We’re BAAAAACCKKKKKK! Live, from our laptops…wait. Let me back up! This is Emily, and today I am thrilled to bring you the second Kindles & Wine double review, er…co-review? Joint review? Whatever. There are two of us reviewing the book. And I’m doing it with my friend and yours, Kindle Gal. This time around we are reviewing Kristan Higgins‘s The Next Best Thing. Here are the deets:
Reissue Date: August 27, 2013 Original Publication Date: February 1, 2010 Length: 400 pages Genre: Contemporary Romance Publisher: HQN Books Source & Format: Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley; digital Official Summary Lucy Lang isn’t looking for fireworks… She’s looking for a nice, decent man. Someone who’ll mow the lawn, flip chicken on the barbeque, teach their future children to play soccer. But most important…someone who won’t inspire the slightest stirring in her heart…or anywhere else. A young widow, Lucy can’t risk that kind of loss again. But sharing her life with a cat named Fat Mikey and the Black Widows at the family bakery isn’t enough either. So it’s goodbye to Ethan, her hot but entirely inappropriate “friend with privileges” and hello to a man she can marry. Too bad Ethan Mirabelli isn’t going anywhere. As far as he’s concerned, what she needs might be right under her nose. But can he convince her that the next best thing can really be forever?
Emily & Kindle Gal’s Joint Review
Emily: So, without further ado…
Let’s open this up by discussing our heroine, Lucy Lang, the youngest Hungarian Black Widow in her family. I know, sounds ominous, right? Lucy was widowed shortly after her marriage to Jimmy Mirabelli. We meet her five years after Jimmy’s death with a HILARIOUS opening scene that had me mentally watching a tennis ball lob between Lucy, her two widowed aunts and widowed mother (who are Hungarian and had the maiden name Black, thus the Hungarian Black Widow titling), and her over-protective sister, Corinne. The banter and squabble amongst this group directly following the birth of Lucy’s niece made me laugh and snort loud enough to wake the hubs. From chin whiskers to their family psychic, I instantly liked Lucy, her hilarious internal dialogue, and her zany family.
Kindle Gal: I couldn’t agree more and this scene, among others in the book, highlight one of my favorite aspects of Kristan Higgins’s writing: characters that are quirky as hell in situations and conversations that are snort-out-loud hilarious. Hers are books you do not want to be reading while drinking something fizzy. (Diet Coke does NOT feel good in the nasal cavity. Just sayin’…)
As hilarious and zany as Lucy’s family is, and as much as I felt for her having to listen to their incessant chatter while they all worked together at the bakery, I had a really hard time connecting with Lucy. For 95% of the book (and I am not exaggerating), she is mooning over her dead husband. Now before y’all start throwing stones at me for being insensitive, I’m well aware of how heartless that sounds. In fact, I’d be reading along, getting all pissy at Lucy for comparing everything that moved to her beloved St. Jimmy, when I’d mentally chastise myself. Thankfully, I don’t know what it’s like to lose a spouse. I kept trying to put myself in her shoes when I’d get frustrated with something she said or did (or didn’t say or didn’t do), and it helped…a little. But being the demanding reader that I am, Lucy was just too “stuck” for too long for me to really like and respect her.
Em: Oh no – you didn’t just go there! Just remember, y’all – despite this being a joint review, KG actually said it and is the heartless one! But I gotta ‘fess up – honestly, I felt the same way. Yes, I know Lucy is sad and has a legitimate reason for her depression, but it was hard to totally take it seriously amongst all the humorous encounters she has with the men she tries to date in her quest to find a new husband – one she has no intention of loving as much as St. Jimmy, because she doesn’t want to get hurt again. The grab-happy gym teacher? The blind date with Mr. Spray Paint Hair? Seriously, Higgins is a genius with these characters.
And all along, there is Ethan Mirabelli, St. Jimmy’s brother. He essentially takes care of Lucy and helps her cope with Jimmy’s death. I totally fell for Ethan – snarky and kind of naughty, yet über patient and kind. My mental picture of Ethan is a little bit Robert Downey Jr., a little bit Orlando Bloom – which equates to a lotta hot, right?
So I guess I’ll go there too – midway through this book, I actually started to think Lucy did not deserve Ethan. When have I ever not rooted for the hero and heroine? I mean c’mon, Ethan is all kinds of fantastic, right??
KG: Ha ha! See, everyone? Emily is heartless too. (Whew!)
Yes, Ethan is all kinds of fantastic. And wow, I like your mental image of him! Here’s mine:
You likey? Although I will say the new cover has a pretty fine version of Ethan too.
Ethan can charm the pants off of anyone (I mean, LOOK at that SMILE!), is loyal to a fault, can cook like nobody’s business, has a fantastic sense of humor and makes appropriate fun of Lucy and her frequent absurdness (as he should), and to top it all off, he’s an amazing single father to the most adorable kid. Gah! Seriously, what’s not to love? Nothing. Which is exactly Lucy’s problem—she’s afraid Ethan is someone she could totally love, and she doesn’t want that anymore. She had that already and look where she ended up. Plus, there’s that pesky little detail of him being her former brother-in-law. That’s her mentality, and I get it, I totally do. But when this amazing guy is basically standing in front of her the ENTIRE BOOK and she never really “sees” him, quite frankly, it does make one think she doesn’t deserve him. Not that I ever felt that way—okay, I totally did, but you said it first!
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure Higgins could pull off the happily-ever-after. And if I’m being brutally honest, if it weren’t for my curiosity of how it was going to end up and the awesomeness of the secondary characters, I maybe would have even DNF’ed this book. Eep!
Em: Holy Toledo – you contemplated a DNF?? Bite your tongue. I would have finished this one for the food porn alone. Lucy’s habit of baking amazing desserts into the middle of the night kept me craving sweets the entire read. But while I personally can’t fathom not finishing a book, I get what you mean. There seemed to be more excuses and delays by Lucy as the book went on – but it almost felt therapeutic to be around for her transformation. Because there totally is one, and although it was a little late for my liking, it was righteous and good.
Overall, you are right on in the secondary characters making this book. It also may be possible we both are a little harsh on Lucy because WE fell early and hard for Ethan. (Your Ethan pic is totally droolworthy too, btw!). My two cents? The Next Best Thing is a light, fun read – the characters are whacky, the baking is delish, and the hero…divine.
KG: Okay…back the truck up. I didn’t seriously contemplate a DNF. And this is the thing: How, I want to know, is it possible to dislike a heroine and not want her to get with the hero but still like the book? HOW?? Well, that is the magic of Kristan Higgins, folks. Somehow her books are so addictive, even if I am not fully invested in the main characters and their HEA, I’m still devouring it like one of Lucy’s decadent desserts. And I can’t say this about many authors. Usually if the main story is lost on me, the whole book loses me. That is what I meant.
So, yes, The Next Best Thing isn’t my favorite Higgins book (that distinction still goes to The Best Man), but it’s definitely a worthwhile read, and fans of her work will no doubt enjoy it. Despite my frustrations with Lucy, my utter love of Ethan, and the should’ve-been-weird-but-thankfully-wasn’t-awkward issue of Ethan being Jimmy’s brother, Higgins somehow pulled off a satisfying HEA and tied everything up in a neat bow, all the while entertaining the hell out of me with the secondary characters and crazy antics in this story. That, my friends, is talent!
Wine/Beverage Pairing: Pink French martinis, which is the happy hour drink Ethan makes for the Black Widows to celebrate the birth of baby Emma, Lucy’s niece, at the beginning of the book.Buy Digital: Kindle | Nook Buy Print: Amazon | B&N
The Next Best Thing Excerpt
The ab-fab Kristan Higgins said we could share one of our favorite snort-out-loud scenes from this book with y’all. So step away from the fizzy drink, and enjoy!
Though I hear the loudly whispered comment, it doesn’t quite register, as I am rapt with adoration, staring at the wonder that is my hour-old niece. Her face still glows red from the effort of being born, her dark blue eyes are as wide and calm as a tortoise’s. I probably shouldn’t tell my sister that her baby reminds me of a reptile. Well. The baby is astonishingly beautiful. Miraculous.
“She’s amazing,” I murmur. Corinne beams, then shifts the baby the slightest bit away from me. “Can I hold her, Cory?” My two aunts mutter darkly—only Mom has held the baby so far, and clearly, I’m breaking rank.
My sister hesitates. “Um . . . well . . .”
“Let her, Cory,” Chris encourages, and my sister reluctantly hands over the little bundle.
She’s warm and precious, and my eyes fill with tears. “Hi there,” I whisper. “I’m your auntie.” I can’t believe how much I love this baby . . . she’s fifty-five minutes old, and I’m ready to throw myself in front of a bus for her, should the need arise.
“Pssst. Lucy.” It’s Iris’s voice again. “Lucy. You have a whisker.” My seventy-six-year-old aunt taps her upper lip. “Right there. Plus, you’re holding her wrong. Give her to me.”
“Oh, gee, I don’t know about that,” Corinne protests, but Iris deftly takes the baby from me. My arms feel lonely without the sweet weight of my niece.
“Whisker,” Iris says, jerking her chin at me.
Almost against my will, my finger goes to my upper lip . . . gah! Something thick and almost sharp, like a piece of barbed wire, is embedded in my skin. A whisker! Iris is right. I have a whisker.
My tiny aunt Rose sidles up to me. “Let’s take a look here,” she says in her little-girl voice, studying my lip. Then, before I know it, she seizes the offending hair and yanks.
“Youch! Rose! That hurt!” I press a finger against the now smarting hair follicle.
“Don’t worry, honey, I got it. You must be coming into the Change.” She gives me a conspiratorial smile, then holds my whisker up to the light.
“I’m thirty years old, Rose,” I protest weakly. “And come on, stop looking at it.” I brush the whisker from her fingers. The whisker was a fluke. I’m not menopausal. I can’t be. Could I? Granted, I’m feeling a bit . . . mature today, given that my younger sister has had a baby before I did . . .
Rose scrutinizes my face for another hair. “It can happen. Your second cousin Ilona was thirty-five. I don’t think you’re too young. A mustache is usually the first sign.”
“Electrolysis,” my mother recommends as she tucks the blankets around Corinne’s feet. “Grinelda does it. I’ll have her look at you the next time she comes in for a reading.”
“Your psychic also does electrolysis?” Christopher asks.
“She’s a medium. And yes, Grinelda is a very talented woman,” Iris says, smiling down at Emma.
“Don’t I get a turn to hold that child? I seem to remember I’m also her great-aunt,” Rose peeps. “And personally, I bleach. Once I shaved, and three days later, I looked like Uncle Zoltan after a bender.” She accepts my niece from Iris and her wrinkled, sweet face morphs into a smile.
“Oh, shaving. Never shave, Lucy,” Iris says. “You get stubbly.”
“Um . . . okay,” I say, shooting a glance at my sister. Surely this is not normal conversation in a labor and delivery room. “So how are you feeling now, Corinne?”
“I’m wonderful,” she says. “Can I please hold my daughter again?”
“I just got her!” Rose protests.
“Hand her over,” Christopher orders. With a martyred sigh, Rose obeys.
My sister gazes down at the baby, then looks up at her husband. “Do you think we should put some Purell on her?” she asks, her brow wrinkling in worry.
“Nah,” Chris answers. “You girls scrubbed in, right?”
“Absolutely. Don’t want Emma to catch the polio,” Iris says, not a trace of sarcasm in her voice.
The Best Man Giveaway
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Please note: All entrants must review and adhere to our official giveaway policy. This contest will close on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 11:59 PM (CDT) and the three winners will be notified via email on Thursday, September 5.ABOUT THE AUTHOR Kristan lives with her family in a small Connecticut town that boasts a wonderful library, a great agricultural fair, a really good ice cream stand and not much else. She is the mother of two lovely kids and the wife of a brave firefighter who is, perhaps more importantly, a fantastic cook. Pets include a cheerful Lab mutt, two cats and the occasional, short-lived beta fish. Previously a copywriter, Kristan began writing fiction when her children graced her life with simultaneous afternoon naps. Writing, she found, was infinitely more satisfying than folding laundry, and so began her first novel. You can learn more at Kristan’s website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.