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REVIEW: Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins

Note:   This is a two for one.   Janine read the book as well and her review follows Jayne’s.

Dear Ms. Higgins,

book reviewJane has done a wonderful review of this book which I will link to so I don’t have to recap the plot. Love it when I can do that ’cause I’m really lazy.

Though I enjoyed it, I think I read it too closely after “Catch of the Day.” So many things were similar – not conventionally pretty “30 some year old” heroine who is (desperately) trying to find Mr. Right right now and who goes through a series of unsuitable men before finding her perfect hero who is right under her nose. A family with long time married parents who are having marital trouble. Siblings who are happy and (usually) married. Small town New England setting. Heroine has a dog. Blue collar workers except for one sibling. Heroine mooning over her nieces and nephews. I felt like I was reading a slightly different version of the same book but would have reacted the same way had I read the books in reverse.

The firefighter, paramedic family Chastity comes from is great. This is a nice change from the high profile professionals who populate so many contemporaries. And as with the lobstermen of “Catch,” you show the ups and downs, the tight bonding among the fraternity as well as the price they pay for doing this work.

I’m kind of with Chastity on blood and gore. I would hope that if I’m ever in a situation to render aid, I wouldn’t faint but who knows. With her EMT training and ability to relate to people, maybe she could work in an ER as a patient advocate. Kudos to her for at least trying to overcome her fear.

Ryan is, of course, not the right man for Chastity. We all know that. But you don’t have him suddenly turn out to be a schmuck. The problems are there all along and, for some wouldn’t be problems at all. This is a nice change. Two stand out parts of this book are the facts that Chastity has the maturity to admit that this isn’t the right man for her and she goes to the one she loves and tells him what’s in her heart. As she says, at least she tried and was honest.

But even at the end of the book, Trevor is still somewhat of an unknown to me. We know about how wonderful a firefighter he is, how kind and decent he is, how angst ridden he is about not losing Chastity and over his dead sister he is but about the man himself? I need more. I tend to agree with the reviews that list him as a cypher

All the Lord of the Rings stuff got to be a bit much though at least Chastity isn’t a fanatical Tolkeinista. Elaina is such a fun person. I guess you use her marriage to Chastity’s brother Mark as another lesson in the pitfalls of marrying a fireman. But I agree with Janine that their reconciliation was a gloss over of their problems.

What’s with the basset hound on the cover? Could this dog be any more different from Buttercup?

I wasn’t sure where you were going to take Mike and Betty. To be honest, I kept thinking, “Nah, she won’t.” But then you did. Though a hard pill to swallow, it again shows the downside to marrying a fireman and adds that extra note of caution to Chastity’s ultimate relationship. Will she end up happier than her mother? At least she goes into her marriage with totally open eyes. What’s with Betty’s sudden culinary skills?

Chastity’s advice from Scorpy is too funny and the mistaken lesbian scene is hilarious. The Proposal Scene is a wonderful payoff, even if I still don’t know Trevor, and their wedding sounds like a blast.

If I had read this book first or with a year between it and “Catch,” my grade would undoubtedly be higher. And make no mistake, I enjoyed reading it even with all my nitpicking. I breezed through it but my advice would be for other readers to space your books apart. I second Jane in wishing that your first book was out in eformat. Are you listening Harlequin? C+/B-

~Jayne

***

Dear Ms. Higgins,

book reviewIn a post titled, “What is Wrong with the C Review?” Jane mentioned that she adored Just One of the Guys so much that she bought copies of the book for several friends. In the commenting on her post, I said that one person’s C is another’s keeper. Jane and my views on this book prove that point: Just One of the Guys, a C for me, was an A- for Jane.

Here’s the plot summary from Jane’s review:

Chastity is a good hearted soul. Yes, she’s a bit loud and a bit muscular but she comes from big loud stock and with four brothers, you have to speak up to be heard. It’s like life has conspired to keep Chastity single. She’s not a lithe young thing. She’s aggressive. Worse, she’s got four firefighter/rescue brothers and a dad who all could break a guy with a look. What she would really like is to settle down and have a family. She’s surrounded by happiness (except for her one brother’s marriage that fell apart when he cheated on his wife which happens to be Chastity’s best friend) and fecundity and she wants some of that for herself.

But the reality isn’t that everyone is happy. Her mother and father got divorced a few years ago after her mother got tired of being second fiddle to the firehouse. But their divorce has been completely amicable until her mother decides dating. Initially it seems that her mother is just trying to wave the jealousy bone in front of Chastity’s father but when her mother gets serious, questions about love, fulfillment and the happy ever after, don’t seem so concrete and understandable.

Chastity’s heart longs for Trevor Meade, her unofficial fifth brother, good friend, and one time, long long ago lover. But the short love affair ended with Trevor making sure that she understood that they were friends and that they both shouldn’t jeopardize their friendship. Chastity’s heart goes one way but her head goes another. She recognizes that Trevor doesn’t want her that way and so she finds Mr. Perfect, a trauma surgeon who is taller than her and finds her very attractive and one that wants a family. She even enjoys good sex with Mr. Perfect, but in the end, Chastity has to figure out whether being with someone, even if it isn’t the one you love, is better than being alone. Her mother faces the same decision because while she loves Chastity’s father, she’s tired of being the forgotten wife to the firehouse mistress.

I agree with Jane that the narrator’s voice is charming. Your writing style is wonderful and Chastity’s narration buoys the story. I also felt that the setting, a small town in the Adirondacks, was captured really well; there is good description and good dialogue, and the whole book benefits from the polished sheen of your words.

On the downside, though the book is labeled as a romance on the spine, it reads more like a cross between romance, chick lit and women’s fiction. The romantic plot takes a while to get going, and since I was expecting a romance, I was frustrated by that. I wasn’t really caught up in the story until over a hundred pages in. Before that, much of the book did not engage me, partly because I didn’t feel that Trevor had romantic feelings for Chastity in the present day.

As nice as it is to have the hero’s POV, I’m not one of those readers who feels it’s absolutely necessary. If the hero’s feelings are conveyed in his dialogue and his actions, a book can be just as romantic to me. But in this book, Trevor didn’t have much to say about how he felt for Chastity until quite late in the book, and his actions led me to wonder whether his feelings for her were serious.

It wasn’t until Trevor ran alongside Chastity during a race when she was trying to outrun her brother Mark, a scene that took place nearly a third of the way through the book, that I started to feel there might still be something there. I did become more involved in the story at that point, but even then, other things kept me from enjoying it too deeply.

One of the problems for me was that nearly all the characters’ behavior was often exaggerated for humor, to a point where they often stopped being believable, and I found this somewhat distancing. I like for humor to stem from the characters’ flaws and foibles, but without those flaws and foibles being so pronounced that the characters no longer seem real to me. I suspect this is a very difficult balance to strike, and that the point where the characters’ actions are too silly to be believable differs for each reader, so not every reader would have this problem. Several scenes in Just One of the Guys reminded me of sitcoms, which are generally not my cup of tea, but I do think readers who like sitcoms might enjoy them better than I did.

Another problem was a scene that really threw me. Chastity and Trevor both date other people, Ryan and Hayden respectively. I didn’t have a problem with that, or even that much of an issue with the fact that when Ryan and Hayden first met at Chastity’s mother’s house for dinner with the family, Chastity and Trevor spent the whole evening trying to make each other jealous with public displays of affection toward their dates.

No, the scene that threw me was on p.297, when Ryan is giving Chastity a bracelet in front of Trevor and Hayden shows up. Hayden then introduces herself to Ryan, and he says “Nice to meet you, Hayden,” as though they had never met before. I think I must have blinked several times when I read and reread that, trying to figure out if it was a continuity error or a bit of humor that went over my head. I came to the conclusion that it was an error, but it was a very strange moment.

I was also thrown by a scene in which Chastity’s dog Buttercup went into heat, since I would have preferred that some of the details of the physical effects this had on Buttercup be left to my imagination.

A bigger issue for me was the way a few subplots and even an important turning point in the main plot seemed glossed over. The most interesting characters in the book to me were Chastity’s brother Mark and his wife Elaina, so I felt deprived when their reconciliation took place offstage after their estrangement was shown in enough detail to make me care and want to follow the relationship.

Something similar happened with a subplot in which a mysterious someone played mean pranks on Chastity and she feared she was being stalked. When the identity of the prankster was revealed, I was never convinced that this person had sufficient motivation for hating Chastity enough to do all the things he or she did, and I was also frustrated that there was no follow-up — the prankster was neither punished for the cruel actions nor did he or she apologize.

Late in the story, Chastity does something that in my opinion is kind of wrong. Since I like flawed characters, I did not mind this in itself, but it did bother me that she didn’t give much thought to whether or not she should confess her actions. This, along with her determination to view one man as “the one” when he so clearly wasn’t the right person for her for so much of the story, and some other actions that made me feel she lacked self-knowledge, made me wonder if Chastity had really matured enough for the commitment she makes at the end of the book.

I wondered the same thing about Trevor, who had blown so many chances with the person he loved. When he finally professed his feelings, I didn’t completely buy it.

The resolution of the subplot about Chastity’s mom also made me wonder if this character, too, was ready for the commitment that she makes at the end of the book, and if she would be truly happy.

Some of the plot turns in the final quarter of the book were unexpected, and this did give me brief moments of delight, but ultimately so many of the characters seemed like they hadn’t grown up enough by the end of the book, and so many of the plots and subplots felt glossed over, that I wondered if this wasn’t simply a case of there being too many characters and subplots for the length of this book.

Three of my fellow reviewers here at Dear Author, Jane, Jayne and Janet/Robin, all liked this book enough to rate it higher than I did, and I wish I had enjoyed it as much. While there were amusing moments in Just One of the Guys, and the writing was much above average, on the whole I was left dissatisfied. C for Just One of the Guys.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

11 Comments

  1. Darlynne
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 11:30:44

    After reading “Fools Rush In,” I wasn’t inclined at all to read “Just One of the Guys,” which would have been a mistake on my part as I enjoyed this book so much more.

    Where I struggled with both of them is the heroines’ obsession with the idea that “he’s so good-looking, he must be perfect and he must be for me.” Millie from “Fools” in particular was an intelligent woman who, IMO, tossed her brains out the window in pursuit of something that didn’t exist; that and her completely adolescent behavior over a boy she knew in high school made me want to strangle her.

    Chastity was made of sterner stuff and I liked her a great deal. Her path towards recognizing that Ryan wasn’t right for her was believable and the heartbreak of Betty and Mike had me holding my breath.

    One of the problems for me was that nearly all the characters' behavior was often exaggerated for humor, to a point where they often stopped being believable, and I found this somewhat distancing.

    I have to agree with Janine’s review about this point. For example, the humor around the family dinner table, something that flowed naturally from the conversations taking place at the time, was terrific. Chastity’s thoughts as she’s choking in the opening scene, however, felt forced and unnatural; funny for the sake of funny, not funny in itself. Anyone who has choked for real knows you wouldn’t be joking about the garlic and parsley on the mushroom that could kill you.

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  2. Bev Stephans
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 11:54:28

    After reading “Catch of the Day”, I expected great things from ‘Guys”. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I felt Chastity deserved better than Trevor. The man just didn’t resonate with me. This won’t stop me from reading the next Kristan Higgins book, as I love her voice. My mark for ‘Guys’ would fall somewhere between Jayne and Janine’s.

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  3. Claudia
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 13:27:48

    This book got me so excited about Higgins, but Chastity proved to be more than enough of the Higgins heroine archetype for me.

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  4. Rose W.
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 20:11:28

    I liked “Just One of the Guys” more than “Catch of the Day”. With “Catch of the Day” I like her dog more than the guy. I thought Trevor was adorable and I can understand that if you lost your family at a young age you would be reluctant to lose your adopted family as well.

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  5. Janine
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 22:49:56

    I can understand that if you lost your family at a young age you would be reluctant to lose your adopted family as well.

    SPOILER

    I can understand that too and I thought that was Trevor’s motive up until he said it wasn’t, and that Chastity was wrong about his being afraid to lose her family — it was her he was afraid to lose and therefore didn’t want a romantic relationship with. At that point, he lost some of my sympathy.

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  6. Stephanie
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 13:48:08

    I adored this book and it was hard for me to put it down. I agree that it was much more “women’s fiction” than a straight romance though, although (spoiler) we do get the HEA ending. (end spoiler) I loved this book so much that it actually really bums me out you didn’t like it more- a silly attitude but I guess I just really connected with this one.

    I loved the characters and honestly don’t see how their behaviors were exaggerated at all. I know many people (most from large families) that reminded me very much of the ones in “Just One of the Guys” and I can’t think of anyone ridiculous of unbelievable. I enjoyed this book, loved the heroine and the humor. Being an only child that lives away from her relatives I have a thing for books about big families, and this is one of my new favorites. I have the rest of Higgins novels in my TBR and can’t wait to get to them.

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  7. Janine
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 19:17:58

    I adored this book and it was hard for me to put it down. I agree that it was much more “women's fiction” than a straight romance though, although (spoiler) we do get the HEA ending. (end spoiler) I loved this book so much that it actually really bums me out you didn't like it more- a silly attitude but I guess I just really connected with this one.

    Jane loved the book and recommended it, and I think Robin also posted in the thread with Jane’s review that she read it and loved it as well. So that’s at least two reviewers here who have said they loved the book. Believe me, it bums me out that I didn’t like it more, too — especially since I purchased it with high hopes after reading Jane’s review. But we can’t all like the same books and the world would be less interesting if we did.

    I loved the characters and honestly don't see how their behaviors were exaggerated at all. I know many people (most from large families) that reminded me very much of the ones in “Just One of the Guys” and I can't think of anyone ridiculous of unbelievable.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say ridiculous, but some of the behaviors did not seem realistic to me. For example: Chastity naming her drink Scorpy. I just don’t know very many people who give their beverages pet names. I felt similarly about the way Sarah and Tara said “We brought dessert!” in unison at the end of the first family dinner scene. It was amusing, but also seemed artificial to me. People don’t chorus like that very often.

    Or for another example: Chastity’s parents being divorced but still maintaining a romantic relationship (including sex, and not dating anyone else) for years afterward. It’s as if the divorce didn’t cause any bad feelings between them. I don’t know one divorced couple like this.

    I enjoyed this book, loved the heroine and the humor. Being an only child that lives away from her relatives I have a thing for books about big families, and this is one of my new favorites. I have the rest of Higgins novels in my TBR and can't wait to get to them.

    I’m really glad you enjoyed it, Stephanie.

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  8. Robin
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 20:01:31

    For example: Chastity naming her drink Scorpy. I just don't know very many people who give their beverages pet names.

    Now see, that came across as entirely realistic to me, lol.

    It’s interesting to read your response to Chastity’s assumptions regarding Trevor’s fear of losing her family. When the truth about that comes out, I thought it was a nice twist that also made sense to me. That the family continues to embrace Chastity’s sister in law, despite her separation from Chastity’s brother convinced me that Trevor could reasonably believe that his real loss would be Chastity’s friendship rather than her family.

    OTOH, I agree with Jayne’s assessment that Trevor is a bit too remote as a character and I agree with both of you that the end feels rushed. The book just seemed to drop off a cliff, and that was my one big disappointment. Yeah, Ryan could have been more nuanced, and it’s a good thing I didn’t catch the glitch you did, Janine, and the epilogue was sappy (AND it made no medical sense in terms of the time frame). But there was enough freshness in the book, enough of a heroine who bears no resemblance to myself but had a compelling voice, nonetheless, that I had a happy experience reading this book. That I laughed out loud numerous times was one of its biggest virtues, actually.

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  9. Janine
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 20:28:59

    It's interesting to read your response to Chastity's assumptions regarding Trevor's fear of losing her family. When the truth about that comes out, I thought it was a nice twist that also made sense to me. That the family continues to embrace Chastity's sister in law, despite her separation from Chastity's brother convinced me that Trevor could reasonably believe that his real loss would be Chastity's friendship rather than her family.

    I think it would have been more compelling to me as a reason not to pursue a romantic relationship if Trevor and Chastity had a great, ongoing friendship. But it seemed to me that in between sleeping together in college and Chastity’s move back to Eaton Falls, they didn’t have that much of a relationship. I had the sense that they lived far apart and except for family get togethers like weddings and holidays, avoided each other. I may be wrong about that, but this was the sense I had, partly based on the way they behaved around each other in the beginning of the book and on the one flashback, and probably also partly based on my private conviction that when a couple is truly attracted and in love, as they were in college, there’s really no way for them to keep a romantic relationship from forming other than to avoid each other.

    Because I felt they didn’t have that much of a friendship going, I also didn’t feel Trevor had that much to lose in the realm of a friendship with Chastity. His unwillingness to risk the little they had seemed like an insufficent reason to me, and I wasn’t impressed with him because of that. When I had thought he was afraid to lose Chastity’s family, that seemed like a more substantial thing to lose, given that he actually had a close relationship with them.

    OTOH, I agree with Jayne's assessment that Trevor is a bit too remote as a character and I agree with both of you that the end feels rushed.

    Me too. What did you think of Mark and Elaina? After the scene where Mark broke down, I was so disappointed not to get more of them than we did.

    Yeah, Ryan could have been more nuanced

    Absolutely. It also bothered me that the impressions that went with the adjective-and-name combinations Chastity gave to people she barely knew (like “Slutty Waitress” and “Perfect Hayden”) were never refuted in any way in the text. I was especially disappointed that Hayden turned out to be as unlikable as Chastity imagined her to be since I had hoped that would prove to be a blind spot of Chastity’s and that the character of Hayden would turn out to have other dimensions.

    But there was enough freshness in the book, enough of a heroine who bears no resemblance to myself but had a compelling voice, nonetheless, that I had a happy experience reading this book. That I laughed out loud numerous times was one of its biggest virtues, actually.

    I agree there was some freshness and a compelling voice. If I had been more invested in the characters and their story, it could have been a great read for me too. But what I saw as exaggeration for humorous effect made it hard for me to relate to them. I did laugh out loud a few times, but probably not as much as you did.

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  10. Robin
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 20:54:39

    After the scene where Mark broke down, I was so disappointed not to get more of them than we did.

    I was thinking maybe they’d get a book of their own, lol. But even if they don’t I’m okay with what I got because I feel I saw enough of both characters to see them as okay together. And because I never saw them together as a couple until the very end, I didn’t feel deprived in having their reconciliation happen off page, if that makes sense. Plus, I was impressed that Higgins actually wrote a guy whose anger is NOT okay (unlike so many other males in Romance), so I probably gave more slack there than I might otherwise.

    I wonder about Hayden, actually. I never felt we saw her outside of Chastity’s pov, so I didn’t think of her as an independent character. That is, I could still see her as different if I saw her from someone else’s pov, sort of like how Emily Giffin did the pov switch in Something Borrowed and Something Blue.

    As for Trevor and Chastity, I agree that with her just moving back, that the two of them had spent time apart, but I also think that Trevor’s very intentional visit to Chastity to tell her he was engaged to Hayden when she was away spoke of the strong emotional bond between them. Do I wish we had gotten 20 more pages of relationship development between Chastity and Trevor? Absolutely. But I didn’t feel the same sense of estrangement that you did, I’m thinking.

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  11. Janine
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 21:09:52

    Re. Mark and Elaina, I also liked the way Mark’s anger was portrayed. But for me, the feelings between them seemed so potent from the beginning that I did feel invested in the development of that relationship. If they get a book of their own, I might read it, because I liked Elaina better than Chastity.

    For some reason this also reminds me that I never understood why Chastity’s brothers were named after the gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) when the family did not seem particularly religious. Like their parents’ marital status, it seemed a little gimmicky to me.

    Re. Hayden, I was feeling the same way you did up until the last scene she appeared in, when she told Chastity to stop guilt-tripping Trevor all the time and that her “mooning over him” was “really getting pathetic.” It’s hard for me to interpret Hayden as a person I should feel some sympathy for when no good qualities are shown as a counterbalance. With the Giffin books, even in Something Borrowed I felt that Darcy had a good point or two, like charm.

    I do agree with you that Trevor telling Chastity about his engagement showed there were still feelings there, but I saw them as romantic feelings rather than feelings of platonic friendship, so I couldn’t help but feel that if Trevor had a little more courage, he and Chastity could have had many more years of happiness together. I didn’t feel he was gaining much by trying to keep things platonic. Particularly when his remoteness is taken into account, it made me wonder if he, like Chastity and her mom, was ready for marriage. I don’t know if 20 pages could have fixed it for me, but maybe 50 would have done the trick.

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