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

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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.