Riding Out the Storm with Books

I love writing a fun recap that marries my reading obsession with travel. But as I sat typing about Caribbean sunshine, leisure time, and vacation reading, today’s light book report felt, well, incongruous.

On a normal gray, windy, rain-soaked morning, calling up those St. John images would be a welcome diversion from crappy weather. But against the backdrop of Houston’s storm havoc and surging Texas floods, posting beautiful beach images felt a little like rubbing salt in a wound. Ouch.

After all, we’d just ducked Hurricane Harvey.

Storms Bookend a Caribbean Vacation

Clouds viewed from American Airlines plane window on the way to St. Thomas USVI
Sky view, on flight to St. Thomas. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

August falls during hurricane season.

Naturally, we often head to St. John during this time.

No, Hubby and I don’t have a death wish. Nor do we hope that bad weather disrupts a long-planned-for (and much needed) vacation. Contrary to first blush, we’re not big risk-takers.

Nope–we’re cautious bargain hunters. After carefully considering past weather data and weighing options, we typically choose July and August for our Caribbean get-aways. Less tourist traffic, cheaper airfare, and reduced lodging fees outweigh those possible storms. In the approximately 11 times we’ve vacationed on St. John (we debated in the counting; memory gets a bit hazy as we age), we’ve never, ever encountered problems during a late summer visit.

If you’re cool with some closed venues and an occasional rainy day, the Caribbean off-season/hurricane months are a traveler’s true price performer.

View from the patio of vacation rental home Into the Mystic of Coral Bay on St. John USVI
Into the Mystic, our vacation rental home, overlooked Coral Bay. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

As we departed for St. John mid-August, weather forecasts predicted a tropical storm on Saturday. When the system skirted St. John and St. Thomas, we breathed a sigh of relief. Disaster averted!

Calm, sunny days with intermittent sprinkles of light rain and steady, balmy breezes filled our week in paradise.

Over our eight-day stay, we whiled away the hours on seven different beaches. Oh, we spend all day parked in the sand: napping, reading, swimming, snorkeling, even grilling. Francis Bay is our favorite beach, so we were there on Aug. 21 to experience the solar eclipse. Cradled in its turquoise water, we watched the light change (from our island view, there was about 89 percent coverage). During that peaceful mid-afternoon twilight, a doe and her fawn stepped quietly from the national park’s tropical forest.


That earlier weather disturbance, however, hadn’t disappeared. While we were sunning, swimming, and reading on St. John, it circled and traveled, gathering strength. By the time we boarded our return flight to Austin, the upgraded tropical cyclone was preparing to hit the Texas coast with a vengeance.

Hello, Hurricane Harvey.

Books to Weather Any Storm

Assorted books in a striped hammock with flowers on In case you need something to help pass a rainy day, here are those St. John beach books. While it’s true they don’t provide any real hurricane relief, entering these worlds will certainly enable a few hours of mental escape…wherever you may be.

And here’s hoping you’re safe and dry.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey : Science fiction is one of my favorite genres. I picked this up without knowing anything about the book (for example: the bestseller was adapted into a 2016 movie with Glenn Close that won some awards). The author’s use of perspective to gradually reveal the premise–the main character, Melanie, and the reader discover her true nature together–hooked me. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a quick read, so I revisited it during the flight home.

The Wild Life in an Island House by Gail Karlsson : What do you do when you finish the beach reads you brought? Luckily, our vacation rental house, Into The Mystic, had a wealth of books. The Wild Life in an Island House was one of the many about St. John. It was light reading, the kind of book that leaves me wondering “Why haven’t I published anything yet?” and scheming about turning some travel adventure into literature. We’d watched bats swoop over the hot tub at night and a secretive iguana leave huge poops by the pool, so the author’s enthusiasm about the local bugs and critters was entertaining, I’d have liked, however, a bit more meat about living the island life.

Book Ready Player One at the beach on St. John USVI
A good book, beautiful water, and time: the perfect vacation combination. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline : My husband always seeks my recommendation for his trip reading. Knowing his fondness for video games (our classic college date night=pizza and beer at Mr. Gatti’s, followed by $5 worth of arcade games at The University of Texas Student Union), interest in computer software, and appreciation for 80’s pop culture, Ready Player One was a slam dunk. He thoroughly enjoyed his book. Bonus: when he’d finished, I got to read it again. [Side note: if you liked Ready Player One, the Austin-based author has another sci-fi novel, Armada, and he owns a DeLorean. No, that’s not a comma splice or a non sequitur.]

Ape House by Sara Gruen : Look, I make no apologies for all the science fiction books. Ape House was another culled-from-the-house-library find. Gruen wrote Water for Elephants, which I enjoyed, so I pulled this off the shelf in hopes of a more cerebral experience than the various romances and spy thrillers likely contained. It didn’t disappoint. Though written in 2010, the eco-terrorist plot line and reality show twist felt fresh and current. As mysteries go, it wasn’t too complex or surprising, but I learned about bonobos and language acquisition research among apes. The characters were interesting. And there’s this spot-on description of the lead character drafting an 800-word story on deadline that will ring true with any writer. Worth the read right there.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris : Good essays and short stories are always reliable choices for beach books. The benefit: read a section, take a swim/beverage/nap break, and resume later without any loss of continuity. Both my husband and I have picked up several of Sedaris’ books–I practically ruptured something while reading aloud  from Me Talk Pretty One Day and laughing uncontrollably (“The Jesus, he nice!”). Holidays on Ice is a family favorite; we’ve even seen Santaland Diaries, a darkly comedic Christmas-time theatre staple.  Diabetes with Owls was another “house book,” and we took turns dipping into Sedaris’ wryly humorous stories.

Want More about Hurricane Harvey?

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has a wealth of important information related to Hurricane Harvey–its duration and aftermath–in both English and Spanish.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) maintains the National Hurricane Center website, which tracks storms and shares the latest information.

Want to help? The American Red Cross is a reliable resource for disaster relief. They need volunteers, blood, and donations to aid those hurt by Hurricane Harvey.

Books in a hammock on St. John USVI with Coral Bay in the background






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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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