Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever" by Jack McCallum

352 pages

The basics of the story are well known. It was 1992, the first year that professional basketball players were allowed to play in the Olympics. NBA superstars including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley made up the US team that took the world by storm. What's not as well known, however, is what went on behind the scenes. The team bonding and the power struggles and the fighting. The drama surrounding the selection process. The way that all of the players learned to join with their rivals and take on the rest of the world. Drawing on records from 1992 as well as fresh interviews with the players, McCallum provides an insider's account of the Dream Team phenomenon. 

I was only seven years old when the first Dream Team took to the court, but I remember being totally in awe. At the time I just liked watching all their exciting, flashy plays, but as an adult I've enjoyed hearing more of the inside scoop on what was really going on. McCallum was in the thick of it back then and still has access to the players today, so he provides a very well-rounded account. I also think he's quite fair to all the players without glossing over their flaws. He throws quite a bit of humor into the mix, making the book even more fun. I say it's a solid must-read for NBA fans.  

"Fear (Gone #5)" by Michael Grant

509 pages

It's been a year since everyone over the age of fourteen disappeared from Perdido Beach, California. The kids left behind have been through a lot: constant hunger, a vicious plague, and of course ongoing struggle for power. For a while, though, things have seemed almost calm. Sam and his crew are living by the lake, while his twin/enemy Cain and his entourage live near the sea. The mutants and the regular kids have reached an uneasy peace. Of course, things can never stay stable for long in the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone). Suddenly, it seems that the dome imprisoning the kids is slowly turning black. And when the lights go out for good, it's going to get worse than ever before for the kids of the FAYZ. There will be no way to grow food, avoid danger, or keep the mysterious, evil Darkness from finally closing in.

This series just keeps getting weirder and weirder. As with the other books, I got annoyed with all the jumping around and bizarre-for-the-sake-of-bizarreness stuff. Also, I think all the books are way too long. There are plenty of little detours in the plot that could be cut out for the sake of clarity and brevity.  However, I like Sam, Astrid, and the others enough to care about what happens to them, and I am intrigued enough by all the craziness that I want to find out what happens in general.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Every Day" by David Levithan

336 pages 

One day, "A" meets a girl named Rhiannon and can't stop thinking about her. Pretty typical teenage story. What's not typical, though, is that A met her while inhabiting the body of her boyfriend. And he was only there for one day. Because every day A wakes up in a different body, and it's always been like that. He has always woken up in a different body, of someone about his age, each day. He has no race, gender, or economic status (I only say "he" for lack of a better word and to avoid confusion). He's always just dealt with it. He can access the memories of the person he's inhabiting, so he's able to make his way though. After meeting Rhiannon, however, A has something to live for. He's got a goal, and that is to be near Rhiannon, no matter which body he's in. Eventually, the truth comes out, and A finds himself opening up to someone about his life for the first time ever. Unfortunately, this creates more complications than A expected. 

I was really interested in the premise of this book. It's fascinating to think about how someone's personality would develop if it could be stripped of gender, race, and all the expectations that come with it. Levithan is obviously making some statements about gender roles and sexuality, and though they aren't subtle they aren't too heavy-handed. I usually like for mysterious things like what's going on here to be explained at some point, but for some reason it seemed to work here and I just accepted the bizarre situation. I really got into the story and couldn't put it down, but I had some trouble with the ending. It felt anticlimactic and disappointing. Still, I give Every Day a high rating overall for its thought-provoking nature and novelty factor. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

"In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1)" by Tana French

429 pages

On a warm evening in 1984, three children went into the woods outside their small Dublin suburb. One was found hours later, hugging a tree trunk with blood-filled sneakers, unable to remember anything from the past few hours. The other two children were never seen again, dead or alive.

Twenty years later, the boy who was found in the woods has become a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad. He keeps his past a secret--only is best friend and partner, Cassie, knows what happened to him all those years ago. But then a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods Rob Ryan emerged from as a child, and Rob finds his past rushing up to meet him, whether he's ready or not.

I am really conflicted about my feelings on this book. I really got into it, and it totally creeped me out in a fascinating way. I couldn't put it down and I couldn't wait to find out what happened. I was very disappointed with the ending, though. I don't necessarily need every book to have a happy ending, but I do like to have some closure. We're left without answers for one part of this story and without justice for the other. I enjoyed the overall experience of reading this book, but I walked away from it feeling disappointed.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Extras (Uglies #4)" by Scott Westerfeld

417 pages

It's been a few years since rebel Tally Youngblood shook up the world, and things have changed dramatically. The government is no longer messing with people's brains to make them uglies, pretties, or specials. With all of the brain-washing gone, the world is undergoing an explosion of cultural, intellectual, and artistic development. Everyone is trying to be creative and stand out of the crowd, and cameras are catching it all. Each individual is ranked according to how well-known they are, and it's all about climbing the popularity ladder. Fifteen-year-old Aya Fuse is totally depressed by her rank of 451,369. She'd do almost anything to make herself heard, and it looks like she might do just that when she meets a clique of girls who pull crazy secret. If she can be the one to uncover their identities, she'll be totally famous. But before she can kick their stories, the group discovers something unusual going on outside the city. It seems that something much more famous-making than the Sly Girls is happening. But, as Aya discovers, it's also more dangerous than anything she's prepared to handle. 

I think this is a really good follow up to the Uglies series. I enjoyed discovering what happened after Tally and her friends changed everything, although I do think it is a bit far-fetched in that the world changes SO much, in terms of values and priorities, in just a few short years. Still, I just went with it and enjoyed the story. Aya is kind of annoying at first and she doesn't grow as a characters as much as I'd like, but I really liked a lot of the other characters, particularly Aya's brother. There are some really good twists in the plot and I liked how it all ended. 

"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

419 pages

On the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary, smart and beautiful Amy Dunne disappears from her home on the Mississippi River near North Carthage, Missouri. Her husband, Nick, becomes a suspect almost immediately. Amy didn't take out any big sums of money before she left, and Nick doesn't have an alibi. Passages of Amy's diary reveal that the two of them were having marital problems for quite awhile before she disappeared. And, most damningly, Nick just doesn't seem as upset as a man in his position should. But Nick and his twin sister, Margo, insist that he's innocent and begin their own investigation, during which they uncover some odd things about Amy's past. Did someone else take Amy? Or is Nick just trying to divert attention from himself? The mystery unfolds in chapters that alternate between Nick's story and passages from Amy's diary leading up to her disappearance.

This is one of the most intense books I've ever read. I couldn't put it down. When I did have to stop reading and, you know, go to work and stuff, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Oh, how it messed with my head. I loved the first 90% of it, but I HATED the ending. I just hated everything about it, and I thought it made no sense. I won't say any more to avoid spoilers, but let me know if you've read it because I'd love to talk about how much I despise the end. That said, I know a lot of people who disagree with me about the conclusion. And I have to admit that, as much as I hated the way things went down, this is still an amazing book. The storytelling is perfect in the way it sucks you in, and there are so many details that fit together just right. I'd be thinking "What the heck? There's no way she can explain that" and then, boom, she did. Plus, it just freaked me out, in an interesting way. It's one of those stories that's going to stick with me for a long, long time. 

"Monster Island (Zombies #1)" by David Wellington

282 pages

Only one month has passed since the virus broke out and zombie masses took over most of the developed world. Survivors have gathered in a few remote parts of the world. All that's keeping UN weapons inspector Dekalb going is his daughter, Sarah. They found  temporary refuge in Somalia, but now he's forced to go on a dangerous mission in order to secure his daughter's safety. He's sent across the ocean to New York City, where he and a group of schoolgirls-turned-soldiers must find desperately needed medicine. But something unusual is happening in New York. A doctor figured out how to retain his human intelligence after death, so now there's a smart zombie out there. And though there's only one of him, he might be the one who ruins the whole mission. 

This is a very well-done book. The premise sort of makes sense (which is good enough for a zombie novel, in my opinion) and is unique enough to stand out among all the typical stories of the undead that have become popular lately. I like the way the author made me think about what makes us human without being cliche or preachy. There's quite a bit of action but it's not super-gory, so it's one I'll recommend for people who don't like to hear all the blood-soaked details. It's definitely far-out (we're talking mummies coming back to life and immortal evil), but I thought it all fit together well rather than just being randomly thrown in. Monster Island is definitely going on my must-read zombie list.