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Horror with Heart: A Review of Such Sharp Teeth

I just read this book in two days. I am still reeling — in such a good way. I don’t like horror, I don’t care for most romance, and I hadn’t even read a werewolf-themed book in over a decade. But when this title crossed my path at work, I stopped sorting the check-ins to give it a second look. I took a few seconds to read most of the blurb, and was immediately sold.

My instincts were right on. This book, everyone. THIS. BOOK. Such Sharp Teeth is the first I’ve read by author Rachel Harrison, and although I realistically won’t try her other work — her genre of choice just is not my thing — it totally made my week, probably my month, hell, maybe even my century.

The core plot is the plight that befalls 20-something Rory (Aurora) Morris, when driving home late one night and accidentally hitting a huge animal with her car. Yup, I kind of gave it away — said huge animal is a werewolf, and Rory gets bitten, and yes, there are then transformation issues about to ensue. Of course, the dust jacket gives away that much.

The deeper story is that Rory has become a career-driven person, not really going in for relationships, and she seems to be holding some inner pain at bay. She came from a small town and escaped to the big city as soon as she could. When her twin sister, Scarlett, heavily pregnant, tells Rory that the baby’s father is no longer in the picture, Rory puts everything on hold to go back to this suburban dullness she ran from, because it’s her sister. The werewolf thing, naturally, comes at a really bad time (well, when is there ever a good time to become a lycanthrope?), since the baby is coming soon, Rory plans to go back to her job in the city eventually, and Rory’s former high school suitor is really making her re-think her no-relationship rule.

THIS. BOOK, everyone. The way the author explores the complicated dynamics of a family that’s dysfunctional but trying not to be, of trying to heal after trauma, of trying not just to survive but to make yourself better, for yourself, all wove together in the narrative, all went deep, all felt so true. Eventually we do find out what took place in Rory’s childhood to make her put up a wall, not want to trust or grow close to people (especially men). The fact she struggles with so much anger and grief after the bite, of being frustrated and frightened that, now she’s a werewolf there are moments when she can’t be in control of her own body and mind, is such a relatable metaphor.

The other thing this author completely does right in her narration is LETTING her protagonist feel all the range of feelings, without self-shaming or falling for the lie that “the right kind of man” will help her “get over it all.” Yes, Rory’s love interest, Ian, does play a role in her journey from hating her new werewolf self to acceptance. BUT — and this is the part so many of these publications get wrong — Rory reaches the conclusion that she could be lovable, that she might want to be with Ian no matter what, ON HER OWN. She gets there over the course of the story, through a lot of reflection, mistakes, following patterns that actually don’t help, of simply being a human doing her best to recover from a horrific experience.

THIS! BOOK! Considering I’m only recently out of an abusive relationship, and my children and myself are presently dealing with pain, regret, a sense of loss, some guilt, and a bit of rather justified anger, this book spoke to me on SO many levels. Rory’s desire to retain some sense of normalcy, in the face of something utterly catastrophic, her determination to stay optimistic, gave me hope for my own uncertain future. Our heroine’s practical, proactive nature resonated so strongly with me (after spending the last six months clearing the clutter out of my house and rearranging spaces that for too long had been claimed by other people’s resentments and denial). My connection to Rory made immediate sense, and made me want to consume this story in as few hours as possible.

The other thing, times two, that the author does so right (when too many other authors totally screw it up) is her secondary characters are NOT annoying, NOT complete asshats, NOT self-righteous jerkwads. Scarlett is facing her own demons, trying to be a good sister and aware she might be failing, hoping to be a good mother and worried she’ll implode. The sisters’ mother is a bit of a mess, but she’s also somewhat conscious of that, and she really doesn’t know how to fix it, but at least she recognizes that Rory has reason to be upset about the past. The men in this story — the sisters’ stepfather, their best friend’s husband — are DECENT PEOPLE. Ian, Rory’s love interest, is a solid example of positive masculinity. Even Scarlett’s maybe-ex-significant other turns out to have more layers to him.

This isn’t your stereotypical werewolf tale, either. There are no warring packs, no complicated hierarchies to master, no the-novice-must-prove-themself premise. Rory only has to conquer her own fears, expectations, and setbacks as a wolf. There’s a good deal of humor and moments to make you smile sprinkled through the pages, so that you don’t get bogged down in too much angst or despair. Yes, there is plenty of crap going on, and Rory is dealing with a mountain of it, but she doesn’t give in easily. She’s far from a damsel in distress; she’s focused on rescuing herself, not waiting around for someone else to do it. That is also a fantastic message to send to survivors: You matter. Not “because” anything — you matter, period. You are worth the effort to heal. Not just for the hypothetical perfect future partner. For yourself.

The ending shows that all the characters, even those with furry sides, are still human, struggling with the complex factors of supposedly the most mundane kind of life; and while it turns out there isn’t exactly a villain, the antagonist does play an important role in plot and protagonist arc. There’s action, and gore — werewolves, after all — and drama, that never quite gets to soap opera status, a rare and welcome departure from most paranormal romances on the market. This novel hit all the high notes for me, and provided some surprising little gems of self-actualization, too.

I know that with the the R-rated content, this won’t be on every reader’s radar, but if you like horror or monster stories, especially contemporaries with relatable characters, snappy dialogue, and an engaging pace, then absolutely give Such Sharp Teeth a go.

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Yes, Our Reading Perspectives Do Change Over Time

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On a totally separate note, I just discovered that the “new WordPress editor” is a thing.

Ahem.

Pardon me for a second while I run around screaming.

Okay, it turns out that the program itself isn’t awful to use. (So far, it seems…) It’s just that I have a very strong aversion to sudden change out of my control. That’s why I really like to control change when I can.

Hey, that ended up leading very well into the topic of this post.

A long while ago, I wrote a post about how our expectations or hopes for what we get from reading can — and often do — change either with our age or after certain experiences in our lives. I definitely feel I’m coming up to a new stage in this area.

After I also wrote a post about how it’s totally acceptable for adults to read YA fiction…here I am, wondering if I can really carry on reading YA fantasy.

And, yes, I do believe this has to do with the fact I’m now over 40. Because, although I write YA-appropriate fantasy myself, I am growing increasingly frustrated and/or bored by plotlines that revolve around love triangles during the fall of the oppressive empire.

But, I still get frustrated and/or bored by adult fiction that focuses too much on gory murder mysteries unrealistically solved within two days, or fluffy insta-romances between physically perfect people with dream jobs and all the latest tech.

So, the question doesn’t just become, What do I read next?, but also, What am I really looking for in a book?

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Since the pandemic meant I was without access to a library for at least 2 months, I was forced to re-evaluate my reading habits earlier this year. I found affordable bargains on series I’d started but never finished, for whatever reason, and worked my way through them. And when I came to the end of that journey, I realized that my reading tastes have really altered.

I used to be a big content avoider. Trigger warnings were my speciality. I didn’t want to read depictions of abuse, graphic violence, or explicit explanations of trauma. But just this week, I finished “Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi, a novel that centered heavily on the narrator’s loss of a sibling due to drug overdose and her mother’s depression. It’s a heavy read, not much comic relief, and there are several long passages of deep reflection in each chapter. It takes determination to finish. And yet, I don’t regret reading it.

I’m also becoming more willing to try “timely topic” novels, which in the past I have avoided like the plague, because I don’t want an agenda (of any sort) shoved down my throat while I’m trying to enjoy a story. But I did find “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett very interesting, despite its long-winded digressions throughout many of the chapters, creating a number of subplots in what, on the surface, is supposed to be about a light-skinned black woman who decides to pass for white in the 1970s. Whereas before I’d be skimming or outright skipping large chunks of such a novel, to get back to the “actual premise,” in this case, I thought the subplots were more engaging — and they were big on conversations about race and gender and how different things were in the mid 20th century from now. Very “hot button,” and I wasn’t instantly turned off.

I also seem to have developed more tolerance for books that meander and don’t get to the point right away. Even 6 weeks ago, if I couldn’t get into a title before page 25, I tended to just put it down and not bother again. Lately, I’ve really been stopping myself from DNF-ing. Partly because I have actually discovered the value in pushing forward and enjoying at least half of the book. But also because I want to spend my reading time as something relaxing, to be savored, no goals to meet, no rushing.

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I’m also realizing I care less and less about what new releases are tapped to be super hot. It’s almost the reverse of jumping into the hype. I’ve been terribly disappointed by almost every single “you have to read this!!!” title I’ve picked up since 2018. Either the characters were all stereotypes, the plot recycled from other books/movies that did it better, or I just didn’t care for the writing style (purple prose, all show and no tell, and dozens of pages of unnecessary text are my worst enemies). And these trends have seemed to run rampant in publishing (at least in the genres I prefer) recently. So now, even if millions of other people are raving about it, I’m just going to be, “you do you, folks,” and not count on said title blowing me away.

Right on the heels of that is the fact I’m no longer putting much stock in others’ recommendations. Not that I want people to stop sharing their new favorites and promoting them — not at all! But I’ve accepted that I just am a finnicky reader, and while I’ll certainly continue to read others’ reviews, I’m not going to add every single new hyped release to my TBR. This attitude is actually quite freeing (for my wallet, too!).

But the downside to this is that I could quickly run out of new possibilities. So I’ve promised myself not to be too hard on authors I tried once and didn’t really hit it off with. I won’t shell out unlimited opportunities, but if their first book didn’t do it for me, maybe their second — or even third! — will. Even our favorite authors sometimes produce a work that misses our personal mark. So, I figure only allowing an acclaimed writer an hour of my time isn’t quite fair.

Well, that does it for me this time around! What about you? Have you noticed your reading preferences and goals change over time?

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