Thursday, November 23, 2006

Testing Kate, by Whitney Gaskell

I have been in the middle of Whitney Gaskell adoration this past week. It all started a while back, actually, when this book here, Testing Kate, was released. I read about it over on the Literary Chicks website. You know how I love my LC, right? It started with Beth Kendrick, then Alesia Holliday, Lani Diane Rich, Eileen Rendahl and Michelle Cunnah followed. Meeting Michelle and Lani in New Jersey was one of those FanGirlSqueeMoments that you all already know about though. Whitney was the last of the Chicks for me to "find", which is kind of odd, since I really love her posts. Reading them is sometimes like reading one of my diaries. I just sit there thinking, "Yeah, we would be such good friends, I just know it. Well, if I lived in Florida, near her, and could ever get up the nerve to actually speak to her, I'm sure we'd be like this, you know, BFF, just like me and Joss". (Ok, so maybe my friendship with Joshilyn is slightly exaggerated in my head, but hey, they are my delusions, and I quite like them, ok?) However, I hopped on the Whitney train last week, when I couldn't find this book anywhere in town, and I resorted to ordering her other three off Amazon. At full price. Because I like doing that sometimes. And now, I don't regret it. Pushing 30, True Love (and other Lies), and She, Myself & I were so worth it. And then there was Kate...

Kate Bennett is almost 30 when she decides to make some major changes. She quits her job, her boyfriend, and her town, and heads down South for law school. She doesn't land in just any town, or at any law school though. Oh no, not our Kate. She ends up at the mother of Southern law schools - Tulane, which is located in the mother of Southern towns, New Orleans.

Quickly finding a group of older students to befriend, Kate starts making a new life for herself. However, her life-long streak of bad luck seems to have followed her south. Case in point - Hoffman, her Crim Law professor. He is about as sadistic as you can get without actually entering hell. From the very first day, Kate seems to have landed square on his bad side, and nothing she does can change that. Of course, her friends try to ease some of the stress, but there's only so much that friends can do.

No book would be complete without a bit of romantic suspense, right? Well, Kate has that in spades. When her now ex-boyfriend shows up to try to make things right, Kate is torn between the safe and familiar path, or the road less traveled. Throw in a slightly eccentric writer, a whiz kid, and three other mismatched souls just trying to make the Law Review, and you've got yourself one helluva interesting story.

With Kate, Ms. Gaskell has created a character that you just can't help cheering. She is dealt some really tough breaks, and you see that, and you feel her struggles. But still, she has hope. The writing is smooth, the dialogue is believable, and the situations are very real. This is not over-the-top humor, nor is it melodramatic. It's an eye-opening look at the first year of law school, and a soul searching peek into the life of one endearing woman. I enjoyed the way that Ms. Gaskell seamlessly tied bits from Kate's past into most every chapter. I didn't feel like it was infodump. I felt like it was a glimpse inside of Kate's heart, into her psyche, and it was inspired.

I also really enjoyed seeing New Orleans, pre-Katrina, through Kate's eyes. As a long-time lover of all things N'Awlins, as well as having a brother that lives there, it felt like coming home to me. This book was in the edit stages when the hurricane struck, and Ms. Gaskell chose to leave the city alone for her story. I think it was the absolute right choice. In her Author's Note, she cites the courage of the city's citizens in the aftermath of Katrina, as well as admitting her own love affair with the city (see, I told you I felt like we'd be friends!). It was obvious that she wasn't exaggerating her feelings and that she was very familiar with the places she mentioned (including the Cat's Meow, but I won't even go there, my husband reads this blog!). Along with Ms. Gaskell, I have the deepest admiration and respect for those people and that wonderful city. She did their city proud in her story, and it wouldn't surprise me if people decided to head down to the Big Easy for a spell after reading this book.

The worst part about reaching the end of this book was knowing that I can't read a new Whitney Gaskell for about another year. I guess that means I'm going to have to read the four she has again. And again. And again. Because I really enjoyed them. And I know you will too.

Keep turning those pages,

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