The cover totally did its job with this one. I took one look at all the cute little pugs in Central Park, and I knew I had to read it. I have two very cute pugs myself, so I am admittedly biased in this regard. The plot was secondary, really. Happily, I found the book itself to be well-written, and the heroine to be both humorous and insightful.
Like many Chick Lit heroines, Hope McNiell is at a bit of a crossroads in life. She restores paintings at the Met, which really suits her. She has a boyfriend who suits her a little less, and a secret crush on a cute guy at work. And she has her favorite place of refuge, Pug Hill. This is a little area of Central Park where pug owners congregate. Since Hope has a relatively small apartment and not much free time, she doesn’t have a dog of her own. But she grew up in a dog-loving household, and she dreams of the day she can have a pug of her own. Whenever she has a free moment (or is feeling particularly stressed), she heads to Pug Hill and watches the dogs.
The catalyst for Hope’s life change is a phone call from her father. He mentions that he and her mother will be celebrating their anniversary with a party, and asks her to give a speech. Hope agrees to do it (feeling like she has no choice in the matter), and then spends the rest of the day quaking in her boots. Since an ill-fated oral report in junior high, she has had a mortal dread of public speaking. In fact, she even picked her career partly because she knew she would never have to get up in front of a room of people. After considering the matter for awhile, she decides to take a public speaking class at The New School. She hopes that this will help her put her demons to rest. Her boyfriend Evan is completely unenthusiastic about the idea. He’s annoyed that the class is on Thursdays, a night he likes to go out, and he mentions casually that he is a great public speaker. Soon thereafter they break up.
As Hope completes her class, soldiers through her job, and contemplates at Pug Hill, she sorts through her life and thinks about what she really wants. In the end, it looks like she just might get it. But this isn’t really a plot-driven book loaded with action; it’s more, well, contemplative. There’s a lot of character observation, and a lot of thinking. At first I was a little skeptical, and wondered if I could really relate to the heroine. Like her erstwhile boyfriend, I have no problem with public speaking, and unlike Hope, I am not all that good at sitting down and watching dogs or anything else. I have been known to read at stoplights, for heaven’s sake. However, I soon grew to appreciate Hope’s wry humor and her little observations. My personal favorite was that no one ever goes to the bathroom in The DaVinci Code, in spite of the fact that every single second is accounted for. I found this so hilarious that I am still sharing it with people.
One of the reasons that Hope’s humor works so well is that the secondary characters are well-drawn. Whether they are endearing or annoying, they all seem like actual people. There’s a hot guy in her public speaking class who sinks in her esteem because he says “dude” too much – and thinks the aforementioned DaVinci Code is high art. There’s an amusing encounter with a hot British guy at Pug Hill, which pokes fun at Chick Lit conventions in general. At times, I found her family a little too outlandish (sure, we’ve all seen needy siblings who get more attention, but this one seemed a bit much) and her friends not quite nice enough (I wasn’t quite sure why she even liked some of them). But overall, the secondary characters did their job, and provided excellent fodder for Hope’s musings.
I admit that I did worry that all would not end happliy. As the last few pages approached, I wondered whether the light tone would turn melancholy and the reader would be left high and dry. Fortunately, that was not the case. The end is picture perfect. My only complaint would be that I would have liked for it to be a little longer; I wouldn’t have minded wallowing a little.
Over all, Pug Hill provides an enjoyable read, and one that even appeals to all ages. My teenage daughter, who is pug-mad (and is really behind our pug ownership) saw the cover and begged to read it. Since I found nothing objectionable in it (in other words, no overly descriptive sex) , I let her. She read it faster than I did, and really liked it. Readers who are looking for Chick Lit with a more contemplative sensibility will probably enjoy it as well – even if they aren’t dog lovers.