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Nora Roberts vs. Kristan Higgins
If you're a Nora Roberts fan, you won't want to miss this. Reading Kristan Higgins? Read on to see if you agree with the breakdown.
If you’re like me, just seeing the words Nora Roberts fills you with warmth, contentment, and the urge to run to the couch with a blanket and a snack, and to kick anyone who might speak to you out of the room.
I got hooked years ago when I read and reread Valley of Silence, a hypnotic romance that wins Nora Roberts first place in the brooding vampire book wars, in my opinion. Instead of hooked perhaps I should say attached, because Nora Roberts’ writing feels so personal. When you read many of her novels you feel at home, you’re happy, and there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. (I’m excluding books with an edgier thriller feel, and the J.D. Robb books. Nora Roberts is blessed with different styles of writing.)
Much more recently, I was introduced to Kristan Higgins. Hmmm…I wasn’t expecting her. Wasn’t expecting to be drawn in the way I was, staying up way too late at night and carrying the book around with me everywhere, in case I might find a few minutes to read.
That was with a worn copy of Waiting On You, passed on to me by a friend. Before I even finished the book, the thought crept forward in my mind. This is good. This is NORA ROBERTS good. Which was a godsend, as I’d reached the end of my Nora Roberts romance novel wish list. It was a jumpstart to my reading heart.
The similarities are front and center. If you like the small-town, big-family charm of many of Nora Roberts’ books, you’ll be right at home with Kristan Higgins in Manningsport and the Holland crew of family and friends. In both authors’ worlds almost everybody works in their own small, local businesses, and they’re all looking for love while sorting out a few other meaty problems. The language flows, and the pages turn fast. You get attached to the supporting cast of characters in the first book and gleefully anticipate the books to come, as the spotlight shifts to each of them in turn.
That was enough to hook me. I’ve since read eight books by Kristan Higgins, five of them set in Manningsport. But it was the differences between the two authors’ books that compelled me to sit down and write these paragraphs, once I’d finished mopping up my flood of tears at the end of Anything for You, Kristan Higgins’ most recent release. I was driven to compare them, and you can see for yourself where I ended up.
Nora Roberts vs. Kristan Higgins I: The Character Challenge
I tremble as I write this, because I’m afraid you’ll hate me. For the last couple of years, my unvarnished love for Nora Roberts’ heroines and heroes got just a teensy bit…varnished. Something started bothering me. It was like a touch of indigestion – only noticeable in flashes, or when I sat and thought about it. Here goes: the main characters started striking me as a bit self-righteous, and self-satisfied. They take themselves pretty seriously. I read too many passages where people were proud of what they’d done, what they’d built, what they’d grown, or dreaming about doing all those things. In my memory there are endless references to building and growing things…building homes, growing businesses, building and growing futures, and building foundations to grow all kinds of things. I started getting an inferiority complex, just reading about all the amazing things these people were building and growing, twenty-four fictitious hours a day.
It seemed that many of Nora Roberts’ characters were either saints or irredeemable slime. I loved reading about them all, but I noticed the main character’s mother was unfailingly wise, kind, successful – having found a way with her perfect spouse to share family responsibilities fairly while pursuing a career – and just a bit sassy. Unless the mother was estranged, of course, in which case she’d come back after years of awful behavior and neglect to cause whatever trouble she could until the heroine, with some help or at least moral support from her hero, kicked evil mom out of town for good. Again, all very satisfying to read.
Kristan Higgins’ characters are pretty amazing, too. They work hard and find success and love. Their happiness and overall wonderfulness isn’t diminished when they laugh at themselves – and their flaws, their mishaps, and each other – along the way. There are moments when the heroine or hero finds themselves in awkward, embarrassing, ego-crushing situations…and it’s fabulous to cringe along with them even though they’re the stars and will win the day, because don’t we all know the feeling?
And it’s not all wise words and loving support among the cast. The grandparents of the Holland family are perfectly good people but can’t stand each other for a fair part of the series, bickering and name calling with the best of them. It felt strange and taboo at first to see the good people behaving badly, when my expectations were in the realm of the Nora Roberts worlds. But after a few laughs and being reassured that the family still was, after all, a strong unit, I soaked up the humor. Humor. It reached a new high in books that delivered the same emotional satisfaction as Nora Roberts’ best.
Nora Roberts vs. Kristan Higgins II: Emotional Satisfaction
And, I have to say, perhaps more emotional satisfaction. One measure of a book is the development of subplots that pull the reader deeper into the story. Nora Roberts’ novels have them, and many of my favorites feature a strong mystery or suspense subplot running alongside the romance. Mystery and suspense can really ratchet up the page-turning level.
Kristan Higgins’ novels are crammed even fuller with storylines, and it hit me at some point that even without the element of mystery or suspense, they feel so…complete. Aside from Jessica Dunn’s love life in Anything for You, for example, we walk in her shoes as a dedicated sibling, an adult haunted by her own painful childhood, a daughter asked to forgive a prodigal father, and a person whose new career is threatened by a troublemaking colleague. Four solid subplots in addition to the romance, and on top of that, supporting characters are somehow given airtime in the same book for their own struggles and complexities.
I don’t know how Kristan Higgins packs it all in, and it feels nothing short of beautiful and miraculous as a whole. I was so invested by the end of Anything for You, it’s no wonder I cried for quite a while at the sweetness of the conclusion. It even passed my husband test. I made him listen to me rhapsodize about the book – the whole series, actually – at 1 AM before I could get to sleep.
Nora Roberts vs. Kristan Higgins III: The More, the Better!
Nora Roberts is the master of trilogies. She made me love trilogies. I was thrilled when she expanded to a quartet. I’m hoping she’ll keep that going, and maybe go even further.
If I have my history correct, Nora Roberts began with single title romances before getting into series, and Kristan Higgins did the same. In more recent years, Kristan Higgins has gone for the gold with her Blue Heron series. Five books and counting…There are still a few straggling minor characters she could cement together in a book, and I’m holding out for future stories about her late adolescents/young adults from the original books. Ned Vanderbeek and Sarah Cooper, anyone? Tom’s son Charlie, together with Abby? With each additional book my love for the series grows, and my itching need to know what happens to everybody multiplies. I just want to spend more time with them all. Please, Ms. Higgins, make it happen!
Three books’ worth of time spent in one of these author’s worlds is a great thing. Five books…considerably more of a great thing.
What’s the takeaway here? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing it’s because you’re at least already a Nora Roberts fan. Millions are, right? She’s written over two hundred books. And I pray that she lives to be three hundred years old and writes eight hundred more books, at least. I’m always hoping for a new one.
If you love Nora Roberts but haven’t yet discovered Kristan Higgins – according to kristanhiggins.com, her first published book was out in 2006, and she’s published fifteen books as of January 2016 – then hop to it, man! Or woman! Or whoever you are! However you get your books these days…go get one. You’ll thank me. And let me know what you think. Does Kristan Higgins make your reader’s heart swell a little fuller? Or is your chemistry a little different than mine?