Picks and Pans Review: Great Reads

updated 04/10/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/10/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Fiction

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A young girl in Nazi Germany salvages volumes from book burnings, and the books then become a means of salvation not only for her but for her loved ones. Written for young adults, Zusak's novel is a major achievement.

Saving the World by Julia Alvarez
This engrossing, expertly paced novel links two women, centuries apart, touched by battles against smallpox and AIDS. It's clear by story's end that the past informs the present and that altruism has its costs.

Halfway House by Katharine Noel
In her emotionally intense, beautifully crafted debut, Noel sheds new light on the old story about tragedy tearing a family apart. Here a star student has a psychotic break during a swim meet, and lives are shattered.

Duchess of Nothing by Heather McGowan
A strange and startling novel whose eccentric narrator—a woman who leaves her husband and goes to Rome—is unnamed and delusional as she recounts her tenuous existence. Beautiful and jagged, immensely comic and oddly moving.

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