Lucy Gilmore’s dog-centered romances are such a weak spot for me - mostly because she knows her stuff when it comes to running rescues and manages to make her human characters flawed but likeable. Ruff and Tumble is no change from that winning formula, and involves a fictionalized version of The Puppy Bowl. If this notion doesn’t make you “aww” at least once, then this isn’t the book for you. Me, I gobbled it up like a bowl of ice cream, even though Cole isn’t my favorite among the author’s heroes.
Hailey Lincoln is a football-loving production assistant on the Puppy Cup, a nationally televised alternative to the Kickoff Cup, a large scale football game that takes place every February. Each year, the puppies play and gambol with a football-ish theme, and with any luck get themselves adopted out and bring attention to shelter pups in need. Hailey is on the floor of her office checking Bess, a pregnant golden retriever, for toxemia when Cole Bennett, quarterback of the Seattle Lumberjacks, Hailey’s crush, and all around football god, comes striding up the hallway. Fortunately for a lust-stricken Hailey, Cole loves Bess and finds the whole thing charming – and Bess immediately adores Cole.
Unfortunately, the second Hailey is alone with Cole, she asks him why he’s being so badly lately – and mentions the Kickoff Cup Curse, which has been haunting the Lumberjacks for ages. He takes it in stride, and soon he and Hailey find themselves stuck in an elevator in Hailey’s office building, trying to deliver Bess’ puppies. It’s a bonding experience. To say the least.
The fame from the elevator puppy delivery is just the kind of positive press Cole’s been looking for, as he’s trying to outrun a media scandal which is due to drop any moment. His original objective was to become a part of that year’s Puppy Cup coverage, but this is twice as good as a simple appearance at the event.
While taking care of Bess’ puppies, Cole and Hailey get closer. Cole’s niece Mia soon wants one of the pups, and the fostering process means more interaction. But will Cole break the Kickoff Cup Curse, or buckle under the pressure? And will Hailey manage to find contentment in her new found family?
Ruff and Tumble is, quite simply, a fun little book that balances serious topics – heavy expectations of your community and your family, clingy families, commitment issues and trying to open yourself up to someone new – and makes a lovely exploration of it all.
Cole is cocky and confident and smooth, but he’s also incredibly bad at relationships and his fumbling awkwardness makes for both frustration and good solid humor. Hailey is also awkward as heck, and lonely and yet afraid of letting anyone get close. She has a pattern of keeping animals in foster only for a few months, so when she bonds with Bess and her puppies it’s a new experience for her, and an intense one.
Together, they make a very good couple, though Cole does make a series of dumb, rash decisions that drag this book down a few notches. He and Hailey both stink at communication, so if that kind of romance novel annoys you, this probably isn’t the kind of book you’ll enjoy. Cole has a very close-knit family whom he takes for granted; Hailey was very close with her father, who died when she was a teenager, resulting in her being fostered out in her teens. They have a lot of issues with attaching to others.
As always, Gillmore’s kids are properly childlike, and her dogs read like dogs and not props – they’re subborn, messy, inconvenient and naughty, and not always in a cutesy-poo way. The supporting characters are good, too - I loved Cole’s sister Regina in particular. She does not take an inch of her brother’s BS and manages to give as good as she gets.
Ruff and Tumble is a great little book, and it’s immensely enjoyable if you like your contemporaries warm and sweet, with a little bit of sass.
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