When I was younger, I occasionally looked at friends’ comic books, but the stories were hard to follow. They were all serials, so they continued from something I hadn’t read, carried on in something not yet in the friend’s collection, and frequently referred to other stories (*See Muscleman vs Waterman #235 to understand this remark). Puppy Love, by Ginger Chambers, reminded me of those frustrating reading experiences, but otherwise it’s a charming sweet romance.
Puppy Love was published in 1996. It’s part of a monthly series of 12 books, by different authors, called Hometown Reunion. The stories all apparently include someone moving back to Tyler, Wisconsin, “America’s favourite hometown,” according to Harlequin. Tyler was also the setting for the series Welcome to Tyler in 1992 and Return to Tyler in 2000. Integrating this story into the series means there are many references to other couples and potential couples, and there’s a subplot that is awkwardly woven into the main plot and does not come to anything. The book suffers from a crowded cover, since in addition to the title, author, and series, there’s the name of a veterinary clinic, which I assume is significant to people who know the series.
The romance plot is friends become lovers, with the twist that Gracie is almost forty, while Roger is twenty-eight, and has not seen her since he had a crush on her – when he was fourteen, fourteen years ago. He’s returned to Tyler and taken over a veterinary practice, and meets Grace, a former dog breeder, at a dog show. See, the title has a double meaning – Roger’s young, and there are literal puppies…
Gracie is wounded by a relationship that ended badly. Her long-term boyfriend, not from Tyler, dumped her, in a humiliating fashion, for a much younger woman. After a couple of rough years she is settling into a comfortable life alone. She’s not keen to get involved with anyone, and finds it hard to believe Roger is seriously interested in her. Given how quickly Roger decides the object of his teenage crush is the only woman for him, I can appreciate her doubts. She’s also aware of how people might talk, if she takes up with a younger man after being dumped for a younger woman.
She had no knowledge of his crush, but since Tyler is a small town, she knows his family, so he’s not a complete stranger. As romance novels go, theirs is a relatively normal relationship. There are a few coincidental meetings, but they also go out for dinner dates that end with goodnight kisses on the porch (it may be old-fashioned, but it also maintains romantic and sexual tension). And people do talk, though always approvingly. The story is a little thin, bulked up by conversations and events with and about other characters who I suspect are featured in other stories of the series. There’s also what I assume is the series arc suspense subplot, which adds some dramatic filler.
It’s a light and quick read, with the relatively ordinary characters I prefer, a good mix of realism and fantasy, and some novelty in the age difference of the characters. Chambers is on my list of authors to read again. And if you love comic book serials, you might enjoy the entire collection of Tyler books.