REVIEW: The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins
Dear Ms. Higgins:
I am a fan of your work. It’s in my bio, over there, on the right hand side—-> But this book didn’t work so well for me because, primarily, I felt Lucy was a wallower. This is a story about loss and everyone’s attempts to recover from loss. For some, the loss is part of their identity or has been for so long that a person can’t be mentioned without the reference to the loss.
This is the case for Lucy Lang and the women in her life. Lucy is a widow and virtually all the women who are connected to her are widows. Lucy, her mother, and her aunts all work at the family bakery and collectively the women are known as the Black Widows because each woman lost her husband at a young age and none of them have remarried. Lucy’s sister, Corinne, is obsessed with her husband’s health because she is convinced that he will die soon, just like all the other spouses in the family.
Ethan Mirabelli is the younger brother of Lucy’s late husband, Jimmy. Ethan and Lucy have had a friends with benefits relationship as Lucy terms it, unable to acknowledge the two of them as “lovers”. Lucy has decided that she is going to “break ranks” from her family and try to remarry and have a family. She tells Ethan that they have to stop sleeping together.
Ethan, though, has played the role of the spouse for longer than Lucy’s marriage. He stood by her through her seemingly never ending grief (she still counts the days of her marriage); he found her a new apartment; bought her games; cooked for her; listened to her; talked with her; held her while she cried; and satisfied her emotional needs. Despite all this, Lucy is determined to find herself a husband and Ethan is not it.
Basically everyone in this story is caught in this perpetual cycle of grief. It’s almost as comforting as Linus’ blanket. It provides identities and belonging for the women. It justifies Ethan’s ongoing, but sick relationship with Lucy. It helps Lucy cling to the past and ignore the good things in her life. Lucy watches her wedding video over and over, reliving the joy of the wedding day (although not the marriage itself) and then the subsequent grief of her loss. She can’t give up the piercing sadness her loss brings to her. It’s like the Bruce Willis character in Sixth Sense.
Despite Lucy’s declaration that she cannot bring herself to love anyone like she loved Jimmy, she finds herself dating a man that could be Jimmy’s ringer; while still engaging in some kind of relationship with Ethan. So despite never wanting to love again, she finds she cannot help but want Jimmy’s ringer.
For some reason, in order for Lucy to move on and to love again, she had to find out that Jimmy wasn’t the saint that she had created him to be. This did not indicate that she had healed from her loss, but rather suggested that Lucy did not have the right to move on unless Jimmy was somehow flawed.
The story is emotional, mostly due to the fact that everyone is chronically sad throughout the story but I felt overtly manipulated into finding a HEA for Lucy and Ethan. By her actions, Lucy wallowed her in grief. She worked with the Black Widows. She watched her wedding DVD constantly. She talked to Jimmy in her mind, sometimes believing her talked back to her. She refused to close the door on her marriage by not visiting his grave. She slept with his brother and dated his dead ringer. When given the chance for happiness, she turns away. Lucy, I felt, was in love with her grief more than she was in love with any one else.
The most authentic relationship was that between Corinne and her husband. Ironically, Corinne’s obsession with her husband’s health was actually causing him stress related illnesses. In order for him to survive and their relationship to survive, Corinne had to start to let go of the control that she perceived she had over death. C
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I love Kristan Higgins’ books, but the whole dead-hubby’s-brother-as-hero thing freaked me out a little. In fact, thinking about Higgins’ other books, I noticed that there is a tendency for almost uncomfortably close relationships between the hero and the heroine. In ‘Fools Rush In’ he’s her ex-brother-in-law (and Higgins definitely emphasizes the brother-relationship when the heroine was growing up). In ‘One of the Guys’ the hero is an honorary brother and son to the heroine’s family. Although in ‘Too Good to be True’ the heroine does date someone new, the trend is continued by her sister dating her former fiance. ‘Catch of the Day’ is the only one without this theme.
Not to criticize Higgins (as can be seen, I’ve read all her books and love the characters!), I just thought it was a curious pattern. ‘The Next Best Thing’ wouldn’t be my favourite Higgins either- the heroine annoyed me. It seemed like Ethan did all the work!
The only reason I finished this book was because Higgins can write. Any other author it would have been a DNF. I kept wanting better for everyone in the book except Lucy since she seemed to be enjoying her grief. I also felt sorry for the hero through most of a book. That is never good.
After reading this I moved on to the much superior, What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss. That one I recommend.
And see, I LOVE the broken heroine storyline, so to me this was a terrific book (IMO). I’m reading it right now and can’t put it down, and get weepy at nearly every chapter. And I’m not a big fan of weepers, but I love this book. It’s my favorite one by her so far, I think.
I agree with Jill. I cried and laughed while reading this book. I don’t think you can judge Lucy without remembering her life story. She was not just a young widow but a woman raised by widows. Her mother and aunts were women who revered their late husbands (with or withour a good reason) and did not move past their widowhood. It took a lot of courage for her to make the attempt and then to see Ethan hit by a car was more than she could bear. She knew she did not love the look alike and so would not suffer when or if he died. I would have liked to hear more of Ethan’s thoughts but this was Lucy’s story and I applaud her for being strong enough to go for a real life.
I picked this up at Borders and read the first chapter and the whole sleeping with the ex-brother-in-law, in a “friend with benefits” situation to boot bothered me too much to purchase. To each their own, but too icky for me.
Oh, I loved this book. I agree with Cheryl, you have to remember her background and how she was raised. I’m okay with the relationship she had with her brother-in-law and thought it was sweet, especially when she saw the toast. And yes, I cried too.
All the way through this book, I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t love it. I was squicked out by the younger brother thing, I thought Lucy should suck it up and put that wedding video away the very first time it showed up, and the arrival of the Jimmy lookalike was just too predictable. And don’t even get me started on the widow’s curse! It seems like it should have been a wallbanger for me, doesn’t it, but the truth is I couldn’t put the book down. I read it in less than a day. And when it came time for me to give it a mental grade, somehow it scored right up there with Just One of the Guys, which is quite possibly my favorite romance novel ever. (And it too is full of problematic details and situations!) The only conclusion I can come to is that Kristan Higgins is at genius level when it comes to writing romance novels!
Normally, I hate the “Ex/Dead spouse’s sibling”, but I didn’t even think about it in this book. It may have been because Lucy and Ethan met at school but I didn’t even know that when I bought the book. I was just sad and depressed the whole way through.
This one of the things that drives me crazy about the genre. Widows have to have had bad marriages, awful (or at least unfulfilling) sex, their husbands had to be abusive louts. Why? Why can't we just enjoy watching someone have a great second chance?
Maybe there just aren't enough of us out there who believe that there just might be more than one â€œMr. Rightâ€? And that losing someone you love doesn't have to blight your life forever?
This is one of the things that we were just talking about as a bit of a squicky deal breaker over on the other topic (Is There an Irredeemable Trait?).
@TKF: I didn’t understand either why that “secret” had to be revealed. It wasn’t a big deal. I was expecting him to have been a serial cheater with a secret baby from the way the reveal happened.
I love Kristan’s writing, I know this to be true because any other author and I’d have never purchased, let alone made it through this one!
While I was skeeved out by the whole ‘dead husband’s brother’ thing, it worked for me. Our heroine is not uber smart, but she’s also not tstl. She has her husband up on this insane pedastal (easy to do if you’re not even married a year) and he does need to come down off it, but it’s done in a believable and non-villian way I thought. I also liked how she was tuned into her baking and how suddenly that worked for her again. Not to spoil – I’ll just say the ending worked for me. The right person did the running & begging. :)
Bottom line? K.H. has MAD skills and I’ll keep her on my must buy.
side note: Catch of the Day remains my fave.
Wow! That right there puts me off.
I’ve read all of Kristan Higgins’ other books and have really enjoyed them. But, this one sounds similar to other plot lines she has written and I’m a bit icked out by the sleeping with the dead husband’s brother thing.
As much as I enjoy Ms. Higgins’ writing, I’ve found that if I “glom” they all kind of sound the same. This one sounds so similar to others I’ve read that I’m thinking I’ll give it a miss.
I can see how some would not enjoy this book, but me personally, I was almost crying at the end (which never happens to me). I loved it.
This wasn’t my favorite Higgins book and for the first time, the first person POV really became a stumbling block for me. The whole time I kept wondering what the heck Ethan was thinking and feeling since he never really opened his mouth to tell Lucy how he felt about her.
I love all of Higgins’ books. I am not bothered by a hero or heroine falling for a former in law. Fools Rush In is my very favorite of her books. But I didn’t love this one. As I was reading it I thought the dead husband dominated the book much too much. It was just a little too much. As i was reading it, I kept picturing the wife in The Sixth Sense watching her wedding video over and over.
@Eva I had that very same vision, Eva.
This was my first Higgins book and I really enjoyed it. I find it hard to judge a character unless I’ve been through the same situation as they have i.e. widow at a young age, so I always take their feelings and thoughts at face value and don’t judge them or the writer for developing their charcter this way. I really enjoyed this book. At first I thought it would be a little uncomfortable to sleep with my dead-husbands brother but Higgins really builds Ethans character so you forget for the most part he is Jimmy’s brother, especially when you learn about their past. I would have liked the book to focus on their romance more or the sex scenes to be a littl more descriptive but I guess this isn’t an erotic. Damn shame, loved Ethan’s charcter.