Note: The blurb for Parker’s Sanctuary does not reveal one of the main characters and his identity could be considered a mild spoiler for the start of the story. However, the information is revealed fairly early on in the book, and there are significant hints that made it clear to our reviewers what was going on from very early in the story. However, be aware that this review will reveal his identity and some information that could be considered a mild spoiler, in order for us to adequately discuss the plot and the romance in the book.
Greg Lademar is an Army veteran who now works as an accountant. Greg’s family always worked with rescue dogs when he was growing up, but after tragically losing his beloved military dog, Greg hasn’t been able to bring himself to be around dogs anymore. But when a friend calls about a seriously injured dog who was kept caged and tortured for two years, Greg agrees to help out and try to nurse Parker back to health.
Parker is indeed in bad shape, but he begins to heal quickly under Greg’s care. Greg is surprised at how responsive and interactive Parker is, almost as if he understands Greg. Being around Parker helps to heal some of the emotional wounds Greg has from losing his own dog, as well as helping Parker deal with some of his nightmares and PTSD.
Things are going well, until it becomes clear that the man who kidnapped Parker isn’t willing to let him go. Howell is insistent that Parker belongs to him, that the dog is in fact a Guardsman, one half a bonded pair that is made up of a human Handler and a dog shifter Protector. Howell insists that Parker is his Protector, which is impossible because Guardsmen are closely tracked and there is no way that Parker is anything other than a normal dog. But a threatening situation turns everything they thought they knew about Parker upside down as it is revealed that he is in fact a Protector, one that no one ever knew existed. Greg is stunned, but it explains so much about Parker and how he and Greg interacted.
Before they know it, representatives from the Guardsman’s Institute of the Americas have swept in, determined to take Parker and figure out who exactly he is and how he came to be a undocumented Protector. The bond Greg and Parker had built was strong, but as it becomes clear that Parker is truly a Protector, they know that their time together is over. But the connection between the men is not so easily broken, and as Parker and Greg continue to spend time together, they begin to have feelings for one another that seem to be growing into an unbreakable bond. But the Institute knows that Greg is not a Handler and that Parker needs to form a real bond with another Guardsman. Not to mention that Howell has not given up his quest to claim Parker for his own. Greg and Parker have fallen for one another and the connection between them is intense, but circumstances and outside threats may make being together impossible.
Parker’s Sanctuary is the second book in Cooper West’s excellent Guardsmen series. Both Kris and Jay reviewed the first book, The Protector, and loved it (Jay in audio and Kris in ebook). We didn’t expect that after two years there would be more books set in the Guardsmen world, but now it appears West is turning it into a series. Since we both loved the first book so much, we decided to do the second book as a Buddy Read.
Jay: So I really loved the first book, The Protector, and was so excited to see that Cooper West is now adding more to the series.
Kris: Absolutely. I was thrilled when I saw it. I knew after the first one, I wanted MORE in the series.
J: Yes, my favorite thing about the first book is the world building and I loved the creative set up and how detailed everything was with the Guardsmen. The world is really just ripe for more stories. And I know that you are a big fan of world building in your books.
K: Heh. You know me. I love me some good world building. And I thought this was was incredibly unique, taking a standard thing, shifters, and turning it a little sideways. I loved the history and how everything had a reason. And if something doesn’t exactly fit, there’s an explanation for that as well.
J: Yes, I thought it was kind of fun here that Greg is sort of a Guardsman geek. He is so up on the history and so fascinated by them, that it was a good way to relay the background and the world to the reader through his eyes. I also liked how this story builds on the world, but while the first book takes place mostly within the Institute and digs into that side of things, this story focuses largely on these guys in the outside world. But we still get the tie in with the Institute staff (including Greg geeking out when he gets to the see the campus), as well as revisiting Marcus and Alex.
K: It kind of almost gives the book a standalone feel, as because of Greg’s knowledge, any reader could jump in. But I definitely thinks it works better if you’ve read the first book. Considering that Alex and Marcus are secondary characters that get a lot of focus here, I think I would have been just a tiny bit lost about them had I not known their story.
J: Yes, I did give some thought to whether this book would stand alone. Part of me thinks yes, because we do get some good background. But I agree with you, I think that understanding Marcus and Alex is a big help. I also think that you don’t quite get just WHY Parker and Greg are so unique here without knowing more of the details on the way things usually work with Guardsmen. So while I think you could jump in here with this story, I think the first book really sets the stage for the series.
K: Definitely. That was exactly my thought. I think, too, it gave a kind of…frame to what was going on in the beginning. You know something is up with the Parker the husky, and you know what’s going to happen. You’re just waiting for the catalyst.
J: OK, so relationship end. What do we think about Greg and Parker?
K: Oh man. I adored them so much. I love the way their relationship built, first as savior and rescuee (albeit as a dog), and then each layer building on that as the story progresses. I thought their chemistry was outstanding. There was a tension there between them, that connection that you could really feel, even if you weren’t quite sure how they were going to make it work. Or where it was going to go for that matter. I mean, at the heart, I knew it was a romance, but there were a few times where I was questioning if it was going to take a twist I didn’t expect.
J: Yes, I liked that even once they realize that there is a bond, they aren’t jumping into anything right away. Greg (rightfully) notes that he has only known Parker a couple of weeks, and although there is a clear connection, that was as man and dog. So I liked that they take the time to get to know each other and really build a relationship I could believe in.
K: That was one of my favorite parts. That they took time considering the pull they felt toward each other. On the other hand, it felt like, at times, they were ignoring that connection because of what everyone else was saying could and couldn’t be. So I wanted them to trust in that more. though I could understand why they didn’t.
J: Yes, the facts all say that it is impossible, yet it ends up totally working after all. I did kind of like that by the end of the story we have a real explanation for what is happening. So it is a mushy and romantic story, but there is a real foundation for what is going on.
K: Couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s exactly what I thought.
J: Speaking of romantic, how much did you love the old woman and old dog Guardsman pair? I thought it was so sweet to see them after all those years together.
K: Tucker and Maisie! Best secondary characters I’ve seen in a while. They served a purpose without being over the top. And it showed that the Guardsman bond is unbreakable.
J: Yes! I thought that was such a nice way to work in the idea of these pairs as lifelong bonds and show what they can build to.
K: And that no matter what, that connection would see them through.
So the third component here for me, aside from the romance and the world building, is the suspense end. And I thought this was done really well too. Again, I think West takes the story and makes it exciting, but still grounds it in the world building. I don’t want to go into specifics, but I like how it all comes together in the end with what is really driving Howell.
K: Howell. Ugh. I loved hating him. He was a proper bad guy. And definitely. Here’s another part that really ties in with the first book, as the mystery/suspense part hinges on things that happened before.
J: Yes, I liked that. I appreciated that there was a foundation for what happens here (and agree that having read the first book helps it all come together). I like that Howell is a clear bad guy and there is a lot of suspense and excitement. It is not over the top, but it keeps that edge to the story.
K: I agree. He’s always present to a degree, and you know things are going to come to a head. And speaking of which, that whole part was A+. Because it was totally believable for what was going on and who the characters were. It could have so easily gone too far and been too over the top.
J: Yes, I agree. I think the story comes together really well. I think West keeps both plots running at the same time — what is happening with Parker and Greg, and what is going on with Howell. And then they naturally converge in the end in a way that works.
K: Exactly. Nothing was a surprise, exactly, because she kept things going in the right direction. It was the how that kept me on the edge of my seat.
J: Yes, totally agree.
So what is your rating for this one? I’m giving it a 4.5 stars. I loved the story, and I loved these guys. I think it is a tiny bit sluggish in the middle. There are also a noticeable number of typos and small errors. So I think the book could have used better editing overall. But other than that, no complaints.
K: I’m thinking 4.5. There were some bits at the end that made me side eye, and I found that some parts maybe could have been condensed because the pace dragged a bit. It’s a looooong book, and I think all the information is important. But it could have been tightened up a bit.
J: Ok, anything else you want to add? Aside from read these books and OMG I can’t wait for more?
K: Gimme more! But yeah, that’s it I think. It was great, it’s worth the time, and I really enjoyed it.
J: LOL, yes. I am so excited this series is being expanded. And it looks like there is a free Greg and Parker short I am going check out.
So that is it for our Buddy Review. Both Kris and Jay loved the book and are looking forward to more!