Red Wheelbarrow Book Reviews

Renee Abigail Penelope Harold Meg

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Abigail's Reviews


The World to Come

by Dana Horn
W. W. Norton & Company
By the winner of three national awards, a daring, ambitious, and wildly readable novel

From the Publisher: A MILLION-DOLLAR PAINTING by Marc Chagall is stolen from a museum. The unlikely thief is Benjamin Ziskind, a thirty-year-old quiz-show writer. As Benjamin and his twin sister try to evade the police, they find themselves recalling their dead parents—the father who lost a leg in Vietnam, the mother who created children's books—and their stories about trust, loss, and betrayal.

What is true, what is fake, what does it mean? Eighty years before the theft, these questions haunted Chagall and the enigmatic Yiddish fabulist Der Nister ("The Hidden One"), teachers at a school for Jewish orphans. Both the painting and the questions will travel through time to shape the Ziskinds' futures.

With astonishing grace and simplicity, Dara Horn interweaves a real art heist, history, biography, theology, and Yiddish literature. Richly satisfying, utterly unique, her novel opens the door to "the world to come"—not life after death, but the world we create through our actions right now.

First Among Sequels

by Catherine O'Flynn
Tindal Street Press
Winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2007

From Publishers Weekly: Full of bizarre subplots, many of which don't go anywhere, bestseller Fforde's fifth novel to feature intrepid literary detective Thursday Next (after 2004's Something Rotten) blends elements of mystery, campy science fiction and screwball fantasy à la Terry Pratchett's Discworld. With the Stupidity Surplus reaching dangerously high levels all over England, Acme Carpets employee and undercover SpecOps investigator Next has her hands full trying to persuade her 16-year-old slacker son, Friday, to join the ChronoGuard, which deals with temporal stability; if Friday continues to sleep away his future, the end is near—for everyone. To complicate matters, a malicious apprentice begins making classic works of literature into reality book shows (Pride and Prejudice becomes The Bennets), a ruthless corporation tries to turn the Bookworld into a tourist trap, and the Cheese Enforcement Agency tries to bust Next for smuggling killer curd. The fate of the world may lie in a Longfellow poem. Fans of satiric literary humor are in for a treat. (July) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

What Was Lost

by Catherine O'Flynn
Tindal Street Press
Winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2007

"Skewers our consumer society in all its absurdity and terrible sadness . . . a great novel from an awesomely talented writer" - Jonathan Coe
"A child detective who disappears, a soulless shopping centre, old CCTV footage and a frustrated record shop assistant are the stars of this acutely observed novel. Be one of the first to discover this fresh literary voice" - Source magazine

More Picks!

  • Junot Diaz, Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao
  • Michael Redhill, Consolation
  • Anne Fadiman, At Large & At Small
  • Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Particular to the Country
  • Paul Torday, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
  • Nathan Englander, Ministry of Special Cases
  • Maile Meloy, A Family Daughter
  • Kevin Brockmeier, Brief History of the Dead
  • Amy Hempell, Collected Stories
  • Moshin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Yiddish Policeman's Union

by Michael Chabon
HarperCollins (US)

From Booklist, *Starred Review*: Like Haruki Murakami in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1991), Chabon plays with the conventions of the Chandlerian private-eye novel, but that's only one ingredient in an epic-scale alternate-history saga of Jewish life since World War II. The premise draws on an obscure historical fact: FDR once proposed that Alaska, not Israel, become the homeland for Jews after the war. In Chabon's telling, that's exactly what happened, except, inevitably, it hasn't gone as planned: the U.S. government now has enacted a policy that will evict all Jews without proper papers from Sitka, the center of Jewish Alaska. In the midst of this nightmare, browbeaten police detective Meyer Landsman investigates the murder of a heroin-addicted chess prodigy who happens to be the disgraced son of Sitka's most powerful rabbi. No one wants this case solved, from Landsman's boss (his ex-wife, Bina) to the FBI, but our Yiddish Marlowe keeps digging, uncovering apocalypse in the making...

Then We Came to the End

by Joshua Ferris
Little, Brown and Company (US), Penguin/Viking (UK)

* A top recommendation from Abigail! *

From Publishers Weekly: In this wildly funny debut from former ad man Ferris, a group of copywriters and designers at a Chicago ad agency face layoffs at the end of the '90s boom. Indignation rises over the rightful owner of a particularly coveted chair ("We felt deceived"). Gonzo e-mailer Tom Mota quotes Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the midst of his tirades, desperately trying to retain a shred of integrity at a job that requires a ruthless attention to what will make people buy things. Jealousy toward the aloof and "inscrutable" middle manager Joe Pope spins out of control. Copywriter Chris Yop secretly returns to the office after he's laid off to prove his worth. Rumors that supervisor Lynn Mason has breast cancer inspire blood lust, remorse, compassion.

Ferris has the downward-spiraling office down cold, and his use of the narrative "we" brilliantly conveys the collective fear, pettiness, idiocy and also humanity of high-level office drones as anxiety rises to a fever pitch. Only once does Ferris shift from the first person plural (for an extended fugue on Lynn's realization that she may be ill), and the perspective feels natural throughout. At once delightfully freakish and entirely credible, Ferris's cast makes a real impression. (Mar.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


by William Boyd
Bloomsbury UK

From the Publisher: Restless is a major and stunning new novel about wartime espionage from bestselling author William Boyd.

It is 1939. Eva Delectorskaya is a beautiful 28-year-old Russian émigrée living in Paris. As war breaks out she is recruited for the British Secret Service by Lucas Romer, a mysterious Englishman and under his tutelage she learns to become the perfect spy, to mask her emotions and trust no one, including those she loves most. Since then Eva has carefully rebuilt her life as the very English wife and mother Sally Gilmartin — but once a spy, always a spy. Now she must complete one final assignment. This time though Eva can't do it alone: she needs her daughter's help.

The Welsh Girl

by Peter Ho Davies
Sceptre / Hodder & Stoughton

From the Publisher:In 1944, a German Jewish refugee is sent to Wales to interview Rudolf Hess; in Snowdonia, a seventeen-year-old girl, the daughter of a fiercely nationalistic shepherd, dreams of the bright lights of an English city; and in a nearby POW camp, a German soldier struggles to reconcile his surrender with his sense of honour. As their lives intersect, all three will come to question where they belong and where their loyalties lie. Peter Ho Davies's thought-provoking and profoundly moving first novel traces a perilous wartime romance as it explores the bonds of love and duty that hold us to family, country, and ultimately our fellow man. Vividly rooted in history and landscape, The Welsh Girl reminds us anew of the pervasive presence of the past, and the startling intimacy of the foreign.

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

by Vendela Vida
Ecco / HarperCollins USA

From the Publisher: On the day of her father's funeral, twenty-eight-year-old Clarissa Iverton discovers that he wasn't her biological father after all. Her mother disappeared fourteen years earlier, and now Clarissa is alone and adrift. The one person she feels she can trust, her fiancé, Pankaj, has just revealed a terrible and life-changing secret to her. In the cycle of a day, all the truths in Clarissa's world become myths and rumors, and she is catapulted out of the life she knew.

She finds her birth certificate, which leads her from New York to Helsinki, and then north of the Arctic Circle, to mystical Lapland, where she believes she'll meet her real father. There, under the northern lights of a sunless winter, Clarissa comes to know the Sami, the indigenous population, and seeks out a local priest, the one man who may hold the key to her origins. Along her travels she meets an elderly Sami healer named Anna Kristine, who has her own secrets, and a handsome young reindeer herder named Henrik, who accompanies Clarissa to a hotel made of ice. There she is confronted with the truth about her mother's past and finally must make a decision about how—and where—to live the rest of her life.

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

From the Publisher: The searing, post-apocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece. A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged, nuclear landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is grey. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, ‘each other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

1000 Years of Good Prayers

by Yiyun Li
Random House (September 20, 2005)

From the Publisher: Brilliant and original, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers introduces a remarkable new writer whose breathtaking stories are set in China and among Chinese Americans in the United States. In this rich, astonishing collection, Yiyun Li illuminates how mythology, politics, history, and culture intersect with personality to create fate. From the bustling heart of Beijing, to a fast-food restaurant in Chicago, to the barren expanse of Inner Mongolia, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers reveals worlds both foreign and familiar, with heartbreaking honesty and in beautiful prose.

Be Near Me

by Andrew O'Hagan
Faber and Faber (17 Aug 2006)

'Be near me when my light is low, When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick And tingle; and the heart is sick . . .'
From the Publisher:In a small Scottish parish, an English priest is stalked by the fear of scandal, class hatred and lost ideals. Over the Spring and Summer of 2003, Father David becomes friends with two young people, Mark and Lisa: by the year's end his life is the focus of public hysteria. As he looks back to his childhood, and to Oxford in the fever of student revolt, Father David begins to reconsider the central events of his life, and to see what may have happened to the political hopes of his generation. Meanwhile, religious warfare breaks out on his doorstep.

The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield
Orion UK

From the Publisher:
A compelling emotional mystery in the timeless vein of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, about family secrets and the magic of books and storytelling.

Vida Winter, a bestselling yet reclusive novelist, has created many outlandish life histories for herself, all of them invention. Now old and ailing, at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to biographer Margaret Lea - a woman with secrets of her own - is a summons.

Vida's tale is one of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family: the beautiful and wilful Isabelle and the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline. Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling, but as a biographer she deals in fact not fiction and she doesn't trust Vida's account.

As she begins her researches, two parallel stories unfold. Join Margaret as she begins her journey to the truth - hers, as well as Vida's.

Thirteen Moons

by Charles Frazier

From the Publisher:
Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons is the story of one man's remarkable life, spanning a century of relentless change. At the age of twelve, an orphan named Will Cooper is given a horse, a key, and a map and is sent on a journey through the wilderness to the edge of the Cherokee Nation, the uncharted white space on the map. Will is a bound boy, obliged to run a remote Indian trading post. As he fulfills his lonesome duty, Will finds a father in Bear, a Cherokee chief, and is adopted by him and his people, developing relationships that ultimately forge Will's character. All the while, his love of Claire, the enigmatic and captivating charge of volatile and powerful Featherstone, will forever rule Will's heart.

In a distinct voice filled with both humor and yearning, Will tells of a lifelong search for home, the hunger for fortune and adventure, the rebuilding of a trampled culture, and above all an enduring pursuit of passion. As he comes to realize, When all else is lost and gone forever, there is yearning. One of the few welcome lessons age teaches is that only desire trumps time.

Will Cooper, in the hands of Charles Frazier, becomes a classic American soul: a man devoted to a place and its people, a woman, and a way of life, all of which are forever just beyond his reach. Thirteen Moons takes us from the uncharted wilderness of an unspoiled continent, across the South, up and down the Mississippi, and to the urban clamor of a raw Washington City. Throughout, Will is swept along as the wild beauty of the nineteenth century gives way to the telephones, automobiles, and encroaching railways of the twentieth. Steeped in history, rich in insight, and filled with moments of sudden beauty, Thirteen Moons is an unforgettable work of fiction by an American master.

The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

by Michel Faber
Canongate UK

From the Publisher:
New stories from the international bestseller The Crimson Petal and the White

Enjoy more Sugar ...

Take a saunter down Silver Street once more for an early Christmas encounter with the determined heroine of The Crimson Petal and the White, and find out more of what became of her.

In this collection, Michel Faber revisits the world of his bestselling novel, briefly opening doors onto the lives of its characters to give us tantalising glimpses of where they sprang from and what happened to them.

Theft: A Love Story

by Peter Carey
Faber & Faber UK

A rollicking uproarious story about art fraud and lust and deception. Intricate plot twists, biting humor and sharp insights on human nature and the international art scene kept me solidly gripped to the final page. This is my must-read spring selection in the bookstore.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl
Penguin UK

From the Publisher:

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a darkly hilarious coming-of-age novel and a richly plotted suspense tale told through the distinctive voice of its heroine, Blue van Meer. After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge—and is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah's friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guide—or misguide—her.

Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class and containing ironic visual aids (drawn by the author), Pessl's debut novel is complex yet compelling, erudite yet accessible. It combines the suspense of Hitchcock, the self-parody of Dave Eggers, and the storytelling gifts of Donna Tartt with a dazzling intelligence and wit entirely Pessl's own.


by Bill Buford
Knopf US

From the Publisher:

Bill Buford—author of the highly acclaimed best-selling Among the Thugs—had long thought of himself as a reasonably comfortable cook when in 2002 he finally decided to answer a question that had nagged him every time he prepared a meal: What kind of cook could he be if he worked in a professional kitchen? When the opportunity arose to train in the kitchen of Mario Batali’s three-star New York restaurant, Babbo, Buford grabbed it. Heat is the chronicle—sharp, funny, wonderfully exuberant—of his time spent as Batali’s “slave” and of his far-flung apprenticeships with culinary masters in Italy.

In a fast-paced, candid narrative, Buford describes the frenetic experience of working in Babbo’s kitchen: the trials and errors (and more errors), humiliations and hopes, disappointments and triumphs as he worked his way up the ladder from slave to cook. He talks about his relationships with his kitchen colleagues and with the larger-than-life, hard-living Batali, whose story he learns as their friendship grows through (and sometimes despite) kitchen encounters and after-work all-nighters.

Buford takes us to the restaurant in a remote Appennine village where Batali first apprenticed in Italy and where Buford learns the intricacies of handmade pasta...the hill town in Chianti where he is tutored in the art of butchery by Italy’s most famous butcher, a man who insists that his meat is an expression of the Italian London, where he is instructed in the preparation of game by Marco Pierre White, one of England’s most celebrated (or perhaps notorious) chefs. And throughout, we follow the thread of Buford’s fascinating reflections on food as a bearer of culture, on the history and development of a few special dishes (Is the shape of tortellini really based on a woman’s navel? And just what is a short rib?), and on the what and why of the foods we eat today.

Heat is a marvelous hybrid: a richly evocative memoir of Buford’s kitchen adventure, the story of Batali’s amazing rise to culinary (and extra-culinary) fame, a dazzling behind-the-scenes look at the workings of a famous restaurant, and an illuminating exploration of why food matters.

It is a book to delight in—and to savor.

Black Swan Green

by David Mitchell
Sceptre UK

From the Publisher:

David Mitchell, author of the Man Booker-shortlisted "Cloud Atlas", returns with a vintage novel destined to be his most captivating achievement to date. David Mitchell comes home - to England, 1982, and the cusp of adolescence. Jason Taylor is 13, doomed to be growing up in the most boring family in the deadest village (Black Swan Green) in the dullest county (Worcestershire) in the most tedious nation (England) on earth. And he stammers. 13 chapters, each as self-contained as a short story, follow 13 months in his life as he negotiates the pitfalls of school and home and contends with bullies, girls and family politics. In the distance, the Falklands conflict breaks out; close at hand, the village mobilises against a gypsy camp. And through Jason's eyes, we see what he doesn't know he knows - and watch unfold what will make him wish his life had been as uneventful as he had believed. Vividly capturing the mood of the times - high unemployment, Cold War politics and the sunset of agrarian England - this is at once a portrait of an era and of an age: the black hole between childhood and teenagerdom.

The Historian

by Elizabeth Kostova
Little, Brown paperback

A gripping, suspenseful edge-of-your-seat historical thriller about the ancient myth of Dracula and a modern-day quest to unearth (literally) the truth.

War Trash

by Ha Jin
Penguin UK paperback

Chinese soldiers interred in US /South Korean POW camps in Korea during the Korean War. Beautifully rendered juxtaposition of loyalty torn between family and homeland and political obligations. The desire to return home alive at nearly any price knowing home can never be as it was before the conflict.

The History of Love

by Nicole Krauss
Viking paperback

An unforgettable story of a nearly-forgotten book, The History of Love, and its effect upon its publication and years afterward. A great choice for fans of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.

Old School

by Tobias Wolff
Bloomsbury paperback

A beautifully rendered tale of adolescence and the power of discovery through literature. I especially liked the effect Ayn Rand had on this (fictional?) elite New England boys’ boarding school.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli

by Andrew Sean Greer
Faber & Faber paperback

A heartbreaking novel about a man who grows from old age down to childhood and the woman he loves his entire backwards life.

Cloud Atlas

by David Mitchell
Sceptre paperback

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize. An immensely clever story told in six seemingly unrelated yet interlocking parts, in six narrative styles, during six time periods past, present and future.

Other books for adults Abigail's been reading and recommending this year:

  • In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar (Viking UK)
  • Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn (Picador UK)
  • The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger (HarperCollins US)
  • The Echo-Maker by Richard Powers (Random House UK)
  • No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (Picador)
  • The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (HarperCollins UK)
  • The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank (Penguin UK)
  • The Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (Phoenix UK)
  • The Bear Boy by Cynthia Ozick (Phoenix UK) Original US title is "Heir to the Glimmering World"
  • Misfortune by Wesley Stace (Vintage UK)


The Penderwicks

by Jeanne Birdsall
Corgi Yearling Books

From the Publisher: The Penderwicks are four sisters, as different as chalk from cheese, yet as close as can be. The eldest, Rosalind, is responsible and practical; Skye, stubborn and feisty; dreamy, artistic, budding novelist, Jane; and shy little Batty, who doesn't go anywhere without her butterfly wings. And not forgetting Hound, their large lumbering lovable dog. The four girls and their absent-minded father head off for their summer holidays, but instead of the cosy tumbledown cottage they expect, they find themselves on a huge estate called Arundel, with magnificent gardens ripe for exploring. It isn't long before they become embroiled in all sorts of scrapes with new-found friend, Jeffrey - but his mother, the icy-hearted Mrs Tifton, must be avoided at all costs. Chaotic adventures ensue, and it soon becomes a summer the sisters will never forget...

Just In Case

by Meg Rosoff
Wendy Lamb Books (August 8, 2006)

Justin Case is convinced fate has in for him.

And he's right.

From the Publisher: After finding his younger brother teetering on the edge of his balcony, fifteen-year-old David Case realizes the fragility of life and senses impending doom. Without looking back, he changes his name to Justin and assumes a new identity, new clothing and new friends, and dares to fall in love with the seductive Agnes Day. With his imaginary dog Boy in tow, Justin struggles to fit into his new role and above all, to survive in a world where tragedy is around every corner. He's got to be prepared, just in case.

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak
Knopf Books for Young Readers (March 14, 2006)

From the Publisher: It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

I, Coriander

by Sally Gardner
Orion hardcover

The story of Coriander Hobie in 1643 London who lives a privileged life in a great house on the river Thames. Coriander knows much early childhood happiness with loving joyful parents, but her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, her father falls prey to depression and evil enters the home, from near and afar. Suspected of witchcraft and sorcery, Coriander is locked in a chest and left to perish. How does she survive? This is an exciting tale of true love, justice, and questions unanswered. Where were the miniature wedding portraits of her parents painted, and what is the significance of the fairy stories painted on Coriander's childhood bedroom walls? And what powerful secret is locked in the ebony casket in her father's study?

Magyk, Septimus Heap Book 1

by Angie Sage
Bloomsbury paperback

Even with a glut of books about magic on the shelves these days, this one stands out. A story filled with humor, mistaken identities, friendship and magic.

How I Live Now

by Meg Rosoff
Penguin paperback

Winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and others. This is the most intense young adult novel about love, loss and self-reliance I’ve read in years; one that also has crossover appeal for adults.

Not the End of the World

by Geraldine McCaughrean
Oxford paperback

Winner of the Whitbread Children’s Award. Based on the tale of Noah and the flood, this exciting novel focuses on the women and children aboard the Ark. The grim reality is vividly imagined and the story line challenging.



by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
HarperCollins UK hardcover

A book about bears, in rhyme, first released in 1948. Using Krauss’s mere 27 words, Sendak has created a hilarious tableau of bears, with a guest appearance by Max, of Where The Wild Things Are.

Knuffle Bunny : A Cautionary Tale

by Mo Willems
Hyperion hardcover

Winner of the Caldecott Honor Award. Willems combines a simply narrated story with drawings and photographs to capture Trixie’s dramatic loss of her beloved Knuffle Bunny.

Additional Recommendations from Abigail:

For teenagers, Abigail recommends:

  • Feed by M. T. Anderson
  • The Harsh Cry of the Heron by Liam Hearn
  • Looking For Alaska by John Green (HarperCollins UK)
  • Luna by Jayne Anne Philips
  • Just Like Tomorrow by Faïza Guène (Random House UK). Crossover appeal for adult readers. US title is "Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow," original French title, "Kiffe Kiffe Demain."
  • The Year the Gypsies Came by Linzi Glass (Penguin UK)

For children, Abigail recommends:

  • The New Policeman by Kate Thompson (Red Fox UK). Winner of 2005 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and shortlisted for 2005 Whitbread Book of the Year Award Children's Book Category.
  • Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton (Puffin UK)
  • Fish by L. S. Matthews (Hodder UK)
  • Flyte by Angie Sage (Book 2 in the Septimus Heap trilogy)


  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves : Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! Adaptation for kids by Lynne Truss, illustrated by Bonnie Timmons (Profile UK)
  • The Library by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small (Frances Lincoln UK)

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