Spring crop of books to be bountiful

As spring book season nears, publishing houses are preparing to release a number of interesting titles by top authors.

Here's a sampling of upcoming books, sent to this desk in the form of advance-reading copies.

* "Caught" by Harlan Coben (Dutton, $27.95, 400 pages; on sale March 23): Coben departs from his Myron Bolitar series with this thriller about a missing teenage girl and the efforts of reporter Wendy Tynes to find her.

* "The Barbary Pirates" by William Dietrich (Harper, $18, 336 pages; March 30): The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist picks up where he left off in "The Dakota Cipher," with American expatriate-rogue Ethan Gage staying ahead of over-the-top, life-threatening adventures. This time, he is dispatched by Napoleon Bonaparte to recover "an ancient super-weapon that legend contends burned a Roman fleet." Gage has many of the same moves as the late George MacDonald Fraser's irresistible anti-hero, Sir Harry Flashman.

* " Kissing the Mask" by William T. Vollmann (Ecco, $29.99, 528 pages; April 6): The prolific National Book Award winner takes on the subjects of beauty and femininity via this behind-the-scenes exploration of Japanese Noh theater. The author illustrates the book with his own photos and drawings.

* "Imperfect Birds" by Anne Lamott (Riverhead, $25.95, 288 pages; April 6): A 17-year-old girl who's an honor student and athlete is living a lie, as her heartbroken parents discover.

* " In the Shadow of the Cypress" by Thomas Steinbeck (Pocket, $25, 256 pages; April 6): A natural disaster along the Monterey Coast unearths ancient Chinese artifacts, the source of much mystery and power. The author is novelist John Steinbeck's son, who also wrote "Down to a Soundless Sea."

* "Beatrice and Virgil" by Yann Martel (Spiegel & Grau, $24, 224 pages; April 13): Martel's best-selling "Life of Pi" was a book club favorite. Here, a man named Henry embarks on an odyssey that leads him to involvement with a donkey and a monkey, and some profound discoveries.

* "Hannah's List" by Debbie Macomber (Mira, $24.95, 416 pages; April 27): A widower finds a letter from his late wife requesting that he marry again. She includes the names of three women "candidates" for her husband's future happiness, but his choice is most surprising.

* "Island Beneath the Sea" by Isabel Allende (Harper, $26.99, 464 pages; April 27): In 1770, Tete is a slave girl on the island of Saint-Domingue who toils in the household of young plantation owner Toulouse Valmorain. Through trials and tribulations over the years, the two learn to depend on each other.