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 Amazon.com 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, September 24, 2011

Pie Town, by Lynne Hinton

Pie Town, by Lynne Hinton, is a lovely story in the style of Jan Karon, featuring a new priest, Father George, a pregnant wanderer named Trina, and a young boy diagnosed with spina bifida whose ailment and personality bound the otherwise prickly town members together.

The reader learns quickly that Pie Town, once known for its desserts, now offers not much more than brownies at the local diner. When Father George drives into town with Trina, who is hitchhiking to Pie Town on the advice of an old Apache woman she met along her travels, townspeople are less than welcoming. In fact, they warn both Father George and Trina that the town isn't known for its hospitality, and that most newcomers don’t make it there. Alex, the young boy with spina bifida, takes to Father George and particularly Trina, and convinces the townspeople to give them both a chance.

Hinton does an admirable job introducing readers to an interesting cast of characters, including Sheriff Roger, Alex’s grandfather; Malene, a nurse’s aide and Roger’s ex-wife; Angel, Alex’s mother, who is largely absent; Oris, Malene’s cantankerous father; nosey neighbors, young lovers, and a cultural mix of Caucasian, Hispanic, and Native American elements that gives the story richness. Hinton, who is an ordained minister, weaves spiritual elements into the story without being heavy handed.

Pie Town is sweet and funny. Readers might find the short chapters in the voice of Alex’s great-grandmother, a spirit that visits Hinton’s living characters, feel a little stilted, but the story and dialogue reads well and is an engaging story.

Pie Town was published in paperback by William Morrow in June of 2011. The published includes recipes of dishes mentioned in the book, like Oris’ Famous Cowboy Beans and Posole. Another book in the Pie Town series is slated for release in 2012.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Leadville, by James Best

Leadville, by James Best, is the second in the Steve Dancy series of Western novels in the grand tradition of Wild West storytellers. Leadville reunites Dancy, the former shopkeeper who ventured West to write a novel about his experiences, with Captain McAllen of Pinkerton fame, Jeff Sharp, owner of silver mines, and Dr. Dooley, who was going out West to take a job at a “consumption clinic.” Sharp and McAllen had helped Dancy survive a visit to Pickhandle Gulch, detailed in Best’s first Dancy novel, The Shopkeeper.

In Leadville, McAllen’s high-spirited daughter is kidnapped. Although a posse is assembled to find her and mete out Western justice, something doesn’t seem right. Dancy, along with McAllen and Sharp decide to make their own trek to rescue the missing girl. They uncover a scheme to defraud the town, and contrive to win the girl’s safety in an ingenious plot that is the undoing of the bad elements in the town. In the process, Dancy ends up a shopkeeper again but not before encountering a villain from his past and parts with the intriguing widow he met in the first installment of the series. Never fear, another potential love interest, in the form of his willful and attractive shop manager, may find her way into future installments.

Best’s novels are rip-roaring good stories, with engaging plots, likeable characters, and plenty of action. Dancy is tough, intelligent, and thoughtful, and his compatriots are respectable men of integrity. The books have appeal to a broad audience, with a mix of action, adventure, and a tiny hint of a love story to make readers take interest in the full range of Best’s characters.

Leadville was published in paperback by Wheatmark in 2009. It’s not necessary to read the first “Steve Dancy Tale,” The Shopkeeper, before reading Leadville, but it will give readers a bit of background. The third in the series is Murder at Thumb Butte, which was published in paperback in September, 2011.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Whole World Over, by Julia Glass

The Whole World Over, by Julia Glass, is another of her marvels. Glass intertwines the messy lives of her characters in a way that doesn’t feel contrived, and in this novel, unexpectedly but gracefully weaves in the tragic events of September 11.

The book centers on the life of pastry chef Greenie Duquette. Greenie was one of several names she was known by, and readers may wonder if these multiple names give identity to the stages in her life she undergoes or reflects on in the book. Greenie’s confections are introduced to the governor of New Mexico, whose politics deeply offend Greenie’s husband, Alan. Despite Alan’s opposition, Greenie accepts the governor’s lucrative job offer to become his private chef and moves from New York City to New Mexico with George, Alan and Greenie’s young son. Alan, who is a psychologist, claims his patients couldn’t bear for him to move and stays behind in New York, hoping Greenie will have a change of heart.

Walter is a likable character and dear friend of Greenie’s. Walter introduced Greenie’s delectable desserts to the governor, and is the owner of an intimate restaurant. Walter’s search for love and family is interwoven with Greenie’s, and we meet characters that include a short-term boyfriend, a miscreant nephew, a dog-walker, and Walter’s dog, “T.B.” (“The Bruce”).

And then there is Saga. Saga, who is also known by another name—Emily, is the victim of a head injury. With both parents deceased, she lives with an uncle, whose two daughters and one son seem to resent Saga’s presence. Saga’s recovery progresses, but she is still finding her way in a new world. An animal lover, she helps an eccentric “animal protector” and weaves her way into the lives of the other main characters.

The events of September 11 appear as suddenly in the book as they did in reality. Glass does an exceptional job describing the initial confusion her characters felt, the fear that followed, and the grim shift in their perspective on the world. Rather than focus on the facts of the loss, she follows her characters’ reactions and how their lives are impacted through their reaction to the event. Decisions are made as a result that dramatically shift the direction of their lives.

The Whole World Over was published in 2006 by Random House. Her most recent book is The Widower's Tale, previously reviewed on Cats and a Book. Her novel Three Junes won the National Book Award.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Loose Diamonds, by Amy Ephron

Loose Diamonds . . . and other things I’ve lost (and found) along the way, by Amy Ephron, is a collection of charming, read-in-one-sitting stories. Ephron’s use of the allegory of “loose diamonds” is intriguing, and leads the reader to involuntarily wonder who or what the “loose diamond” is in each story. Some seem obvious, but the possibility of multiple meanings and interpretations, along with the short chapters, makes this a good book club read.

Not everyone may be able to relate to Ephron’s stories. She is a professional writer who spent at least part of her life in California. She experiences a divorce and a burglary, and in the course of her work and life, meets some interesting characters. For example, she writes about meeting Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme before Fromme’s “bizarre assassination attempt” on then-President Gerald Ford, and about befriending Honey Hathaway, a southern transplant who orders champagne by the case and lives alone in a Los Angeles mansion owned by her married (and out of town) boyfriend. For some, it’s easy to see how these characters have fallen out of their settings, so to speak, like loose diamonds.

In other stories, Ephron is candid and open about her marital history, relationships with her ex-husband, friends, and her ex-husband’s new girlfriends. She describes shopping for shoes, admitting, “I was a little dizzy. The store was a little glitzy, over the top, and had a name like Footlose and Fancy Free, and every shoe, Manolo, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin was displayed on its own cakelike shelf in a glass display case, mirrored in the back, so the shoe reflected on itself as if it had been made for dancing.”

Amy Ephron’s writing is witty and intelligent. Loose Diamonds was published in 2011 by William Morrow.  It will be released September 6, and is available now for pre-order.