Thank goodness. I’d just about given up on Ms. Higgins. I pretty much hated that one with the sisters' ex as the hero, and did not finish “Catch of the Day.” Why keep reading an author who has been consistently average and sometimes annoying, you ask? Well, I started out with some real high hopes as the first novel I read by her, “Just One of the Guys” sits on my Keeper Shelf. I guess the publishers are riding her ass; afraid the time for cute pet covers is quickly passing us by or something, because she’s really been pumping the books out, and it’s not exactly a good thing in my opinion.
However, “The Next Best Thing” made one or two actual tears come out of my eyes. That’s right, genuine salt water, and not many books, even some of my favorites have done that. One thing you can say for Kristin Higgins, she knows how to really bring it all home in a Nora Ephron, “Harry running through the streets of New York/Annie running through the streets of New York” kind of way. In this case, the big pay off saved a rather uneven book. As in the other Higgins novel I truly liked, the heartfelt declarations occurred at an inopportune time amongst friends and family members who clap and cheer, embodying what the reader should be feeling.
Another point in her favor, the plot is a twist on a not one, but two faves of mine – the "Wrong Brother" AND "Friends First". The heroine Lucy Lang is best friends with the hero, Ethan Mirabelli – who also happens to be her dead husbands’ younger (less attractive, less favored) brother. Ethan is a great hero, dealing with the memory of his brother, "St. Jimmy" everywhere he looks and not constantly flipping shit or losing self-confidence. Even with a mostly likable heroine, and the fantastic hero, this book was slow going for me for quite a while, in fact I wanted hit Lucy sometimes, and the book is from her POV. Some of her behavior grated on my last nerve, but after finishing the novel I can honestly say it was done for a reason and the payoff was worth it. Without the ending There were quite a few plot points I was sure were headed down the easy and cliché path, but it never made it there, thank goodness. Kudos, a better book because of it.
One thing that would have elevated this book to DIK status would be including Ethan’s POV. This boy is nice, a real beta hero, and he puts up with a lot of shit, but at the same time, really holds his own. He really loves Lucy, but is no pushover. I would have liked to see more of his perspective, as he’s the one who knows what he wants while Lucy wavers, and wavers, and wavers a little bit more. It could have balanced out the novel for the reader, taking you out of Lucy’s sometimes annoying and whiny brain and glimpsing what Ethan is feeling and thinking. While I’m not a reader that hates first person perspective in every situation, I feel it’s only worth doing in a romance if you aren’t supposed to know who the hero is due to a love triangle or unrequited love, for example. It’s just nice to know what both leads are feeling, and makes the love story more believable.
I enjoyed “The Next Best Thing” very much, in fact I purchased my own copy for 25 cents (score!) before I finished the copy from the library – hoping and betting it would find a spot next to “Just One of the Guys.” I’ve been having trouble with romances lately. Starting one, losing interest, starting another…"The Next Best Thing” was just what I was looking for: a funny contemporary with relatable and down to earth characters.