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.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, by Alexander McCall Smith

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, by Alexander McCall Smith, is the latest in the charming series of books featuring Precious Ramotswe, the principal detective and owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana.  In this edition, Ramotswe’s good friend and manager of the local orphanage is dismissed after disagreeing with the governing board over a building plan.  The board’s decision maker is a local businessman with questionable influence, and it is up to Ramotswe and the visiting author of her private detection bible, Clovis Andersen, to determine his motive for the building plan and the orphanage manager’s dismissal. 

The book opens with Andersen, the author of The Principles of Private Detection, making a surprise visit to Ramotswe.  Ramotswe has used his book as a reference from the beginning of her career.  To his chagrin, she and her assistant quote his advice and refer to situations he described in his book.  The reader begins to suspect that Andersen has a secret of his own. 

The book is full of quirkiness, multi-layered stories, and commonsense, even heart-warming advice.  In addition to the surprising dismissal of Ramotswe’s friend, the arrest of one of her husband’s employees, and a mysterious situation with her associate’s new home also present challenges for the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to resolve. 

Grace Makutsi is Ramotswe’s associate detective, and brings quirkiness to the story.  Grace believes that her shoes talk to her.  In fairness to Makutsi, she didn’t own shoes in her impoverished childhood, so they feature large in her life.  As Smith explains Makutsi’s mindset, “One must be prepared . . .  for at least some criticism from one’s footwear, the occasional sharp comment, the odd note of jealousy sounded by working shoes of party shoes—that sort of thing.”   

Ramotswe interjects advice from time to time, both to Makutsi and to her clients, which reflects her understanding of human behavior.  When Makutsi is outraged that a building contractor won’t talk to her but only to her husband, Ramotswe offers, “A rude person wants you to be rude back to him.  He really likes that.  But if you just smile and are very polite, then he will realize that his rudeness has not hurt you.  He has achieved nothing.”

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection will whet the reader’s appetite for the previous books and look forward to the next one.  The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection was published by Pantheon books in 2012.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan

The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan, is a dark and complicated mystery that leaves much for the reader to deduce.  The book’s main character is Grace Winter, and the closing lines of the Prologue describe the book’s central conflict succinctly:  “ . . . I was to stand trial for my life.  I was twenty-two years old.  I had been married for ten weeks and a widow for over six.” 

Grace and her new husband Henry had wed in Europe and were returning to the United States to meet his parents, who had hoped for a different match for Henry.  Aboard the Empress Alexandra, Henry engages in mysterious business conversations which may or may not have had anything to do with a particular valuable cargo onboard.  When the Empress Alexandra flounders and is in distress, Henry hands Grace into a full lifeboat.  It is the last time Grace will see her new husband. 

The book details the declining circumstances of the survivors on the crowded lifeboat—the lack of food, the dwindling supplies of fresh water, the illness and desperation of the passengers.  Mr. Hardie, the ship’s one crewman aboard, assumes command of the lifeboat early in their travails, but disagreements among the passengers lead to the denouement which results in Grace’s trial for murder. 

The reader is left to decide many of the other elements of the story, which may have been factors in the central mystery of Grace’s murder charge:  Did the explosion onboard the Empress Alexander occur before the ship sank or after?  Could it have been sabotage?  What was the root of the disagreement between Mr. Hardie and the other seaman he refused to help?  What transpired between Mr. Hardie and Henry Winter that caused them to raise the full lifeboat and put her aboard?  And where did the coins come from that appeared after the wreck?  Could someone still be alive who was presumed dead? 

Terrific fodder for a book club discussion, the unanswered questions provide a mystery beyond the one Rogan narrates in The LifeboatThe Lifeboat was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2012. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, is an imaginative and suspenseful story written for young teens that uses actual old photographs as illustrations.  The story’s hero is Jacob Portman, a 16-year-old who works part-time at his family’s drug store chain.  He regularly visits his aging grandfather, who appears to be suffering from increasing dementia, fearing monsters have found him and begging for the key to his gun cabinet.  When Jacob finds Grandpa Portman fatally wounded, the elderly Portman tells Jacob, “Find the bird.  In the loop.  On the other side of the old man’s grave.  September third, 1940.”  Grandpa Portman’s mysterious last words spur Jacob to solve his murder, and prove that he himself wasn’t imagining the thing he thought he saw at the scene of his grandfather’s attack. 

The elder Portman revealed little about his early childhood, including that he was secreted away from encroaching Nazis in Eastern Europe in an orphanage on the secluded island of Cairnholm, Wales.  As a young child, Grandpa Portman would show Jacob pictures of the children he claimed where in the orphanage with him, children with bizarre talents and attributes like super-human strength, the ability to create fire in their hands, and a mouth in the back of their heads.  Jacob gradually stopped believing his Grandpa’s stories, and the elder Portman put away his box of photographs.  Feeling that Cairnholm might shed light on his grandfather’s last words, Jacob convinces his father, along with the help of his Jacob’s psychiatrist, to travel to the island.  What Jacob discovers is far more sinister than children with super-human abilities.  He discovers his grandfather’s murderer and realizes how close the danger is to him, as well. 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an entertaining story for young teens and up.  The photographs included in the book are copies of actual photos collectors offered to the author and fed the story’s plot and character development.  Because of the number of photographs, the book takes longer to load and is a larger electronic file if you’re reading an electronic version.  Also, there are letters reproduced as images which can’t be enlarged on some eReaders, so that an actual paper copy might be a better choice for this book. 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was published in 2011 by Quirk Books.