The Better To Hold You (2009) by Alisa Kwitney writing as Alisa Sheckley is the author of two of my favorite contemporary romances The Dominant Blonde and Flirting in Cars. She is writing a new series featuring werewolves.
What makes Kwitney’s stories stand out for me is her characters – they always feel real to me and this story is no different. I started this book early Saturday morning and couldn’t put it down for the first eight chapters. I had to put it down to do some errands but once I was back home, I went straight back to my book. I guess I was very surprised at the level of sensuality in here because it turned out to be a pretty hot read.
The story follows 29 year old Abra Barrow, a veterinary intern, working in Manhattan, whose marriage to her journalist husband, Hunter, begins to slowly unravel. Her husband has just gotten back from a three month trip to Romania, researching werewolves with a European scientist who is an expert in the field of lyncanthropy.
Hunter’s behavior since his trip back strikes Abra as odd. Their once stale love life is suddenly rejuvenated. He seems to enjoy little games of dominance while she enjoys this brief and very passionate “second honeymoon.” While Hunter is insatiable, he is also cagey, rude, reserved, irritable and completely and totally focused on his work. At times he is charming and other times, downright mean. Abra begins to fret about her marriage and makes a major decision to save it.
Abra decides to move with Hunter into his family’s ancestral home in Northside. It’s a small town outside the city that purported to have some amplifying effect on Hunter’s condition. Turns out he is infected with the lyncanthropy virus. The changes in her husband really begin to manifest, where strange things begin to appear like the carcasses of dead rabbits or squirrels showing up around the house and her husband’s outwardly aggressive manner. In a twist of fate, she meets up with the stranger she met at the subway a few months back, Red Mallin, an animal removal operator. He seems to know what is ailing her husband and offers his help. The mystery of Northside and it’s wacky residents are slowly unveiled and all I can say is that this is not your typical werewolf story.
I sympathized with Abra and her marital trouble. Their stormy marriage made up for 60% of the book and for me it was what kept me reading. I was gripped. Hunter was a complete jerk but I secretly loved it. I didn’t like how he sometimes treated Abra (like a dormant) but Hunter was being a typical Alpha Male. Red, on the other hand was I don’t know, dominant as well but he was a lot nicer and often played counterpoint to Hunter’s aggressive nature. It was a tug of war at times and again, I loved it.
The paranormal aspects of the story are somewhat downplayed. It was apart of the story but not the focus. The story is clearly about Abra and about her reinventing herself and trying to find her path. She’s the daughter of a former B movie star eccentric and a movie director who divorced when she was a child. Her parents’ dislike of her husband has Abra fearing that what they’ve said about him over the years is coming true. So she suffers more than a few weak moments of self-doubt and confidence. As the story progresses though, she gains her footing and her strength. I’d say toward the end of the book, she’s changed for the better.
Now for the likes and dislikes. I’d say that Abra’s marital trouble was overly long before the story arc shifted to something else. The pacing went up and down as did the intensity. The author’s strength’s lie in her ability to create a credible premise (no matter how improbable) peopled with characters that I believed in without suffering from a “get real” moment. I liked how science played a role in explaining why some people with the “lyncanthropy virus” can shift while others cannot. You have to be preconditioned to accept “the change” and that sometimes “magic” can amplify the effects to move things along. It’s an interesting spin on the usual werewolf mythology.
In the end, though, this story seems to be more of a metaphor of Abra’s change. At the start of the story, Abra suffers quietly while her husband runs wild on her but toward the end of the story, she gets some spunk, gains her footing and starts letting her own Alpha personality burst forth. Everybody gets their just desserts in the end. There’s a romance of sorts in here as well as some moments of levity. There’s also the mad scientist, Malachy, who shows more than a passing interest in her husband’s work with werewolves. The Better to Hold You is a decent story, my grade B because while certain sections I read through quickly, there were other sections that made me slow down to a crawl (almost). Hence the review some 4 days later. Not bad though. This is a solid B read for me because I did enjoy all of the characters and the twist to the usual werewolf story. Looking forward to the sequel.
Trivia question for the win: For the first reader who responds with the right answer: tell me where Abra’s husband went to do his research on werewolves in The Better To Hold You and you will be the proud owner of this paperback copy. Never read. I bought the ebook. Leave your response below.