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, February 25, 2012

Book Club Discussion Questions for The Snow Child

Go to the Cats and a Book Book Club Guide site for guidance, discussion questions, and recipes!

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, is the mysterious tale of a childless middle-aged couple homesteading in Alaska.  Mabel and Jack lost their baby years previously and were unable to have another child.  Moving to the Alaskan wilderness to farm gave them the solitude to grieve.  Ivey poetically described Mabel’s feeling about the wilderness as beauty that “ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all.” 

Life in the Alaskan wilderness is harder than Jack and Mabel expect.  When Mabel’s homemade pies are no longer needed for sale at the nearest town’s store in Alpine, Jack seriously considers working in the mines, at least temporarily, to Mabel’s distress.  Neighbors foist their company and assistance on Jack and Mabel, sharing their supplies and hospitality.  Although Mabel is resistant at first, she begins to rely on their neighborliness. 

But readers question Mabel and Jack’s grounding in reality when the couple begins to see a figure flitting through the woods that seems to be a little girl.  When she appears to them in person after they build a “snow girl” from the first snowfall, the similarities between her appearance and a childhood fairy tale make Jack and Mabel question their own sanity and each other’s.  Over time, the parallels between the fairy tale and the girl’s existence weave in and out of Ivey’s story, so that the book’s conclusion leaves readers wondering about the mysterious girl and what was and wasn’t real. 

The Snow Child is an entertaining story to read.  Although it is often a sad tale, the fairy tale quality of the story makes it a bit more palatable.  Mabel and Jack’s life together is enriched by the book’s other characters, and readers are left with the sense that although there is sadness, there is also joy. 

The Snow Child was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2012.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, is a winner of the Caldecott Medal and the book on which the recent movie Hugo is based.  The book is a piece of art as much as it is a novel, with elaborate illustrations by the author that often cover full pages or two-page spreads which move the story forward and vividly feed the reader's imagination. For that reason, the paper book might be a more rewarding to own than a digital copy.

The book's central character is Hugo Cabret, a twice-orphaned boy who is rebuilding an automaton, a robotic human he found in the clock tower where he lives.  Hugo's father, a clock maker, is lost in a tragic fire, and his uncle, who becomes his guardian on his father's death, disappears and  is presumed dead.  Hugo takes over the clock maker's duties in order to hide his uncle's disappearance from the stationmaster and keep from being sent to a orphans' home.

Hugo's project leads him to pilfer small pieces from a mechanical toy maker's shop in order to rebuild the automaton.  When the toy maker catches Hugo and confiscates his precious notebook with its automaton designs and drawings, Hugo makes a deal that leads him to solve the mystery of the automaton and its creator.

A beautiful book with an engaging protagonist in Hugo, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a book for all ages.  It was published in 2007 by Scholastic Press.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Odds, by Stewart O'Nan

The Odds, by Stewart O’Nan, is the charming story of Art and Marion Fowler, on the verge of a divorce, who wager everything on a second honeymoon to Niagara Falls.  With their life savings in cash in a gym bag, they take a bus to the iconic honeymoon destination with a winner-take-all determination.  Facing bankruptcy after the loss of both of their jobs and divorce after both have affairs, the marriage’s financial and emotional balance is near zero. 

O’Nan’s gift is for making the fairly ordinary seem ordinary.  There are no hyperbolic declarations of love or hysteria over the loss of their jobs and slow decline into financial ruin.  His characters demonstrate how people react to those things in the real world, which makes them much more endearing and understandable.  Art and Marion have phrases and words they use like all married couples, in their own language that would mean nothing to others.  For example, when Art says, “They should,” she replies, “Should be like a wood bee.”  The vacation plods along with negotiations over what they should see and do (he wants to see Ripley’s Museum, she prefers to check Facebook), culminating in a trip to the casino that could either ruin them or give them another chance. 

O’Nan cleverly titles each chapter with the odds of various related topics such as, “Odds of a U.S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls:  1 in 195,” and “Odds of a married couple reaching their 25th anniversary:  1 in 6” and “Odds of getting sick on vacation:  1 in 9.”  This is a nifty way to provide the reader with clues to each chapter.  In the chapter “Odds of surviving going over the Falls without a barrel:  1 in 1,500,000,” Marion ruminates about the young boy who went over the falls and survived, “She thought she knew the dread and panic of being swept inexorably toward the edge, except that sometime in the past few months, whether to preserve her strength or her sanity, she’d stopped fighting.  Now she was just floating, waiting to go over.” 

O’Nan is a gifted storyteller, and this quick and delightful read is satisfying and uplifting.  The Odds was published in 2012 by Viking.  

If you enjoy O’Nan’s novels, please see the Cats and a Book Review of Emily, Alone.  A book club guide, along with recipes and menus for your meeting, can be found at the Cats and a Book Book Club Guide.