Kristan Higgins – “Too Good To Be True”

26 Apr

GENRE: Romance / Contemporary

WHY THIS NOVEL: I really enjoyed Just One of the Guys and I liked Higigns’ voice a lot there.

The back blurb:
“When Grace Emerson’s ex-fiancé starts dating her younger sister, extreme measures are called for. To keep everyone from obsessing about her love life, Grace announces that she’s seeing someone. Someone wonderful. Someone handsome. Someone completely made up. Who is this Mr. Right? Someone exactly unlike her renegade neighbor Callahan O’Shea. Well, someone with his looks, maybe. His hot body. His knife-sharp sense of humor. His smarts and big heart.

Whoa. No. Callahan O’Shea is not her perfect man! Not with his unsavory past. So why does Mr. Wrong feel so…right?”

Grace Emerson has a habit of making up boyfriends. The first time she did it, she was in sixth grade. Over the years, there were quite a few imaginary boyfriends, and her reasons for making them up were varied: for status reasons, for getting rid of unwanted attention – making up a boyfriend was a survival skill.

Now she’s thirty and yes, she finds herself making up a boyfriend again. This time, it’s because she doesn’t want to be pitied by her relatives: a woman of thirty without a man in her life? – an oddity, or so Grace – and her relatives – feel. But even more than that, she wants to make it easier on her baby sister Natalie who is about to marry Grace’s ex-fiancé, the one who left Grace three weeks before the wedding because of said baby sister. That’s what Grace does: make it easier for other people. As the middle child of three sisters, she sees it as her role to smooth things over. Never mind that she isn’t sure she’s completely over Andrew yet, Natalie suffers under the strained relationship between her and Grace, and Grace tries to make it better.

So Grace is thirty, has impossible hair, a yarping little dog, and an imaginary boyfriend invented mostly so that her sister doesn’t feel so guilty about her upcoming marriage to Grace’s ex-fiancé Andrew. Grace is also on the lookout for a real man via online dating services while dealing with her parents and sisters, her students at school, her weekends out enacting battles of the Civil War, and the ex-con who moved into the house next to her. It sounds like a lot of fun, and it is.

The ex-con is Callahan O’Shea and the designated hero of this story which doesn’t come as a big surprise – after all, Grace and Cal have a “cute meet.” She clubs him over the head with an old field hockey stick because she thinks he’s a housebreaker. Their second encounter doesn’t go much better because then she hits him – accidentally – with a rake.

From there, their encounters just continue in that way. On top of Grace’s propensity to physically hurt Cal whenever she claps eyes on him – quite contrary to what she’s like usually – she also feels very wary about him because of his time in prison. In fact, she’s rather rude to him – also contrary to what she’s like usually because normally, she’s a people pleaser. So it takes quite some time until they come together.

As with Just One of the Guys, I liked the author’s voice. The writing flowed smoothly and it was quite funny. How couldn’t it be with such story elements? But despite that, I found it rather easy to put the book down. The story ran along pleasantly enough but Grace’s narrations of her catastrophic dates, her Civil War battles, her encounters with Cal, or her meetings with her family, lacked a certain compelling-ness that kept me reading. I knew the silver lining was supposed to be what will happen when Grace’s lie about her imaginary boyfriend comes out but for around the first three quarters of the book, Too Good to Be True is more like a slow moving, gurgling brook with still spots and detours than a swift-flowing, raging river (ouch).

Not that I would call the last quarter a raging river, either. Too Good to Be True is not a action-driven story. But during the last chapters of the novel, the core of the story took finally shape, all the different story elements came together, and my interest picked up: How does Grace’s lying to her family about her new boyfriend compare to what Cal did for his family (his brother, that is)? What does this say about her not-always-nice treatment of Cal for most part of the story?

I didn’t see the romance as the core of the story even though Grace wants to find a man to marry and have kids with him and Too Good to Be True is called “Romance” on the spine. The reason is not that this story is told in first person from Grace’s POV (so I didn’t know what the hero thought) or that the door is closed on the bedroom scenes; the reason is that the romance seemed to be just one story line among other story lines.

Maybe even less. Sure, there is Grace’s mental lusting after Cal whenever she sees or thinks of him. I thought her inclination to drift of then actually quite funny. But most of the time Grace and Cal are at odds, with Grace being rude and judgmental because of Cal’s past and with Cal leaving Grace. But because he so often walks away when Grace is rude, and their meetings didn’t seem to be more than just accidental meetings, I didn’t see that he was in love with Grace. I knew it because I knew he was the hero but I didn’t get the fuzzy feelings I so like with first person POV stories when I see something the heroine doesn’t.

I guess Grace attraction to Cal against her will is supposed to be funny. For me, it didn’t work really well because Grace just assumed prison = the worst. Early on, she expects him to make off with her silver spoons at the first opportunity just because he was in prison. I understand being wary but Grace just seemed too rude, too judgmental, too over-the-top in her reaction for my liking. But this behavior and Grace’s lie about having a boyfriend contrasts nicely with something Cal already knows and Grace has to learn: the importance of truth in dealing with other people, especially your family.

Verdict: Overall, Too Good to Be True was an enjoyable read about a woman who has to learn to stand up for herself against her family (3,5/5).


6 Responses to “Kristan Higgins – “Too Good To Be True””

  1. nath Sunday, April 26, 2009 at 10:54 pm #

    Hi Taja!

    Looks like I’m not the only want who revamped my blog 🙂 I like it 🙂

    I enjoyed Too Good to Be True, but again, the thing is… it feels more like chick-lit. I think that if Grace would have gotten with Cal earlier, the relationship would have been more compelling 🙂

  2. Taja Monday, April 27, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    Nath – LOL! and thanks. 😀

    I was bored yesterday afternoon and before I knew it, I found myself playing around with this new wordpress blog theme… I’m actually not sure how long I’ll keep these colors, it’s maybe a bit too much brown, but then, I can’t seem to stick with a theme for longer than a few months. I even would change the blog title regularly if I could! lol

    About Too Good to Be True, yes, I agree. I was really surprised when I looked at the spine and read romance.

    I’m off to look at your revamped blog now!

  3. Christine Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 3:49 am #

    I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while. I remember being a bit disappointed that the author closes the door on the sex scenes when I read Catch of the Day…. and it’s not like sex scenes are the most important ones to me. I don’t know… I felt suddenly disconnected from the couple when that door slammed in my face. LOL But I thought the heroine was entertaining, the family interactions were very natural and realistic, and the romance very sweet. It sounds like maybe that’s also the vibe of Too Good To Be True.

  4. Taja Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 10:39 am #

    Christine -yes, you’re exactly right about the vibe of Too Good to Be True. I haven’t read Catch of the Day yet though I plan to. Compared to Just One of the Guys, TGTBT just seemed to have a less, umh, coherent story (except for the last chapters) and the romance was even more understated, IMO, hence the grade. As Nath said, definitely more chick-lit than romance but a fun and enjoyable read nonetheless. 🙂

  5. Justmegaga Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 8:03 am #

    About the sex scene… I was surprised that was left out when I was reading “Catch of the Day”. But I was fine with it because I just finished another romance fiction with a little TMI sex scene. It balanced out.

  6. Taja Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    Justmegaga – I haven’t read Catch of the Day (yet). About explicit sex scenes – I don’t have a preference either way. It should fit the story, then I’m fine. If I get the impression they’re written fairly explicit just because that’s “what is done now” – ugh, not good. Sometimes there is something like TMI.

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