Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

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Great story, fantastic premise. It really got going at the end, and I had a hard time putting it down. The whole alternate mythology of the unicorns was very well done – I found myself wondering if I’d be laughing at images of killer unicorns, but Peterfreund really makes them frightening and horrible creatures (even little Bonegrinder).

There were a couple of things that bothered me, though. I’m older than the target audience, so that may have something to do with it, but I thought the whole virginity thing could get a bit preachy. If you look more closely at the whole “hunters must be virgins” thing, and the powers that hunters have, it has some interesting implications. We see what happens to girls who aren’t hunters: vulnerable to attack, lessened physical abilities, etc. So, (and perhaps I’m looking too far into this, but I can’t help but look for this kind of stuff) as soon as you lose your virginity, you lose your strength and power as a woman. You can no longer fight for yourself. Hunters (virgins) do not need men, do not need to be protected.

Then there was Astrid’s character. She was a bit too wishy-washy for me. One minute she’s on the phone begging her mom to let her come home, even willing to sleep with a guy she barely knows to get out of her “duty” (another interesting facet of the virginity thing) whereas two months ago she had zero intention of going all the way. And then all of the sudden, she’s off enjoying the rush she gets with hunting.

Now what I had some serious issues with was her mother. At the beginning, yeah she’s a bit kooky, but then again it turns out all her stories about unicorns are true. Okay, that’s fine. When she doesn’t let Astrid come home, it’s a bit mean, but she’s a mother living vicariously through her daughter. Happens all the time. Doesn’t make it right, but not uncommon. And then, she comes to be the temporary donna while Neil is away. And we discover that she is, apparently, absolutely psycho. Sure, you can be a bit more rigorous in the training. But having no problems with the other girls dying so Astrid (aka she herself) can get the glory? Mocking Phil, her own niece, being downright cruel, and TORTURING her own daughter to get a promise out of her???? Really?? This lady has some serious mental health issues! And even that doesn’t tip Astrid off. On the next page, she’s defending her by saying that they’ve become better hunters since Lilith became the donna (hmm, her name is Lilith as well. How interesting). And then we’re supposed to be ok with all of it because she grieves when she thinks Astrid is dead. I mean, yes, she’s your mother, but after what she did, you should probably disown her and stay as far away from her as you can.

Ok, I’m done with my rantings. It would have been 4 stars if it weren’t for these problems with characterization, etc. It had a great story, turned out not to be as predictable as I thought it would be, and really drew me in. A great twist on a myth, that, for the most part, was executed very well. It ended a bit abruptly with some loose ends, which I think points to a sequel. I may not go rushing out to get it, but I’ll absolutely read it.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

2537053A fantastic novel.  I don’t know how I missed reading this one years ago, but I’m glad I picked it up when I did.  It was exactly the kind of book I needed this week – well written, engaging, at times dark and mysterious and at others a look at how lost a “silly” young girl can be when out of her element.  I’d seen bits and pieces of the movie version(s) on TV, so while I knew the premise of the story going into this, I didn’t know the twist – and it was a good one!  And who knew a housekeeper could be so terribly creepy?

Although the narrator was naive, needy, and sometimes not the sharpest tool in the shed, I found myself sympathizing with her.  She’s thrown into a world she knows nothing about, knowing that she will always be compared to her beloved predecessor.  Her main concern seems to be what others will think of her – she constantly imagines the conversations that the household staff or the town gossips will be having about her, and admits freely that it’s one of these imagined conversations that push her to go downstairs to the fancy dress party.  When she loses this towards the end of the novel, and gains some confidence in her position as mistress of Manderley, I think she lost a little personality as well; even Maxim bemoans the loss of her innocence and youth.

The way du Maurier can set a mood is wonderful, though.  It could be supremely creepy, have an underlying sense of danger, or, as it did for the last few chapters, make me a nervous wreck, right along with the narrator.  Loved it!

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

51-GmB+jGVLReally lovely – well written, and the story pulled me along the whole time.  Buchanan’s descriptions of the river are fantastic.  Although I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, the danger and power that underlie its beauty were easy to imagine.

I do wish I got to know Tom better – throughout the novel, he almost seemed more of a legend than a man.  Part of this probably comes from the chapters he is absent, away at war.  When he returns, he has more depth to him, clearly changed and disturbed by what he saw.  After that subsided, and he became himself again, I realized I wasn’t really sure what that meant.  I really liked him as a character, I only wish I knew more about him – how he was in everyday life, not just in his daring during (and his modesty after) a rescue that we saw so often.

Bess is a strong character.  We see her go from living the life of luxury to having to work to support herself, and the bumps she hits along the way.  Even years later, she wants that house on May Avenue, even if it’s more than they need.  She seemed very real to me.

I really enjoyed this novel.  A beautifully written account of a family’s life in Niagara Falls, and how the river becomes irreversibly intertwined with their lives.

*Review of ARC