|Kristan Higgins has quickly become a fan favorite, but she has gotten mixed reviews here at The Romance Reader. I’ve enjoyed most of her books, but found her heroes to be too sullen for my tastes. In the preface to her latest, Until There Was You, Higgins notes that this is her first book to utilize a male point of view. Great, I thought, now at least we’ll see what’s going on inside the head of her brooding hero, and understand why he acts like a dick towards the heroine. Unfortunately, while the male POV did help the hero be a more fully realized character, it did not make the book any more romantic.
Adding to my dismay was the fact that the plot utilizes one of my least favorite themes, the return of the bad boy. Cordelia “Posey” Osterhagen has been in love with Liam Murphy since high school, but although he worked in her parents’ German restaurant for a while, he never really noticed her. Fifteen years after marrying the most popular girl in school and moving to California, he has returned to their small New Hampshire town as a widower with a teenaged daughter. Posey is the successful owner of an architectural salvage business, but she has serious self-esteem issues, due in part to the arrival of her voluptuous cousin Gretchen who has her own television cooking show. The fact that Posey was adopted as a baby and looks nothing like her parents doesn’t help, although she never doubts their love for her. But considering that Liam married the town’s golden girl, why would he ever be interested in her?
For his part, Liam is too busy to get involved with anyone. The motorcycle accident he suffered recently left him with panic attacks and a horrifying sense of his own mortality, so he moved back to his in-laws’ hometown to provide his daughter Nicole with some stability. Nicole is just about to turn 16, and given his own shady history, Liam knows exactly what the boys in her high school are thinking. He’s determined to save her from those sex-crazed fiends, while keeping himself safe and healthy so she doesn’t lose her remaining parent.
I admired Liam’s attempts to do the right thing, and found his fathering experiences humorous yet believable, whether he was buying feminine hygiene products for Nicole or threatening her prom date with dismemberment if he steps out of line. Posey is slightly more problematic. She may be a respected businesswoman, but Higgins gives her a few annoyingly cutesy mannerisms that make her sound like she is Nicole’s age, including the habit of saying “Oh bieber!” whenever she is alarmed about something.
Although I liked both characters, their romance didn’t work for me at all. Liam is so caught up in his own issues that he doesn’t even think of Posey as an attractive woman until well into the story, and their first kiss takes place halfway through the book. I never got the sense that they were meant for each other, which is fine in literary fiction or even Women’s Fiction but not okay in a book that is marketed as a light-hearted contemporary romance. It doesn’t help that Posey has little backbone when it comes to personal relationships, and she displays absolutely no pride at all where Liam is concerned, while Liam’s few romantic gestures are too little, too late.
As the journey of two characters towards becoming more self-aware and happier with their lives, Until There Was You is rather successful. As a romance, it doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot.