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TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER: Humorous, ironic 'Cats & Daughters' not run-of-the-mill pet memoir

How many kids do you have?

It's a question that often comes up and when you answer it, you're always careful to add in the furry ones. And why not? Your four-footed kids are a lot like the two-footed ones: they're messy, sassy, yowling creatures with loud demands, stubborn impatience and extreme insolence -- and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Still, two-footed or four, you can't wait until your kids grow up. But as you'll see in the new book "Cats & Daughters" by Helen Brown, maturity from them doesn't always mean fewer headaches for you.

Helen Brown's daughter, Lydia, had always been drawn to those less able.

When most high-schoolers were partying and playing, Lydia helped care for a handful of elderly folks and developmentally disabled teens. She drove them around, made sure they were safe, and took them on interesting outings. Brown was forever astounded at the love and compassion that her eldest daughter bestowed on people of all walks.

Yes, Lydia made her parents proud -- but when she embraced Buddhism and announced that she was moving to Sri Lanka, Brown was horrified.

Years ago, Brown's oldest son, Sam, was killed in a car accident and, with the help of time and an eerily understanding cat named Cleo, the family eventually healed. Now the comfort named Cleo was gone, Sri Lanka was in the midst of war, and Brown couldn't face the thought of losing another child.

But a different kind of danger was lurking at home: Just after Lydia left, Brown was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and, thanks to Lydia's quick return and quiet care, Brown began to mend again.

That was when Jonah stalked into her life.

Certain that Cleo was a once-in-a-lifetime pet, Brown had firmly insisted that she'd never have another cat but, on one of those let's-just-look outings, she fell in love with a cream-and-chocolate beauty. With Lydia heading once again to the monastery, Jonah-the-kitten seemed to be just the thing for a sorrowful house.

But Jonah was hyperactive. He was demanding and he required more accoutrements than the average human toddler. And he was incredibly too independent.

Just like a certain older daughter ...

Tired of pet memoirs that wring tears out of you until you're exhausted? Me, too, so I'm happy to say that "Cats & Daughters" is delightfully different.

Author Helen Brown has a wonderful sense of humor and that shows abundantly here, despite that she writes about scary things mixed with the ubiquitous awww-inspiring pet-and-me stories.

I enjoyed her ability to see the irony in any situation and she's quick to dial up the optimism, which means -- at the risk of being a spoiler -- that readers won't have to endure a sappy-sad ending filled with tissues.

This is one of those books you leave on the table so it's handy when you want to return to it -- which will be often. Whether your kiddies or kitties have two legs or four, "Cats & Daughters" is a book you'll pounce on.

"Cats & Daughters" by Helen Brown, copyright 2012 by Kensington, is 304 pages and sells for $15.

Contact book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer at www.bookwormsez.com.