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In 'Anything For You,' Raising A Last Glass To Blue Heron Vineyard

At the end of December, as the world cleaned up wrapping paper and pine needles and prepared to say good-bye to 2015, the romance community had its own bittersweet celebration: Kristan Higgins released Anything For You, the fifth and final title in her excellent and wildly popular Blue Heron series.

The first book, The Best Man, introduced us to Faith Holland and her family, owners of the Blue Heron vineyard in fictional Manningsport, New York. Faith was jilted at the altar, then fled to the West Coast. When her family cajoles her into coming back to help with the harvest, she's forced to establish new relationships with old friends, lovers and adversaries — including Levi Cooper, the best man at her ill-fated wedding — who may actually be her soul mate, if she can stop blaming him for ruining her life.

As the series goes along, we end up highly invested in the whole Manningsport community — but especially the Holland and O'Rourke families. Faith's siblings, her best friend Colleen O'Rourke, and Collen's twin brother Connor all star in their own books (with Faith's happily married sister Prudence providing comic relief with her running commentary on keeping the flame alive.)

Higgins flirts with some beloved romance tropes in the series, though the stories are so layered and complex I hesitate to whittle them down to simple labels. The Best Man is an enemies-to-lovers storyline. Its sequel Waiting on You is definitely a heart-wrenching "second chance at love" tale, while number four, The Perfect Match, is a modern marriage-of-convenience, with a green card angle. And Anything For You has a bit of a Cinderella slant, but since Connor's love story undulates across twenty years, it's especially hard to reduce.

Easily one of the most popular writers in romance, Higgins appeals to a broad spectrum of readers, since her novels contain a hugely satisfying romantic punch and skyrocketing sexual tension without graphic description (her books are the kind referred to as closed-door romances), with humor that ranges from witty banter to slapstick physical comedy. But she truly shines in her ability to create warm, multi-dimensional characters who are perfectly imperfect — just right for each other, but unable to put the pieces together until the inevitably sigh-worthy denouement. Even the secondary cast leaps from the page: cranky octogenarians, villainous step-parents, backstabbing friends, laugh-out-loud blind dates, and over-the-hill womanizers.

Higgins is a special writer at the top of her game. No other author manages to make us cry quite so achingly and laugh quite so hard, often within a few pages of each other. Higgins' writing is so convincing and consummate that we are forced to react, to feel invested. And her keen observation of human nature renders her characters indelibly authentic — even when they're doing things we hate, we understand why; even when they're unsympathetic or ridiculous, they're credible. And that makes Blue Heron titles nearly impossible to put down, even to reach for a tissue or take a breath and rescue our aching ribs.

Bobbi Dumas is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis. She writes, blogs and reviews for Kirkus Media, and celebrates romance and women's fiction on her website

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Bobbi Dumas