I recently reviewed Kenna White's lesbian romance Braggin Rights and, hoping for something a little better, I also picked up Romancing the Zone. For me, this novel already had a huge advantage over Braggin Rights before I ever started reading, since it's about women's basketball instead of horses.
Sheridan Ross is a rising star of women's college basketball coaching. She's recently been made head coach of the Chilton College team, but her sights are set much higher and her professional zeal is all-consuming. Liz Elliott is a local restaurant owner and former basketball star who dropped out of Chilton to raise her daughter Becca, who plays for Coach Ross's Lady Stingers. When Becca has to miss the season after seriously injuring her leg and considers dropping out of school altogether, she and Liz make a bargain that has Liz back on campus--completing her degree and her last year of playing eligibility. Coach Ross isn't too enthusiastic about having a forty-year-old point guard added to her squad, especially one that she finds physically attractive. Nevertheless, she and Liz take baby steps toward a romantic understanding. But when Liz's creepy ex-girlfriend from college reappears on the scene and Sheridan interviews for a job in the midwest, their tenuous relationship is in danger of falling apart.
I enjoyed a lot of things about this book, including the small-town New England setting, the basketball scenes, and the slow development of the relationship between Sheridan and Liz. Unlike series romances, there is a lot more room in a lesbian romance for older protagonists, or women with older kids, and so forth, and Romancing the Zone takes full advantage of that. I wasn't quite sure what to think of the stalker/girlfriend from the past angle, which provided the dramatic tension for the second part of the book. On one hand, it's good to have a portrayal of same-sex domestic abuse, because it absolutely does exist, and Sara is really creepy. On the other, the Sara's existence and the circumstances of Becca's conception provided the "deep dark secret" variety of character motivation (largely hidden from the reader for most of the narrative, apart from dire hints) that I dislike in mainstream romance novels. Because of this, the conclusion to that plotline ended up seeming melodramatic rather than dramatic, and made the resolution of the romantic plot (will Sheridan leave for greener coaching pastures, or stay for love?) rather anticlimactic.
I do love a title with a pun in it, as all readers of the Marc of the Beast blog will be aware. In addition, the cover art is really cute! However, I am completely thrown out of the narrative when I encounter typos, and this book had a distressing number. A few typos are understandable, but there is a line, and it was crossed in Romancing the Zone. I meant to remember the page numbers for some examples, but of course I failed to do so. These things balanced each other out.
This book actually contains scenes in Springfield and Northampton, MA, both of which are very familiar places to me. White's Northampton was pretty much unrecognizable, in a humorous way, although the descriptions of a snowstorm in which no one could drive anywhere until the streets were cleared was depressingly close to real life.
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