2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino + GIVEAWAY!

As unpredictable as a jazz scat!

Synopsis of 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino* (from the book blurb): Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

My two cents

A story of heartache, of broken dreams, of "damaged" people ... a young girl who had lost her mother, a man who inherited a jazz club yet was running it into the ground, a lonely teacher who couldn't move on from her divorce.

This was a mixed read for me, although the I am leaning towards the "like" side of the seesaw. While I found this charming - with an edge - I sort of had to grow into the book.

The beginning I disliked; I think I started to "get" it about halfway through, and then was slightly bewildered at the end. Although I have a soft spot for the three main characters -- they were truly the book's saving grace.

I liked

Oh, where to start! There are so many things I liked about this book.

I thought the treatment of the story was quite creative. It all takes place within the span of a day. With the three-person stories unfolding and converging in surprising ways, it's quite mind-boggling to think at how many lives are being lived everyday. But lest I get all philosophical, let's go to...

The characters! They're all a little off center, "damaged" I loved their vulnerability despite their tough-as-nails exteriors. While Madeleine's foul mouth annoyed me in the beginning, the more I got to know her and her story -- her loss of her beloved mother, a father bedridden  -- I softened. Madeleine really is the star of this novel, however, I have to say that I was equally interested in the stories of both Sarina and Lorca. All their stories are just a little heartbreaking.

Oh, I loved the writing. Bertino has such a clear, spunky voice. There were times I was mesmerized with the prose, which in its simplicity was poetic. It had a rather clipped rhythm to it, which I though came together nicely with the jazz theme. But watch out for the tongue-in-cheek humor! It'll hit you when you least expect it, and saves the book from becoming too sentimental or cloying in the telling of these three characters' stories.

And jazz, and live performances, and the obvious love for all things Philadelphia ... if The Cat's Pajamas really existed, I'd love to take a peek.

P.S. Another beautiful cover! If you have to see it and touch it to believe how luxe it looks and feels with its embossing and subtle shimmer.

I disliked

The beginning made me feel cold, even a little annoyed. Honestly, the amount of cursing coming from Madeleine was quite off-putting -- I actually did a doubletake and backed up to check if the one swearing was a nine-year-old.

I honestly think that if I didn't have such a wide berth for my reading, I would've stopped a chapter or two in and missed out on this intriguing read. I think I changed my mind when I read about Sarina's sad prom date (around halfway). Then I softened even more learning of Lorca's tenderness for his son Alex. And of course, I needed to find out what happened to Madeleine!

I was a little bewildered by what I felt were misplaced magical realism touches. I felt that the story didn't really need it.


As unpredictable as a jazz scat but just as exhilarating! This charming, edgy novel set in Philly is about three lives that is all bravado on the exterior, but pure jello inside. Recommended for the tenderness you feel for the characters, its unusual storytelling, and its rhythmic prose.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in order to participate in this tour. Don't forget to check out the rest of the tour here!

image006About Marie-Helene Bertino

Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of the story collection Safe as Houses, which won the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Prize and The Pushcart Prize, and was long-listed for The Story Prize and The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize. An Emerging Writer Fellow at New York’s Center for Fiction, she has spent six years as an editor and writing instructor at One Story.
Connect with Marie-Helene Bertino

Giveaway Time!

Hardcover: 272 pages

Publisher: Crown (August 5, 2014)


  1. What a wonderful post!!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and summary.


  2. thanks for the giveaway, aloi!

    the answer to the music question is various types! yay eclectic tastes!


    1. Just like your reading taste, Lenna :) So nice to have you here!

  3. Lovely! I've been hearing mixed reviews on this one -- you might have swayed me to read it.

    When I lived in Germany, there is a FABULOUS itty bitty little jazz club in Frankfurt called the Jazz Keller it's always crowded and sweaty (because it's so small) but the vibe (and the musicians) were ALWAYS amazing.

    1. I have a mixed review myself. It's an odd one, this one.

      Oooh, the Jazz Keller sounds like fun -- of course it has to be crowded and sweaty because that's probably half the vibe. Really something special about listening to live music!

    2. DEFINITELY crowded and sweaty. But yes, the atmosphere was amazing.

  4. "As unpredictable as a jazz scat but just as exhilarating!" What a wonderful description of the book!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  5. Thanks so much for the honest review - I love how you broke it out into likes and dislikes. I've been seeing this around a lot lately and haven't yet decided if I want to read it.


© guiltless readingMaira Gall