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, December 31, 2011

Cats and a Book Names Top Ten Books of 2011

Happy New Year’s Eve! It's time once again to name Cats and a Book's favorite books of the year. Narrowing down the list to ten is always challenging, but here are the books that are most noteworthy (not in any particular order): 

1.  Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward.  This powerful book is the deserving 2011 Winner of the National Book Award.  Ward uses her formidable skills to weave a story about a Mississippi family that is raw, realistic, and hopeful in spite of tragic circumstances, which includes facing Hurricane Katrina. 

2.  The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.  A delightful novel, The Night Circus will captivate readers with its lush and whimsical settings. Apprentice wizards compete in Le Cirque des Reves (the Circus of Dreams--only open at night) as their dark and mysterious supernatural connection intensifies. 

3.  The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  Written for pre-teens and teens, The Hunger Games is the first novel of a trilogy.  Its lively action, good versus evil story line, and futuristic setting engages readers of all ages. 

4.  Emily, Alone, by Stewart O'Nan.  Emily, Alone follows O'Nan's novel Wish You Were Here.  O'Nan is a masterful storyteller, creating characters the reader can recognize with interaction among friends and family members that is realistic and heartwarming.  Both books are good choices. 

5.  Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray.  Skippy Dies begins with the death of Skippy Juster, a student in a private school for boys in Dublin.  Murray's writing is lyrical and wry, and his treatment of the deceit and grief which pervade the novel is artful and thought-provoking.

6.  A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan.  Time is the goon in this futuristic novel.  Egan does a masterful job delivering the pieces of Bennie's story, a successful music producer, while leaving the reader to puzzle it together as she goes along.  While it may feel disjointed at first, readers will quickly find the thread and be delighted how it falls together. 

7.  The Widower's Tale, by Julia Glass. The Widower's Tale is another gem from Julia Glass, author of Three Junes and The Whole World Over.  The widower is Percy Darling, a retired reference librarian and curmudgeon, whose finds his world changing around him, much to his chagrin.  Glass allows us to experience Percy's transformation, reluctant though it may be, as well as his confusion, dismay, and eventual recommitment as he finds his way in a new world. 

8.  My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme.  My Life in France is not a current book, of course, but is a classic memoir of Julia Child, and the book upon which the blockbuster movie Julie and Julia was based.  It is delightful and uplifting, and casts Julia Child in such a favorable light, it is no wonder the "Julie" from blog and movie fame felt an attachment to her. 

9.  Charming Billy, by Alice McDermott.  Charming Billy was published in 1998, and is the winner of the National Book Award and deserves a read if you haven't already.  It is a complex book about having enough, with themes of generosity and commitment, along with resignation, guilt, and deceit. 

10.  Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese.  This fascinating novel is written by a doctor, so readers can expect a medical overlay on the story, but Verghese makes what is technical fairly easy for the layperson to understand.  Cutting for Stone is the story of twin boys born to a disgraced nun and her doctor lover, who work in a mission in Ethiopia.  The novel is the intriguing and engaging story of one of the twins and will keep readers enthralled until the end. 

Since it's so difficult to identify only ten books from fifty-two, here are a few honorable mentions:

Bossypants, by Tina Fey, is hysterically funny.  Fey offers some good advice, too.  The Whole World Over, by Julia Glass, captures the reaction and mood after 9/11 very well.  The book doesn't center on this tragic event, but it does significantly impact the characters' lives, just as it did our own.  The Watery Part of the World, by Michael Parker, features a relationship between elderly neighbors on a barrier island which isn't easy to explain or understand. The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake, is the story of a young doctor who volunteers to work in England during World War II and the correspondence between him and his newlywed wife, who makes a home in New England and awaits his return.  Prayers for Sale, by Sandra Dallas, is an uplifting story with appealing characters.  Set in a mining town, the harsh reality of daily life needs spiritual intervention. 

Thank you for reading my blog this year.  If you're interesting in expanding your library, would you consider purchasing your books from the Cats and a Book Bookstore?  It's located at the bottom of each blog page and is affiliated of Amazon.com--in other words, Amazon.com fulfills your order.  None of your personal information is retained or processed by Cats and a Book so your privacy is assured! 

Look for the Cats and a Book Book Club Guide coming soon!  I hope your New Year is filled with joy and laughter.  Forgive yourself and others, and let kindness carry you through your days!  Happy reading!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka, is a poignant and poetic short novel about Japanese immigrants to the United States.  Told from multiple perspectives, she follows the journey of young Japanese women to meet their waiting husbands in America, their home lives as they adjust to their new surroundings, and eventually to the suspicion that tormented them during World War II. 

Otsuka captures well the dreams of the young Japanese women and their experience traveling to America.  The young women share the pictures and stories they've learned about their husbands, whom they haven't yet met, who will meet them at the dock.  They learn how different the men are from the stories they'd been told, and how often their husbands do not resemble the photos they were given, mainly because the pictures weren't of them at all.  Instead of a banker, their husband was a field worker.  Instead of a business owner, their husband was a gardener.  Instead of living a life of leisure, they would be field workers and domestic help, lives no better than they left behind in Japan. 

Japanese immigrants faced prejudice and mistrust.  Stereotypes portrayed them as hard workers, and then later as untrustworthy spies.  They watched as their neighbors disappeared, accused of being enemy sympathizers.  They hid, but prepared for a mysterious knock at their door. 

Otsuka's style of narrating the story is all encompassing, relating the story from many angles.  "One swore she would one day marry a preacher, so she wouldn't have to pick berries on Sundays.  One wanted to save up enough money to buy his own farm.  One wanted to become a tomato grower like his father. One wanted to become anything but."  Otsuka powerfully records their hopes, their dreams, even their resignation.  Otsuka writes, "They learned that some people are born luckier than others and that things in this world do not always go as you plan." 

The Buddha in the Attic was published in 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes, is a meandering, reflective, and philosophical novel. Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, the book is told from the perspective of Tony Webster, as he looks back on a school friendship and relationship, trying to decipher the significance of both in his life.  At the time of the story's telling, he is retired, divorced, and living alone. Still friends with his ex-wife, he tells her of a recent inheritance from the mother of a former girlfriend and the puzzling encounters he has with her. 

Tony inherits the journal of Adrian, one of three close friends from school. Adrian is the one in the group who is different.  He is brilliant, and they are all drawn to him, including Veronica, Tony's girlfriend.  When Adrian and Veronica inform Tony they are involved, Tony fires off a bitter letter to them, which comes back to haunt him decades later. 

After Adrian's suicide, Tony loses touch with his friends, including Veronica.  But Veronica's mother's recent death, which results in the odd bequest of Adrian's journal, brings Tony and Veronica back into contact.  And, Tony learns something unexpected and surprising about Veronica, her mother, and Adrian. 

The Sense of an Ending is quintessential Barnes:  wry, witty, academic, reflective, and sometimes tedious.  This short novel is aptly named, but there are times the reader may wonder what drew Tony to Veronica and made him want to decipher the secret that she held, except to achieve "the sense of an ending." 

The Sense of an Ending was published by Borzoi Books in 2011.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), by Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), is a delightfully silly romp about a hypochondriac and his two close friends (and the dog, Montmorency) who decide to take a boat trip on the Thames. Written by Jerome K. Jerome
 and published in 1890 by Henry Holt and Company, the book opens as the central character decides to research some minor symptoms he has. He discovers to his “horror” as he reads through a medical dictionary, that he has symptoms of everything in the book from ague through cholera and diphtheria, all the way to zymosis, until he determines that he suffers from everything but housemaid’s knee. This discovery leads him to decide that a boat vacation would not only help his symptoms, but soothe the stress of his friends, Harris and George, as well.

Of course, the theory of a boating vacation exceeds the actual experience. Lack of boating skill and overstated ability to camp and cook outside is a source of witty anecdotes and stories which often culminate in the friends turning on each other and hurling insults. Even the dog becomes “sarcastic.” Montmorency, whose “ambition in life is to get in the way and be sworn at” so that “he feels his day is not wasted” is a charming addition to the trip. Jerome writes, “To get somebody to stumble over him, and curse him steadily for an hour, is his highest aim and object; and, when he has succeeded in accomplishing this, his conceit becomes quite unbearable.”

Jerome intersperses bits of useful advice throughout the story, philosophical meanderings that are meaningful and applicable to the reader. For example, as he is relating the extent of the packing the friends do for the trip, he concludes, “Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, some one to love and some one to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink . . . You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset . . .”

A quick and entertaining read, Three Men in a Boat is almost as funny now as it would have been in the late 1890s--only “almost” as funny because a few of the references might be lost on modern, American readers, but that shouldn’t discourage anyone who would enjoy a witty diversion from heavier tomes. Three Men in a Boat is available free as a Google eBook.