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CONVERSATIONAL REVIEW: The Better to Hold You by Alisa Sheckley

Janine and Jennie discuss Alisa Sheckley’s urban fantasy novel, The Better to Hold You:

034550587501lzzzzzzzJanine: The Better to Hold You was one of my most anticipated books of 2009. I’m a big fan of Alisa Sheckley’s wry, satirical chick lit novels which were published under the name Alisa Kwitney. I remember picking up The Dominant Blonde back in 2002 and being so delighted to discover a new-to-me-author who had written such an intelligent, funny and touching book. Sex as a Second Language is also a big favorite of mine.

Jennie: Yes, Kwitney has probably been my favorite contemporary/chick lit novelist for a while now, ever since I read The Dominant Blonde (at your urging, I believe, Janine!). I’ve enjoyed all of the books I’ve read by her since then, particularly Sex as a Second Language and On the Couch.

Janine: In discussing her books with a friend, I once said that this author never flinches from showing her characters in embarrassing situations or portraying them making unwise choices, but their witty observations and wobbly egos always save them from appearing less than bright. Instead, they come across as intelligent, insightful people with flaws, foibles and insecurities of which they are acutely aware. Like soft boiled eggs, Kwitney’s characters have outer shells that crack when they are hit, revealing a shaky layer that protects an even more vulnerable core.

All of this is true of Abra Barrow, the heroine and narrator of The Better to Hold You. A 29-year-old veterinarian interning at New York City’s Animal Medical Institute, Abra is also the daughter of a washed up B-movie actress and a Spanish director. Abra’s husband Hunter is a writer who recently visited Transylvania to investigate werewolf myths. Since his return to Manhattan, Hunter has been writing obsessively, craving meat, and playing dominance games both in and out of bed. Abra also begins to suspect that Hunter may be cheating on her.

Meanwhile, at the Animal Medical Institute, Abra’s instructor Malachy Knox, a brilliant researcher whom the interns have dubbed “Mad Mai,” lectures about the lycanthrope virus, which he believes can change some people on the cellular level. Malachy thinks Hunter may have learned something important about the virus during his visit to Transylvania.

When a dog named Pia, who appears to be part wolf, is brought to the institute for medical treatment, Abra and her friend Lilliana suspect that Malachy might experiment on Pia unless they prevent it. Abra is presented with the opportunity to do so when a scruffy man she previously saw on the subway comes to the institute and introduces himself as Red Mallin, a wildlife removal operator from out of town, and a friend of Pia’s owner. Abra decides to take the chance that Red is really who he says he is, and entrusts Pia to his safe-keeping.

The meeting is brief, but Abra is struck and flattered by Red’s obvious attraction to her, since she has never felt entirely secure in her marriage to Hunter. Though Hunter is much more her type — urban, handsome and well-educated — he has always seemed to Abra to be a little bit out of her reach. Going back as far as college, when their relationship began, Abra has never been certain that what Hunter saw in her — “a little nun, perfectly at peace with herself” — is really there.

Disagreements begin to crop up more and more in Hunter and Abra’s marriage, but Abra is afraid to stand up for herself, because she doesn’t want to lose Hunter. She begins to dream strange, vivid dreams. When Abra visits her eccentric mother, her mom does a tarot reading which reveals that magic is coming into Abra’s life, that the universe will be playing a trick on her, and that Abra may be in danger.

The tension between Abra and Hunter escalates, leading to an ugly discovery. Eventually, Hunter decides to relocate to the country, and Abra follows him to the town of Northside, where she encounters Red Mallin, and things that go bump in the night…

The Better to Hold You is a tough book to review because, although there are paranormal goings on throughout the book, Abra, the narrator, doesn’t see them for what they are until more than halfway through the book. So without getting into spoiler terrain, it is difficult to describe these.

Jennie: I think you’ve done quite a good job without giving too much away. I really like your comparison of Kwitney’s character’s to soft-boiled eggs. Very apt! And it encapsulates why I like her heroes and heroines so much: Kwitney manages to create heroines that are relatably neurotic without being pathetic or weak. She creates heroes that manage to retain an appealing masculinity while showing quite a bit more vulnerability than your average romance hero ever shows (a few of Kwitney’s heroes could fairly be described as “bumbling”, but it doesn’t take away from their charm or lessen their masculine appeal).

Janine: I so agree with you about her heroes! Before going into the many things I enjoyed in The Better to Hold You, I’ll admit that because the novel is classified as urban fantasy, I was expecting a different book — one where the fantastical elements were more pronounced throughout. I got impatient waiting for Abra to realize what was going on around her, though in hindsight, I think it was very realistic that she wouldn’t. How many of us would believe in werewolves and other monsters? For Abra to deny what was going on was actually pretty sensible on one level.

Jennie: I sort of had the opposite reaction, in that I think I expected what I got – a Kwitney book with paranormal overtones. But I actually got more annoyed by Abra’s denseness as the book wore on – to the point where it seemed that it wasn’t so much sensible behavior from a character’s perspective but perhaps necessitated by the plot. I also felt the lack of a big “aha!” moment – it was more like: denial, denial, denial, and then, “oh, okay, all this stuff is real”, without as much dramatic tension as I would have expected from such a revelation.

Janine: I didn’t feel that Abra’s denial was out of character, but I do agree with you about the lack of a dramatic revelation. One thing that was really interesting was the way Abra’s denial about the supernatural happenings around her mirrored her denial of the problems in her marriage to Hunter. Even though Abra didn’t see the signs as clearly as she could have, they came across to me as a reader.

Jennie: Yes, and I think that’s what created some frustration for me as a reader. Particularly in first person narration, to have events presented to the reader by the narrator and interpreted by the reader through the narrator, and to have the narrator come to very different conclusions…well, I think it creates a slight sense of dissonance. There is just something different about first person narration (which I am a fan of, by the way) – being inside a character’s head creates an association that, at least for me, makes the character’s blind spots harder to take.

Janine: That is interesting, because I actually have the opposite feeling. I expect blind spots from a first person narrator (what is termed “the unreliable narrator” in English classes). I enjoy the tension these blind spots create, the feeling that I realize something that the narrator does not. It is actually when blind spots are absent, and the narrator’s perception is matched or validated by that of all the other characters, that I become frustrated, because that never happens to anyone in real life. So I was glad that wasn’t the case here. My only problem with Abra’s denial was that it made the fantasy elements of the book less visible, and I wanted a full blown urban fantasy book.

To get back to the storyline, Abra’s fear of being dumped by her husband prevented her from taking a stand and asking for what she wanted and needed from him, and my feeling was that this in turn was one of the things that made Hunter more aloof.

This book really made me think about something that romances don’t always address — the fact that so often in romantic relationships, there is one who wants or needs the other more than he or she is wanted or needed in return.

In Abra’s relationship with Hunter, it was Abra who was in the less secure position. In her interactions with Red, though, she was in the more secure postion. Sheckley showed both the appeal of both Hunter and Red: the appeal of the unattainable man, and the appeal of the man who makes you feel like a queen.

Jennie: Yes, I think Scheckley did do a good job portraying this realistically – and even tying in some of the fantastical elements (the idea of the alpha male being depicted in a rather literal way, here).

Janine: Yes. I wish I could say I loved either Red or Hunter, the way I loved Liam from The Dominant Blonde. But just as she showed the attractive sides of both men, Sheckley also showed their unattractive aspects. Red was a little too country for Abra in many ways, while Hunter, who on paper was more her type, didn’t show her the same level of devotion.

Jennie: See, I found Hunter just insufferable. He was realistically insufferable – I’ve seen relationships that are slightly less exaggerated versions of Hunter and Abra’s in real life. But I don’t find it appealing to read about, and the more appalling Hunter’s behavior got, the more I wanted him to get his comeuppance.

I think Red looked good in comparison to Hunter. He was such a contrast, in almost every way. He worshipped Abra, and I liked her enough to want her to be worshipped. No, I didn’t love him for himself as much as I loved Liam or some of the other heroes from the author’s Alisa Kwitney books. Perhaps I didn’t identify with him quite as much because we never got Red’s POV. But I did like him, quite a lot.

Janine:I liked him as a person, but he was not exactly romantic hero material to me. Hunter had more of the romantic glamour that I look for, but with a big downside. I did like Abra very much though. She was an insightful, witty and caring woman, and I felt she deserved someone who could fulfill her needs.

Jennie: Yes, exactly. And as with the best romances, I think there was some recognition that Abra herself needed to change in order to get her happy ending.

Janine: Good point. Let’s talk a bit about Sheckley’s prose style. I feel that in terms of sheer craftsmanship, she is one of the most skilled authors of contemporary romantic fiction and that she deserves to be much better known than she is. Here are some of the reasons why:

1) Her dialogue is spot on, as in this conversation between Abra and her mother:

My mother sighed and lit a cigarette, watching me get myself back under control. “Here. Do you want a cigarette? Don’t look at me like that, sometimes it helps.” She shook out the match. “Why you want to keep him with you, I’ll never understand. He’s a bastard.”

I gave a little hiccup of a laugh. “You just think all men are bastards, Mom.”

“It’s a safe assumption.”

“God.” I folded the tissue and blew my nose again. “How my father stayed married with you for ten years, I’ll never know.”

“You talk like he’s such an angel. Remember who left!”

“Mom, you were having affairs right and left. And you hounded him all the time. I remember when I was ten you actually had a fight where you said he was personally responsible for the subjugation of women in the Spain.”

“He was a filmmaker. There’s a responsibility there. Besides, he said a lot of shit about me.”

2) She also has a great way with narration and metaphors:

The problem with Manhattan is, everyone comes here eventually -all your old friends, enemies, lovers, demons. People you met on vacation in Nepal will wind up beating you out for a taxi. The bully who called you dog breath all through first grade will turn up at your local diner, and will remember you didn’t come to his sixth birthday party, which is where the whole trouble began. Don’t come to the big city to become anonymous. New York is like Oz: The Wicked Witch of the West turns out to be the lady who didn’t like your dog back in Kansas.

3) Another thing I love is her wry social satire. For example, there is this great spoof of self-help books when Abra picks up a book called Understanding the Alpha Male:

Is your mate an Alpha Male? Take this test.

1. Would your mate describe himself as:
A) A team player
B) One of the guys
C) A highly autonomous individual with leadership capabilities
D) Your lapdog

2. When confronted with a major life choice, does your man
A) Ask your advice
B) Ask an expert’s opinion
C) Tell you and the expert what’s wrong with both of you
D) Pant and whine

3. When driving, if cut off by another car, does your mate
A) Curse and yell
B) Pursue the offending vehicle very closely and then swerve off at the last possible moment before impact
C) Physically assault the small dog sitting in the other driver’s lap
D) Shake uncontrollably, often losing control of his bladder.

Jennie: Yes, I love this author’s voice. I was happy that the change in genres didn’t change her prose. I also really liked the clever weaving of fairy tale elements into the story. Even when Scheckley went a bit over the top with them, late in the story, I appreciated that here was a paranormal that didn’t take itself too seriously.

Janine: I think I actually wanted the book to take itself a bit more seriously. I feel a little torn on what to grade The Better to Hold You because, though the charms of Sheckley’s writing are many, this particular book was somewhat slow to get off the ground, and I wish that I’d fallen in love with one of the male characters. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and am glad I read it. I look forward to the next book in the series, Moonburn, which comes out May 19th. My grade for The Better to Hold You is a B.

Jennie: My grade is also a B (though a high B; it was almost a B+), and I will definitely read the next book in the series. I think ultimately my issues were mostly centered on the power imbalance between Hunter and Abra; if the villains had been punished more thoroughly for their misdeeds, I would have found the book as a whole more satisfying.

Janine: My take on that was that the villains weren’t punished more thoroughly because we’ll be seeing more of them in future books. I agree with you about the book being a high B — not quite a B+ but better than many other books I’d rate a B. I hope readers give it a try.

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

29 Comments

  1. LauraJane
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 16:35:29

    I’m really happy you reviewed this the day before it’s set to be released. And thank you for this wonderful conversational review.

    I’ve been on the fence about trying this one, mainly because it’s becoming too expensive to give new paranormal authors a chance, even when the book is just $6.99. (I bought Amber Benson’s Death’s Daughter blind over the weekend, and just read a scathing review of it this morning. Wish I’d waited.) I’ve been leaning toward buying The Better to Hold You because I read one Kwitney novel, Flirting in Cars, and liked it. At least I know the author can write.

    I’m still kind of iffy about this, but the scene between Abra and her mother was great, so I’m sure I’ll buy it when I visit Borders tomorrow to pick up my copy of Made to Be Broken.

    By the way, Angels’ Blood by Nalini Singh is already on shelves at Borders. A clerk told me the release date was moved up. The same clerk told me Colleen Gleason’s last Gardella novel, As Shadows Fade, has a layover date of February 23rd, so maybe that one will be on shelves tomorrow as well.

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  2. Janine
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 17:20:09

    LauraJane — Thanks for the feedback and you’re very welcome.

    Funny you should mention Amber Benson’s book. We got a request to review it a while back. A couple of us looked at an excerpt and decided that it was probably too light and fluffy for our tastes. Nothing unusual in that in and of itself; we get inundated with review requests and can’t possibly review all the books out there, so we let what we want to read guide our process of elimination. But I commented to my blogging partners that the thought of starting a review with the words “Dear Ms. Benson,” and then launching into commentary on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was very tempting.

    I haven’t read Gleason’s Gardella series, but re. Nalini Singh’s Angel’s Blood, I have my review written and ready to go, but as of right now it’s scheduled to run a week from today. Amazon still lists the publication date as March 3rd.

    To get back to Sheckley’s The Better to Hold You, I think I liked it a little more than Flirting in Cars (which was also a B for me, but a slightly lower B). Flirting in Cars was probably my least favorite Kwitney/Sheckley book, but I still enjoyed it. There are actually some of the same city vs. country themes in this book that there were in Flirting in Cars, but with a very different (paranormal) twist.

    I am also happy to see Sheckley’s books available for $6.99 though I never grumbled at paying more for her books in the past. I expect the fantasy/paranormal elements to be more evident in in the next book in this series, Moonburn, since by the end of The Better to Hold You, Abra is a lot more aware of them than she was in the beginning of the book.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the scene between Abra and her mother. There were a lot of scenes I felt were equally good in this book. If you do pick up the book, I hope you enjoy it. And if you can, let us know what you thought.

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  3. Jennie
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 17:39:23

    Yes, LauraJane, please share your thoughts if you get a chance to read the Scheckley book. I think it’s well worth $6.99. (I would even say it’s worth a bit more, but I’m kind of a spendthrift with books!)

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  4. Alice
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 17:42:03

    I also saw that Neil Gaiman wrote a little quip about it. I don’t think I have ever seen a quote from him on any urban fantasy or paranormal romance book before.

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  5. Janine
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 18:21:59

    I believe Gaiman and Sheckley worked together when she was an editor at Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics. Gaiman also gave a blurb to her earlier Kwitney book, Does She or Doesn’t She? So did Jennifer Crusie, and I haven’t seen many quotes from her on books either.

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  6. Janine
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 18:31:49

    I just went to Sheckley’s website and she has this really cute song also titled “The Better to Hold You” which she wrote as a soundrack to the book. You can read the lyrics or listen to the song here.

    ETA: Also found on Sheckley’s website: this link to an interview in which she explains that it was Gaiman who encouraged her to get this book published after some initial setbacks. Apparently she is now working on a YA vampire book.

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  7. SonomaLass
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 19:18:37

    Usually I buy wolf and werewolf books for my daughter-in-law, but I may read this one myself before handing it over. I really like her voice in the excerpt! FWIW, I find that like Janine, I really enjoy the blind spots you get from an “unreliable narrator.” I have a harder time when seemingly omniscient narrators leave stuff out or seem to be misleading me; I feel cheated.

    Thanks for the interesting review, ladies!

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  8. Darlynne
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 19:32:41

    These great reviews simply must stop or else I have to stop reading them. Can you see the TBR pile looming over my shoulder, spilling off the shelves and running down the hallway? Wait, I think it’s leering at me …

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  9. Janine
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 20:05:32

    SonomaLass — If you do read it I hope you enjoy it. Please let us know your thoughts if you do. It is interesting to hear your opinion about the “unreliable narrator.” I thought Jennie’s comment about the blind spots was so interesting because I enjoy them so much that it never occurred to me that someone else might feel differently about them. It really bothers me when a character who is also a first person narrator lacks any blind spots because that just doesn’t feel authetnic to me — I have yet to meet a human being who was right about everything. But also, I think I just really enjoy the contrast between my perception and the narrator’s perception. There’s a tension that comes from my wondering when that narrator character will figure things out, and it keeps me involved in the story.

    Darlynne — Thanks! That is really a great compliment! :)

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  10. Keishon
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 20:45:51

    Hi Janine, Jennie. I plan to read this as soon as it hits my doorstep. I’ll read your review after I read the book. I just wanted to add that I loved The Dominant Blonde and enjoyed Flirting In Cars. Kwitney’s a solid writer and I enjoy her contemporary novels as well. I had to get used to her shift in POV from third to first person, ack, I didn’t like it but I got used to it. Thanks.

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  11. Janine
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 21:14:10

    Hey Keishon! I hope you enjoy it this book.

    I loved The Dominant Blonde too. I was going through a rough time in my life when I picked up that book and it made me forget my problems completely. I had never heard of Kwitney before so it was a wondeful surprise.

    Re. third person vs. first person, I like the books in which we can share the POVs of her heroes as well as her heroines best, but I enjoy the others too.

    I hope you like The Better to Hold You. Will you be posting a review on your blog? I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

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  12. Keishon
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 21:31:19

    I hope you like The Better to Hold You. Will you be posting a review on your blog? I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

    Probably will but we can discuss here. I can’t wait to read it (I did peek at the grade at least).

    Today, I can read any pov but with Kwitney, I really hated the shift. *g* I’m such a demanding reader. Must reread The Dominant Blonde. That was such a good book!

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  13. Janine
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 21:34:48

    we can discuss here

    Sounds good! I will look forward to it.

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  14. Jennie
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 23:32:17

    FWIW, I find that like Janine, I really enjoy the blind spots you get from an “unreliable narrator.” I have a harder time when seemingly omniscient narrators leave stuff out or seem to be misleading me; I feel cheated.

    I should clarify that I don’t have a problem with unreliable narrators or blind spots; but when the narrator seems smart and yet keeps going, “Hmm, 2+2 – looks like 5 to me!” I can get frustrated. I understood, on one level, why Abra was refusing to recognize some harsh truths, but I still got annoyed with her.

    Darlynne, I get anxious if my TBR gets too large. But there are worse problems to have than having a bunch of great books to read!

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  15. Janine
    Feb 23, 2009 @ 23:39:19

    Thanks for clarifying that, Jennie. I understand what you meant better now. Sorry for not getting it sooner. I didn’t see it as an intelligence issue with Abra–it was more the willful blindness of someone who is afraid to find out the truth. But I can definitely see why you might feel frustrated with her.

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  16. LauraJane
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 09:05:30

    To get back to Sheckley's The Better to Hold You, I think I liked it a little more than Flirting in Cars (which was also a B for me, but a slightly lower B). Flirting in Cars was probably my least favorite Kwitney/Sheckley book, but I still enjoyed it. There are actually some of the same city vs. country themes in this book that there were in Flirting in Cars, but with a very different (paranormal) twist.

    I’m glad you wrote this. I was expecting to like Flirting in Cars more than I did. So, while I enjoyed it, I chose not to read another Kwitney book after that even though I’m always checking her site to see what’s new. Now I’ll add another Kwitney book to my reading list, as well as The Better to Hold You. (Going out in a bit to see if it’s at my local Borders.) Thank you.

    I’m a big werewolf fan, but the Mercy Thompson series is the only shapeshifter/werewolf series I love. I’ve been looking for another werewolf series to read for years. (Ilona Andrews has a great shapeshifter in her new series, too.)

    Janine, if you ever get around to the Gardella series, I hope you will give it a chance. I really disliked the first book in the series and decided I wouldn’t continue. But the great reviews for the other books made me curious and I gave it another try. It is now one of my favorite paranormal series.

    Looking forward to your review of Angels’ Blood.

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  17. carolyn jean
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 09:44:05

    Wow, this actually sounds really good to me. Thanks for this review.

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  18. Janine
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 12:19:36

    LauraJane,

    I'm glad you wrote this. I was expecting to like Flirting in Cars more than I did. So, while I enjoyed it, I chose not to read another Kwitney book after that even though I'm always checking her site to see what's new. Now I'll add another Kwitney book to my reading list, as well as The Better to Hold You. (Going out in a bit to see if it's at my local Borders.) Thank you.

    If you’re going to try another Kwitney, I recommend The Dominant Blonde. I loved it, and perhaps more importantly, among my friends who have read the Kwitney books, it seems to be the favorite. I think Jayne has also said (in the comments after her review of Flirting in Cars) that TDB is her favorite, too.

    I'm a big werewolf fan, but the Mercy Thompson series is the only shapeshifter/werewolf series I love. I've been looking for another werewolf series to read for years. (Ilona Andrews has a great shapeshifter in her new series, too.)

    Briggs’ Anna and Charles (Alpha and Omega) series is my favorite werewolf series. I don’t have any other werewolf series that I follow except Briggs’ and now Sheckley’s. The other paranormals I love are Shana Abe’s drakon series and (after a rocky start with the first) I’ve really come to enjoy Nalini Singh’s series as well.

    Thanks for the advice re. the Gardella series. I hope you enjoy the Kwitney and Sheckley books that you try.

    Carolyn Jean — You’re welcome, and as I said to others, if you read the book I hope you enjoy it and would welcome hearing your thoughts on it.

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  19. Erin
    Mar 04, 2009 @ 18:18:58

    Interesting. I read this review last week. Then completely forgot about the review, but bought and read the book this weekend.

    *spoilers*

    I really did not like this book. But I don’t like books where women stay with their cheating husbands and compromise their lives and dreams to “make things work”.

    I’m glad Abra found Red, but I wish she had written a bit more about him. He really liked her, but I know a lot of women coming out of a bad relationship feel extra flattered by good attention from another man. I don’t think Sheckley built enough between them to justify their love and eventual long-term relationship.

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  20. Jennie
    Mar 04, 2009 @ 19:13:11

    *
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    Interesting comments, Erin. I had a problem with Abra staying with Hunter but it wasn’t so much a problem I had with the book as with the character (which is a sign that a book is working for me – the character feels real enough for me to take issue with his or her behavior, rather than blaming the author).

    I kind of agree with you about Red. I really liked him, and liked their relationship, and felt that he could be good for Abra. But I can also see that his desire for her was a powerful factor in Abra even getting involved with him – he was good for her self-esteem. But I saw it as progress that she even wanted to be with a man that was good for her self-esteem, rather than a creep like Hunter. I was also heartened that she missed Red when he was gone. Finally, I felt that the changes Abra had undergone made it more realistic (as realistic as a werewolf book can be) than she would go for such a different type of mate (since she’d had a lot of ambivalence earlier in the book about Red’s appeal).

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  21. Janine
    Mar 04, 2009 @ 21:52:26

    Thanks so much for letting us know what you thought, Erin. I think that the book was about Abra’s growth from someone with low self esteem into a somewhat stronger person. Since it’s an urban fantasy and there will be a sequel, I didn’t expect to see that growth completed in the first book. I think we’ll also see more about where Abra and Red’s relationship is heading when Moonburn comes out. I think if the book had been marketed as romance, I would probably have been more disappointed in not seeing more of Red and Abra’s relationship, but since it wasn’t, I wasn’t expecting as much in the romance department out of it.

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  22. Keishon
    Mar 11, 2009 @ 14:21:53

    Let's talk a bit about Sheckley's prose style. I feel that in terms of sheer craftsmanship, she is one of the most skilled authors of contemporary romantic fiction and that she deserves to be much better known than she is

    I love her voice. I just saw your email to another post on my blog and that reminded me to come back here and give my thoughts on this book. I enjoyed it for the most part. I liked the science behind lyncanthropy, explaining that some people who have the virus can shift while others can’t. Also, I was somewhat surprised at the level of sensuality in here (happily surprised) and I enjoyed Abra, Hunter and Red Mallin along with the other minor characters. I felt the werewolf part of the story stayed more or less in the background until the last 1/4 or so of the book. The author stated that we’ll see more Hunter and Malachy in the next book. I didn’t even mention Malachy as I had forgotten about him by the time I finished the book. Sheckly is a solid writer and I enjoyed this, her spin on the werewolf mythology – very much.

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  23. Janine
    Mar 11, 2009 @ 15:06:18

    Hey Keishon!

    Thanks for replying. I had meant to post to your blog in a comment on your review of the book, but I forgot.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this too. I think your grade was also a B, yes? I agree the science was a nice touch and I too enjoyed the sensuality. I remember one of the Kwitney books (On the Couch, perhaps?) as being more sensual than some of her other books as well, and that was a happy surprise too.

    I didn’t know that Sheckley has said we’ll be seeing more of Hunter and Malachy, but it doesn’t surprise me. From her description of the next book on her site (I don’t want to post it here because it contains spoilers for The Better to Hold You), it appears that the paranormal element will be stronger in Moonburn.

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  24. Keishon
    Mar 11, 2009 @ 15:20:04

    I didn't know that Sheckley has said we'll be seeing more of Hunter and Malachy, but it doesn't surprise me.

    Yes, I gave this a B since I found the troubled marriage part overly long. For the sake of transparency, Ms. Sheckley sent me a copy of the book. By the time I received the paper book in the mail, I had already bought the ebook and was well into Chapter 8. I gave my paper copy away to another reader in the hopes that they will spread the word about her work as well. I sent her the link to my review and she responded back saying that we’d see more of Hunter and Malachy, the mad scientist. Sounds good to me! We’ll have to compare notes on the next book.

    I haven’t read On the Couch or Did She or Didn’t She? Only because I hated (at the time) first person narrative, now I don’t care so much about POV as long as it has an interesting narrator and the story is well written.

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  25. Janine
    Mar 11, 2009 @ 15:37:11

    Thanks Keishon. More of Malachy and Hunter sounds good to me as well. I thought Hunter, for all that he could be, as Jennie said, insufferable, was an exceptionally well-drawn and believable character. The next book should be an interesting read.

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  26. Jennie
    Mar 11, 2009 @ 19:54:12

    The author stated that we'll see more Hunter and Malachy in the next book. I didn't even mention Malachy as I had forgotten about him by the time I finished the book. Sheckly is a solid writer and I enjoyed this, her spin on the werewolf mythology – very much.

    Thanks for your input, Keishon. I was a little annoyed that Malachy just kind of disappeared from the book. I’d be happy to know more about him and what’s going on with him. I shall have to go over to Scheckley’s site and read the excerpt of the second book (thanks for alerting me to it, Janine).

    I think of Kwitney as a fairly sensual writer but that may be because her couplings work for me and the way she writes love scenes works for me. You may be right, Janine, that On the Couch was a little hotter than some of her other books (I remember some very light bondage play in that one, anyway).

    I really have liked all of this author’s books pretty uncritically. I looked at my book log, and I’ve given all of her books A or A- grades except for Flirting in Cars (a B+) and now this book a B. That might seem to indicate a downward trend, but I think it’s more indicative of my becoming a slightly tougher grader, and perhaps grading this author a bit on a curve, knowing what she’s capable of.

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  27. Janine
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 00:47:07

    I’ve become a tougher grader too, but I think if I adjust for that, and grade based on my memories of her books, I would grade them thusly:

    The Dominant Blonde A-
    Does She or Doesn’t She? B
    On the Couch B+/A-
    Sex as a Second Language A-
    Flirting in Cars B
    The Better to Hold You B

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  28. The Better To Hold You by Alisa Sheckley « Janicu’s Book Blog
    May 25, 2009 @ 15:39:31

    [...] review (he wanted to strangle Hunter too – THANK YOU, I agree most heartily) Dear Author conversational review (also a B) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)First Book ReviewWIN A FREE COPY OF [...]

  29. Laudys
    Oct 01, 2011 @ 02:18:37

    Through all of the book the relationship between Abra and Hunter had me boiling with rage. Hunter constantly denigrated her, always putting her down, not once did he even respect the fact that Abra was a vegetarian! I could not put that behind me! I have a vegetarian friend, once, we were in a college event and ALL the snacks they served had meat on it, chicken, beef, pork, ham, you name it. There was nothing she could eat, I still remember her dejected face as she said “It’s okay, I’ll stick to the juice.” Did I tell her, you should just pick the meat aside? No, me and my friends spent the next 20mins hounding the waiters until they produced some cheese sandwiches, because you do that for the people you care.

    As soon as I noticed that Hunter couldn’t be bothered with something like that, I disliked him, which in time turned into full fledged hatred. Even when he was being nice was just only to manipulate her! And he was so nonchalant about everything, “Yeah, I sleep with other woman. Aww Abra, have some pride. I don’t care that you gave up everything for me, I can’t be bothered with your existential crisis.”

    And she just took it. She breathed in and took it, for what? To save a marriage with that insufferable beast? I would have thrown the laptop out the window and told that asshole to suck it. Relationships are not about ONE person sacrificing everything for the other, its about TWO people working it.

    Despite all that, I did not stop reading, I kept rooting for Abra to grow a backbone. I saw the whole book trough just to see her snap, to see her shout and scream. In the end, everything worked out for the better, in a way. Truth is I’ve never had a book so infuriating that had me pulling on my hair and shouting at the wall. I loved it, I hated it, I wanted to throw it away but I could not stop reading it! In fact, I finished in one sitting. And I will definitely read everything else by Alisa Sheckley.

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