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REVIEW: The Best Man by Kristan Higgins

Dear Ms. Higgans:

When I was growing up, I always got these annoying reports cards that said “Dabney could try harder.” Well, Ms Higgans, so can you. The Best Man isn’t an awful book–in fact I had fun reading it.But this novel has far too many pitfalls. It’s condescending to gays, full of unbelievable emotional choices, overly wedded–pun intended–to the excessive elevation of marriage as the goal of true love, and shamelessly milks the pain a child feels at a parent’s death. (Don’t even get me started on the cheap shot it takes at transexuals everywhere.) It also comes across as a bit sloppy–it contradicts itself, drops major plotlines, and its characters veer from persona to persona. Honestly, I wish I’d hated The Best Man on principle alone.

The Best Man by Kristan HigginsBut I didn’t. I found parts of it so amusing that the part of me that just wants to laugh and have mindless fun really liked this book. Reading it made me feel bi-polar.

In The Best Man, our just about a virgin heroine, Faith Holland, still hasn’t recovered from finding out on her wedding day that her long time beau Jeremy was gay. It was kinda news to Jeremy too. He’d been so sure he couldn’t be gay although whenever he and Faith had the rare sex they did he had to imagine Justin Timberlake doing his thing in his killer music video “Rock Your Body.” (I didn’t find this funny.) The one person who was sure Jeremy is gay is his unlikely best friend, Levi Cooper. Levi, Faith and Jeremy have all known each other since high school and since the moment Levi met Jeremy he thought “Gay.” Levi had tried for years to get Jeremy to come out of closet, but Jeremy just couldn’t until, on Jeremy’s wedding day, as he’s standing at the altar with Faith, Levi pushes the issue. Jeremy dumps Faith, and, years later, Faith still hasn’t had a relationship with another man.

The day Jeremy dumped her, Faith fled to San Francisco, leaving behind the picturesque New York town of Manningsport. There, Faith picks unsuitable man after unsuitable man. Two are gay–one with a Barbra poster–, one’s a dealer, one’s married, and Faith who is remarkably inept at searching the internet, gets just enough involved with each guy to realize she’s yet again made a poor choice.

Faith has just wrapped up a disastrous date when her sister Honor calls and tells Faith she needs to come home stat because their long widowed father is being bamboozled by a big boobed, tackily dressed gold digger named Lorena. So, Faith returns to Manningsport which is, for a tiny town, a hopping’ place. There’s Faith’s family, the Hollands–most of what I found funny in the book centered on their stories–, Levi who is now the chief of police, Levi’s sister Sarah, Levi’s ex-girlfriend Jessica, Faith’s best friend Colleen, Jeremy, and a bunch of cute other small town folk.

And though it’s been almost four years since Faith’s non-wedding, it’s still an exceedingly popular topic of conversation. Everyone discusses Faith and Jeremy and, man does it get dull. I wanted to town and Faith to have moved on years ago. YOLO dudes!

There are so many plot lines going on in this book that to cover even the major ones would require even more verbiage than even I can generate. So, I’ll focus on three main ones: Faith’s mother’s death and Faith’s guilt about having caused it, Faith’s and Levi’s long simmering jones for each other, and, by far my favorite, Faith’s oldest sister Prudence’s relationship with her husband Carl.

The first plot line is awful. Faith has epilepsy–I give Ms. Higgans a few brownie points for that–and, when she was twelve, her mother and Faith were in a terrible car crash, her mom died and Faith blames herself. I hated everything about this story including the resolution. It was sappy, manipulative, unbelievable and just bad.

The second plot line–the romance–has its moments. Levi and Faith are an opposites attract couple and Ms. Higgans does a reasonable job of making their interest in each other seem believable. The two share many funny moments and the attraction between them is palpable. I liked their chemistry although Levi is portrayed as such an utter hottie it’s a little hard to see why a) Faith never fell for hotties before but has now and b) why Levi is so attracted to her (I think a lot of it is her “great rack” which is mentioned incessantly.) I liked their story until it got crazy in the last quarter of the book. Sadly, by the time Faith and Levi found their HEA in a frozen wine orchard in the middle of the night, I wanted Levi to end up with his old girl-friend Jessica who seemed so much less absurd work than Faith.

The third plot line cracked me up. Pru and Carl married young and now have a 22-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter. They love each other but lately Carl is driving Pru batty with his constant efforts to spice up their marriage. (Dress up like a Vulcan, baby. It makes me hot!) Their relationship felt so real to me but perhaps I was projecting. I will say the funniest lines I’ve read in a book in a long time come about when Pru is trying to sext Carl about what color panties she’s wearing. It’s making me laugh again right now.

These three stories are mixed in with so many other relationships, rivalries, childhoods, descriptions of wines, really, the list goes on and on. Many of these stories are either t00 minimally explored–Jeremy’s relational life post-Faith–or dropped completely–Honor’s New York man. The book churns out emotions, drama, tragedy, and giggles at a breakneck pace. It is, I admit, entertaining. It is not, however, well-done.

The Best Man isn’t a very good book. With editing, less condescension, and far less contrivance, it could have been a pretty good book. As it is, I give it a C.

Still smiling, though, about that awkward text,

 

Dabney

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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.

27 Comments

  1. Willa
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 09:02:00

    Amusing and informative review – except for your cheap shot at mental illness

    Reading it made me feel bi-polar.

    It is a dreadful illness that afflicts people and leaves family and the sufferer often isolated and faced with a lifetime on meds – which may help the condition but don’t cure it.

    Comparing it to the confusion of reading a poorly constructed book is flippant and unfair.

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  2. LJD
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 09:17:10

    Faith, Honor, and Prudence. Really?

    I’ve been on the fence about whether to read this one.

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  3. Dabney
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 09:23:03

    @Willa: That’s a totally fair criticism. I’ll think twice about using that word again in any non-serious context. Thanks.

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  4. Jane
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 09:26:13

    Higgins books have become more regressive as the years have marched on, as if with each exploration of love and romance she becomes more deeply embedded in perpetuating a socially conservative agenda. The transphobic SHE MALE insults, the use of gays as comic relief, all wrapped around a woman’s relentless desire to be married. Or at least coupled.

    The fact that she dresses all of this up in contemporary kitsch doesn’t really obviate the unfortunate overtones in her stories. I think my disappointment in Higgins books come primarily from my own early expectations of her. Maybe she hasn’t changed; maybe it’s me, the reader, who has moved on.

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  5. mari
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:05:08

    I have to admit its very strange to read comments and reviews about the romance genre that complain about an excessive focus on marriage. And its meant as a criticism of a romance book. As if the reader of a romance is not supposed to want the two people involved to get married.Or the characters involved are somewhat lesser or boring if this is what they want out of life. Uhmmm..you folks get this is a romance, right? Two people ending up together forver, is kind of the main point. This is one of main life goals for many characters, real and imagined. I don’t think it makes them boring or wrong. It makes them realistic. Unless the author is lousy, in which case transgendered demon princes would be boring too.

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  6. Carrie G
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:05:51

    Great review, Dabney. Kristen Higgins has always been hit or miss with me. I’m uncomfortable with her use of embarrassment for humor and her often ultra-needy heroines. I also have never liked reading about manipulative or interfering friends and family, although Higgins is not alone in using that devise in her writing. At the same time, Higgins can make me laugh and cry, and several of her books have ended up being favorites of mine. Fools Rush in is still a book I think about and have read twice. I also enjoyed Too Good to be True. Unlike most people, I felt Catch of the Day had too many problems and felt bored with Just One of the Guys.

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  7. Carrie G
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:09:42

    @mari: I think there is a difference between seeing a couple get their HEA and having a heroine (and a full complement of family and townspeople) who feel like she’s a failure if she doesn’t get married or at the very least is finally “dating someone.” In too many contemporary romances you get the feeling that the heroine is being judged by friends and family if she isn’t in a relationship, and that focusing on a career is somehow secondary to getting married right now. Of course romances are focused on finding love, but there are many paths to that and the idea that a woman isn’t whole or happy until she’s married is somewhat outdated.

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  8. Dabney
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:10:30

    It’s not clear to me that valuing marriage and children is necessarily a part of a socially conservative agenda. It becomes more so when one limits the idea of marriage to heterosexuals, but, in and of itself, I think it can be part of a socially liberal agenda as well. If it’s presented as the only valid outcome, here again, then it is limiting.

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  9. Dabney
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:16:06

    @Carrie G: Absolutely agree.

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  10. Ridley
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:35:07

    @mari:

    I have to admit its very strange to read comments and reviews about the romance genre that complain about an excessive focus on marriage.

    Well, if “I’m frustrated that the heroine’s only purpose in life is to get married” reads the same to you as “I’m frustrated that the book talks so much about marriage,” I suppose it would seem a strange complaint to lodge against a romance novel.

    @Dabney:

    Faith has epilepsy–I give Ms. Higgans a few brownie points for that–

    Why give kudos for including epilepsy when in your next sentence you reveal how it’s just an ableist prop? That’s like saluting a producer for including black people in his action movie, even though they were tokens that got red-shirted.

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  11. Kati
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:42:48

    My first Kristan Higgins book was Just One of the Guys. I find quite consistently with readers that their favorite Higgins is almost always their first. While I’ve found them often unobjectionable reads, my issue with her writing is that she delays the “I love you” to the last possible moment, so the hero/heroine say “I love you” and the book ends. In that aspect her books always feel like old skool 80′s romances where the I love you is in the last three pages of the book.

    I’ve drifted away from her books because they don’t really work for me any more, although she does have an undeniable ability to make me chuckle at least once when I do give one a try. This one sounds like a miss to me. Thanks for the review, Dabney!

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  12. Jane
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:51:52

    Socially conservative = using others as props for the heterosexual coupling as well as the female’s sole opportunity for happiness as wife and mother as well as the female making the sacrifices to achieve that opportunity rather than the male. Her books seem to hyper value male patriarchal values.

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  13. LauraB
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 11:55:29

    @Kati: I agree… After “Just One of the Guys,” I have found her books repetitive and boring… recycling the same drama and jokes. It’s a shame, b/c the voice was so fresh at one time.

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  14. [email protected]
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:49:00

    It’s a shame that both Kristan Higgans and Susan Mallery “Three Little Words” are using the; ‘my ex was a homosexual–someone please find me a straight dick to sit on,’ as a plot device to make the reader feel sorry for them. I loved Lori Foster’s Edge of Honor series and how she portrayed Chris. And Brenda Novak’s Whiskey Creek series has this most lovable character named Noah. They’ve shown gays in a great way. Even Higgans title in this book, The Best Man, implies that gays are less than best, less than man. Very sad.

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  15. Dabney
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:56:39

  16. Ridley
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:04:55

  17. jennifer
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:12:43

    @mari: I think the problem is that Higgin’s heroines tend to spend a lot of time complaining/worrying about their lack 0f marital prospects/situation…it’s the romance equivalent of a cooking show in which someone is complaining about how hungry they are rather than seeing the food made.

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  18. LJD
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:33:34

    @Kati:

    That was the case for me, too. The first book of hers that I read was All I Ever Wanted. And it’s my favorite of the five I’ve read.

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  19. willaful
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 18:02:22

    The underwear line was my favorite in the book as well.

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  20. Kaetrin
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 18:44:39

    I’m in the midst of reading it, but I put it aside for a little while to read other books (always a bad sign). I’m uncomfortable with the condescension to homosexuals so far and I know there’s the transphobic comment coming up which I’m not looking forward to. But… I think I will get back to it in a little bit because I did read some excerpts of Faith and Levi together which looked fun to me. I usually like Higgins and have enjoyed many of her books. I don’t get quite so bothered by the “her whole purpose in life is to get married” thing – perhaps because there was a time when I felt quite similarly about myself. I get why others don’t like it and it’s not my very favourite but it doesn’t bother me either. I have enjoyed Higgins’ move to third person and getting the hero POV.

    I expect this book will be a bit hit and miss for me as well. I do expect to finish it at some point however.

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  21. Lorelai
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 20:32:58

    Kristan Higgins is an author I’ve tried to like but more often than not, her books are a huge miss for me. I looked back through my GoodReads ratings of her books and of the eight books I’ve read (see? I’ve kept on trying her!), two I really liked, three were so-so, two I HATED (I’m looking at you, “Fools Rush In”), and one I couldn’t even remember reading. My problem with Higgins is usually her heroines. Most of the time, I find them to be incredibly annoying and I find myself cringing at some of the things they do – Fools Rush In being the book that comes to mind. This book sounds like one I would have definite issues with so I think I’ll probably skip it.

    With all that said, the plot of The Best Man sounds incredibly familiar and I’m almost positive I’ve read a book with a similar plot before, where the heroine’s ex turns out to be gay and therefore she has some emotional baggage from that. Ugh. I hate it when I can’t remember books I’ve read before…

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  22. Emily A.
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 22:40:53

    In both Kristan Higgins’s books I have read, I hate the way her heroines jump to conclusions that anyone even a little socially awkward has autism. That’s a serious diagnosis used at the drop of a hat. I feel bad for both people who have autism and the rest of us for making human mistakes about misreading other people’s social cues. The two books were the one with the white dress and All I Ever Wanted.

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  23. Carrie G
    Feb 27, 2013 @ 12:12:33

    @Lorelai: One book with a gay ex is The Kept Woman by Susan Donovan. I liked it when I first read it, but on re-reading it later it made me uncomfortable on many levels.

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  24. Katie
    Feb 27, 2013 @ 13:45:55

    @Willa:

    I totally disagree. I think using bi-polar in this context normalizes something that it usually stigmatized. The more people talk about it, the more likely they are to understand that people with mental health issues are just people. I personally have OCD and I like that people use it to describe any type A behaviour. Clearly wanting your house tidy is not really OCD, but saying it is, draws attention to the disorder and hopefully leads to understanding and acceptance. Just my two cents.

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  25. willaful
    Feb 27, 2013 @ 13:58:18

    There are many, many books with gay exes. I think this one is better than most in that the ex doesn’t just disappear after the big reveal; the relationship between them is obviously important to both.

    The most offensive aspect of the book, to me, was the humor at the expense of a trans person.

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  26. Alex / AnimeGirl
    Mar 02, 2013 @ 14:11:04

    I read and reviewed this one last year and like you I thought the book wasn’t bad, it just had so much going on and not all of it made sense. There were at least five or six subplots that I could count and none of it added much to what was supposed to be the main story.

    I hated that Faith was so mad at Levi when it was Jeremy who lead her on and dumped her. The ending was just ridiculous, and why I give props to Ms Higgins because Faith had epilepsy, well… it was a sort of condensed version of epilepsy to be honest.

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  27. leslie
    Mar 06, 2013 @ 19:04:14

    I just finished the first chapter of The Best Man and I don’t know if I’ll bother to read more. Higgins’ editor should have suggested a different kind of introduction to Faith. The first chapter should never have been the first chapter. The gay boyfriend list and the restaurant scenario were just stupid and inappropiate. What an awful intro, right off the bat Faith seems TSTL.

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