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, October 22, 2011

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is a gripping adventure with appealing characters that engrosses readers of all ages. A dark science-fiction story, it targets young teen readers but is entertaining for adults as well. 

The story is set in what is apparently a post-United States empire, fraught with pockets of starvation, deprivation, and depleted natural resources. The rich and evil Capitol is now located in the Rocky Mountain area, and the country is divided into districts. In order to remind the populace of the hardships which gave birth to the new empire, “The Hunger Games” are conducted annually. “The reaping” selects by random draw a male and female child to represent each district in the games. To multiply the injustice, odds are against those whose families are so poor the children take “tesserae”—a grant of oil and grain which costs the recipient more chances in the drawing. The book’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen, has taken the tesserae for several years, which make her odds of being “reaped” even greater. Unfortunately, it is her little sister Prim, only now eligible at age 12, whose name is drawn. Katniss bravely volunteers to serve in her sister’s place.

Along with Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, Katniss represents District 12 in the brutal games, which are designed to pit contestants against each other in a fight to the death. The winner not only secures untold wealth and security for themselves, they ensure their district receives gifts and support not otherwise known there. Much is at stake, and the games bring out the strengths of each participant, whether it is agility, cleverness, or merely cruelty. The entire country is focused on the games, which are similar to today’s reality television shows with alliances made and cameras catching every movement. Pictures of deceased players are projected into the sky at night, so the remaining players know how many competitors were left.

The book’s conclusion is satisfying only in that the immediate challenge is resolved, but leaves much to bait the readers’ curiosity. The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy, with Catching Fire and Mockingjay following. These books are quick reads, great for a short vacation or weekend getaway.

The Hunger Games was published in 2008 by Scholastic Press.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Charming Billy, by Alice McDermott

Charming Billy, written by Alice McDermott, is a story about resignation and faith, about having too little and about having enough. The story opens in a small Bronx restaurant at a dinner following the funeral of Billy Lynch. Billy was charming, funny, and warm. His mourners recall his short notes that served as letters, written on scraps of paper and mailed to family and friends. They tell stories about his generosity and his commitment. But his drinking problem is the undercurrent at the table; the alcoholism that led to his death. The mourners speculate that his drinking was to assuage the pain of losing his true love to pneumonia before she could come to America from Ireland, a love so deep he never recovered from it, despite his widow’s presence at the table.

Billy’s cousin Dennis holds a secret about Eve, the Irish girl they met one summer as younger men, the one who accepted an engagement ring from Billy before she returned home to Ireland. Dennis knows that Billy’s “true love” accepted the money Billy worked two jobs to earn in order to open a gas station and cafĂ© with her new husband in Ireland. When he learns of her deception, Eve’s sister tells Dennis in disgust that “she is dead to me.” Dennis decides then to tell Billy that Eve died of pneumonia, rather than letting him think Eve has deceived him. Better to have been loved than to have been spurned.

It is years before Billy learns the truth, but this is also a secret the men hold. Billy’s mourners make him into a tragic character who never had a real marriage to Maeve, driven to drink by his sudden and tragic loss of Eve. Billy, who was never able to be sober because of his lifelong pain. As one told Dennis, “I’ve always said that it’s the ones who are always joking are the ones who feel things more deeply than the rest of us.” Billy seemed to accept the deceit, resigned to his life. And the long-suffering Maeve accepted her fate, as the wife of a man who came home drunk almost every night. But, as Danny’s mother would say, “Isn’t enough as good as a feast?”

Charming Billy won the National Book Award and was published in 1998 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The News from Paraguay, by Lily Tuck

The News from Paraguay, by Lily Tuck, is a story based on true events in South America in the late 1800s. It is also the story of Ella Lynch, mistress to Francisco Solano Lopez (known as Franco), whom she met while in France and traveled with to Paraguay. Franco assumed leadership of Paraguay from his father and became a ruthless military leader, embroiling Paraguay in war with factions from Brazil and Argentina. The capital city he dreamed of building, reminiscent of Europe’s great cities, would never be completed during his lifetime but instead, decimated by war.

Lynch benefits from this relationship with Franco, but is likely hurt more by her affiliation with him. He never marries Lynch, and although she follows him between their home base and battle sites, he does little to protect her and their children. Instead, he proudly attacks his enemies, who outnumber his own troops, and his army is brutally slaughtered. Franco randomly imprisons and tortures those whom he feels threaten him, including old friends and family members.

The story is brutal and Tuck is descriptive. She spares no details, and those interested in South America may find the book enlightening as she brings history to life. As the title of the book suggests, Lynch’s friends rarely hear of any “news from Paraguay” and cannot see or understand the cruelties Lynch has experienced or how she has changed.

The News from Paraguay won the National Book Award and was published in 2004 by HarperCollins.