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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Book Review: Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

It's still warm out, but there is that definite slight chill to the air that speaks of the approach of Fall. I can tell school is back in session by the number of young cheerleaders I see while I make my morning run to Dunkin Donuts.

Dunkin Donuts is full on Fall mode with their apple cider, two local football themed donuts, two varieties of pumpkin donuts and, my favorite, pumpkin muffins. They have that little bit of cinnamon powder and the drizzled icing. Just the right balance between sweet and spice. I swear I will not over indulge in them this season as much as I am sorely tempted to.

It's early in the day, well ish, and I live on a quiet enough street on the weekend. The depot is a block away, so trucks drive by all week long, but on the weekends, the only sounds I hear are my cat, Egg, yelling at me to pay him some attention, the crickets chirping outside the open window and the football game played in the field behind the houses across the street. I can hear the ref's whistles, the crowd screaming and the sound of cheering.

I was in the high school marching band and a baton twirler. For me, it could be warm outside and still warm enough to go to the beach, but even the beach would be deserted with no one but locals still soaking up the sun. However, nothing signaled the end of summer to me like the sounds of the first football game, complete with a marching band accompaniment.

As I sit here listening, I come to the realization that summer is indeed over and it is time for autumn to step to the fore, before the long cold of winter.

And so, I bring you my last installment of my Summer Fun Review Wrap Up.

Book Description (From Amazon):
In Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski, sixteen-year-old Samantha D’Angelo has death on the brain. Her summer internship at the local newspaper has her writing obituaries instead of soaking up the sun at the beach. Between Shelby, Sam’s boy-crazy best friend; her boss Harry, a true-blue newspaper man; and AJ, her fellow “intern scum” (aka the cute drummer for a band called Love Gas), Sam has her hands full. But once she figures out what—or who—is the best part of her summer, will she mess it all up?

As Sam learns her way around both the news room and the real world, she starts to make some momentous realizations about politics, ethics, her family, romance, and most important—herself.

My Review:
Sam has taken a summer intern position at the local paper, the Herald Tribune. It is the only paper that still prints on the premises and while it may seem like a dream summer job, the problem is she is writing the obituaries. I think the job may have gotten to her because all throughout the book, she is writing people's obituaries, people that are very much alive. The story opens up with her writing her own obituary.

She is called intern scum by Harry, the editor in chief, and Moronica by Bernie, the copy-desk editor. Her partner in crime is AJ, who works in obits with her. The two scramble to fill the obits page, because if there are not enough people dying, they have to do a feature obit which entails calling friends and family for quotes, so they can do a feature on someone for the day.

Most of the action takes place in the newsroom. And like Ms. Doktorski's last book, there is not a whole lot of depth to the locations within the book. The background is not nearly as fleshed out as the characters, but it really works for her stories. They are, after all, all about the characters and the characters are very well defined.

Sam is spending her last summer of high school at the local paper. She is called an intern, but she does get paid for the job. Since she is low man on the totem pole, so to speak, she is assigned obits. She longs to do something a little bit more news worthy, so she does hit some of the reporters up with story ideas hoping she might get the chance to write a feature. She's a good writer. Unfortunately, she doesn't get to showcase her talents much in obits as the space allotted each person is relatively small and they just provide the stats of the person's life.

Her best friend is Shelby, who she is kind of mad at currently. They were at a party and Shelby went up to Rob McGinty, Sam's long time crush and told him Sam had a thing for him. The problem is Rob is dating one of the most beautiful girls in school. Sam is really shy and not very outgoing and Rob is totally out of her league. He seems nice enough to her, friendly, talks to her, but the group of friends he hangs out with are the typical stuck up popular crowd that belittle every one around them. Shelby, on the other hand, is a flirt and loves to party. She is constantly trying to get Sam to go out, but Sam isn't much for parties. Shelby has a hard time accepting the fact that Sam has a job and puts in a lot of long hours depending on the paper's needs. Shelby is currently unemployed and would like to keep it that way.

AJ is in college and a second year intern, so he's showing Sam the ropes. He also looks out for her, giving her rides home when they work late, monitoring the phone for calls from Shelby, etc. He is also the drummer for a local band called Love Gas, so when he's not working, he's practicing. Then there is the status of his relationship with Jessica. Jessica is a girl that keeps calling the paper for him, but he insists that she is not his girlfriend, she is his "I-don't-know." Sam seems to have a little thing for AJ and the ambiguity of his relationship with Jessica bothers her a bit. Perhaps what she needs is a boyfriend.

In walks Tony, another intern, who has been on vacation. He is Italian and drop dead gorgeous. She is immediately smitten with him as are all the women in the newsroom. However, she starts to believe there may be something there when he asks her to go get coffee with him. He is a big flirt, though, and while he spends time chatting up Sam, he is also talking to Alexis, one of the female photographers. AJ can't stand him and tries to warn Sam off. Harry and Meg, another reporter at the paper, think he's a no talent hack, but that doesn't dissuade Sam from her pursuit of him as potential boyfriend material.

Michael is one of the reports that Sam talks to and he covers City Hall in Paterson. He is talking about how the mayor is doing something shady, but he can't get any proof. He believes the mayor is creating jobs to give to friends, but the people don't actually work. One of the people he is trying to dig up information on is Sy Goldberg, but no one has seen him.

After Michael ends up in the hospital from kidney stones, Sam decides to try to help him out and tries to do some investigation on the side. She gets one small bit of information thanks to a lunch date with Shelby, which only serves to encourage her to keep up the investigation. She decides to follow the mayor and drags AJ along to her stakeouts as he has a car. But does she find the evidence she needs to prove something shifty is, in fact, going on?

Ms. Doktorski must be a local author, relative to where I live, as she references the Tick Tock diner which is on Route 3 in Clifton. I was thrilled to no end as I have spent many a night there, although my diner of choice is The Park West. I used to always see this little old lady at the Tick Tock with her caretaker. She stood out as she had sequined baseball caps in every color of the rainbow, so I could never miss her. She sparkled under the fluorescent lights.

There is also a reference to a pub called the Harp and Bard which is also in Clifton. I have spent many a night there as well. It used to be one of the best places around as there would be live Irish music playing on the weekends, Irish music pumping through the sound system when there wasn't live entertainment. They even used to have Irish wakes there, which were really a party. There used to be a little Irish gift shop through a side door, but that closed down years ago. They had one of the best beer selections in the area and a really good pub menu. It was sad for me when the business was sold. The new owners seemed okay at first, but slowly we saw things changing. The beer list kept getting shorter and shorter. Some of the best dishes on the menu would go out of season and never return. The large screens came out for Sunday football and the nail in the coffin for me was the Texas hold em tournaments. I know they need to make a living, but the place was turning into the kind of place I didn't enjoy hanging out in. I'm not even sure those owners still have the place. It's been a while since I've been there.

So, local towns and places I've frequented made me want to keep reading the book. I read the majority of the book in one sitting last week , finishing around 3am.

I really love her characters. They all seem very real. The heart of the story is the characterizations, the relationships and how the characters grow throughout the book. There is enough action going on to keep the book flowing and there is so much going on with the characters that it's hard to put down.

The book ends with the end of summer and Sam getting ready to go back to school for her senior year. So, this is the perfect cap to my Summer Fun Review Wrap Up. I hope you have all enjoyed!! See you at the beach!!!

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