Review: The Best Man by Kristan Higgins

best man by kristan higginsFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: Paperback, ebook, audiobook, large print
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Blue Heron #1
Length: 426 pages
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Date Released: February 26, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she’s ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family’s vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there’s some great scenery there….

Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief – and best friend of her former fiancé. There’s a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it’s not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she’s having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.

My Review:

This series is off to a rousing start. The Holland sisters are named Faith, Honor and Prudence. Faith’s first love didn’t exactly keep faith with her, it looks like Honor’s first love wasn’t all that honorable (more tomorrow), and Prudence certainly isn’t prudent in a whole bunch of ways.

I really want to find out how brother Jack got away with just being named Jack! That’s just way too easy.

But The Best Man is Faith’s story. In the case, the title is a pun. Levi Cooper was supposed to have been the best man at Faith’s wedding to Jeremy, except that wedding never happened. (This is the third book I’ve read this year where the bride gets left at the altar in her fancy wedding dress. Is this a trend?)

Levi was the one who finally got Jeremy to own up to Faith that he was gay, at the point of the ceremony where the minister asks if anyone knows about impediments to the marriage. Since Faith didn’t know, it does kind of constitute an impediment.

Faith left her small town of Manningsport blaming Levi for ruining her dream. It was easier than blaming Jeremy. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe that Jeremy was gay, once Jeremy told her, it was that she and Jeremy still loved each other. And that she had never loved anyone else.

She had to move all the way across the country to start over. She took herself on the honeymoon trip to San Francisco that she and Jeremy had planning, and in the end, she just stayed. Faith became a landscape designer, and a very successful one.

And she planned her trips home so that she didn’t run into Jeremy.

She also made sure she didn’t run into Levi Cooper very much. They hadn’t gotten along very well when they were in school together, and their banter continued to have a barbed edge to it. Levi had seen Faith at her worst, and she’d never forgotten it.

He’d also been the first man to give her a little taste of real passion, once when she and Jeremy were on a “break”. But she’d never been able to forgive him, not so much because he’d been the one for making Jeremy reveal the truth, but because Levi had known it all along, and hadn’t said anything in six years of double-dating. He could have warned her, even if they weren’t exactly friends.

But now she’s back in Manningsport to design something special on her family’s land. It’s time for Faith to lay all of the ghosts in her past to rest, including the ghost of the wedding that might have been. Everywhere she turns in Manningsport, she finds her first love, Jeremy, and she finds that the friendship they used to have is still there. He can still be part of her life.

Levi Cooper is also still around. He’s changed from being the town bad boy to the local Police Chief. The upper class citizens of Manningsport who used to think he was trash changed their tune after he came home from a couple of tours with the Army in Afghanistan.

He always thought Faith Holland was hot, but it would have broken the rules to chase his best friend’s girl. He still thinks she’s hot, but he’s not willing to be second best if she’s still pining for Jeremy.

Faith and Levi might figure out what they could be to each other–if either of these two could get to the bottom of what really is going on between them, either in the present or in the past.

Escape Rating B: We see the town of Manningsport and the Holland family through Faith’s eyes as she returns home. The totality of the reason she left is actually revealed in bits and pieces because the past is not just another country, but it’s a country that Faith really doesn’t want to visit. Too much bad stuff happened back there.

Manningsport is part of the Finger Lakes District in New York. It’s wine country and the Hollands are a wine growing family. They don’t act rich, they think of themselves as farmers, and hard-working farmers at that. Everyone in the family except Faith works in the family business in some meaningful way, including Faith’s grandparents, who are in their 80s.

Levi grew up literally on the wrong side of the Manningsport tracks. His family were called “trailer trash” and worse. The social gulf between the Coopers and the Hollands during their school years was huge. Faith’s mother dropped her hand-me-down clothes off at the trailer park for Levi’s sister. THAT kind of huge.

Levi returning from Afghanistan bridged that gap, but it doesn’t mean he’ll ever forget, or can ever forget that Faith’s parents would not have wanted him dating their daughter back in high school, even if Faith had been interested. The chip on his shoulder is part of the romantic equation.

Some reviewers have wondered either how Faith could have not known that Jeremy was gay, or why she threw up so many of the usual stereotypes as a defense about why she didn’t know. She didn’t merely date Jeremy, they were high school sweethearts and then college sweethearts and then engaged. The relationship lasted eight years before his last second confession. This is a contemporary romance, so in eight years you’d think there would have been an inkling. They were even lovers. I would be willing to go with the explanation that Faith tries to refute Jeremy’s confession with so many of the stereotypes that Jeremy doesn’t fit into because she doesn’t want to let her dream die. A person would grab at straws in that situation, whether they were politically correct straws or not.

However, there is a scene later in the book where Faith and her sisters are trying to fix their widowed father up on a blind date. The woman that he has an arranged meeting with, a woman whom he likes and gets along very well with, turns out to be a transwoman. The nasty, rude and disparaging comments that the sisters make after their father’s date ruined the scene and pulled me totally out of the story. Whether this was homophobia or transphobia or simply misinformation and done for a cheap laugh, it was not well done and not necessary for the story.

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