Desert Isle Keeper
Practice Makes Perfect
Helen Lee is stuck in quite a quandary. She dreams nonstop of becoming a successful romance novelist, but she’s been repeatedly rejected by publishers because she cannot write a love scene convincingly; even though she has experience in the subject, she’s having a hard time translating that experience to the page. So focused on her ambitions (and burned multiple times by married men and cheaters), Helen spends most of her time with her senior-aged basset hounds George and Tammy, living off of her erotic fantasies.
But Helen’s got dreams, and she wants to prove to her worth, especially because her parents wish she were popping out babies instead of books. She initially uses her status as a research librarian to gain further knowledge on sexual subjects. When her friend and colleague, bowtie-wearing professor Henry Beckham, picks up on her mood he starts worrying about her. But it takes a drunken, disco-laden confession from Helen to clarify the problem. After a failed incident involving Barbie dolls, the two decide to embark on a real-life sexual education for Helen… to improve her writing, of course. But will their sexual exploration lead to something more? Will the University choose to side with Henry and save the historic brothel he’s spent months trying to preserve, or will they choose to demolish it and build the research archive of Helen’s dreams?
Charming. If I had to write a one-word review of Practice Makes Perfect it would be charming. I admit I’m weak for these kinds of tropes: friends becoming lovers, geeks finding romance, cute dogs and small-town antics. The novel even takes a little time to defend the romance genre against the slings and arrows often lodged against its writers and readers.
In short: this book combines all of the things I like about romance. It is my Kryptonite and I loved every word.
Helen is endearingly goofy without being too immature; the girl may have glitter-fueled disco parties when stressed out and be completely unable to describe the sensation of her own sexual ecstasy, but she’s bold, she’s got heart, takes her job seriously and is no shrinking flower.
Henry, meanwhile, is an endearing combination of nerd, sexual adventurer and serious professor. He worries about gender equality while reading his best friend’s smut, buys Barbie dolls to demonstrate sexual positions and is the light of Tammy and George’s lives. He is, in spite of his secret buffness, very much the kind of man you’d meet out in the average workaday world.
Their friendship and romance are handled with great humor and a touch of the ridiculous; they’re funny and easy to root for and have believable chemistry.
The book sports a bunch of fun side characters; my favorite was crusty, ancient librarian Lou, and Helen’s best friend, Grace. Even her dogs feel realistically, well, doggish.
There’s a bouncy, breezy voice and use of prose here, and plenty to enjoy. While this is part of Ms. Title’s Southern Comfort series about life in small-town Willow Branch, Kentucky, it’s not necessary to read the rest of the series to enjoy this one. It’s about as cozy as the title implies, while still being sensual enough to leave the audience smiling.
But why an A- instead of an A? Well, the last chapter of the book stumbles a bit at the finish line, becoming a tad bit too winking and self-aware to allow the audience to take Henry and Helen’s HEA seriously. Their big misunderstanding also makes Helen look a bit ditzy, but since she’s also the one who saves the day, it ends up feeling within the realm of what both characters would realistically feel and do.
But even with that minor blemish, Practice Makes Perfect is an endearing gem that will likely win Ms. Title many new readers.