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The Better to Hold You by Alisa Sheckley

Posted by Mistress on April 23, 2009

Neil Gaiman is Magic. When you have a comment from him scrawled on your book, you need to come with your A game; Ms Sheckley , unfortunately did not. At times the novel had a pleasant gothic flare, but mostly it stays in the underwhelming angst slut B movie realm.

Product Description:


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.

Poor Abra Barrow, staring at odd men on the train and having marital difficulties, just isn’t what it used to be. Her masochistic responses to conflict make for a tale full of woe when her husband comes back from a trip behaving oddly. Hunter admits he betrayed her, then demands she uproot her life to go live in the sticks. Abra is: lied to, fucked senseless, plays peek a boo with the only possible explanation of whats happening to her life/marriage,and feels sad. Wash and repeat, again and again. After the day is won the villains are sent to bed without dessert, the end. Probably in preparation for sequel, I wont be reading.

The writing style is decent, I enjoyed some of the world building aspects. But the dialogue is inconsistent; shifting between engaging conversations, rushed comic book bad guy overshares, and a healthy dose wtf. The scenes of intimacy were sexy, yet each had a off putting spot that knocked me out of the zone, and left me shaking my head. Add to that a few annoying repetitive themes, we get it already: Abra is nun like, Abra is downtrodden, Abra has no self esteem.

Abra twice refers to herself as animal smart, people stupid;and I agree TSTL indeed. Who will Abra choose her husband or the enigmatic stranger? Wont spoil that conundrum for ya, I just wish she would’ve choosen herself. I took a peek around Romancelandia and this book was well received, but I’m with the Amazon folks in giving it a verdict of bleh.



11 Responses to “The Better to Hold You by Alisa Sheckley”

  1. Katiebabs a.k.a KB said

    I wonder what Neil Gaiman really thought about the book because I have been hearing mixed reviews about it.

    Does Abra have sex with someone not her husband? That makes me go hmmm…

  2. Mistress said

    "The sort of book that makes you want to invest in silver bullets before meeting the author."
    –Neil Gaiman

    He also comments on her "Does she Or Doesn't She?" novel:

    "Alisa Kwitney is my guilty pleasure." – Neil Gaiman

    I wonder too, KB. But now in retrospect, both comments he made were pretty vague. Either snippet could apply to any novel ( in each novels genre).So maybe the question is, did he read either novel, to begin to have a opinion on it? lol.She was the assistant editor of his Sandman comics. So my vote is, it was probably more of a professional courtesy.

    Re: Abra's Bedtime hijinks.I'll be a good girl and keep mum. But you can probably guess from the my review.

    Re: the feedback
    From the blog world (with the exception of my take) it's pretty positive

    Janine & Jennie gave it a B on DA, AvidBookReader also gives it a B, and SciFiGUy highly recommends; to mention a few. The only critical reviews I found were on Amazon and LibraryThing. BTW I know many bloggers dislike Amazon reviews; But IMO they're a good litmus test for the reactions of readers who don't frequent the blog circuit.

    kcaroth1 from LT says:
    "The lead character, Abra, has an emotionally abusive husband, an aloof boss, unlikeable colleagues, and a self-centered mother. She spends about 2/3 of the book attempting to please these folks which means nothing much really happens. Toward the end, some action finally breaks up the monotony but a couple of storylines are left unfinished." and gives it 1/5 stars

    Paraphrasing another LT member, she:
    found the book mediocre at best, was not impressed with the story line. Thinks the authore has promise, but didn't like the book

    I'm not sure what that difference says, if anything at all. So, to each their own; but I wouldn't read this book again, with someone else's eyes. = )

  3. Uncommon Jen said

    I believe Gaiman & Sheckley have a business connection (same agent, maybe?). I read it because of all the glowing reviews it was receiving. But I have to agree with Mistress' review. Especially the bit about the sex scenes.

    It started out interesting. The slow build of the story worked in a Shirley Jackson fashion. But the main character quickly becomes an annoying doormat.

    And the end felt like Sheckley looked at her word count and thought "Oh shit, I'd better wrap this up!" Suddenly the tone shifts from The Haunting of Hill House to Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.

  4. Mistress said

    Exactly Uncommon Jen, How’d you feel about Red? I never really warmed up to him; as side character or leading man *shiver*. He’s described so scruffy and hobo-esque in the initial encounters; that I couldn’t buy the suave would be luvah later on = /.

    And I wont get started on her job/their research, way to choppy smallville for my tastes

  5. Uncommon Jen said

    I read this right after seeing the Watchmen so every time Red showed up I pictured this guy: Unfortunately, in the end Red wasn’t as interesting as Rorschach.

    The pathetic scene in her mother’s kitchen in that ridiculous dress takes TSTL to dizzying new lows.

    Also, without spoiling anything, I’d like to say I really could not get into the doggie-style scene.

  6. Mistress said

    lmao, Ya that was tres yuck. The BlowJob aftermath was also icky, way to kill the after glow = ).

  7. Jody Novins said

    I know Alisa well and can say that no, Alisa and Neil don’t share an agent, and yes, they are friends–have been since Alisa edited (and wrote) for Sandman. (She’s also the author Vertigo Dreams, which includes rather amusing Gaiman description of her.) She comes from a literary tradition (her first book, ‘Til the Fat Lady Sings, was reviewed by the NYTimes and included a Fay Weldon quote.) And she’s published numerous books as Alisa Kwitney. She has sharp, observational, often introspective style, that won’t necessarily appeal to romance readers looking for a light, fast-paced romantic read. But if you want a book that makes you think–Alisa always delivers. (As for the Gaiman quote, I’d say the scene with Abra’s husband with the stew pot in the kitchen would make me want to reach for the nearest gun with silver bullets.)

  8. Mistress said

    Jody, Thanks for sharing your buddy’s accolades, marketing sound bites, and assumptions about the “type” of reader you assume we are. Now, kindly crawl back into whatever hole you came from and continue being a cunt elsewhere.

    – Neil seems to support her works out of friendship or bad taste.

    Thanks for the reminder disregard his fellow author endorsements in the future.

    – she’s previously published in other genres and comes from a “literary traditon” , really? I take it all back then, If I’d known she’s from *shock awe* a literary tradition, I would’ve enjoyed the book much more. Negative Ghostrider, like most first fantasy/Para Romance attempts, ‘The Better To Hold You’ is flawed. Such is life, your boot licking hissy fit won’t change that, nice try though.

    But all that aside, why do you care? The book seems to be have been received well around the net. Are a small minority voicing a different opinion really such a threat? I guess so.

    P.S. Just a tip. If as an Author Jody, you insist on popping up on reader blogs to defend another’s work, it’d probably go over better if you worded your responses differently. for example:” I really enjoyed the book….here’s why..I’m looking forward to the next in the series released..”. But showing up weeks later spewing shameless name/credential dropping, snubs, and defensive flair; just reflects badly on Mz. Sheckley. But, I guess you “know” her well enough, that she wont mind. = )

  9. Uncommon Jen said

    Jody, my apologies to Neil and Alisa for misrepresenting their professional relationship, although it is worth noting I was right that they do have one.

    I appreciate your desire to defend your friend’s work, how ever misguided it may be. Your attempt to pigeon-hole romance readers is curious, as this book was largely championed by romance bloggers.

    This is a review of a particular book, not an indictment of the author. I would be happy to discuss the book with you.

    The book opens well. I loved the use of pets to define sections of NYC. I felt Abra’s martial struggles were realistic and heartfelt, initially. But once she agreed to give up her entire life for such a jackass of a husband, I was fed-up with her. I don’t like doormat heroines. She eventually comes around, but it was too late for me.

    I have other issues with the book, including the dog sex. I felt the scene in her mother’s kitchen was a clumsy excuse to build sexual tension in a later scene. And I found the ending unsatisfying.

    All in all, this book had a promising start but fizzled out in the end, bringing it down to an average read for me. My copy will eventually find its way to the used bookstore. If there is a sequel, I will likely read it, but I will probably get it from the library or buy it used.

  10. Reader said

    Guys, I’m crawling out of my hole to pitch myself into the fire on this one.

    Jody’s comment and what it implies on the romance reader’s capacity to understand and/or appreciate stinks. That, however, is her opinion and as adults we should also respect that. There’s no need to resort to name calling.

    Just my humble opinion.

  11. Mistress said

    Reader: Bleh babe, I'll stick to my name calling, when apt. I don't over concern myself with decorum in response to BS.

    But no worries the fire died down quickly and Jen smoothly brought us back to conversation about the novel. So all is well.

    Jen: I enjoyed the dog/city description too and the fire escape feat was great. But it pretty much went downhill, after her husband was introduced to the story. The martial struggle martyrdom, 2 dimensional life time movie characterization ( of everyone except Abra) & clumsy sexual tension attempts; didn't resuscitate the initial spark.

    I may read one of her contemporary romances, since it's possible that sans "all of the above" I might enjoy her. I remember hearing a much positive noise about 'The Dominant Blonde". I'll keep you posted.

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