Title: Too Good to Be True
Author: Kristan Higgins
Rating: 4 Stars
Callahan O'Shea. If you're not a pile of goo after just hearing that name, then I don't know what's wrong with you. BUT *clears throat* this review isn't about the tall, handsome, utterly charming hunk of a neighbor who just happens to be an ex-convict. (Really, who cares about the convict part when there is the tall, handsome, utterly charming hunk part to focus on?) All goofiness aside, though, Too Good to Be True is, really, almost too good to be true. For me at least. As a cross between two of my favorite movies - "27 Dresses" and "The Family Stone" - Too Good to Be True cinches the deal for me with its Lincoln-loving protagonist, Gone With the Wind references, and utterly swoon-worthy romance.
It's not very commonly known in the blogosphere, but I am obsessed with the Civil War. And Gone With the Wind. And Abraham Lincoln. As such, the protagonist of this novel, Grace, who helps re-enact Civil War battles with her father, was an immediate winner. Grace mirrors my passion for history and her tragic tale of being dumped by her fiancee for her gorgeous younger sister broke my heart and made me ever-so-thankful I had a younger brother, not sister. When Grace is dragged to a family wedding, she is forced to quickly make up a boyfriend - Wyatt Dunn, a pediatric surgeon - in order to placate her sister, Natalie, that she was truly over her ex-fiancee and soon-to-be brother-in-law, Andrew. With such a classic tale of woe, it is difficult not to sympathize with Grace within the first chapters itself. Grace is the type of person who puts her family first and is constantly a pillar for them, whether it be her relentless support of her parents marriage - that doesn't seem all-that-perfect on the outside, but just might be after all - or her generosity in housing her older sister, Margaret, as she takes a break from her boring, besotted, and routine husband, or even the very fact that she brought Natalie and Andrew together after realizing her engagement had been broken off because of Andrew's affections for Natalie. And yet, Grace is evidently not a perfect person. While she makes silly mistakes and is chock-full of flaws, all this only serves to make her an even more endearing protagonist.
It is hard not to fall for Grace, but surprisingly, it was hard not to fall for her family too. Grace paints a picture of her close friendship with Natalie - so much so that we simply cannot despise her. Natalie is genuinely distraught at having fallen for her sister ex-fiancee and she wants the best for Grace, and while she can come across as a little too pampered or perfect, we still come to like her, despite our initial bias for Grace. Margaret is the not-so-nice sister. A little like me. And yet, beneath her sarcastic front and blunt exterior, Margaret is caring and, most importantly, confused. Too Good to Be True highlights the difficulties of both finding a man and sustaining a relationship. Although Grace herself never experiences the latter, those around her from her older sister to her parents go through bad phases in their marriages and, once again, I am floored that Higgins dares to make these secondary characters such a huge part of this story. Higgins seems like the typical chick-lit writer, especially with her charming heroines, but her heavy emphasis on family and the strength of her secondary characters makes her books contain so much more depth. Too Good to Be True may not have been as funny as Catch of the Day, but it was just as satisfying at the end of the day.
If there are any complaints I seem to have with Higgins, it is that the development of her romances are so understated. And yet, this makes perfect sense as something must evidently give to make way for the depth she manages to incorporate. And, honestly, the romance in this novel is far more central than in Catch of the Day. With Grace and Callahan, these two have your laugh-out-loud kind of encounter that makes you grin like an idiot because you just know they have to be made for each other. Although their journey towards one another is sweet, the times they spend together afterward are even more poignant. I really love that Higgins writes about men and women who are sensible, who may not know exactly what they want from life but who aren't afraid to own up to their mistakes and deal with the consequences of their actions. Callahan and Grace are honest to one another, supportive, loving, and share a deeper understanding than we can initially imagine. And I love Callahan. You'd think a guy who was an ex-convict would be a classic bad boy, falling into the tropes of an arrogant jerk, but this carpenter just won my heart. Too Good to Be True is another Higgins novel I immensely enjoyed, possibly even more than my first, and I fully intend to sink deeper into Higgins's work. Believe me, this is one author I'm not letting go of so easily.