I’m turning the year with a beastly lurgy. (Coughing so hard, my ribs hurt.) So I thought I would give myself afternoons in front of the fire with a comfort read. Fortunately the long list for the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year is just out.

First off Waterstone’s shelf was LOST DOGS AND LONELY HEARTS by Lucy Dillon.

Lucy Dillon seems to have beaten the Curse of the Second Novel with this gentle, touching story of human rehabilitation by abandoned dogs. Rachel, glamorous PR person and ex-mistress-of-the-boss, is dumped and fired in one go and fetches up in a small Worcestershire town where her aunt has left her a dog sanctuary. Stunned and sad – and believe me, this writer is very good indeed at sadness and what it does to  people and dogs – Rachel pretty much falls into taking over. The first task is to make the kennels pay – which means finding human partners for the canine boat people under her roof, which in turn takes her out into the life of the town, making plans and crossing swords with the cryptic local vet. The second is to unravel the mystery left by her enigmatic aunt.

The characters are skilfully drawn, mostly well intentioned but often mistaken or, quite simply, inarticulate at the wrong time. The silence that grows between an infertile couple is almost too painful to bear at one point. You can see how it happens but equally, you can’t see how they will get out of it. (It takes a Basset-hound-provoked crisis.)

The dogs are as three dimensional as the human characters and just as engaging. The Basset does tend to take over (when don’t they?) but there is an incontinent Labrador pup and a managing sheep dog, which I also treasure. And recognise.

This is a book about reconciliation and kindness and letting go of bad stuff and it has a wonderfully believable and yet romantic ending.

Fab book. Big fat happy sigh

DECLARATION OF INTEREST Since I know several authors on the long list and at least two are seriously good mates, I thought it would be sound practice to state where I’m coming from, after every book I write about. Lucy Dillon is a stranger to me – unless I’ve met her at conferences and things under her real name of Ermyntrude Gutbucket, of course – and I haven’t read her first book. Yet.

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