Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book review: The Rules of Regret by Megan Squires

“Life doesn’t come with a blueprint, which makes it hard to have any plans.”

Nineteen-year-old Darby Duncan is finally on her own. Her boyfriend of six years just left for a high-powered summer internship, though in reality he’s been absent for much longer than that. This newfound freedom wasn’t a part of Darby’s plans, but as she’s come to discover, plans only exist on paper, not in reality.

And guys like Torin Westbrook aren’t supposed to exist in reality, either. But he does, with his disheveled curly hair, irresistible dimples, and endearingly quirky habit of reciting quotes from classic movies and ancient thinkers. When Darby meets Torin as a fellow counselor at the survival camp she impulsively applies to, she’s certain his main goal is to turn her world upside-down. 

But Darby’s not sure she can adapt to Torin’s ways of viewing his past and the tragedies he's faced. Because she’s had her own share of heartache, too, and as much as she wants to believe that it’s all been for a purpose, her grief hasn’t allowed her to get to that point. Yet the more Darby is around Torin, the more she craves the freedom to break out of her carefully constructed routine and mindset and fall into something new. 

She’s just not sure that she should be falling for Torin along the way.

I read one of Squires’ books back in January, one that she wrote later.  The Rules of Regret was her second book, I believe, and I can confidently say that she improved between this one and Draw Me In.

The Rules of Regret is about Darby, who’s left alone for the first time in her life when her boyfriend of six years goes to an internship in Washington, DC.  Rather than moping around and letting the highlight of her summer be repainting her apartment, she decides to take a job at a summer camp so she can raise money and go see Lance as a surprise.

To Squires’ credit, the book does start out okay.  But by the time she gets to camp, I feel like she tried to fit too much in and ignored some things that she should’ve had in.  Suddenly Darby’s relationship has been on the rocks for years, Lance is a horrible cheater, and Darby is immediately attracted to Torin.  I found myself rolling my eyes at how fast she went from “He’s so annoying” to “OMG I want to sleep with him.” It just made Darby seem shallow to me.  Not to mention, the entire book is filled with heavy-handed scenes that just kind of made me roll my eyes.  For instance, on their overnighter, Torin mentions how religious he is.  I felt like it came straight out of left field, and it’s never even mentioned again, except for in passing by Darby, and not in reference to him.

I also really hated that Darby’s time at camp is treated with a time skip.  We never get to meet any of her cabin members or any other campers when, in my opinion, it could’ve been a much better way for Darby to come to terms with herself than what actually happened.  Instead we’re rushed right to her trip to DC to see Lance.  It just seems to me that Squires was focusing on the wrong way to tell the story.

There were certain passages and things I enjoyed about the book, but it wasn’t enough to really bring it up to average in my mind.  Which makes me glad that the author improved for her next book.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book review: The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations? 

Received from NetGalley in return for a review.

The Tyrant’s Daughter might seem like it’s trying to be an issue book at first, and I’d say that it is.  It’s a big issue book, dealing with a lot of different things at once.  There’s the big plot, of course, of the main character and her family escaping from their country in the midst of a rebellion, but then it gets down to the fact that their culture is nothing like ours.

They’re outsiders in a land that is so different from their own, and it’s a little uncomfortable reading it.  Not a bad uncomfortable, but I think it’s what the author was trying to accomplish with it: that even if someone is willing to learn and try to assimilate into a new culture, there’s always something about it that they just can’t get used to.  Laila protests fitting in at first, but when she realizes that she’s being just as judgmental of her possible friends as many people are of her, she relaxes.

Of course all of this is happening while Laila is slowly learning that her family’s position in their country wasn’t what she thought it was.  She had been brought up believing that they’re royalty, when it was really a dictatorship.  While some might say that it would be hard to believe that she had never even suspected it, it reads as pretty believable to me.  And the fact that she gets swept up in the affairs the government agent is trying to get her mother to be a part of just makes it easier to believe that Laila would be easily fooled.  She was brought up sheltered, even on those trips to France that she lovingly describes.

The ending, while I won’t give spoilers, is bittersweet and fits, I think.  The entire book is a pretty interesting ride, and I believe Carleson succeeded in showing us a story about a displaced girl trying to find her way.  So, happy reading!