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The Bird Skinner

3.61  ·  Rating Details  ·  310 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
Alice Greenway launched into the literary world with White Ghost Girls—a haunting and sensuous debut about two sisters tumbling into their teenage years in Hong Kong in the late 1960’s—which won the Los Angeles Times First Novel award and was heralded by critics from the New York Times Book Review to Vogue to Isabel Allende, who wrote that it was "written with the craft an ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published August 13th 2013)
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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. RowlingThe Raven by Edgar Allan PoeMockingjay by Suzanne CollinsOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Books with birds in the title
471st out of 630 books — 174 voters
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For the Love of Birds
102nd out of 161 books — 32 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,641)
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Aug 17, 2016 Jill rated it liked it
For any reader who revels in confident, lyrical prose – rich in detail with meticulously chosen words – Alice Greenway’s book will enchant.

The storyline focuses on the elderly and irascible ornithologist Jim Kennoway, who, at the end of his career, retreats to a Maine island after his leg is amputated. There, tortured by past memories and fortified by alcohol and solitude, he eschews the company of others. Yet early on, he receives an unwanted visitor: Cadillac, the daughter of Tosca, who teamed
Jim Kennoway, an ornithologist, is a cantankerous old man living by himself on an island off the coast of Maine. His solitude is interrupted by the arrival of the upbeat Cadillac from the Solomon Islands, visiting before she heads off to medical school. She is the daughter of a man who acted as a scout with Jim when he worked in Naval Intelligence in the World War II Pacific.

Jim has recently had his lower leg amputated. His hard drinking and smoking are not helping his health situation. The arri
Mar 14, 2014 Elizabeth☮ rated it really liked it
Shelves: recent-reads
This story takes place on various islands: the islands off the east coast; islands off the coast of Georgia; and the islands of the Pacific.

Jim is an ornithologist. He works for the Museum of Natural History until Pearl Harbor. He then joins the Navy to fight the enemy. While he is stationed as a lookout on a lonely island, he collects samples of birds for the museum. A local native, Tosca, a teenager, joins him on the island. The two become friends and Tosca learns everything Jim has to show h
Emily Crow
Dec 19, 2013 Emily Crow rated it really liked it
The Bird Skinner is a novel about a man at the end of his life, when regrets and limitations have begun to take over his days. Jim Carroway, the protagonist, was an ornithologist who collected specimens (by shooting and skinning them), worked at a natural history museum, and served as a Naval officer in the South Pacific during World War II. After losing a leg to a bad infection, he has holed up at his family's summer home in Maine, spending his days smoking, drinking and feeling crabby. Even hi ...more
Rebecca Foster
The Solomon Islands meets coastal Maine in this intricate novel about an aging ornithologist’s problematic past. The novel’s rich historical tapestry is constructed through many layers of flashbacks, from Jim’s carefree island childhood in 1913 to his war service in 1943. Greenway has a masterful grasp of the six decades that make up her tale, such that she shifts seamlessly between time periods without ever losing the reader’s attention.

(An excerpt of my full review is available to non-subscrib
Roger Brunyate
Aug 01, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it liked it
Good Ingredients, but Cake Won't Rise

The central situation is simple enough. The year is 1973. Jim Carroway, an older man who has recently lost his leg, holes up in an empty house on a Maine island. It is the old summer place of his youth, but he goes there in late winter anyway, sporadically attended to by a couple of childhood friends, and living on canned hash and gin. Now it is summer. He is joined by an ebony-black young woman from the Solomon Islands, known as Cadillac, on her way to medic
Cantankerous ornithologist Jim Kennoway whose leg was recently amputated retreats to an island off the coast of Maine and just wants to be left alone. Instinctively the reader knows there is much more to Jim’s orneriness than meets the eye as the elegiac language is often betrayed by restrained humanity. In this story, it is the arrival of Cadillac, the daughter of the Melanesian man who scouted with Jim during WWII, on her way to Yale to study medicine that allows the floodgates of Jim’s memor ...more
Jan 31, 2014 Barbara rated it really liked it
This gem of an historical fiction novel provides an interesting read about bird skinning and World War II in the Pacific islands. The protagonist is an acerbic, angry WWII vet who is also a renowned bird skinner. The novel takes place in the summer of 1973 on an island off the coast of Maine. Jim Carroway is back at his family’s summer cottage to live the rest of his life. In the beginning he admits to himself that he is stuck: he’d been stuck since the war. And being stuck just adds to his frus ...more
Carolyn Mck
Jun 14, 2014 Carolyn Mck rated it liked it
This novel really grabbed me from the first page: clear, imaginative writing and an interesting premise - an old, irascible man with a past involving the study of birds (and skinning them for museum exhibits) and World War Two experiences that need to be explained and understood. Jim's life is thrown into uncertainty when the daughter of a man he befriended in the Solomon Islands during the war arrives in the US to study medicine and comes to stay with him on his island retreat. The novel offers ...more
Jan 24, 2014 Judy rated it it was amazing

I might never have heard of Alice Greenway if it weren't for my practice of being in multiple reading groups. The leader of one of those groups brought Ms Greenway in to do a reading from her first book, White Ghost Girls, in 2006. I immediately bought and read the book and had that wonderful feeling I get when I find a new author to love.

I've had to wait eight years for the second novel, probably worth the wait, because there is not a shred of sophomore slump in The Bird Skinner. While the firs
Feb 16, 2015 Diane rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Adults; possibly YA dependent on maturity.
Shelves: frg-wins, reviewed
Having no idea what I was getting into when I opened this book, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. I was a bit skeptical because of the title. Not something I would want to do or witness.

Pg 147-150 was the turning point in this book for me. I just loved this. Her brothers ;) Just as sweet a story as it can be. That's not an indication that the book wasn't good before then. It just means that even if I hadn't cared for the rest, the story in those pages made it worth every word. A lovely
nomadreader (Carrie D-L)
My thoughts: I knew very little about this novel when I began reading. I picked up a copy at ALA in June because of the praise for Greenway's first novel, White Ghost Girls. At first, I was enchanted with Greenway's prose, characters, and setting. I was curious how the storylines would connect and what would be revealed about the past to impact my understanding of the novel's present. Greenway did bring everything together, but the more I read, the more unsatisfied I was as a reader. Admittedly, ...more
Apr 03, 2015 Katherine rated it liked it
This is one of those books that seems really interesting - the story is different and well-written but somehow leaves you with a sense that something is missing. The main character is an irascible old man, Jim, who has holed himself up on an island in the Penobscot Bay in his childhood home when Cadillac, a young woman from the Solomon Islands on her way to Yale whose father is companion during the War appears. The story jumps back and forth between the war in the pacific, the present, Jim's tee ...more
A picture of the Solomon islands and the plight of an amputee. The birds are carrying the story forwards with the young Solomon island woman improving everyone's life. Well written.
Oct 27, 2014 Cathy rated it it was ok
This book was well-written but it came down to me not liking the main character nor the overall story. Jim, a retired orinthologist, lives on an remote island in Maine and battles with learning to deal with the amputation of his leg, memories of his dead wife and his time served in the Pacific war. He drinks too much and he's rude to everyone who tries to help him. He receives an unexpected visitor, Cadillac, a young woman from the Solomon Islands, who is the daughter of a man Jim befriended whe ...more
Juneau Public Library

In this novel, Jim Kennoway, an ornithologist, reflects on his life, both his time in the Pacific Theater during World War II and his life now on a small remote island in Maine. He is haunted by his past, and when he receives a letter from the daughter of the Solomon Islander who helped him during the war, Jim's memories of the birds, the people, the war, and the death roll together quicker and quicker. He desperately needs help coming to terms with his past, but is steadfastly independent. The
Oct 29, 2014 Garryvivianne rated it really liked it
Crusty old Jim Kennoway lives on an island in Maine, away from everybody. He was a renowned ornithologist, collecting & skinning birds for museums, writing books. He also helped the Naval Intelligence during the Pacific war. He was in the Solomon Islands & while there meets Tosca, who became a friend to Jim.

Jim also is a recent amputee, so he keeps to himself, drinking & smoking & is well known for his temper. During the summer, he gets a letter from his old friend Tosca, saying
Kathy Piselli
Jun 27, 2016 Kathy Piselli rated it really liked it
The Bird Skinner had a lot of things I like - WW2 in the Pacific stories, birding, Maine, Polynesian culture, Cumberland Island in Georgia, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The protagonist is not a likeable guy - don't we seem to love the meme of the rude man that we tolerate because he has super competent powers. But when we meet Jim he is already incompetent, a rude, aggressive bully who drinks to excess and can no longer do his job properly. Thus I didn't "get" the char ...more
Dec 17, 2013 Donna rated it it was amazing
GREENWAY IS a wordsmith. I smiled throughout the story being so intrigued and exceptionally taken with the masterful and intellectual ability to write this masterpiece. GREENWAY WROTE WITH SUCH CONVICTION AND PASSION THAT IS LACKING IN 21st century literature. I REVELED IN HER WORDS! An Amuse-Bouche for my soul!

BRAVA! I received this book from GOODREADS' FIRST READS FOR FREE.

Please spoil yourself and read this book I highly recommend It!

R.J. Heller
Jul 19, 2015 R.J. Heller rated it liked it
This is a book about Islands. Those real, and those we make for ourselves. Two people brought together from opposite ends of the world, in a way that is sometimes real and can be seen, but in many ways that cannot. Jim Galloway, a WW2 veteran, who has a passion and boyhood knowledge of birds, recently retired from his year collecting bird specimens, now in old age, sits on an island in Maine, and remembers with regret and anger his dead wife, and something he did on an island in the pacific many ...more
Mar 03, 2014 Marlene rated it it was amazing
It's 1973 and ornithologist Jim Kennoway has left his position at the New York Museum Of Natural History after having a leg amputated. He lives a reclusive, gin-soaked life on an island in Maine where he spent happy summers as a boy.
His self-imposed solitude is up-ended when the daughter of a young boy he befriended in the South Pacific during WW2 arrives to stay until she begins her medical studies at Yale.
While her presence is a grudgingly positive event for Jim it also stirs up memories he wo
Blodeuedd Finland
On a bleak cold island Jim sits and is trying to forget how he used to live. When he had two legs, when he did something. Now he is hiding. His son does get him to write an article about Treasure Island so he does something at least instead of drinking gin all day. And I do get it, he loved his work, his birds and now he can't get around like he used to.

In comes Cadillac, the daughter of the scout who guided him through jungles during the war. Here we get flashbacks about his time in the Solomon
Jan 20, 2014 Ron rated it it was amazing
An engrossing, touching, wonderful novel. Beautifully written and constructed. Highly recommend it. From Amazon: Jim Kennoway was once an esteemed member of the ornithology department at the Museum of Natural History in New York, collecting and skinning birds as specimens. Slowing down from a hard-lived life and a recent leg amputation, Jim retreats to an island in Maine: to drink, smoke, and to be left alone. As a young man he worked for Naval Intelligence during World War II in the Solomon Isl ...more
Jan 19, 2014 Martha rated it really liked it
It took me a while to get into this novel, and I have to admit that, while I was captivated by some of the descriptions of birds and other creatures, from sea turtles to alligators, the birding parts didn't engage me and I tried to resist the urge to skim them. Which is really too bad (for me) because the birding is the glue that holds the story together, which, in fact, sets the (unwanted) memories of irascible ornithologist, Jim Kennoway, in motion with the arrival Cadillac Baketi, daughter o ...more
Jan 11, 2014 Jill rated it liked it
This book is good in an artsy sort of way. The author obviously has literary prowess, with somewhat stylized writing. The action jumps back and forth between Penobscot Bay in Maine in 1973 and the Solomon Islands during World War II, with an occasional interlude in 1917.

Jim Carroway, the title character, is a curmudgeonly seventy-year-old man who is determined to spend what is left of his life drinking, smoking, and cursing the recent loss of one leg. In the past he was an eminent scholar, Assi
Aug 25, 2016 Helen rated it really liked it
Beautifully written book as a man battles with depression and the joys and sorrows of his past. His experiences in the war in the Solomon Islands is quite unique, mixed as it is with his love of birds and the way in which they were displayed in museums at the time. The experiences of bird watching and summer life on an island in Maine stand him in good stead as he serves in the islands, fighting the Japanese. His practice of skinning birds also carries over into his war experiences, somewhat hor ...more
Aug 24, 2015 Stephanie rated it really liked it
I liked this book more than I thought I would..It is a part autobiographical story of the author's World War 2 vet grandfather who's professional life was an ornithologist..She writes a beautiful yet tragic story of war trauma and tragic losses seen thru the eyes of a cantankerous scientist " the
bird skinner" and his helpers assisting him in the South Pacific islands during the Japanese occupation and going back to the present day..….The adult daughter of his beloved assistant comes to stay wit
Feb 23, 2014 Stephanie rated it really liked it
"He remembers why he hadn't wanted the girl to come. The last thing he needs is the past and its ghosts rising up, unbidden. It's hard enough coping with the goddamn present."

Jim Kennoway is forced to re-examine his life in this poignant story that weaves together Jim's experience in World War II and his love of ornithology. Thirty years after the war has ended Jim has found himself at an impasse- his leg amputated above the knee, he is no longer able to do the things he loves and ostracizes him
Dec 08, 2015 Lorraine rated it it was amazing
I read it real slow......... I just didn't want it to end.
Feb 15, 2014 wade rated it really liked it
A very methodical book that tells the story of a man's life during three periods 1917, 1943 and 1973. The period during 1943 chronicles his experiences during WW2 where he develops his passion to be, you guessed it, a bird skinner - preserving their skins for museum exhibits. The 1973 portion of the books shows him as an elderly man in New England who finds himself hosting the daughter of a man he knew during in war as she is going to attend college. By know he is a surly old man made a little ...more
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Alice Greenway lived the itinerant life of a foreign correspondent's child. She grew up in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Jerusalem, as well as in the United States. She now lives in Edinburgh with her family.
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