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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

‘Until There Was You’ by Kristan Higgins

From the BLURB:

Posey Osterhagen can't complain. She owns a successful architectural salvaging company, she's surrounded by her loveable, if off-center, family and she has a boyfriend—sort of. Still, something's missing. Something tall, brooding and criminally good-looking...something like Liam Murphy.

When Posey was sixteen, the bad boy of Bellsford New Hampshire, broke her heart. But now he's back, sending Posey's traitorous schoolgirl heart into overdrive once again. She should be giving him a wide berth, but it seems fate has other ideas...

Liam Murphy is back in his hometown after being away for some seventeen years. He grew up in this small, idyllic town as the requisite bad boy complete with band and motorbike, a bad reputation and a killer track record with women. But then he left Bellsford, New Hampshire to follow his perfect girlfriend to California, marry her and raise their surprise baby. 

Now Liam has returned a widower and father to his sixteen-year-old daughter, Nicole. He’s back in Bellsford to be closer to Emma’s parents and Nicole’s only grandparents, to start up a motorcycle repair shop and try to get their lives back on track after Emma’s death, from cancer. But being back in the town that all too clearly remembers his less-than-stellar reputation (and those women who remember him for all the wrong reasons) is wreaking havoc on Liam settling down. As are his newly-developed OCD habits and panic attacks, bought on since his wife’s death.

Someone who isn’t exactly thrilled to see Liam return to Bellsford is Posey Osterhagen – her parents own the kitschy German-theme restaurant in town, and employed Liam there throughout his high school career. A couple of years younger than the bad boy of Bellsford, Posey was no different from every other girl in town who fell for Liam’s dangerous charm. He was her first love, and the first boy to break her heart when he fell hard for popular princess, Emma. 

Seeing Liam Murphy back in town puts Posey’s less-than-ideal life into perspective. Sure, she has one huge dog and three cats, a perpetually-unfinished church home that needs restoration and a successful salvage business. But she’s just got out of a bad booty call “relationship” and isn’t having any luck finding someone to settle down with. And then her celebrity TV chef (and well-endowed) cousin also returns to Bellsford, and Posey feels more dissatisfied than ever before. But when Liam Murphy starts noticing her – really noticing skinny, ‘bag of bones’ Posey Osterhagen for the first time – she has to be careful not to let her heart get ahead of her. 

‘Until There Was You’ was the 2011 contemporary romance novel from Kristan Higgins. 

I have a new reading obsession, and her name is Kristan Higgins. A friend of mine started reading the ‘Blue Heron’ series (the first book I loved, second book more ‘meh’) which kick-started me to try one of Higgins’s stand-alones as a bit of light, fun reading over this Christmas/New Year holiday period. Two days later I've inhaled two of her books and started on a third, tracked down books from her backlist at my local library and bookstore. I am obsessed. And if you think it’s just a fluke with me – check out her (practically unheard of) star-reviews on Kirkus. I mean … no offense, but Kirkus can be quite snooty and some of their reviews of romance novels make me wince, but even they know what a star Kristan Higgins is! 

‘Until There Was You’ ticks so many romance boxes for me. There’s the reformed bad-boy (now the panicked father of a teenage girl!), a tom-boy heroine, small town setting and the haunted years of high school that keep coming back to bite the hero and heroine in the butt. It all just worked for me – particularly Posey Osterhagen who is possibly one of the most interesting contemporary romance heroines I've ever read. For starters; she’s adopted, and certain circumstances in her life have her reconsidering whether or not she wants to go searching for her birth mother. Her prerequisite outfit is jeans, flannel shirts and heavy leather boots (she works in a salvage yard) and she’s still plagued and made insecure by the body-image bullying she was tormented with in high school – being underdeveloped, she was accused of being a “bag of bones” with the body of a 10-year-old boy and, worst of all, nicknamed ‘Anne Frank’. When Liam Murphy – the older bad boy she pined for from afar – returns to town and they strike up a snarky reacquaintance with undertones of heat, she struggles to comprehend that this Golden God is interested in her.

I love that Higgins revisits a lot of old teenage traumas as they impact on characters later on in life. Even Liam struggles with his old bad-boy reputation upon returning to Bellsford. Women he doesn’t remember sleeping with are slipping him their phone numbers, and he’s doing business with men whose wives he deflowered. Not to mention his sixteen-year-old daughter, Nicole, is hungry for any dirt on her father’s teen reputation to use as ammo against him now. 

I also love that Higgins writes relatable female characters. No Mary-Sue’s here – Higgins writes women who are looking for love, panicked about being alone and going through all the typical cringe-inducing shenanigans of single life; 

‘Note to self,’ Posey thought. ‘Avoid singles events in church basements.’ The AA meeting was just about to wrap up (though the Serenity Prayer could be applied to dating: God grant me the courage to date the men who aren’t idiots, the serenity to accept the fact that many men are idiots, and the wisdom to know the difference.) 

And she writes a great sense of community, family and friendship. I was reading ‘Until There Was You’, half wondering if Higgins had this in mind as a series to revisit some of the secondary characters mentioned. This is a stand-alone, and ‘Blue Heron’ is in fact her first foray into romance series – but she’s a real natural at writing well-rounded secondary characters whose lives feel like they continue off the page and not wholly dependent on the protagonist. She’s not afraid to leave a few dangling threads and open-ended possibilities.

One thing that didn’t bug me, necessarily, but left me scratching my head was Liam’s deceased wife, Emma. There’s much made of the fact that Liam and Emma were the surprise golden-couple of Bellsford High School –bad boy falls for the good girl like something out of ‘90210’. When Liam returns and Posey hears of Emma’s death, she’s distraught and feels terrible for Liam, that he lost the love of his life. But the story is told from both Liam and Posey’s perspective, and from him we realise that Liam and Emma were in fact heading by typical way of a couple who marry too young and grow apart later on in life – and by the time Emma got sick, she and Liam were fighting a lot and the spark was all but snuffed from their marriage. When Posey and Liam start feeling sparks, she continually brings up Emma and asks him if he’s okay with starting something with someone new after his beloved wife. What I found odd was that, while readers are privy to the truth of his private thoughts, he and Posey never discuss the added stress of a deteriorating marriage on top of his wife’s dying. So I felt like Posey was left assuming that Emma was indeed the untouchable love of his life, and thus remained somewhat insecure about that because he never said otherwise. That was the one dangling thread in this story that bugged me, and only because it was mentioned so much that I felt for sure it would be addressed at some point. 

‘Until There Was You’ kick-started my Kristan Higgins obsession. From here I went out and bought/borrowed as many of her books as I could get my hands on, and now I’m happily obsessed.


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