The Next Best Thing
It’s a good sign the rest of the book will be hopping when you get a big bombshell you didn’t expect in chapter one and that’s what happened when I began Kristan Higgins’ The Next Best Thing. It left me speechless at first and then made me sputter (in a good way) quite a bit. Certainly a promising beginning.
Lucy Lang Mirabelli lost the love of her life over five years ago in a tragic car accident. Since that time she’s lived her life as she sees fit; baking bread for her family’s bakery, playing ball in the local softball league, being the good daughter-in-law to her in-laws, and depending on her brother-in-law Ethan’s visits for friendship. Although she’s living her life, she’s really just going through the motions. She decides to move forward when her sister gives birth to her beautiful little niece, which makes her realize it’s now or never.
Lucy has always had Ethan Mirabelli in her life, even before she met her husband. Unfortunately, in Ethan’s mind he’s always played second fiddle to his older brother who had the best of everything. He had the adoration of his family, the chance to operate his father’s restaurant, the bigger than life personality that still looms over Ethan five years after his death, and Lucy. For years, he’s been Lucy’s shoulder to lean on and, when she announces that it’s time for her to move on, Ethan is there to be her friend.
While on her quest for a husband, she has more than enough help from her mother and aunts, notoriously know as the “Black Widows” since their husbands all died young and none remarried, trying to set her up with every unattached male in the area. Her conditions are simple: She wants someone she can care about, but not too deeply since all the men of her family are cursed to die young. However, as she begins her search, the only man she can imagine her life with is Ethan. With all the taboo that would surround them, the complications presented by his family, and the fact that she couldn’t bear to be the cause of two Mirabelli men dying, she can’t risk her heart to Ethan or risk his life no matter how she feels about him. Nonetheless, she can’t imagine her future without him.
While I normally enjoy first person narration, I found it too narrow here as I wanted to see what was going on in Ethan’s head. Because he backs away and lets her fumble through things on her own (sometimes funny and other times heart-wrenching), I wanted to be in his head and know his thoughts because he makes the book. And while I realize this is Lucy’s story and I completely understood her dilemma and felt compassion for her, I truly ached for Ethan because I felt that she was unfair to him at so many points. I think it took Lucy just a little too long to realize what a treasure she had and I wanted her to appreciate him more. Even at the end it seems he’s still playing second fiddle.
On the positive side, the story made me truly care for the characters, a sign of terrific writing in my opinion. Lucy’s family, Ethan’s family, and the busy-body community gave the story a true feel of reality since life is far more complicated and couples don’t function in isolation. While there were moments that made me cry, there were moments that made me laugh as well.
The Next Best Thing is certainly one not to miss. It’s a tender story of unrequited love and a woman getting back on her feet and learning to love again. It made me remember why I love contemporary romance and why there should be more of them.