Once Upon A Puppy has so many of the elements I usually love in a romance – adorable dog, fake dating, and an uptight grumpy hero who’s soft and squishy at heart. It ultimately fell a bit flat for me, but to be honest, I can’t pinpoint a specific reason why, other than the book never quite hooked me.
On paper, it’s exactly the kind of book I usually fall heads over heels in love with, squeeing over, and unable to put down. Yet it took me almost a month to finish it, and finishing it was more might-as-well than OMG-I-can’t-wait-to-keep-reading. I liked Deenie and Connor enough, but never quite fell in love with them. And Max, adorable and rambunctious as he was, seemed to disappear once the story got going, which is kinda meh — if you’re going to make an animal the catalyst for your romance, do it with your whole chest like Abby Jimenez and Jill Shalvis do. The romance is a bit slow-paced, with more heart than heat, but I’ve enjoyed sweet and slow-burn romances before. The side characters are interesting — I was especially intrigued by Deenie’s relationship with her sister (which I felt was underdeveloped here) and Connor’s relationship with his mom — but again, not quite compelling enough to hook me where the main characters fall short.
Deenie took me a while to warm up to — I guess I’m more like Connor than I thought. When she wrinkled her nose at the contract Connor drew up for their dog-training arrangement, I was Team Connor all the way, since that’s a work arrangement, and I would hate my dog trainer to just have a key to my home and come in whenever they choose. Still, Deenie eventually won me over with her devotion to Aunt Bitty. I also love how Connor recognizes that she isn’t actually flaky, and is actually uber-responsible and dependable, and just hates external validations of her commitments.
I also like how both Deenie and Connor have their own past hurts to overcome — Deenie with her overbearing family who doesn’t approve of her free-spiritedness, Connor with his runaway bride and his belief that he needs to be perfect to be loved. I like how the side characters show that Deenie and Connor’s perceptions may not be super accurate of reality (Deenie’s sister loves her deeply despite not fully understanding her choices, and Connor’s mom loves him unconditionally). And I like how what Deenie and Connor see as their own weaknesses and reasons for not belonging (Deenie’s sparkle amidst her staid family, Connor’s seriousness amongst his more social bosses), the other recognizes as their uniqueness and strength. Deenie and Connor both feel they have to mask themselves to fit in, while they each recognize that the other shouldn’t mask at all but rather be fully themselves. I like that.
Overall, the book fell kinda flat for me, but it does have a lot of the elements I usually adore in romance, and the writing is solid, so I’m chalking this up as a ‘not for me’ or perhaps, ‘not the right time’, and I may check out this author again in future. I like how Deenie and Connor make each other better, and how they help each other realize how they’re wonderful just the way they are.
Thank you to Forever and Netgalley for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.