 79 pages

Published December 28th 2010 by MLR Press
ISBN139781608202829
edition languageEnglish
original titleFinding a Dream
settingChicago, I

 

 

Lost and Found coverLost and Found Anthology:

Lost and Found (from the Goodreads website):
by Kris Jacen (Editor), MF Kays, T.A. Webb (Goodreads Author), Tabatha Hart, Dakota Chase, Caitlin Ricci (Goodreads Author), Jeff Erno (Goodreads Author), D.C. Juris
*Some statistics say that 40% of all homeless teens are GLBT. They’re on the streets after their families have thrown them away, told them that they don’t matter, that they’re not normal. Well, guess what? Those families are wrong. This collection of stories by ten talented authors spans the spectrum (historical, paranormal, transgender, cutter, gay) to show that – it’s okay, there are people out there that care, and these teens are perfect just the way they are.

All royalties from this anthology are being donated to Lost-n-Found Youth in Atlanta, Georgia. A wonderful charity working with these teens, helping them find their new place and get on their feet.
Paperback, 421 pages
Expected publication: May 31st 2013 by Featherweight Press
ISBN139781608208661
urlhttp://www.featherweightpublishing.com/ShowBook.php?YA=ANTH_LOSTNFND

The Sky Is Dead coverThe Sky is Dead by Sue Brown:

Danny is young, gay, and homeless. He lives in the park, preferring to avoid attention, but when thugs confront a stranger, Danny rushes to his rescue. He and the would-be victim, Harry, form a cautious friendship that deepens months later, when Harry persuades Danny to visit his home. Daring to believe he has found happiness, Danny finds his world turned upside down yet a…more
ebook, 232 pages
Published April 17th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623806088
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

And now the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, May 20:               Breaking The Devil by Bailey Bradford

Tuesday, May 21:                Noah by Ben Ryder

Wed., May 22:                     Still by Mary Calmes

Thursday, May 23:             Closet Capers Anthology

Friday< May 24:                  Isle of Where? by Sue Brown

Saturday, May 25:               Unforgiving Minute by Sarah Grainger