The Dog Park
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Stylist Jessica Champlin lives in Chicago sharing custody of Baxter, a “goldendoodle” with Sebastian Hess, her ex-husband. Sebastian and Jessica got Baxter as a last ditch effort to save their struggling marriage and although it didn’t work, it keeps them in touch with each other as they trade Baxter back and forth each week. Sebastian works as a foreign correspondent, often in dangerous war torn areas and it was the nail in the coffin in the marriage when he was unable to give that up. Jessica couldn’t handle not being allowed to know where he was going to be or how long he was gone. Although there was never an issue of a lack of love in the marriage, it became a question of what she could continue to tolerate. And eventually they made the decision to go their separate ways. They both love and cherish Baxter and they make an effort for him, to keep things civil although it doesn’t always work.
When Baxter saves the life of a child, it’s filmed by a teenager and uploaded to Youtube. Overnight, Baxter the Superdog (named for his brightly coloured leash that Jessica had sewed stars onto) becomes an overnight sensation. The video is viewed millions of times, it is shared on news networks as their ‘feel-good’ puff piece at the end of the bulletin. People begin to recognise Baxter in the street and soon Jessica is inundated with requests about his collar and leash. She begins making them and then branches out into other items which she labels ‘dogwear’. The business really takes off and Jessica finds herself having to hire people to keep up with demand. But although Jessica enjoys the spotlight on herself and Baxter at first, and it brings its perks, all of a sudden her dark past is brought to the surface, something she never even told Sebastian about. And the betrayal comes from someone closest to her.
What was a whirlwind of positive praise changes in an instant as Jessica has to face all her secrets being made public. She finds that the one person who stands by her could also be the one person she stands to lose forever…and now she has to make a decision about what she really wants and do everything she can to make sure she can get it.
I almost didn’t keep reading this book because of the ‘goldendoodle’ thing. I don’t really buy into it as a breed – it’s a crossbred designer dog that might’ve been started for real and proper reasons but basically leaves so much open for backyard breeders to come in and sell these types of dogs, fooling people that they are a real breed. Also, the names are utterly ridiculous. A “goldendoodle” is never going to sound like an actual dog breed. It sounds like something a woman named Candy dreamed up in her backyard when she bred Fluffy to Fido. Basically what you have is a Golden Retriever crossed with a Poodle. You don’t have a “goldendoodle”. And because they’re not a recognised breed, there’s basically no way to buy them from a reputable breeder. They’re all backyard breeders, some just may be a little more careful than others and make sure they do the rigorous testing in breeding two types of dogs together that are both known for having hip problems. I googled them and although the puppies are cute (basically all puppies are cute) once they grow up, they tend to look….well, a bit weird.
But I ended up persisting and I found this book quite unusual and for that I liked it. I’ve read a few “love reunited” stories and even ones where the characters have been married before. But I haven’t really read anything where the characters are in the situation that Jessica and Sebastian are in. They loved each other madly and moved to Chicago from New York, where Sebastian was from. But eventually Jessica’s inability to deal with Sebastian’s job led to their marriage breaking down although they’re still on relatively good terms for a formerly married couple. They see each other mostly weekly during dog exchanges but they also talk and text regularly. They do have niggling little arguments at times but on the whole, things are quite good. They’ve been divorced for about two years at the start of the book and I’m assuming that none of them have really moved on to other partners before now. Jessica meets a man that she begins dating and Sebastian’s attitude about this is enough for me to assume that this is the first man Jessica has dated since their break up and Jessica makes no mention of Sebastian ever having another girlfriend after her, although it seems that in Chicago there are plenty of women he was involved with before her.
I feel as though there should’ve been a bit more about Sebastian and Jessica’s unresolved feelings for each other though. Their interactions are all really quite mundane and revolve so much around Baxter and what he is doing. I get that they both really love their dog and that’s great. But they’re also two humans that were married and in a relationship for a long time. Surely they have more to talk about than Baxter, at least I really wanted to read them talking about more than Baxter. Also I thought the way Sebastian’s job played out was a little bit crazy but it was written in a way that made me buy into it. I also liked the resolution of Jessica’s past and the fact that the author didn’t really go into the obvious route of making it turn into some sort of total love triangle or use it to spin out more drama that prevented Jessica from being with who she is supposed to be with. I think this novel is light-hearted and funny and there’s a few sad moments too but at times it really lacks the punch that it needed on the romance side. It needed a bit more feeling to really lift it up a bit more, make it into a total favourite. But it was still a pleasant story. Definitely one for someone who really likes dogs. If you’re not a fan or mostly so-so towards them then the constant dog stuff in this book will probably end up becoming quite tedious.
Book #139 of 2014