practice_makes_perfect Even though I haven’t noticed my TBR pile diminishing in size, I have to say that I’m still looking forward to my TBR Challenge read each month. This month’s theme is New-to-You Authors, and I had a wonderful experience trying a book by an author that I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while. I keep hearing wonderful things about Julie James’ writing both from my colleagues here at AAR and elsewhere in romanceland. As it turns out, I have two of her books in my TBR, but there was one that I just had to read.

Whenever someone from romanceland finds out that I spend most of my offline hours as a lawyer, the first reaction I get is usually, “Wow – so you’re a REAL lawyer!” (Do we have a lot of fake ones running around out there?) And the second reaction I get tends to be, “Have you read Practice Makes Perfect? That’s supposed to be the most realistic lawyer romance out there.” Since the unrealistic lawyers I sometimes encounter in fiction make me crazy, that particular recommendation functioned like catnip for me. I was determined to get my hands on that book. And I did – at RWA 2009 where I also got to meet the delightful Julie James when she signed my book(and hundreds of others).

However, I now have to confess that life intervened and Practice Makes Perfect sat in my 2009 RWA box until very recently. It now sits on my bookcase next to Do-Over by Dorien Kelly, the other book that I think really gets lawyer life right. I’m glad that the TBR Challenge made me try an author I’d been meaning to try because I really liked her voice and if I had been reading this for review, it would have been a solid B+ for me.

The set-up of the book is a little contrived, but only a little. Some of what goes on in real-life legal practice hits that “truth is stranger than fiction” territory after all. The hero and heroine of the novel are both associates in a large corporate law firm in Chicago and each has spent the past eight years competing and angling to make partner. As they hit the final stretch, in a decision supported by reasoning that seems to come straight from Planet WTF, their department head tells them that only one will make partner. This sets the stage for all kinds of romantic and job tension as Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson work to outwit one another and get that coveted partnership slot. Their antics are totally over-the-top sometimes, but their characters ring true and that makes all the difference.

The big firm setting is well-written and reminded me of law firms I and my friends have known. The descriptions of how the hierarchy works, how many hours of drudgery go into corporate practice, and how lawyers live in their very few off hours all felt familiar. And then there were the trial descriptions. Perry Mason it is not. Instead, we have Payton musing on how, “She personally found it to be the most exhausting thing a lawyer had to do: protect her own witnesses during cross-examination and pray, pray, pray they didn’t say anything stupid.” True, true, true. Some of the courtroom scenes veer into screwball comedy territory, but it never felt wholly unrealistic and always managed to be vastly entertaining.

In addition to a strong setting, the reader really gets to feel the buildup of chemistry between the leads. They may start off a little overly snarky, but the dialogue is clever and kept me turning the pages. Even though mention is made of other romantic interests, it’s obvious from the beginning that Payton and J.D. are Meant To Be. They’re smart, they’re good at what they do and, even better, they’re flawed people. In a genre that sometimes gives us too many overly perfect leads for comfort, I found Payton and J.D. refreshing. As a reader, I couldn’t help liking them. And when they finally got together, the payoff was fantastic. There’s a little too much melodrama at the end for the book to be a complete DIK read for me, but it’s a very good book nevertheless. So, the TBR Challenge was definitely a wonderful experience for me this month!

Now – get out there and try a new-to-you author. You know there’s someone you’ve been meaning to try reading!

– Lynn Spencer