Books of Note: Twin by Allen Shawn

Twin, the recently released memoir about Allen Shawn's struggle with his sister's autism has caught my eye. In today's world, public consciousness of the various forms of mental illness has awakened and society is not usually so quick to institutionalize people with these illnesses as it once was. Published by Penguin, the following description is from their site:

A heartbreaking yet deeply hopeful memoir about life as a twin in the face of autism.

When Allen Shawn and his twin sister, Mary, were two, Mary began exhibiting signs of what would be diagnosed many years later as autism. Understanding Mary and making her life a happy one appeared to be impossible for the Shawns. At the age of eight, with almost no warning, her parents sent Mary to a residential treatment center. She never lived at home again.

Fifty years later, as he probed the sources of his anxieties in Wish I Could Be There, Shawn realized that his fate was inextricably linked to his sister's, and that their natures were far from being different.

Twin highlights the difficulties American families coping with autism faced in the 1950s. Shawn also examines the secrets and family dramas as his father, William, became editor of The New Yorker. Twin reconstructs a parallel narrative for the two siblings, who experienced such divergent fates yet shared talents and proclivities. Wrenching, honest, understated, and poetic, Twin is at heart about the mystery of being inextricably bonded to someone who can never be truly understood.

Review: Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx

On the inside of this book, the title is accompanied by the words ‘a memoir’. Unless I’m completely wrong about the meaning of the word ‘memoir’ I think that that is somewhat of a misnomer.

Bird Cloud is a collection of essays loosely connected by themes of home. Annie Proulx gives a recounting of her own place on earth via her genealogy. That section was just skimmed over with not much detail. She relayed what information she had, but that was given to her by someone she hired to track it down. She didn’t do her own research. If she had and then described that discovery process in an essay I would have found it more absorbing – as it was I thought that particular essay only mildly interesting. Another essay recounts the many birds that populate her area of Bird Cloud and how she came to know them. She mentions that she isn’t a ‘list-maker’ and does not make note of every bird that crosses her path. And that’s fine – but (and perhaps I’m being too sensitive here) I disliked the sense that there’s something wrong with making a ‘I’ve seen this bird’ list.

This book is also about history and how Bird Cloud (the 640 acres where Annie Proulx built her house) itself came to be in the author’s hands. She writes about its early history and more recent events concerning overgrazing. I would have enjoyed seeing photos of the areas she described and this is where I think the book is missing most. There are small, hand-drawn pictures and diagrams at the beginning of the chapters but real photos of the area and perhaps the people she spent the most time talking about would have been an added bonus.

What I liked was the description of buying the land and building on it. The people she described, the weather, the impassable roads – all was well done. Having gone through a building process myself, I could easily relate to the big and small hiccups. Her foray with friends onto the land to look for historical remnants of previous inhabitants was also quite interesting. There’s nothing better than a fossil hunt!

What I most liked most of all about this book was the author’s writing. She has a way with words and knows how to put them together and that, above all else, is what kept me reading. This woman can write! While I don’t think this book is what I expected it to be I will read another Annie Proulx book (this was my first) simply for the joy of reading great prose.

Waiting on Wednesday: A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I love these books and can't wait for A Red Herring Without Mustard to come out this February 8th. This delightful series written by Alan Bradley is described on Doubleday's website:

In the third installment of this bestselling, award-winning, sister-poisoning, bicycle-riding, murder-investigating, mad, merry, and utterly captivating series, Flavia de Luce must clear a woman''s name to prevent a grave injustice, while herself trying to avoid an early (and unjust) grave!

Flavia de Luce has enraptured critics, scooped up accolades, and enchanted readers the world over . . . all before her thirteenth birthday! In this wild, wonderful mystery - the third is this madcap series - Flavia comes to the rescue when a gypsy is charged with the abduction of a local child. Flavia must draw upon her encyclopedic knowledge of poisons - and gypsy lore - to prevent a grave miscarriage of justice, and to solve a greater - and far more personal - mystery: What really happened to her long-vanished mother?

Tuesday Teasers

Tuesday Teasers is hosted by Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:

Grab your current read and let the book fall open to a random page. Share two sentences somewhere on that page and the title of the book that you’re getting the teaser from. Please avoid spoilers! Read the official Tuesday Teaser Rules.

This week's teaser is from Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. From page 79:

There's a special slight of hand that's peculiar to policeman: the conjuring trick that palms and conceals banknotes with a skill that experienced shell-game swindlers envy. The big man collected the money with a two-handed handshake, smeared a palm across his chest as if brushing away crumbs after eating a sandwich, and then scratched at his nose with practiced innocence.

Mailbox Monday January 24, 2011

In January, Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Rose City Reader.

I received Separate Beds by Elizabeth Buchan in the mail last week. From the author's website:

Tom and Annie have everything – children, home, rewarding jobs. Yet, beneath the surface all is not well which ensures that they are sleeping in separate beds. Then Tom drops his bombshell… A novel of second chances.

It looks to be a great book and this one is next on my TBR list.

Cindy from Cindy's Love of Books also gave me a YA novel - Trapped by Michael Northrop. I like the cover of this one. Makes me want to curl up with a blanket, a cup of tea and this book. Thanks, Cindy!

Tuesday Teasers

Tuesday Teasers is hosted by Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:

Grab your current read and let the book fall open to a random page. Share two sentences from somewhere on that page and the title of the book that you’re getting the teaser from. Please avoid spoilers! Read the official Tuesday Teaser Rules.

This week's teaser is from Imprimatur by Rita Monaldi & Francesco Sorti. From page 22:

'In the corridor, I almost collided with the young Englishman, Signor di Bedfordi, who struck me as being rather agitated; perhaps because, having transferred his effects to another chamber, he had not been present for the chirurgeon's diagnosis. This guest was dragging himself along slowly and seemed unusually afflicted.'

Mailbox Monday January 17, 2011

In January, Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Rose City Reader.

Last week I received A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I can't wait to start this one - it's been compared to The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, one of my very favourite novels.

I also received a book I bought from Book Depository. I saw The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie recommended somewhere (I think it was viaLibraryThing). This is the first book of a trilogy that just looked too good to pass by.

Last, but not least, I received five books from Cindy:

The Snow Globe by Sheila Roberts

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul

Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas both by Robin Jones Gunn


Simon's Cat by Simon Tofield

Thanks for all the books, Cindy!

Review: The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

I dislike having to say I enjoyed a book like The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly because the subject matter is a bit grim. But I did like it. It’s got loads of atmosphere, believable characters and a great writing style. Some of the imagery really stood out for me. On page 36:

‘When she turned around, I saw her costume actually was a wedding dress: the dirty train trailed perilously near to the flickering flames, and like a dutiful bridesmaid I gathered the grubby satin in my arms, out of fire’s way. Her vertebrae protruded like a string of pearls suspended between her shoulder blades.’

The main female character brought to mind a couple of people I encountered during my adolescence and, as I recall, was appalled by. The setting where the action takes place, an old and very large house in a state of vast neglect and disrepair, had a personality all its own.

I think the prologue threw me off a bit. I expected at some point that the author would go back to it and all would become clear but that didn’t happen until the end. Which was fine – I was just very curious what the prologue had to do with the rest of the story. The ending was somewhat abrupt but I didn’t see it coming. (I’m not that good at guessing endings though I do try anyway!)

I'm not sure if it was because I was reading an ARC, but I had a small bit of trouble with the jump between the past and the present. There didn't seem to be enough 'separation' - one paragraph might be in the present and the next in the past. Perhaps the finished book would have more of a split between the two.

I definitely recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys suspense and twisty-type endings.

Tuesday Teasers

Tuesday Teasers is hosted by Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:

Grab your current read and let the book fall open to a random page. Share two sentences from somewhere on that page and book that you’re getting the teaser from. Please avoid spoilers! Read the official Tuesday Teaser Rules.

My teaser this week is from A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French. From page 115:

'Dippy Dora displayed the true dimensions of her monumental ignorance at breakfast when she announced with giant confidence that she was hitherto only eating white food. She claims that she has been reliably informed (Heat Magazine, I suspect) that should one limit oneself to only a singular colour of food, one will certainly lose weight.'

Mailbox Monday: January 10, 2011

In January, Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Rose City Reader.

I received three books in the mail last week. The first is very nice hardcover memoir written by Annie Proulx called Bird Cloud. From Simon and Schuster's website, the description reads:

"Bird Cloud" is the name Annie Proulx gave to 640 acres of Wyoming wetlands and prairie and four-hundred-foot cliffs plunging down to the North Platte River. On the day she first visited, a cloud in the shape of a bird hung in the evening sky. Proulx also saw pelicans, bald eagles, golden eagles, great blue herons, ravens, scores of bluebirds, harriers, kestrels, elk, deer and a dozen antelope. She fell in love with the land, then owned by the Nature Conservancy, and she knew what she wanted to build on it—a house in harmony with her work, her appetites and her character, a library surrounded by bedrooms and a kitchen.

Proulx's first work of nonfiction in more than twenty years, Bird Cloud is the story of designing and constructing that house—with its solar panels, Japanese soak tub, concrete floor and elk horn handles on kitchen cabinets. It is also an enthralling natural history and archaeology of the region—inhabited for millennia by Ute, Arapaho and Shoshone Indians— and a family history, going back to nineteenth-century Mississippi riverboat captains and Canadian settlers.

Proulx, a writer with extraordinary powers of observation and compassion, here turns her lens on herself. We understand how she came to be living in a house surrounded by wilderness, with shelves for thousands of books and long worktables on which to heap manuscripts, research materials and maps, and how she came to be one of the great American writers of her time. Bird Cloud is magnificent.

The other two books I received were my LT Secret Santa gifts. I'm a die-hard Margaret Atwood fan so I was very pleased to receive The Robber Bride. The second book is What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn. This is one of those titles that I'm sure I've seen before but I don't know where. It looks very interesting though and I'm looking forward to reading both books.

I've found that doing the annual Secret Santas are loads of fun but also a bit stressful. On the one hand it was exciting to search for and then choose a couple of books for my Santee and on the other the wait to find out if s/he would like what I chose is a bit nerve-wracking. This year was exceptionally bad in that regard since the packages of books for LT's SantaThing were quite late and even now many people are still waiting for their books to arrive!

Regardless, thanks to my Santa for choosing books that I know I will enjoy!

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