***Warning: This review contains spoilers***
The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins
published by HQN Books in February 2010
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?
Genre: contemporary romance
The Story: Lucy Lang lost her beloved husband 6 years ago in a car accident at the young age of 24. After seeing her younger sister give birth to a baby girl, Lucy decides that it’s time for her to move on with her life if she wants a family of her own. Thus she decides to jump back into the dating scene and find someone suitable with whom to share her life and have children. Preferably, the man should be someone healthy, who doesn’t engage in dangerous work or activities (such as riding a motorcycle) and whom she won’t love too much… because she couldn’t go through losing someone she loves again. However, first, she must break off her secret affair with Ethan Mirabelli – her neighbor, best friend and brother -in-law… but what happens if she gives him a chance?
Nath: Okay, first, before we embark into this review, I have to confess something. I did not read the whole book ^_^; Yes, you read that right… but in my defense, I read the beginning and the ending and skimmed through the middle. You’ll understand why later in my review. While I didn’t read every word in the middle, I skimmed it – so I know what happens.
Okay, disclaimers done… Onto the review :)
What did you think of The Next Best Thing, Ames?
Ames: I really enjoyed the Next Best Thing.
I felt bad for Lucy. She really loved her husband and had such a short amount of time with him. Plus with the history of the men in her family dying, I understand that although she wants to move on, she doesn't want to do it with someone she could love, which she knows she could love Ethan. What she doesn't know is that she already loves him. So that's why it worked for me - because she didn't want her heart ripped apart again if her next husband were to die.
As for Ethan, he loved her from the very beginning and it seemed believable to me that he would wait for her. That's how KH writes her heroes. LOL
Nath: I felt sad for Lucy as well. You’re right, she had so little time with him, but they did love each other so much. I can understand the idea of finding someone you don’t love, especially Lucy. You’re right, she really loved her husband and it was really hard for her. I heard somewhere it’s better for you to find someone who loves you more than you love that person… Although I think it’s kind of wrong to think that way.
The thing is, she decided to move on and her actions just didn’t match her words. Of course, it’s going to take time… but I mean, she broke off with Ethan to start dating and what is the first thing she does once she’s alone? Re-watch her wedding DVD… and she did this repeatedly! I just thought she should have taken some steps, changed something to help herself move on. Not just announce: okay, I want to date and wait for something to happen while she still bathe in her previous marriage’s memories. It’s lucky for her that her family and Parker were there to make things happened.
Ames: Of course Lucy's actions weren't going to match what she said. Yeah she thinks she's ready to move on, but we, the readers, know she isn't really. She was still holding onto Jimmy's memory with both hands. Also, she was deluded about her feelings for Ethan.
Nath: And that’s what frustrated me so much!! She and her in-laws put Jimmy’s on a pedestal – I mean, they have a freaking shrine in his memory in the kitchen of the restaurant!! All the while, they take Ethan for granted, never really acknowledging him because all they can think of is Jimmy… it’s almost like hypocrisy.
Yes, Jimmy was perfect for Lucy, but he was not a perfect person. Yet, she cannot even acknowledge the fact that Jimmy was flawed like everyone else. She slapped Doral-Ann when she told Lucy Jimmy and her used to date and Lucy ruined everything. I don’t know… because of this behavior of hers, I simply could not connect with Lucy. Obviously, I've never been a widow, so I don't know how a widow feels... but somehow, it didn’t feel right to me, very unhealthy. I think she should have taken steps to move on after two or three years following Jimmy’s death.
Ames: I also feel Lucy over-reacted a bit to the news about Jimmy and Doral-Ann… and that was one chick I did not like.
I've never lost anyone either, but I think if she had moved on within 2 or 3 years, especially with her brother-in-law, that would have seemed kind of fast. I like the way this worked out. And everyone is different. But Lucy had issues, especially with her father dying and all the men in the family dying as well. Look at her aunts and mother, none of them moved on!
Nath: I don’t necessarily mean she should have moved on with Ethan or any other man. It’s more like moving away from Jimmy’s memory. Not forgetting him, but not obsessing as much any longer. And while her mother and aunts never re-married, the big difference between them and Lucy is they all had kids and were older. Also, none of them idolized their husbands.
You know, this is so unfortunate, because asides from her little obsession with her dead husband and the way treated Ethan which made her appear so selfish in my eyes, at the core, I did like Lucy’s character. She was nice and fun, very similar to Ms Higgins’s previous heroines.
Ames: One part I didn't like - Ethan should have communicated how he felt earlier than he did. Like when she broke off their arrangement (of friends with bennies). He should have said something. But I do recognize if he did, we would not have had a book to read! LOL
Nath: If Ethan would have spoken up when she decided to end the arrangement, Lucy would have spooked and he’d never have a chance. I actually think he did the right choice not speaking up. Because seriously? What would it have done? The thing with Ethan being in love with Lucy is that no matter what he said, she would not have wanted to hear it. She needed to realize it on her own.
Ames: And that's why I say we wouldn't have had a book to read if Ethan spoke up - because for sure Lucy would have spooked. But I still would have liked for him to - he was too willing to do things Lucy's way. And what the heck was up with him talking to Doral-Ann?
But Ethan was a great hero. I like the flashbacks we got on how him and Lucy hooked up. And "check the toast." LOL I thought that was funny.
Nath: Don’t know what was up with Doral-Ann… but Ethan? I loved Ethan!! He was the perfect man and has been waiting for Lucy forever. I mean, he’s right there, with her. He’s her lover, her closest friend, her confident… but she never, ever considered him as a candidate when she decided she was ready to move on! Right away, she was like: I have to break off with him. Finally, he gets his chance and she treats him as if he was a dirty secret, not telling anyone, not having the guts to admit they were together. I understand that the situation is awkward considering that Ethan’s her brother-in-law... but I thought she didn't try enough and it was unfair for Ethan :(
I think that’s actually why I had so much trouble reading this book. I loved Ethan so much and felt so bad for him because of the way everyone treated him. Always playing second fiddle behind Jimmy in Lucy and his parents’s eyes. Especially after learning that Jimmy called up Lucy on the exact day Ethan introduced them, knowing full well that Ethan had a crush on her. Once again, it showed how great of a guy Ethan was for not holding a grudge and wishing them happiness. I mean, I've read books where brothers fought for a lot less.
Ames: I think Jimmy was genuinely attracted to Lucy - I don't think he went after her to spite his brother. Especially since he was kind of with another lady. Jimmy is not perfect, but it was Lucy's fairytale, love at first sight almost. And yeah that didn't work out, but that's reality. Ethan had more than enough chances to make a move on Lucy, but he never did. His brother went after her right away - can't fault a guy for that.
Nath: Oh, I never thought that Jimmy went after Lucy to spite Ethan. It’s just that the way he handled everything was very callous in my opinion. Even if he could see that Ethan had no chance with Lucy, perhaps he could have waited a little, especially given he was kind of in a relationship. Ah well…
Ames: You know, I feel kind of bad for Mark though. Poor guy. I'm glad he wasn't portrayed as a jerk.
Nath: Yeah, Mark was the unlucky one because from the beginning, she was never interested in him. I don't think she saw past the fact that he looked like Jimmy. Although this was lucky for Ethan... because I don't think he would finally had told Lucy the whole truth if it wasn't his feeling of losing Lucy again to his brother. If she had chosen someone else, he wouldn't have been happy, but he would have respected her choice I think.
Ames: I also liked Lucy's family. I thought the Black Widows were awesome. That's why I like Kristan Higgins's books - all the characters are fleshed out and really add to the story. It's not just about two people falling in love, it's about all the people around them and how they're affected by the developing relationship. And wasn't Nicky so cute? I liked him.
Nath: Oh yeah, I liked the family. I feel Ms Higgins always does a great job at building a cast around the H/H and The Next Best Thing was no exception. I like the idea of Ethan having a kid :)
So what grade would you give The Next Best Thing?
Ames: All in all, I really enjoyed this book. Lucy and Ethan, you know how I love friends to lovers. That was good. I like when the hero is a little bit jealous too - and that was definitely going on here. However, this isn't my favorite Kristan Higgins novel, that would have to be Just One of the Guys. :P I give The Next Best Thing a B+.
Nath: As a whole, I thought The Next Best Thing could have been a very good book. The storyline had a lot of potential and I really liked that Lucy and Ethan interacted a lot with each other. This has been one of my complaints in Ms Higgins’s previous books, so I felt like she listened to me :P And wow, I was really very surprised when I found out that Ethan was not only Lucy’s friend with benefits, but also her brother-in-law! Talk about a gutsy move. But I definitively had issues with Lucy and how the story developed and that’s so unfortunate :(
The Next Best Thing is a C for me. All I can think is that Lily was very, very, very, extremely lucky that Ethan waited for her and gave her another chance :P