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!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Roots of the Olive Tree, by Courtney Miller Santo

The Roots of the Olive Tree, by Courtney Miller Santo, tells the story of 112-year-old Anna Davison Keller, taken from her birth mother in Australia, and moved to California by the Davison family.  Anna’s father dreamed of olive trees thriving in the Sacramento Valley and building a fortune on its fruits.  As he succeeded, generations of Keller women made their home at the Hill House, where Anna lived, including Anna’s daughter Bets, Bets’ daughter Callie, Callie’s daughter Deb, and Deb’s daughter Erin. 

Santo’s book is like a series of snapshots into the women’s lives.  We learn that Anna wants to be the oldest living person, and scours the newspapers to check on the health of anyone older.  Bets’ husband Frank suffers from dementia, and long held secrets they both have are revealed in time.  Callie wants to start a new life and sell her Olive Pit roadside store.  Deb, imprisoned for the murder of her husband, finally makes parole but has trouble adapting to life at Hill House.  Erin, Deb’s daughter, is an opera singer who returns from a European tour pregnant and troubled. 

Because of Anna’s advanced age, she is one of a group of supercentenarians studied by scientist Amrit Hashmi, who is seeking to prove his theory that old age is environmental and not genetic, at least for people like Anna.  He arrives to interview the family and take DNA for further study.  These results reveal family secrets long hidden.  And, his involvement sparks a romance with Callie. 

The story is not always pleasant to read.  Inexplicable angry exchanges and explosive reactions between generations belie a history that isn't described in the book.  Because there are so many characters, who seem to get equal attention as story protagonists, the depth of their development may not give the reader a full picture to better understand their motivations.  Perhaps this story rings more true to people like the author, who is proud of five living generations in her own family. 

The Roots of the Olive Tree was written in 2012 and published by William Morrow.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick, is a dark novel about a woman who responds to an ad for "a reliable wife."  Placed by a lonely widower.  the ad intrigues Catherine Land for several reasons.  She claims the ad appeals to her because of its simplicity and practicality, but it is the ad's sponsor who draws her attention. Ralph Truitt is a successful businessman in rural Wisconsin who believes punishment he receives, including an attempt on his life, is appropriate to his moral crimes.

Land arrives in Truitt's town with lies and deceptions in tow. Truitt's housekeeper, Mrs. Larsen, is suspicious from the start but can't pinpoint the cause of her worry.  Truitt bares his soul to Land, sharing the painful history leading to his lonely and hermetic life.  His one quest is to find his son Andy and restore his household in the Italian mansion built for them, deserted after Andy' departure and his first wife's death. After Truitt's detectives locate Andy, now known as Tony Moretti, readers learn that this reunites Land and Tony, who have been conspiring to take Truitt's fortune.

Land begins slowly poisoning Truitt with arsenic, and even though Truitt knows he is being poisoned, he can't find the source of the poison and seems resigned to his fate at her hands.  Upon her return from her pilgrimage to St. Louis, ostensibly to talk Tony into returning home to his father, Land finds her feelings for Truitt cause her to change the murder plan before it is too late for Truitt to recover.

The book is, as the author writes, "a story of people who don't choose life over death until it's too late to know the difference, people who goodness is forgotten, left behind like a child's toy in a dusty playroom, people who see many things and remember only a handful of them and learn from even fewer, people how hurt themselves, wreck their own lives and then go on to wreck the lives of those around them, who cannot be helped or assuaged by love or kindness or luck or charm, who forget kindness, the feeling and practice of it, and how it can save even the worst, most misshapen life from despair.  It was just a story about despair."

Readers may be surprised more than once by twists and turns in the story, perplexed by character's actions, and unable to understand the sense of resignation to a fate that could be avoided.  It is, as the author writes so eloquently, "a story about despair."

A Reliable Wife was published in 2009 by Algonquin Books.