Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook

June 4, 2010

must love dogs Plot summary (with spoilers): Sarah Hurlihy is a 40-year-old preschool teacher who’s trying to get back into the dating game a couple years after her divorce from Kevin. The marriage just didn’t work out, as they slowly discovered they had very little in common after all. By the end, they barely spoke to each other and Sarah wasn’t surprised to learn that there was another, younger woman involved.

Her family, consisting of sisters Carol and Christine, brothers Michael, Mark, and John, and dad Billy, all think Sarah should jump back into the swing of things, so Sarah decides to answer a personal ad. Trouble is, she shows up for the date only to realize that the guy on the other end is… her father! Completely horrified, Sarah is ready for some more seclusion, but Carol convinces her to keep trying. This time, Carol will compose and place the ad herself in the hopes of getting at least a couple of good leads.

The responses to Sarah’s ad run the gamut from the promising to the downright strange. She ends up meeting one guy, John Anderson, based on the ad, but is extremely disappointed when he doesn’t turn out to be the Harrison Ford lookalike he said he was. Still, she maintains contact with him because he seems nice enough. Sarah is also interested in Bob Connor, the father of one of her preschool students. She realizes that dating him would be inappropriate, but that probably won’t even be an issue since Bob seems to be more attracted to Sarah’s beautiful young assistant June. And then there’s also Ray Santia, a handsome man that Sarah noticed — and subsequently stalked — when he was walking his dog.

The remainder of the novel shows how Sarah tries to make up her mind about which guy she would have the best future with. Along the way, we get significant amounts of time with Sarah’s highly dysfunctional yet loving family, as they all work through various issues of their own.

Liked:

  • I thought Must Love Dogs was a refreshing change from those typical love-at-first-sight or never-ending love stories that seem to permeate this genre. Sarah’s scenario of not being able to make up her mind seemed far more realistic, and I liked the fact that she was leaning towards the “average guy” at the end. Not many romances would play out this way.
  • Sarah was a likable character. Again, she seemed like a real woman, with legitimate concerns about finding a man and realistic expectations about the pursuit. She didn’t dream about a soul mate or anything like that, which, again, was unusual for a romance novel. Plus, Sarah had a great sense of humor and was definitely someone I would like to know in real life.
  • I liked that there wasn’t a predictable, saccharine ending to this novel where everything worked out perfectly for all the characters. Sarah’s life is clearly a work in progress, and she’s taking baby steps towards achieving what she wants.

Disliked:

  • I thought Bob, John, and Ray were all a little too vanilla for the purposes of this story. I mean, I finished this book a few days ago, and the only thing I remember about Bob and Ray is that Sarah thought they were both very good-looking. I know John was supposed to be vanilla, so I could accept that. But having all three guys be this bland was not a good choice.
  • I could have done without so much family drama. Yeah, I get it: the Hurlihys are one of those big, crazy families where there’s always a hundred different things going on. The 70-something dad is getting more action than his kids, there are troubled marriages, troubled teens, etc. It was a little over the top.
  • All the family drama took away time from Sarah’s dating adventures. I expected this book to be mostly about the men that she would meet from her personal ads, which would have been a fun read. We needed to see some rejects along with the three guys Sarah went out with. For instance, where was the 40-year-old loser still living in his parents’ basement? Or the grossly overweight guy in need of a visit to www.cholesteroltreatments.com? There were a lot of ways Claire Cook could have taken this storyline. But the dating angle only was only a small part of the plot. Most of the attention seemed to be on the family, not the potential boyfriends, and that didn’t work so well.
  • The story unfolded a bit too slowly for my taste. Some parts were interesting, so I had no trouble moving right along, but others were downright boring and I ended up setting the book aside for days at a time.

Rating

Although I liked how Must Love Dogs wasn’t a conventional love story, I think some of the unconventional elements ended up getting in the way of a decent plot. A few of the family situations were funny, but most were just boring, which affected my overall enjoyment of the book. As a result, I’m giving it just 3 stars out of 5.

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