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, May 21, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale, by Dianne Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale, by Dianne Setterfield, is a light-as-dandelion-fluff mystery novel perfect for the beach or pool. The story features Margaret Lea, the daughter of a bookseller father and an emotionally remote mother, who is contacted out-of-the-blue by the prolific and popular contemporary author, Vida Winter. Lea had dabbled in biographies, but was by no means a well-known author, and she is puzzled why this famous author would contact her, an author whose works she hadn’t herself read.

One of Winter’s works is entitled “The Thirteenth Tale,” which was published with only twelve stories. Subsequent printings of the book deleted the reference to thirteen stories, but interviewers and fans of Miss Winters’ were fascinated by the notion of a tale not told. In fact, Miss Winter was a difficult subject to interview. She invented stories about her past, and would routinely weave tales for journalists who sought to tell the story of her life. Winter revealed to Lea that she was once asked to “tell the truth” and she was now ready to do that. She would tell her tale to Margaret Lea.

Winter tells Lea that she cannot interrupt, ask questions, or attempt to “skip to the end.” Lea discovers that the author is in failing health from an unnamed condition, and wants to “tell the truth” now that her story may otherwise go untold. What she reveals is a convoluted, cruel, and sometimes perverse family history involving twins, orphaned children, incest, arson, rape, and murder. Settlefield writes in the style of Gothic fiction, so her treatment of these elements of the story is not graphic.

As the story is unraveled through Winter’s interviews with her biographer, Lea begins to investigate on her own to learn if the story Winter is telling her is true. What she finds surprises her, and allows her to help Miss Winter unwind the final elements of her story.

The Thirteenth Tale is an entertaining book, quick to read and full of suspense. There are some loose strands at the end of the story that seem to be left untied, but otherwise the story is wrapped up in a satisfying ending. The Thirteenth Tale was published by Atria Books in 2006.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, is the story of twin boys born to a disgraced nun and her doctor lover at the Missing Hospital in Ethiopia. Readers shouldn’t be intimidated by the book’s length—more than 600 pages. The novel’s intriguing opening is indicative of the story to come. Verghese masterfully creates rich characters, some of which are drawn from both medical and political history, and spins a story that once begun, the reader will not want to put down.

Marion Stone is the story’s narrator, one of the pair of twins born to Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Dr. Thomas Stone. Stone was an acclaimed surgeon and Praise his assistant, “dutiful, competent, uncomplaining, and never absent” except for the birth of their twins. The twins, Marion and Shiva, were raised by Hema, the resident gynecologist, and Ghosh, her eventual husband, due to the events surrounding the twins’ birth. Marion is a scholar and becomes a skilled surgeon, but Shiva is a genius, with a photographic memory and inherent mathematical and mechanical abilities. And Shiva has a skill Marion does not. “He had so many ways of climbing into the tree house in his head, escaping the madness below, and pulling the ladder up behind him; I was envious,” Marion wrote.

Because Marion and Shiva are both doctors, the book includes many descriptions of surgical procedures. They are academic but never dull to read, and one can’t help but feel their own interest in subjects like organ donation piqued by the narratives. One of the gifts from Abraham Verghese, in addition to the story itself, is the gift of curiosity. Including medical facts and procedures, places, characters, and events such as Addis Ababa, Haile Selassie, and the political unrest in Ethiopia, encourages the reader to seek out what is true and what facts might have been embellished or changed for the story. Those who love to learn will appreciate these prompts to find out more.

Marion’s story involves his relationship with his twin, Shiva, and the love of his life, Genet, who is raised with the twins and is the daughter of a domestic worker at the mission. While Shiva learns at Hema’s clinic, Marion travels to the United States to complete his training and residency. There, he finds ghosts from his previous life in Ethiopia, and seeks to find closure with his father, Genet, and Shiva.

Cutting for Stone won the American Booksellers Indies Choice award for Adult Fiction in 2010. Dr. Verghese is a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and is himself of Indian decent raised in Addis Ababa. Cutting for Stone was published in 2010 by Vintage Books.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme

My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme is the delightful love story and memoir of the inimitable Julia Child, French chef, author, and television personality. The movie Julie and Julia was partially based on the book, and scenes from the movie involving Julia’s rise to cooking prominence, her partnership with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, and the publishing of her first cookbook are all drawn from My Life in France.

The book is engaging and easy to read. Admirers of Child's will find its intimacies about her life fascinating, particularly with regard to her desire to become a chef in the first place. When she is admitted to the prestigious Cordon Bleu cooking school she declares, “How magnificent to find my life’s calling, at long last!” The reader can’t help but want to celebrate with her, knowing the legacy she left.

But Child reveals much about herself that isn’t related to cooking. She shares how she lacked confidence in the academic and artistic circles her husband cultivated. “I was thirty-seven years old,” she says, “and still discovering who I was.” And, she elaborates on her famous aplomb when cooking mistakes happened. “I made sure not to apologize for (a failed dish). This was a rule of mine. I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make.” Instead, you “grit (your) teeth and bear it with a smile—and learn from (your) mistakes.”

Stories about meals abound, including the ultimate restaurant meals and their chefs’ techniques. When Child and her husband are assigned to a post in Germany—Julia’s husband was a government employee—her despair at the lack of “good” food and ingredients was palpable.

My Life in France is a charming book, full of excellent advice for the budding chef, and a good place to start before picking up Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child’s defining creation. Published in 2006 by Alfred A. Knopf, My Life in France, as well as an entire bookshelf of Julia Child cookbooks, is readily available in print and electronic versions.