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Perfecting Kate
by Tamara Leigh

Reviewed by Heather R. Hunt

"...the perfect example of a chick lit novel that ticks off every box on that genre's formula checklist, yet never feels formulaic ... a rare niche novel that surpasses its genre."

Tamara Leigh's "Perfecting Kate" is the perfect example of a chick lit novel that ticks off every box on that genre's formula checklist, yet never feels formulaic. Here is the spicy young woman who's sworn off men, but who keeps changing her mind. Who has a propensity for the dramatic. And an inclination to overanalyze her life. Yet she's totally sincere and trying to do the right thing. Very messed up and very likeable.

Since chick lit is character driven rather than plot dependent, it's imperative for readers to identify so much with the heroine that they want to spend time with her and her neuroses. And since this lit is predominantly told in the first person, readers must enjoy being inside the chick's head and listening to her inner voice cluck for 400 pages. This reader absolutely loves Kate Meadows, perfect or not.

I found myself grabbing a pen to mark Kate's unique way with words. You gotta' love a heroine who describes things thusly:

**A bad dance couple is "more enthusiastic than the music calls for."

**Her jealousy rises when "watching another woman putting her paws all over the man who still has his paws all over my heart."

**At one point she wishes she could "snap my mind off like I snap shut my cell phone."

**Later she compares her tension to a guitar string and opines "this must be what it feels like when one of those little knobs is turned too far."

**She laments when "the silence stretches so taut I long to take scissors to it."

**At one point she gets so angry that it causes "the guard on her tongue to look the other way."

**Another time when she can't keep her mouth shut she declares "out of my mouth pops stupid."

Much chick lit also involves physical humor, and Kate certainly gets into her fair share of, ahem, incidents. Beginning with the fact that she is rather well-endowed, as in clinically, back breakingly so, and she's none too pleased about it. She's also not afraid to let her chest know about her displeasure. Verbally. As long as no one else is around. Except, of course, sometimes someone is. Oops.

There are also episodes with scaffolds and pepper spray. You have to read them. Leigh also includes a hilarious blow-by-blow account of childbirth by the overexcited father who comments through the delivery room door into the waiting room where Kate and her landlord, a model perfect woman who can't believe what she's hearing about childbirth, sit in various levels of shock. In fact, this 4-page sequence is probably my favorite in the book. Laughing through tears funny.

Kate does have a deep side as evidenced by her observations when she's finally able to hold her best friend's newborn, who promptly falls asleep in her arms. "He [the baby] does trust me. Completely. And I can't help but wonder if this is how God feels when I trust Him." She even institutes a self-imposed spiritual program she dubs "Operation Perfect Faith," the success of which is chronicled in her on-again, off-again prayer journal. These journals are another chick lit gimmick (other novels use shopping receipts, recipes, or other girlish fluffery to mark off chapters) that Leigh uses to great effect to document Kate's spiritual journey all the way to the surprise final entry.

Leigh also uses a "Believe" charm bracelet Kate received from her best friend (and panting mom in the aforementioned hilarious childbirth sequence) to indicate Kate's current status. In a key turning point late in the story, Kate's potential love interest presses her to articulate "just what is it she wants to believe." Because you see, Kate has a burden, a secret not many people know, and that can be a real deal-breaker when she wants to get serious with a beau. Which brings us back to her periodic swearing off men in which she vows that “thou should embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy.”

Perfecting Kate is the perfect title for this down-to-earth real-life look at perfection. What exactly is Kate perfecting? Her outward appearance? Her inner self? You might go into the story thinking you know the obvious answer, but Leigh has some surprises for you. So many books start well, but finish poorly. Perfecting Kate has the perfect ending. Not as in happily ever after, but as in satisfying and realistic within the world of the story.

Perfecting Kate is a rare niche novel that surpasses its genre. I therefore recommend Kate's story not only for chick lit lovers, but also for any readers who love a fulfilling story told by an entertaining character. The only drawback is that this novel appears to be a standalone. So ... no more adventures for Kate Meadows. You'll be sorry. I am.

Heather R. HuntHeather R. Hunt is a business editor in Connecticut. For fun she reads, writes, cheers on the Red Sox, and enjoys tennis and cycling. She also co-leads a local tea party and enjoys holding government officials and media outlets accountable. Check out her blogs, The View from Stonewater and Connecticut for Sarah Palin.