Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Book Review and Giveaway: House Trained
Author Jackie Bouchard specializes in “Fido-friendly fiction.” Her debut novel, What the Dog Ate, was one of the first books I reviewed for Chick Lit Central. She followed that up with Rescue Me, Maybe. Her new release, House Trained, was issued by Amazon's imprint Lake Union Publishing.
Bouchard has found success with a narrow niche: Her heroines are all childless by choice but are devoted mothers to their dogs. And the dogs prove themselves worthy of such devotion.
In Bouchard’s latest offering, she serves up a standard plot with a twist: the grown child no one ever knew about has come home to roost with a child of her own. (Bouchard must have her finger on the pulse of the entertainment world, since this is also the plot of the new John Stamos sitcom, Grandfathered.) The grown child in question is Marie (aka Wren), the until-now unknown 18-year-old daughter of heroine Alex’s husband, Barry. Wren shows up at the college campus where Barry works and announces that she’s the product of a one-night stand with his ex-lover Jade. Jade had lied to Wren that Barry was dead; she never told Barry about Wren because he made it clear he did not want children (that’s why they broke up). But when Wren shows up to dinner with Barry and Alex, she has a surprise of her own – her toddler daughter Ruthie. And she’s so angry with Jade over her lies that she can’t live with her mother anymore. Could she and Ruthie stay with Barry and Alex for the summer?
Alex, an interior designer who has spent years getting her house in shape, has been hiding her own secret: She’s overloaded their credit cards and gone through their savings trying to keep her new business afloat. With Wren and Ruthie moving in, now is not the time to fess all to Barry. She knows letting the girls move in is the right thing to do. Still, it’s damn hard to watch Barry move her favorite coffee table into the garage. While Alex and Barry adjust awkwardly to instant grandparent-hood, the dog Marie turns out to be just as good a mother as teenage mom Marie (both named due to Barry’s interest in famous scientists.). Some of the sweetest scenes in the book revolve around Marie bonding with and teaching Ruthie, as Alex marvels at her dog’s gentle touch. And Marie’s (the dog) instincts will play a vital role near the book’s climax.
House Trained differs from Bouchard’s first two books, as the relationship between the heroine and her dog is not as central to the plot. With Marie healthy and firmly ensconced in her home, Alex doesn’t need to worry about her canine companion. Instead, her mental energy goes into worrying about Wren and Ruthie’s effect on her house and her career, and old jealousy about Jade. The result is that Alex does not seem as warm or vulnerable as Bouchard’s other heroines. The book is written in first person, and Alex’s unfiltered thoughts are very honest. She knows helping out Wren and Ruthie is the right thing to do. But that’s cold comfort when “the right thing” is screaming her lungs out at two am. Even worse, Barry seems to think that any need of Wren and Ruthie’s should be handled by Alex.
Ironically, the character who comes across the best in the book is unwed teenage mother Wren. She takes full responsibility for her baby and her predicament, and understands she’s asking a lot of Alex and Barry. She’s a good enough mother to recognize her baby’s middle-of-the-night ear infection, take her to urgent care and a 24-hour pharmacy, and return home before her father and stepmother have even woken up. I wish Alex had pressed Wren more about the events that led her to her doorstep. Other than a throw-away comment about a boyfriend who wasn’t interested in being a father, there’s no back story about how Wren managed pregnancy, child birth and child care during her last two years of high school.
One aspect of Bouchard’s writing I’ve always admired is that she doesn’t jump through hoops to try to explain why her heroines don’t want children. There are no traumatic childhood incidents, no psychotic mothers, and no sudden moments of clarity where the heroine changes her mind. Alex just simply doesn’t want children. (And neither did Barry, but no one questions men who want to remain childless the way they do women.) But that doesn’t mean she’s stone-hearted when it comes to one that needs her. The book isn’t about Alex realizing the one thing in her life that’s missing is a baby. It’s about her realizing that a more open and accepting attitude toward the people in her world and the complications they bring will enrich her life.
And she learns this lesson from Marie. Rather than trotting out the old canard about teaching an old dog new tricks, Bouchard shows us that sometimes old dogs have new tricks to teach their old humans.
Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have a copy to share with one lucky US reader! This is part of their Girl's Best Friend tour.
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US only. Giveaway ends October 27th at midnight EST.