Once I read that Shelter Me was about an animal rescue, that was it: I had to read it. I love animals, especially dogs, and I’ve rescued three of them myself. Like Lacey, I would save them all if only I had the time and the money. The subject matter is near and dear to my heart, so this book got bumped up to the top of Mt.TBR.
Shelter Me destroyed me. DESTROYED me. Not because it was sad, but because each of the damaged, grieving characters found their HEA. I grew to like them all so much, so it was gratifying that they were able, with a rescued canine’s assistance, to put their grief behind them and embrace a brighter future. Yup, I am a complete sap for stories like this.
Sierra and Mike are the main couple. Sierra is dealing with the recent death of her father, a Colonel in the US Army, during a mission in Afghanistan. She’s a grad student, and in addition to teaching undergrads, she also helps her mom, Lacey, run the Second Chance Rescue. The story begins on the day that the McDaniel family is scheduled to pick up Trooper, a dog that her father rescued overseas. It was his last wish to see the dog safe and sound with his family. One of his men, Mike, promised that he would deliver the dog should anything happen to his commanding officer. Sierra isn’t happy that the dog is coming home, and all she can think about is the loss of her father. She sees the dog as a constant reminder of everything her family has lost.
To complicate matters, Sierra and Mike were an item, but Mike abruptly broke off their relationship before he deployed overseas with his unit. He didn’t feel that he had a future to offer her, so he broke up with her. After spending time with the McDaniel family prior to his deployment, he saw all of the things that Sierra had that he didn’t. A loving family. A stable home life. An education. What he didn’t see for her was a future with a guy like him.
Mike broke Sierra’s heart, so she’s not happy to have him back in her life. Trooper keeps throwing them together, and then the needs of the rescue have him moving onto their property to help with repairs until his next deployment. Sierra is also not happy that he’s taking over the loft in the barn, the room that she worked to renovate so she could move out the family home and have the illusion of independence. She helps out with the rescue, and also helps her mom keep an eye on Gramps — her paternal grandfather who is sinking ever deeper into the black void of Alzheimer’s. She also tries to be there for Nathan, her younger brother, but since the death of her father, he’s become withdrawn and surly, and her attempts to reach out to him are constantly rebuffed.
Shelter Me is primarily the story of a family learning to cope with their grief. Everyone deals with it differently. Sierra is more determined to help her mother and to avoid the same life that her mom led. Lacey won’t sleep in the bedroom she shared with Allen, and she is even more desperate to save as many abused and abandoned animals as she can. Lacey is running herself ragged pretending that everything is just fine. While Sierra can see the chinks in her family, it’s not until Mike reenters her life that she realizes how desperately they need help, but she doesn’t know how to seek it.
The rekindled romance between Mike and Sierra is red-hot, but I was more caught up in Lacey’s efforts to find her new normal. The local vet, a man ten years younger, seems to be interested in her, but the timing just isn’t right. Still, she can’t deny her attraction for Ray, even though it feels like she’s cheating on Allen. Lacey is in such dire need of a rainbow that every small victory she achieved had me cheering her on. The neighbors don’t like the rescue next door to them, and they keep complaining to the authorities that the animals are a menace. Vandals are targeting the kennel, and Lacey is worried about keeping her charges safe. All of the stress is piling up on the family, pushing everyone to the brink of an emotional collapse.
I enjoyed the characters and felt that I could relate to all of them. This is an everyday family; they aren’t billionaires, and the pressures of money and grief made their plight interesting. They can’t buy their way out of their troubles, and I found that compelling. I made me care about everyone. I wondered how Sierra and Mike would work through their roadblock. Sierra has seen the toll the military life has taken on her mother, and she doesn’t want that kind of life. Her dad was away more than he was home, and she doesn’t want that for herself or her kids.
Shelter Me is told through multiple points of view, allowing the reader to get to know all of the characters and care for them. I liked all of the characters so much that I hated for it to end. At several pivotal points in the story, Trooper hijacks the narration, and while I thought it was cheesy at first, his little interruptions are what ultimately did me in. He sees everything so simply, yet so wisely, and his observations of his human caretakers added a lot of depth to the story. If only we could all see life so clearly, and embrace every loving presence in our lives.
I think you have to be an animal lover to truly appreciate this book; everyone sacrifices so much for the homeless charges in Lacey’s care, and the animals are so important to the story. By the end of Shelter Me I was sobbing. Trooper’s epilogue touched me so deeply, and I can point to this book and say, “This is why I love to read.” This story tangled me up inside, and made me feel so deeply for the characters that I wasn’t ready to let them go. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series to see if the reading experience can be duplicated.
Julie has been blogging at Manga Maniac Cafe for over ten years, sharing thoughts on all genres of fiction. You can learn more about her at www.mangamaniaccafe.com, or please follow her on Twitter @mangamaniac
SHELTER ME by Catherine Mann/Berkley/August 5