Picks and Pans Main: Books

updated 09/13/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/13/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mockingjay

by Suzanne Collins |

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REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT

People PICK

NOVEL

It's an off-putting premise for a series aimed at teens: 24 kids fight for survival against nature and each other until only one is left alive. Oh, and it's all televised. That's the plot of Collins' hugely successful Hunger Games trilogy, but it doesn't do it justice. The first two books delivered nonstop action, a fully realized dystopian world and an acute rebuke of our media saturation and obsession with appearance. This final installment, the grimmest yet, is a riveting meditation on the costs of war.

The series' narrator is Katniss Everdeen, a "tribute," or contestant, in the annual ritual staged by the ruling despots in the Capitol. Against all odds, both Katniss and Peeta, another tribute, survive by posing as lovers, winning over the TV audience. Meanwhile there's a boy back home who is Katniss' real soulmate. In Mockingjay Katniss' outsmarting of the Capitol has fanned a rebellion, but she's a reluctant poster girl. Collins puts the reader right inside Katniss' head as she grows into the role, and it's a bloody, terrifying process. Clear your schedule before you start: This is a powerful, emotionally exhausting final volume.

Skippy Dies

by Paul Murray |

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REVIEWED BY KYLE SMITH

NOVEL

Seabrook College is pulsing with strange forces. Hormones? Yes, but also camaraderie, cruelty and a mix of science and the supernatural that inspires one boy genius to seek a portal through space-time even as he fails to notice the lovestruck anguish of his roommate Skippy. This epic page turner from Ireland sweeps you along with the heedless gusto of youth.

Last Night at Chateau Marmont

by Lauren Weisberger |

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REVIEWED BY CLARISSA CRUZ

NOVEL

Brooke and Julian are a struggling but happy Manhattan couple until musician Julian becomes a star. The tabloid scandal that eventually rocks their marriage seems familiar, but Weisberger gets the starmaking machine right, and the little details that make up the essence of the couple's relationship feel poignant and true.

The Good Daughters

by Joyce Maynard |

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REVIEWED BY JOANNA POWELL

NOVEL

Novelist Maynard kept her teen romance with J.D. Salinger under wraps for 25 years before revealing it in 1998. Now her familiarity with secret lives plays out in this affecting book about two girls born on the same day in the same hospital to two very different families. We follow Ruth and Dana for five decades, from their rural New Hampshire beginnings in the '50s through the turbulent '60s, when Ruth runs off to Woodstock and Dana comes to terms with her homosexuality. As they move into adulthood, the daughters' lives grow more disparate-Ruth marries a man "steady as a metronome"; Dana finds joy in farming-yet strangely intertwined. Maynard's spare prose packs a rich emotional punch. But it's the nagging family enigma, and the slow reveal of some life-altering secrets, that propels this literary story into a can't-put-it-down mystery.

Body Work

by Sara Paretsky |

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REVIEWED BY JOSH EMMONS

NOVEL

After 13 books' worth of sleuthing her way through America's Second City, V.I. Warshawski remains a frisky, dukes-up private eye. Which is a good thing because she's still a powerful magnet for trouble. This time around Warshawski attends a performance-art show where a young woman is shot and dies in her arms; she's then hired by the accused murderer's father to find out what really happened. Body Work isn't flawless-its dialogue can be off-puttingly corny-but it should satisfy Paretsky's devoted fans.

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