Sheriff Lance Beaufort takes his job seriously keeping an eye on his small town of Mad Creek, California. Things are pretty quiet there and Lance is determined to keep it that way. The folks in Mad Creek definitely don’t need any attention focused on them, so Lance is keeping an eye on news that some marijuana growers are causing trouble in nearby areas. When a stranger moves into town, Lance is sure to check him out, especially when the man seems nervous and stammering around Lance and reeks of pot.
Tim Weston has come to Mad Creek to get away from his past. He was working for a gardening company and is a genius at developing new plants and hybrids. However, his old partner Marshall took advantage of him, patenting all of Tim’s work and giving him no credit. The violation of Tim’s trust makes him feel very vulnerable, and the fact that Marshall is threatening him makes things even worse. So when Tim gets around the sexy sheriff, he can’t help his awkward stammering.
Lance decides he needs to check out the greenhouse where Tim is growing new plants, just to make sure they aren’t marijuana. He will need to hang around Tim to keep an eye on things until the plants sprout, but he knows he can’t do that in human form, with things so awkward between them. So Lance begins to visit Tim in shifted form — as a black border collie. He never expects to enjoy Tim’s company so much, or for Tim to grow to care for the dog he calls Chance so intensely. The more Lance gets to know Tim, the more he begins to care for and really fall for him. But of course, Tim has no idea that the dog who has grown to be a close companion is actually the hunky sheriff Tim is so drawn to.
Lance knows he has gotten himself in too deep, but he can’t deny the pull his dog feels to be with Tim. He just must now hope that he can get Tim to care as much for Lance as he does for his dog form. Not to mention that when Lance finally comes clean, that Tim will understand and accept him.
So as much as I love shifter stories, I must say that is is hard to find one that covers a lot of new ground. But How to Howl at the Moon just blew me away with the clever premise and the really fascinating world building. Mad Creek is a town filled with dog shifters. Some of them, like Lance, are born shifters. However, many of them began life as dogs. When a dog and its human bond intensely, each truly loving and needing the other, the dog can have a “spark” that turns him into a shifter. So not only is Mad Creek a town with secret shifters, but it is also somewhat of a refuge for new shifters who are just figuring out life as a part human.
I will admit I found this so clever and totally engrossing. We meet two side characters who were both formerly dogs, one a military service dog and one a long-time companion. They are both newly turned shifters and learning to find their place in the human world. Easton does a great job capturing the dog essence in these men, still so close to their animal sides. Not only that, but we can really feel how much their sense of self is still caught up in being companion animals, and how hard the adjustment is for them. Although these are just side characters, I found this whole element of the world building to be done so well, and it was so entertaining. Given the book is the first of a planned series, I hope we see more of either of these characters, or similar new shifters so we can explore it even further.
Ok, so back to Tim and Lance. These guys are just so adorably bumbling and awkward with one another. Lance is trying so hard and yet he makes just one bad decision after another. Meeting Tim in dog form seems like a good idea until Tim comes to care so intensely for his new dog. It is clear how desperately lonely Tim is, how hard it is for him to trust people, and so Chance becomes an incredibly close companion. Lance realizes losing Chance when the investigation is over is going to hurt Tim. But as he gets to know Tim, Lance’s inner dog is just clamoring to be with him. He can’t make himself stay away, finding for the first time in his life enjoyment with being in touch with his doggy side. This is mostly a light fun story, but this aspect of the book is definitely a little bit intense. Poor Tim is just having such a hard time, and it is kind of tough knowing things are setting up for potential heartbreak. But it all comes together in the end, although not without some stumbles for these guys along the way.
I also kind of loved the dynamic we get when Lance tries to interact with Tim as a human. Lance knows Tim so well, spending every evening with him in dog form. He has grown not just to care for Tim, but to love him. And in many ways, Tim has a real connection with Lance. But of course, Tim has no idea that he knows Lance so well. He barely has spoken to him as a human. So it is a really interesting dynamic as Lance has to hold back the intensity of his feelings or risk scaring Tim off when they finally start dating.
I had a few small things here that bugged me. One is that I wish we got to see more of the resolution to the conflict when things all come out in the open. I mean, Tim is justifiably upset when he learns all that has been going on, but things seem to settle down a little too neatly. I would have loved to see some more time really spent addressing the resolution. Also, Lance’s mom is yet another of the inappropriately meddling mothers who seem to be romance novel staples. Yes, it is in her border collie doggy nature, but still, her actions are way over the top. And yes, Lance is rightly pissed at her. But I still find this trope so overdone and I was frustrated that her actions had no real repercussions for her.
But really, those are small things in what was overall a really wonderful book. I loved the fresh take on the shifter story and found the world building here creative and so clever. If you are a fan of dogs in particular, I think you will just adore the details Easton gives us here, along with the sense of the importance of the dog/human bond. Easton has given us a fascinating town and so much room to grow as the series continues. I loved Lance and Tim and found them adorable together. So this one was a big hit for me and I really can not wait for more.
P.S. I love this cover and it is so pretty. I am a bit confused by all the snow as the story takes place in April in California and there is no mention of cold weather at all. But still nice looking.