Life on the Leash
I’m very rarely a Women’s Fiction reader. I am of the camp that truly prefers Romance and sticks solidly in my genre, only a few Women’s Fiction books per year getting me to make the bridge, and that is typically because they seem to have a strong romantic subplot. Life on the Leash convinced me it would be one of those, and didn’t really deliver. What I got instead was a book mostly about dog training and neurotic dog owners.
Cora Bellamy owns her own business training dogs in Washington D.C., has a cute rescue pit bull, and lives with her great roommate and best friend Maggie. These are all the parts of her life that make sense. Get those down, because things get a little weird after that. She also has an ex-boyfriend who is going on a reality show to see who is America’s hottest landscaper, wants to snag her own reality show gig, has a gaggle of dog-trainer friends who are pretty pointless to the plot, a feud against a thinly-veiled Cesar Millan parody, randomly speaks French for some reason, and has a host of each-one-more-obnoxious-than-the-next rich clients.
So…yeah. There’s a lot going on. And that isn’t all of it. Cora meets with a couple of her clients, a wealthy boyfriend and girlfriend, and instantly falls for the guy. His name is Charlie Gill and he seems to be a dog lover, works for an animal rights group, and appears to be the perfect guy… except for, you know, sneaking around on his girlfriend to spend time with Cora. She kind of ignores that because he’s hot and she likes his dog and not his girlfriend.
Meanwhile, Cora meets another oddball client, a barely-stable hoarder named Beth Ann who is neglecting her dog. Beth Ann lives in a building with a friend of one of Cora’s other clients/friends, a guy named Eli (because literally everyone knows everyone in this book). When she first meets him, Eli is about as interesting as stale toast. She even tells her friend she’s not into him. But the author practically screams love triangle at you when he appears.
I was on board for all of this. Cora is trying to get a job hosting a dog training TV series, in hopes of countering the very popular show that promotes harmful, aggressive training techniques (read: Cesar Millan but called by a Russian name). She’s got a little, somewhat boring, adulterous love triangle brewing. Then the book spends a couple of hundred pages on dog training. Cora visits a client here, and it doesn’t go well. She rescues a dog over here. She tries on a fancy dress she’ll never need because she’s just a dog trainer (read: she’ll totally need it later). More dog training. A random dance sequence! Dogs, again. Eli all but disappears. Charlie is around attempting to cheat on his girlfriend, but it was mostly dogs, and the TV series. I was a little bored.
The thing is, the novel isn’t terribly unreadable. I love dogs. Schade’s writing is very personable and carries you through the story well, but that was not what I came to the book for, so I couldn’t help feeling that it all went on too long. Not to mention, it started to feel like she was just filling pages. So many friends, clients, dogs, and random people came through, and I couldn’t keep track or be bothered to care.
Finally, in the last fifty pages Schade rushes to wrap up the love stories. She upps the villain factor on the already cheating boyfriend Charlie, tries to force a black moment for Eli and Cora, and then slaps a bow on a pretty bloodless romance. Not to mention the ending for her TV show plotline and how it intersects with a super weird dog training/dog rescue/rich dude animal savior story left me blinking in confusion.
Life on the Leash is sadly the most disappointing kind of book – readable, not terrible, but lacking in any special spark to make it actually good. It suffers from not knowing whether it wanted to be a day-in-the-life-of-a-dog-trainer story or a romance or whatever, and in trying to do so much ended up doing it all with mediocrity.