Must Love Dogs

Book 2
Must Love Dogs: New Leash on Life
Book 1

Must Love Dogs 
Keep scrolling down for excerpt, book club questions, and movie photos.


"Funny and pitch-perfect." -The Chicago Tribune

"If Must Love Dogs is any indication of her talents, readers will hope that Claire Cook will be telling breezy summer stories from the South Shore of Massachusetts for seasons to come." - The Washington Post

"A hoot." The Boston Globe

"A hilariously original tale about dating and its place in a modern woman's life." - BookPage

"Claire Cook's Must Love Dogs, a book that's got more giggles than soda bread has raisins." - Hartford Courant

"This utterly charming second novel by Cook is a fun read, perfect for whiling away an afternoon on the beach." - Library Journal

Bestselling and award-winning author Claire Cook's second novel, Must Love Dogs tells the story of life after divorce for Sarah Hurlihy, which consists of juggling her job as a preschool teacher and the demands of her large, interfering Irish-American family. Even Sarah knows she should put the past behind her and take a bold step toward a fresh start, but she's stuck. So her bossy big sister takes matters into her own hands and places this personal ad for her: "Voluptuous, sensuous, alluring and fun. Barely 40 DWF seeks special man to share starlit nights. Must Love Dogs." And the wild ride begins!

must love dogs

Excerpted from Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook. Copyright © 2002, 2013 CLAIRE COOK. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

I decided to listen to my family and get back out there. "There's life after divorce, Sarah," my father proclaimed, not that he'd ever been divorced.

"The longer you wait, the harder it'll be" was my sister Carol's little gem, as if she had some way of knowing whether or not that was true.

After months of ignoring them, responding to a per­sonal ad in the newspaper seemed the most detached way to give in. I wouldn't have to sit in a restaurant with a friend of a friend of one of my brothers, probably Michael's, but maybe Johnny's or Billy Jr.'s, pretending to enjoy a meal I was too nervous to taste. I needn't en­dure even a phone conversation with someone my sis­ter Christine had talked into calling me. My prospect and I would quietly connect on paper or we wouldn't.


HONEST, HOPELESSLY ROMANTIC, old-fashioned gentleman seeks lady friend who enjoys elegant dining, dancing and the slow bloom of affection. WM, n/s, young 50s, widower, loves dogs, children and long meandering bicycle rides.


The ad jumped out at me the first time I looked. There wasn't much competition. Rather than risk a ge­ographic jump to one of the Boston newspapers, I'd decided it was safer and less of an effort to confine my search to the single page of classifieds in the local weekly. Seven towns halfway between Boston and Cape Cod were clumped together in one edition. Four columns of "Women Seeking Men." A quarter of a col­umn of "Men Seeking Women," two entries of "Women Seeking Women," and what was left of that column was "Men Seeking Men."

I certainly had no intention of adding to the dis­heartening surplus of heterosexual women placing ads, so I turned my attention to the second category. It was comprised of more than its share of control freaks, like this guy—Seeking attractive woman between 5'4" and 5'6", 120-135 lbs., soft-spoken, no bad habits, financially secure, for possible relationship. I could picture this dreamboat making his potential relationships step on the scale and show their bank statements before he penciled them in for a look-see.

And then this one. Quaint, charming, almost fa­miliar somehow. When I got to the slow bloom of affec­tion, it just did me in. Made me remember how lonely I was.

I circled the ad in red pen, then tore it out of the paper in a jagged rectangle. I carried it over to my computer and typed a response quickly, before I could change my mind:


Dear Sir:

You sound too good to be true, but perhaps we could have a cup of coffee together anyway—at a public place. I am a WF, divorced, young 40, who loves dogs and chil­dren, but doesn't happen to have either.

Cautiously Optimistic


I mailed my letter to a Box 308P at the County Con­nections offices, which would, in turn, forward it. I en­closed a small check to secure my own box number for responses. Less than a week later I had my answer:

Dear Madam:

Might I have the privilege of buying you coffee at Morning Glories in Marshbury at 10 AM this coming Saturday? I'll be carrying a single yellow rose.

Awaiting Your Response

The invitation was typed on thick ivory paper with an actual typewriter, the letters O and E forming solid dots of black ink, just like the old manual of my child­hood. I wrote back simply, Time and place convenient. Looking forward to it.

I didn't mention my almost-date to anyone, barely even allowed myself to think about its possibilities. There was simply no sense in getting my hopes up, no need to position myself for a fall.

I woke up a few times Friday night, but it wasn't too bad. It's not as if I stayed up all night tossing and turn­ing. And I tried on just a couple of different outfits on Saturday morning, finally settling on a yellow sweater and a long skirt with an old-fashioned floral print. I fluffed my hair, threw on some mascara and brushed my teeth a second time before heading out the door.

Morning Glories is just short of trendy, a delight­fully overgrown hodgepodge of sun-streaked green­ery, white lattice and round button tables with mismatched iron chairs. The coffee is strong and the baked goods homemade and delicious. You could sit at a table for hours without getting dirty looks from the people who work there.

The long Saturday-morning take-out line backed up to the door, and it took me a minute to maneuver my way over to the tables. I scanned quickly, my senses on overload, trying to pick out the rose draped across the table, to remember the opening line I had rehearsed on the drive over.

"Sarah, my darlin' girl. What a lovely surprise. Come here and give your dear old daddy a hug."

"Dad? What are you doing here?"

"Well, that's a fine how-do-you-do. And from one of my very favorite daughters at that."

"Where'd you get the rose, Dad?"

"Picked it this morning from your dear mother's rose garden. God rest her soul."

"Uh, who's it for?"

"A lady friend, honey. It's the natural course of this life that your dad would have lady friends now, Sarry. I feel your sainted mother whispering her approval to me every day."

"So, um, you're planning to meet this lady friend here, Dad?"

"That I am, God willing."

Somewhere in the dusty corners of my brain, synapses were connecting. "Oh my God. Dad. I'm your date. I answered your personal ad. I answered my own father's personal ad." I mean, of all the per­sonal ads in all the world I had to pick this one?

My father looked at me blankly, then lifted his shaggy white eyebrows in surprise. His eyes moved skyward as he cocked his head to one side. He turned his palms up in resignation."Well, now, there's one for the supermarket papers. Honey, it's okay, no need to turn white like you've seen a ghost. Here. This only proves I brought you up to know the diamond from the riffraff."

Faking a quick recovery is a Hurlihy family tradition, so I squelched the image of a single yellow rose in a hand other than my father's. I took a slow breath, assessing the damage to my heart. "Not only that, Dad, but maybe you and I can do a Jerry Springer show together. How ‘bout 'Fathers Who Date Daughters'? I mean, this is big, Dad. The Oedipal implications alone—"

"Oedipal, smedipal. Don't be getting all college on me now, Sarry girl." My father peered out from under his eyebrows. "And lovely as you are, you're even lovelier when you're a smidgen less flip."

I swallowed back the tears that seemed to be my only choice besides flip, and sat down in the chair across from my father. Our waitress came by and I managed to order a coffee. "Wait a minute. You're not a young fifty, Dad. You're sixty-six. And when was the last time you rode a bike? You don't own a bike. And you hate dogs."

"Honey, don't be so literal. Think of it as poetry, as who I am in the bottom of my soul. And, Sarah, I'm glad you've started dating again. Kevin was not on his best day good enough for you, sweetie."

"I answered my own father's personal ad. That's not dating. That's sick."

My father watched as a pretty waitress leaned across the table next to ours. His eyes stayed on her as he pat­ted my hand and said, "You'll do better next time, honey. Just keep up the hard work." I watched as my father raked a clump of thick white hair away from his watery brown eyes. The guy could find a lesson in... Jesus, a date with his daughter.

"Oh, Dad, I forgot all about you. You got the wrong date, too. You must be lonely without Mom, huh?"

The waitress stood up, caught my father's eye and smiled. She walked away, and he turned his gaze back to me. "I think about her every day, all day. And will for the rest of my natural life. But don't worry about me. I have a four o'clock."

"What do you mean, a four o'clock? Four o'clock Mass?"

"No, darlin'. A wee glass of wine at four o'clock with another lovely lady. Who couldn't possibly hold a candle to you, my sweet."

I supposed that having a date with a close blood rel­ative was far less traumatic if it was only one of the day's two dates. I debated whether to file that tidbit away for future reference, or to plunge into deep and immediate denial that the incident had ever happened. I lifted my coffee mug to my lips. My father smiled en­couragingly.

Perhaps the lack of control was in my wrist. Maybe I merely forgot to swallow. But as my father reached across the table with a pile of paper napkins to mop the burning coffee from my chin, I thought it even more likely that I had simply never learned to be a grown-up.

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Book Club Conversation Starters

1. What scene in Must Love Dogs made you laugh the hardest?

2. What gave you the biggest jolt of recognition?

3. In Must Love Dogs, personal ads are place in a newspaper on actual paper, and a voicemail box is accessed via a telephone in order to listen to messages from recipients. Does this add to the charm of the novel? How has the Internet revolutionized dating through personal ads? Do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing?

4. Do you think the Must Love Dogs movie captures the spirit of the book? Why and/or why not? Which scenes from the book do you wish the movie had included?

5. What was your favorite "recipe" in the novel? Did you try it?

6. How would Must Love Dogs change if it were written from Carol's point of view? From Dolly's? From John Anderson's? Is there another character who might have narrated as effectively as Sarah?

7. Which traits of the Hurlihy family are shared by all familites, and which are unique to them? Does your own family have a quirky little something that might have fit right in with the story? One that would top it?

8. Have you or any of your friends ever dated through the personals/online? Would you be more or less likely to after reading Must Love Dogs?

9. In the book, Sarah asks John Anderson, "What makes you think something's wrong with you?" Do you agree that people who are single often begin to think that something is wrong with them? Is there a version of this that applies to couples?

10. What are some of the ways in which people or society in general makes single people feel like second-class citizens? How has that changed for women, and men, over the years?

11. Some readers find Sarah's father, Billy Hurlihy, both lovable and exasperating. Based on what we know of his marriage to Sarah's mother, and his current love life, what do you think of him, especially as a husband and father? Is he likely to remarry?

12. As a preschool teacher, Sarah spends her days surrounded by children. As a member of a large, close-knit family, she is often in the company of her nieces and nephews. Do you think this makes it harder or easier for her to come to terms with the fact that she might not have her own children?

13. Would you want your child to be in Sarah Hurlihy's classroom at Bayberry Preschool? Why or why not?

14. Claire Cook always wanted to be a novelist, yet didn't go after her dream until she was in her forties. Was she wise to wait until she'd had more life experience, or she have had the courage to pursue her dream earlier? Do you think either path would have led her to the same place? What does that inspire you to achieve in your own life?

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"Cook dishes up plenty of charm." - San Francisco Chronicle

"[A] laugh-out-loud novel…a light and lively read for anyone who has tried to re-enter the dating scene or tried to 'fix up' somebody else." - Boston Herald

"Claire Cook's characters aren't rich or glamorous -- they're physically imperfect, emotionally insecure, and deeply familiar. Must Love Dogs is a sweet, funny novel about first dates and second chances." - Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children

"This story is so delicious, so funny, so warm, that one engages on the first page and still wants more on the last. A truly joyful read." - Jeanne Ray, author of Julie and Romeo

"Sarah Hurlihy is an endearing heroine who manages to deal with her wacky family, her preschoolers, and her search for the perfect man and the perfect pooch with warmth, wit and wisdom. I found myself rooting for her from page one. Must Love Dogs is a must read for the summer." - Caroline Preston, author of Jackie by Josie

"Reading Claire Cook's Must Love Dogs is like sitting down with a close friend -- a really entertaining close friend. Its heroine will strike a familar chord in any woman who's been through a divorce, dusted herself off, and ventured back into the dating jungle. Funny and quirky and honest." - Jane Heller, author of The Secret Ingredient

"Reading Must Love Dogs is like having lunch with your best friend -- fun, breezy and full of laughs." - Lorna Landvik, author or Patty Jane's House of Curl

"Can another novel about a 40-year-old divorcee creating a new life for herself actually be of interest. Surprisingly, yes…this novel is a hoot." - The Boston Globe

"'Eternally hopeful book reviewer seeks wildly witty  novel on singles scene/personal ads. Stylish prose and sense of humor preferred. Looking for fun, not longterm entanglement. Must love readers.' Respondents to such an ad might include Claire Cook, whose new novel, Must Love Dogs, tells the story of a down-to-earth divorcee seeking companionship through the personals." - USA Today

"In an age when whiny novels about 30-something 'singletons' whose sole goal in life seems to be snagging a decent man, Must Love Dogs is a refreshing antidote…Reading about Sarah Hurlihy's travails is like talking to a comedic, self-deprecating friend. Cook's humor breezes throught the pages as she details the perils -- and perks -- of plunging back into the dating schene." - Book Page

"Cook employs just enough glibness and smarty-pants humor to make this tart slice-of-the-single-life worth reading." Publishers Weekly

BookSense 76 Top Ten Summer Paperback Pick Quote:

"This book has one of the funniest first chapters I've ever read, and the hilarity mounts from there. A recently divorced preschool teacher is reentering the dating scene at the behest of her large, Irish-Catholic family, who try to set her up with someone…anyone. Zany, colorful characters and a plot with a Murphy's Law kind of inevitability makes this a great, fun read." - Jill Miner, Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, MI

BookSense 76 Hardcover Pick Quote:

"This book is laugh-out-loud funny! A divorced preschool teacher is completely endearing as she tries to understand the dating scene, a place she's not been for many a year. Mix in an eccentric Boston-Irish family, a few dogs, and some questionable men, and you are swept up in a madcap romp." - Donna Cressman, Maxwell Books, DeSoto, TX

must love dogs the movie


Gary David Goldberg is the writer/director/producer of Must Love Dogs, the movie, and also my hero and now forever friend. Gary created Family Ties, Brooklyn Bridge, Spin City, and many other innovative, successful, and funny television series, as well as the feature films Dad and Bye Bye Love. And he wrote a memoir called Sit, Ubu, Sit


In the book, Mother Teresa is a St. Bernard. (Former parochial school student humor!) In the movie, she's played by twin Newfoundland puppies named Mollie and Maeve. Mollie (at least I think it's Mollie) is shown here with my kids. They were around six months old when the movie was filmed (dogs, not kids), and then they were lucky enough to go on to live with Gary and the rest of his pack. A dog should be so lucky.


Diane Lane as Sarah, Elizabeth Perkins as Carol, and Ali Hillis as Christine. Diane and Elizabeth are best friends in real life, and it was so cool that they got to play sisters in the movie.


John Cusack as Jake Anderson. In the book his character is John Anderson. The reason for the name change was that John Cusack had already played a John to a Sarah in Serendipity and wasn't crazy about the idea of doing it again. So everybody got together and decided that if they named his character after my husband Jake I'd probably be okay with it. My husband was more than okay with it!

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Julie Gonzalo played June, Sarah's teaching assistant. Julie is so talented and was also incredibly kind to me. I hope she has a huge career ahead of her, filled with all the joy and success she deserves.


Christopher Plummer played Sarah's dad, Billy Hurlihy. Loved him!


The fabulous Dermot Mulroney as Bob Connor.


Jordana Spiro was such a great Sherry!


Stockard Channing as Dolly.

For photos of all the other wonderful actors in Must Love Dogs, go to

"Diane Lane and John Cusack are irresistible in the most joyous girl-and-boyous romance of the year."

- Gene Shalit / The Today Show