All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

To make it easier to purchase books you may read about on the blog, I've linked to through The Cats and a Book Bookstore, which is located on the bottom of this page. Your purchases are fulfilled and handled through Amazon. To assure your privacy, Cats and a Book doesn't handle any of your payment or contact information.

Happy reading!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, is the fictional story of sixteen-year-old Little Bee, a Nigerian girl whose life becomes irrevocably entwined with an English couple whom she encounters on a beach there. The book is narrated from Little Bee’s perspective and that of Sarah, an British magazine editor, who is the wife of Andrew and mother of Charlie.

Little Bee comes into Andrew and Sarah’s life during their ill-conceived outing off the protected grounds of their Nigerian beach resort. Little Bee and her sister were fleeing soldiers when they sought help from the English couple. In order to free one of the girls, Sarah agrees to amputate a finger, while her husband Andrew refuses. Little Bee’s life is spared, but her sister suffers a horrible death. Little Bee manages to smuggle herself aboard an ocean-going vessel, and arrives as a refugee in England.

What follows is Little Bee’s nearly two years of interment in an immigration detention center. During that time, she practiced speaking “the Queen’s English,” which she described as “like scrubbing off the bright red varnish from your toenails, the morning after a dance. It takes a long time and there is always a little bit left at the end, a stain of red along the growing edges to remind you of the good time you had.” But her command of English made it easier for her to communicate after her “accidental” release, and was able to find Sarah and Andrew, only to have Andrew commit suicide shortly thereafter. Little Bee is surprisingly wise for her age, telling Sarah that, “You are making a mistake if you think it (her story) is unusual. I am telling you, trouble is like the ocean. It covers two-thirds of the world.” Little Bee strongly believed that suicide was preferable to the kind of brutal and torturous death her sister suffered. In order to feel safe, Little Bee spent inordinate amounts of time seeking tools of her own demise. How could she kill herself here, in this location, if “the men” should come? Knowing that Little Bee is not safe in England as an illegal immigrant, Sarah begins collecting stories similar Little Bee’s and which leads to their eventual return to that fateful Nigerian beach.

Little Bee is written to bring awareness about refugees, the conditions which made them flee, and the conditions they find themselves in once they are “free” of their homeland. It is not a happy story, but it is well-researched and credible. The book was published in 2008 by Simon and Schuster.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Room, by Emma Donoghue

Room, by Emma Donoghue, is the story of Jack, a five-year-old boy who had lived his entire life within four walls. His mother, referred to as "Ma" throughout the story, gave birth to Jack while held hostage in a shed, especially soundproofed and secured against escape, by "Old Nick." Jack knew nothing other than those four walls; "Ma" fought for her freedom and attempted to create a normal life for her captive son. Jack's mom was inventive and creative, both in her attempts to attract help for their situation and in protecting and educating Jack. They had "scream times," used the lamp to signal for help through the one skylight they had, made toys out of paper tubes and eggshells, and had "physical education" sessions.

Jack eventually plays a key role in a daring escape attempt, and what follows is their adjustment to a new world. Jack, who has only known "Room" feels threatened and afraid of the outside, and "Ma" struggles to adjust to living in relative freedom again.

Donoghue does an admirable job imagining how children born in a captive environment must feel and the struggles they might have adjusting to the normal life of other children their age. The scenario that led to "Ma's" kidnapping is frightening but realistic. The author incorporates many contemporary references (Jack, for example, is a fan of Dora the Explorer), which adds to the book's credibility, but may date the book for future readers. Room was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2010.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time is the classic story for youth by Madeleine L'Engle, and the winner of the Newberry Medal. It is the story of Meg Murry, an awkward pre-teen girl, who wears glasses and braces, loves math but struggles in other subjects, and is the prototypical heroine in this coming of age story. But the ordinariness of the story's heroine doesn't carry over to the plot, which involves the disappearance of Meg's father, the appearance (more or less--one doesn't quite materialize) of three fairy godmother-witches, and the discovery of time travel.

The main characters, Meg, her youngest brother Charles Wallace, and a friend from school named Calvin O'Keefe, embark on an adventure to find and save Meg and Charles Wallace's father from IT, an evil force that seems intent on stripping people (or other beings) of their free will. Their three witch friends turn out to be celestial beings who are helping combat the evil IT which is a force throughout the entire Universe. The children learn that their special gifts, and in particular, traits Meg might not have previously seen as positive ones, save the day.

Beyond the engaging and mysterious introduction, including the mention of the "tesseract"--the ability to travel through time--the plot becomes vaguely similar to Narnia series, with travel to unusual planets, an overarching battle between good and evil, and strong religious overtones. At least L'Engle leaves some room for different interpretations of the religious aspects of the story.

A Wrinke in Time was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1962. Older elementary readers or pre-teens would likely enjoy this book.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, by Julia Stuart

This delight of a novel features Balthazar Jones and his wife Hebe, who live at the Tower of London. Jones is a Beefeater, or more properly "Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and member of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary." But what he typically did was give visitors tours of the Tower, regaling them with tales of torture and escape, and dutifully pointing out the restrooms. It wasn't a terribly glamorous position, notwithstanding the public's perception and the traditional uniforms, and the living quarters were damp, round (it was a tower, of course)--which made picture hanging and furniture placement dicey--and haunted. When the Queen decides to reestablish the Royal Menagerie at the Tower, the role of its overseer falls to Jones, mainly due to his ownership of a geriatric tortoise named Mrs. Cook.

Hebe Jones works at the Lost Property Office for the London Underground, and deals with a unique array of lost items and unusual people. She's not happy at the Tower and doesn't relish her husband's new zookeeper role. They've drifted apart in grief over the loss of their son, Milo, and she questions her husband's strange new obsessions. It is a lost item and her search for it that sets the stage for the book's conclusion.

In addition to the charming and compelling main story, this book is full of subplots and rich characters. Stuart does a remarkable job leading readers through an entire range of emotions without feeling manipulative or contrived. If you liked Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Olive Kitteridge, or The Guernsey Library and Potato Peel Pie Society, you may also enjoy The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise.

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise was published in 2010 by Doubleday.