Pack Up the Moon

by Kristan Higgins

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

from “Funeral Blues” by W.H.Auden

I knew I was in trouble when my throat started to close up on page two. Kristan goes further down a darker path that is leading her books away from the touching yet hilarious and witty romantic comedies that she built her early reputation on. This book is a deep exploration of the grief and pain of losing a beloved spouse way too young. Letters are both the basis and the jumping-off point of how Kristan tells the story.

After the devasting loss of 31-year-old Josh’s lovely 28-year-old wife to a terminal illness, we go with him on his journey for a little over a year afterward. Lauren has left him 12 letters one for each month to be opened after her death. In each loving missive, she gives him a task that is meant to help him heal. The first one is to go to the grocery store by himself. The last one is to find another woman with whom to share his life (and she has someone in mind.) Lauren’s letters to Josh move the story forward and Lauren’s private letters to her beloved dead father fill us in on the past. Interestingly those take us from 8 days before her death backward to when Lauren was 18 and first met Josh.

Although Josh is a genius who became a millionaire at age 18 with his patents for cutting edge medical devices, he is also “on the spectrum”, as they say now, with Asperger syndrome. Without his beloved Lauren, he is lonely and lost. More so than a typical widower would be. He has no friends of his own and doesn’t function well in social situations. . Lauren was his love, but also his guide. And in turn, Lauren worshiped the ground he walked on. He has plenty of support among his own family and Lauren’s friends and family who are all devoted to him. He is so vulnerable although Kristan wisely does not make a huge issue of his disability. Most of the book is from Josh’s point of view and we see signs of the “neurodiversity” in his thoughts and actions, but we are not hit over the head with it. It is handled beautifully and contributes humor as well as pathos to the story.

The other thing that Kristan handled beautifully is Josh and Lauren’s incandescent love, their pain and grief, Lauren’s physical struggles with and progression of her disease, IPF, and her death. From what I know of Kristan, she has not personally experienced all of these things but one would never know it, so authentic and heartrending is her writing concerning them. I kept pausing in my reading marveling how she could possibly know what she knew unless she knew. If that makes any sense.


We get to know and be invested in all of the people in Josh’s life after Lauren. This book is not all sadness and pain. There are some classic Kristan Higgins scenes and people. Pebbles, the dog. Josh’s dinner party. Gertie the Medium and what happens when Josh and his surrogate father Ben visit her is my favorite. How anyone’s life could not be changed by such an encounter, I don’t understand. There are other favorites as well, one of which I can’t mention because it would be too much of a spoiler. But it is the task Lauren gives Josh in month 10. Radley, Josh’s first real guy friend. And I love the hapless waitress Josh keeps encountering from chapter 11 on. I wish we had had much more of her. She would fit right into one of Kristan’s earlier romantic comedies. And we are blessed with a “3 years later” epilogue.

It’s hard to give a rating for this book, because as beautiful, insightful, and touching as it is, there is too much sadness and pain for me personally, even though it is leavened with humor throughout. The good news is, that Kristan’s next book has to be happier because she couldn’t get any more sad, right?**4.25 stars**

June 12, 2021

Always the Last to Know

by Kristan Higgins

The heart wants what the heart wants, and the heart can be a real idiot.

n the latest of Kristan Higgins’ wonderful novels, we return to Stoningham Connecticut, the setting of her last book, Life and Other Inconveniences. It is deep dive into another prominent family who calls wealthy, exclusive, and the oh so picturesque community home. One by one we are introduced to the 4 main players: Sadie, Barb, Juliet, and finally John. This is Sadie, the youngest daughter:

Ever since I could remember, I’d wanted to leave Stoningham, because even though I loved it, I hated it. It was so smug. So content. So adorable. So assured of itself. In a way, it was like my sister, never questioning its value. It was hard to breathe [there] sometimes, especially if you were Juliet’s not-as-smart-or-athletic sister, or the daughter of Barb Frost, Queen of Committees and Volunteerism, daughter of John Frost the lawyer, and yes, related to that Robert Frost. Being average was difficult.

Right away we see that it is a family divided with Sadie and John on one side and Juliet and Barb on the other. Unlike other readers, I was drawn in immediately and was in a state of anticipation as to what would be further revealed and explored. And it never lost its grip on me. I started out trying to take sides. Which team was I on? It wasn’t long before I gave that approach up. It was way too complicated. There were things to love, like, hate, and disapprove of in all of them. Except for Juliet. Because she was perfect. As the book went on, I found I couldn’t put it down. And to my surprise, It was Juliet’s journey I loved the most.

Well, I better stop now while I can before I start to gush even more. Yes, like all of her books, it was funny, heartbreaking, suspenseful, romantic, and satisfying. In many ways, this was her best book yet. It’s a triumph of character and relationship building. And one of the best dogs too.

P.S. And the icing on the cake is we get a peek or two at how the London family of her last novel is up to.**5 stars out of 5**

June 13, 2020

Life and Other Inconveniences

by Kristan Higgins

Once, I had loved my grandmother and wanted desperately for her to love me. That hadn’t happened. Try getting someone to love you for ten years and failing . . . It leaves a mark.

All had names, which Riley read aloud as we passed. “Thrush Hill. Summerly. Wisteria Cottage. Cliff View. Pop, we have to name our house when we get back!” “Name it what? Crabgrass?” Pop asked.

I guess the fact that I have 69 highlights says it all. I really enjoyed this book by one of my top 3 favorite authors. It is a character study. I should say characters study with an “s”. Some we spend a great deal of time with (Genevieve) and some only get one good scene (Robert). if they have a name, they are deftly drawn for good or ill. But I loved them all. Which is to say I loved the ones we are supposed to love, which was most of them. The main characters that are not lovable are so well drawn that you can’t hate them unconditionally. You understand why they are like they are, and it’s not always completely their fault. A few that did not have a bit of redemption were not hate-worthy, just contempt-worthy. But you can’t dismiss them. The drawing of Jason’s character was a realization late in the book when a few truths are revealed. Even the most minor of characters had their surprising moments.

The humor was mostly in the form of witty repartee, retorts, and inner reflections, but as in almost all of her books, Kristan does include one of her signature bad date scenes which was screamingly funny. One of her best. Here is a recap by Miller, Emma’s partner in possibly the worst first date ever:

“It’s not fine!” he almost yelled. “Why are you being so . . . great about this? My kid is a sociopath, I’m a horrible father, I picked a pirate restaurant for our first date where someone almost died, you started off the night with beautiful hair and now you’re bald, we’re both covered in blood and corn oil, and Kimmy just texted me to say she forgot to mention that Tess put her own feces in the DVD player. My life is literally shit and blood these days.” He took a shaking breath and looked at the floor. “Well,” I said, “who really watches DVDs anymore?” “Emma,” he began, and I hugged him.

The book was very satisfying. Everyone who needed telling off got told off, everyone that deserved to be happy was rewarded. The overarching mystery (what happened to Sheppard?) was solved. There were moments that were so touching I wept. The romance, even though it didn’t take up many pages was just right. And towards the end, there were some surprises and revelations that took you unawares. Most of all we have Kristan’s intimate and engaging voice that makes the reader, at least me, feel they are right there and part of it all and not on the outside looking in. **5 stars out of 5**

August 12, 2019

Good Luck with That

By Kristan Higgins

We’ve all seen the shows—thank you, TLC—and let’s be honest. We watch them to make ourselves feel better. Sure, I was fat, but not six-hundred-pounds fat! I wasn’t having KFC fed to me through my bedroom window, was I? I didn’t need the firefighters to chainsaw around the front door so I could fit through, didn’t need a team of eight to drag me out of the house on a sheet. And I always ate healthy food while watching that show. No ice cream during that one, no sir. Ice cream was for The Walking Dead (another show that made me feel good about my appearance).

Kristan was wrongly, in my opinion, accused of fat-shaming in this book. Is the above passage an example of this?

This is my second favorite of her more serious books. Despite the painful and controversial subject matter and the tragic fate of Emerson, it seemed to have a more positive tone than some of the preceding novels, particularly Now that you Mention it. Yes, there was humor in the form of witty and irreverent comments and one or two slapstick episodes. But mostly this book was about triumph, hope, and happy, almost fairytale happy, endings. Also important, to me, is that the good people are rewarded and the bad people are punished. Except for Emerson.

The descent and final fate of Emerson is very sad. Very sad. But it did not cast a pall over the whole book because we already know her fate at the beginning of the book. Her story is told in first person entries in her diary, and is a fairly small percentage of the whole story. Her thoughts and entries were poignant and eye-opening. Because we know what happens, we are spared the suspense and disappointed hopes that she might have her own happy ending. Emerson is rich and I questioned throughout the narrative why doesn’t she get the best therapy money can buy and surgery? That question was not answered by the end, to my satisfaction.

There has been a small percentage of people who have deemed this book toxic to those struggling with weight. I have been quick to defend my favorite contemporary author on numerous venues. But now that I have read the book, I can more easily understand why those who identify with the Emerson character would find it painful. I still feel that “Toxic” is a hateful word that should not be used to describe this book. It is not sugar coated, and is unflinching. It says out loud what many people think. The quotes used to bash this book are taken out of context, however. Kristan has taken on a difficult sensitive topic. She deserves a medal for bravery. The Entertainment Weekly review compared it to “willingly wading into a nest of vipers.” That’s a little overstated, but unfortunately there is some truth to the comparison. It made me chuckle a bit while wincing. Did she please everyone? No. I consider the passionate negative reaction by some to be a sort of a compliment. Perhaps the topic should be ignored? Her message is body positivity without leaving truth and pain by the wayside. Those who are Reality show fat rarely have happy endings. Truth.

But it is not all about weight issues. Her book is populated with characters that have PTSD and agoraphobia, Plastic surgery addiction, adolescent pain and suicide, anger issues, and it deals with childhood death. The fact that these topics are addressed and the book can still be fun and funny with two heartwarming love stories is testament to Kristan’s talent. The book is thought provoking and insightful. One of the incidents that really stands out in my mind is when now slender Georgia goes to her GP because of attacks of stomach pain. The doctor ignores everything she says because of her focus and delight in Georgia’s weight-loss. She is so busy congratulating her and making excuses for her pain that a short time later Georgia is rushed to the hospital with a bleeding ulcer because of her lack of treatment. Not the only time a woman, fat or not, has been ignored or not taken seriously. It adds an extra layer that Georgia’s doctor is a woman.

Some of the characters conquer their demons and others don’t. But all are given cheer-worthy wake-up calls courtesy of our two main heroines. **5 out of 5 stars**

August 15, 2018

Now that You Mention It

By Kristan Higgins

At night, after a supper of Food That Would Keep Us Alive, Tweety occasionally eating a piece of bread from my mother’s lips, as I struggled not to dry heave or mention bird-borne pathogens, I’d ask Poe if she wanted to play Scrabble or Apples to Apples or Monopoly. Shockingly, she did not and would go upstairs to listen to more screamo music.

I finished Now That You Mention It, in one day. I did like it, obviously, because I couldn’t put it down. But it’s not amongst my favorite Kristan Higgins. I’m not sure why. It’s a more serious novel more about a dysfunctional family and how those that remain are reconciled. It is about two young girls and how the abandonment by their father wreaks devastating consequences for them both. One ends up in prison and our heroine, Nora, manages to pull herself out of the black hole of her childhood and become a doctor by hard work and leaving the cruel and hurtful climate of her childhood home by winning a scholarship to Tufts University. The Higgins humor is still there, just not as pervasive as in her early works. Here’s one of my favorite descriptions of her Mother:

I still had my Maine medical license, just in case my mom ever needed me in an emergency, though she wasn’t the type to have emergencies, and certainly not the type to call me if she did. Say a grizzly bear came down from Canada and bit off her arm. Mom would just shoot the bear, sew her arm back on with the thick black thread she used to sew our buttons back on when we were kids, then butcher the bear, make it into chili and use the skin as a rug.

Classic Higgins. Nora’s Mom is the acme of Higgins’ long line of crazy mothers. There are also 2 classic slapstick comedy episodes that had me laughing out loud.
It is certainly not the light frothy romance of her early efforts. Although even then she was delving into pain and disfunction. Her two novels prior to this one, were certainly more women’s fiction than romance and I loved them. Her bridge between the two genres was one of my favorites: Anything for You. I think the main reason this in on the periphery of “great” for me was that the romance part seemed a little tacked on rather than being an integral part of the story. It could have been cut out completely and hardly missed. In addition, there were some things I really didn’t understand. The drama and conflict did not seem well supported.

The inexplicables: **spoilers**


Why did she put up with her sisters mess for so long? Why was she such a victim and martyr when it came to her worthless cruel and destructive sister? Why did she still love her so much?

Why was her mother so cold and blind to Nora’s childhood suffering? Why didn’t she try to reach out to her later in life? Everyone could see that Nora was a kind, strong, lovely smart woman. Why was she still so mean to her? I mean, I can understand Maine reserve and stoicism, but this woman was so distant and unsympathetic to her wonderful daughter who would have made any parent so proud. And only her daughter. She was well-liked and respected in the community and doted on her pet bird, and she started a hug therapy business, for heaven’s sake. Where did that come from? Nora did nothing to deserve such apparent indifference.

Why did her winning the Perez scholarship cause such hostility in the community? Why was she blamed for the accident? How could she blame herself? Many knew of Luke, the town golden boy’s, drugging and slipping grades. The teachers knew he hadn’t even come close to winning the scholarship and it was Nora’s all along. Luke knew it. His doting mother would have known about his grade slippage. Yet they blamed Nora for “stealing” the prize. This is a small isolated community. More people would have known and spread the word. Nora was a daughter of one of the mainstays of the community. She wasn’t some intruder. Come on. He flunked out of Maine Uni. Whose fault was that? After the bullying and cruelty Nora endured as a child, how could any of the townspeople blame her for not coming back for 15 years?

How could it have taken Poe so long to love and appreciate her Aunt? **end spoilers**

All in all I did enjoy the book. The suspense of unanswered questions, high anticipation of events that were bound to happen, and characters one gets greatly invested in kept me reading throughout the day. I was pleasantly surprised that she stayed clear of certain dramatic and potentially angst-ridden events that could have happened but didn’t. I was just a little disappointed in the romance and some of the plot points. ***3.5 stars***

December 27, 2017

On Second Thought

By Kristan Higgins

“The dynamic didn’t change when we became adults. Kate lived in Brooklyn. She was cool, and I was not. She was thin and elegant, and I was round and cute. She was a successful photographer (and a great one, really, her pictures were stunning); I was excellent at unjamming the printer. “

On Second Thought has all of the Kristan Higgins hallmarks I have come to expect and love: Situational humor, witty dialogue, poignant moments, lovable heroines, intriguing heroes, well-rounded secondary characters to love and hate, and dog. I also am a fan of her late divergence into more chick-lit and away from traditional romance for romance sake. However, here are some reasons I didn’t love it as much as some of her previous novels: **spoilers**


1) Although Kate did realize that Nathan really did love her, (after all, if he only married her to have the children his ex-wife denied him, why did he pick someone who was 39 years old?), I wish this had been signed sealed and delivered in Nathan’s own words (a lost email found, for example). Maybe a friend he confided in could have come to light. It was very disappointing that he wasn’t the totally devoted husband Kate thought he was. That he really was too good to be true. I wish he had been a little redeemed at the end. But I guess the way Kristan left it, was more true to life.
2) I wish the hysteric ex-wife had gotten her comeuppance and been rejected by the family.
3) I was sad that she was never fully reconciled to the family after they found out she was pregnant by another man. That they never knew the truth about where Kate was coming from.
4) I didn’t like the was she was so sexually attracted to Daniel even when she was in full mourning and shock from Nathan’s death. Also not a fan of the male love interest being younger than the woman. Sorry that’s just me.
5) Daniel was a great guy, but I just didn’t buy the relationship. It was not very interesting. He was too good to be true. (like Nathan!) **end spoilers**

I see all of my quibbles are with Kate’s story. I did love Ainsley’s romance. Very reminiscent of one of my favorites: Callie and Ian from All I Ever wanted. Ainsley is a typical Kristan heroine: overly people pleasing as compensation for something. But with Ainsley the basis for her overly nice and generous nature has a firm basis in her childhood. One of the best aspects of Kristan’s books is the full development of most, if not all of her secondary characters. In this one, my favorite is her mother-in-law. We think she is one kind of person, but she is so much deeper that we see at first.
I really loved this book. It’s just not a 5 star for me. Any other author, it would have been a 5 star book. I just hold Kristan Higgins to a higher standard. It is amazing the freshness that she can bring with the same basic elements that she includes in most all of her novels.**4 stars out of 5**

February 26, 2017

If You Only Knew

By Kristan Higgins

“The one thing I hate about the wedding industry is that it focuses so much on the one day. People become obsessed with details, enraged with those they love, worn out from planning a few hours of a day that may not mean that much in the grand scheme of things. Even as I’m designing a dress that will cost thousands and thousands of dollars, I’ve always tried to work that message in. Don’t forget that after this day comes thousands of other days. Be careful. Cherish each other. Don’t blow it.”

Everything I loved about Kristan Higgins and then some. She brought the tears, she brought the dog, she brought the laughs, she brought secondary characters you can root for and some you can loathe. She brought a complicated relationship with her mother. She brought the romance. She has you cheering, laughing, and weeping. In short, Kristan Higgins. But longer and more complex. The development of Rachel’s character was beautifully realized, and didn’t come easily. Even her cheating husband Adam, had some complexity and nuance. Jenny’s character wasn’t so much developed, as awakened. Loved the little addition of Evander’s story, the 11 year old child piano prodigy that Jenny’s Leo is teaching. Reading this book has made me realize I don’t like romance fiction. I love good women’s novels that have romance in them. I will end this review with a quote that made me stop and pause. “I wish in one sharp, abrupt swell, that I could stay. What a beautiful word that is. Stay with me. Stay home. Stay alive.” Stay writing, Kristan Higgins.
**rereading 8/2018*** spoilers below***
Yep, still a five. The narration by Xe Sands and Amy Rubinate as the two sisters, was excellent. I would have to say this is probably one of my top 3 favorites. I’m glad the quite annoying mother was rehabilitated. Interesting that Jennie never did tell her sister or mother about Dad’s infidelity. Of course, for the best. Loved the Kimber, Evil mother-in-law, and Jason(?) sub plot. Would have loved to have seen them make an appearance in Good Luck with That as I would have seen a hint of Rachel getting a little hope of romance with Gus. Jenny is one of my favorite KH characters, and I loved Rachel too. Both such good women, but so different. Every one of her minor characters was so brilliantly drawn, from the sympathetic, to the contemptible. I loved the path Kristan took with the mother. She didn’t really change, but Jenny’s perception of her did.**5 stars out of 5**

The Next Best Thing

by Kristan Higgins

This is not my favorite Kristan Higgins book, entirely due to my disapproval and borderline dislike of Lucy, our widowed heroine, and her Aunts and mother, the Black Widows. Not to mention her In-Laws, who were just disgusting sometimes. Ethan was way too good for her and his family, and I do not see why he loved her so much. Ethan is so clearly superior to dead Jimmy in every way that her failure to appreciate him and deserve him was just eye-rolling. She was annoyingly obsessed with her dead husband. Watching her wedding video practically every night. Please. She was also way too slow to take control of her career and to stop wasting her talents. Jimmy was portrayed as too perfect and too good to be true. It is later in the book that we start to get hints that maybe he wasn’t as perfect as he was described.

**spoiler**

Ethan calling him “Saint Jimmy”, for example. KH kind of set the reader up for a big reveal regarding some weak or bad deeds that Jimmy might have done, but what rips the blindfold from Lucy’s eyes is such a mild error in judgement and taste that it turns into an anticlimax. while I’m on a roll criticizing my favorite author, there was a bit of a cheat near the end. After putting up with Lucy mourning her perfect marriage to perfect Jimmy throughout the whole book, she throws out, almost like an afterthought, that marital relations with Jimmy were “sweet” rather that hot and mind-blowing as sex with Ethan is. Huh? What? It just makes her look even more clueless for breaking up with Ethan. **end spoiler**

All that said, I did enjoy most of the book, on this re-read. I love the way Kristan Higgins adds little touches that add depth to her characterizations. For example, her making Jorge, her assistant in the bakery, mute. He is such a minor character and it was so totally unnecessary, that to make this choice in drawing the character is just so deft and thoughtful. It not only adds depth and interest to the story, but adds a level of needed likability to Lucy. Kristan does this in many of her books. The same treatment applies to the mean Doral (named after the cigarette brand, now that’s funny!), Lucy’s nemesis. As always, the humor, characterizations, smart dialogue, and plotting were top notch despite my quibbles with some aspects of the story. What is a 3 star effort from Kristan Higgins, would probably earn 4 stars from another author. I just hold her to a higher standard! **3 stars out of 5**

February 18, 2018 (re-read)

Too Good to be True

By Kristan Higgins

This is my third Kristan Higgins book I have read, each one more funny and endearing than the last. It has been years since I have discovered an author that I am so excited to read that I literally am tempted to call in sick to finish the book and start on the next. All of my other fun reading is on hold. Her dialogue is absolutely hilarious, the situational comedy is laugh out loud funny. The heroines are (so far) sweet, nice, kind, attractive, women, but somehow can’t find true love. The heroes are fairly non-conventional and appealing with plenty of sexual tension. In two of the three, including this one, they go on blind dates which are worthy of the romantic comedy hall of fame. Yet, there are heart-tugging and poignant threads that had me wiping tears from my eyes. So far all three have gone off the reservation as far as typical plots and threads, so that there is even some suspense as to the outcome (not the primary HEA, but some of the subplots.)How did I not discover her until a week ago? She rivals Susan Elizabeth Phillips (lightning, don’t strike me dead), Jennifer Crusie, some of the funny Linda Howards. That’s the highest praise I can give.

2013

I always imagined God had a great sense of humor. He’d have to, right? Leon’s bright (fanatical?) blue eyes narrowed. “Yes, He is great. Are you a Christian? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” “Well…sure.” Granted, I couldn’t ever remember anyone in my family (Mayflower descendants, remember?) ever using the term personal savior… We were Congregationalists, and things tended to stay a little more philosophical. “Jesus is also so…good.” And now I had Jesus, raising His head as He hung on the Cross. Wow. Thanks, Grace. This is what I get for dying?”

**upon my second read, 5 years later: Yup, still a 5. A fictional boyfriend trope, one of my favorites, it is also one of Kristan’s unreliable narrator stories. We see everything through her eyes and, at at first, everything she says and does seems reasonable. We believe her view of her family is accurate. Slowly, we start to realize that that is not quite the case. In particular there is one part where Cal, our hero, comments “You sure do a lot for your family.” She modestly agrees, and then he adds, “What do they do for you?” She is totally flummoxed by this question. She really can’t think of anything. There were a lot of interesting little and pretty big twists that I didn’t remember in this one, and a lot of usual tropes in the development of the romance thankfully avoided. **5 stars out of 5**

February 2, 2018

The Perfect Match

By Kristan Higgins

A very strong finish saved this book from being 3 stars which is a very low rating for a Kristan Higgins for me. I did not like Charlie, Tom’s “stepson”. There was just no excuse for his behavior. He was just stupid. Even at almost the end he was sullen and ungrateful. I would have liked to see him redeem himself much more sufficiently. Maybe in the next book, we’ll hear tell of an epiphany. Did not buy him at all. Or Tom’s devotion to him, for that matter. Talk about a glutton for punishment. The English accent was slightly too much. This book has the usual Kristan tropes, for example using a substitute cutsie-pie word for a genuine curse word. That got old 7 books ago. But still, she is a very talented and funny writer who can bring the tears as well as the guffaws. She can add suspense to a relationship even when you know you won’t be betrayed by the end. The highest praise for a romantic comedy is that she keeps you turning the pages in delight. Those authors are few and far between. (SEP is another one.) I already have #3 on pre-order.
***revised 05/02/2017****This time, I was much more OK with Charlie’s reformation. He did turn it around at the end and realized that Tom was his real father, not his bio-Dad. I still think Tom was too much of a saint to put up with him, though. The end still saved this book for me. I was on the edge of my seat and greatly moved at the same time through the climactic scene. One more note, brought up by a few other reviewers, is Honor’s constant dialogue with her ovaries. It was very tiresome. Very. **4 stars out of 5**

May 2, 2017