(Scroll down to read an excerpt.)
From Claire Cook, New York Times bestselling author of the novel turned romantic comedy movie starring Diane Lane and John Cusack, comes Must Love Dogs: A Howliday Tail, Book 6 of the hilarious and heartwarming Must Love Dogs series.
In the charming small beach town of Marshbury, Massachusetts, preschool teacher Sarah has the heartbreak of a messy divorce behind her and the promise of a second chance with John ahead. When she finds out that buying the family house also means hosting the holidays, her only goal is survival. They’ve got a house full of animals and a renovation in full throttle. Sarah’s single and pregnant teaching assistant Polly is staying with them, too, as is her brother Johnny, whose marriage is on the rocks, and Sarah has just been made chair of the Bayberry Preschool holiday performance. Can she and John survive all this?
THE MUST LOVE DOGS SERIES:
Must Love Dogs (#1)
Must Love Dogs: New Leash on Life (#2)
Must Love Dogs: Fetch You Later (#3)
Must Love Dogs: Bark & Roll Forever (#4)
Must Love Dogs: Who Let the Cats In? (#5)
Must Love Dogs: A Howliday Tail (#6)
Nobody drives you crazier than family, and nobody loves you more.
“Every time I get my paws on a new Must Love Dogs book, I feel like my pup on the verge of getting a favorite treat. I jump, I squeal, and I promptly devour the whole thing. Claire Cook’s characters are like family at this point, and it feels so doggone good to be spending the holidays with them.”—Book Perfume
“Must Love Dogs has already been a major motion picture, and now New York Timesbestselling author Claire Cook’s hilarious and heartwarming series is begging to hit the screen again as a miniseries or a sitcom.” –Nancy Carty Lepri, New York Journal of Books
“Reading about how life goes for this wacky marvelously lovable family becomes addictive.”-Pamela Kramer, Examiner
“Funny and pitch perfect.” -Chicago Tribune
“Wildly witty” -USA Today
“Cook dishes up plenty of charm.” -San Francisco Chronicle
“A hoot” -The Boston Globe
“A hilariously original tale about dating and its place in a modern woman’s life.” –BookPage
READ AN EXCERPT
Excerpted from Must Love Dogs: A Howliday Tail (#6)
Copyright © 2017 Claire Cook. All rights reserved.
So apparently buying the family house also meant inheriting Thanksgiving dinner. I guess John and I should have read between the lines before we signed the purchase and sales agreement.
No surprise, my family took it upon themselves to make sure I knew. Three of my five siblings just happened to show up one day without warning, or even knocking, to take their old seats around the scarred pine trestle table in the kitchen. If there was a gene for boundaries, it had definitely skipped at least this generation of the Hurlihy family.
“But we can’t have Thanksgiving here,” I tried. “We’re under construction.” I meant that literally, since my sister Christine’s contractor husband Joe and his crew were knee deep in renovating our new-old house. But I meant it figuratively, too, as in John and I were trying to construct a life together, a sub-family of our own.
Not an easy task amidst the insanity of living with my father, who had come with the house, and who had a tendency to hog most of the available air in any given room. Polly, my pregnant and single assistant teacher, had moved in, too, after being traumatized when a recent nor’easter rolled through her waterfront winter rental on the other side of Marshbury. Oh, and we’d rescued a mama feral cat and her four kittens, who were still working things out with John’s dog Horatio.
Hosting Thanksgiving on top of all that seemed like something that should happen, say, a week from never.
“We have to have dinner here,” my sister Christine said. “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving otherwise.”
Even though I knew it probably wasn’t going to fly, I flashed my most pitiful look. “But I’ve never cooked a turkey in my entire life. I’ve never even touched one.”
“Sure, you’ve never touched a turkey,” my sister Carol said. “Would you like a list?”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Ex-husbands don’t count.”
Carol put her hands on her hips. “Yeah, they do.”
“We might want to think this through,” my brother Michael said, “considering Sarah’s idea of cooking is preheating the oven and wandering away.” He grinned our mother’s crooked smile, which always made me miss her all over again, even though she’d been gone for more years than I wanted to count.
“All my girls are good cooks, thank the good Lord.” Our dad made his entrance across the speckled linoleum floor as if it were an off-off Broadway stage. He raked a wayward clump of white hair from his watery brown eyes, leaned over and patted my hand with one of his beefy paws. “I’ll be busy setting up my man cavern by turkey day, God willin’. But if you need any help that won’t take more than a minute or two, feel free to give me a holler, Christine.”
I slid my hand out from under my father’s and patted him back. “Sarah. And if you need any help remembering my name that won’t take more than a minute or two, feel free to give me a holler.”
Eventually my family decided to pick on somebody else, as they almost always did if you waited long enough. I took a moment to wonder when my own particular version of the luck o’ the Irish had morphed into a bad case of Murphy’s Law. I’d probably be stuck hosting Thanksgiving dinner until Hell froze over. Or at least until I managed to come up with a genius escape strategy.
Until then, survival was my goal.
. . . . .
Time flew, like calendar pages in an old movie, and suddenly it was the day before Thanksgiving.
Back in 1978, President Jimmy Carter had officially proclaimed the second Sunday of September Grandparents Day. Celebrating the importance of grandparents in our lives was a terrific gesture, but beyond providing diehard Hallmark card fans with another trip to the store and the mailbox, it never really took off.
So Bayberry Preschool kept the sentiment and changed the date to make it work with our school calendar, something preschool teachers probably would have suggested way back when if anybody at the White House had thought to consult them.
Today, the half-day before Thanksgiving, was now Grandparents Day at Bayberry. This was Bayberry’s sweet and memorable way of honoring the kids’ doting grandparents, many of whom traveled far and wide to celebrate Thanksgiving with their adorable grandchildren.
Slightly more calculating was the fact that a few hours of oohing and awwing over the grandparents often resulted in some serious donations for the school.
As the grandparents arrived, cute turkey stick-on nametags would be distributed. Mail and snail mail addresses would be collected. Once the next day’s turkey dinners had been digested and the grandparents were home again, a letter would arrive from Kate Stone, Bayberry’s founding director, aka our bitch of a boss. Wouldn’t it be lovely if your grandchildren could learn to read their grandparents’ names engraved on a special brick on the new entry courtyard? On an engraved plaque on a dismissal bench? Or why not donate a piece of playground equipment so your precious grandchild could not only read your name but also think of you every time s/he took a spin around the safety-first jungle gym? A giving pyramid designed by the fundraising committee, printed in full color on heavy paper stock, was tucked in with the letter.
It was genius. And the best part about it was that the more well-heeled and bejeweled grandparents had a tendency to get a little bit competitive. One set of grandparents even donated a chic barn-like addition to the school that served as meeting space, gym, theater, concert hall, indoor playground and fitness court, large art project room, and occasional teacher hideout area. The massive brass plaque just inside the door proclaimed it the Jebediah J. Jones IV and Dr. Aubrey C. Jacobs Family Gateway to Excellence Barn. Everybody else called it the all-purpose room.
The sad part about Grandparents Day was that not every child could produce a grandparent. In each classroom, year in and year out, at least one grandparent-less child dissolved into a puddle of tears by the time early dismissal rolled around.
The other teachers and I had brought up this issue at multiple staff meetings over the years. Kate Stone waved our worries away, visions of potential donations flashing before her eyes.
When pressed, our bitch of a boss would say, “Step out of the box and use your creativity. Turn the day into a lesson in sharing. The students who have grandparents can simply share them with the others.”
Spoken like an administrator who had forgotten her own teaching days. Sharing the crayons was enough of a challenge for preschoolers, especially the day before a holiday when excitement was high and self-control was slim to none.
So this year I’d decided to bring in a ringer, a stand-in grandparent to pass around—my dad. The best thing about this idea was that my father was free on the morning before Thanksgiving. The worst thing about it was that a lifetime of experience had taught me only too well that pretty much anything could happen, and often did, when my father was involved.
The thing about your family is that you never quite stop hoping you can change them into the people you’d prefer them to be.
I wasn’t taking any chances, so my plan was to make my father ride to school with me this morning. “Hurry up,” I yelled up the staircase. “My boss has zero sense of humor when the preschoolers get to school before the teachers.”
Polly passed through the kitchen and gave me a thumbs up on the way out the door, reassuring me that at least one of us would get there before the kids.
My father thudded down the stairs wearing a pink Bark & Roll Forever T-shirt and carrying a handful of business cards with little dog treats tied to them with ribbons. When he wasn’t letting his middle daughter drag him to school, my dad drove a pink ice cream truck and passed out the cards for the three women who owned the Bark & Roll Forever dog and cat sitting and boarding business.
“You’re not wearing that to school,” slipped out of my mouth. I flashed back to all the times my mother had said the same thing to me a gazillion years ago. Overly mini miniskirts. Too much green eyeshadow or frosted lipstick. A slightly see-through blouse.
Under his shaggy eyebrows, my dad did his wide-eyed innocent look. “Just using my noggin’. I figure I’ll follow you in the ice cream truck, and if things get slow, I can pass out some Nutty Buddys and the kiddos can take turns going for rides with me in the ice cream truck. I’ll make it educational, don’t you worry. You know, teach ’em how to lay a little rubber, pop a wheelie or three.”
“Right,” I said. “No liability issues there. I mean it, Dad. March right back up those stairs, change into something grandfatherly, and jump in the car with me. Now.”
He came back down wearing a blue T-shirt that said I’M A GRANDPA, WHAT’S YOUR SUPERPOWER?
“Perfect,” I said, relieved that he’d chosen this T-shirt over his Thanksgiving sweatshirt with the picture of a roasted turkey on it that said I’M A BREAST MAN. I decided to overlook the fact that he was also wearing a pair of gold suspenders. And his Coast Guard Auxiliary hat.
While I drove us to school, my dad sang a few verses of “I Gotta Be Me” in his long-practiced Sammy Davis Jr. imitation.
I did my best to block him out so I could go over my plans for the day in my head. Turkey placemats never got old, so earlier in the week Polly and I had passed out sheets of 10” by 14” oak tag paper. We helped the kids trace their hands and turn them into turkeys, then let them decorate the rest of their placemats with a tsunami of finger paint.
When they’d finished their own placemats, they made more for their grandparents or for my dad. Polly and I made extras, just in case, and then Polly ran them all through the laminating machine so they’d survive the spills ahead. We’d hand out the placemats just before dismissal, and the kids and their grandparents could use them for Thanksgiving dinner and beyond.
I hit the brakes at a stop sign and turned to give my father my serious look. “Promise me. No wild stuff like pony or airplane rides, and only clean jokes. Actually, no jokes at all, just to be on the safe side. All you have to do is smile and look cute, Dad. And let the kids drag you around by the hand if they need to. And do not, I repeat, do not, hit on any of the grandmothers. Or Polly.”
I drove up the driveway to the school, past the clay fish totem pole and the plywood teddy bears.
I pulled into a parking space. My dad flashed me a big grin. “Don’t get your knickers all in a bunch, sweetie pie. Have you ever known your dear old daddy to let you down?”