Saturday, September 7, 2013

book review: the best night of your (pathetic) life by tara altebrando

Title:  The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life
Author:  Tara Altebrando
Publisher:  Dutton Juvenile (2012)

An all-day scavenger hunt in the name of eternal small-town glory

With only a week until graduation, there's one last thing Mary and her friends must do together: participate in the Oyster Point High Official Unofficial Senior Week Scavenger Hunt. And Mary is determined to win.

Mary lost her spot at Georgetown to self-professed "it" bully Jake Barbone, and she's not about to lose again. But everyone is racing for the finish line with complicated motives, and the team's all-night adventure becomes all-night drama as shifting alliances, flared tempers, and crushing crushes take over. As the items and points pile up, Mary and her team must reinvent their strategy--and themselves--in order to win.

After completing this book, I wanted to instantly tell everyone to read it. Why? For one, it's plausible that people will. It's short compared to other novels - only 269 pages. Two, it's fun. As the synopsis above tells you, it's a pretty campy plot that revolves around the events of one night. In that way, a reader can look at it as just a fun story, one filled with enough plot twists and pitfalls to be entertained. Three, it's deeper than just a "campy" story. That's right, this novel can be viewed both ways, depending on how you're feeling when you're reading it. (And isn't that just the best when books do that?) Altebrando presents a story filled with last goodbyes, resolve of relationships and life events, initial nostalgia, and letting the broken pieces go... finally. Here are some reasons why I loved it... and then a comment about something I thought was pretty wonky...

1. The novel's format. More and more nowadays, we're seeing interactive novels that tell the reader, "STOP! Enjoy this for a second." Think Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, Chopsticks, and the forthcoming Damsel Distressed. These books often use photographs and music, but with The Best Night, it does so by providing the lists of the scavenger hunt items within the text. This provides a nice break in the novel's otherwise uninterrupted prose, and just reading over the lists, it's like a reader's along for the ride with Mary and her friends, which should be a goal of any author out there, especially young adult authors. Awesome possum!

2. Altebrando's prose. HALLELUJAH! I think many readers can understand the power of present tense, and it is used to perfection in this novel... well sorta. See, the novel's not exactly in present tense, but it sure seems like it:  I even had to go back to my copy and check. Definitely past tense. But that's not the point; it FEELS like present tense, and I guess that's all that matters. The dry wit, humor, and fast-paced click of the story line takes all the greatest parts of present tense into its loving, familiar past tense embrace. To quote pre-Twerkin' Miley, "It's the best of both worlds." Cyrus aside, Altebrando has captured the teen thought process in the written word of first-person narrator Mary, which is truly a piece of art. Also, I love the moments where Mary tells herself, "WAKE UP, MARY!" It's so real. I love it.

3. The idea of the hunt. The scavenger hunt, you guys. THE SCAVENGER HUNT! I wish my high school would have done something this awesome at the end of my senior year. In fact, I want to organize this for future graduating classes or some other groups I'm a part of now because it's THAT AMAZING! This kind of inspiration is what books should give readers (AKA all caps inspiration...). 

4. The high school drama. After graduating, everyone says, "I miss high school, but I don't miss the drama." Well, they're all lying. The reason why people like high school is because of the drama; it makes it interesting, exciting, horribly exhausting, and perfect when the drama is finally figured all out and people are friends again. WHEW! It's a beautiful mess, this high school stuff. What can we say? But the epitome of the high school drama is right here in this novel. The class bully and football star, the "also-rans," and the unprofessed love triangles are in full view throughout the story. It just has everything, both for people in high school still or out of high school that may be just a little nostalgic.

5. The fantastic lesson. For all those that haven't passed the high school phase of their life yet, this book hits the nail on the head about coming to terms with facing the unknowns in life. Especially when it comes to moving on from high school - and I've had conversations with friends about this before - this thought crosses people's minds:  "Did I just peak? What if my life only goes downhill from here?" What a scary thought, right? Unfortunately, there's no certainty that it will ever be better, but I loved that Altebrando tackled this idea in her novel. Although a depressing thought, I'm glad it's been added to the YA world. It's surprisingly skipped a lot.

6. Honestly, Mary!? AKA The "Wonky" Thing ***SPOILER(kind of)*** Okay, so Mary is super in love with this guy Carson throughout the first half of the book, and then she finds out some stuff about stuff - like I'm actually gonna tell you exactly what happens - and she's all of a sudden like, "Oh yeah, I don't really like him anymore." 1.) I didn't realize crushing on somebody was like an On/Off switch. 2.) I would be furious if what happened to me happened to her. Her reaction seemed unrealistic, but whatever... The awesomeness of the rest of the book makes up for it.

All right! So the verdict is... 

"Altebrando delivers a powerful must-read about the glory of the past, the uncertainty of the future, and the potential of the present. People of all ages should devour The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life as soon as possible, like NOW!"

So... have you read it? What did you think? Do you want to read it? Do you have questions? Let me know in the comments below. :)

'Til next time!

Monday, July 29, 2013

book review: when you were here by daisy whitney

Title:  When You Were Here
Author:  Daisy Whitney
Publisher:  Little, Brown (2013)

Filled with humor, raw emotion, a strong voice, and a brilliant dog named Sandy Koufax, When You Were Here explores the two most powerful forces known to man-death and love. Daisy Whitney brings her characters to life with a deft touch and resonating authenticity.

Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.

Guys, I was so excited to read this book, and I assure you it does NOT disappoint. Right from the start, Whitney's prose takes such a realistic take on loss, recovery, discovery, and resolve that it simply is a masterpiece when read in its entirety. Here are a few things I loved from the novel.
1. I love the imagery that Whitney presents. Whether we like it or not, humans have a tendency to assign personal value to items that remind us of other people. Isn't it called sentimental value? Yes, it is. And this is only heightened when the people who we connect with specific things are gone in our lives. Whether it be the piano that Danny's mom used to play show tunes on or the gardens that so remind him of Holland, it is so indicative of real life. Things are important to us because of the people that they remind us of (hanging preposition). Especially when Danny has to deal with the material things his mom left behind when she died, this is really important, and I loved it.

2. Kana! Kana is the daughter of Danny's apartment housekeeper in Tokyo. I loved the positive energy Kana brought to the story, and the healing touch of friendship she offered to the opposite Danny as he healed. In some ways, she reminded me of Kate, Holland's mother and Danny's mother's best friend, because she was the "fixer" of this story --- she was the one who pushed Danny to heal and to look forward in life. Kana was also super funny, so she was great to have around.

3. The first person narrative / present tense writing style knocked my socks off. After reading many books, I've decided this is my favorite style to read because it just clips along and is so action-based, where the characters haven't digested, mulled over, and are finally regurgitating their story. YUCK. This is fresh, this is wonderful, this is living with the character. I'm so happy that Whitney chose this style for Danny's journey. The only thing maybe I would've liked to see was more dialogue, but that's pretty secondary due to the fact that this was more of an emotional journey than physical... well, it was sort of physical because...

4. The setting! One thing I absolutely adore about books is that they take you to places you have never been. Seeing as the majority of the novel took place in Tokyo, I was more than happy to take part in this novel, especially since I don't know all that much about that specific city and the customs that are practiced there. That being said, I'm not sure if I would want to indulge in all the sushi they ingest in the story. That's a little bit too much fish for me!

5. I'm always a bit leery about jumping into a novel with a protagonist the opposite gender of the author. Either it can be a pleasant surprise or a complete disaster. In my humble opinion, this may have been the only fault in The Fault in Our Stars. Regardless of other stories, Whitney did so well in this. Speaking as an ex-teenage boy (meaning that I'm no longer a teen, not the other thing you may have been thinking), the nail was hit head-on. Everything from prose over dialogue, the insecurities, the EVERYTHING was just wonderful and true to character. Even the length of the book was perfect for this. If you need to know something about guys, people, know that 1) it's medically impossible for people to multitask, which includes males AND females, and 2) guys only like to talk up to a certain point (not to generalize...), especially when something is tough to deal with. So a novel narrated by a guy that's 263 pages - which makes room for a one-track mind and a tight plot - is perfect.

6. LAST ONE! There's been some notice that Danny is SUPER RICH. Whether flying to Tokyo like it's no big deal, having an apartment in Japan and a house with a pool back in LA, and living pretty high on the money like it's no big deal, Danny does seem to have some cash. That's right, I'm not going to deny it. However, I will say that this is a lifestyle, AND books, like I said about traveling, open up new worlds; embrace it. Even though I won't be flying off to Tokyo or Cabo or the Swiss Alps anytime soon, I'm completely fine with reading about it. And watching it ... my latest Netflix series is 90210, so that should pretty much tell you where I'm at with my life right now.

"Daisy Whitney works wonders with When You Were Here. Her characters leap off the page in this modern classic of endings, beginnings, and all that comes in between."

The Verdict? Daisy Whitney works wonders with When You Were Here. Her characters leap off the page in this modern classic of endings, beginnings, and all that comes in between.

ALSO! Whitney, a communications guru, produced a number of on-the-ground vlog posts pertaining to Tokyo life featured in When You Were Here. You can find all of these videos at

'Til next time!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

sharing: little free libraries

This is bookish! In 2009, Todd Bol and Rick Brooks started the Little Free Library movement in Wisconsin. Little Free Library, Ltd. is a non-profit organization of citizen volunteers (called "Stewards") offering communities free books via a large, enclosed bird feeder-esque container. The stewards, or caretakers of the library, can contribute books for others to read and return (or keep) as well as others in the community, who may donate books to the library, too. With a passion for green practices and quality of community life, Bol's and Brooks's concept has swept the nation and world. In fact, you can see how many Little Free Libraries are around the world on THIS GOOGLE MAP; you can also find a Little Free Library in your neighborhood there as well!

Building a Little Free Library is easy and, to be listed as an official Little Free Library, only costs $25. This trend captures two of my deepest interests - reading and community development - so it's no surprise I love the idea and community spirit Little Free Libraries can foster. Recently, a third Little Free Library was "planted" in my community by a local Girl Scout Troop. You can see a picture of this specific Little Free Library below.

One thing I love about Little Free Library is that each steward designs their own, so they can be so unique and creative. I encourage you to look on the Google Map of Little Free Libraries around the world (above), where you may find pictures of Little Free Libraries if you click on a specific LFL icon.

Let me know in the comments if you've heard of these or are participating in this great cause in anyway! Book bloggers CAN get out from behind their keyboards and make a difference for literacy in their immediate community, and this is one way to do so. For more information, visit

'Til next time!
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