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REVIEW: Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James

Dear Ms. James:

book review I was reluctant to read this book despite hearing accolades of support from other readers. Mostly I resisted because I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to read a romance about two lawyers, particularly two lawyers vying for a coveted partnership position at a BigLaw firm. I didn’t think I would be able to suspend my disbelief to enjoy the story. After some urging, though, I sat down to read it and I was glad that I did.

Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson  are lawyers with different backgrounds but the same goal in mind: partnership at their national Chicago based lawfirm.   Payton is a litigation associate and J.D. works in class actions. There are approximately 4 weeks left until the partnership decision is made when Payton and J.D. are informed that because of the tightening economy, only one person will be making partner. In Biglaw, you either move up or out so in four weeks one of them will be humiliated and have to be looking for another position.

Payton & J.D. have been competing, subtly, ever since they began 8 years ago in the same associate class. Payton looks upon J.D.’s background of white male privilege with disgust. J.D. believes that as a white male he’s being discriminated against particularly when a firm email is sent out stating the firm’s new intention to grow the female partnership (there is only one at this point).

The saying that there’s a thin line between love and hate echoes loudly between Payton & J.D. Even though they hadn’t recognized it before, the increased competition brings them into close contact with each other when a class action discrimination suit is being shopped around to different firms and the two are forced to work as a team for the first time.   

But right when the two are starting to recognize their feelings for one another, Payton learns of a past betrayal of J.D. and it doesn’t look like she can get beyond that. Even if she does, the partnership looms large.

In the beginning, I thought that I was going to hate J.D. The way in which he was portrayed, no matter the intense pressure of his Circuit Court Judge father, grated on me (as I think you intended). But I grew to like J.D. That he was super competitive in everything from squash to impressing the partners rang true, but underneath J.D. was a decent guy who was slightly hapless when it came to Payton. I laughed reading the reasons why Payton and J.D. became mortal enemies at the firm and the hijinks that ensued in the competition between the two.

The chemistry between the two was evident from the very beginning and it wasn’t surprising that everyone around them had their own ideas to the outcome.   There are some great comedic moments from the pranks that J.D. and Payton pull on each other, to the office pool, to J.D.’s near constant need for advice from his friend, Taylor.

Payton is a great character. She’s a fierce, no nonsense kind of woman who clearly deserves her position in life. As a reader, I wanted her to get the partnership and I want her to get J.D. but it didn’t seem like it was going to happen. I liked that she was able to overcome her hormonal attraction to J.D. when she was genuinely upset with him (and for good reason).

There were a couple of areas that I thought were a little overdone.   J.D. and Payton are the exact antithesis of each other except for their fierce competitive natures.   She’s a vegan and a democrat with a hippie mother.   He’s a republican voting, Bentley driving, high rise living son of a federal appellate judge and society mother.   While they didn’t interact as caricatures, I felt the descriptions of them, at times, were heavy handed. I couldn’t help but wonder if you were channeling Adam’s Rib at times.  

Additionally, I wondered about the level of detail of the lawyerly things in the story. There were discussions of the Executive Committee, courtroom scenes, and client pitches. These were all very authentic but I wondered if it wasn’t too meta.   Overall, though, I really enjoyed the story and there were times I had to cover my mouth to prevent my laughter from waking up my sleeping husband.

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased in mass market from an independent bookseller or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

17 Comments

  1. SarahT
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 14:31:10

    I liked this one a lot and gave it a B+.

    Having no legal background whatsoever, I didn’t find the lawyerly details overwhelming. I thought they added to the authenticity of the story. Setting a romance in a law practice was a refreshing change from the norm.

    The premise of her third book sounds cool: an assistant attorney witnesses a high-profile murder involving a U.S. Senator. The FBI agent assigned to the investigation is a man from her past that she doesn’t get along with…

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  2. Stacy ~
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 14:45:14

    Like Sarah T, I also have no legal background and admit that many times those details bore the hell out of me, but with this book, that wasn’t the case. This story energized me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked that it wasn’t overly gushy and that Payton did not become all flustered and silly in J.D.’s presence, like a lot of heroines have been written. I liked her a lot.

    I’m really looking forward to future stories.

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  3. jmc
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 14:52:57

    I bought a copy of this book when it was first released, because an excerpt that included J.D.’s friend who had read Austen caught my attention. But I’ve been putting off reading it, because I didn’t LOVE James’s debut and because in the excerpt I found online both Payton and JD came across rather poorly (IMO, YMMV). Maybe it’s time to bump this one up to the top of the reading pile.

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  4. Jane
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 14:56:15

    @jmc: You liked her first one, right? I think you’d like her second one. I really hated JD in the beginning so I think it’s a testament to her writing that I ended up rooting for the two to get together. In the beginning, though, they are both pretty uptight.

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  5. SarahT
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 15:19:07

    @jmc I liked Just the Sexiest Man Alive but I didn’t love it as much as many reviewers seemed to. I thought it showed great promise, though, and I liked James’s voice enough to want to read Practice Makes Perfect. It was definitely worth it. You can see how she’s grown as a writer and her character development is much stronger in this one.

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  6. jmc
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 15:19:31

    @Jane: I liked the first book but didn’t LOVE it as much as a lot of readers did. The heroine appealed, as did the plot, but the hero never really moved out of the selfish-jerk category. Also, I’m almost violently allergic to any fiction with a legal setting. So the fact that the first book worked for me at all says good things about James’s writing. So I shouldn’t feel so wishy-washy about starting this one, should I?

    I’ll start it tonight, after I finish Beyond Heaving Bosoms.

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  7. SarahT
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 15:20:55

    @jmc Ooh, crossed posts! Hope you enjoy it. I’m also reading ‘Beyond Heaving Bosoms’ at the moment.

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  8. Jane
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 15:23:38

    @jmc I totally understand where you are coming from. I didn’t read this book in ARC form because of the legal setting. I put it off because reading about lawyers is like, I dont know, listening to office gossip? In any event, I worried that it was transportative enough. It took me about four chapters to really get engaged but I didn’t put it down after that.

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  9. Jessica G.
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 16:14:39

    Hrmm, I think I’ll check it out. Needing more contemporary right now (you hearing me, Victoria Dahl?). Big thumbs up again to Jane, for saying which books are available at the Sony store. I wish there was a way you guys could get credit for those links.

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  10. Elly Soar
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 17:11:11

    Please please please tell me that he doesn’t make her realize how much she’s always secretly been craving steak or anything like that – and that’s she’s not condemned to a life of cooking meat for him while secretly resenting it… In other words, tell me this dietary differences thing is well-handled so I can resume considering reading this book.

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  11. Jane
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 17:29:37

    @Elly Soar: I don’t remember her being “converted” nor him being converted. I got the sense that the two would live with their differences.

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  12. Mad
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 17:53:44

    I recently read both of her books. I zipped right through the first one..found it very funny and I enjoyed it a lot. This one took me a few days to get through, not as enjoyable but still had some LOL moments for me.

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  13. Julie James
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 19:12:04

    Jane, you sneaky gal… you always catch me in these things. Nice pick-up on Adam’s Rib– I’m a big fan of the black & white romantic comedies and those films do somewhat influence my writing style.

    Thank you so much for the great review! I’m really glad you enjoyed the book– and as a lawyer, I completely understand your reservations re: reading about lawyers. I’m happy that the book worked for you despite that.

    Your comment about covering your mouth to keep from waking your sleeping husband made me smile… I’ve been there, recently in fact. A couple weeks ago I read “Mr. Perfect” (I know, I’m a late-comer to the romance genre and probably one of last people to read it), and I woke my husband up on several occasions with my apparently-not-so-sneaky giggles. I’ve decided that if I ever review books, my test for humor will be how many pages I get into the book before my husband rolls over and asks, “What are you reading??”

    Anyway, I digress… thank you again for the review.

    Elly Soar: being a vegetarian for the past ten years myself, married to a proud meat-eater, I can assure you that the book does not end with any sort of capitulation of her beliefs. (Nor does she change his.) Jane is correct– it’s an understanding and appreciation of their differences.

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  14. katiebabs
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 19:17:42

    PMP is going in my top 5 for 2009. This book had me laughing out loud. Need another author to save the contemporary? Look towards Julie James.

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  15. she reads
    Apr 13, 2009 @ 19:38:42

    I liked Just the Sexiest Man Alive better than this book, let me correct: I LOVED that book. I just liked PMP. I love your review and found myself nodding in agreement for most all.

    The lawyer aspect got me a bit (sooo much inside that law office, not much outside it) but it WAS funny and interesting enough to get me past that – a big kudos to the author indeed.

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  16. cheryl k
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 11:34:29

    I just finished reading this one on vacation and really enjoyed it. I liked Payton a lot – very strong female. The legal scenes were real and I even liked JD, closer to the end :-) Now I’m going to buy Julie’s first book since this one was very good.

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  17. FD
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 15:00:20

    H’mmm. This book inspired deeply mixed emotions in me – enough so that I’m still thinking about it.
    On one hand, it was zingy, funny, fast paced, relevant, and well written. JD as a hero was both fantasy material, and also very realistically flawed. Peyton was smart and honourable, and a heroine I could easily empathise with.
    On the other hand, I was not convinced that the leopard had changed his spots by the end of the book – in fact I wasn’t even sure that he really believed he had spots, and still less sure that he understood the need to change them.

    I can tell you exactly where the author lost me – pg 176. The scene at her apartment door after the deposition where she saves his ass. (It felt to me like it was meant to be the emotional hinge of the book.)
    The hero says, “I would've done it for you in a heartbeat,” and I didn’t believe him.
    Of course, despite the eyerolling, I did carry on reading, which says something.

    Also the big reveal, coming as it did at the end, ruined it for me; something of that magnitude needed more resolution IMO. Going on the heroine’s previous characterization, I just couldn’t believe that she wasn’t angrier about it, and I did not feel that it boded well for their future. I could see her coming out of her hormonal haze in six months time and realizing that actually, he really was the whiny, over entitled MCP she’d originally thought him. I was baffled by her meek acceptance of the golfclub thing too. Sure, it’s realistic that that would happen, but most women would be more righteously PO’d by it. I wouldn’t expect her to storm the bastions necessarily, but a bitchfit over drinks with friends, and planning ways to get around it wouldn’t have gone amiss.

    I’ve read Just the Sexiest Man Alive and to me it has similar problems with the emotional pacing – I felt a bit like the happy ending was rather smushed on there too, but it bothered me less, because the H&H didn’t have quite the same degree of emotional conflict to deal with, and we’d seen more of their emotional journey in dealing with them over the course of the book already.

    I’ll still read the author’s future books, despite the issues I had with PMP, because the author did such a great job of showing us why guys like JD can be so very attractive despite their flaws!

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