Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review & Blog Tour Stop: Cleo by Helen Brown

Cleo By Helen Brown
A big Congrats to Helen for making it to #35 on the NY Bestsellers List!!

About the Book: Helen Brown wasn't a cat person, but her nine-year-old son Sam was. So when Sam heard a woman telling his mum that her cat had just had kittens, Sam pleaded to go and see them.
Helen's heart melted as Sam held one of the kittens in his hands with a look of total adoration. In a trice the deal was done - the kitten would be delivered when she was big enough to leave her mother.
A week later, Sam was dead. Not long after, a little black kitten was delivered to the grieving family. Totally traumatised by Sam's death, Helen had forgotten all about the new arrival. After all, that was back in another universe when Sam was alive.
Helen was ready to send the kitten back, but Sam's younger brother wanted to keep her, identifying with the tiny black kitten who'd also lost her brothers. When Rob stroked her fur, it was the first time Helen had seen him smile since Sam's death. There was no choice: the kitten - dubbed Cleo - had to stay.
Kitten or not, there seemed no hope of becoming a normal family. But Cleo's zest for life slowly taught the traumatised family to laugh. She went on to become the uppity high priestess of Helen's household, vetoing her new men, terrifying visiting dogs and building a special bond with Rob, his sister Lydia, Helen - and later a baby daughter.
About the Author:

Helen Brown is one of New Zealand’s widest read and longest running columnists. For 28 years she has shared her quirky perspective on life’s so-called ordinary events including births, deaths and marriages – not to mention the mysteries of supermarket queues, cat litter trays and living with teenagers.

She has written nine books, including a number one best seller. Her most recent book “Florascope” was released in USA and Canada last September after print runs in New Zealand and Australia.
Helen was a regular panelist on TVNZ’s Beauty and the Beast, an agony aunt on the children’s television show What Now? and has written television soap operas and radio current affairs. In 1991 she was awarded a Nuffield Press Fellowship to Cambridge University, UK. Before moving with her husband Philip and three children to Melbourne nine years ago she was a full time feature writer for the Sunday Star Times in Auckland.
She wrote “A Slice of Banana Cake” in the bath where she gets most of her ideas.

I had a chance to ask Helen my usual question for authors: What's the back story on the big story?" This is what she had to say: 

Thank you for inviting me to share some of my thoughts with you today.

People sometimes ask why it took nearly 25 years for me to write a book about my son Sam’s death and the part our cat Cleo played helping us rebuild our lives.
Frankly, I wasn’t ready any sooner to tell our story in a way that had any hope of helping others. I needed the distance of decades to encompass all the elements of Sam’s death and make some kind of sense of how it changed us as individuals and as a family.
It took many years to truly forgive the woman who ran Sam over. First, I had to accept it was simply an accident and she wasn’t the evil witch my grieving mind had conjured up. Years later I began to realize our tragedy would’ve had nearly as huge an impact on her life as it did on ours. I would still love to meet this woman, put my arms around her and tell her I forgive her from the core of my being. She has never come forward. Perhaps she’s no longer alive.
Also, it took many years for the hero from that day, Arthur Judson, to write to me and describe how he had stayed with Sam at the scene. It would have been so easy for him to make excuses and walk away. The knowledge that Sam hadn’t died alone was an enormous comfort. Arthur is quite elderly now. He wrote to me last Christmas, saying he and his wife had read the book. He was relieved I had found peace.
For Rob and me, Cleo was our last living link with Sam. When our magical cat finally died at 23 and a half, we both felt a sense of completion. Cleo had been our guardian for so many years. She was finally ready to release us and trust us to look after ourselves.
Appreciating what Cleo had done for us made me think of other animals and the extent to which they help and heal humans. They have been doing this for thousands of years with little thanks from us. Some scientists are beginning to investigate the many benefits animals bestow on our health and well being – not a moment too soon.
All these things had to happen before I was ready to embark on the book : Forgiveness, gratitude and, at long last, a sense of peace.

Here's What I think:  This was another difficult book for me to read, being the mother of three small boys and knowing that something so tragic could happen at anytime. I have a huge amount of admiration for Helen. In the same situation I am not sure that I could write this story even after 25 years and certainly not with such beautiful eloquence. The raw emotions that are written just rip at your heart strings. Though the book is written in Helen's voice, you are given a sort of bird's eye view of their lives and their process of getting back to living it. I have long believed in the healing powers of animals. I personally believe it has a lot to do with their unconditional loyalty as well as their lack of indulgence if they dont' like - they put it out there like it is. As always, I was intrigued by the difference in language and lifestyles of people in another country. This is beautiful book that made me cry and ache with the pain of Helen's emotions, but ultimately I saw the life lessons and once again have been shown that it all happens for a reason.

Disclaimer: Although I did receive a copy of this book for review, I was in no other way compensated to publish this post.


  1. WOW. This sounds like a really powerful book. It's one I think I want to read, but I'll have to work up to it- I too have a little boy (I also have five cats!). Just reading this review brought tears to my eyes. What a moving story; I'm so glad that Helen was able to find some peace with Cleo.


I love love love love to hear what other people think - share your thoughts so we can start a dialogue!