Roller Coaster by Karin Kallmaker is a lesbian romance that stands out from the pack. It doesn’t follow the typical formula of girl meets girl, attraction ensues, kissing, conflict, then happily ever after. And yet, by the end, I had that complete happy sigh that comes after reading an excellent romance.
Laura Izmani is moving back to New York City after spending a year with family in California kicking a cocaine habit. She’s going back to her dreams of training to be a world class chef, but first wants to take one last trip on the wooden roller coaster in Santa Cruz. A beautiful stranger sits beside her, and when they get stuck high up in the sky for many long minutes, she learns that Helen Baynor is there to face her fear of heights, which is holding her back as an actress. When Laura shares her own story with Helen, she’s met with more compassion than she could have imagined.
Twenty-three years later, Laura is sitting in Helen’s home, interviewing for a job as her family’s personal chef. She remembers Helen, having tracked her career from its beginning off Broadway through to major Broadway stardom, but she also remembers the scared woman clutching her hand on a roller coaster. Helen is widowed with twin teenagers, one of whom has dangerous food allergies, and is looking for someone who can accommodate their dietary needs while taking some of the fear out of eating.
Helen doesn’t remember Laura, but given that she disclosed her addiction all of those years ago, Laura doesn’t mind. If she could just shake her decades long crush on Helen, life would be so much easier, especially as she slowly becomes part of the fabric of the family.
Helen has the biggest change overall because she goes from thinking she’s straight at the beginning of the story to realizing she’s not. This comes with some understandable confusion when she thinks back on her happy marriage and healthy sex life with her husband before he died. She also has to work through changes to her priorities as the role in her current play is recast and she had the choice to buckle or make her own opportunities.
Laura is a biracial woman who spent half of her childhood in Jamaica with her mother after money ran out and they couldn’t stay in America any longer. She may never have opened her own restaurant, but her years as a top chef in New York and kitchens around the world give her more than enough to talk about with the much less well traveled Helen. Laura’s acknowledgement that addiction is forever and her struggle with it is moving and occasionally raw, but her pragmatic approach is key to her recovery, even if she hasn’t yet learned that she doesn’t need to face it alone.
The rest of the cast is rounded out with side characters that are all done well and each add just enough to the story to keep it going at a good pace.
The Writing Style
If you haven’t figured it out from my other reviews yet, I read a lot of romance. The main pitfall, of course, is that I can often predict what’s going to happen. I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen around the 40% mark and I was groaning and not looking forward to it at all. I’m so pleased to say I was dead wrong because, as I mentioned in the intro, Karin Kallmaker didn’t stick to the usual formula. There is no contrived breakup just because the formula says there needs to be.
Unlike many, or maybe even most, romance novels, this one is character driven and not plot driven. That makes it read more like a general fiction novel, but with an incredibly satisfying and believable happily ever after. I felt like I was reading life, where happy endings mean a lot of work both individually and together as a couple.
The characters and their relationships really shine in Roller Coaster, whether it’s between Helen and Laura, Helen and the kids, Laura and the kids, or Cass and all of them.
I hate it when a person of colour has their skin compared to food like chocolate or coffee.
When I finished the book I jokingly tweeted about flailing in my feelings while Sheena humoured me (and she really did, bless her). It’s been three days and that’s still kind of happening. I loved this book and it’s going on my reread list. If you haven’t read it, please do, because it’s a treat.
Excerpt from Roller Coaster by Karin Kallmaker
“It’ll be okay.” Laura peeled Helen’s hand free of the bar. “Hold on to me. We’re going to be just fine. And it’s a roller coaster. You’re expected to be scared and scream.”
The clack-clack-clack sounded ominous as they jerked up the track.
Helen was holding her hand so tightly Laura knew it would ache later. She didn’t mind.
“When I am a rich and famous stage actress,”Helen said, “I will bring my rich and famous friends to your restaurant because I know you’re going to be a rich and famous restaurateur.”
“I’ll make you a fantastic meal,”Laura promised.
“I know you’ll be fine.”Helen squeezed her hand even harder.
Touched at Helen’s blind faith, Laura wasn’t sure which of them was acting as the lifeline to the other. She squeezed back. “We’ll both be fine.”
The chain released their car. Laura screamed too so Helen wouldn’t feel so alone. Gravity took over, but neither of them let go.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781594931697
- Publisher: Bella Books
Karin Kallmaker Online
Note: I received a free review copy of this book for review. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.