Sammy is a chocolate lab living in an abusive home. His previous owner died and his new situation is horrible. Sammy feels afraid all the time and guilty that he can’t stop the bad man from hurting the woman or himself. When Sammy gets sent to the pound, he knows his time is limited, but he is too scared to interact with the people who come to adopt a dog. Sammy knows something is changing in him; he is learning more and understanding more, and when he is moved to a new shelter and sees his chance to escape, he makes his way to Mad Creek.
Rav left his corporate job to open a shelter and care for the dogs he likes much more than most people. He hasn’t been able to get the dogs out of his mind that he met a while back who helped rescue some of his lost animals, and when he brings Sammy to his shelter, Rav knows something is special about him too. When Sammy escapes and Rav tracks him to Mad Creek, he finds himself faced with a truth that is shocking, but somehow makes sense — Sammy and many of the other people in Mad Creek are actually dog shifters.
Rav decides to settle in Mad Creek and open a shelter there, but many people are wary of strangers, particularly Sheriff Lance Beaufort who makes it clear he is suspicious of Rav’s motives. Rav knows telling people he is aware of the truth about Mad Creek will make things worse, so he keeps his mouth shut and settles into town. Sammy is very wary of him at first, but when Rav hires him to work in the shelter, the two begin to grow closer. They form a deep bond, one that moves to a friendship, and eventually, as Sammy is ready, to a romantic and sexual relationship as well. It is clear to Rav that the town is in trouble; with all the new quickened arriving, finding jobs and housing for everyone is becoming increasingly problemmatic. Rav is determined to find a way to help, but figuring out a way to save the town and the people he cares about is not going to be easy.
How to Save a Life is the fourth book in Eli Easton’s fabulous How to Howl at the Moon series, and I think it is my favorite so far. While this isn’t the only story that features a newly quickened character (i.e. moving from pure dog to a dog/human shifter), this book covers the full story linearly from Sammy as a dog, through quickening, and into a relationship. I think Easton does such a wonderful job really showing that transition and giving us insight into the way Sammy the dog, with all his fears and insecurities, transitions into Sammy the man, and eventually how he overcomes his issues.
The story begins with a lot of intensity as we are in Sammy’s head in dog form as he is living in this house with an abusive master. It is really heart wrenching, both while he is there, as well as when he is the pound, having the awareness of his days being numbered. Sammy has a lot of guilt and fear and a desire for bravery, but he has been too beaten down. So I loved how over the course of the book, we see him gain strength and confidence in himself, and Rav is a big part of that.
In some of the other books, I have at times felt that the sexual/romantic relationships had a little awkwardness as the newly quickened partner had a bit of a childlike quality that had me feeling they weren’t quite on equal footing with their partner. But I think here that dynamic worked a lot better for me, and Sammy never feels childlike, as much as somewhat naive. For a long time, the focus of the relationship for these men is on friendship, then on an emotional connection and a physical closeness. It takes a while for them to move into a sexual relationship, and by the time they did, I felt like Sammy was ready for it. As with some of the other stories, Sammy figuring out all his parts and what he wanted to do with them was quite fun. In addition to some nice heat, Easton really infuses their intimate scenes with such strong emotion and a sense of connection between the men.
This book reunites us with a lot of the characters we have already met in the series, including all the former MCs and some of the side characters, like Lance’s mom, Lily. It also revisits a recurring issue for the town in terms of the problem of all the newly arriving quickened. So this story pulls in some larger threads nicely amidst the relationship between the men and sets up an interesting future for Mad Creek. While the basics of the series are conveyed here, I do think familiarity with the previous books will help, especially as we see the other characters again here. Also, this story connects to elements of How to Wish Upon a Star as we meet Rav there as the owner of the shelter Jason and Milo and some others visit.
Overall I found this a wonderful addition to a series I totally adore. Like I said, this may have been my favorite one, as there is just such great warmth here in both the relationship, as well as Rav’s desire to save the town. I really love this series and highly recommend it.