THE SETTINGS FOR these 13 new books seem like the ultimate itinerary for spring adventures: Rome, Puerto Vallarta, Korea, Provence, Polynesia, Morocco, Hawaii. These pages will unleash the imagination, spark insight, and, most of all, provide actionable tips for when you do find yourself on that Mexican beach or in that Marrakech souk.
“Travel is freedom,” guidebook king Rick Steves has written. “It’s recess, and we need it.” So tuck one (or more) of these books into your bag and go play.
Daughter of Moloka’i, by Alan Brennert
The sequel to Brennert’s bestselling novel Moloka’i expands on the story of Rachel Kalama—who is banished to the leprosy settlement at Kalaupapa, on the island of Moloka’i—and her daughter, Ruth, whom she is forced to give up. Ruth is adopted by a Japanese couple in California, and as an adult is detained at Manzanar Relocation Camp during WWII. Throughout, the reunion and blossoming relationship between mother and daughter is rooted in a deep love of Hawaii. Have tissues at hand.
The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See
Bestselling author See interviewed haenyeo—the amazing female divers of Korea’s Jeju Island—in their 70s, 80s, and 90s as she was researching this decades-spanning story about the bonds of friendship. Mi-ja and Young-sook are childhood pals who both become haenyeo but whose lives take them in different directions as war, politics, and modernization forever change their beautiful island.
The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo
How about this for interesting characters? In 1930s colonial Malaya (present-day Malaysia), Ji Lin is an apprentice dressmaker who works nights at a dancehall. Ren is a houseboy tasked with finding his late master’s severed finger to ensure he transitions to the next world intact. Also, there’s a tiger that may or may not be stalking townspeople. Their stories intertwine in this lushly detailed novel imbued with folklore, mystery, and romance.
The Moroccan Girl, by Charles Cumming
A British spy novelist is recruited by MI6 to track down a fugitive in Moroccoconnected to an international terrorist group, under the pretense that he is researching his next thriller. Traveling first to Casablanca, then Marrakech, the writer quickly finds himself out of his depth in a shadowy world that is as twisty as the streets of the medina.
When All Is Said, Anne Griffin
With quintessentially Irish characters, dialogue, and setting, this debut novel takes place in a small-town bar in County Meath where an 84-year-old man gives five toasts to the five most important people in his life. Through the course of the night, he unfurls a life story of love, regret, family, and secrets.
The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley
Like a deliciously drawn out game of Clue, this novel brings together a group of Oxford friends at a remote Scottish highlands estate for the Christmas holidays. A blizzard ends up snowing them in—and soon one of them turns up dead. Foley paints such a vivid hunting-lodge-and-lochs setting that you’ll immediately be booking your own highland fling, clandestine killers or no.
The River, by Peter Heller
Wild northern Canada is the immersive backdrop for this thriller about two college friends who are canoeing the Maskwa River to the Hudson Bay. There’s fog and wind and a forest fire blazing somewhere not far off, but in addition to natural hazards, the young men become dangerously entangled in a mystery involving a couple they hear arguing at a waterside encampment.
Death in Provence, by Serena Kent
Riffing on Peter Mayle and his year in Provence—as well as Alexander McCall Smith and his Ladies’ Detective Agency—this is the first in a breezy mystery series set among the vineyards and olive groves of the Luberon. The accidental sleuth here is Penelope Kite, a divorced Brit whose dream retirement in a southern France farmhouse is upended by the discovery of a corpse in the swimming pool.
Tomorrow There Will Be Sun, by Dana Reinhardt
On the surface, this is the story of a Mexican beachside villa idyll gone wrong. But it’s really a tale of what we choose not to see when we are on vacation—whether it’s the less-than-rosy reality outside villa walls or the fraying threads of our most intimate relationships. Cue the bottomless margaritas.
A Desert Harvest: New and Selected Essays, by Bruce Berger
“It is as an adult, exiled to cool mountains,” writes Berger, “that I dream of the desert.” This essay collection captures the myriad ways the southwest desert casts a spell: the spikiness of saguaro, the crisscross of canals in Phoenix, the music of Mexico’s La Paz, the “revelation of desert sunsets.”
Off the Rails: A Train Trip Through Life, by Beppe Severgnini
Italian journalist Severgnini is such a train buff that he spent his honeymoon on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In the U.S., he’s ridden the Crescent, the Coast Starlight, and the Empire Builder. He’s taken the train from Naples to London with a Donald Trump bobblehead to find out what Europeans think of the American president a year after his election. As Severgnini writes, “Trains are rolling confession booths.”
Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine,by Barry Strauss
There’s a good chance your spring break travels will take you somewhere within the former Roman Empire. After all, it once stretched from northern Europe to the Middle East. Get some insight into that ruin you’re looking at with Strauss’s history page-turner, which brings to life Rome’s rulers, including wall-building Hadrian and the first Africa-born emperor, Septimius Severus.
Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, by Christina Thompson
Polynesia conjures images of blue lagoons and bougainvillea, tropical palms and vibrant coral reefs. But Thompson explores the origins of the Polynesians themselves: where did they originate, how did they navigate so successfully the vast Pacific Ocean? Readers travel along, from the Marquesas to Hawaii, and from Easter Island to New Zealand.