REVIEW: In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins
Dear Ms. Higgins:
Ok, I admit it, any book that begins with a strong heroine almost getting to use her Taser automatically has an edge with me. Add in the fact that the female protagonist is in law enforcement, is a firm believer in the use and abuse of common sense, and loves dogs? I’m hooked. I’m right there with you. It’s all the best parts of contemporary romance wrapped up in a neat little package.
Emmaline Neal is a small town girl living and working as a deputy in the tiny New York hamlet where she spent her high school – and happiest years. Jack Holland is a multi-generational vintner and has always been the town’s golden boy, but that reputation skyrockets when he saves some of the town’s teen boys from drowning in a freezing lake on a cold winter’s night. For years, they’ve orbited each other, moving in the same social circle, but never moving together. Well, until Em gets the invitation for her former fiance’s wedding.
Em needs a date – fast. And Jack wants out of the limelight – and away from the ex-wife from hell. It’s a match made in heaven – right?
With wit and some surprising passion, you managed to make me fall in love with both characters. Not only did I want to BE Em, I wanted to hug her. I wanted to beat her ex about the head and shoulders with his own stupidity (though, to say that he got what was coming to him is putting it SO mildly. I somehow got the sneaking suspicion that you’re not a Jillian Michaels fan). I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that you let us into Em’s head and let us feel right along with both her and Jack as they took their literal and metaphorical journeys.
And that brings me to the part of the book that absolutely blew me away and made me fall in love with your writing all over again. When you took me deep into Jack’s psyche and introduced me to the ghosts that haunted this gorgeous, intelligent, amazing man – I broke, just a little. You handled his psychological journey with compassion and an amazing amount of wisdom. The fact that Jack was able to save all but one of the boys (though that one was still alive, just in a coma) made what he did seem more realistic. Anyone in the first responder field – from law enforcement to EMS to firefighters – has learned the hardest lesson of all: Not everyone will come out of a traumatic event and make a quick recovery. And the second hardest lesson is that every time a first responder works a traumatic call, they leave a little piece of themselves behind. I’ve found that some romance authors have a difficult time with balancing an accurate portrayal of human response to crisis situations with the romantic storyline. You handled this with such poise and dignity, I wanted to grab a hundred copies of the book and hand them out to everyone I know, yelling “THIS! Someone did it right!”
Now, lest you think everything is 100% positive… I have to take just a couple points off for The Bitter Betrayed Book Club and Em’s wishy-washiness. While I love the idea of the Bitter Betrayeds, the ladies came across as a little too stereotypical, a little too bitter and just a touch too…much overall. And Em, while generally strong, really seemed to struggle a little too much over her fiance’s defection. Of course, the way he did it, I’m not surprised she had issues. But she just seemed too waffle-ish for me, especially about her appearance. Some might say she had good reason, but on the other hand, at some point, a woman just has to suck it up and love herself for who she is.
Overall? I loved the book. The wedding from hell was…wow. I’ve heard of destination and theme weddings before, but forcing guests to stay at an all-vegan, all-healthy, super-high-energy-workout resort? Well, let’s just say that Dante called. He’s adding another circle just for the resorts where Snickers bars make the staff go into Richard Simmons’ paroxysms of panic. A-
Still Shuddering over the Brown Rice Cake with Prunes,
Yes!!!! I am so ready for a good book.
Oh man. There’s a new Kristan Higgins? There goes tonight’s work plans…
I have never understood the “I have to have a date for the wedding” trope. So many books use it and I really don’t get the urgency. Mind you, a friend travelled ( from the UK) to Miami to be a guest at a wedding and the immigration officers seemed to find it next to impossible that she should attend a wedding ALONE. Perhaps it is one of those US things I just need to accept.
Why on earth would she a.) be invited to, and b.) feel obligated to attend, the wedding of her ex-fiance?
I’ve seen this as a plot point in several romance novels and it always feels ridiculous and contrived to me.
@Lozza: Totally agree. The invitation feels like rubbing her nose in it. And the acceptance is incomprehensible unless he’s marrying her sister.
Oh God, don’t get me started on the “my ex is marrying my sister!” books. :)
@HelenB: I’m an American and I also struggle with understanding this trope. I think having a date to a wedding is more important in American pop culture than it is in American reality – or at least that’s the case in my experience. The US is a big country and I tend to not move in the most conventional circles, so maybe it’s a bigger deal some places – but I’ve attended weddings all over the Midwest and I don’t remember anybody caring if I had a date or not, or if anyone else had a date. There was one wedding I went to in my late 20s where it kind of bothered ME that I didn’t have a date (or at least a boyfriend at home to casually refer to), but that was much more about me than anything else. As I recall, no one else seemed to care that I came alone, and I had a great time partying with my friends.
I stopped reading Higgins a few books ago. Her heroines are always desperately in search of a man to save them from the dreaded fate of spinsterhood. Does this heroine have a little more independence and/or self-respect?
Yeah, the date to a wedding thing always seemed such a RomCom or RomNovel thing moresoe than a real life thing.
If I am going to a casual friend’s wedding where I might not know anyone else, I need to have a plus 1. Not a guy or a date, necessarily but usually a drinking buddy. An Owen Wilson to my Vince Vaughn as it were.
In the 90s where it seemed like every person I ever knew in college or high school was getting married, i usually dragged my cousin Gavin along. He was the best wedding wingman ever.
I’m going to try to get to everyone’s questions/comments in ONE marathon post! :) First, though, thank you all so much for the comments! I have to admit – it does my reviewer’s heart good to see discussion started!
Regarding date to the wedding – In this case, if I remember correctly, the reason Em wanted a date / companion for the wedding (I probably misused “date” here – she really just wanted someone to go with so she wouldn’t be alone and subject to her high-achieving parents’ criticism about her lack of partner and/or age – another trope I’m not overly fond of, but more on that later). It was a destination wedding, out of state. And while Em knew a couple of the people there (her friends from home), they were all involved in the wedding, itself. And speaking from personal experience, it felt strange to me when I went alone to a friend’s wedding on the opposite coast. While it was a large wedding, I was one of two of the groom’s friends who were able to make it. For some very odd reason, American brides seem to feel the need to ensure that guests who are alone are entertained by either other singles, the crazy relatives, or bridesmaids-in-disgrace (two of the three were at my table at the reception). On one hand, I can kind of see the thought process behind a bride wanting to be a good hostess for one of the most important (to her) parties she’ll ever throw. On the other hand, presumably, if someone is an adult and invited to an event where they don’t know many people, said adult is able to entertain themselves and make small talk with others. However, I only have experience with throwing one wedding (my own), and it was a comedy of errors that would make even the most absurd rom-com plot look normal (everything from losing one groomsman to house arrest, another one to a middle ear infection two days before the wedding, my aunt and grandmother hijacking the balloons on my mother’s orders, the bridesmaids coming in, in tears, to tell me the groom-to-be was nowhere to be found… And those are just the NORMAL parts of the wedding!).
With regards to the acceptance of the invitation by Em – from my read of the book (no pun intended), it felt as though Em was looking for the closure she didn’t get when the relationship ended. Add in to that, her parents and sister were going to be in attendance, and her presence was maternally mandated. Why anyone would choose to do that to their own child is beyond me, but this is why I’m not a novelist (ok, one of the reasons. A singular lack of talent is probably the more germane!)
@SusanS – In this case, it didn’t feel to me like Em was desperate for a man to save her from being alone. She was mostly happy with her friends and community, had a satisfying career that fulfilled her, and a German Shepherd puppy with a fondness for nachos. There was a little bit of the “you know, sometimes I get a little lonely,” but there wasn’t the desperate drive to find a man to make her life complete.
Again, thank you all so much for the comments! I DO have one question for you all, though, based on what I’ve read in this thread – Do you have any humorous (in retrospect or otherwise) stories of Wedding Happenings? Something you look back on and smile about – and wish that, one day, an author might describe a similar situation? How about the situations too absurd to be anything but real?
My son’s wedding was a comedy of errors; I commented to my partner several times that I felt like I was in a romance novel that some readers would say that wasn’t believable. Bride’s mother slips in the shower and needs stitches, bride herself is in a car accident on her way to get her hair done, pieces of various rented formal wear are the wrong size/color or missing altogether, people who should not drink are doing shots before the ceremony — and all that against a backdrop of blended family acrimony with potential for high drama, some of which was realized. And to top it off, due to a paperwork snafu, it wasn’t even a legal marriage!
I gave up on Higgins because her heroines in a couple of books made choices that I thought were weak and overly self-sacrificing, and because it felt like all previous relationships had to be demonized in order for “one true love” to feel real. Not sure I want to try again, but I appreciate this review.
@Mary Kate: Not my (nonexistant) wedding but a friend’s. She and her sister were playing field hockey on the morning of the wedding day. Sister got quite badly hurt and had to go to hospital. Friend went with her. Stuck in the ER until about an hour before the wedding. Anyway, friend didn’t have time to shower – so under her beautiful white wedding gown, her legs were still covered in mud from the hockey game…
@SonomaLass: Yes, on Kristian Higgins’s heroines. Reading past books, I’ve felt like the heroine gives everything to the hero…who doesn’t do all that much to earn the devotion. It was frustrating reading for me.
I too hate the date to the wedding trope. I’ve been to several weddings solo, and it’s been fine. It can be fun to get to know the people around you. There’s also a weird sort of solidarity, I’ve found, that develops at wedding tables at the reception. You’re forced to get to know each other, and it creates an interesting, short-lived intimacy between you and a bunch of strangers. I do kind of like that part.
As for my own wedding… We had a PSYCHO wedding planner. It was only a wedding of about 20 people; but this woman was /incredibly/ high strung. She had all these perceived slights and injuries, which made no sense (one of the major issues was that she felt like we were cheating her because we used free family connections for catering and music, rather than her recommendations and she wasn’t getting any financial kickbacks). If you talked to her in a tone that she perceived as anything but pleasantly submissive, she got incredibly defensive and angry. We learned to just let her do whatever, and give her money when she asked. I dreaded interacted with her. When the wedding was finally over too, instead of letting the venue’s event staff clean up, like they were paid to do, she told them she would clean up, then threw all the decorations out the back door and left them there. It caused a huge brouhaha with the venue staff and members of my family had to come clean up her mess, as well as help staff break down the tables inside and dispose of the food.
I wish I were making this up. To this day, whenever my family and I meet someone we think is a little high strung and a bit mentally unbalanced, we say: “Oh, she’s a Helen!”