Title: Volley Balls
Series: Balls to the Wall: Book One
Author: Tara Lain
Narrator: Nick J. Russo
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Run Time: 4 hours and 11 minutes
Category: Contemporary, Menage
At a Glance: Volley Balls suffers under a lack of carefully crafted narrative, but Nick J. Russo’s narration talent definitely increased my enjoyment by leaps and bounds.
Reviewed By: Jovan
Blurb: A double dose of alpha male might be better than one.
Despite just getting out of an abusive relationship with an asshole alpha, David Underwood’s wandering glance lands on two hot members of the Australian volleyball team on Laguna Beach and gets him harassed again. Still, when the delicious Gareth Marshall proves his interest by coming out to his team, David succumbs to his attraction. But Gareth’s volleyball partner, Edge, who’s equally hot, makes the lovers’ lives miserable.
For Gareth, a lifetime of hiding his orientation – and his attraction – from his best friend, Edge, as well as everyone else around him, adds up to hurt and frustration. David’s the first man to ever compete with Edge for Gareth’s passion. But Edge has secrets of his own, and David’s ex-lover will never be happy without David under his fist. With everything stacked against him, can a gay Laguna man find happiness with an alpha male – or two?
Review: For me, Volley Balls is not one of Tara Lain’s best stories. Sometimes her books can come across as hurried or seem to incorporate trendy/hot ideas without taking the time to craft the narrative more carefully, and Volley Balls seems to suffer from this. In this tale of insta-love/insta-perfect polyamory, you meet David Underwood, a Laguna beach local with a weakness for alpha men beefcake, which hasn’t diminished after being in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. After an unpleasant exchange with John “Edge” Edgerton, that is handled by his volleyball partner Gareth Marshall, Gareth becomes intrigued by David and eventually asks him out. During a tournament event that he invites David to, Gareth comes out to Edge and his teammates, with Edge’s reaction being as bad as Gareth feared. Eventually, Edge becomes a thorn in Gareth’s heart and inspires some fear and misgivings in David, especially as Edge’s behavior reminds him so much of his alpha-jock abusive ex.
All the elements for a good ménage or polyamorous story are present: Gareth and David are very likeable, their flirtation great, and Lain’s strength in creating secondary characters that add life to the story is present. Even Edge, though obnoxious, isn’t completely terrible or irredeemable. The problem comes with the structure of the story when it comes to the relationship between all three men, and Edge’s development being minimal and seemingly tacked on. Lain spends more than 60% of the book building a budding romance/insta-love connection between David and Gareth, and having Edge skulk around before introducing him as a “love” interest and “Australia’s most closeted queer”. Of course, doing it in a way that he can step in and play hero so that David (and the reader) can finally see all the good in him that Gareth swears is there but no one has seen. Edge’s behavior, his obvious denial and stalking, is supposed to make us feel sympathetic towards him as the stereotypical self-hating closeted man whose animosity is directed outwards; unfortunately, he just came across to me as the closeted creeper. Personally, I also have a problem with books that endorse the idea that, to quote the book, “[people] can’t help being prejudiced [assholes]” because “[they’d] been raised that way”. While I agree that upbringing and environment plays a crucial role in shaping a person’s belief systems and the behaviors they deem normal, it should not be used to excuse prejudiced/discriminatory actions. One of the main obstacles to overcoming heterosexism, racism, sexism, domestic violence, etc., is that people get a pass as long as they don’t act like assholes all the time (or, you know, hurt animals). That wonderful old chestnut used to defend discrimination that I hear so often and find troubling in books about marginalized groups of “well, they’re really nice people, it’s just this one (insert prejudice) thing where they spew hate, garbage, bigotry, etc., so we generally let it go” is troubling to me. All this does is support the system by maintaining the status quo; no one wants to be a “bad person” by doing hateful things or even worse, be guilty by association because you accept what that person says without challenging them even when you know it’s wrong.
This is what Gareth does, and continues to do, throughout the story, but we give it a pass and David can feel comfortable with him because Edge played the hero, David is closeted himself, and let’s not forget (because it’s mentioned SO often), Edge is SUPER hot. At 75% in, we are not only guiding Edge into his gayness but all the hot sex is creating the feeling of “rightness” for our ménage HEA that occurs after two days of screwing. So, David falls in love with nice guy Gareth in about a week as well as with the guy whose behavior (intermittently) triggers what passes in this story for PTSD, in two days. I guess for all his shortcomings as a complete character, all Edge needs is his magic dick to win at life. Had this just been a story about Gareth and David, it would have been fine. Had it been a story about Edge coming to terms with his sexuality and feelings because Gareth comes out and starts dating, it would have been fine. Had Edge come to terms with his feelings in a less creepy/stalkery way, and he and David had actually spent some time together to form some kind of bond, it would have been fine. If it was just hot, ménage fun with no real attempt at in-depth characters/story, it would have been fine. But as a good ménage romance, it was not fine. Just as some friends-to-lovers romances try to use the established friendship to skimp on relationship development as a couple, and making it seem ridiculous and unearned, authors also try this tactic as a quick way to create a ménage—the recipe of having an established friendship/unrequited love, stir in some insta-love for a third party, and presto! instant polyamorous relationship! just doesn’t work well for me.
Despite my personal problems with the story’s structure, it’s simple, frothy fun with enjoyable, sassy characters, especially David’s best friend, Rodney. Moreover, Nick J. Russo’s narration talent definitely increased my enjoyment by leaps and bounds. Russo nails the snarky, light-hearted fun present in most of the book, and while, at times, his accent for Gareth and Edge sounded a bit more Kiwi than Aussie, their voices were distinct, consistent and fit the characters well. If you’re a fan of Nick J. Russo, like Tara Lain’s Laguna beach characters/settings, and want a simple insta-love story featuring hot dudes, hot sex and topped with some hot ménage action, this one’s for you.
You can buy Volley Balls here:
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