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REVIEW: Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins

Dear Ms. Higgins,

I’ve read several of your books and, in general, have found them to be a bit too toothsome for me. I did however enjoy one of your earlier books, The Next Best Thing, so I was interested to read your latest novel, Somebody to Love, whose heroine, Parker Harrington Welles, was introduced in The Next Best Thing. I liked Parker in The Next Best Thing and I liked her in this book as well. I also liked James Cahill, the book’s hero. Nevertheless, I did not particularly enjoy the book itself. Again, I found your story to be so cute, so affable, and so neatly completed it left me disgruntled and slightly cranky.

Somebody to Love by Kristan HigginsParker is thirty-five, worth millions thanks to her stock savvy father, a single mother to Nick (his father is Ethan, the hero from The Next Best Thing), and the writer of a truly dreadful series of children’s books called The Holy Rollers. Parker, a Harvard grad, proposed the series as a sarcastic joke to her editor when her first book, Mickey the Fire Engine—which sounded a lot like one of my favorite children’s classics, Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel—was rejected by her editor as being “a little familiar.”

“Got anything else?” George asked, already glancing at his watch.

“Yeah, I do,” Parker said. “How’s this? A band of child angels are sent to earth to teach kids about God. Right? They haven’t earned their wings, though, so they roller-skate everywhere—they’re the Holy Rollers. Do you love it? All they eat is angel food cake, and they live in a tree fort called Eden, and whenever a regular kid is up against a tough moral decision, in come the Holy Rollers and the preaching begins.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s The Crippled Lamb meets The Little Rascals meets The Exorcist.” She sighed and stood up. “Well, thanks for your time, George. Good to see you.”

“Hang on,” he said.

The next week, she’d had an offer and a contract….

The books have sold millions of copies and a 3D movie is being made, but Parker, who loathes the books,  has written her last Holy Rollers best-seller. (She’s never made a penny off them—she donates all her income to a charity called Save the Children.) Then, very suddenly, her father is busted for insider trading and she’s kicked out of the mansion in which she grew up and where she and Nicky, when he’s not with Ethan and his wife Lucy (Parker’s best friend), live. Furthermore, her father has raided hers and her son’s trust funds and she’s got $11,000 to her name.

Parker gets this news from Harry, her father, the day before he’s headed to jail. He tells her to have James, his personal lawyer, help her sort out the mess. Parker and James, whom she rudely calls Thing One, have a history. Unbeknownst to Parker, James, now twenty-nine, fell in love with her five years ago, the very first time he saw her. Parker was in the hospital, having just  given birth to Nicky; her father had sent James to the hospital with paperwork for Parker to sign. (Her father never shows up for anything in Parker’s life.) Parker has almost always treated James like scum—she sees him as a kiss-ass extension of her self-absorbed, greedy father. I say almost because once, two years ago, at her cousin’s wedding, Parker, after one too many vodka martinis, grabbed James, dragged him into a near-by bedroom, and had wonderful, nasty sex with him. (One of my complaints about this book is you keep the reader firmly outside the bedroom door—your characters talk and think about sex a great deal, but when push comes to shove, you don’t let the reader in on any of the action. It’s an odd choice in a book so filled with lust and banter about sex.) Parker blew James off in a big way after their tryst and, since then, whenever she sees him—her father sends James to all of the family events rather than attending them himself—she acts the snotty, frosty rich girl and treats him as the lowest of the low.

James informs Parker she owns a house in a small town in Maine she inherited several years ago from her dead aunt. (Parker ws so wealthy she’d forgotten about it.) Parker gets her affairs in order, sends Nicky on a three-week trip with Ethan and Lucy—which is weirdly enough their honeymoon—and heads to Gideon’s Cove, Maine to see what she can make of the house. The house, a dilapidated shack about to fall into the sea, is a disaster and, even worse, is in arrears for unpaid back taxes. Parker decides to try to spruce up the cottage and flip it—this seemed unlikely to me given the 2011 real estate market, but, hey, it’s fiction, right? She spends her first night in Maine panicked and sleeping in her car after being attacked by a bird in the kitchen, and is stunned, the next morning, to see James appear.

“So what are you doing here, Thing One?”

He sat on the hood next to her. “Since I’m devoting the next few weeks to overhauling this dump, Parker, you think you could call me by my real name?”

“I seem to have forgotten it.” There. She was getting her old vibe back. Good.

He smiled slowly, his dark eyes crinkling. Dangerous, those eyes. “Again?”

“Is it John? Jason?”

“It’s James. James Francis Xavier Cahill.”

Goose bumps broke out along her arms. It was chilly. Or something. “So what are you doing here, James?”

“Your father asked me to come up.”

James’s explanation is only partially true. Her father did ask James to look after Parker, but it is completely James’s idea to come to Maine, move in with Parker, and, gratis, spend his days rebuilding her  shack. James—with good reason—feels somewhat responsible for Parker’s newfound poverty. Furthermore, he grew up in Maine and spent some summers working at his uncle’s bar in Gideon’s Cove. With Harry in jail, James is out of work and sees these few weeks as the opportunity that might finally win him Parker’s love.

James moves in with Parker—she accedes to this so easily it’s unbelievable—and sets about making himself indispensable to her. He cleans, cooks, hammers, paints, shingles, and cajoles his way right past all her defenses. He’s absolutely perfect for her. In fact, in every aspect of his life (including a tragedy in his past), James is absolutely perfect. He’s so perfect, he comes close to being dull. He is saved, as are all the adorable denizens of Gideon’s Cove, by the wit of your writing. I give you credit for taking an archetype and making him engaging. Take this scene where he essentially breaks up with, over the phone, the twenty-two year old he’s been casually dating:

“Hey, Leah, it’s James.”

“Hi there, stranger! How are you doing?” she said, her cheerleader-style exuberance making him hold the phone a little farther away from his ear. She was cute, but best in small doses, which explained why they only saw each other about once a month.

“How are you?” he said.

“I’m awesome! What’s up? You wanna get together this weekend?”

“Well, actually, I’m in Maine right now, and I’ll be here for a while. Six or eight weeks. Figured I’d let you know.”

There was a pause. “Oh,” she finally said.

It was impressive, how much could be packed into a two-letter word. They must teach it at woman school. “Yeah. So, just wanted to say bye and have a nice summer and all.” James pressed his thumb against his eye socket, bracing for the relationship talk.

“What about…you know? Us?”

Ah, mooseshit. Was there an us? Because he’d seen Leah, a very pretty redhead who liked to play pool and flirt, maybe six or seven times since they’d met at a wedding on New Year’s Eve, and if there was an us, it was pretty anemic. There was him, and there was her, and the two of them intersected at a bar once in a while, which generally led to more intersecting in bed, which had always seemed like enough.

I think the trick is everything James does is perfect, but his thoughts and words are wryly human.

Parker is not perfect; in fact, she’s pretty messed up. She’s kept everyone at a distance for years—she was scarred by her childhood. She’s prideful and prickly. She adores her son (who, thank the gods, isn’t perky although he is a wee bit too self-aware for a five-year old), loves  Lucy and Ethan, but, other than those three, she’s a very alone person. (This is one of the reasons it makes no sense she allows James to move into her teeny-tiny house with her at the drop of a tool-belt.) She thrives under James’s care and learns to accept the friendship many in Gideon’s Cove offer her. She rejects James a few too many times for me, but, it’s clear, from the moment James shows up in Maine, she’ll finally fall for him. And why not? He’s gorgeous, effortlessly competent, a stellar kisser, and unwaveringly supportive of her and her son.

As I read this book, I wondered why I didn’t enjoy it more. The writing is mostly first-rate (although calling Parker’s quim Lady Land was not a good plan), often very funny, and the main characters are—once I’d made peace with James’s flawlessness—pretty likable. Part of it is surely me—I’m not a fan of sweet and I think nice is overrated. But, part of it is that the book doesn’t take a single gamble. Every painful problem is smoothly resolved. There’s no real tension in the tale; by its finish, everyone the readers care for is living happily ever after and Parker is again donating the proceeds of her best-selling book—apparently the fire engine plot became less familiar when resubmitted to the publishing world—to Save the Children. Somebody to Love would have been a better book with less sugar and more snark. I give it a C+.

Slightly crankily,

Dabney

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* Book isn’t released digitally until next week but may be in stores this weekend

I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

18 Comments

  1. Kaetrin
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 04:41:36

    I liked this one quite a bit better than you did Dabney. My review goes up tomorrow I think. Obviously, I can tolerate more sweet than you! :)

    My major objection was that I didn’t like how Parker called James “Thing One” to his face but otherwise, I very much enjoyed this one. I have liked almost all of her earlier books and I’m a big fan of her switch to third person POV and readers getting the hero’s POV too. The only book of hers I haven’t read is The Next Best Thing – one I’d passed on because I was a bit icked out by the “marrying her brother-in-law” thing. However, after reading Sombody to Love, I think I might pick it up and give it a try anyway.

  2. Dani Alexander
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 04:51:42

    Lady Land is awesome HAHA. I have to say that, Dabney. AWESOME. Actually, this book sounds right up my alley when I’m feeling breezy. And I’ll get a few laughs from Thing One (I called my nieces Thing One and Thing Two when they were younger, until one became Cookie Monster and the other wanted to be Oscar). Great review!

  3. Dabney
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 06:29:44

    @Kaetrin: I like TNBT–Ethan’s great. And there’s a “reveal” in the book I think is brilliant.@Dani Alexander: It is a breezy read–it was just too light for me given the pain the characters were supposedly feeling. Maybe I should take on the reviewer name Oscar!

  4. Brie
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 06:56:52

    I liked this one better than her last book. I’m still not so sure about how I feel about her writing 3rd person multiple POVs, though, maybe I was so used to her old formula that it seems weird.

    I was surprised that I wasn’t more annoyed by Poor-Little-Rich-Girl Parker, perhaps because she had a job and was having many issues with it, which made her more relatable. Also, her little stories gone wrong were hilarious, especially the one about the shark. She was really mean to the hero, and behaved like a spoiled child she was. One thing that really bothered me was that she hated her father but didn’t have any qualms about using his money, talk about double standards. And then she gets mad at him for losing the money and leaving her homeless, but she’s a mother and she gave up the money she made from writing, rich or not, I would have kept some, even if it’s just a safe measure, think about the kid! However, I did like her, not my favorite heroine of hers, but good enough.

  5. Dabney
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 07:24:31

    @Brie: I really didn’t like the last book.

    Somehow, the Holy Rollers didn’t work for me. I also couldn’t believe, especially the second time around, she gave all her money away again. It symbolized for me how, in this book, Ms. Higgins had to make everyone do the very best thing. It took humanity away from her characters for me.

  6. Lada
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 08:38:32

    @Dabney: Good review Dabney and probably just how I’d end up feeling about this book. TNBT was the first book by Higgins I ever read and I liked it enough to give some of her others a try. I mostly find her heroines dingbats and much too sacharine. My One and Only was a DNF but I was looking forward to this one because I liked Parker from TNBT. She had an edge to her I appeciated but it ultimately sounds like she’s a typical Higgins character and I simply don’t relate to them.

    @Brie: I also wondered why she would remain so dependent on daddy’s money when she could obviously have supported herself and her child. Giving away the money feels manipulative, like we should buy into Parker being better than we wee mortals can ever hope of being.

  7. Sarah
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 08:39:16

    I have a problem with Higgins’ referring to the vagina with all kinds of cutesy names in all of her books. Drives me a bit bonkers. That being said, I really enjoyed this book. I am in complete accord that the conflict is incredibly smooth but for me, it just worked. I think I’ve gotten to a point where Higgins books all hold a certain, pleasant, sameness quality to them that I can just embrace it and go with it. She really has become fairly formulaic in all her romances lately (small town setting, cutesy, likable heroine, dog/cat, eccentric friends or relatives) but even given all that, I come back for more. These are comfort romances to me I guess.

  8. TKF
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 09:48:43

    This just sounds awful. As awful as The Marriage Bargain, but with the addition of being “cute” (which makes it so much worse). I always find myself wanting try Higgins, but then I read the review and realize that her books are pretty much the antithesis of what I like in a contemporary romance. Thanks for reminding me not to hit the buy button, since I’m soooooo clearly not the target audience.

  9. Janet
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 10:23:23

    Speaking of “A little familiar”
    Most awesomest girl ever (Rich Delightfully Quirky Harvard Grad Bestselling Author) totally humbled and then builds herself back up to an even higher level of awesome because now she has looooooooovvvvvveeee.

    Hasn’t Susan Elizabeth Phillips already written this book about umpteen times already? LOL

    And yet, I’ll probably buy it because Higgins usually puts me in happy for an hour or two.

  10. CDM
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 11:08:05

    This wasn’t one of my favorite Higgins books. I’ll admit she’s one of my “go-to” authors when I want a good read but this one? Not so much. The “Thing One” label made me laugh.Plus (for me) the label set up a perfect mind picture of her horrible father with a lackey on each side.

    What bothered me was how calmly Parker took losing everything…her money, the only home she’s ever known, her son’s money! Heck, even if she could accept her father stealing all HER money, there was no maternal outrage about her son’s trust being raided. It almost as though she accepted the upheaval with a shrug. I never “felt” any panic from her. I thought the book had a lot of “telling” of the story but not as much showing.

    I also didn’t like how everything wrapped up a little too neatly. How convenient there is a rich guy who will buy her flipped house for twice what she’s asking. Are you kidding? In this market? Silly. and her rich, spoiled mother seeing the error of ways (of marrying men for their money)…another sweet wrap-up I didn’t buy.

    I thought some of Parker’s outrageous ideas for books were hysterical. And the mouse up the leg of her jeans? laughed out loud.

    The book has it’s moments. The writing is strong. My problem is with the hero and her reaction of life. She needed more depth.

  11. LJD
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 14:20:41

    I’ve read four of Higgins’ books in the past year and a half or so, and enjoyed them quite a bit, although they start to feel the same after a while. I passed on “The Next Best Thing” and “Until There was You” though because I don’t want to read about someone who’s widowed…especially in the case where she ends up with her brother-in-law. Might check this one out. I have a reasonably good tolerance for sugar.

  12. Dabney
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 14:49:30

    @LJD: It was a fun read and I really do think she’s a good writer. And, in the case of TNBT, the brother-in-law thing isn’t icky at all. It is my favorite out of all her books.

  13. LJD
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 16:01:42

    All I can think about when I hear of that book is my widowed father marrying my aunt and….no. The squick factor of that scenario is just too large for me. Kind of kills the escapism I usually like about romance.

  14. Sarah Mayberry
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 18:51:53

    I will read this because I LOVED Ms. Higgins switch to 3rd person with the last book, and I love getting the hero’s POV. (That said, Just One Of the Guys is one of my all time fave comfort reads and is solidly first person.) I will say, though, that the poor little rich girl who gives away all her money drove me NUTS with the SEP book This Heart of Mine. So, you were rich, but you gave it all away so now you’re poor (like me, the reader, so I can totally relate to you!) and a struggling artist writing children’s books. You really are just like me (not). I have zero sympathy for anyone who gives away something (money!) that we all spend most of our lives eating shit sandwiches to acquire. Sorry. Rant over.

  15. Dabney
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 20:00:49

    @Janet: @Sarah Mayberry: I think it’s too much like Janet’s point. KH has Parker give up all her money in order to show us how morally pure she is even though it puts her child at risk (the second time).

  16. Emily
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 20:58:15

    I personally don’t like the way the women depicted in Higgins’s books. Most of her heroines in the books I have read do not seem like adults to me. They come off as spoiled children looking for someone to look after them. If Parker gives up her money in this one, I would see not it just as making her morally pure but also a need for her to depend on the hero. A need for the man to be the provider and care taker; a view point Ms. Higgins clearly promotes in her books. I am planning to read more of her stuff soon, but the gender dynamics and obnoxious heroines usually spoil the story for me and ruin her effect as a writer.

  17. Dabney
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 21:05:29

    @Emily: In this book, Parker never depends on the hero for money. She was uber-wealthy and made money on her own; then, when bankrupt, she again made money on her own. I don’t see this book as playing into typical male female roles other than James fixes things–physically–for her.

  18. lauren
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 23:29:12

    i have only read kristan higgins just one of the guuys that book was almost perfect 4 me s

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