Books

Book review: Derv & Co: A Life Among Felines by T.J. Banks

“Basically, the cats have our number. And our address. And a map.”

So begins Derv & Co., a collection of stories and poems about some of the cats who’ve come into the hearts and home of T.J. Banks. We meet Derv (short for Dervish), the orange and white patriarch of the clan, and Star, the Siamese whose introduction into the household is described by Banks as “General Sherman marching through Georgia during the Civil War. ” In addition to many others, we also get introduced to Zorro the Reiki cat, who taught the author about healing and energy, and Phoebe, the office cat, who will guest blog right here on The Conscious Cat next week.

T.J. Banks knows and understands cats, and her appreciation and love for each individual cat shines through in  her sensitive and beautiful prose. You may recognize some of your own cats in the stories, and you’ll find yourself nodding your head in recognition of a particular feline trait, or laughing as something in one of the stories will awaken a long-forgotten memory of one of your own long lost cats.

Cat lovers, especially those who live with multiple cats, will probably recognize their own homes in the chapter titled “Feline Chic.” We’ve all made decorating compromises to accommodate our feline family members, from flooring to furniture to wall color choices (Banks suggests butter yellow if  you have cats who spray!) Sticky Paws tape may just be a cat lover’s best friend when it comes to home decor.

All the stories touched my heart, but it was the poems that moved me deeply. “Storm’s Passing,” written after her cat Stormy died one June morning when his heart stopped unexpectedly, beautifully captures the grief we all feel after losing a beloved cat. “For Solstice” conveys the experience of a spirit visit by a beloved cat that is so magical and lyrical, it filled my heart with joy. “Dawnstar” is an enchanting ode to a soulmate cat.

This is a jewel of a book. It’s the kind of book you don’t read just once.  And it’s the kind of book you’re going to want to give to every cat lover in your life.

Derv & Co. is available directly from the author – if you’d like to purchase, please e-mail T.J. Banks.

T. J. Banks is the author of A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Souleiado, and Houdini, a novel for young adults which the late writer and activist Cleveland Amory enthusiastically branded “a winner.” Catsong, a collection of her best cat stories, was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award. A Contributing Editor to laJoie, she has received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), ByLine, and The Writing Self. Her writing has been widely anthologized, and she has worked as a columnist, a stringer for the Associated Press, and an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School. She is currently writing a blog called “Sketch People,” a  series of interviews with people who have stories worth telling. You can learn more about T.J. Banks on her blog, and through this interview.

I purchased this book.

You may also enjoy reading:

Book review: Catsong by T.J. Banks

Book review: Houdini by T.J. Banks

Book review: Curiosity Thrilled the Cat by Sofie Kelly

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat by Sofie Kelly

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat is the first in the brand new Magical Cats Mysteries series. Even if I didn’t already love cat-themed mysteries, the cover would have drawn me in for sure: cats and books, my two favorite things!

 From the publisher:

When librarian Kathleen Paulson moved to Mayville Heights, Minnesota, she had no idea that two strays would nuzzle their way into her life. Owen is a tabby with a catnip addiction and Hercules is a stocky tuxedo cat who shares Kathleen’s fondness for Barry Manilow. But beyond all the fur and purrs, there’s something more to these felines.

When murder interrupts Mayville’s Wild Rose Music Festival, Kathleen finds herself the prime suspect. More stunning is her realization that Owen and Hercules are magical-and she’s relying on their skills to solve a purr-fect murder.

I loved everything about this book. The character of Kathleen, a determined amateur sleuth whose boyfriend in Boston went on vacation and returned home married, which prompted her move to Minnesota, is extremely likeable. The small Minnesota town she moves to is home to a cast of enjoyable secondary characters ranging from interesting to slightly bizarre. But it’s the cats who steal the show in this mystery. Owen is addicted to his Fred the Funky Chicken catnip toys, and Hercules is a fan of Barry Manilow’s music, which is definitely one of the more unique character traits I’ve seen in a cat!

I prefer if cats don’t talk in cat-themed mysteries, and these two don’t, but they do help solve the mystery, and at times, overshadow the human characters. I had no problem with that! But what really endeared me to Owen and Hercules is the fact that they seem to have magical powers: they can appear and disappear at will. Okay, so far, nothing that your average pet cat can’t do, right? But Owen and Hercules appear to be able to walk through walls and other solid surfaces.

The murder mystery gets solved, with a lot of help from the cats, but the magical properties of the two cats are left up in the air. Some readers may be bothered by this, but I actually liked it – it makes me look forward to the next book in the series even more.

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat is a whimsical, funny, magical read for cat and mystery lovers.

Sofie Kelly is the pseudonym of young adult writer and mixed-media artist, Darlene Ryan. Sofie/Darlene lives on the east coast with her husband and daughter. In her spare time she practices Wu style tai chi and likes to prowl around thrift stores. And she admits to having a small crush on Matt Lauer. You can learn more about her on her website.

Book review: A Cat Like That by Wendy Wahman

A Cat Like That by Wendy Wahman

This delightful book for young readers aged 4-8 helps children (and their parents) understand how to interact with a cat. Wendy Wahman’s charming, whimsical, brightly colored illustrations accompany sound advice and will teach cat-loving kids some new facts, and perhaps empower nervous kids to make new feline friends.

What does a cat want in a best friend? Someone who knows just where to scratch. Someone who can read the many moods of a cat’s tail. Someone who knows when to play, and when to stay away.

My absolute favorite part of the book is this:

“I’d send a kiss with my eyes by blinking slowly…and hope I got one back.”

This book is purrfect for kids who are about to adopt a cat or meet a cat for the first time – especially for the overeager ones!

Check out this cute video about A Cat Like That:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80WcGcwpvaI&feature=youtu.be

Wendy Wahman has won many awards for illustration, but her greatest joy is loving the two-, three-, and four-legged animals she has known. She is also the author of Don’t Lick the Dog: Making Friends with Dogs. She lives in Washington State. You can learn more about Wendy and her work on her website.

This book was sent to me by the publisher.

A day in the life of an author’s cat

Fred, Lorna Barrett's cat

Guest post by Fred, owner of
New York Times bestselling author Lorna Barrett

Hello, my name is Fred. I’m a Tuxedo. That means I’m black and white. And very handsome. I know, because my author told me so.

Yes, I own an author. She wasn’t always an author, but when I came to live with her, her luck changed. Who says black cats are unlucky! She started selling lots of books. She has lots of author names: Lorna Barrett, Lorraine Bartlett, and L.L. Bartlett.

Why do people think black cats are unlucky? Okay, I do have some white fur, too, but I’m mostly a black cat. (Unless I lie on my back, and then my mapmaker—that’s the husband of my author—says I’m mostly white. Go figure!)

As an author-owner, I lead a pretty busy life. My day often starts at 3 or 4 in the morning. Sometimes I get restless and like to walk around the house talking to the cupboard. It holds lots of cans of cat food and kitty treats. I tell it to feed me, but it doesn’t listen well. So I walk around the house and talk to the furniture and the walls. Sometimes I talk (and scratch on) the bedroom closet door. For some reason when that happens, water comes squirting off of the mapmaker’s bedside table. Go figure!

I like to go back to bed about half an hour before everybody else gets up. Then I like to have a lie-in while my author and mapmaker play on their computers before breakfast.

I show up for breakfast every morning, but sometimes I don’t like what’s on the menu. I refuse to sit up and then I walk away. (But I sneak back when no one is looking. Hey, I gotta eat ya know.)

After breakfast, I like to jump on my author’s lap to take make sure she is correctly answering her email. Then I take a long nap on my mapmaker’s extra office chair. Sometimes I go sit under his 200 watt light bulb in my kitty bed. It’s too small for me, so sometimes I have to hang over the edges.

At lunchtime, I like to go see what my author is having. Sometimes she cuts up onions and celery and that means tuna will happen, and I get to drink the tuna water. I like that. (Doesn’t happen enough, though.)

After lunch, it’s nap time. I need to stay well rested because, like I said, I get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to talk to the walls and furniture. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

My favorite part of the day is Happy Hour. My author and mapmaker like to read (and my author often edits her work in progress at this time of day). Sometimes cheese happens. Yum! Chester (their other black cat) is good about telling them that WE NEED CAT TREATS NOW! Sometimes Betsy (one of the two sisters that live here—I like to chase or LOOK AT HER and make her SCREAM) leaves her treats. I’m fast. I clean up her leftovers.

During happy hour, I like to run around the house and pretend I’m a bullet train. (Only I can jump over chairs and knock over tables. It’s fun!) I have kitty OCD which makes my skin ripple and makes me run fast. The only thing that calms me down is my author petting me and telling me I’m a good and handsome boy. (I am!)

In the evening, I like to walk around the house and let everybody know that I’m in charge. (Chester doesn’t believe it.) I like to jump on the back of my author’s office chair and purr in her ear. She seems to like it.

If my author stays up too late, I have to remind her that it’s my bedtime. I start talking to the walls and furniture in her office until she says, “Alright already! Bedtime!” I sleep at the bottom of my author’s bed. I have an afghan my people-grandma made me and I have a little pillow, too. I like to rest my head on the pillow.

When I’m not doing all these things, I bring my author lots of luck to sell her books. That’s why she calls me her little prince (and her tiny son). She loves me a lot.

That’s my happy life. I hope your life is happy, too!

Lorraine Bartlett with Fred

Fred’s author is New York Times Bestselling author Lorna Barrett of the Booktown Mystery series. Sentenced To Death, #5 in the series, was relesed June 7th. Lorna also writes the Victoria Square Mysteries under the name Lorraine Bartlett and the Jeff Resnick Mysteries under the name L.L. Bartlett.

You may also enjoy reading:

An interview with Lorna Barrett

A mystery author and her cats

Book review: Sentenced to Death by Lorna Barrett

Sentenced to Death Lorna Barrett

Sentenced to Death is the fifth in Lorna Barrett’s bestselling Booktown mystery series featuring Tricia Miles, the owner of the Haven’t Got a Clue mystery book store and her cat, Miss Marple. I’ve come to love this series, but even if I didn’t know anything about it, I would have picked this one up just for its pretty cover. A cat, books, and a summery background – those are definitely a few of my favorite things! And the book lives up to its cover: this is a perfect summer read.

It’s Founder’s Day in Stoneham and the whole village has turned out to celebrate in the square, including Tricia’s friend and festivities organizer Deborah Black. As everyone watches Deborah give the opening speech, a small aircraft crashes into the village gazebo, killing both Deborah and the pilot. While the Sheriff’s Department is convinced that it was an accident, Tricia has a feeling that there’s more to the story.

Tricia gets suspicious when Deborah’s husband doesn’t seem to spend any time grieving the loss of his wife and doesn’t even hold a funeral for her. Instead, he quickly sells The Happy Domestic, the store Deborah owned, to Nigela Racita Associates, a company that appears to be on a mission to take over the small town.  A second death proves to Tricia that she is on to something, and she continues her investigation.

One of the most appealing aspects of reading a mystery series for me is the return of the same characters. To me, it’s like visiting with old friends in each new book. If you’ve read the previous four books, you already know and love Tricia, Miss Marple, Angelica, Tricia’s sister, cookbook author and owner of The Cookery, and captain Baker, Tricia’s love interest (or is he?). Miss Marple makes more frequent appearances in this book than she did in the previous ones, which added an additional element of reading pleasure for me. Even if you haven’t read the earlier books, you will like this one, but be forewarned: it’s going to almost certainly make you want to catch up and read the other four!

Sentenced to Death is a highly entertaining summer read with exciting plot twists, the most unique murder weapon of any cozy I’ve ever read, likeable characters, and a lovable feline. Pick up your copy (it will be released June 7), pour yourself a cold summer beverage of your choice, and enjoy this delightful cozy.

Lorna Barrett is a New York Times bestselling and Agatha Award nominated author. You can learn more about Lorna by visiting her website and her blog Dazed and Confused.

I received an ARC copy of this book from the author.

Coming Wednesday: A guest post by Fred, Lorna Barrett’s cat!

You may also enjoy reading my reviews of:

Chapter and Hearse

Bookplate Special

Book review: The Complete Cat’s Meow by Darlene Arden

The Complete Cat's Meow Darlene Arden

When I look at cat care guides, I typically review them to see if they are something I would recommend to other cat owners. After almost three decades of either caring for cats, working with cats, or writing about cats, I don’t expect to find much that I haven’t read or heard about before. And yet, I bought The Complete Cat’s Meow: Everything You Need to Know About Caring for Your Cat, because I knew that a cat care guide written by Darlene Arden would be special. I wasn’t disappointed.

Darlene’s wealth of knowledge, thorough research, and engaging writing style come through on every page. But even more than that, it’s Darlene’s love for cats that makes this book special, beginning with the introduction’s closing phrase “The Complete Cat’s Meow will…help your feline companions live longer, healthier, happier lives. In return, you will reap a boundless bounty of love and affection” to passages such as “open your heart and your home to a kitty and watch the love flourish.” One only has to look at the photo of Darlene with her cat Aimee on the back cover to know that Darlene isn’t just an expert on all things cat, she truly loves cats.

Reading this book is like a conversation with a good friend who loves cats as much as you do, but knows more about them than you do. The book covers newborn kittens, how to choose the right cat for you, how to prepare your home for your new kitty, understanding cat behavior, nutrition and health care. Darlene presents an extensive list of feline health concerns ranging from urinary tract disease to cancer to dealing with emergencies and surgeries. The book also includes a listing of popular breeds with detailed descriptions of their appearance and personality.

The two sections that really stood out for me are the ones on new kittens, and on how to choose the right cat for you. In the kitten section, Arden goes into great detail on how a responsible breeder raises kittens. At fist, I was a little skeptical about the emphasis on breeders in this section, because I’m not someone who would ever purchase a kitten, (nor does the author advocate this as the only way to bring a kitten into your life). I quickly realized that the author uses the example of how a responsible breeder raises a litter of kittens to illustrate how kittens are raised in ideal circumstances, such as being handled and socialized from a very early age, and not being separated from their mother until they’re at least 12 weeks old. In the section on how to determine which cat is right for you, the author carefully reviews all aspects that should be considered, from age to breed to coat length. I have not seen these two aspects of cat care covered this thoroughly in any other cat care guide I’ve read, and I read a lot of them!

This is not to say that the other sections aren’t covered with the same level of depth and attention to detail. Every section in this book provides excellent information. In addition, the book is beautifully illustrated throughout with black and white photos and some absolutely stunning full color photographs in the middle. It also features an exceptional resource guide.

If you’re only going to buy one cat guide, this is the one to get. The Complete Cat’s Meow is not only a great book for those who are new to sharing their lives with cats, it really belongs in every cat owners library.

Darlene Arden with cat AimeeDarlene Arden is an award-winning writer, lecturer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant. She is the author of numerous books on pet care and  hundreds of articles and columns for all of the major cat and dog publications, as well as for newspapers and general interest publications. Darlene is passionate about helping animals live longer and better lives. For more information about Darlene, please visit her website.


I purchased this book.

Buckley’s Story honored as Finalist in the 2011 International Book Awards

Buckley's Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher

I am very excited to share the news that Buckley’s Story is an Award-Winning Finalist in the “Animals/Pets: General” category of the 2011 International Book Awards!

The International Book Awards honor knowledge, creativity, wisdom and global cooperation through the written word. Over 300 winners and finalists were announced in 140 categories. “The 2011 results represent a phenomenal mix of books from a wide array of publishers throughout the world,” says Jeffrey Keen, President and CEO of JPX Media Group. “Finalists and winners were chosen by a distinguished panel of industry judges who bring to the table their extensive editorial, PR, marketing, and design expertise.”

What makes awards like this one, and the 2010 Merial Human Animal Bond Award, which was awarded to Buckley’s Story last November by the International Cat Writers Association, so special is not just the recognition of all the hard work that went into writing the book.

It also means that even more people will hear about my little cat, and the way she changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. It means that her lessons will be shared with an even wider audience. It means that perhaps, somewhere out there, someone will find comfort in reading about my personal story of navigating through the devastating grief that comes with losing a beloved cat.

The spirit that was Buckley was endless love and joy. I can feel my little cat smiling now.

Book review: The Cat, the Lady and the Liar by Leann Sweeney

Reading The Cat, the Lady and the Liar, the third in Leann Sweeney’s Cats in Trouble series, was like visiting with old friends. I came to know and like cat quilter Jillian Hart, who settled in the small town of Grace, South Carolina, in The Cat, the Quilt and the Corpse and in The Cat, the Professor and the Poison. Jillian’s best friend, Deputy Candace Carson, step daughter Kara, and new boyfriend Tom round out the cast of human characters, and they’re joined by Jillian’s three cats Merlot, Chablis and Syrah.

When Jillian tries to track down the owner of a gorgeous black stray cat who was found by the local animal shelter, she turns out to be none other than Ritaestelle Longworth, the fabulously wealthy owner of a large estate in a neighboring town. Something seems amiss with Rita. Her live-in relatives claim that she’s been stealing from local stores. Rita herself fears that she’s been drugged.

When Ritaestelle shows up at Jillian’s home one night, and a body is found in the lake on Jillian’s property that same night, Ritaestelle becomes a suspect in the murder. Jillian’s instincts tell her that Ritaestelle is innocent, and, with the help of her three cats, she sets out to solve the mystery. As Jillian and her boyfriend Tom, a former cop and PI,  begin investigating, they uncover a tangled web of old family feuds. The cats, in their own way, provide clues along the way.

Tightly plotted, with likeable characters, and filled with cat trivia, this entertaining mystery will become a favorite for cozy and cat lovers alike. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series.

The Cat, the Lady and the Liar book trailer:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY3pFCGyL98

Leann Sweeney, a former nurse, has been writing full time since 1980. She lives in Texas with her husband, her three cats Agatha Christie, Archie Goodwin and Indigo, and Rosie, her labradoodle. You can find out more about her and her books on her website.

The author sent me an ARC copy of this book.

You may also enjoy reading:

Book review: The Cat, the Professor and the Poison

We are not (always) amused: Musetta on the challenges of living with mystery writer Clea Simon

Clea Simon's cat Musetta

Guest post by Musetta Simon

Do we have to do everything around here?

Staff was supposed to blog today. Something about those books she’s always letting into the house, those boxes that make such an unpleasant noise when she drops them on the floor. But staff is, as is her wont, a little overwhelmed and so yours truly is filling in.

Let me set the record straight. Staff is busy doing that which she calls “work,” which as far as we can tell is really just an excuse to sit in one place ignoring me in all my magnificence, until we are forced to pierce her self-involved little mindspace with a well-placed claw. It is true that sometimes when we do this, she yelps, which can be harsh to the ear. And that sometimes she responds by pulling us onto her lap. On principle, we object to this – so undignified – but if she rubs our chin just right, well, we will permit such indignities.

Perhaps it’s just as well, really, that we have been forced into such menial service. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t deign to explain ourselves to you, more incipient or present Staff to felines present, past, or future. Why should we? We are a cat. However, since we have taken control – or are, at least, dictating this to staff while we have her under the most stringent form of feline mind control – we shall set the record straight.

To start with, we are not a hapless kitten. Although we may have had some unfortunate misadventures in our earliest youth, we have never been as foolish as that kitten Esmé in Grey Zone. Truth be told, that whole episode with the fireplace, when Esmé stamped soot pawprints all over the apartment, including the Forbidden Places of the counter? That was my predecessor, the original for Mr. Grey. So there. And all that other stuff and nonsense: snoring. Sliding off the pillow as we slept? Not us, and if Staff says otherwise, we shall bite her.

Nor are we Wallis, the tabby who aids her Staff person, Pru, in the despicably named Dogs Don’t Lie. Wallis has the right attitude: condescension with just a soupcon of disdain. But she is a tabby. And really, aren’t tabbies common? One would think that for the occasion of a mystery novel, one would assume a more formal attire. Black and white, for example, which is always impeccably in style.

But let us dispense with such minor complaints. We understand that Staff is incapable of capturing us in our perfection. Like the poor humans in that old Greek’s book, she is only able to portray us as shadows of our greatness. Reflections of ourself. Pale purring imitations. We are beyond Staff’s ken.

For Staff is, of course, not the real creator of these books. Yes, we allow her to put her name on them, much as one would allow a child to stamp out the last cookie – or a kitten to scratch over her mess in the litterbox. We allow her to go forth and do signings or readings, or whatever excuse she uses to come home late and a little flushed. She is an adequate amanuensis, after all, and deserves to be let play.

Besides, we need our privacy as well. And when Staff is off doing such things as signings or gathering the cans that we require at regular intervals, we are replenishing our creativity. For we are the muse, the little muse – the Musetta. And there would be no books without us.

Musetta’s Staff is Clea Simon, the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

For more about Clea Simon’s books, please read:

Book review: Dogs Don’t Lie

Book review: Grey Zone

Book review: The Theda Krakow Series

Clea Simon talks about writing cat-themed mysteries

Clea Simon

Those of you who’ve been reading The Conscious Cat for a while already know Clea Simon. For those of you who don’t, you’re in for a treat.

Clea is the author of three nonfiction books and three mystery series. I first came to know Clea through The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats (St. Martin’s Press, 2002). Her Theda Krakow mystery series was launched in 2005 with Mew is for Murder and continues with Cattery Row, Cries and Whiskers, and Probable Claws, all now available in paperback. She launched her Dulcie Schwartz series in 2009 with Shades of Grey and last year’s Grey Matters, and this year marks not only the third Dulcie book, Grey Zone, but also the launch of her Pet Noir series featuring Pru Marlowe with Dogs Don’t Lie.

Clea’s essays are included in numerous anthologies, including Cat Women: Female Writers on Their Feline Friends. She is also a respected journalist whose credits include The New York Times and The Boston Phoenix, and such magazines as American Prospect, Ms., and Salon.com.

Clea grew up in East Meadow, on suburban Long Island, N.Y., and came to Massachusetts to attend Harvard, from which she graduated in 1983. She’s never left, and now happily cohabits with her husband, Jon S. Garelick, who is also a writer, and their cat Musetta.

Welcome back to The Conscious Cat, Clea!

You have two new releases coming out within three days of each other: Grey Zone on April 1, and Dogs Don’t Lie on April 4. Did you work on these two books at the same time?

Well, I worked on them at the same time, but I didn’t write them at the same time. I had already written Dogs Don’t Lie and my agent was sending it around when my editor at Severn House told me that they would like a third Dulcie book. I was thrilled, as you can imagine, and set right to work on Grey Zone. But then somewhere in there, Dogs Don’t Lie sold and the editor wanted some changes and general polishing. So I was working on them at the same time for a month or two last spring.

What was that like? Was it hard to keep the two separate in your mind?

It was incredibly difficult, honestly. I’m not good at that kind of thing. Also, the voices are so very different. I guess that helped me keep them separate, but I found it hard to switch between the two. I tried various things – working on the raw writing of Grey Zone in the mornings, working on the fixes for Dogs Don’t Lie in the afternoons. Finally, I had to put Grey Zone aside for about two weeks of intensive Dogs Don’t Lie editing. Then it took me a few days to get back into the Dulcie mindset. But I did it, I think!

Authors are expected to do much of their own promotion these days. With your long list of titles, you’re a veteran at promoting. How is promoting two new books at the same time different from promoting one book at a time?

Ask me again in May! Seriously, I think I’m probably shorting Grey Zone a bit. The pet noir series is new; Dogs Don’t Lie is the first with this character and this voice, so I both want to work a little harder to introduce that, and also I think that, because it is new, it has the most news interest. More people are likely to write about the first book in a series than the third. That said, I’m trying to talk about both books when I do readings and other events. It’s really fun to talk about different characters and different voices: they’re both quite real to me, and I hope I can make them both real to readers.

In Grey Zone, Dulcie’s new kitten is presenting her with some behavioral challenges. Dulcie, who still misses her beloved Mr. Grey, finds it difficult to deal with them. What inspired you to add this element to the story? I recognized Allegra in some of her antics!

The fireplace story was taken from an incident with my own late, great Cyrus. He was totally not supposed to go up on the table or the counters – and I thought he never did. Until I moved into an apartment with a fireplace and … well, you read the rest! Since then, I’ve lived through many of the same kitten antics with Musetta, so I had a store to choose from. I think that all of us who are cat lovers deal with these little faux pas (faux paws?). I am hoping that other cat folks will recognize them and laugh and enjoy.

How did the idea for Dogs Don’t Lie develop?

I’m not sure, to be honest. I was reading a lot of the new female-oriented noir, books like Megan Abbott’s Queenpin, and I loved that cool tone – so tough, so in control. But when I try to write like that, it comes out a little cozier… and with a cat. Actually, I guess Wallis is the real tough broad heroine of this book. Didn’t realize that until just now!

Was there a real dog that you based the Lily character on?

No, not really. I knew that I wanted a “dumb blonde” who was being set up to take the fall in a crime she didn’t commit. And she had to be a dog who would automatically be viewed as guilty. Plus, in my research, I ran into an animal control officer who was a really strong advocate for pitbulls. He taught me a lot.

That said, after the book was written, I had a rather scary pitbull experience. A neighbor was sitting her son’s pit and was letting him run around our shared yard. I was sitting on my first-floor porch with the screen door closed behind me, and Musetta was sitting inside the screen door. Well, the pit saw Musetta and went for her – so fast that he got by me on the porch. He went through the screendoor as if it were nothing. Luckily, both Musetta and I are fast, too. Musetta scrambled up inside an opened window in my apartment – climbing up the screen inside the glass. And I tackled the dog right inside my apartment, landing on it with all fours. My neighbor came running. She, of course, said the dog only wanted to play. Yeah, right. Like I’d even take that chance. In truth, the dog didn’t fight back and as soon as I landed on him, was totally still (ha! Poor dog!). But I wasn’t taking ANY chances. That was terrifying for all of us; it took Musetta quite a few hours to return to normal. Me, too. Needless to say… the neighbor’s son’s dog was banished from our shared yard that night. Never, never again.

I think this was the classic human screw up though: My neighbor was a middle-aged woman who should not have been taking care of this young, active dog. Pits need to be exercised VIGOROUSLY. In the course of writing this book, I spoke to one pit lover who told me that he wouldn’t have the dogs if he weren’t a runner – he runs with his at least two miles a day. They also have been bred to react – they don’t go through the dominance/submission role-playing of other dogs – they just GO, and so they need to be carefully supervised and on some kind of restraint. I feel very strongly that the dog should NOT have been let run around the yard without a leash or a lead (the dog had access to my porch/apartment, obviously, but also to the street). But… we all survived and now it is water under the bridge.

We have since moved. Musetta remains a house cat, and the yard that she looks out on is fully fenced.

I loved Wallis – the combination of cranky and wise is absolutely wonderful. Is she based on a real cat?

Of course! I don’t know why, but I often voice Musetta as being quite fed up with all my silliness. “People, humph… sometimes I think you don’t have the wit God gave you…” I’ll say as Musetta leaves the room. Or, “Do you mind? I’m trying to nap,” when I sit near her and she looks up sleepily. Sometimes this confuses my husband, but he’s grown used to it.

Was it hard for you to write a canine character?

I had to do a lot more research, that’s for sure! I want to make sure all my animal characters have species-appropriate behavior and talents. So for that I have to read and talk to experts and visit with animals. From there, I let my imagination run wild.

I was intrigued with the cover for Dogs Don’t Lie – it features a cat. What was the rationale behind that design choice?

In truth, I have very little input or control over the cover. I’m asked for my input, and I give it, but then it goes to a designer and to marketing and I’m only consulted again at the end of the process. That said, right from the start, the one thing that we all knew was that this was a very different type of book from my previous mysteries, so we had to have a very distinct, very different cover. Poisoned Pen’s designer came up with a bunch. Earlier versions had no cat – but the one we all loved did have that cool blue noir look! I had suggested a cat early on, because the cat Wallis is central to the book (and the title would lead readers to expect a dog, not a cat). But then I saw that cool blue and loved it. So I said, “Great!” But the publisher said… let’s try one thing more. And voila, the same cool blue cover, same great typography – and now there’s a cat. I think from their closed eyes and the concentric circles, you’re supposed to get the idea that they are communicating psychically, which they do. I’m thrilled.

What’s next for the two series? Are you working on the next installments?

I am!! I have Cats Can’t Shoot drafted and now I’ve put that aside. I hope to spend the next two months drafting the very first rough draft of the fourth Dulcie, which doesn’t yet have a title. Then I’ll go back and revise Cats Can’t Shoot and turn it in. Then go back to Dulcie. Am trying to be a little more sane about it all this time, but I know that sometime in late spring or early summer I’ll be working all out and going a little nuts.

Thanks for joining us again, Clea. I can’t wait for Cat Can’t Shoot – what a great title!

Thanks so much, Ingrid! I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to talk about these books and the process that went into them. I hope that they bring pleasure to readers.

You can learn more about Clea and her book on her website and on her blog, You can also friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Book review: Dogs Don’t Lie by Clea Simon

Dogs Don't Lie cover

I first came to know Clea Simon as the author of The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats , and later the Theda Krakow and Dulcie Schwartz series of cat mysteries. When I first heard about the title of this first book in Clea’s new Pet Noir series featuring Pru Marlowe, I thought “oh no, Clea has gone to the dogs!” But never fear, there are still plenty of cats in this one.

Pru Marlowe has almost finished her animal behavior training in New York City when she becomes ill, and all of a sudden discovers that she can hear animals talking to her. Disturbed rather than pleased with this new psychic ability, Pru leaves the city to retreat to her childhood home in the Berkshires. Even though she hasn’t completed her behavior certification, she begins to take on some jobs training and walking dogs. One of her clients is Lily the pitbull, a former fighting dog. When Pru finds Lily’s owner murdered, his throat ripped open, and Lily standing over the body with blood on her face, it sure looks for all intents and purposes like the dog did it.

But Pru knows Lily, and she knows the dog is not a killer. So Pru sets out to prove Lily’s innocence, and she gets tangled up in an investigation that involves a business venture, an aging mother with Alzheimer’s, a pregnant fiance, an animal control officer with a pet ferret named Frank, a gay Bichon named Bitsy who tells Pru his real name is Growler, and a handsome cop.

As Pru digs deeper into the case, she realizes that the pretty little town harbors secrets that make murder look like the least of its problems. Unwilling to tell anyone about her psychic abilities, and at times questioning her own sanity, Pru realizes that if she clears Lily of the murder, she herself may be come the most logical suspect, which only increases her desire to find the real killer. Pru, who is reserved and a bit solitary by nature, doesn’t come to trust people easily. Instead, she confides in Wallis, her old, cranky, opinionated and wise tabby, who always seems to know the right time to provide a little extra guidance to Pru.  My favorite quote from Wallis is the one that probably provided the title for the book: “Dogs.” Wallis hissed out the word, as close to a curse as she comes. “They lie.”

And since one can never have too many cats in a mystery, an orange kitten named Tulip and a black Persian named Floyd also contribute bits and pieces of information to help Pru solve the puzzle. While Lily the pitbull ultimately uncovers the proof needed to convict the killer, the cats provide plenty of help along the way.

Characteristic of all of Simon’s mysteries, this new series features a fast moving, intricate plot, an immensely likable main character and well developed and multi-dimensional secondary characters. But it’s in the portrayal of the animals where Simon really shines in this book. From her sensitive portrayal of Lily’s agony, grief and sadness to her wonderful description of Wallis and her many quirks, Simon masterfully captures each animal’s unique personality. Pru’s psychic abilities add an element of surprise and delight, making Dogs Don’t Lie a treat for cat lovers, dog lovers, and mystery lovers.

Clea SimonClea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

Coming next week on The Conscious Cat:
An interview with Clea Simon!