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 26, 2011

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward, is the 2011 Winner of the National Book Award and is a rich and powerful novel. It is the story of Esch Batiste, her widowed father and three brothers, as they struggle to survive in rural Mississippi.

Esch’s mother dies after the birth of her youngest brother, Junior, and he is raised by the three older children. Randall is striving for a basketball scholarship, and Skeet is raising a pit bull, China, who represents his dreams of dominance in the local dog fighting world.  He is breeding her to sell her puppies, and earn badly needed money for the family. Fourteen-year-old Esch is in love with Manny, who is the father of her unborn baby, but Manny is in love with another and has made it clear to Esch that he doesn’t love her despite her devotion to him. In the meantime, Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on the coast, and the Batiste family patriarch gives the family directions: fill the truck with gas, fill the tub and sinks with water, cook the food in the refrigerator, buy canned goods, board the windows. But these efforts aren’t enough when the category five storm bears down on their home, and they barely escape with their lives.

Ward’s storytelling skills are exceptional, with characters and a story so realistic that feels like it could be a documentary. The truth isn’t pretty, but Ward's characters are strong and they are survivors. Salvage the Bones was published in 2011 by Bloomsbury, USA. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is a dark yet delightful novel. The story features two illusionists who have been engaged in a decades long contest. But the contest doesn’t involve them directly. Instead, they choose and train two novices.

This time, the novices are Marco, whom one of the illusionists adopted from a local orphanage, and Celia, the daughter of the other. They are bound together through magic rings to the contest, although neither understands the implications of this until years later. The setting for the contest is the Night Circus, or Le Cirque des Reves (the Circus of Dreams), which appears unannounced in fields just outside towns as it travels all over the world. It opens at night, and closes by morning. 

The circus is the creation of a group of designers and planners led by Chandresh Lefevre. The color scheme is black and white, and the tents are arranged in a way that encourage circus goers to explore them in any order, each with a marvel inside—Celia, the illusionist, Isobel, the fortune teller, and Poppet and Widget, twins with their trained kittens were but a few. The most fantastic tents feature a world of ice, a gravity and reality defying carousel, a wishing tree, and a cloud maze, most of which were created through the magic of Celia and Marco as they responded to each other’s “moves” in the contest.

The Night Circus is lushly descriptive and the plot is riveting. Readers won’t want to put this book down or if they must, will look forward to picking it back up again. The Night Circus was published by Doubleday in 2011.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Catching Fire and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

The second and third books in the The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, read seamlessly as a continuation of the first book, The Hunger Games. Darker and more violent than The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay are full of unexpected and dramatic twists and turns as Katniss Everdeen, the teenaged heroine of the series, becomes the symbol of the revolution against the evil President Snow’s Capitol district.

In Catching Fire, the reaping (selection for the annual Hunger Games) is for the Quarter Quell, which occurs every 25 years. To the dismay and outrage of prior years’ victors, this reaping will draw from their group, regardless of their age or physical condition. Since Katniss, Haymitch, and Peeta are the only available victors from which to draw from District 12, readers know this means they will have to return to the arena.

With Haymitch as mentor and the knowledge of the underground compound in District 13, long believed to have been uninhabitable after the last war, Katniss and Gale, her long-time hunting companion, begin to believe that revolution against the Capitol is possible, and a plan is formulated with Katniss as the Mockingjay, the symbol of the revolution. As the Quarter Quell Hunger Games get underway, allies for the revolution work together to bring the Games to a sudden end . . . at least in the arena.

Mockingjay picks up the thread of the Games as it moves to the streets of the each district, with graphic descriptions of battles that seem tailor-made for movie adaptations. The story is tragic, violent, and gripping, and much like the Harry Potter series, becomes darker as it progresses and its characters are damaged by what has happened to them, their friends, and their families.

This is not a light-hearted series, but an adventure story of good versus evil, in which the ending is not all happiness. Because of its teenaged heroine and the writing style, it is better suited for older teens.

Catching Fire was published by Scholastic in 2009, and Mockingjay was published in 2010.