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Bookmonger: Loyalty and love through the eyes of a dog

“Earnest” by Kristin von Kreisler

For the past several years, bestselling Bainbridge Island author Kristin von Kreisler has devoted her professional career to writing about animals. Her first books, nonfiction, focused on animal emotion and morality. But now she has branched into fiction, and her latest effort, “Earnest,” is the story of a cheerful yellow Labrador retriever who has been adopted from a shelter by Anna and Jeff.

The couple has been together for three years and they live in a condo on Gamble Island. Jeff commutes by ferry across Puget Sound to his job at an architectural firm in Seattle, while Anna takes Earnest to work with her every day at her flower shop on the island.

With two of her closest friends, Anna works out of the Victorian house where she grew up under the loving care of her grandmother. Located on the main street of the village, the house was sold after her grandma passed away, and for now the three women are renting the charming but creaky space. They’ve divided it to accommodate their three small shops, and their dream is to buy the place back, restore it, and use it as the permanent home for their thriving small businesses.

They are unaware that Jeff has been hired by the current owner to design a commercial building for that property. It is the biggest opportunity of his young career, and he has worked hard to do everything right — creating a concept that will honor the scale of the street it is located on, and designing three tailor-made spaces for Anna and her two friends so that their businesses won’t have to relocate permanently.

But before Jeff can break his exciting news to Anna, disaster strikes.

An electrical fire breaks out in the house — and Earnest is the hero of the day, guiding Anna and her friends to safety before collapsing from smoke inhalation. Anna rushes him to the vet. Earnest will live, but the vet tells Anna the dog’s recovery will take time.

Desperate to reach Jeff at work, Anna talks to one of his co-workers instead, who informs her that Jeff is on the island, filing permits to replace some old Victorian house on the main street of the village.

This is how Anna comes to learn of Jeff’s plan. Already deeply upset by the fire, its impact on her business, and especially Earnest’s dire condition, she feels betrayed by Jeff’s actions. Giving him no chance to explain, she breaks up with him.

This is difficult for both of them, but it is hardest on Earnest, who becomes the subject of a battle which results in divided custody.

This tale reflects what often happens in real life: The well-being of pets is an afterthought when human relationships are in turmoil.

Von Kreisler’s story line is basic, and embellishment comes in the form of atmospheric details. “Earnest” is heavy on the heartwarming quotient, but animal-lovers are not likely to find that offensive. Overall, this is an optimistic tale.

The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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