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Love Saves the Day

Love Saves the Day
Gwen Cooper

When Prudence’s human, Sarah, doesn’t come home, the little tabby cat starts to worry. Before too long, Sarah’s daughter Laura and her husband Josh come to pack up all Sarah’s things, and take Prudence and the boxes to their own apartment. Laura and Josh don’t understand the most basic things about cat care (like introducing yourself properly, or how and when to feed a cat.) Prudence finds refuge in the room filled with Sarah’s boxes. The things she digs out of the boxes draw the humans in; Josh is fascinated by Sarah’s musical past, while Laura uncovers photos and memories she thought were long gone.
Eventually, Laura relates the story of the first cat she loved- a neighbor’s cat called Honey. Josh and Laura are able to find common ground in the Sarah boxes. And Prudence realizes shes been lucky to find a loving home not once but twice.

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Its not common to read novels narrated by feline characters. Dogs, yes; cats, no. But I read and loved Cooper’s first book Homers Oddessy about her blind kitten (and other feline babies) and I knew if anyone could write a cat’s voice, it would be her.
Love Saves The Day is a sad book; I won’t lie. A lot of it deals with how it feels to lose someone we love. But it also illustrates what it means to love someone,  and what it means to be a family. Best of all, the character of Prudence is every bit the perfect cat
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You might like: Homers Odyssey, Cooper. Feline Mystique, Simon. Telegraph Avenue, Chabon.

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Cat Sense

Cat Sense
John Bradshaw

I love cats, especially my own three boys, and will read any book that attempts to make sense of their behavior. As any cat owner knows, making sense of our furry companions sometimes seems impossible, but Bradshaw does a pretty good job. He is a scientist of some kind, so his observations deal with two main aspects of cats: genetics, and observable behavior. However he does a good job of expressing complicated science in readily accessible language. It also becomes apparent that, science aside, Bradshaw is someone who has had close and loving relationships with cats. After all, its not every day you read a book in which a scientist moves from discussion of domininant genes expressed in coat coloration to the personalities of individual cats. 
There were two sections I found most interesting in Cat Sense. For starters, the history of the cat pre-Egypt (Egyptian cat worship being possibly one of cats’ more famous roles.) Although there are species of wild cats all over the world, domestic cats every where are in fact descended from one particular race of cats which originated in north Africa and the Middle East. As we all know, as humans moved from hunter/gatherers to agricultural societies, cats were attracted to higher concentrations of rodents that fed on human grain stores. At some point, people recognized that cats were useful not only for pest control but also for companionship, entertainment and possibly warm fert on cold nights. But this was not a simultaneous discovery around the world- rather, cats were domesticated in one place over a period of time, and then those tame cats were carried by trading ships around the world.
The second most interesting section addressed cat communication, including purring, grooming and especially meowing. Adult feral cats (domestic species living in the wild) rarely meow; its a behavior primarily used between mother cats and kittens. Yet it was familiar enough to Egyptians that their word for cat was “miw” (which oddly became a popular girls name too) and still today, Chinese people call cats “mao-mi.” Bradshaw suggests that cats do not use meows to communicate so much as to secure the attention of humans, and then to communicate by their actions and body language.

Cat Sense is geared towards cat owners (who else is going to buy it?!) and so includes many useful insights for understanding your pets and keeping them happy. Bradshaw points out that we have bred dogs over the centuries for various skills (hunting, herding, guarding, etc) but not so much with cats. All humans have ever really asked of cats is that they display their natural hunting behaviors, and keep us company. That is, perhaps, why cats always seem so much like wild-albeit tiny- animals in our homes: because they really are. Cat Sense does its best to make sense- in a loving, scientific way- of these pets.

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You might like: Feline Mystique,  Clea Simon. Homers Odyssey, Gwen Cooper.

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Life After Life

Life After Life
Jill McCorkle

(Another book with the same title, by Kate Atkinson, came out around the same time. It received more buzz, but I like this one better.)

Johanna has been married several times, and even in love a few times, but has never found happiness. She returned to her hometown when her father died. Now she manages the hot dog stand he left her, and serves as a hospice volunteer at Pine Haven retirement home. Johanna is struggling to rebuild a relationship with her childhood friend Ben, whose selfish wife Kendra is planning to leave him and their unhappy young daughter Abby, who is grieving the loss of her puppy, Dollbaby. Johanna has taken under her wing a single mother named CJ, who works at the hot dog stand and also is a beautician at Pine Haven.

The cast of characters at Pine Haven is just as varied and complex. Sadie is a kind retired teacher who uses film and glue to help others journey wherever they wish. Toby is also a former teacher, and a lesbian, only she alternates between calming yoga breaths and dispensing blunt advise. Rachel is a Jewish widow and once successful lawyer who has moved to the town seeking the memory of a forbidden love. Stanley- my favorite, the saddest of all- Stanley has hatched a plot to keep his son Ned from being too attached, but it quickly gets more complicated than he ever imagined.

The narrative storyline is interrupted by pages from Johanna’s journal relating the lives and deaths of people she has attended. Each of her accounts is followed by a few lines from the dying, as death takes them back to their happiest moments of life.

Life After Life has a lot of characters, and a lot of subplots woven in and around the story. It is a testament to the author’s skill that each character appears vivid and compelling on the page- some sketched in only a few lines, and some fleshed out. The story is narrated from many people’s perspectives, and their views of themselves and others make the different characters come alive.

Life After Life is necessarily a sad book, because its about people dying. But its a good book, because its about the impact our lives have even once we are gone. And its a hopeful book, because its about the things we do for love. For love, Johanna marries a dying man named Luke so she can sign over his belongings to his partner David. For love, CJ sacrifices herself for her son Kurt. For love, Stanley makes a fool of himself to give Ned a chance. For love, Johanna sits with the dying and gives them a chance to tell their stories of life.
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You might like: Me Before You, Jojo Moyes. The Bakerton Stories, Jennifer Haigh.