Alex Halstad, a childless-by-choice interior designer and dog mom, is a true perfectionist. But her orderly life turns chaotic when the teenage daughter her husband, Barry, never knew he had shows up on their doorstep…with a baby girl of her own in tow. While Alex’s dog enthusiastically welcomes the new arrivals, Alex struggles with the loss of her steady routine. She desperately needs peace and quiet to get her business back on track before Barry finds out she’s spent most of their savings.
Meanwhile, the arrival of the girls stirs up old insecurities, and Alex can’t help but worry that Barry’s ex will make an entrance too. With her tidy life a distant memory, will Alex be able to learn from her dog the true meaning of love and acceptance?
From bestselling author Jackie Bouchard comes a humorous and heartwarming look at how life creates opportunities to love in surprising ways.
Source: ARC from Lake Union Publishing (Amazon) via NetGalley
This is the second Jackie Bouchard book I’ve read (Rescue Me, Maybe) and I think it’s safe to say I really enjoy her books. As a lifetime dog owner I love the way Marie is a vital character in this book, I also liked that Alex and her husband were childless by choice and comfortable with their decision – even if others weren’t. So if a dedicated career woman without maternal instincts isn’t your kind of thing, then give this one a miss, because it is a pretty persistent plot point. As would be expected when a teenager and baby suddenly appear in Alex’s life.
I liked Alex. She’s a woman with firm opinions, a definite neat-freak and a habit of trying to give the people she loves what she thinks they want. With her mother that’s led to a strained relationship thanks to the no children and a lifetime certainty (on Alex’s part) that her little sister is the favoured child. With her husband Barry, Alex wants him to be proud of her and her business, which is how she gets herself into a complete mess with finances since she doesn’t want to admit she’s in trouble and can’t think of a way to admit that she’s almost drained their savings.
It’s easy to see how Alex would end up this way – not saying that the lying is right, but I can see how everything just grew and grew until she didn’t know how to approach the mess. Especially once Wren and Ruthie arrive and everything just gets worse.
Not that this book is all drama – well, actually, it is – because there’s plenty of humour mixed in. Not least the first line, but also in the way Alex learns to adjust to having Wren in her life. Because while Alex might try to always keep up a good front for those she loves, she’s also exceedingly human and not above buying a bunch of musical instruments for her young nephews, just because her sister called her last present “lame”. Completely evil, but funny if you don’t have to live with the fallout. There are also plenty of scenes where I could see how things would turn out, but couldn’t look away from the horrors I knew would unfold. Some funny, others less so.
Because this is told entirely from Alex’s pov I have to admit there were times when I wondered about how much she and her husband really did love each other. This is caused by Alex’s issues regarding Jade the Ex, but also because the pair of them have been together for fifteen years and had established a very comfortable routine before Wren smashed it all to bits. I really felt for Alex, since she’s the one who does all the adjusting while Barry mostly hides from it all. It might have been nice to have actually seen more of Barry and Wren getting to know each other, and some bonding with little Ruthie, but this is Alex’s story so I can see why it wasn’t here. I did, however, love seeing Alex come to terms with Ruthie and build a relationship with Wren. Especially because it didn’t change the person she essentially was, it just tweaked her perceptions here and there, mostly because of Marie the dog.
The only thing that really felt out of step to me dealt with Alex and Jade. I felt Alex did something really out of character at one point, and while I can see why it had to happen for plot reasons, it left me frustrated because it didn’t seem believable that Alex would have done that.
Overall, though, this is a highly enjoyable read that I devoured as quickly as possible. Alex is a sympathetic character with understandable issues and struggles who I liked reading about. Her family and her life are likewise interesting and compelling, while Marie the dog is gorgeous. If you’re looking for something that mixes drama and humour with real-life situations, then you should give this a try – especially if you like dogs. I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next.
House Trained is out October 20th!
Visit Jackie Bouchard for more details.