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, April 21, 2012

Drop Dead Healthy, by A. J. Jacobs

Drop Dead Healthy:  One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, by A. J. Jacobs, is his most recent foray into his favorite stunt non-fiction genre. In past books, Jacobs has read the encyclopedia and lived the Bible, writing with intelligence and honesty about his experiences.  This time, Jacobs undertakes "to become as healthy as humanly possible" by focusing on different body parts and exploring the claims, fads, and the industry that has grown up to support human beings' efforts at achieving ultimate healthiness.  Or as he says, " . . . to turn my current self--a mushy, easily winded, moderately sickly blob--into the embodiment of health and fitness."  He starts with a list 53 pages long of advice he had been collecting, including the obvious like "eat leafy green vegetables" to the not-so-obvious "hum (prevents sinus infections)" to the unlikely "win an Academy Award" (because Oscar winners tended to live three years longer on average than non-winners).

Readers should be warned that this is not an advice book.  Jacobs does synthesize his own learnings from the experience at the end of the book, but he doesn't proclaim any particular path to healthiness.  What's more, some of the methods he explored may be counter to the reader's quest for ultimate good health--running barefoot and the "caveman" workout come to mind.  Not to say that these approaches may work for some people under some circumstances but just as Jacobs' writes, they're not for everyone.

What makes Jacobs' books endearing is his transparency.  Whether it is his low testosterone level (which he does manage to improve) or his relationships with his eccentric Aunt Marti (who battles cancer despite her almost obsessively healthy lifestyle) and his aging grandfather, Jacobs is honest.  His self-effacing humor and candor make his struggle for healthiness seem attainable for anyone, albeit using the methods that work best for them.  Not everyone may find working at their computer while walking on a treadmill to be practical.  But, Jacobs reported that this and other lifestyle changes made him " . . . like climbing a flight of stairs without my heart thumping like a cartoon animal in love."

Drop Dead Healthy is entertaining, and if it inspires a reader to make healthier lifestyle choices, then the book accomplishes more than it sets out to do.  Jacobs isn't a health guru and he doesn't seek to change his readers, but it would be difficult not to absorb some nugget of health wisdom.  And if that helps any reader's heart not thump "like a cartoon animal in love" then the book is a success on multiple levels.

Drop Dead Healthy was published in 2012 by Simon and Schuster.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Land More Kind Than Home, by Wiley Cash

A Land More Kind Than Home, by Wiley Cash, is a powerful and gripping novel about culture, religion, and family.  Set in rural Madison County in western North Carolina, the story centers around a local preacher at the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following. 

The story is told from three perspectives.  Adelaide Lyle narrates part of the story.  She is eighty-one years old and has spent many of her years in Madison County.  After witnessing the death of one of the church members from a snake bite, she takes the children of the church outdoors for Sunday School, while their parents are behind the building’s newspaper-covered windows.  Jess Hall is nine, and lives with his mute brother “Stump” and his parents.  His mother is an ardent church member who falls under the spell of its charismatic leader.   Finally, Clem Barefield is the local sheriff, who has a history with Jess’s ne’er-do-well grandfather.  Sheriff Barefield  unravels a secret about the church’s pastor that puts him in danger of his life.  When a tragedy occurs during a church service, conflicts turn violent and Jess Hall’s world changes forever. 

Jess and Stump stay with Miss Lyle until one fateful Sunday morning. Stump is selected to attend the grown- up services, and Jess spies on the proceedings.  When he sees what's happening, he calls out "Mama!" which the churchgoers assume is Stump, and word of Stump's healing is called a miracle.  Jess later says it was a mirage, "It was like Mama was lost in the desert and had gotten so thirsty that she was willing to see anything that might make her feel better about being lost.  I knew that she needed to think she heard Stump holler out for her, even if I knew he didn't, and I wondered if it was a sin to think any less of a miracle just because you know it ain't real."  

Cash’s first novel has it all:  gripping scenes of suspense, emotional reactions that threaten to overcome reason, love and family loyalty, and evil and control disguised as religion.  This is a book you’ll find hard to put down, and waiting not-so-patiently for Cash’s next novel. 

A Land More Kind Than Home was published by William Morrow in 2012.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye, by Anne Tyler

The Beginner’s Goodbye, by Anne Tyler, doesn’t disappoint Tyler’s fans who have waited patiently for her nineteenth novel.   When Dr. Dorothy Rosales is killed by a falling tree, her husband Aaron is convinced that she visits him from beyond the grave.  He believes that Dorothy “faced the fact that we simply missed each other too much.  She had given in and returned.”  Her irregular visits give him comfort at times.  At other times, he feels confused, as if she is giving him a message he doesn’t quite understand, or causes him to relive moments of their lives together.   These brief “conversations” prove invaluable to Aaron’s grieving process.   

Tyler has a gift for describing the ordinary and the everyday while telling a believable story.  Not that seeing an apparition is ordinary, but the characters she creates and the situations she places them in build a common bond between the reader and the characters. Many people have lost loved ones; Aaron finds it irritating to be reminded by expressions of sympathy and the avoidance others suddenly have for using the word “wife.”  His refrigerator is full of casseroles to the point that he “bypasses” his plate by simply sampling a dish and dumping the rest in the trash. And, he is weary of people attempting to arrange dates with the newly widowed as if a deceased spouse is a “shared pastime.” 

The book isn’t maudlin or depressing.  While Aaron works through feelings about his late wife and marriage, he provides a wry editorial on life as a new widower.  His occupation also gives moments of  comic relief.  Aaron edits “The Beginner’s Series” at Woolcott Publishing (which inspires the title of this novel with titles like, “The Beginner’s Book of Birdwatching” or “Beginner’s Jet Lag”) and since it is a vanity press, whose customers pay for the privilege of seeing their writing in print form, submitted content is sometimes the subject of office conversation, too. 

The Beginner’s Goodbye is the latest in a string of memorable books by Tyler, including Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, the Pulitzer Prize winning Breathing Lessons, and most recently Noah’s CompassThe Beginner’s Goodbye was published in 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf.