Heart on a Leash
Alanna Martin’s Heart on a Leash asks the question What if Romeo and Juliet lived in contemporary Alaska and were not dazed teenagers but commendably functional adults? The answer, it is not much of a spoiler to say, is that they would have had some hot sex and lived happily ever after.
Taylor Lipin is a moderately fulfilled twenty-something living and working in LA. I’ve heard that people who move to Alaska are either running to something or from something. Taylor runs (back) to the state when the appearance of termites and the loss of her job combine to make her a woman in need of housing and occupation. Her family lives in small Helen, Alaska, where the Lipins are in a constant “feud” with the Porters, and have been for over one-hundred years. The family’s mutual malice goes somewhat scarily beyond the average Homeowners Association altercations and – just in the book – involve dog poop, tire-slashing, and breaking-and-entering. The source of the problem:
“in 1909 . . . William Porter accused Anton Lipin of stealing one of his dogs.”
Taylor starts working at the Lipins’ Bay Song Inn and one night, on a pizza run, she meets Josh Krane, a Porter on his mother’s side, and his huskies. The instant affinity is mutual all around, and the chemistry between Josh and Taylor is undeniable. Can their love survive the literal dogshit getting thrown their way by their families?
Romeo and Juliet is, needless to say, partly remembered for its sexual charge, and there’s a legitimate charge in this homage, which feels both natural given the source material and satisfying in general. It’s not a slow burn book: on his and Taylor’s first date Josh thinks that he has “half a mind to push the dress to her waist and go down on her in the middle of the parking lot” and they are in bed before the one-third mark of the story.
Josh and Taylor are both likeable main characters. Taylor’s cast as a sort of rebel, but a type-A rebel: she got a business degree and works an office job, just in a different state from her family. Josh is a military kid who’s developed a love for “stability over daring any day”—he’s a doctor in Helen. They’re both earnest in a genuine but not irritating way, considerate, and completely lack the mean streaks of their families (honestly they’re so nice a surprise adoption twist would have been believable).
My biggest quibble is related to the execution of the story. Some of the conversations and descriptions have a predicable feel to them, though Martin does throw in some real winners on occasion, such as when Taylor’s sister, reflecting on her status as a single cat owner, says “my closest male companion buries his poop in a tray in the kitchen. For some people, that’s enough. I wish I was one of them.” One small thing that got a little tiring was the constant references to the rain in Helen. The book would have been just fine without the meteorological report.
The story concludes Taylor and Josh’s romance without concluding the feud, which presumably will influence the rest of the series. Hearts of Alaska seems set to be a collection of classic-inspired love stories, if the title of the next book – Paws and Prejudice – is any indication.
If you’re looking for an inn-trope, animal matchmaking, Shakespearean, Alaskan romance – or just a good contemporary – Alanna Martin’s Heart on a Leash (incidentally, her first book) is a decent choice.