No two persons ever read the same book. – Edmund Wilson
This is such a true statement, isn’t it? It’s what makes this whole review business such an arbitrary affair.
Well, today we’re hosting dueling reviews of Ben Ryder’s Side Line–the same book seen through the eyes of two different people: Bruce and Tina.
Sometimes it’s all about perspective.
Side Line is an enjoyable read. This short novel has a nice pace and it was a very easy read. I was able to finish the book over a period of a few hours. Central to it’s story is what I assume is a fantasy of many a gay boy and nay I say straight woman who loves gay romance. The story centers around the love interest of what Tennessee Williams endearingly referred to as “rough trade”. The main character, Jay, is a representative for a new beer called Side Line. His job is to travel with his bevy of beauties to parts unknown promoting his product. It is when Jay is sent to Bahrain, which is serving as a staging area for allied troops about to go to war that the very gay, but very celibate Jay encounters a young handsome marine. It is their chance encounter in a bar as Jay and his beauties are handing out free beer that the romance part of this story takes flight.
I will divulge a trade secret and that is said aforementioned “rough trade” fantasy is a good one. Finding that very straight, virile, handsome, male specimen who appears heterosexual but perhaps likes to dabble and experiment on the other side of the fence and then finding and introducing said virile specimen to the joys of gay sex only to find out that he is a delicate, sensitive gay man waiting for the right man to come along for him to come bursting out of the closet is a fantasy dear reader that is like fertilizer to a gay man’s imagination. Ryder does a good job developing and maintaining that fantasy during the course of his novel and that in of itself makes this book a good read.
After I read a book that I am going to review, I always like to take about three to five days to let the smoke clear. Let the dust settle so to speak and let the flush of completing a book subside to see what is the lasting impression. Often more than not, the love story, a main character’s personality, or some central truth or struggle is what is left. It is from that central core of the book that I will base my review. After the dust settled with Side Line, the lasting impression I was left was Tits and Ass! Yes ladies and gentlemen, you just heard this gay man utter the words Tits and Ass, which will from henceforth be referred to as T&A.
My biggest struggle with this book is the T&A which for some reason is stuck with me. This novel is short. It’s 165 pages on my iPad reader. There really isn’t a lot of space in that time to develop a love story that one can sink their teeth into. Though it may be unfair to say, so much of the book for me was wasted on the foils and actions of Jay’s beauties as they help him promote Side Line beer. For me, there was some wasted romance time describing cheerleader routines with panties showing and aroused service men screaming in bars and pulling at their erections. For some reason, I just can’t get the “rah rah” out of my head. Now to be fair, the scantily clad ladies are a necessary foil for Jay, since they are the reason that he would even find himself in a situation to encounter “rough trade”. However, as a gay man reading a romance novel I would have much more preferred more romance and encounter than T&A.
The sex scenes, though one was a bit too “Brokeback Mountainish” for my taste, are great, and a few even left me breathless and wanting more. The sex in this book certainly helps put the romance in this romance novel.
All in all this is a good book with great development of the “rough trade” fantasy.
“Rah rah sis boom bah!”
Reviewed by: Bruce
From the title of this book, Ben Ryder gives the impression that it is about sports. From the cover of the book, the artist gives the impression that it is about beer. Side Line is kind of about both. Jay Wells is an British beer promotions manager. He is an out and proud gay man. With the large number of American, British and Australian forces in the Middle East, the company that Jay works for wants to send him and his team there to promote their new beer. Side Line the beer is promoted mostly in sports bars, hence the name. There are several promotional appearances scheduled in Bahrain.
Damon O’Connor is a tough as nails, stereotypical U.S. Marine getting ready to ship out to Iran. He doesn’t really identify himself as gay, but has had limited experience with other men. Damon is focused only on providing for his sisters at home.
Jay is reasonably likeable. He takes good care of his team, which is mostly made up of young, beautiful women. That is a tough job in the Middle East, where they must be covered up while in public. It is an even tougher job in a bar full of horny, drunk soldiers. Mr. Ryder really made me feel that Jay and his assistant Jackie, genuinely cared for the well-being of his girls.
From the first time we meet Damon, I don’t like him. He continually calls Jay “buddy”. This was supremely annoying to me. I wanted to slap the smirk right off his face. Damon treats Jay with no respect at all. There was a vague reference to “the vaccine” which I assume to be the reason there was no condom use during their “encounters”. There was also no lube. (My personal pet peeve.) It seemed like Damon was almost raping Jay, but Jay kept letting it happen.
When one of Jay’s girls is in danger, Damon does come to the rescue and helps Jay get everyone to safety. At that point there seems to be an acknowledgement of actual feelings between the men.
But their relationship is doomed from the get-go. Jay is returning to England. Damon is being shipped out for two years, then going home to Florida.
Unbelievably, Jay buys a home in Florida and years later, Damon shows up, calls him “buddy” and the book ends.
The best thing about this book was Jay’s assistant Jackie. There was a side story about her and Damon’s superior officer. She evidently made it possible for Jay and Damon to reunite.
I have read a lot of gay romance where the situation prevents the lovers from being together. I’ve also read a lot of closeted, closed off, emotionally unavailable men. Side Line had all those things and great potential. I wish Mr. Ryder had been able to put the ingredients together better and make me like these guys. I really wanted to!
Reviewed by: Tina