The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

A friend recommended this book to me a few years ago. And, immediately, I was turned off,  simply because of the title. But they, he proceeded to tell me about the plot: a guy and his girlfriend movie to a tiny, barely inhabited island in the Pacific and try to survive for a few years. What all this has to do with sex lives and cannibals, even after reading the book, I still have no idea. However, don’t judge this book by the title. It is entirely worth reading.

Maarten and his girlfriend, Sylvia, move to Tarawa, which is near the equator, nearly a third world country where water must be boiled before drinking, where people (literally) shit in the ocean only to have it washed back up to shore, where dogs are such a nuisance that they are either eaten or aren’t even braked for when driving, where fish is eaten at every meal, where canned goods are flown in, sporadically, from Australia, where this is no hospital or medicine, and where the live expectancy is just over 50 years old. So, yea. Given all that, this book is really funny. Maarten’s experience, harrowing and hilarious, is not one I would ever embark on. Ever. But I’m glad he did, and survived, to tell us this story. And, of course, in the back of your mind, you will realize just how wonderful we have it with food, water, medicine, and shit free oceans.

He has written other books about his travel, but my friend says this is his best work. Between vignettes of his situation, he tells us about the history of the island and its surrounding neighbors. This was much less interesting to me, but for no reason other than I’m just not interested in it. It was still well researched and well written. I wasn’t expecting much from this book, but I’m very glad I picked it up.

The Life We Bury

Finding a book I haven’t read shouldn’t be that hard, but when the librarian tried to give me recommendations, she went with the most popular books as of late, all of which I have read. For the 2017 book challenge, I have to read a book recommended by a librarian, so I approached the desk with my query. She recommended The Nightingale, Gillian Flynn books, The Girl on the Train, etc. Check. Check. Check. So, she went to Amazon to look for books that are similar to these and came up with The Life We Bury. So, not officially librarian recommended, but I’m sticking with it.

Joe Talbert is a college kid with the assigned task of writing an older person’s biography. He has no one in his life that fits this bill, so he heads to a local assisted living facility and finds Carl Iverson. Carl has been let out of prison because he’s dying of cancer. And, even though he was convicted of rape and murder, letting him out to die seemed to be the right thing to do. Unlike the other residents, Carl is fully lucid each day and is willing to tell his story. Joe isn’t really sure he even wants to hear this story, but the assignment is pressing. Joe lives two hours away from home, leaving behind an alcoholic mother and an autistic brother. As his mother pulls him back home for various reasons, we see Joe as a caring, protective brother. One night Joe has to bring his brother back home with him, to his tiny apartment, and runs into a neighbor, Lila, who is great with his brother and ends up getting sucked into Carl’s story as well.

Of course, being a thriller, there are twists and turns. Did Carl really commit this horrible crime? If not, who did? Carl has a very mysterious past, going all the way to Vietnam, and he has never been the same since. But has whatever happened in the past affected him so greatly that he would rape and murder a teenage girl? I felt like Joe’s brother was more of a catalyst to get Joe and Lila together rather than an actual important part of the story. But that might just me being overly critical. I really did enjoy the author, Allen Eskens’, writing style. I wouldn’t say the plot was predictable, but writing an original thriller is hard to do these days. However, his writing was really great. Sadly, I returned the book to the library already, or I would type up a few phrases that stood out. My apologies. But I have looked up his other works on Amazon and hope to read some of them soon.

Sweet Valley Confidential

There are books that I really want to read, but know better than to spend any money on them because the expectation level is so low. So when I saw a copy of this book at a Friends of the Library sale, I knew it was my chance to get it for dirt cheap. Sadly, I think the dollar I spent on the book would have been better spent elsewhere, because, folks, this book is awful. No lie.

I LOVED the SVH books when I was a kid, so when I had to read a book from my childhood for the books challenge, I was excited to have an excuse to revisit the twins. Elizabeth is my spirit animal. Jessica annoyed me so much, and even though they were twins, I was always frustrated with Elizabeth for not having a backbone and standing up to her sister’s nonsense. Well, this time around, that backbone was made of steel. Mild spoilers, but this happens in the beginning of the book, so it’s not that big of a deal. Elizabeth lives in NYC, having fled Sweet Valley because of the biggest betrayal she could endure. Behind her back, Jessica has stolen the one and only Todd Wilkins. WHAT???? Todd has realized his true feelings aren’t for Elizabeth, but instead, her twin. And out of sheer heartbreak, Elizabeth runs away to find herself, start a new job, whatever. She hasn’t spoken to her twin or Todd since she fled 8 months ago. Elizabeth is pissed.

Through a series of flashbacks from multiple perspectives (in a different font, just in case you get confused) we learn the whole story of how Jess and Todd fell in love. We also see our old friends again, Lila Fowler, Bruce Patman, Caroline Pearce, however most have small roles. Missing from the narrative is Enid, though. Maybe I didn’t read that particular book, but she and Elizabeth are no longer speaking and Enid is only referenced. Remember the one where Enid was in the plane crash?? That was my favorite SVH book!

Anyway, yada yada, side stories about the twins older brother Steven, Liz meets a new guy in NYC, there’s a big showdown at a party between Liz and Jess, nonsense really. Maybe I was naive back in the day, but I don’t remember the books being this nonsensical. This one felt way too edited to make sense. I don’t even really care that the plot was such a big cliche, but the writing itself was just terrible. I am fine with revisiting the characters, but at least try to realize that your audience is no longer 14 years old.

Parable of the Sower

I’ve had Octavia Butler on my radar for awhile. Several friends have recommended her. And, at some point, her books were really cheap on Amazon, so I stocked up on some ebooks. So when I had to read a book written by a person of color, I immediately though of her and chose Parable of the Sower, knowing absolutely nothing about it.

The story is in my favorite genre, dystopia, and even though I’m a bit burned out on these books, I still appreciate a well written one. Butler isn’t a YA writer, but her book falls mostly into this category. It doesn’t explain how the world is the way it is (takes place in the years 2025-2027) but the world has fallen apart and life is hard. She makes some adjustments to the world by creating fictitious illegal drugs. One drug makes people obsessed with fires. Another leaves people with hyperempathy. Lauren, our main character, has this ‘sharing’ because her mother took the drug while pregnant. Lauren feels others’ pain. When a person is shot, it feels like she has been shot.

Lauren’s family lives in a cul-de-sac in California, and even though they have a gate and guard their property, one night, several homes are set on fire and all the homes are robbed. Lauren is lucky to escape, but most aren’t so fortunate. She and a few survivors travel north, looking for a place to resettle and gather other travelers along the way. Lauren, even though she has never lived outside her cul-de-sac, is very street smart and knows not to trust others. However, the people she meets along the way prove just how desperate they are for help as well.

Lauren sees God as Change. And through her religious teachings, her God evolves into something not good or evil, but as simply the natural process of the world. She calls this new belief Earthseed. While traveling, she tells her group about Earthseed and her beliefs.

Butler skillfully tackles important issues like gender, feminism, sexuality, and motherhood with such creativity and honesty.  Every decision the characters made felt authentic and sensible, given their situation. There is a sequel to this book, and I’m really excited to revisit Lauren and her fellow travelers.

Life After Life

The premise of this book is really interesting. Ursula Todd dies. A lot. And after she dies, she is reborn into her own life, making it a little farther than she did the last time. First time she dies, it is in birth. Another death sees her when she’s a toddler. Some when she’s a teenager. Others when she’s a young adult. No matter what, she always returns to her life. Every decision she makes, or doesn’t make, leads her down a different path.

Ursula is a great character, wanting the most out of life and making decisions other girls her age wouldn’t. Most of the story takes place between 1910s and 1940s where women tend to get married and have babies. In most of the story lines, Ursula doesn’t make those choices. The story doesn’t really have a plot because so many elements change with each decision. Sometimes Ursula makes excellent decisions and life is wonderful. However, most of the time life is hard. Living in England (or Germany) during WWII is hard, no matter what decisions a person makes.

And even though the premise was great, I just didn’t love the book. And my only complaint is that I just didn’t feel connected to anything. I liked Ursula quite a bit, but because there’s no true plot, seeing her make the same mistakes multiple times was just tedious. There’s a companion book to this one that follows her brother, Teddy. I’m not sure if it is the same concept or if it is an actual chronologically written novel. If it’s the latter, I will probably check it out, but I think I’ve had my fill of this reincarnation concept.

Pet Sematary

I’ve read over half of Stephen King’s works and this was one of the several I hadn’t read. For the 2017 book challenge, I needed a book with a cat on the cover. I started The Master and Margarita, but after 100 pages, I was completely bored. So I hit the bookshelf looking at one cover after another and found our old hardback of Pet Sematary with an evil looking cat on the cover. Problem solved.

Back when I was teaching, a student loaned me his copy of the PS movie and told me I absolutely had to watch it because it was the best movie ever. Helpful note: it’s not the best movie ever. One of the worst, really. But because I had seen the movie, I knew the basic plot of the book. A family moves to Maine, comes across a Pet Semetary, but behind that is a Native American burial ground where magical things happen. It takes at least 200 pages for the big crazy stuff to start truly happening. However, like I’ve said before, SK is a master storyteller, so I was always entertained, even if nothing was really going on.

I wouldn’t say this is one of his best works, but it’s certainly not the worst. I appreciated the creativity of the story, how he so accurately described what it is like to be a parent, and the well explained history of the town. But if you are new to SK, don’t start with this one. I would select one of his more well known works like The Shining or It (especially with the movie coming up, eek!)

The Hour I First Believed

This is my third foray into Wally Lamb’s world. I read She’s Come Undone years and years ago and remember liking it, but not much about it. I read I Know This Much is True and couple years ago and was absolutely blown away. I loved it. So, when I had to read a book about a difficult subject for this year’s reading challenge, I knew who to turn to. So far, every one of Lamb’s books cover some difficult subject, or ten, but this one in particular resonated with me.

Caelum Quirk and his wife, Maureen, work at Columbine High School. Yes, that Columbine. Although, the Quirks are fictional characters, Lamb is using them as examples for what people went through after the tragedy. Caelum was out of town when the shooting occurred, but Maureen was in the library and heard everything that was said and done. Her PTSD becomes chronic, and she struggles with basic tasks.

These events happen only the first third of the book, so you know there is a lot more story to tell. The Quirks move back home to Connecticut to try and recover and returns to some form of normalcy. Along the way, they have major setbacks. I really enjoyed this story, but Caelum is really just a a giant asshole. It was a struggle for me to feel any kind of sympathy for him. He gets a bit better as the book progresses, and I know that no one is perfect, but he was really awful towards Maureen while she was struggling. There is a huge side story about Caelum’s ancestors that I didn’t find all that interesting. I admit that I skimmed much of that part (namely the letters his great-grandmother wrote.

Overall, I gave the book 4 stars, in spite of the above mentioned deficiencies, because I felt that it was a personal preference rather than a lack of writing ability on Lamb’s part. His books are rarely easy to read, tackling the most difficult of subjects, but he is a great storyteller and I look forward to reading his other books.