I’ve read Kristan Higgins' books from last to first and trends are very readily apparent: her preferred location is by the sea, there are always beloved dogs about, and her heroines, at varying levels, enjoy outdoor exercise, have issues with their mothers, and can boast high thresholds for public and/or personal humiliation. Despite these similarities, each book has been far from interchangeable and the female protagonists carry very much their own brand of (quirky, humorous and realistic) contemporary womanhood.
In Fools Rush In we meet Millie Barnes, a doctor who has returned to her hometown in Cape Cod to settle down and marry the man of her teenaged and adult dreams, the gorgeous Joe Carpenter. In all of her twenty-nine years, Millie has barely traded words of any substance with Joe and never had a full conversation, but through skillful and dedicated stalking, feels she knows the amazing man behind the amazing face.
Millie returns to Nauset a little overweight and frumpy-looking and she sets out on a makeover as the first phase in her capture of Joe. This makeover is overseen by her best friend and his partner. At first, I groaned when I thought Higgins was going to roll out not one but two Stylish Gay Best Friends for me to swallow, but thankfully and delightfully, she spared me the annoyance and delivered men who though not fully fleshed out (well, they’re secondary characters for a reason) were a host of other things first (friends to Millie, a loving couple, guest house owners) and gay after. The makeover is generally successful and combined with Millie’s diet and exercise program, she loses a lot of weight, gets a healthy looking glow and becomes attractive, not just to others, but in her eyes as well.
The one person who makes clear that Millie has always been attractive, pre and post makeover, is Sam, her ex-brother-in-law, Sam the romantic interest. Now, another Higgins trend is The Other Man, and in all three books the heroine and The Other Man spend a great deal of time together ‘on screen’ – more than is spent with The Man For Her. It is only in this book that this bothered me and affected my enjoyment of the romance because here, it is so very obvious that Joe is not the right man for her. It’s not a secret; the book blurb basically tells us so, but it takes Millie a very long time to see what the reader already knows. Though I tried to enjoy her experiences on the road to the light bulb moment, it was simply so obvious. And in case it isn't, Higgins gives Joe some unnecessarily less than desirable qualities to hit us over the head with it (when we’d already been beaten and bloodied on the floor with this knowledge). As a consequence, I found myself irritated with Millie. She had a high school crush that she took over well into adulthood and even with evidence to the contrary, she’s still clinging to her specially formulated hero image of the poor guy. Ugh. I do not want to read about this for three quarters of a romance novel.
Thank goodness I only had to read about it for about half (and a bit of that overlapped with the Sam-Millie storyline to lessen my pain further.) Higgins knows how to write nice, normal men. Even when they’re surly and monosyllabic (as is the hero in Catch of the Day), they are decent and comforting characters. They’re not the titled men of historicals or the billionaire tycoons of contemporary series, but they’re still every bit as heroic. Sam and Millie have the best friends turned lovers dynamic which I always enjoy and there are very many touching scenes with them and Sam’s son (and her nephew) Danny.
Just as Higgins knows how to write nice men, she knows how to get the tears running in the emotional scenes (which often are not tied into the romance). Fools Rush In did not prove the exception to the rule and one particular scene with Danny and Millie made the scenery a little blurry for me.
I believe this particular book to be the most ‘chick lit’-y of Higgins’s three novels due in large part to the extended period in which Millie truly believes The Other Man is actually The Man For Her. Due to this, I missed being privy to the inner workings of Sam’s mind. The first person narrative was not an issue for me in her other two novels, but I believe this is because I was satisfied with the pace of the romance. Since I can’t say the same here, I enjoyed the book less, impatient as I was to get to the scenes between Millie and Sam.
As a general novel of - I suppose I can term women’s fiction or chick lit - I would give Fools Rush In an unqualified recommendation. The actual romance arc however, spanned too short a space for me and this lowered my grade from A to B.
-- Abi Bishop
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