While Lucy Gilmore is a new-to-me romance author, some of you may know her under the name Tamara Morgan. (I may even have some of “Morgan’s” romances lurking in the TBR.) Though I’m leery of new-to-me romance authors, I succumbed to the cover puppy’s cuteness. If I were to ever have a dog, it would be a Pomeranian, though in truth, I’m a cat-lady. Reading Gilmore’s first volume in the Service Puppies series, I didn’t regret my venture to new-author territory for a moment. Gilmore’s romance may not break new genre ground, but it delighted me. To start, I loved the premise and meet-cute and recounting them will give you a good idea of what you can expect. Harrison Parks is my favourite kind of hero: huge, grumpy, rhetorically monosyllabic, introverted, and a sentimental softie under the bluster and muscle. He’s also a wildfire firefighter and type 1 diabetic, whose workaholism put him into a diabetic coma. Now his boss, Oscar, wants him to get a service dog to detect his blood sugar — before he’ll let him anywhere near a wildfire again. Harrison loves his work and, grumbling and whinging up a storm, he finds himself at the Puppy Promise kennel staring down at a ball of fluff named Bubbles and a bitty woman in a ruffled dress telling him Bubbles is his new lifeline to getting back to the work he loves.
Gilmore’s opening scene is hilarious and the humour, wit, and banter don’t let up. The juxtaposition of alpha-man with furball, especially when Harrison had already picked out his service animal, a Great Dane, is a hoot. Like Bubbles, Sophie is tiny, adorable, and a will-o-the-wisp. She’s also a hard ass puppy and man trainer, with nerves, discipline, and wisdom earned from a childhood with leukemia.
While the puppy’s, man’s, and heroine’s antics and banter are comic (Sophie gets Harrison to join a knitting circle, with chuckle-inducing results, need I say more?), there are serious stakes for hero and heroine as well. Harrison and his father, Wallace, live a Miss-Havishamian existence in the woods, in a farmhouse kept exactly as the day Harrison’s mother left twenty-two years ago. What Harrison needs is a resurrection and Bubbles and Sophie, as it turns out, are exactly the dog and person who can give it to him. Gilmore’s novel isn’t just funny, it’s endearing and touching. Bubbles is the nonpareil; Harrison and Sophie have chemistry, affection, and winning, snappy banter. Secondary characters are nicely developped and our hero and heroine show growth.
Puppy Love, however, is a hero-centric romance. It’s Harrison’s story and Bubbles even more than Sophie’s. In this lies its flaw. Though Sophie shows growth in confidence and independence from her overprotective but gloriously loving family, her character notes wane as Harrison’s dominate. I enjoyed it nonetheless, but I did notice how Sophie became less and less of a changing, growing character and moved solely toward being Harrison’s emotional saviour. I did enjoy, however, how Bubbles’s growth as a service puppy, brave, loving, devoted, and disciplined paralleled Sophie’s role in Harrison’s life.
Another tiny moue of disappointment came at the dark or betrayal moment. Ye olde crank of deus ex machina made its way into the narrative and, without spoiling, left some unanswered questions, or rather underdevelloped answers, about Harrison’s childhood. The not-baby-but-Bubbles-filled epilogue, on the other hand, was priceless. Gilmore writes with a sure, pleasant hand and paces her narrative so that it remained compelling. Like Harrison with Bubbles and Sophie, I’m now a sucker for a doggy cover, though I maintain my cat-lady status, and pantingly await the next book in the series. With Miss Austen, we found in Puppy Love “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Lucy Gilmore’s Puppy Love is published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. It was released on May 28th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Sourcebooks Casablanca, via Netgalley.