Good, and maybe not-so-good, end-of-summer reading

A few years ago, I went on a trip with extended family and a couple of intrepid friends to the Galapagos. The trip involved two nights in Quito, Equador, and a week of travel by boat to the various islands, where khaki-clad naturalists walked us around carefully circumscribed paths, pointing out interesting phenomena: giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, sharks, sea turtles, flamingoes and all kinds of other fauna and flora and so on. 

During this voyage, the cousins (ages 11 to 18) ran an ongoing game of “What are the odds?” I won’t explain the rules here—it would take too long—but suffice it to say, at one point early on I somehow got sucked into a round and ended up losing (the odds against losing were enormous, so I’m still not sure how this happened), and so it went that I had to touch a sea lion. Had to. 

I lost this “odds” on our first day on the islands, and sea lions (we had just been warned by one of the naturalist guides), while cute looking, can be quite dangerous or at least unpredictable. So, be careful, we were told. Cuedado. And so I consider it one of the major miracles of my adult life that at the end of the walk that day (during which I had not touched a sea lion), as I was descending a rustic stairway down to the “panga” (the zodiac-like boat that took us from ship to shore, and shore to ship), a baby sea lion lurched its way towards me across the rocks, and (I kid you not) touched, with its whiskered nose, the toe of my sneaker, thus fulfilling an impossible mission, and impossible odds. The kids questioned whether I had touched a sea lion or a sea lion had touched me, but I said this was immaterial and avoided the whole bunch of them for a good few hours. 

You might be asking at this point: What does any of this have to do with books? Well, not much, so far, but what I have been getting to is that I brought a cache of books with me on this Galapagos trip, one of which was a novel by Lisa Scottoline, a fast-paced, intense, straight-forward, gripping page-turner. Which Lisa Scottoline book it was, I am not entirely sure; maybe Look Again or Keep Quiet. But whatever the title, I read it every chance I got, and it seems that my fellow travelers noticed that I was devouring it with gusto. It wasn’t long before I finished it and offered it up to whoever might want to take it for a spin. 

Well, my sister, and my brother-in-law’s mother, and our friend Megan had all brought ambitious reads on the trip with them, tomes which they were dutifully plowing through in the off hours between peering at wildlife and walking the sandy trails around craggy, windswept islands. But I’m telling you…when I put that Lisa Scottoline on the table, it was as though I had offered up crack cocaine. That’s probably not a good analogy, as none of these good, grounded, upstanding women would go near such a substance, but I am trying to convey the speed, eagerness and hunger with which they lined up for my discarded book. Gone (or at least shelved for later) were the histories, the learned articles and the geographical treatises. My easy-to-read book became dog-eared and tea-stained and sea-splatted—and enjoyed by them all. 

Recently I was looking for a good book on tape to get me through some long drives, and I ended up choosing Scottoline’s After Anna (narrated by M. Marno and J. Bobb), which begins with a happy family consisting of a woman named Maggie, a widower named Noah and Noah’s young son. They have a cat named Wreck-It Ralph, and everything is fine and dandy till Maggie finds herself faced with a much-longed-for opportunity to connect with her long-lost daughter, whom Maggie has not seen for 17 years, since the child was an infant. The story is told in turn by Maggie and Noah, and it’s quite riveting. I loved it. If you want to get caught up in a good, fast-paced, intense yarn, I recommend this one. Put away your Dostoevsky, your Stephen Hawking, your Economist, and pick up After Anna. It’s summer, after all—a good time for light, fun, fast-paced reads. 

Scottoline has written over 30 books between 1994 and 2018. After Anna is one of her most recent. If you bring this one on a cruise, I promise you, you will be very popular. 

Speaking of travel, a month ago I found myself at JFK Airport without a book to read for the flight home. So before I took off, I hurried to a nearby book kiosk to grab something quick. I ended up settling on a hardback novel called The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams. What especially attracted me to this book was a brief blurb on its dust jacket by Elin Hilderbrand, calling it “exquisitely rendered” and “at the top of my picks for the beach this summer.” Since Elin Hilderbrand is at the top of my list for summer/beach reads any summer, I felt that I couldn’t go wrong. If Elin loved it, how could I not? Well, Williams is obviously bright, accomplished, with a good grasp of the English language, but to me this novel lacked depth and magic, and, though I did finish it, for me it was an effort to do so. But who knows…if Elin H. liked it as much as she said she did, it is possible you might enjoy it. But I was not a fan. 

I’m still loving the Sue Grafton series, which I have raved about since I started with A is for Alibi. I am now on V is for Vengeance, getting close to the finish line. As I have said before, I can’t say enough about this writer and this series. They are all gems. You would think that reading 23 books that all take place in the same area of Southern California with the same female detective would get tiresome, but not at all. On the contrary. It is a tragedy that Grafton is no more and we will never have another Kinsey Millhone story beyond Y is for Yesterday. 

I think if I could meet any writer, dead or alive, I would choose Sue Grafton. I know, I know…you think I should say Virginia Woolf or Mark Twain or William Shakespeare. But, no. If you asked me today, I would choose Sue Grafton. We would meet at a seaside joint near Santa Teresa, where Kinsey Millhone (the series detective) lives in a garage apartment…or maybe at Rosie’s Tavern, a dive where Kinsey eats several times a week because it’s right next door (no matter that these places are all fictional)…and I would ask Sue G. where on earth these stories and characters and settings came from, and how she found the energy and magic that fuels them, every one. 

The last book I will mention here is one I just finished called Ruined by Ruth Everhart. Literary masterpiece it probably is not, but it is a simply and honestly told true-life account of a life that, early on, was interrupted, devastated and nearly ruined by rape. The author was a young Midwestern Christian college student when the crime occurred, and much of the book tells of her coming to grips with big questions such as, “How could a loving God allow this to happen?”… “Where was God?”… and “Why me?” 

I recommend this book. It is powerful to read about how the author manages to articulate her trauma and survive, and then move on with her life, her studies, a career and new relationships. This book is about a sudden, profound breach of trust and the slow restoration of trust. Besides issues of faith, it asks some good questions about “purity” and what it means to be a female human being in modern society. Very sincere. It made a big impact on me.

I do hope you have been having a good summer. Let’s hope for some golden days still to come. Happy reading!