Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Not So Offside This Time Around

Reading Challenge 2014: February--Pick a book from a series you're behind on

Grade: A

Offside Chance by Mercy Celeste is the third in the Southern Scrimmages series and the author suggests that the books be read in order: Six Ways from Sunday, Sidelined, and finally Offside.

The books deal with professional American football players and homosexuality, a combination that was popping up in the news during the season and will probably be cropping up fairly regularly now that pro athletes are coming out of the closet.

Six Ways from Sunday has to do with an NFL tight end and a career Marine who fall in love even though they can't be together as much as they like.  When the Marine is captured and presumed dead, the football player thinks his life has ended.  But has it?

Not answering that question but moving on to book two, Sidelined.  In this book, a successful quarterback is cut from his team and decides to go back to his hometown where he hopes to figure out his twisted life.  Jude, his lawyer brother, persuades him to help coach the new high school's football team, made up of students from previously rival high school teams.  The head coach?  Once the quarterback's high school rival.

Celeste constructs interesting and elaborate plots, and Offside is no different from her previous books.  Here Jude, the lawyer, moves back to New Orleans to look after Levi's house, but is surprised to find a hulking football player, Levi's best friend, already ensconced there.

William Slater is standing on the edge of a breakdown since his house burned down, his contract is about to expire, and Levi has turned out to be someone he barely recognizes.  His refuge in Levi's house is compromised, however, when Levi's brother Jude appears.  Initially, the only thing they seem to bond on is how perplexed they are about Levi declaring himself flamboyantly gay.

As they're holed up together during a freak snowstorm in New Orleans, the self-declared low-brow Slater and the decidedly upper-brow Jude must make compromises in order live without killing each other.  That they do, only to discover two surprising things: they're sexually and eventually totally attracted to each other, and someone is trying to kill them.

Of all the Southern Scrimmage characters, I like Slater and Jude the best.  Both of them are no nonsense guys whose worlds have changed dramatically in just a few months.  Unlike the high maintenance Levi or the first book's couple, Slater and Jude try to roll with the punches and then figure out where to go from there.

But these new rounds of punches have nearly KO'd them.  They can't rely on Levi or his boyfriend for support, and since they're boxed in the house in New Orleans, they are sitting ducks for the killer.

In addition, Celeste brings up the very real question of what guys in their thirties who are kicked out of their careers are supposed to do with the rest of their lives.  Slater has no idea, and his quandary and floundering are probably typical to all pro athletes whose bodies can't sustain them more than a decade.  Having someone like level-headed Jude in his corner makes the transition less debilitating.  Slater for all his physical strength definitely needs Jude for his mental and emotional support.

Fortunately, unlike in the previous books, Celeste is more grounded here, and the book doesn't rely on a dramatic (and somewhat unbelievable) surprise.  Instead this is the totally believable story of two guys burdened with family who must play the hand they were dealt or walk away from the table.  That they both play and play well makes the story totally enjoyable.

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