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2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas Hardcover – August 5, 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 168 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


NPR’s Best Books of 2014 selection
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"Delightful...[This] story has it all."—Time Out New York

“Inventive, gorgeously written and unforgettable."--NPR

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

"Set in a famous Philadelphia jazz club, this uplifting novel centers on three lonely people — including a precocious 9-year-old who dreams of becoming a singer — and their fateful search for companionship over the course of one Christmas Eve night."—Bustle.com

"The story of a lonely 9-year-old girl’s quest to perform at a Philadelphia jazz club on Christmas Eve rolls along much like a piece of music — different story lines wind and unwind like musical themes, and these stories are all threaded together with a consistently energized brio like one of the tunes played at the club giving the book its title. Each sentence, as well, is composed with a poetic ear; no line is wasted. That’s rare.” –San Francisco Chronicle

"Exposes both the beauty and burden of urban living…A clever tale of missed opportunities and seized ones, Cat’s Pajamas’ characters mirror the story’s inspiration. Like jazz, they’re unruly, improvised, and endlessly impassioned.”–Austin Chronicle
“The novel’s true genius, though, is [Bertino's] wry insight into her delightful characters…crafted by a writer who shows that less is more, and that perfectly worded less is magic.” -- The Philadelphia City Paper

"Bertino conveys heartbreak and hopefulness in this lyrical, outlandish story that’s infused with grit and moments of truth...wonderfully weird and witty... magical."--Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star 

“[2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is] funny and sad and full of a lyricism that is as rare as it is appreciated.” -- The L Magazine

“[2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas] is the most charming thing I have ever read in my entire existence on this planet…Come for the beauty and heartbreak, stay for the funny one-liners.” - Book Riot

“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

2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is beautiful, alive, and moving. Marie-Helene Bertino has a mesmerizing way with words… [This is] one of those books that stays in your head long after you’ve finished it, like a song.”—Sara Crowe, author of Campari for Breakfast
“Sympathetic characters and an evocative setting combine in a story that takes some most unexpected turns. It’s thrilling to see bravery reminiscent of short story-telling translate into a novel. The dénouement had me in tears, in stitches and then doing a double take at an ending that seems to come out of nowhere.”—Claire King, author of The Night Rainbow

About 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (August 5, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804140235
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804140232
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (168 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #633,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin VINE VOICE on July 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a unique book about what happens to several characters over the course of one day and night, Christmas Eve Eve, as they make their way through Philadelphia to a jazz club called The Cat's Pajamas. The City of Philadelphia gets top billing along with Madeleine, a nine-year old jazz singer; her teacher Miss Greene; Miss Greene's high school crush, Ben; Lorca, the club owner; Alex, his son; Pedro, the dog; Mrs. Santana, his owner; a snarky cockroach, Clarence; and so on and on.

I'll be honest. I'm still not sure what to think about the book. I alternated between delighted (with the spare, quirky prose, the detailed settings, and authentic characters) and frustrated (with the authentic characters) and occasionally confused (with the random fantastical element) while reading it. I stayed up finishing it later than I planned (a good recommendation), but I couldn't put a conclusion into words when I finished. That's not a bad thing unless, like me, you like to put things like answers and endings in their place.

I'm glad I read it, and I'll be recommending it to my reader friends. I hope I get a taker because I want to discuss it with someone.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajama's is the best debut novel I've ever read. Marie-Helene Bertino writes like Kurt Vonnegut without the sci-fi, (though fantastical elements do show up). She --

Wait. You know what? You should just go buy the book. Now. Then, after you read it, come back here and we'll chat about it.

It's okay; I'll wait.



No, seriously. Did you think I was kidding? Go get the book!



Okay, I guess I'll have to trust you to be honest. Did you love the way it made you laugh out loud, even in a quiet room? Did people look at you strangely when you talked back to your Kindle? Did you love the perfect turn of phrase Bertino always seemed to find? Not the most beautiful, or the most amusing, or the most poignant, but the right one for this character at this point in the story?

"Even jerks have mothers who die."


"What do fifth grade teachers wish for?"


"...a stomachache he can only call Christmas."

Could you feel the way the city -- stifling, gloriously irascible Philadelphia -- becomes a character herself?

"The city is in a perpetual state of being not quite ready to talk about it."


"Snoring plumes of frustration in the harbor."


"You are never allowed to dream higher than the hat of William Penn."

And the characters! Nine year old Madeleine -- the motherless, ill-mannered, anti-cherub, who wants nothing more than to be a jazz singer like her mother -- a little girl with everything and nothing ahead of her. Sarina -- recently divorced elementary school teacher -- who has traveled so far only to wind up back where she started.
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Format: Paperback
I'll start by saying I've never read anything like this book before. I'll always give points for originality. That being said, it's artistic and poetic but I can tell if its in a good way or not. It feels more like a poem than a novel in the way the prose is. A lot of the book has really abrupt and halting sentences. It seems like the type of book you'd say you liked if you wanted to seem snobby and all into arthouse stuff. The main character is a foul mouthed nine year old and high school sweethearts who had years of miscommunication. There's some really awkward sex in the middle that just seems out of place. And the plot didn't really resolve. All the characters ended up at the Cat's Pajama's at the end (which is exactly where you know its heading, so I didn't give anything away). But really, there's no resolution to the conflict, it just sort of stops. Other people probably think this book is wildly original and quirky (which it is), but that doesn't make up for the fact that its really just kind of weird with awkwardly abrupt prose.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book reads like a prose poem. It is quirky. It is surrealistic. It is about despair. It is about hope. It is about cockroaches. It is about jazz. It takes place on Christmas Eve Eve, and details the lives of various misfits in a small area of Philadelphia--from nine year old motherless Madeline who wants only to sing to Ben who simply will never understand women, from Lorca the nightclub owner losing his club to Pedro the dog, from the repression of Princlpal Randels to the musical genius of Alex. This book does not tell it straight; it tells it circular. Read it!
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I gave this three stars. When I rate a novel I compare the result to what I think are the writer's intentions. So a first rate paranormal story, or a chick lit story written by someone who has satisfied all those requirements and entertained me might get five stars because the author did her job exceedingly well. 2A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas is an ambitious novel, beautifully written. But something is missing, and I am not sure what it is. It is a sad story and perhaps that was part of my objection. Though it ends on an up note, in the main, every character is wounded, and in chronic pain. There is little relief and almost no exploration of their pain. Maybe I don't like unhappy novels, but I also don't think the author intended this book to be so stark. Every character lives a life of isolated despair and seems resigned to living in a world colored largely in grey. Ironically the book is about a jazz club, jazz singers and musicians and even though their lives can be miserable on occasion, grey does not do them justice.
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