Catch of the Day

Fools Rush In

Just One of the Guys

 
The Next Best Thing
by Kristan Higgins
(HQN Books, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-272-77438-8
****
The Next Best Thing is a wonderful modern love story that explores the aftermath of grief and moving on with life after tragedy.

Lucy Lang is a young widow who comes from a widowed family.  Her mother and her two aunts, Rose and Iris are widowed, nicknamed the Black Widows by folks in their small town, and all four of them work at the family bakery, called Bunny’s. Lucy is dissatisfied with her mundane daily life and still intensely emotional over losing her wonderful husband, Jimmy, after only months of marriage.  The biggest factor complicating Lucy’s fairly simple life is Ethan Mirabelli, Jimmy’s brother, who she’s been sleeping with recently.  Ethan started out as a great friend and comfort after Jimmy’s death, and after some time had passed, they became intimate. 

Now, Lucy’s come up with a plan for her life.  She tells Ethan that the extra “benefits” to their friendship are over, and she starts dating again, looking for a mediocre, nice man to share her life with – but not her heart.  The heartbreaking devastation she went through after Jimmy’s accident is not something she ever wants to go through again. 

Ethan Mirabelli has a secret: he’s been in love with Lucy ever since he first met her at school.  So, while Lucy has broken off their intimate relationship in favor of dating some local bozos, Ethan decides to bide his time. 

Unfortunately, Lucy’s wild emotions and her attempts to force her life onto a new track include pushing Ethan away and unintentionally hurting him, as Lucy doesn’t know how Ethan really feels about her.  Can Ethan really stick it out, watching Lucy date and possibly get married again?

The Next Best Thing is poignant, the kind of story that will stay with you for quite some time after finishing the last page.  Lucy is a hopeful story of life after losing your beloved spouse, sure to cause reflection and sympathy in any happily married person reading her tale.  Her well-documented emotional journey, from shock to anger to sadness and finally to moving on is a real must-read for anyone who has ever lost someone they love.  Bravo to Kristan Higgins for letting all the raw, real parts of grief come alive in this novel, which makes it not only a moving love story but a truly honest study of the grieving process.

Ethan is a great foil for Lucy’s turbulent, emotional, blinded character.  He’s as steady as a rock, sometimes funny, sometimes brutally honest, but always supportive to Lucy.  He could have seemed flat compared to Lucy’s vibrant character, but he manages to be emotionally open with his own grief over losing Jimmy and beautifully vulnerable about his own deep feelings for Lucy. 

The background characters, most notably the widows, are a great addition to the story.  They provided some real belly laughs, especially in the part of the story when they discuss finding out secrets that the Loves Of Their Lives harbored, after they died.  Bravo to Aunt Iris for forgiving deceased Uncle Pete after she finds his hidden and locked collection of porn after his death!  That scene made me laugh out loud. 

The only real downside for me to this gently written story was that Lucy’s tone (the story is told in the first person) is a little too kitschy.  Do you have a friend that always wants to say something clever and use the latest catch phrases?  That kind of over-the-top conversation is what Lucy uses quite a bit throughout the story and it was tiring,  Lucy could come across as flighty due to her choice of words, but the substance underneath the silliness is what the story’s really about, and luckily the story is very well written.

I would definitely recommend The Next Best Thing.  You won’t regret getting to know the Black Widows and the Mirabelli family.  

--Amy Wroblewsky


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