The Storyteller

By Jodi Picoult (Emily Bestler Books/Atria, 480 pages, $28)

With Jodi Picoult, you know what you're going to get: a page-turner that takes on a contemporary topic. Her latest, "The Storyteller," centers on war criminals of the Holocaust, and it does not disappoint. Sage Singer is struggling after the death of her mother in a car accident that also left her own face badly scarred. A baker, Sage hides both her scar and herself by working overnight hours. At a grief group, she meets Josef Weber, a ninety-something man who asks a favor: He tells her that he is a former Nazi and asks that she, a Jew, help him carry out assisted suicide.

A cast of amazing characters populate this novel. We meet Sage's grandmother, Minka, a Holocaust survivor; her gut-wrenching story is detailed in part two of the book. There is Sage's wise boss, Mary, who "calls herself a recovering nun, but in reality, she gave up her habit, not her faith." Sage's co-worker at the bakery, Rocco, talks only in haiku. The reader gets swept away first with Sage's story, then with Minka's, and, finally, with how the two intersect. The novel is an exhausting, emotional journey. Its questions of justice and forgiveness haunt long after the final page is read.

Jodi Picoult will be at Wayzata Central Middle School, 305 Vicksburg Lane N., Plymouth, at 7 p.m. March 15. Tickets are $10, which can be applied to the cost of a book. Sponsored by the Bookcase of Wayzata.

Judy Romanowich Smith, news designer

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965

By William Manchester and Paul Reid (Little, Brown & Co., 1,182 pages, $40)

Thirty years have passed since historian William Manchester issued, to great acclaim, the first volume of this biography. While there has been no shortage of Churchill books in the years since, readers who loved Manchester's way with words eagerly awaited his treatment of the British statesman during his "finest hour" in World War II.

But after finishing the second volume, Manchester developed writer's block and then suffered a series of debilitating strokes. Shortly before he died in 2004, he handed off his notes and research to Paul Reid, a little-known Florida features reporter. It was an unusual choice — Manchester only met Reid in his later years — but the book is testament that the arrangement worked.

While lacking Manchester's narrative flourish and metaphorical flair, Reid masters the details and sweep of an extraordinary story that takes Churchill from his rise as prime minister in 1940 to his death in 1965. His brilliant and unflinching leadership in the war deservedly commands most of the book, although I would have enjoyed getting more on his life afterward.

Reid has said that Manchester wrote about 100 pages of the book; which ones, he won't say. In the end, what matters is that he has successfully brought to a close what is arguably the best American biography of the greatest statesman — and half American at that — in all of British history.

Kevin Duchschere, metro reporter