Code of Honor

A Christmas Legacy

Cop of the Year

Count on Me

Feel the Heat

Finally a Family

The Fire Within

Just One Night

The Man Who
Loved Christmas

Practice Makes Perfect
by Kathryn Shay
(Harl. Super. #1066, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-71066-6
For readers who won’t touch category romances with a ten-foot pole, or for those who have begun to lose faith -- run, don’t walk to the nearest bookstore to pick up Kathryn Shay’s latest. This first book in her new “Serenity House” trilogy features complex characters, heart-wrenching emotion, and no easy answers. Better still, there isn’t an amnesiac cowboy sheik with a secret baby in sight.

Dr. Paige Kendrick is a successful pediatrician with a troubled past. As a pregnant teenager, Paige was one of the first residents of Serenity House, a group home for girls. When her drug-addicted parents were killed in a motorcycle accident, and seeing no alternative, Paige gives her child up for adoption. Upon her 18th birthday, Paige gets down to business raising her younger sister, and throwing herself into her chosen profession. While she now has a strained relationship with Jade, all the work has paid off - Dr. Kendrick has a thriving practice working with an upscale clientele.

Dr. Ian Chandler is an OB/GYN who is starting up an inner city clinic to be named after his late adoptive mother. There’s only one piece of the puzzle missing - a pediatrician. Naturally, Ian wants the best, and that which means Dr. Kendrick. After much convincing, she finally agrees - but not before Ian finds himself hopelessly intrigued. What makes Ms. Coldly Professional tick? And why won’t she let him in?

Paige is a complicated woman who had resisted accepting Ian’s offer because she’s afraid it will bring back unpleasant memories. She has dealt with her past by not dealing with it, and she just can’t get Ian to leave well enough alone. Worse still, she finds herself wanting more - more than what her lonely personal life has provided, and all the promise that a relationship with Ian may hold.

Shay’s novel is a sheer joy for readers looking for a contemporary story with honest-to-goodness issues. Paige comes from a troubled place, and has serious trust issues. Ian has had a much more stable life, but he too finds himself in a lonely place - working through the grief that continues to linger one year after the death of his adoptive parents.

My plot summary really doesn’t do justice to the kind of story the author has chosen to tell. Shay has literally created a whole town, full of interesting townspeople itching to have their own stories further explored in the next two installments. The author has a real talent for writing about younger women from troubled circumstances, without succumbing to cliché. Her background as an educator is apparent from the first page, and a real asset to the story.

My only minor quibble with the story is that Paige’s trust issues, and Ian’s habit of bulldozing does tend to wear thin towards the end. It’s just a little too easy, for Paige especially, to revert back to old patterns when the going gets rough. While the ending left me with little doubt of their happily-ever-after, I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t necessarily going to be smooth sailing. Then again, what complex romantic relationship is?

I know many romance readers who won’t go near category romance, and you can bet I’m going to challenge them to pick up Practice Makes Perfect. Likewise, for readers like myself who have been a bit disappointed with the quality of the sub genre of late, Shay’s latest might as well have antidote stamped right next to the “Serenity House” logo. The second and third doses can’t come fast enough.

--Wendy Crutcher

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