I have a love-hate relationship with Kristan Higgins. I've read them all, and I'm sure I'll continue to read anything she writes in the future. But. There's always a "but," different for each book. The last one, "Too Good to be True," was definitely her best so far, so I had high hopes for "The Next Best Thing." And it does have a lot going for it. For one thing, I couldn't put it down. I read it in a day. The characters are compelling, and the idea of getting over a marriage that seemed perfect is heartwrenching. But. :-)
The quick summary: Lucy's marriage to Jimmy, the love her of her life, ended after just eight months when he was killed in a car accident. Five years later, when her sister has a baby, she decides she's ready to re-enter the dating scene because she wants children of her own. This involves breaking off her "friends with benefits" arrangement with Ethan, Jimmy's brother, who has been her rock and best friend for years. I confess I've never suffered through the death of a husband, so maybe I'm not the best judge here, but Lucy's utter devotion to her dead spouse FIVE YEARS LATER seemed overdone to me. I could completely sympathize with her reluctance to begin dating again, and her inability to visit his grave rang true. But two-thirds of the way through the book, she is still breaking down into broken-hearted sobs on almost a daily basis. She is unable to have the simplest experience with another man without comparing it to the wonder that was her marriage with Jimmy. She still watches their wedding video so often that she leaves it in the DVD player. She just seemed pathetic to me. I skimmed through about a third of the book, partly because it didn't seem believable, but mainly because I felt so sorry for Ethan.
And as others have said, it's hard to understand Ethan, anyway, because he never really gets to have his say. He's a very likable, nice guy, and I thought it was a nice change for a romantic hero that he wasn't drop-dead gorgeous, just a nice looking guy. But as far as we know, other than a two-month affair with Parker (who ends up being Lucy's best friend), he hasn't ever had another girlfriend in the eight or so years he's known Lucy. Which seemed a little unbelievable. And what was the deal with the whole town letting her win her softball games because they felt sorry for her? Sure, the season after Jimmy's death, that would be sweet. But five years later, it's insulting. The more I thought about all the little details after I put the book down, the less sense I could make of it.
It does have a good ending. Lucy finally learns to be a little more realistic about her first marriage and comes to truly value Ethan. But the whole thing would have worked better for me if it had been three years since Jimmy's death instead of five. Or if it needed to be five years, if Lucy wasn't still so hung up on him. It's a great read if you're spending a day on airplanes and in airports, but not much more than that. In fact, if you haven't read "Too good to be True," just skip this one and read that instead.