Out of the Clear Blue Sky by Kristan Higgins

Anybody who has read much of this blog know I’m a big Higgins fan. Her characters are just so compelling and the emotional journey the reader goes on is always so satisfying. 

This novel, where Lillie’s son is about to go off to college when her self-absorbed and a little delusional husband (Brad) abruptly leaves her and then gaslights her in an attempt to make her think it’s totally fine for him to dump her for a younger woman in the name of finding joy for himself. He apparently deserves joy while she deserves to be cast aside like a bag of dirty laundry. He claims that their marriage has been over for years, and that’s what he tells her and anyone else who will listen, even though Lillie had no clue because they were actually fine until a few months earlier when a man-stealing woman moved to town. 

Brad is a little over the top in my view, but still believable enough for the book to work. He’s a therapist so a lot of his gaslighting is psychobabble, and it’s freaking annoying. I wanted to punch almost every time he speaks. He’s so bad that I question Lillie’s taste a little, because he’s always been a little like this. But I think she comes to realize that about him.

But really, this story is Lillie’s, and it’s enjoyable. Lillie is a midwife nurse (I think that’s the term), which I didn’t even know was a thing. I learned possibly way too much about childbirth, but that’s okay. Maybe I’ll help a woman who goes into labor in public some time. Who knows. 

Anyway, I did love Lillie. She has some good friends and interesting dynamics with her parents and sister (which develop as part of the story). Lillie’s trying to be a good mom to her son even though he’s across the country, also trying to process Brad’s betrayal. Overall, I think she handles everything rather well, and the reader is going to be with her all the way. 

This book is a little unusual for Higgins because she includes a second point of view, that of the villain, the man-stealing Melissa. Her story was actually interesting, but it didn’t change the fact that she was a horrible person when she got to town, and I empathized with her only a bit. 

So here’s another winner from Higgins. Definitely read it if you’re a fan, or even if you’re interested in trying her out for the first time. 

Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

I’m a huge fan of Higgins and have read all her romances and am working my way through her more recent novels. I’ve had Now That You Mention It on my TBR shelf for a few years now. Actually, it was technically in a very tall stack of books perched precariously on the edge of a rolltop desk in my bedroom, but I had to move all those books when junk removal took the desk, and this book was the winner. And I’m glad because I loved it.

Now That You Mention It book cover

This book follows Nora Stuart, who escaped a Maine island by winning a scholarship to Tufts, and she’s never looked back. But when her world falls apart after she gets hit by a van, she returns for the first time in fifteen years. She was worried because she figured she was considered a pariah on her home island, and when she reaches it, she discovers she wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t matter that it’s entirely unfair—the scholarship she won was “supposed” to go to her popular classmate and she “stole” it from him. People don’t recognize her because when she left after high school, she was overweight and largely considered a loser, but she’s really sorted herself out in Boston, where she’s shed the weight, has a great career as a doctor, has a great boyfriend, and has a great dog. Well, the boyfriend has gone a bit sideways, as he reveals himself to be a jerk, but everything else is great. However, there is something in her past that has shaken her up quite a bit, which she calls the Big Bad Event (BBE). It takes a while for us to find out what happened, but Higgins paces that reveal perfectly. 

On the island, she doesn’t exactly get a warm reception. Her mom is rather emotionally unavailable, Nora has to share a room with her fifteen-year-old niece who’s living there because Nora’s sister is in jail, and she’s constantly having to explain who she is to the islanders and then field the surprise and questions. But when she gets herself set up on a cute fancy houseboat some Uber-rich guy has moored there, things get better. She gets herself hired at the local urgent care clinic and makes friends there. She knows she’s going back to Boston after she has healed and her leave is over, but she’s settling in. She works hard on getting her very cynical niece to open up, befriends the super-friendly teenage daughter of one of her classmates, engineers a friendship between that girl and her niece, and gets friendly herself with the sexy old classmate, all while trying to avoid the former classmate she “stole” the scholarship from. She also befriends the woman she remembers as the Chinese girl with an accent that joined their school senior year, but she’s now discovered that the woman is hilarious, takes no shit, and throws F-bombs around right and left. I love her. (I love non-aggressive cussing. More people should cuss non-aggressively.)

So there’s a lot going on, and a lot is at stake emotionally, which is what I love about Higgins’ books. It’s great to follow Nora as she figures things out and shapes her future, which is different from what she imagined when she first arrived back on the island. I highly recommend this for fans of stories about taking a hard look at your life and doing better by yourself. 

Fireworks (True North #6) by Sarina Bowen

Fireworks book coverEven though I’m swamped by my MFA program, I started this book (which of course I pre-ordered) as soon as it arrived on my doorstep. I’m such a Bowen fan and this is my favorite series of hers. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

This story features Benito Rossi, Zara’s and Alec’s brother. As great a character as he is, the star of the book for me was Skye, who’s a very tall and damaged from a crappy childhood, but she’s made good with her life. She got herself through college (at an elite university, no less) and has a coveted job at a news station in NYC. Things aren’t perfect though, due to an on-screen gaffe Skye made. She’s on a forced vacation and has ended up traveling to Vermont to do a favor for her slightly wild stepsister. Going back to Vermont is a bit of a nightmare for her for one primary reason: Benito.

Twelve years earlier, Skye had been sixteen and Benito eighteen when she was stuck living in a trailer with a dirty and mean cop her mom was shacking up with (Jimmy Gage). Benito was her solace and tried to keep her safe from Gage, even though he wasn’t able to do much. She spent as much time as possible outside the trailer and sitting in a clearing in the woods with Benito and his ukulele. They kept things chaste until right before prom, when he finally asked her to the dance, making her beyond happy. But then he didn’t show and Gage told her he’d abandoned her for another girl. Skye packed a bag and fled to live with her aunt in New York. But what she doesn’t know is the real reason he didn’t pick her up that night.

Benito has never been the same since the day she disappeared without explanation. For him, she was the one. But still, he’s made good with his life, too. He spent time in the military and is now a narcotics officer for the state (I think; I might not have his employer right). He’s in the middle of a case involving Gage and others that will hopefully result in a huge drug bust. And then Skye shows up, with some almost-cockamamie story about her stepsister.

Skye has to stay with Benito because she was going to stay in her stepsister’s house, but it’s been tossed. The sparks are still there. But there’s still the problem of trust on Skye’s part, given that she doesn’t know the real reason Benito didn’t show up that night—he was in jail for punching Gage after he’d threatened Zara. Nobody knows that she doesn’t know, either, so it’s an old sore that won’t go away. Benito can tell that Skye’s a little fragile, but he’s not sure why and it takes a while for him to suss it out and help her get over it.

The book has the expected sexytimes, which are good and a little different because Skye isn’t exactly (at first) an enthusiastic seductress. Benito helps bring her out of her shell and discover who she is. Overall, Bowen takes us on the emotional journey you’d expect from her. I sincerely hope this series never ends.

A must for True North fans and highly recommended for everyone who loves a good contemporary romance.

Fools Rush In by Kristan Higgins

Fools Rush In book coverFools Rush In is one of Higgins’ earlier books and it definitely feels that way to me. Still, it is a cute story overall. 

Millie has just returned to her native Cape Cod after completing all the arduous steps to become a doctor. She’s about to start a job at a summer clinic as one of two doctors and has the possibility of joining an older, more established doctor in private practice after the summer. Everything career-wise looks good, but Millie’s main concern seems to be her love life. Specifically, she has had a crush on Joe Carpenter for half her life and now that she’s back, she wants to try to get him to really see her. She’s convinced he’s a great guy with all these amazing personality traits nobody else really sees. Because she semi-stalked him while she lived there and now that she’s returned, she’s back to her old tricks. Spying on his house to see when he leaves so she can put herself in his path, stuff like that. The only problem is that he doesn’t seem to know she exists. 

There are several people in her life. One is Sam, her sister’s new ex-husband. She’s also got her nephew Danny, who’s amazingly friendly for a 17-year-old. Her best friend Katie is a supportive voice of reason. There’s the stereotypical gay couple who are there to give fashion advice. And of course there’s Joe, who does eventually see her. But then she comes to learn more about the real Joe, and he’s not exactly what she’s built him up to be in her mind over the last 15 years. But the thing is, there is a man in Millie’s life who does live up to her expectations of Joe, if only she can see him. 

The book is told entirely in first person from Millie’s point of view. It is, of course, funny. But Millie is one of Higgins’ silly girls, something that always has bothered me a little (see my earlier reviews of her books). The pseudo-stalking is the main thing. Millie’s of course self-effacing, which I generally like, but sometimes it goes too far into silliness. It’s very low on the spice scale, lower than most of Higgins’ other books. Still, she goes pretty deep into Millie’s emotional state and we can really feel her pain when she deals with heartbreak. 

There were a couple things that bugged me, one more so than the other. First, I mentioned the gay couple. They are so stereotypical it’s kind of embarrassing. But the other, more important, thing is this incident that happens at the nursing home she works at once a week. Millie is basically sexually assaulted by an old guy (he captures her and rubs himself against her until she can get away) and this is largely set up by another woman, who doesn’t warn Millie even though she knows what he’s like. And the thing is, they all totally laugh this off. Because he’s an old guy it’s presented as just funny. It bugged me. 

Anyway, die hard Higgins fans will probably have already read this one. I have sort of mixed feelings about it because of the things mentioned in the last paragraph, even if Millie is kind of cool as a successful doctor. If the other things won’t bother you, maybe give it a go. 

The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

The Cafe by the Sea book coverFlora is a paralegal living the life in London. She’s convinced she loves it and doesn’t regret leaving where she grew up, the (fictional) island of Mure north of Scotland. She hasn’t been back for several years after leaving under a dark cloud of some sort. When a very odd work assignment sends her back—still against her wishes—she’s reacquainted with her dad and brothers. We learn pretty quick that her mom died earlier and it was after her funeral when Flora had left.

The island cast is full—there’s Flora’s gruff dad, her teasing brothers, her young niece who yells all her words, an old friend to commiserate with about men, the uber-rich American who’s bought a chunk of the island and pissed everyone off in the process, a giant and cuddly love interest. And of course Joel, Flora’s boss in London who she’s had a hopeless crush on since she started working there, visits on several occasions. There’s ceilidh dancing, mountain hiking, a thing with a whale. If you like things Scottish, all this will appeal to you.

Flora’s cool and I liked her brothers and the rich American. I wasn’t as big on Joel, but I guess a lot of women find jerky men attractive if they have some vulnerability, which he does. We eventually find out what terrible thing Flora did before she left Mure the last time. She finally really makes amends with her family in a satisfying way.

So overall, it was an enjoyable read. There were some things that bugged me about the book, however. The first was a stylistic choice that surprised me because it wasn’t there in The Little Bookshop on the Corner, another of Colgan’s novels that I really liked. Specifically, I’m talking about head-hopping—shifting points of view from one character’s to another within the same scene. Now, there are some popular authors who do this (I can think of Nora Roberts and Beverly Jenkins), but it personally drives me crazy. I like deep point of view and generally prefer only one character’s perspective, though I can handle switching between characters if we’re talking about the entire scene. She switches not only in the same scene, but sometimes in the same sentence:

Obediently they breathed, Joel thinking crossly about money, Flora enjoying the fresh air but wondering why Colton appeared to think it all belonged to him.

I know there is omniscient point of view, where the author can get in anybody’s head, but that needs to be established early on, in my view. This book is solidly in Flora’s point of view about 97% of the time.

The other thing has to do with the island culture. I understood that the island was far to the north of Scotland. At one point they make a reference to Reykjavik being closer than London, which means it’s pretty far out there. But Colgan has the island fully Gaelic, with people speaking the language and living the culture just as they do on the Western Isles. But the northern islands off Scotland aren’t Gaelic—they’re more influenced by Norwegian culture and have a language called Norn that came from Norse. So then I thought, okay, maybe it’s way to the north of the Western Isles rather than the mainland of Scotland… but then near the end of the book she mentions people speaking Norn. Gaelic and Norn don’t coexist naturally (there are efforts to bring back Gaelic all over the country, so maybe now there’s some of that).

Anyway, enough complaining. If head-hopping or weird cultural mash-ups bug you, maybe skip this one. But if they don’t, it’s a sweet story.

Too Good to Be True by Kristan Higgins

Too Good to Be True book coverToo Good to Be True is a standalone from Higgins. It features Grace Emerson, whose fiancé dumped her weeks before their wedding and later starting dating her younger sister (technically with Grace’s blessing, but she didn’t like it). The book opens with a wedding, a favorite setting for Higgins, where Grace is dateless and ashamed of the way her family pities her and worries over the whole ex-fiancé-dating-the-sister thing. She invents a boyfriend to make everyone (and herself) feel better.

Then, when she gets home that evening, she sees what she thinks is a burglar at the empty house next door. After a series of humorous (but a little overly silly, in my view) incidents involving the presumed robber, she meets Callahan O’Shea and gets him hauled into the police station overnight. Unfortunately for her (in those moments, anyway), he’s her new neighbor and not a burglar. And he’s seriously attractive and so not her type. Her type is a little nerdy and maybe a little scrawny, and definitely not brawny and strong like Callahan is.

The book is full of Higgins’ trademark humor and depth of emotion. But I have to admit that (especially at the beginning), Callahan felt a little flat to me. I mean, he’s a guy and doesn’t say much (which is fine), but when he does speak it felt a little like filler. As Grace gets to know him better, he livens up quite a bit, so perhaps it’s just his character. Grace is entertaining throughout, even if she is kind of silly and even ridiculous at times. I loved that she was a history teacher and did Civil War reenactment battles. So nerdy. And great.

I wouldn’t normally give away the black moment, but I actually felt like this was a little weak spot in the book. It has to do with Grace’s made-up boyfriend. Callahan freaks out when he realizes that she lied to him—and her whole family—about it. And I just didn’t know why he reacted like that, as I felt we didn’t really have the buildup of an aversion to lying like I would have expected.

Regardless, overall, I did enjoy this book even if I felt it wasn’t Higgins’ best. Fans of hers will still like it.

Dr. Strange Beard (Winston Brothers #5) by Penny Reid

Dr. Strange Beard book coverAt 26, Roscoe Winston is the youngest of the Winston clan and a vet(erinarian) in Nashville. We’ve also seen him to be a bit of a flirt in previous books. We come to learn why he’s that way, and how he’d had his heart broken in high school by Simone Payton.

Simone’s a cool chick—she’s currently working as an undercover FBI agent even though that’s not really her calling (which is in a research lab). It’s a temporary assignment. There’s been a string of murders in East Tennessee that the FBI knows are being perpetrated by the president of the biker club the Winstons’ father is in. The fact that Simone’s from there gets her assigned to the case. She’s working at the diner her mom runs in Green Valley. Simone is focused on her career and believes that the whole idea of love is stupid. She doesn’t like feelings and never has. But unfortunately for her feelings, her assignment brings her in contact with Roscoe.

Roscoe, for his part, isn’t happy to see her because she rejected him in high school after they’d been best friends forever, and the memories still pain him. He has a fantastic memory, so he relives the whole rejection any time he sees her. And he keeps seeing her pop up inexplicably everywhere he goes.

What Roscoe doesn’t know is that she’s trying to protect him and break the case at the same time. He’s become important because his father wants to talk to him for some reason. And Simone can’t let that just happen without inserting herself.

Dr. Strange Beard does start off a little slow, I have to admit. Simone in particular was hard to get into because she’s very logical and tries to deny emotion. But by a quarter in, it started to pick up more and then got good—and Simone is great. Roscoe’s sweet and different from his brothers. The book leans a bit toward romantic suspense, especially in the second half, which isn’t surprising given Simone’s profession. The build-up with the suspense delivers with an emotional and riveting grand finale in the diner.

My recommendation is pretty much the same as it is for all of Reid’s books: read it if you’re a fan or if you like quirky and smart heroines.

Beauty and the Mustache (Knitting in the City #4) by Penny Reid

Beauty and the Mustache book coverBeauty and the Mustache is the fourth in the Knitting in the City series and effectively book 0 in the Winston Brothers series. For those of you familiar with the Winston Brothers brothers series, this book feels more a part of that one than Knitting in the City, even though the knitting group makes multiple appearances, as do Nico and Quinn.

So this book is about Ashley, the sole Winston sister. Ashley left Green Valley, Tennessee eight years ago to go to college and then take up life in Chicago, and she’s never regretted that choice. Especially since she’s kept in touch with the one family member she really liked, her mom. But when her mom disappears into the hospital and won’t see anybody, Ashley braves the journey there to find that her mom will see her. (I admit, I never got the reason for this, but whatever, people do weird things.) And she has late-stage cancer and mere weeks to live.

So now Ashley has to settle in with her brothers and a broody mystery man named Drew Runous who seems to just always be there at the house. Eventually, they find out Drew is the executor of Ashley’s mom’s estate, which matters because she actually has quite a bit of money and never managed to get a divorce from Ashley’s horrible father. The Winstons bring their mom home and two hospice nurses come in to help, with Ashley or one of the brothers constantly sitting with her.

But Drew. For Ashley, she can’t get him out of her head because he’s broody, unfairly good-looking, and a fan of poetry. He’s always quoting his favorite philosopher—Nietzche, who Ashley can’t stand even though she’s as familiar with him as Drew is. He’s also got some nice hands and lips which she keeps accidentally coming into contact with. But still, he seems to dislike her and she can’t figure him out. Plus, she’s there for her mom, not some fling.

Drew is definitely committed to her brothers and her mom as if he were part of the family and he keeps helping the family, so Ashley’s confused. And he keeps doing little things for her, until finally she thinks she sees him for who he is.

The book is told entirely in first person and is full of Reid’s customary humor despite the dark topics of the book.

If anyone had told me just a week ago that I would be kissing Drew on the back porch of my momma’s house as though his lips and body were my only source of nourishment, and I would be left with a lingering craving that could not be satiated, I would have told that person about the alien invasion happening in Poughkeepsie.

Drew’s pretty appealing, nice and swoon-worthy with his soft side contrasted by the fact that he casually wrestles bears when the need arises. And of course like all the books in the Winston Brothers series, this one is full of family and heart, because Ashley realizes her brothers have grown into decent people, despite being total buttwads while she was growing up.

Recommended for fans of Reids and also humans.

The Accidentals by Sarina Bowen

The Accidentals book coverThis will only be the second time I’ve reviewed a young adult title on here, but I couldn’t not review Bowen’s first foray into YA. And The Accidentals is a romance, after all. Just like all of Bowen’s books, there’s more going on than the romance.

17-year-old Rachel’s mom just died from cancer and she’s still in a group home while social services tries to sort out where she’ll go. Things are really in upheaval because although she’s never met him, her father is a world-famous rock star named Freddy Ricks. And he seems interested in finally being a father, nearly 18 years too late. She isn’t too keen on him because of her mom’s opinions, but she also always secretly wished he’d come into her life.

She spends the summer with him in California, where she gets to know him (a little) and also meets his bandmates. His lifestyle is pretty much like what you’d expect—he’s a man-child. Even his parents don’t know he had a child. Rachel wants to ask him about what happened between him and her mom, but she’s too afraid to say much. She just kind of floats along until it’s time to go to the boarding school in the fall.

The best thing that happens over the summer is virtually meeting Jake, another senior-to-be at the boarding school. They talk via email, then by text, then on the phone all before school starts. When she gets there and finds out he’s really cute, too, her little crush develops into something more.

While at the school, she joins an a cappella group, befriends her roommate, and deepens her friendship with Jake. Her father has moved to the same town so she tries to maintain their relationship, even though it’s very much up and down, because she’s so ambivalent about him. He keeps doing things to let her down. They have a long way to go before everything’s good between them. But he is trying, even if he’s got more growing up to do than she does.

It’s really sweet when Rachel and Jake finally get together. We don’t get typical Bowen heat here (that would just be weird in a YA title). And, Rachel discovers that despite what she sort of wants, when things get too heated with Jake, she shuts down and pushes him away. She has to figure out what’s getting in her way before they can really be happy.

I’ll admit it—I didn’t love this as much as I love Bowen’s True North series. However, it’s a good book with a subplot that’s almost as important as the romance. If you like that sort of thing, or even if you just like YA romance, check this one out.

In Your Dreams (Blue Heron #4) by Kristan Higgins

In Your Dreams book coverHere’s another Blue Heron book with a dog (the heroine’s)—and a cat (the hero’s) this time, which made me extra happy, as I’m more of a cat person. This is Jack’s book—the brother of all the Holland women paired off in the first three books of the series. With this one I finish off the series (I read them out of order), and I’m sad it’s ending. Higgins is as funny and real as she normally is.

Jack’s a fairly happy and chill guy, but things have gotten complicated. First, a while back his wife of only a few months cheated on him and now she’s back in town, wanting to get back together. But even more significant is the fact that a couple weeks before the book opens, he rescued four teenagers from a car in a freezing lake. All but one of them are fine, but the fourth is in a coma and Jack is pretty distraught about his failure to save them all. On top of that, the entire town of Manningsport, New York is treating him like a major hero, when all he feels is haunted by the last kid not being okay.

Emmaline Neal’s got a big problem, even if it isn’t in the same class as Jack’s. Her ex, who dumped her in a fairly unpleasant way, is getting married and has invited her to the wedding. She needs a date and everyone knows Jack’s always up for that sort of thing—doing a lady a favor. What she doesn’t know is how perfect the timing is, because Jack would do almost anything to get away from the hero-worshipping town. He’s even up for playing her pretend boyfriend.

So off they go. They behave like perfectly platonic friends until the last night there, when they end up in her bed. After they get back, Jack wants to date her. She is like a salve for his current heartache over the fourth kid. But Emmaline, having just been reminded of her own painful experience, doesn’t want to risk having her heart broken again. Eventually he wears her down with his charm and they start dating. They seem really good for each other, even if Jack probably is using her a little (as a distraction from his newly-stressful life) and she’s falling in love with him a bit too fast.

Add to this equation Jack’s ex-wife, Hadley. She insinuates herself into almost every date he and Emmaline have. Em is pissed off by how willing he is to accommodate Hadley, helping her out when she’s injured and so on, when Hadley’s obviously playing him to try to get him back. Emmaline doesn’t quite trust him with Hadley, given her past experience. Jack’s got to figure out a way to get rid of Hadley before Em is done with him.

This relationship was fun to watch developing. I really liked both Emmaline and Jack. Em is a strong character—she’s a cop, after all—but she’s got her own complicated history to deal with. Jack’s main challenge in the book, other than Hadley, is how to deal with the aftermath of the rescue. That is handled nicely, I thought. So I recommend this one if you want to laugh as well as see some people deal with some difficult issues.

Shooting for the Stars (Gravity #3) by Sarina Bowen

Shooting for the Stars book coverIn this third and final installment of the Gravity series, Bowen gives us Stella Lazarus and Bear Barry. Anyone who’s read the second book will already know these characters because Stella is Hank’s sister and Bear is his best friend who has stuck around while Hank’s adjusting to his new life in a wheelchair. This book runs in parallel to book 2.

Stella’s cool—she’s a successful snowboarder, competing on the circuit with a few sponsorships, even though they don’t quite cover all her expenses. The Lazaruses are well-off, though, so she’s still out there. She wins a competition just after the book opens and is really happy. Bear is a fellow snowboarder but his career seems to be taking a nosedive—just as Stella’s winning, he’s being told that he’s being dropped from the tour. He’s pretty devastated but tries to keep his spirits up for Stella. Hank goes back to Vermont that night and leaves Stella and Bear to party.

Stella and Bear both have good reasons for getting their drinking on, and they do just that. The only catch is that they each have long had the hots for each other, even though Stella thinks Bear isn’t interested and Bear thinks she’s off-limits as his best friend’s little sister. However, the drinking muddies the water a bit and they end up having a whole lot of fun in the fancy suite Hank left for Stella to use.

But the morning brings the horrible news about Hank’s accident. They fly to Vermont immediately, their tryst sort of forgotten (but not really, of course) over the next few days. But then Stella tries to talk to him about it and he pulls the classic “just sex” excuse. They start avoiding each other even though living and working in the same town/space means that takes some real effort.

But they’ve both got other things to worry about. For one thing, Hank. But as Hank gets himself sorted out, Stella’s frustrated by her parents, who are refusing to continue to fund her career and instead expect her to work for their nonprofit. And Bear’s career is over so he needs a new one. He has an interest in filmmaking and a talent for camera work, and he strives to turn that into something that can sustain him. On the personal front, Bear also has some growing to do. He can’t seem to say the right thing—sometimes he can’t say anything at all. He’s also got to learn some self-respect along the way in order to realize that he can, actually, be with Stella.

This is another winner from Bowen, even if it doesn’t dig as deep as some of her later books do. It’s still really entertaining and has several good and long love scenes. It’s a must for any Bowen fan and especially if you’ve read Gravity #2.

Waiting on You (Blue Heron #3) by Kristan Higgins

Waiting on You book coverI devoured this second-chance romance in a day because I had to see how everything played out. This is the third in the Blue Heron series and is Colleen O’Rourke’s story.

Colleen’s as entertaining as ever, running her Manningsport, NY bar with her twin brother, Connor, and flirting with every guy who comes in, all while playing town matchmaker. She thinks of herself as happy, but really she’s lonely because she’s never truly gotten over her first love. She and Lucas Campbell were the real deal back in high school and college, but a minor overreaction on her part and a misunderstanding on his part caused them to break up when they were in their early twenties. We don’t really know how that happened until a ways into the book because Higgins tells this story with the same flashback approach she has used in the other books. So we get the whole history while seeing how things develop now.

Lucas has been living in Chicago for his entire adult life (they had a long-distance relationship in college) but he’s back in Manningsport for a family emergency. This naturally brings Colleen and him into contact. Colleen, despite her big and confident personality, becomes a bit of an idiot around Lucas because she just isn’t over him. He looks as good as ever and their chemistry hasn’t dissipated, either. She experiences verbal diarrhea around him, which is generally funny.

As always, the story is full of family dynamics. In this case, it’s three of them—Colleen’s mom, dad, and stepmom; Lucas’s cousin, uncle, and aunt; and Lucas’s original family (his mom and dad). We don’t see much of Lucas’s dad, but we understand the impact both his mom’s early death and what happened with his dad had on him. Lucas’s “adoptive” family plays a very important role in the story, as its his uncle’s illness that brings him to town. Colleen’s family is complicated but not as troubled as Lucas’s.

There are also some subplots and numerous minor characters. The most notable one is her matchmaking attempt with Paulie and Bryce (Lucas’s cousin). I never really got into that one. Bryce was pretty clueless about everything and a total player who I had trouble imagining changing. But Lucas’s uncle’s illness is really important for Lucas, as is his uncle’s request that he help Bryce grow up. That’s a little funny at times, but I just never liked Bryce. Despite that, the main story made up for it for me.

Since this is a Higgins book, the writing is top notch. She is just one of the best writers out there for taking the reader on an emotional journey. The dialogue is crisp and witty and the (primary) plot is satisfying and well laid out. The heat level is not very high, due to her way of writing around the details while still giving you a good idea of what’s going on.

Obviously if you’re a Higgins fan, you’ll want to read this one. But if you like contemporary romances with a big cast, you’ll probably like it, as well. I’ve got book #4 on my desk waiting to be read.

Falling from the Sky (Gravity #2) by Sarina Bowen

Falling from the Sky book coverThis is another sports-themed winner from Bowen. As the second in the Gravity series, it’s still snow sports. Hank “Hazardous” Lazarus is a renowned snowboarder on his way to the Olympics and Callie Anders (who we know from the first book in the series—she’s Willow’s doctor friend) meets him at the beginning of the book right before he mistimes a jump and gives himself a serious spinal injury. She ends up seeing him in the hospital not long afterward, when it’s not clear if he’ll walk again.

Nine months later, she sees him in the hospital again—this time for alcohol poisoning. He asks her out but of course she says no because he’s her patient. But they both make an impression on each other anyway. A little later, Hank signs up for a study that’s supposed to help with mobility and because his parents are basically funding the study, he gets away with stipulating that he’ll only participate if Callie runs it. So this puts them in regular contact, and because he’s technically not her patient, Callie might be able to date him (she’s not entirely clear on the ethics).

They do get to know each other better and spend some time together, but it’s a bumpy ride. Hank still has a little more work to do to accept his condition (though he’s not doing too bad, really). Callie’s struggles aren’t quite as life-altering. Her ex—a doctor who cheated on her—is still around at the hospital, reminding her of her loneliness. But she can’t take Hank too seriously, as she knows he was a player before his accident and is used to beautiful women throwing themselves at him. She doesn’t want to be the one he settles for. Hank’s got to convince her he is serious.

Bowen is just so good. Her dialogue is sharp, the feels are real and deep, the heat level is high, and she goes in depth into the challenges the characters are facing. There are so many wonderful details that only someone who knows what they’re talking about would know. For instance, she talks about how Callie quickly learns to stand a bit away from anyone in a wheelchair so that when they’re talking, they don’t have to strain their neck looking up at her. And the concept of the zone of transition—the area between regular feeling and the damaged area, which has heightened sensitivity. Plus there are some of the doctor things Callie thinks and does.

Of course, if you love Bowen as much as I do, you have to read this one. But I think anyone who likes a good story that deals with genuinely challenging issues would also like it.

The Best Man (Blue Heron #1) by Kristan Higgins

The Best Man book coverSo despite some of my earlier reservations, I’m clearly a Higgins fan now since I can’t stop reading her books.

The Best Man was an enemies-to-lovers one. Faith Holland grew up being in love with Jeremy and intimidated by Jeremy’s best friend, Levi Cooper. Levi was never nice to her. Especially when he convinced Jeremy to come out of the closet just as the two of them were about to say their vows in front of the entire town of Manningsport, New York. After that humiliating debacle, she moved to San Francisco. Jeremy stayed on as the town’s doctor. Levi left the Army and moved back to Manningsport and became the town police chief.

Three years later, Faith returns to Manningsport—temporarily—in response to a mild family crisis. She’s a landscape designer and intends to fix up the family’s old barn so they can do weddings (they own one of the local wineries). She’s also got to keep her father from marrying a rather unpleasant and apparently gold-digging woman.

On her way into town from the airport, she’s pulled over for speeding by none other than Levi. It doesn’t go well for Faith, but it’s also evident they have some serious hostility between them.

He glanced at her license then at her.

“Yes, it’s a bad picture,” she snapped. “Want a tissue sample?”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary. This has expired, though. Another fine.”

Her eyes narrowed, and she crossed her arms under her chest. Still had that great rack.

“How was Afghanistan?” she asked, looking over his shoulder.

“Really great. I’m thinking of getting a summer place there.

They clearly have a ways to go before they get together.

Most of the book centers around Faith and her family and their antics. Faith’s relationship with her family is good, but there’s some tension that doesn’t come to a head until late in the book. When she was twelve, Faith survived a car wreck that killed her mom and she’s always felt that her family sort of blamed her for the wreck. Still, Faith’s voice is great and full of humor.

Faith had dressed for the occasion, oh, yes. One does not meet one’s gay ex-fiancé without looking fantastic. Her cutest San Francisco dress, a bright yellow confection with good seaming and tulle flowers bunched along the hem. In SF, it had seemed like sunshine itself; now, seeing Jessica dressed in black skinny jeans and a black V-neck sweater, Faith felt like a giant kindergartener. Well. At least she had on slutty shoes.

With Levi, it’s the whole town’s antics instead. People call him for the most mundane things, and it’s pretty funny. He crawls under a deck to rescue a chicken from a dog that just wants to be friends. He’s resigned to it.

Levi sighed. More days than not, he imagined that he would die at the hands of Officer Everett Field’s general ineptitude. Alas, Everett was the only child of Marian Field, Manningsport’s mayor, and basically had a job for life. He wasn’t a bad kid, and he had a wicked case of hero worship where Levi was concerned, but he drew his weapon roughly six times a day.

We also see Levi and his younger sister Sarah, who’s in her first semester of college and struggling to adjust. Their mom died a year earlier. Sarah keeps wanting to come home and Levi’s constantly fighting her because he wants her to have the opportunity he didn’t have.

Faith stays with her grandparents at first, but that’s draining so she rents an apartment over the opera house, which turns out to be the same place Levi lives. And Levi happens to be around when she has a medical emergency so he can save the day—and they can get a little closer. It takes some missteps, but they gradually begin to see each other in different lights. It helps that Faith is finally coming to terms with what happened with Jeremy and Levi’s role in it. She and Jeremy are friends again and she’s handling it.

Overall, this was another enjoyable Higgins novel. I laughed out loud several times, cringed in appropriate places, and rooted for Faith and Levi despite the fact that he was kind of a jerk to her. He changes (believably) and so does Faith. You’ll like it if you’re already a fan or if you just like humorous small-town romance.

Speakeasy (True North #5) by Sarina Bowen

Speakeasy book coverHere’s another installment of my favorite series. Needless to say, I was excited to read it and pretty much devoured it in two days. This one is May Shipley and Alec Rossi’s (Zara’s brother) story.

I admit, I was a little confused when I first read the back blurb, since I’d been under the impression that May was a lesbian from previous books. However, it’s clear pretty early that she’s bi (which I’m sure fits the previous books just fine).

The book opens with May catching her girlfriend of ten months brazenly cheating in Alec’s bar, The Gin Mill. Alec fortunately keeps her from actually injuring the obnoxious woman her girlfriend is cheating with. He helps her move out that night and back into her parents’ house. Which is of course, humiliating. She’s got a history of being a little unstable, especially as a recovering alcoholic. Still, she’s finished law school and has her own firm (with a partner) doing real estate law (okay, fortunately that only comes in as significant at the very end of the book—phew).

Right after that, May has a function she has to go to that the now ex-girlfriend will be at, so she asks Alec to go with her as her fake date. He agrees and afterward they surprise each other with a hookup. Their chemistry is as strong as you’d expect with Bowen writing it. They eventually decide to have a no-strings-attached fling, which is great for a while. May’s still struggling with the end of what she thought would be a long relationship and Alec’s commitment-phobic, so they’re perfectly suited.

As ever, the book has funny moments but still deals with serious issues on both sides. Alec’s full of really bad jokes and there’s an ongoing funny with May claiming to have a relationship with “Selena from law school,” who is actually Alec. But then May’s alcoholism recovery is significant, though it’s not beaten into the ground or anything. I’d say there’s even less of it than Jude’s addiction fight in Steadfast, so Speakeasy’s not as heavy a book as that one. Still, her “addiction is an asshole,” as she puts it. Alec’s problems are less dramatic, but they shape him just the same. He’s running a successful bar, but he knows he needs to expand his offerings a little to stay competitive. His uncle could help him, but the guy thinks Alec’s still the thoughtless party boy he was as a teenager.

Of course the voice and dialogue are great as usual. Alec comes across at the beginning as a carefree guy who really isn’t interested in anything serious, even though he changes dramatically over the course of the book. May thinks his attitude will help her loosen up and live a little. Again, this time without alcohol.

There was a time in my life—in college—when I ran a little wild. I like thinking that Alec can see the fun girl in me. Maybe she isn’t totally gone.

Her self-esteem’s a little down and he’s helping her feel desirable again. As he later puts it,

“I want all of this. I want the whispered late-night conversations. And the holidays where we have to touch each other quietly in a bed that’s too small so we don’t become one of your grandfather’s jokes at the table.”

“I want to wake you up in the middle of the night to talk. And I want to wake up and see your bedhead and drink coffee together when we’re too tired to talk. It won’t always be a party, but it will always be us”

He won’t win any awards with that speech, but it hits all the important points.

Speakeasy’s required reading for fans of Bowen and anyone else who likes substantive contemporary romance.