REVIEW: Roller Girl by Vanessa North
Recently divorced Tina Durham is trying to be self-sufficient, but her personal-training career is floundering, her closest friends are swept up in new relationships, and her washing machine has just flooded her kitchen. It’s enough to make a girl cry.
Instead, she calls a plumbing service, and Joanne “Joe Mama” Delario comes to the rescue. Joe is sweet, funny, and good at fixing things. She also sees something special in Tina and invites her to try out for the roller derby team she coaches.
Derby offers Tina an outlet for her frustrations, a chance to excel, and the female friendships she’s never had before. And as Tina starts to thrive at derby, the tension between her and Joe cranks up. Despite their player/coach relationship, they give in to their mutual attraction. Sex in secret is hot, but Tina can’t help but want more.
With work still on the rocks and her relationship in the closet, Tina is forced to reevaluate her life. Can she be content with a secret lover? Or with being dependent on someone else again? It’s time for Tina to tackle her fears, both on and off the track.
Dear Vanessa North, I wanted to try your writing for a while. None of your m/m titles appealed, but when I saw this recently released f/f romance I thought it looked good. The title is part of the series, but as the note says it could be read as a stand-alone and it definitely works as one. I am guessing that the two male couples who have supporting roles as Tina’s friends were featured in the previous books, and we learn some information about them, but this is Tina’s story. Let me say first and foremost that I *really* liked the writing and two main characters. Both women were so likeable and interesting and interactions between them just felt so sweet and hot.
“I’m good with knots.” She pulls my skate onto her knees and starts working on it, her face side-lit by the neon over the concession stand. There’s a softness, an innocence even, to the curve of her cheek that stings my heart. How many people get to see this side of Joe Mama? Suddenly I’m very conscious of the fact that my foot is in her lap, and my breath catches. Her gaze flickers up to mine, her silver-and-black lined eyes sparkling.”
I also learned about the existence of the sport called roller derby – I had never heard of it before — and the glimpses we get of tryouts for the team, training, and the parts of the games we see were entertaining to me.
This is Tina trying to pass the tryout exercise which seems to have given her the most trouble, and finally she makes the team.
“And at the end of it all is my bugbear. The sack of goddamn sand. A woman who made a career out of jumping on water should not be afraid of jumping over one little sandbag. Joe blows the whistle. I throw myself forward, straight toward the cones. The first T-shirt comes flying at my face, and I duck. The second is aimed at my feet; I weave. A shirt soars straight toward the middle of my body—but too slow. I let it hit my flank, stink and all, and fall to the floor behind me. I clear the last cone and speed toward the sack. Every ounce of my focus narrows to that harmless-looking gray sack. “Butt down, Tina!”I get low. I bend my knees. I take a deep breath—and I fly. It’s inelegant, and my landing is awkward and scary and involves a tiny bit of flailing. But I’m upright. I cleared the sack. I’ve made the team. And I start crying for the third time that day
And this is an actual game taking place.
“The first jam is a blur. Paula leads it while I’m still getting my tits and ass grabbed on the line. I finally break free of the blockers, but she’s already scoring points; seconds later, she puts her hands on her hips to call off the jam right as I’m about to lap my first opponent. Shut out in my first jam. “It’s okay, T. Not your fault.” Lauren murmurs as we line up again. This time, Lauren hits Paula with an unholy fury, skating in front of her and bouncing up to plant her shoulder in Paula’s chest. Paula goes down in my peripheral vision and I see my opening. I feint left, lurch right, and skate like hell for the gap narrowing between two blockers in yellow. By some outrageous fucking miracle, I’m leading the jam.”
I liked getting to know the other team members and the friendships among them really worked for me. There was a lot to like about this story.
However despite loving the writing and the characters, I cannot say that I had a fully enjoyable reading experience. At first I could not shake the feeling that something was bothering me about how the conflict between two women played out. While I completely understand that Jo did not want to appear biased in Tina’s favor when she was trying out for the team and then when she was training with them, I just did not feel that when the (seemingly mandatory) temporary breakup happened, it was that important for both of them. Joe sure got over her unwillingness to show her relationship to other team members pretty fast, and Joe also tackled another, related, issue with her best friend, which she had been hesitant to do.
And Tina’s signals were also a little confusing to me. I understand that she did not want her relationship to be a secret, especially after the complicated way her marriage ended, but it is not as if Joe ever said that she wouldn’t talk to the team, she just asked for more time. And after the breakup she also seemed to be willing to reconcile pretty fast. I guess I did not feel that either of the women was that invested in the reasons for their break up?
I feel like the sweet attraction between the two women was there from the very beginning, and although there was an initial short reluctance, when both of them decided they wanted to pursue a sexual relationship, nothing else really stood between them.
Maybe this is simply an issue of the word count and the author needed more pages to develop a stronger conflict? I am not sure, but whatever the reason was, it was definitely related to conflict and the conflict resolution, and it bothered me quite a bit.
Tina tries to explain/justify their breakup in a conversation with another team member.
“I like how she fixes things. Not just for her job—but that’s perfect for her, actually. She’s always looking for ways to make things better. But see, what I need is to be able to fix my own shit.”
This is a good reason, if not to break up, then at least to reevaluate the relationship, right? I, however, was scratching my head and wondering what exactly Joe fixed for her besides the plumbing during their first meeting. It just felt contrived to me.