Here is another review in the series of review-copies-lying-around-my-house-that-my-housemate-picks-up. So I’ll hand over to Melissa and her review of a book that landed unsolicited on our doormat!
If, like me, you read the Animal Ark series growing up, and if you, unlike me, have moved on since then to grown-up literature, then you are the target audience for this book. Animal Ark is an ever-growing collection of kids’ novels with tacky alliterative titles like Puppies in the Pantry, Squirrels in the the School, and Lion by the Lake. They feature the adventures of vet’s daughter Mandy Hope and her best friend James, who spend their lives rescuing helpless animals (as identified in the title) in their friendly Yorkshire village of Welford.
Although we acquired a substantial collection of these novels when I was growing up and I faithfully read each one, I wouldn’t have caught on that this one was linked to them from the cover if it hadn’t helpfully spelled it out for me on the back: ‘Hope Meadows is based on the globally bestselling Animal Ark series’. At which point I decided I had to do the proper thing and read it, to find out whether I thought it was well done.
My first surprise was to discover under ‘About the Author’ that **Lucy Daniels is not real**. Instead, she is ‘the collective name for the writing team that created the best-selling children’s book series Animal Ark‘ – her name picked so as to place her beside Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood, as I learnt from this revelatory article. I’m told Nancy Drew was also written by a similar concatenation of individuals. I had to go and check up on others such as The Babysitters Club; which I’m partially reassured to find out was largely contributed to by the person whose name is on the cover.
My second surprise was that Animal Ark, which I deemed a dated series from my childhood, is still actively growing and has already spawned several spinoff series (serieses? seriei?); but this is the first one for adults. It follows Mandy as she returns to Welford as a qualified vet to help out her parents in their clinic.
Having read it, it’s quickly summed up: Just like the rest of Animal Ark, but with relationships.
Without necessarily saying that predictability is wrong, this is one of those books which gives away on the back cover a lot of what is going to happen, and the names of the key players in the area of relationships are helpfully italicised. You’ll forgive me for a plot spoiler when I remark that they have chosen not to italicise the name of Mandy’s current boyfriend; and you’ll forgive me for being a little bit cross with the accepted practice, on page and even more so on screen, of using pre-existing relationships merely as the backdrop for complicating new love interests rather than as meaningful in their own right (rant over, at least for now). Mandy, whose character has not changed a bit, manages to fall out with every man in her life over their attitude to animals.
The other central relationship in the book is much more interesting; James, at the start of the book, is getting married, with Mandy as his best woman. He’s getting married to a man named Paul, who is terminally ill. Introducing a gay relationship adds very little of interest to the novel, and feels a wee bit like a ploy to make sure that James is out of the running for anyone who was still struggling to figure out after reading the back cover who Mandy might be interested in. Paul’s sickness, on the other hand, adds a serious theme to the novel which belies the otherwise incidental plot. In fact, the weighty themes of death, bereavement, and for-better-or-worse love, seem rather out of place alongside the still rather childlike idealism of Mandy’s care for animals, or for that matter her fairly adolescent approach to relationships. On the one hand, Paul’s sickness and his relationship with James are treated sensitively and certainly add more depth to the novel; on the other, it feels a bit unbalanced to make them the side-plot of much less weighty themes.
The Lucy Daniels representative who actually penned the book in this instance, Sarah McGurk, is a qualified vet herself, which I really appreciated as much of the story revolves around veterinary surgeries and their animal patients. It seems fitting that as Mandy returns to Welford with much greater knowledge and understanding of veterinary science, the author is also able to describe ailments and treatments with more detail and accuracy. The sections dealing with animal wellbeing, which is meant to be Mandy’s specialism, did give some measure of pause for thought given that we tend to treat animals for physical ailments and not pay too much attention to their experience. Perhaps Mandy’s idealism in wanting the animals around her to be happy as much as they are healthy is no bad thing, and suffers unfairly from its juxtaposition with Paul’s illness.
If you’ve read and enjoyed any of the Animal Ark series, I’d definitely recommend having a read of this; however, in spite of the presence of more adult themes, don’t expect it to be a much more grown-up read.