Perusing Pets: A Reading List of Books Where Animal Companions Steal the Show
Holly James Recommends Kate Clayborn, Casey McQuiston, Talia Hibbert, and More
No romance story is complete without a best friend side character, and sometimes that best friend has four legs and a tail. Something goes hand-in-hand about seeing people fall in love and having a beloved pet along for the journey. Perhaps it’s the human-animal connection transcending the page, or maybe we are all just big marshmallows when it comes to fur babies, but pets add a unique emotional depth to two people finding each other.
Animal companions steal our hearts—and sometimes the show—as trusted confidantes, support systems, wise sounding boards, and troublemakers. They bring out new dimensions in love interests and main characters and help nudge budding relationships along. Sometimes, they even cause a meet cute. Best of all, they can help characters find human connections that they’ve been missing.
At the start of The Déjà Glitch, a lonely radio producer’s beloved Labrador mutt is the most reliable man in her life. Gemma sets her schedule around Rex: walking him, feeding him, using him as excuse to go home early from a night out to give him his meds. It isn’t until she meets Jack, our hero and the fearless optimist determined to break the time loop he and Gemma are stuck inside of by getting her to fall in love with him, that Gemma realizes she’s been holding herself back from connecting with other people.
As Jack slowly wins her heart, she moves past obstacles in many aspects of her life: professionally, with her family, and ultimately, in her love life. All the while, Rex is by her side as a faithful companion and excellent judge of character.
As a reader, I am almost guaranteed to fall for the dog or cat as much as the love interest when reading a romance, whether they be sassy, sweet, or sneaky. Here are a few books with memorable sidekicks that nosed their way into my heart.
Kate Clayborn, Georgie All Along
After years as a personal assistant in Hollywood, Georgie Mulcahy finds herself unemployed and moving back to her small hometown in Virginia when her boss retires. Used to putting everyone else first and suddenly at a loss for what she wants in life, she stumbles upon a journal she wrote as a teenager with all the plans she had for an exciting future.
Using the journal as a guide, she sets out on a new path until she hits an unexpected detour when she meets Levi Fanning, the once town bad boy and current brooding recluse. When Levi offers to help Georgie with her quest, and after seeing him interact with his equally misunderstood but lovable rescue pit bull Hank, she realizes there is much more to him than his reputation, and he might be what she’s been looking for all along.
Meredith Schorr, Someone Just Like You
Molly and Jude grew up across the street from each other as the youngest of 3 siblings in each of their families. The hate was mutual as they always tried to one-up each other with pranks in their rivalry. Now in their late twenties and living in Manhattan, they are thrown together by their older siblings to help plan their parents’ joint anniversary party.
The pranking persists until they realize they have more in common than they thought—in particular, that they’ve been dating different versions of each other’s doppelgängers for the past decade. Because of the doppelgänger factor, we get two show-stealing goldendoodles in this story, Yogi and Eli.
Andie J. Christopher, Not the Girl You Marry
Good guy journalist Jack is assigned to write one final fluff piece on how to lose a girl in today’s modern dating landscape before he gets promoted to writing the hard-hitting political news he wants. Event planner Hannah has recently sworn off dating, but she needs to convince her boss she understands love and romance in order to get promoted to planning high-end weddings. Jack and Hannah meet by chance and secretly decide to use the other to get ahead in their respective careers but end up catching feelings along the way.
Once the truth comes out, they have to decide if what they felt during their fake relationship is worth fighting for. An adopted French bulldog named Gus ends up playing a critical role in their future together.
Talia Hibbert, Get a Life, Chloe Brown
After a near-death experience, always organized and chronically ill Chloe Brown decides to change her life by making a bucket list. While out trying to rescue a cat from a tree one day (not an item on her list!), she ends up stuck in the tree and in need of rescue herself. When her building’s tough guy handyman/moonlighting artist Red saves her, she decides to enlist his help in completing her list as well as adopt the tree-climbing cat she names Smudge.
As she and Red set out checking items off her to-do list, they both grow in ways they couldn’t have imagined.
Elissa Sussman, Funny You Should Ask
Ten years ago, Chani Horowitz wrote a profile of actor Gabe Parker that went viral and made both of them famous—him for being the next James Bond, and her for reasons she’s lived in the shadow of since. A decade later, they reunite for another interview, and with the world still obsessed over what really happened between them that weekend ten years ago, they find themselves confronting feelings they’ve been harboring ever since.
The first time we meet Gabe, he’s holding a puppy who plays a heart-tugging role in the rest of the story.
Alicia Thompson, Love in The Time of Serial Killers
True crime obsessed PhD candidate Phoebe Walsh moves home to Florida to clean out her childhood home after her father passes away. While working on her dissertation on true crime as a genre, she grows certain that her late father’s neighbor Sam Dennings is a serial killer. Used to always expecting the worst, it’s the only explanation for his mysterious behavior; he can’t possibly be a genuinely nice guy who puts an unexpected flutter in her chest.
Amid working on her dissertation, side-eyeing the neighbor, mourning, and dealing with her obnoxiously upbeat younger brother, a stray cat wanders into Phoebe’s life and her heart. Lenore makes herself at home and softens Phoebe in a way that gives her perspective on everything else.
Casey McQuiston, Red, White, & Royal Blue
Alex, the 21-year-old son of the first female President has a long-standing rivalry with Henry, the Prince of Wales. To save face after a public mishap at the Royal Wedding of Henry’s older brother, Alex and Henry are forced to pretend they are friends. Their fake friendship becomes much more as they realize they have a lot in common and soon, they’re swept up in a secret international romance that takes off during Alex’s mother’s re-election campaign.
Bound by royal rules and social expectations, Alex and Henry have to decide if being true to themselves is worth upending tradition and possibly the election. The fact that Henry’s beloved beagle named after David Bowie is named David and not Bowie because, according to Henry, that would have been too on the nose, makes outwardly polished and reserved Henry even more endearing as the prince of our hearts.
The Déjà Glitch by Holly James is available via Dutton.