There are very few books I give a 5-Star rating. Old Dogs by Debi Matlack is one of them. If I could have, I’d have given it 10. It’s that good. Shoot, it’s even better!
The main character, Valerie Roark, is approaching her 40th birthday and having to start her life over after a nasty divorce. Using the few hundred dollars she has left, she buys the only car she can afford – a broken-down compact barely hanging on by a prayer – and returns to her childhood home in central Florida. Surrounded by her loving and sometimes nosy family, she begins to heal, and finds a friend in her attractive neighbor, Daniel. But Daniel, still mourning the death of his wife, plans to leave Florida and return to his home in England, and Valerie realizes she’ll miss him more than she wants to admit.
Debi Matlack creates her characters with an honesty and a realism seldom found in contemporary women’s fiction. There are no stereotypes, no over-the-top behaviors, just people that you like immediately and feel you’ve known all your life. Just like real families, the Roarks love and laugh and fight and drive each other crazy sometimes. As for Valerie and Daniel, their friendship is warm and comfortable, and anything between them moves at exactly the perfect pace.
As well as crafting unforgettable characters, Debi paints a vivid picture with her settings. One of the author’s strengths is bringing them to life with such believability that after you’ve read the book you would swear you’d actually been there, paddling down the creek with Valerie in the canoe, sitting on the deck and listening to owls in the pine trees, or hearing the barking of dogs in the veterinary office where Valerie works. And speaking of dogs, I’ve never read a book that describes animals as perfectly as this one does. As a veterinary tech in real life, Debi catches every nuance and mannerism of the dogs and cats that appear in this book, so much so that you find yourself smiling in recognition during those passages.
Though there are romantic elements in the book with Valerie and Daniel’s growing relationship, the romance isn’t the main thrust of the story. It’s a story about coming to grips when life throws you a curveball, a curveball saturated in gasoline and set on fire and hurled right at your head. It’s about learning to trust again, letting yourself lean on people who care about you when you need to, and learning to live again.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough, and I urge you to buy it right now and start reading. You’ll wonder why you didn’t read it sooner, and you’ll hate for it to end. It’s a book you’ll tell all your friends about, and one you’ll re-read over and over.
10 Stars isn’t even a high enough rating. It’s a wonderful, unforgettable book!