Is there anything better than catching up with old friends? You already know how much you adore them, you know their history, and you completely get their sense of humor. I had the privilege of hanging out with some people I really love recently. We laughed, we bonded, we enjoyed a few casseroles, and we totally would have hugged it out if it weren’t for that pesky problem of them living on the page.
Oh, you didn’t think I meant real people, did you? Fictional friends are so much better, especially when the pals in question are the unforgettable Hurlihy family from Claire Cook’s Must Love Dogs series. After spending time with the gang in the seventh installment, Hearts and Barks, I’m thrilled to report that I love them even more, and I have the distinct feeling that we’ll be continuing our friendship for a long, long time.
Must Love Dogs: Hearts and Barks reacquaints us with preschool teacher Sarah Hurlihy as she plans a pivotal classroom celebration: Valentine’s Day. Of course, the school has banned any and all candy in addition to valentines of any sort, but teachers are creative, right? With expressions of love (and mysterious conversation hearts) all around, Sarah can’t help but focus on the romantic hiccups in her own life–namely, her ex-husband popping up at every corner and her boyfriend John’s sudden desire to elope. At least it’s somewhat easy to avoid John’s proposal when they’re living in a house filled with two dogs, five cats, Sarah’s father, her revolving door of siblings who don’t knock, and her pregnant teaching assistant, Polly. Filled with the humor, heart, and utter originality Claire Cook is known for, Must Love Dogs: Hearts and Barks is a truly wonderful tale that will make you sit, stay, and wag with delight from cover to cover.
Every time I pick up one of Claire Cook’s books, I know I need to clear my schedule so I can relish in her world without interruption. It never ceases to amaze me how authentic these characters are and how much they leap off of the page, from Sarah and her siblings bickering at the dinner table, to the preschoolers who say the darndest things, to the four-legged menagerie strutting through every corner of Sarah’s house. I became invested in Sarah’s life and her relationships the very first time I met her so many years ago, and seven books later, I’m more involved than ever. With each novel in the series, Claire Cook adds new layers of emotion and complexity, leaving me cackling with laughter and wiping away a few tears. I have loved every new chapter in Sarah’s life, and I can’t wait to see where her story goes from here.
If you haven’t read any of the earlier books in the series, each novel does stand on its own and promises more fun than decimating a squeaky toy (so I’ve heard). If you want my advice, though, start from the beginning and breeze right through them all. With characters this wonderful and laughs this big, why would you want to miss a single minute of the fun?
Must Love Dogs: Hearts and Barks is available now! Order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or from your favorite bookseller. Be sure to follow the always inspiring Claire Cook on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and check out all the fun at clairecook.com!