Readers’ guide to spring break books

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By KATHY DES JARDINS CIOFFI
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Easter is early this year – the last Sunday in March – which means spring break is right around the corner and it’s time to stock up on a stack of page-turners to pack. With the help of bookworm friends near and far, we’re highlighting a mix of recommendations sure to tempt any traveler, from best-sellers to mysteries, thrillers, romances and even a Pulitzer Prize winner or two. 

“My idea of beach reading is chick lit and/or legal suspense,” said Johns Creek resident Robyn Kanner. “So anything by Elin Hilderbrand (her Nantucket settings put you in the mood). Kristen Hannah is good, too.” Kanner just read “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty, which she called fun with good characters. For those who enjoy digging their toes into sand while delving into a bit of suspense, she recommends anything new and thrilling by Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben or Steve Martini.  

Santa Barbara, California, resident Denise Cutbirth doesn’t have to go far to get in some seaside reading – it’s a regular event for her. Cutbirth, who prefers strolling along Santa Barbara’s beautiful coastline while listening to books— “I haven’t bought a ‘paper’ book in years!” —recommends “All the Light We Cannot See.”  She describes the Anthony Doerr novel as “historical fiction, blind girl in France during World War II, Pulitzer winner, unique perspectives, vivid images, still  on the New York Times Best Sellers List.” Other suggestions include “Circling the Sun,” by Paula McLain, “The Kitchen House,” by Kathleen Grissom, John Grisham’s “Rogue Lawyer,” and another Pulitzer winner, Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” 

“The Einstein Prophecy was fun,” said Texan Lynn Easley-Eyre, who most recently enjoyed the Rockport, Texas, beach. The Robert Masello thriller is “like ‘Indiana Jones,’ ‘Angels and Demons’ and ‘The Museum Men’ got together and forged a fourth novel,” said Easley-Eyre. “It’s a short read, so perfect for the beach. It has suspense, supernatural demons and intrigue all framed around Princeton University in 1944 when Albert Einstein joined the school as a professor. I particularly enjoyed the affectionate mini-profile of Einstein within the novel.”

 When Johns Creek resident Rosemary Shiman heads to the shore, she prefers Gulf beaches, like Watercolor, or South Carolina’s Isle of Palms. And, chances are, she’ll have a riveting read in tow, like “Dark Places,” the second novel by Gillian Flynn, whose best-selling “Gone Girl” was adapted into psychological thriller starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Shiman called “Dark Places” a “good thriller! Chapters alternate between past and present, from the point of view of different characters, revealing the mystery as the past illuminates the present. Well done!”

Beach time is just part of the job for American Airlines flight attendant Judy Gilbert-Blanchard, whose current routes include frequent departures to Hawaii, where she’s “always” on the beach in Maui, Kauai and Honolulu. And she goes prepared, too. Fresh back from a used book store, Gilbert-Blanchard’s newest recommendations include Linda Howard’s romance/suspense novels – “Kill and Tell,” “All the Queen’s Men” 

and “Kiss Me While I Sleep.”  For vacationers yearning to read about more far-flung locales, she suggested Barcelona-based “The Shadow of the Wind,” by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and “Cutting for Stone,” a first novel set in the homeland of Ethiopian-born medical doctor and author Abraham Verghese.

If fictional locales just across the pond are more your cup of tea, Anne Thebeau favors the Cotswold mystery series by Rebecca Tope, a British crime novelist and journalist. “The protagonist is a young widow who takes on house-sitting jobs in various Cotswold villages,” said Thebeau, of Sebastopol, California. “Contemporary feel in an historic English setting — a good beach read for an Anglophile.”

For sojourners seeking quick, quality reads, Yvonne Irby praised Elizabeth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton.” Irby is an avid reader, both at home in Reno, Nevada, well as at her Lundy Canyon retreat in the Sierra Nevadas. And this 208-page effort by the author of Pulitzer-winning “Olive Kitteridge” prompted a first for Irby: Using the bookmark feature on her Kindle app. “It’s very short,” she said, “so I want to savor it.”

Louisianan Sidney Williams, author of “Midnight Eyes” and other novels, currently lives and writes in Orlando, Florida, which means, as he joked, he occasionally heads to Cocoa Beach “to look for Major Nelson’s house.” Whether your sandy pursuits are similarly tied to sitcoms or, instead of dreaming of Jeannie, you just want some down time with a good book, Williams recommends  “The Night Sister,” by Jennifer McMahon. It’s “a rich and seductive page-turner with secrets from the past reverberating through the world of contemporary characters whose lives have been deeply affected by their ties to an old Vermont hotel. Parallel storylines and historic missives to Alfred Hitchcock from a starry-eyed teen help weave this chilling tale. It’s one of childhood innocence lost and the unrelenting echoes of the past,” Williams said. “The novel is mystery, gothic and even more as the pages turn and the reader is drawn into McMahon’s world.”

When Alpharetta resident Donna Michael heads to the beach, chances are she’s bound for Emerald Isle, North Carolina, where her family has vacationed for 29 years. And it’s a good bet she’ll bring along plenty to read. “I read many different genres, but mostly fiction,” Michael said. “Real life is stressful enough so I don’t gravitate toward nonfiction very often. Local author Karen White has a new book, set in South Carolina, ‘The Sound of Glass,’ excellent! And two of her earlier books, ‘The Color of Light’ and ‘Learning to Breathe,’ are two of my favorites. I read all of Karen’s books. 

“For fans of Janet Evanovich and her yearly Stephanie Plum series, her new series written with Lee Goldberg is mystery/romance and a lot of adventure,” Michael said. “Start with ‘The Heist,’ the first in the series, and once you get to know Fox and O’Hare, you will want to read the next few books.” She also called Georgia author Carolyn Dingman’s “Cancel the Wedding,” set on a Georgia lake, a “must read.” 

“And lastly, for John Grisham fans, ‘Gray Mountain’ is full twists and turns only Grisham can write.”

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This month's issue

Farrah Haidar, left, and Hala Yassine, are two of the seven sisters involved in Seven Sisters Scones in Johns Creek, offering their customers a modern take on a traditional breakfast treat.
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