Friday, March 20, 2009

Review – “The Better to Hold You” by Alisa Sheckley

Manhattan veterinarian Abra Barrow has more sense about animals than she has about men. So when her adored journalist husband returns from a research trip to Romania and starts pacing their apartment like a caged wolf, Abra agrees to move with him to a rural mansion upstate in order to save her marriage.

But while there are perks to her new life, particularly in the bedroom, Abra soon discovers that nothing in the bucolic town of Northside is what it seems. The local tavern serves a dangerous, predatory underworld. Her husband has developed feral new appetites and a roving eye, and his lack of humanity isn’t entirely emotional. As the moon waxes full, Abra must choose between trusting the man she married, taking a chance on a seductive stranger, or following her own animal instincts.
The Better to Hold You is the first book in a new dark urban fantasy series by Alisa Sheckley. This is the author’s first foray into urban fantasy and the first book under her real name of Sheckley (she is the daughter of science fiction writer Robert Sheckley). She has written a number of contemporary romance novels under the pseudonym of Alisa Kwitney as well as edited comics and graphic novels for DC/Vertigo.

The Better to Hold You is an intense and dramatic story told in first person POV by Abra as her life spirals out of control. Her husband Hunter has returned from his extended research trip changed, attentive in bed but emotionally distant. Filled with self-doubt and afraid of losing her husband, she further isolates herself from normality by agreeing to move to his old family home in Northside, a small community upstate, giving up her veterinarian internship and friends. Abra’s inner dialogue is engaging, self-aware, intelligent and often wry-
It was as if he'd figured out all of my secret fears and doubts and confirmed them. Worse still, he had confirmed them in a tone of voice so casual it implied that I, like everyone around me, should have been aware of my limited potential. I was the diligent, wonky grind, not the natural talent.
No you're not, said a stubborn little voice inside me. You have talent and drive. Don't let him define you. He's British upper class. They excel at only two things: gardening and disdain.
When I graduated, I came back to New York to visit Hunter and we got drunk and wound up having energetic sex all night long. It was so much fun. I'd forgotten how sex could be like that, like a game of Twister—left foot on red, right arm on blue, now you go here and whoa!
Stylistically The Better to Hold You initially approaches the topic of werewolves from a mainstream perspective approaching the subject matter as myth and legend with interesting discussion of genetic conditions and abnormalities. The writing very much reminded me of Michael Crichton’s excellent medical and speculative science thrillers. Abra's personal journey into the strange spirals into dark territory the longer she spends in Northside. The transition from normal to nightmare is relentlessly pursued until Abra is fully immersed in a new supernatural existence.

Sheckley has a fine hand at characterization. Hunter turns out to be a real bastard (and a werewolf) and I found myself wanting to strangle him and shout at Abra for taking his crap. I love it when a book makes me want to shout at the characters having invested myself in their fictional reality. Abra despite her turmoil demonstrates a surprising amount of steel in her spine and picks herself up by her bootstraps time and again.

There are some fine secondary characters in The Better to Hold You including what becomes Abra’s other mysterious love interest Red -
Red was clearly in the category of Jack Daniel's and columns on the fine sport of fishing, jump cuts and sunsets, everything pretty as it faded off into the long distance shot.
The further along the story progresses, the darker, spookier and more gothic it becomes - finally arriving in full-blown dark urban fantasy territory. Abra’s life changes forever before the conclusion and she emerges from her experience a new and empowered woman in more ways than one. Some of Northside’s supernatural secrets are revealed setting the stage for a whole new world to be explored in the sequel Moonburn. The Better to Hold You is compelling story telling. I highly recommend it.


Official Alisa Sheckley/Alisa Kwitney Website

Random House/Del Rey
Published: February 2009
ISBN #: 9780345505873
Format: Paperback
Pages: 323

Read an excerpt.

Read another in depth review at Dear Author.

Northside Werewolves Series:

  1. The Better to Hold You (2009)
  2. Moonburn (May 19, 2009)

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