Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“It’s so much easier to swim with the tide instead of against it.”
(TW: mental health, abuse, self harm, suicide.)
If you read one book this year, make sure it’s this one. What an absolutely stunning story of three characters coping with love and loss in the most intricate of ways. This book will make you laugh at the perfect humour, cry over heartbreaking scenes and really think about your own life and what’s important. Not to mention it will make you not want to leave your dog’s side! It’s a book like no other, and I’m still not over it. I don’t think I ever will be! If you like the sound of this book, please support the author by buying yourself a copy or by sharing this review!
About the book
George is a grumpy, belligerent old man who has just lost his wife. She has left him notes around the home and a miniature dachshund puppy called Poppy. But George doesn’t want a dog, he wants to fight everyone who is trying to help him.
Dan has OCD but has channeled his energy into his career as a therapist. Afraid to acknowledge his true feelings, his most meaningful relationship so far is with his dog Fitz. That is, until Atticus walks into his life.
Lizzie is living in a women’s refuge with her son Lenny. Her body is covered in scars and she has shut herself off from the world. She distrusts dogs, but when she starts having to walk the refuge’s dog, Maud, things begin to change.
As three strangers’ lives unravel and intersect, they ultimately must accept what fate has in store for them with their dogs by their sides. Set against the backdrop of Brighton, Dog Days is an inspiring, unflinching, and deeply moving novel about life, and the way dogs can help us understand it, and each other, a little better.
I read the book’s Prelude twice. Why? Because it was absolutely stunning. I couldn’t quite believe just how beautiful it was and how much we learn in a couple of pages. The characters we’d soon grow to love are introduced in a way that I’d not seen before, but my god did it work well! After this section, I felt so ready to jump into the story and so excited to join these characters on their journey. The first character we meet is George, and we learn all about his life with Ellen. They had strict schedules, a couple who seemed to keep everything in its rightful place and stuck to their comfortable routines. And this suited them just fine. Until Ellen died. I loved the way the author wrote about George and my heart instantly went out to him. There was so much emotion and such a nice sense of familiarity with this character which I adored, but it’s clear just how much he’s suffering, how angry he is at the world even if he doesn’t say the words. I loved the introduction of Poppy, the little Dachshund that Ellen brought home one day. Now he was stuck with her, even though he hated dogs. I knew this would soon change after he experienced some of that unconditional love 🥰
We meet other characters after George, including Dan, a counsellor with OCD and his Labrador, Fitz, as well as Lizzie, a woman living in a refuge with her son who begins to take little terrier, Maud, on her daily walks. As well as the exceptional description of these characters and exactly where they are in their lives, I couldn’t get enough of the author’s perfect description of a dog’s personality and quirks. How doing that morning stretch sounds like Chewbacca, or how it looks like a cute lil question mark when they do that adorable roll on their backs. Being a Golden Retriever mum, I witness these things on a daily basis and it really made me smile! After these brilliant character introductions were out of the way, I became so invested in them and in their lives, and the idea of learning more about them was so exciting to me. The author has created very real and relatable characters, and I could easily visualise each of them so clearly. This was such a flawless start to the book and I just knew I’d love what was to come!
“Something is going to happen. Dan can feel it, feel the universe holding its breath. A wrinkle in time, when the clocks stop and traffic halts. Birds pause in mid flight and boats perch atop static waves. Dan panics under the pressure.”
I loved Ellen’s handwritten notes to George, giving him instructions for how to do all the tasks he never had to do when she was around. Using the washing machine, making sure he ate right and looked after Poppy. I loved these notes so much they brought a tear to my eye, a clear indication of just how much George had lost. I couldn’t even begin to imagine his pain. I could also see into Dan’s brain so clearly, and knew that the first session with his new patient, Atticus, would be enough to change his life. It was around this point in the book where I realised that some of the characters were linked or related in some way, something which really made me think about this book in a whole new light. It was such a refreshing direction to take! Learning about Lizzie’s life before she moved to the shelter with her son was eye-opening, and straight away I could tell she’d be my favourite character to follow. I loved absorbing all I could about the three main characters, each of them battling their own issues, things that are holding them back from enjoying life to the fullest.
Before I started reading this book, the title made me think it would be heavily focused on dogs, which is not necessarily the case (at least not yet!) Instead, the author focuses on the lives of three very different characters who are all connected by their own personal loves and losses. In my eyes, the presence of dogs in their lives shows that you should always appreciate the small things in life, even that happy wag of a tail, their presence lighting up the darkness that we see often in the book. (Well… maybe it’s taking George a bit longer to realise how wonderful dogs are!) It was a truly stunning direction to take, and I already knew this was my kind of story. The lives of all these characters stirred something within me right from the very start, a feeling of gratitude for what they would soon teach me about life, and a sense of excitement for how their lives would soon change for the better thanks to a bit of determination, strength, and the love and warmth only a dog can give. I absolutely loved it!
Even though the book covers upsetting and serious themes about life, the author injects humour in all the right places to lighten the mood, which really was perfect. I laughed out loud at some of the conversations between George and Betty, a delightful lady who begins to look after him when she sees exactly how he’s living without Ellen. George hates her, of course, at the start, but it isn’t long before her presence soothes him, or he starts doing odd jobs for her like she does for him, or that he secretly wants to make her laugh. My heart! It wasn’t just the dialogue between these characters I loved; Dan and Atticus had some brilliant conversations, and Dan’s shyness combined with Atticus’s more extroverted nature was the absolute perfect pairing. It made their scenes so much more interesting, and soon after Dan admits his attraction to Atticus to his Labrador, Fitz, it makes things feel different and exciting. I loved revisiting their counselling sessions, and each moment that passed, I felt I learnt something new about both of them. The development of the characters in this book is just spot on.
The description of literally everything in the book is exceptionally well written. Dan’s feelings for Atticus, for example, are so delicately unveiled to the reader with perfect pacing, so perfect in face that I couldn’t wait to revisit each of their scenes. Nothing in the book felt rushed, neither did it feel to slow, and I couldn’t stop smiling a lot of the time! It was really heart warming to see three people, with so little belief in themselves, grow and let people into their hearts and into their minds. People they never thought would be in their futures. Lizzie and Luke as well as George and Betty also filled my heart with love and hope, and it was such a pleasure to join them on this important journey of healing and growth. I thought about their lives even when I wasn’t reading! The author cleverly weaves these characters lives together, slowly at first, sort of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ type meetings. But the way one character is in the background of another scene was absolutely fantastic! Ericka has very quickly become an author who I wouldn’t hesitate to reach for in future, and I knew that before I’d even reached the end of this book!
“Lizzie used to stretch imaginations; now she cowers in corners.”
It was so satisfying seeing the confidence of these characters grow; the more I read and learnt about each one, the more I loved them. Atticus, Betty and Luke felt like true guardian angels for our three main characters, and it was amazing to see how their presence in their lives made such a huge difference to their outlook. Dan and Atticus’s romance, George and Betty’s friendship and Lizzie and Luke’s relationship was just everything I needed to read, each filled me with joy and a sense of fulfillment. However, aside from all the newness of these relationships, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the author’s words when describing that painful feeling of losing someone, and if I’m honest, I think this is the best I’ve read on this subject. At times, I shared George’s pain of losing his wife, or was transported back in time to imagine what Lizzie experienced in her previous relationship, tears prickling my eyes. It was incredibly powerful storytelling, the sort you simply couldn’t get bored of if you tried!
I’d spent so much time thinking about the lives of our main characters that I felt I needed to think more about the lives of our guardian angels too! It’s not only Dan, George and Lizzie who have gone through their own losses, their own tough experiences in life, but Atticus, Betty and Luke also have their own stories to tell, stories we begin to learn more about as we get closer to the book’s finale. I was captivated by Atticus’s story all the way through the book, and as he rushes out of the door one day, I felt we were getting closer to the truth about him. We also learn snippets of information about Betty’s late husband, but I was still curious about why her house left no trace she ever had a husband. I loved how things were coming together, and the book is certainly one of those easy reads you get lost in time and time again. I was dying to know the outcome of the lives of these three main characters, whether they could let new love and relationships into their lives alongside their furry friends.
George discovers a secret about Betty that links her to his late wife, Ellen, and it was upsetting to see his reaction. After this blow clashes with his erratic personality, would he and Betty ever see eye to eye from this point onwards? Meanwhile, Luke gets an unexpected look into Lizzie’s past, and Dan and Atticus are getting more serious. So serious in fact that Dan is close to telling his cousin who he really is. But why was he so nervous? The story continues to get deeper, and once we think we know all there is to know about these characters, the author throws more impressive detail to us that I simply couldn’t get enough of. I think I’ll remember these characters for life! There’s more sadness and heartbreak for some characters, but also immense joy for others at this time. The pacing continued to be fantastic, and I knew there’d be even more to learn before the end. At this point, I loved all these characters equally – and it doesn’t normally work that way for me! It just shows how well they’ve been created, each and every part of them.
There are mentions of self harm and abuse in the book to be mindful of, and even though this was difficult to read in parts, it really shows just how Lizzie had suffered in the past, and also how she’s still trying to cope with the aftermath of everything she’s experienced. I really felt her pain and wanted to take all that away from her. The description of all this was exceptional. I loved how, in time, Lizzie feels like she belongs with the other women in the shelter, accepted by their small community after feeling like a spare part for so long. Opening up about her experiences to these women and to Luke was heartwarming, and it gave me hope that in time, she could lead a normal like, one without fear. And little Maud! This dog is one clever pooch. She knows exactly when Lizzie needs support and reassurance, and it was just so bloody lovely to read. In fact, I loved it so much I paused my reading to give my own dog a big cuddle. They do so much for us without even realising it. They really are the most wonderful little creatures in existence.
“I’ve missed you through all the years before I met you. It’s the truest thing Dan will ever say to Atticus.”
All the characters we’ve grown to love over the course of the book begin to cross paths, get introduced to one another and even get to know each other to an extent. This was amazing to read and felt so satisfying, like all the pieces of a jigsaw finally joining together. I felt a little worried about Lizzie towards the end of the book, how it felt like she couldn’t continue after a mental health dip, something that really hit home for me. I just hoped she’d make the right decisions about her future! It was at this point in the book where I thought that many characters were on the home stretch; like they were finally looking ahead instead of always looking at the past and how things were before. However, there’s nothing like a good old twist in events to shock you when you least expect it, and that’s exactly what happened with one particular character. I was so surprised and the more I thought about it, the more impressed I was that the author managed to keep this whole secret from me!
Close to the end of the book, I was overwhelmed with emotion; a feeling of sadness from George and Betty coming to terms with their losses and accepting where they are in their lives, happiness from just how much Dan had grown within himself thanks to Atticus being by his side, and relieved for Lizzie that the truth is out, the burden taken away. The author brings everything together like a neatly wrapped package; there was nothing missing or out of place. However, certain events at the end of the story made the tears stream from my eyes, things I wasn’t quite ready to read with how much I loved these characters. The wonderful dogs in this story are the glue that holds these characters together, and this is more apparent the closer you get to the end. I couldn’t love it anymore if I tried. This book has made such an impression on me, and it will take some time to recover from all these feelings. I love books where you have to sit in silence for a while to take everything in, and this absolutely had to happen when reading that last page. A book that will be impossible to erase from my mind.
How do I even sum up something that is just pure perfection? Because that’s exactly what this book is. It’s touched my soul and will always have a place in my heart. The characters in this book feel so real, their stories so deep and complex. Even aside from the exceptional story, the author’s words made me forget time and space, sucking me into a whole new place, yet one that felt so familiar in so many ways. I could relate so hard to how these characters felt, and one particular scene took the breath from my lungs and made my eyes stream because it was so close to home. Not only this, but the book perfectly encapsulates the true healing power of dogs, and how we are so lucky to have them around us. I guarantee you won’t leave your dog alone after reading this!
I’ve never experienced anything like it and I wish I could read another 364 pages of it’s beauty. Thank you, Ericka, for writing this book and touching the hearts of so many. You deserve so much love for this.
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