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2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas

3.9 12
by Marie-Helene Bertino

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An enchanting and staggeringly original debut novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters
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


An enchanting and staggeringly original debut novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters
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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
NPR’s Best Books of 2014 selection
PopSugar 2014 Must Reads selection
L Magazine 2014 Gift Guide
Kansas City Star - 100 best books of 2014 Selection
BuzzFeed - The 22 Most Exciting Literary Debuts Of 2014 Selection

"Delightful...[This] story has it all."—Time Out New York

“Consistently funny…[And] its characters are worth rooting for.”—NPR

“Enchanting…Rich and real…The book feels lively, with the jostling energy of…well, a club.”—The Millions

“The purely original construction of an irresistible story… Readers will fall in love…This assured, moving, brilliantly funny tale of music, mourning, and off-kilter romance entrances with its extraordinarily inventive language. Be prepared for a quick reread of this novel to try to answer the question: How did Bertino do that?” —Library Journal (starred review)

“A torch song to the power of jazz, determination and serendipity….Bertino's carefully crafted verbal cadence gives Philadelphia a thumping heartbeat that captures the feel of the jazz medium perfectly… Funny and wise, this first novel will leave readers with smiles on their faces and a song in their hearts—something with a little swing to it, naturally.”—Shelf Awareness

"Vibrant...Bertino's characters are spot-on, and her special brand of humor brings each one to life in this fresh and charming tale."—Booklist

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas won me over heart and soul. With Madeleine Altimari, a nine year old aspiring jazz singer with a wonderful talent for cursing, Bertino has created one of the most winning and wonderful characters I've met in a long time. Read this book to see a debut author doing something really special, crafting a story where human kindness meets up with an inhospitable world and real magic happens in the aftermath.” – Kevin Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of The Family Fang 

"Marie-Helene Bertino bops across Philadelphia like an alleycat on the run, energetic and wild. Her sentences are sharp and surprising, and her wonderful story is full of heart. There is funny poetry in the sound of loneliness, and Bertino has found it." —Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers and Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures 

“Clever, charming and full of life…Like the best jazz, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas is a marvel of the unexpected, a buoyant, swinging tale of interwoven destinies that Marie-Helene Bertino tells with verve, wit, and warmth. I loved it.” —Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas is as winning and funny as the nine year-old at its heart, and I love it for the way its protagonists turn their back on their city’s cruddiness and their own losses to proclaim their happiness to be in this world.  They offer wryness as the antidote to self-pity and benevolence as the antidote to isolation, and they demonstrate how even the most forsaken can turn themselves into a warm, dry house.” —Jim Shepard, National Book Award shortlisted author of Like You’d Understand, Anyway
2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is a recipe box full of wonders. With a wildly entertaining cast of characters, Marie-Helene Bertino soars through her native city of Philadelphia, zeroing in with great beauty, wit, skill and love on the exact moments in time that change our lives forever.” —Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief  

"Once you enter the imagination of Marie-Helene Bertino—a world as weird as it is warm—you will not want to leave. Each sentence is a pop-up box: first delightful for its sweet music, then profound with the shock of truth. This is a dazzling book."—Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints

This ambitious first novel brings together numerous characters, but its soul is Madeleine Altimari, a nine-year-old Philadelphia girl who, outcast at school, is determined to be a jazz singer. Essentially bereft of family (her mother recently died of cancer and her father now seems paralyzed by grief), she sets out to find The Cat's Pajamas, her city's legendary jazz club. As she pursues her quest, others are searching too: Sarina Greene, her recently divorced fifth-grade teacher, hopes to spark a romance with a former high school crush and Lorca, the jazz club owner, is desperately hunting for a way to save his nearly bankrupt enterprise. An ably orchestrated ensemble fiction.

Publishers Weekly
Madeleine Altimari is in the fifth grade and wants to be a jazz singer. Despite her mother’s recent death and her father’s descent into an opaque and private mourning, she is trying to keep her fingers snapping and her brassy voice at the ready. Sarina Greene is Madeleine’s teacher and, after a recent divorce and a return to her hometown of Philadelphia, she is trying very hard to keep the faith that something worthwhile will come of it all. These two make for companionable allies, and it’s easy to share in the affection they feel for one another. Tougher to accept—or at least keep track of—is the mosaic of many, many other characters to whom Sarina and Madeleine find themselves linked. Although it’s to Bertino’s (Safe as Houses) credit that she has invented, sketched, connected, and geographically located such an elaborate cast, and in the process established what does genuinely feel like an old neighborhood at Christmastime, remembering who’s who is often a challenge. While the jazzy intentions are noble, the toe-tapping, bebopping tone Bertino aims for feels forced—a melody we can see Madeleine shimmying along to, but not ever quite hear for ourselves. (Aug.)
Library Journal
★ 07/01/2014
Almost ten years old, Madeleine Altimari is a self-described "poor motherless girl in old stockings." Often hungry but pragmatically compensating for her grieving father's neglect, she's a mouthy old soul who doesn't play nice with others. What Madeleine does do is live and breathe jazz. On Christmas Eve, she is determined, at all costs, to sing at a run-down Philadelphia jazz bar called the Cat's Pajamas. Her teacher Sarina Greene whose love for an old flame is unrequited (or so she thinks) is also drawn to the Cat's Pajamas. Lorca, the bar's owner, has just been informed that his bar will be shut down unless he comes up with an impossible sum of money to cover his countless citations and bring the place up to code. That these threads converge is a given. The surprise is in the purely original construction of an irresistible story that takes place in just 24 hours. VERDICT By the fourth sentence of the first page, readers will fall in love with debut author Bertino; delighted adoration of Madeleine will take another half page. This assured, moving, brilliantly funny tale of music, mourning, and off-kilter romance entrances with its extraordinarily inventive language. Be prepared for a quick reread of this novel to try to answer the question: How did Bertino do that? [See Prepub Alert, 2/3/14.]—Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
Bertino, who won the Iowa Short Fiction Award for her collection Safe as Houses (2012), aims to pull heartstrings in her first novel, which is set in Philadelphia and follows a cast of cute/quirky characters hour by hour as their lives converge two days before Christmas.Fifth-grader Madeleine Altimari is pretty much raising herself; her father has retreated into his bedroom in a drug-induced stupor to numb his grief since the death of Madeleine’s mother—a strip-club dancer and free spirit beloved by all who knew her. Madeleine is lonely, precocious and sassy, her tough exterior hiding her own heartache. Mrs. Santiago, the warmhearted widow who runs the neighborhood cafe, provides breakfast, lunch and grandmotherly affection, but Madeleine has no friends at her Catholic elementary school. Her solace is singing—she’s a natural who yearns to be a jazz singer. Madeleine’s day begins badly when Principal Randles, who resented Madeleine’s mother even when they were kids, first deprives Madeleine of a solo at the school’s morning Mass and later unfairly expels her. (A school in session on Dec. 23 and a principal expelling a child without some kind of parent meeting both hint at less-than-realistic storytelling.) Then Madeleine learns there's a jazz club in Philadelphia and decides to find it. Madeleine’s teacher, Sarina Greene, who also frequents Mrs. Santiago’s cafe, feels terrible about Madeleine’s expulsion, but what can she do? Besides, she’s coping with her own crisis: Having returned to Philly after a divorce, she's been invited to a dinner party with old friends, including a former boyfriend. Meanwhile, across town, the police warn Jack Lorca that he'll have to close his jazz club, The Cat’s Pajamas, if there are any more code violations. But he’s promised to let his musically talented, teenage (i.e. underage) son play in the house band tonight. As the hours pass, the various storylines thread together.While some will find this seasonal sweetness charming, others will find it maddeningly contrived.

Product Details

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5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.71(d)

Meet the Author

Marie Helene-Bertino is the author of Safe as Houses, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction 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. A Philadelphia native, she currently lives in Brooklyn.

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2 a.m. at The Cat's Pajamas 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
I hesitate to admit this, but I didn't mean to request an ARC of this book. Fortunately, I could not have made a more pleasant mistake. Despite my utter lack of interest in jazz, I was enthralled by Marie-Helene Bertino's tale of a precocious nine-year-old who dreams of singing jazz as her deceased mother did. The events in 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas take place over the course of a single twenty-four-hour period, and I likewise read it in a single sitting. I was surprised to find that Bertino is not primarily a poet; her prose has the same syncopated rhythm as a Langston Hughes poem or, come to think of it, scat singing. Listen to Philadelphia coming to life at 7:30 on a cold December morning: "As the dog awakens, the city awakens. Crust on its windshields and hungry. Snorting plumes of frustration in the harbor. Scratching its traffic on the expressway." Can't you hear the drum brushes and the double bass in the background? At times, Bertino gets a bit carried away, as when "[c]louds flinch across the mackerel sky, bottoms silvered by the deferring sun," but such clunky notes are few and far between. 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas is full of life and music. Put on some Ella Fitzgerald and enjoy the day with Madeleine, Sarina and Ben, Lorca and Alex, and the Cubanistas. And don't forget to admire that cover! I received a free copy of 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marie-Helene Bertino's writing is so one-of-a-kind... it's the type of book where you reread paragraphs because they are so incredibly well-written, your heart soars, or sinks.  Or jumps.  Great story, great read, I want more from this author!!
mshoni More than 1 year ago
Madeline Santiago smokes cigarettes, has the mouth of a sailor, and is very serious about being a jazz singer. She’s only 9 years old, though, so each of those things can be a problem. Her mother passed away a year ago leaving her father in a depression so deep that he rarely leaves his room, so Madeline is basically on her own with help from a few people in her Philadelphia neighborhood. 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas covers just the span of one day, Christmas Eve Eve, in the life of Madeline, her teacher, Sarina Greene, and Lorca, the owner of the jazz club, The Cat’s Pajamas. Madeline’s story was the most interesting to me and the reason that I chose to read this book. Her desire to sing the music that her parents loved so much keeps her motivated despite all of the obstacles thrown in her way. Her determination is inspiring. Moving back to her hometown after a recent divorce, Sarina is reconnecting with old friends and navigating getting back into the patterns of those relationships. Lorca is faced with losing the jazz club that has become the most important thing in his life at the expense of his son and girlfriend. I loved the interconnected of the stories of these three along with other people in the neighborhood as everyone moves through what turns out to be a very special day. Bertine manages to tell this tale and provide enough back story without the reader getting lost. There was a section about 3/4’s in and also during the ending of the book that left me scratching my head. I wasn’t sure if it was a dream sequence or not and it really distracted me from the story and left the ending a little off to me. Aside from that, I did enjoy the book and was mostly satisfied with how events played out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would like to thank Ms. Bertino for sleep deprivation as I could not put this book down! What an enjoyable romp through the streets of Philadelphia and into the lives of these delicious characters. Please don't let us wait too long for the next novel.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
A young girl dreaming about signing, a young teacher trying to find love, and a club owner who is hoping to keep his family business open through many hurdles.  All three of these characters get the chance to share their own story and this book takes place all in one day with the time ticking through the book. Not my favorite book with a whole heck of a lot of quirky characters and not one really grabbed me in one way or another, this book just kind of fell flat for me.  If you are a fan of of books filled with quirk then this one may be more up your alley than it was mine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OMG what a thrill. I love this book so much. It kept me in rapture for the few days I spent reading it. And I think I will definitely read it again. Sooo good. The author's voice is amazing in this book, and I'll be looking for other works by her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WOW! This is clearly the best book I'll read this year!!! It's a brilliant mix of believable characters, their personal issues and loves. It deserves awards and is perfect for both the avid reader and university classroom!
RLN-21 More than 1 year ago
2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino: There is just something about this book. That is the best way I can describe this book. There was just something about it that was so engaging, and yet, a slight let down at the same time. It is a great story with such vivid characters. It is a day in the life kind of book, perhaps that is part of the let down; you meet and are just getting to know these characters, wanting to learn and know more and more about them...and then the story is over. You get to see a glimpse of who they are through one day of events. Are these events of the day extraordinary, or is this an ordinary day for the characters? This is part of the reason this book was so good and so disappointing at the same time. One reason that books are always better than movies is the intimacy you share with the characters. You are inside of their heads knowing their thoughts and their feelings. You do not get that with this book, but that almost makes the characters more realistic. In life, not matter how well you know someone, you will never be inside of their mind, you may be able to guess some things from knowing them so well, but not everything. That is what it is like with these characters, you learn just enough to want to know them more. An enchanting day, where you meet people you want to get to know better, with a unique perspective and a story you wished lasted longer. *I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/236091/2-am-at-the-cats-pajamas-by-marie-helene-bertino/ http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/187571/marie-helene-bertino/
19269684 More than 1 year ago
I'm not even going to lie, I didn't like this book. When I saw the cover, I thought- Oh this is adorable! I expected a cute story to go along with it. Instead, 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino, offered a foul-mouthed little girl, a kind-hearted teacher and careless club owner. The story's about a Catholic, school girl who is treated poorly by her principal, refused even the simplest of school duties and a bit disheartened at the loss of her mother. She wants one thing more than anything else: to sing. It's also about a woman who's returned home after a divorce, looking to start over and possibly get together with a long, lost love. Lastly, there's the jazz club owner who's about to lose his place because he can't afford to pay thirty-thousand dollars for breaking just about every rule he'd been warned against, at least seven times! The story spans 24-hours and tells how the three of them come together and help each other out to accomplish something spectacular. But the way it's told, I wasn't sure if I wanted to laugh or growl and chuck the book in the rubbish bin! It's like the book was composed part poetry, part crud. I couldn't even begin to care for Madelaine, the 9-year old: she smoked, cursed like three sailors and then- when she sings, "things happen." It was ridiculous! I was overjoyed when I finished this book. Boy, it was a bust. On to the next read! For more reviews: http://tinyurl.com/pjwse2y
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was good.something different for a change.i read more FBI csi etc.mysteries murders books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a good book, but so sad. The book was great, the ending not so much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A new American classic, or should be.