I am a rabbit with serious cravings – and I’m not just talking about your every day cravings for hay, raisins, alfalfa, and bananas. I’m talkin’ about the good stuff here. The stuff that makes you go wild – near feral – if your needs aren’t satisfied and satisfied quickly. You know, the stuff.
By which I mean (of course) ice cream and books. (What did you think I meant?)
But cravings are funny things. Oftentimes, I don’t get specific cravings; I just get a vague feeling. I know I want to read something very badly, or taste something very badly, but it’s hard to put my paw on what it is exactly. I’ll go to the ice cream shop, deliberate carefully over the flavors, letting several people cut ahead of me in line while the minutes tick by, and finally order a watermelon sherbet sundae with hot fudge and gummy bears only to look over at my friend’s naked mint-oreo on a sugar cone and realize, too late, that that’s what I wanted.
Or, I’ll go to the library and take out 12 books, only to come home and find myself not wanting to read even a single one of them. I’ll pull 15 more off of my shelves, sit in a crumpled heap on the floor surrounded by precarious, teetering towers of tomes, and read the first 3 pages of at least half of them before I’m able to settle on one. I might read 25 pages of that before giving up with an exasperated sigh and exchanging it for something else.
That’s why I was beyond elated to find a solution to both of my problems this week. One of them was even a lasting solution!
On the ice cream front…
I have two words for anyone (mortal or fae) living North of Boston: Salem Screamery.
Never again will you suffer from post-lick ice cream regret because you can’t go wrong. Every flavor is a delight, a creation of culinary genius. They offer old-fashioned ice cream made in-house, and while they’ve got the tried & true stand-bys for the less adventurous folk (like chocolate and vanilla), they’ve also got options like Red Velvet Cake (my personal favorite), Chocolate Sriracha Hazelnut, Wildberry Crumble, Bourbon Caramel Pistachio Brittle, Chocolate Bacon Brownie, and even something called “Witch’s Brew”, which is a combination of every flavor imaginable (weirdly, it’s not that weird)!
But this is a book review blog not an ice cream review blog, so I should probably get back to the books. This week, not only did I taste something that was exactly what I wanted to be tasting (something I’ll have to seriously endeavor not to taste every day), but I read something that was exactly what I wanted to be reading, too!
Title: The Arrivals
Author: Melissa Marr
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Publication Date: July 02, 2013
Hardcover: 278 pages
Is There a Pooka In This Book?: No. Pookas aren’t native to the Wasteland.
The Arrivals, Melissa Marr’s second book for adults (and I stress that last part), is set in the Wasteland, a place very much like an alternate-universe version of the Wild, Wild West. It’s replete with saloons, drinking, gambling, brothels, shoot-outs, and deserts – but there are also native creatures which resemble dragons and vampires. Already sold? ‘Cause I was.
There are three main groups of inhabitants: the natives (a combination of humans & creatures who have always lived there), and the Arrivals — those who work for Ajani (which make up one group), and those who side with Jack (who make up quite another). The Arrivals who work for Ajani are granted immortality but a lot is demanded of them in return: they’re asked to exploit the land and its people, causing the deaths of others and risking damage to themselves in the process (especially if they hesitate to cause the deaths of others while in pursuit of material gain for their leader). Then, there are those who side with Jack, who are given food, and shelter (the barest of shelters), and kinship in return for their services, but nothing close to immortality (though most of the Arrivals can be killed and have the ability to resurrect in six days’ time. It’s unpredictable, however. Sometimes they don’t wake up). Jack’s tribe is disgusted with the way Ajani’s people conduct themselves, and they work to bring about his undoing and to better the community in which they’ve found themselves. Not in an evangelizing way, mind you. The sex, drinking, profanity (including but not limited to: “fuck”, “bastard”, and “cocksucker”), and violence is totally sanctioned; they only disagree with idea of disenfranchising a group of people en masse.
So how did The Arrivals “arrive” in the Wasteland? By covered wagon? By horse? Nope! They time-traveled, of course! None of them know why, they know only that they were yanked from their time & place (be it the American West in the 1800s, Victorian England, America during the hippie ’60s, the time of Prohibition, or 2013), and woke up in a strange new land. Also, everyone who’s brought to the Wasteland has… a colorful history. They’ve all killed someone, for one reason or another (some of them understandable and some not at all). The main questions in the novel are: 1) Why are they there? 2) Will they ever be able to leave? 3) Do they want to?
The reader follows three main protagonists -Jack, his sister Kitty, and Chloe, the new Arrival – through various misadventures & relationship foibles. There are some interpersonal questions to deal with, as well as the main ones. Will Jack find love? Why are Kitty & Ajani the only characters who can perform magic? Who will Kitty give her heart to – if anyone? Will Chloe choose Jack’s crew or Ajani’s? Who will reign triumphant,
the British crown or the American colonists – Ajani over Jack or visa-versa? Is the sheriff a good guy or a bad one? And what’s with the gun-toting, spell-casting, demon-possessed monks?
While Marr’s novel wasn’t exactly what I would call Literature, it was a fast-paced ride through what was, for me, a completely novel setting: the magical, fantastical, Wild West. I can dig it. Can you?
What Made the Book Totally Worth Eating:
1. The Setting.
I don’t think I really need to say any more than I already have. Except that, put in such an extreme environment, the female characters really had a chance to prove their mettle. And the time-traveling aspect gave them a chance to be fancy while doing so, in a way that made total sense. Sometimes, “bad-ass” girl characters will be put in outfits that make zero sense. They’ll wear high heels and leather and be expected to run full-throttle or perform roundhouse kicks with the greatest of ease. That’s silly. What’s not silly is for Kit, who’s from the late 1800’s, to have frilly, ruffled, lacy dresses that she’ll wear when going out for a night on the town (complete with a gun concealed under layers of skirt, paired with sensible boots) — as well as pants that she’s made herself for more practical, business-type outings. I love that she’s fashionable, and romantic, and sensual, and ready for mayhem…which brings me to the next reason that I ate The Arrivals right up.
2. Katherine (the only “kitty” I’d ever think of as my equal).
Everyone knows that pookas – and even ordinary rabbits – are better than kittens. But what I’m not so sure about is whether or not I’m better than Kitty Reed. A girl’s gotta really be something to get me to doubt my superiority. Kitty’s something. She resists sexism. When the men try to get her to take someone with her whenever she leaves the camp, she insists that if they can go out alone, so can she. She’s quick to point out that she’s just as skilled with weaponry as they are and that she can even summon magic, a skill that everyone else (regardless of gender) lacks. She’s handy. When a member of their party gets wounded, she doesn’t think twice before ripping up her pretty skirt so she can use the ruffles to staunch the flow of blood. She evolves and changes with the times. She’s quick to adopt modern styles of dress and incorporate new slang, brought by Arrivals from different eras, into her speech patterns. She doesn’t believe that her time was the best time and that anything new is suspect; she’s all about being progressive. She owns her sexuality. She’s comfortable with her urges and has no problem fulfilling them, and she manages to do so without oozing sex. Although she was a “fancy lady” in times past (which I’m pretty sure is code for “prostitute”), she also transitions into a monogamous relationship quite faithfully (at one point refusing an ex-boyfriend, though she’s tempted, because she knows her current lover will forgive her for a casual fling but not for lapsing with someone who means something to her). She recognizes when she’s wrong and she admits to it. She’s both a lover and a fighter; she can throw a punch but she can also soothe a fever. She loves easily and deeply, whether it’s romantic, friendly, or familial. She pokes fun at her brother on the reg. She’s artistic; she challenges herself to sketch drawings of each new Arrival, but she’s not artsy in an overly dramatic or cheesy way. It’s not that art’s her life, or that it brings meaning to a meaningless world, and it’s not something that allows her to express herself where she otherwise wouldn’t be able to. No. She has a voice. She can express herself with her words and her fists and her drawings and her body. I think she’s keen.
She won me over when, after waking up in the Wasteland, totally out of sorts, she responds to someone inquiring after her name with, “Chloe – I’m not sure of anything else today, but I’m definitely Chloe” (37). I also particularly loved when she refers to an adrenaline-fueled mood as “an ongoing urge to run-fight-explore-screw” (156). She’s also a girl with a strong sense of her own sexuality. There can be more than one! And they don’t have to be foils of each other – they can even share some of the same traits while still maintaining their own independence & individuality! Cool, right? And she’s absolutely a modern woman. There’s a nice gender role reversal moment when Jack offers to teach her how to sew.
4. The steamy sex scenes.
You know when you’re reading a Young Adult book and you want the characters to just go there, but they don’t, ’cause it’s a Young Adult book, and you feel a little bit creepy for wanting them to go there in the first place? Well, this book has some Young Adult-y relationships – guy + girl + supernatural/fantastical elements + potential love triangle + vampires + dragons – but the characters are experienced, consenting adults… who go there. It’s amazing! I’m not really sure how old they’re supposed to be – late twenties would be my guess. All that’s really said is that Kitty & Jack have been in the Wasteland for 26 years, and that the Arrivals don’t age like normal human beings do. But there’s no creep factor – and Marr still manages to create sexual tension, even when the characters are free to act exactly as they desire. And as you desire them to. One of the scenes with Jack – who looks like a combination between a preacher and an outlaw (yowza!) – and his lady love in the desert is… would it be too punny to say “hot”? ‘Cause it’s hot. But it’s not that other word that’s used to describe desert weather. Quite the opposite. I need a fan and an ice-cold water bottle…
5. The men.
They were all so sexy. I wasn’t really a fan of Edgar – he’s far too serious for me – but I can see where others might find him swoon-worthy. Jack & Daniel though? Pour me two, full glasses on the rocks! Even Francis was crushable. Kitty may have viewed him as a brother or a child – but not me! I liked his long hippie hair, his lanky scarecrow frame, his ability to produce medicinal, herbal remedies, and his belief in free love.
6. The Humorous Downplaying of Completely Bizarre/Frightening Things.
There’s one episode in which Marr describes a demon-possessed monk that made me laugh out loud. She writes, “The sight of the bleeding monk darting around and contorting his body into improbable positions to avoid their bullets and knives was odd” (236). The dude basically looks like this…
…and it’s described as being “odd.” (By the way, I thoroughly creeped myself out by googling images from “The Exorcist.” I hope you appreciate my efforts. Some of that stuff is disturbing, even if I do know that most of it was created with ketchup and pea soup).
What I Spit Back Out:
1. It Was Sometimes Repetitive.
I don’t know how many times Marr reminds her readers that Kitty’s “the only one who could do spellwork” but it’s a lot. I got it the first time.
2. The Names.
At first, I was really happy about Marr’s choice of character names. Kitty, Jack, Edgar, Daniel, Hector: all good. Not too weird but not overused, either. And she seems pretty proud of her choices, as well, given that she takes the time at the end of the novel to note the symbolism behind each name. But then I began to notice a pattern. The girls: Kitty, Mary, Melody, Chloe. In one of the first exchanges that Kitty & Chloe have, Chloe asks “Why me?”, and Kitty responds “No one knows.” I’ve got an inkling. Perhaps it’s because she’s a woman with a name that ends in “y”/”e.” Seems to fit the requirements. It’s so cutesy. Why couldn’t one of the girls have been named Tara, or Quinn, or Violet, or Piper? Something ending in a consonant would’ve been a welcome change.
I know she was supposed to be funny – a crazed, trigger-happy, 50’s Stepford-esque housewife – and to some extent, she was. But something felt really off about the whole thing. Not every female character has to be likable… but it was too close to a stereotype for comfort – the “crazy” man-hating woman! She done & kill’t her husband for two-timin’ ‘er! That’ll learn ‘im! My discomfort reached its peak when Jack tells Hector to “keep her on a leash” (249). None of the other women (or men!) in the room seem to have any problem with that. Not a glare or an eyebrow-raise among them.
4. The Cheese.
On top of being repetitive, the prose could also get fairly silly and cheesy. It wasn’t romance novel cheesy, or bestselling urban fantasy novel cheesy, which I was thankful for. I never felt like there should’ve been a glistening, half-naked body on the cover, but I did wince once or twice. I think the worst of it was when Edgar’s described as “the calm gangster who had loved her all these years” (152). Blech.
In all, though, the ratio of “yum” moments to “blech” moments was overwhelmingly high. I’d be lying if I said that I only devoured the ice cream this week. I nibbled on The Arrivals quite a bit, too. If you’re jonesin’ for your YA to be a lot less “Y” and a lot more “A,” this book – full of “t” (and “d”) and “a” – is for you.
Pooka Rating: 4 out of 5 Nibbles.
*Note: A lot of the sex scenes are actually interrupted. Don’t expect anything too, too racy. It’s not porn.