Reviewer: Lori Graham
Title: The Penalty Box
Author: Deirdre Martin
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
Release Date: March 2006
Genre/Sub-genre: Contemporary Romance
Year/Setting: Current, Didsbury CT
Overall rating: 4.75
Sexual content rating: Subtle
Deirdre's Website: www.deirdremartin.com
Katie Fisher just received the invitation for her high school reunion. While she expected the invitation, she hadn’t expected her mother to RSVP affirmatively for her. This knowledge sends quite a bit of panic through Katie. Katie was the brainy, overweight nerd in high school – the one who was very lonely and determined to never return to this little town. However, she couldn’t turn her mother down when she called asking for help. Katie’s sister was in rehab yet again and Tuck (her sister’s son) was being left in her mother’s care. Since Katie was taking a sabbatical to write a book she came back to help. Now faced with this invitation, she does realize that she is now thin and relatively good looking. Also, her brains have corresponded into a great job as a professor at a well known college. She even owns her own home. She isn’t living in the past any longer. She has moved on and up. Or has she?
As she goes to the reunion, Katie is surprised by some of her fellow classmates. There had been two girls in particular who tormented her in high school. While one hasn’t changed a bit, the other has. After apologies and a few tears, they create a wonderful new friendship along with Dennis who is now Denise. The surprise though was being remembered by the jock of the class, Paul van Dorn. Paul is still just as "dreamy" as he was in high school. He had gone on to become a major player in the NHL before too many injuries forced him into retirement. He now owns the local bar, The Penalty Box. Since Katie’s book is about the effects of athletics on young males, Paul seems to be the perfect interviewee to complete the information she needs to finish up the last chapters. Does she dare approach him? Knowing Paul will be coaching her nephew’s hockey team and the fact he was so nice to her at the reunion, she figures she’ll give it a shot.
When she spends time with him at the bar, though, Katie realizes Paul is still very much living in the past. Can she help him to get past that? And in the process help herself come face to face with her own issues?
I enjoyed Deirdre’s combination of sports with romance. Many have said it couldn’t be done but she does a good job of it. I am sure for any male who might read the book they would say there should be more descriptions of hockey play – you know the broken teeth, blood and so forth. I, however, like The Penalty Box the way it is.
I could really find myself relating to the main character of this manuscript. Katie is struggling to get past the notions put into her head during high school. I think we all deal with this as adults. Whether you were really popular and outgoing or shy and introverted, the real life as an adult changes the perceptions and we have to move on or get left behind. It is also all too often we have the ability to see the trouble someone else is having with past issues and avoiding our own. Katie pushes Paul to see his future through her fear of commitment and Paul lifts Katie up past her fears towards the future with his love. Love the little bit of sizzle they share too!
I was also refreshed by the strength of family Deirdre shared with us through Katie’s family. While it was a "secondary" story, Katie’s support of her sister, love for her nephew and aid to her mother was a modern day Mayberry tale and very well done. Couple that with the forgiveness personified between Katie and her high school friends, The Penalty Box shares some motivations we can all enjoy and be lifted up by personally.
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