Book Review of The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

Magan: The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

Book Review of The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Pages: 400
Target Audience: Adult Fiction
Keywords: loss of a spouse, dating and remarrying, family curses
Format Read: ARC from Pub
Other Books Reviewed by KH: Somebody to Love

Summary: Five years after the death of her husband, Lucy decides she’s ready to begin dating again. She’s looking for someone safe, someone she won’t become too attached to should the Black Widow curse take her next husband too.

Five and a half years ago, Lucy’s husband, Jimmy, died in a car accident. Present day her sister is having a baby. This makes Lucy realize that the clock is ticking and if she wants to have a family, she needs to open up again and begin dating. But she doesn’t really want to date someone that she could love as much as Jimmy. She wants someone safe and predictable that she’ll have a good life with. She’s scared the Black Widow curse will strike again and take her second husband should she remarry. What is the Black Widow curse, you ask? Her mother and her aunts all lost their husbands at entirely too young an age. Lucy’s following in their footsteps with the loss of Jimmy.

There’s one catch to Lucy moving on with her life: she needs to cut ties with her “friend with benefits.” Oh, and surprise, surprise — guess who this person is? Jimmy’s younger brother, Ethan, who is completely and overwhelmingly in love with Lucy. She refuses to let herself fall for him though because he’s a daredevil and he could die easily from all of his shenanigans. Full disclosure: this was so difficult for me to wrap my head around, especially in the beginning. I wasn’t quite sure how Lucy and Ethan would have decided sleeping together was a good idea. I mean, I just couldn’t do that with Dustyn’s brothers because they’re like my brothers. Eww eww eww.

I was really excited to read about Lucy’s mishaps as she ventured back into the dating world, but I was a little underwhelmed by the sheer amount of backstory that was included in the first 40% of the book. There was little progression and the story felt much more sluggish than I would have liked because Lucy was so hung up on actually acting on her decision to begin dating. How could anyone replace Jimmy? It does make very logical sense why this would be so tough, but the actions and decisions that followed felt jerky and abrupt because the story, later, needed to propel forward. There could have also been some thinning out of details as some were overly repetitious — I knew a lot, lot, lot about Ethan’s beard, the psychic, and other descriptions that felt unnecessary.

I am a woman who is madly in love with my husband. I can’t imagine life without him, and in that regard, I completely connected with Lucy’s hesitancy to move forward with her life. However, she seemed so closed off and distant to me. That’s possibly because I could see the flaws in her plans and wanted her to so badly see what (or who) was right in front of her. Though Lucy wasn’t the most relatable I did love the secondary characters, particularly Nicky, her sweet, hug-worthy nephew, best friend, Parker, who always always said what I needed Lucy to hear, and Corrine, her sister who would have wrapped her husband in bubble wrap to protect him from the Black Widow curse should it be guaranteed to save his life.

The Next Best Thing was a really nice break from all of the heavy books I’ve found myself reading lately. Take it along to the beach and pair it with a nice umbrella-clad drink!

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Estelle: A Fool’s Gold Christmas by Susan Mallery

A Fool’s Gold Christmas by Susan Mallery ( website | tweet )
Part of the Fool’s Gold Series
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 350
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: holidays, small town, Christmas, family drama, dance!
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: The town of Fool’s Gold will not let you forget the holidays are here — the events, the charity work, the cheer — it’s everywhere you turn around. But Evie and Dante refuse to fall into the Christmas trap, and instead, intend to get through the holidays together. (But you know… it’s not serious between them… not at all.)

I’m willing to bet I’m one of the biggest Christmas enthusiasts you will ever meet. I know I complain about fall clothes being out before summer is even half done, or the Halloween decorations jam-packing the aisles before school even starts… but I get a secret thrill when I see my first bit of Christmas merchandise or get my first email that tells me tickets for the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall will be going on sale soon.

What I’m trying to say is… why not read a Christmas novel in October?

Susan Mallery’s latest, set in the adorable, California town of Fool’s Gold, focuses on two people who resemble Scrooge more than Buddy the Elf. (What?! I refuse to understand this behavior!) Evie has unwillingly returned to FG after an unfortunate injury ended her cheerleading career, and Dante has no choice but to relocate to FG after his business partner (and Evie’s brother) settles down there.

While the novel switches between the two, the story mainly focuses on Evie as she struggles to come to terms with a mother who never seemed to want her around. Evie’s background resembles a Lifetime movie – the product of a one-night stand, a father she never knew, and a mom and brothers who never made her feel very welcome in her home. Obviously these factors have had lasting effects on her own life (she went off on her own pretty young) and also her relationships (never let anyone get too close!).

…I’ll be honest: I’ve heard a little about Evie in the other books in the series and I never bought her background story. It seems so far-fetched but hey, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.

Dante, on the other hand, loves how Evie looks in her dance teacher gear and has his own secret childhood challenges as well. They bond over their lack of love for the holidays, how Fool’s Gold turns into its own version of the North Pole, and even the different relationships they’ve had with their families.

A Fool’s Gold Christmas is a sweet romance sprinkled with just enough holiday cheer that it didn’t seem crazy to be reading it in the fall but could be equally fun when the snow is falling and you’re nursing a cup of hot chocolate. More than any of the other novels in this series, Fool’s Gold shines for all its merriment and the supportive and good-natured people of this town. I could absolutely picture all the antics in my head, and I wished I lived in a similar place.

Out of the three leading ladies I’ve met in Mallery’s books, Evie is hands down my favorite. She’s sarcastic, no nonsense, and she totally made me chuckle a few times. She was more than a caricature and more like your favorite down-to-earth friend. While Dante’s storyline was thin, he was no doubt super sexy and surprisingly thoughtful. I really liked watching these two get together and start to let their guard down for one another. (But beware, like any romance novel… something will come between them!)  The author also does a better job of incorporating past characters… it felt more natural in this setting and not as overwhelming. (Although, Evie’s mother, May, came off too mopey and emotional and instead of her monologues feeling sincere, they felt annoying.)

I think the smaller details in this particular book – a cat with personality, the big dance performance, and how the women come together time and time again – make this a favorite in the Fool’s Gold series for me. While it was just as addicting as the others, Christmas played a great supporting role and the characters felt more than just sugarplums dancing in my head.

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Estelle: Summer Nights by Susan Mallery

Summer Nights by Susan Mallery
Part of the Fool’s Gold series.
Publication Date: June 26 2012
Publisher: HQN Books
Pages: 384
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: romance, sex, cowboys, second marriages
Format read: ARC from Netgalley!

Summary: Bitter from his divorce, Shane is determined to find a quiet, boring woman to marry when he settles back in Fool’s Gold. Things don’t go as planned when his eye catches Annabelle, a red-headed knock out, dancing on a bar. He knows she is trouble but he can’t get her out of his head. Little does he know, she’s the town librarian and he’s about to get roped into giving her riding lessons on his ranch.

A cowboy and a librarian meet in a bar… sounds like the perfect joke, right?

Summer Nights kind of starts that way. Shane thinks he’s going to be teaching a mousy librarian with cardigans and glasses how to ride a horse, and instead the redhead from the bar shows up. The very woman Shane thinks is bad news. Annabelle may be an knockout (not that she’s aware) but she’s learning to ride a horse to make money for a project that would bring books to people who can’t get into town. She legit has a heart of gold and Shane is just too stubborn to realize it.

The truth is, for him, it’s easier to believe that Annabelle is just like his ex-wife. He doesn’t have to get invested or get all swoony over her. Instead he can sort of lust after her from a corner of his ranch and let that be the end of it.

But that’s not the end of it.

It’s a romance novel, people. A hot one. That had me blushing, and it’s not because Shane remained in that corner daydreaming about Annabelle. Nope. Instead he gave her the kiss of the century and invited her to engage in a whole lot of other activities that gave me my own education. Whew. It was steamy, way steamy.

At the same time, Annabelle is frustrated because she has no idea what Shane really wants from her and she has no idea how to convince him she is just her, a woman who could love him (and rock his world), and not be deceiving jerk like his ex. Both Shane and Annabelle have their baggage and I like how Mallery went back and forth between the two. So many of the romance novels I read when I was younger seemed to focus just on the woman and her thoughts. I liked getting both sides.

Mallery has created quite a world with her Fool’s Gold series and there are a ton of characters that enter and exit the scenes in Summer Nights; she also plants the character for her following book and it was a surprisingly serious storyline that balanced out the romance and the “will they/won’t they” theme. No fear though. Summer Nights is perfect as a standalone, so you don’t have to reread the books before it (unless you want to, of course). While I enjoyed Mallery’s characters and dreamy setting, she did have a tendency to repeat certain actions during hot make out scenes that had me cringing toward the end (or even anticipating that phrase).

The thing about romance novels is that they are fun and extremely addicting, even if they are light and have sort of a fairy tale like quality to them. Mallery inserts a lot of comical moments as well (like with Shane’s growing farm) and really knows how to build chemistry and intrigue.

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Bonus, as a fan of country songs and the boys who sing them, I made a playlist that screams Summer Nights. Here’s one of the songs and you can check out the playlist on Spotify. Enjoy!