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, March 30, 2013

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, is a delightful surprise.  A reader might discount the potential for a meaningful plot line and well-developed characters when introduced to the young and ambitious producer’s assistant Claire and her porn-addicted boyfriend.  Fortunately, the author introduces Pasquale, an innkeeper in the tiny oceanside town of Porto Vergogna, Italy, in the book’s first chapter.

Pasquale is a young Italian dreamer, son of the only hotel’s innkeeper, who inherits the property after the death of his father.  Pasquale aches to build the property into a resort, complete with a mountainside tennis court, which will attract famous and wealthy Americans to the tiny town and mostly nonexistent beach.   When a Hollywood starlet arrives under unusual circumstances, he falls in love with her during her short visit.    

Dee Moray is cast in a minor role in the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton film “Cleopatra” but leaves the set when she is diagnosed with stomach cancer.  Sent to Porto Vergogna to remove her from the attention of Burton, Moray learns that it was not a tumor that she has but a baby, and the film’s PR head, Michael Deane, conspires to remove Dee as a distraction to Burton since movie fans were enjoying the fiery relationship between the film’s lead stars. 

Stitched between modern day and the early 1960s, Pasquale and Moray lead separate lives which are eventually reunited through the help of Claire, Michael Deane’s assistant, and an aspiring screenplay writer.   Both Pasquale and Dee learn to accept what’s possible and what isn’t—like building a tennis court on the side of a mountain or luring Richard Burton away from Liz Taylor—but are still able to  find enrichment in the families they built while away from each other. 

Walter does a masterful job telling a story about making things right, healing old wounds, and coping with events that are outside of our control.  The characters are likable and grow in the face of challenges.  Beautiful Ruins is a moving story, and was published in 2012 by HarperCollins. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Canada, by Richard Ford

Canada, by Richard Ford, is the story of Del Parsons, who was abandoned at age 15 after his parents decided to rob a bank.  Del is eventually transported across the border to Canada, where most of the plot unfolds.  It’s there that Del learns about life—he is exposed to his benefactor’s mental illness, becomes an unwilling accomplice to murder, and reflects on how his parents’ flaws formed his and his sister’s lives. 

Del is one of a set of twins, his sister being the larger of the two, more worldly, and less timid than Del.  Del’s father Bev left the military after an under-the-table deal selling beef was discovered, and subsequent stints as a car salesman weren’t successful enough to keep him out of the black market business.  When a deal goes bad and Bev is left with a substantial debt to pay, the notion of a bank robbery takes root in his mind.  His wife Neeva (who characterizes herself as “weak” in her diary) agrees to be his accomplice.  The robbery is not as successful as Bev had hoped, and resulted in his and Neeva’s arrest several days later.  Del and his sister Berner are left alone in the house, and after a day or two, Berner decides to strike out on her own, presumably to follow a boyfriend to California.  A friend of Neeva’s arrives later and takes Del to her brother’s hotel in a small town in Canada. 

Canada encompasses a broad range of emotions.  Bev’s romance with becoming a bank robber after his bumbling attempts at selling meat to a railroad buyer is wryly comical.  Neeva is miserable in her marriage, feeling like she is blown about by circumstance, from her obligation to marry Bev because she was pregnant to participating in the bank robbery.  Del is abandoned, more or less, after his parents’ arrest, and experiences more than a 15-year-old should be exposed to, which the reader senses makes him emotionally aloof. 

Ford, whose previous book Independence Day, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen/Faulkner Award, has another award-worthy novel in CanadaCanada was published in 2012 by Ecco.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin, is a novel about a lonely orchardist who enters into a tenuous relationship as caregiver for two runaway, pregnant teens.  After Jane and Della take up residence in his apple and apricot orchards, Talmadge discovers the reason for their flight—a cruel hermit who enslaves and tortures young girls and women.  Only one child of the two girls survives, Angelene, whom Talmadge raises with the help of Miss Caroline Middey.  (Coplin almost always refers to Talmadge soley by his last name and Miss Caroline Middey almost always by both names and title.) 

After the tragic demise of Della’s babies and Jane’s suicide, Della seems incapable of raising her niece, Angelene.  In fact, she is plagued by a desire to flee, to do something dangerous, to tempt fate.  The narratives of her life after leaving the orchard are fraught with near disasters, while Angelene lives in the safe and placid orchard. 

Coplin’s characters are complex.  Talmadge is haunted by the death of his mother but mostly by the disappearance of his sister when they were both youths.  His obsession with bringing Della back into the fold at the orchard speaks to his desire to find and reunite his lost family.  Della is damaged beyond recovery by the hand of her enslaver, and despite Talmadge’s efforts, cannot keep from creating her own undoing.  The pace of the novel is often slow, echoing the tone of life in the orchard.  When the action reaches a climax, Coplin speeds through the scene at a nearly chaotic pace, so that readers need the interjected newspaper accounts to help understand what actually occurred. 

Coplin recreates the life of the orchardist well in her novel, having grown up on her grandfather’s orchard in Washington.  Along with the historic elements of the novel—the coming of the railroad, the growth in industrialized harvesting and shipping practices—readers will sense Coplin’s sincerity and honesty.  The Orchardist was published in 2012 by HarperCollins.