Catch of the Day, by Kristan Higgins

>> Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TITLE: Catch of the Day
AUTHOR: Kristan Higgins

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Combo of romance, women's fiction and a touch of chick lit. Unclassifiable, really.

REASON FOR READING: I don't really know, it was an almost random pick from my TBR. I know I've heard good things about Higgins, and I must have bought it originally after a particularly enthusiastic comment.

This catch of the day could be the dish of a lifetime!

First Date à la Maggie
Take one lovelorn diner owner (me)
A generous helping of nosy local gossips
A dollop of envy at married sister's perfect life
A splash of divine intervention (my matchmaking priest)

Combine ingredients with one adorable puppy, add a strong but silent lobsterman with a hidden heart of gold . . . and watch the sparks fly.
I think Higgins will probably be in my list of best discoveries of the year. Catch of the Day was that rarity I'm always searching for: a plain contemporary romance, with no suspense subplot whatsoever, that was still completely engrossing. It was also fun, beautifully written, and had a very endearing heroine.

Maggie Beaumont's life is just as she wants it. She's settled in the small Maine town where she grew up and runs a diner which is a huge part of the community. Maggie is liked by everyone and truly enjoys her life in Gideon's Cove. Only problem? She's now in her early 30s and unmarried, and the selection of men in such a small town is pretty much nonexistent. The last in a string of bad attempts at relationships was especially disastrous, when Maggie managed to develop a crush for the new priest and tell anyone about it before she realised what his line of work was.

Maggie is determined to find love, and helped by her family and Father Tim (for whom Maggie's crush on him is getting to be a bit too much), COTD follows her search, as she realises that she's not seeing what's right under her nose.

What makes this book so wonderful is Maggie. She's a genuinely good, kind, generous person you can't help but love. She's very, very human, which keeps her from being at all boring or too perfect. She's also a really fun narrator, probably because she sees the humour in the disasters that are going on around her, and because she genuinely likes the people she interacts with, no matter how much some of them annoy her.

Having a main character whose main purpose during the book is getting married is something that's usually enough to have me running in the opposite direction. It's not that I have a problem with her wanting to marry per se, it's just that with most (especially chick lit) heroines it feels like an ego thing, like they want it only because they feel inadequate if they are single, and they annoy me. I didn't get that from Maggie. Part of what I loved about her was that she was so self-aware. She knew who she was and she knew what she wanted from life, what would make her happy. Running her diner was one of those things, no matter how much her mother thought she was wasting her life on it (and I think it takes real guts to accept that one's ambitions are small and everyday normal), and sharing her life with someone was simply another.

I also loved that the secondary characters living their lives around Maggie's are very well drawn, with some subtlety. Maggie's mother, especially, could have been rendered as a caricature of a mean, unsupportive mother, but Higgins digs in deep and makes us understand where she's coming from. She has her own story, as well, as she and Maggie's dad experience trouble in their relationship, and I really liked what Higgins did with that (it completely surprised me, too, which is a good thing).

There's a romance here, and quite a nice one, too, but it's not the focus of the book. We get as much about it as about Maggie's relationship with her friends and family (and her wonderful, wonderful dog, with whom I fell head over heels in love), which is why I think this is not an easy book to classify. Still, it's one I'd definitely recommend to romance readers, just with the warning not to go in expecting a normal romance novel.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


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