The Better To Hold You by Alisa Sheckley

The Better to Hold You
Alisa Sheckley

I got this book from the awesome avidbookreader.com. The review there was so interesting I was amazed I got there first to win the book!

The Premise: This book centers on a veterinarian, Abra Barrow, who lives and works in Manhattan. Her husband Hunter is a journalist, and he’s just come home from a several month long trip studying wolves in Romania. It’s not long before Abra has to admit that something has happened on Hunter’s trip – she suspects he’s had an affair, but at the same time the doctor she interns under suggests that her husband has come into contact with the lycantrophy virus. Hunter feels restless and unhappy in the city and declares he needs a forest and will be moving to his family’s home in Northside, New York. As usual he leaves little room in his plans for Abra, but to save her marriage, Abra quits her job and joins him. Thrown into the mix is Wildlife Removal Operator Red Mallin, a strange man at ease with himself and the wilderness. He’s got an interest in Abra and seems to know a lot of strange things about what’s going on with Hunter.

My Thoughts: This book is different from the usual urban fantasy (it’s marked as paranormal romance; I disagree – OK it’s about relationships and there’s a little romance, but it’s not quite romance). It’s more about the angst of relationships and marriage with the supernatural as a small part of that whole. The story reminded me of Nick Hornby or Emily Giffin’s writing with some Stephen King thrown in. In the first few pages I felt the discomfort of witnessing a marriage break up but throughout the book there’s also the discomfort of reading about the messy details of life – menstruation, smells, and hair growth patterns are all described. This book may have shades of woman’s fiction/chick lit, but it’s the darker, serious side of chick lit and fluffy it is not. The supernatural is an unknown world to most people but to those who do learn about it, it is scientifically treated. For example, lycantrophy is described as a virus which only affects those with a predisposition (work on isolating the gene is mentioned), and Abra seems to easily accept what happens with only very brief thoughts of calling a mental hospital.

The thing the struck me first was Abra’s husband Hunter. I hated him. When I first picked up the book, I only read about 50 pages in but later that night I had a dream about killing him. The way that Hunter treated Abra was never “obvious” abuse, and he seemed to swing back and forth between disinterest and contempt to attention and passion, so I could see the confusion an intelligent person like Abra could go through. But all the little things he would say that seemed to show a lack of respect for the woman he married drove me up the wall. I’d say his brush with lycantrophy may have brought this to the surface but reading flashbacks when Abra met him, I don’t think he was ever a nice person.

Then we meet Abra’s mother – Piper LeFever, a B-movie actress with a penchant for the theatrical and who always manages to make everything about herself. First I thought oh, Abra’s mother hates Hunter, is Abra rebelling? But then I wondered if Piper’s narcissistic personality just made Abra susceptible to the same type of thing in her spouse? Her mother made Abra the type of person who abhors a scene, the type of avoidant person who could get easily manipulated by Hunter – he often put her in the position where she had to either accept his crap or ignore it to avoid drama (narcissistic abuse?) Well this book got to me that’s for sure, I was (armchair) psychoanalysing the characters.

It’s a good thing that I was so fascinated by the dark relationships in this book, because the angst here came close to turning me away. I despised Hunter, and I on the fence about whether to dislike Abra for staying with him.  About midway through the book I contemplated putting it down as a DNF but decided to keep going. Luckily that’s when things started getting interesting regarding another man’s interest in Abra and the hope of her leaving Hunter kept me reading on. THANK GOD for Red Mallin’s character! He was a breath of fresh air and I liked him so much more than Hunter. In fact, I hated Hunter so much I had no issues whatsoever with Abra’s being interested in another man when she was married. He was that bad.

Other minor comments I feel too lazy to expound on:

  • Very intense sex scenes
  • Many mentions of wolves sprinkled throughout the book like an easter egg hunt.
  • Alisa Sheckley writes as Alisa Kwitney for some contemporary romance/woman’s fiction stories – I don’t think Ive read any of her other books though.

Overall: Really like nothing else I’ve read in urban fantasy – it is more like messy relationship angst with the supernatural as an aside. Avoid if you can’t stand books that go into details of real life relationship drama but go for it if that is something you find fascinating. Usually I can’t take angst myself, but it did make me think a lot and it was saved by a somewhat happy ending (and by Red Mallin’s character), but it’s a bumpy ride. I may wait a bit before I read book 2 – Moonburn.

Avidbookreader’s review (I know I ranted and her review was more glowing, but surprisingly I thought this was about a B read which is what she gave it too).

SciFiGuy’s review (he wanted to strangle Hunter too – THANK YOU, I agree most heartily)
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