Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

 Summary ~ Domestic Violets ~ Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day.

The reality, though, is far different. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And he’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious archnemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite coworker. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety.  Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way.

This is a GREAT book!  Reading Domestic Violets was such a wonderful experience.  I laughed out loud, gasped out loud and never felt let down by debut novelist Matthew Norman.  Norman brings to the literary world a wonderful character named Tom Violet.  He is funny, sad, confused, lost, brilliant and the kind of guy you wish was a reality instead of someone living in the pages of a book. 

Domestic Violets begins with Tom in a very intimate moment with himself.  He is facing the probability that he has erectile dysfunction and it is the funniest opening to a novel that I have ever read in recent memory.  Norman’s writing is fresh and vibrant.  The story is character driven and the reader gets to know some great literary characters.  I just loved Tom, his young daughter Allie and their little dog Hank.  Tom’s wife Anna is someone who I felt guarded against only because I loved Tom so much though he was not perfect himself.  Tom’s the son of a Pulitzer Prize (among other huge literary awards) winning novelist who he has placed on a pedestal ever since he was a very little boy.  The shadow that Curtis Violet casts on his son makes for a great story filled with relationship development that was so fun to read about.  The supporting characters and sub-plots were written so well too.  I never once had a problem with where the story was going and loved the twists that Norman sprinkled throughout.  I also loved that this book took place primarily in Washington, D.C.  Norman really used the city well in the book and it became another wonderful character.

I don’t want to talk too much about this book actually because I want you to read it.  I want you to hopefully enjoy it as much as I did.  Domestic Violets should be on your to-be-read/purchased list!  I also have to recommend a visit to Matthew Norman’s blog The Norman Nation

{Rating 5 out of 5}

I would like to thank for providing me the opportunity to review an advance copy of Domestic Violets.  It is currently available in stores.

And The Winner Is…


Karen (great name by the way!), please e-mail me your mailing address so I can forward it to Ellen Baker and she can send you your copy of I GAVE MY HEART TO KNOW THIS

To everyone who did stop by Planet Books and enter the giveaway I truly appreciate your time.  I hope you will continue to visit me here and see else I’m reading.  I hope to have more giveaways in the future as well!


Friday Finds ~ August 5th, 2011

Friday Finds ~ July 8th, 2011

This was my favorite meme to put together when I get the time.  I like looking at the book covers and putting them all together.  It makes me want to go to the book store!  Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  While browsing fabulous book blogs,, Washington,, Books On The Nightstand Blog, The Millions, The Daily Beast and various other places on the Internet, checking out the book section of Hubby’s Entertainment Weekly Magazine and getting recommendations from friends, these are the books that either made it to my Goodreads To-Be-Read shelf this week or I downloaded the samples on my Kindle from



The Warsaw Anagrams by Richard Zimler
The Echo Chamber by Luke Williams
Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Summary ~ A Visit From The Goon Squad ~ Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.




Pulitzer?!  What?!  Seriously?!  Okay, fine.  There’s always next year I guess.  A Visit From The Goon Squad was a cluster &%!@ of a book in my opinion.  I didn’t even start to grasp it until someone suggested that I should read it like I would a collection of short stories.  That made things easier but I continued to have issues.  Who is telling this story/chapter?  Why is this book getting soooo much praise, attention and awards?  Who is that guy?  Where did they go?  Scattered is a good way to describe the vibe of this book.  Now on the other hand I did enjoy some of the stories/chapters.  I related to some and was simply drop jawed at others. 

I just returned from One More Page Bookstore’s monthly book club meeting and this was the book we discussed.  It was interesting that out of the dozen women in attendance it was almost half and half on loving/hating A Visit From The Goon Squad.  It was an interesting discussion about the why and why nots of opinion and I gained insight on the book that I was lacking over the last few days while I was reading it.  “It reflects the scattered ways our lives move forward.”  “The disjointedness is what I hated about it.” “Those were some unlikable and tragic characters.” “The power point journal which is chapter 12 was my favorite!”  I did not like that chapter so much but will go back to reread it. 

I am torn on this book.  If I was giving it a rating based on the fact that it is categorized as a novel I give it a lower score (I gave it 3 out of 5 stars on but if I was to rate it on it as a collection of short stories I would rate each separately.  In that case, because I agree that that’s the way the book should be approached, I give it 6 out of 13.  There are thirteen chapters so that is where that number comes from. 

This is not a light read nor is it a book that can be considered an easy read in my opinion.  I think it should be read.  I think it should be questioned and discussed.  I don’t regret reading A Visit From The Goon Squad and though I don’t ever re-read books (except for Where The Red Fern Grows) I would heavily consider re-reading this one later down the road after a few visits from the goon squad.  😉  Thanks to Jenn’s Bookshelves for hosting this event at the charming and wonderful One More Page Books

{Rating 6 out of 13}

Guest Post & Giveaway from Ellen Baker

I am thrilled to welcome author Ellen Baker back to Planet Books!!  Today is the pub day for her sophomore novel I Gave My Heart To Know This.  Ellen asked me if I would host a giveaway contest for a signed copy of her new book here on Planet Books so of course I’m obliging!  In addition Ellen has written a post describing some of the research she did for her wonderful novel.  I hope you’ll take a moment to read along and then leave a comment on this post with your name and e-mail address to be entered in the drawing.  I will select a winner using on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 so please leave your comment by midnight Monday, August 8th.  Happy reading & good luck!

When I was working as a curator of a World War II museum in northern Wisconsin, I’d been surprised and fascinated to learn that dozens of warships had been built on Lake Superior waterfront.  In the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, thousands of workers had toiled at several shipyards – hard to imagine, when you wander the ghostly waterfront today.  But I was inspired by photographs of the women who’d worked in these jobs to try to imagine it. 

Only after I started to write did I realize I had no idea what it really takes to build a ship – let alone dozens of them.  My initial thought was that my female protagonist, Grace Anderson, would fall in love with a man named Joe who came into and out of the shipyard each day on a supply train – but I didn’t know if a train had made deliveries to the shipyard.  Happily, by digging through records and consulting with the local railroad museum, I was able to learn that my imagined scenario was possible.  Next, to get an idea of what Joe’s work days would have been like, I interviewed a man who’d been a brakeman for many years, beginning just after the war.  He told me what it was like to slog the length of the train in deep snow and bitter cold; about the hand signals he’d used to communicate with the engineer. 

But what, exactly, would Grace be doing at the shipyard in the meantime?  First, I had to wrap my mind around the vast scale of everything.  Referring to historic photos of an actual shipyard, I wrote an early scene about Grace at my fictional yard in which she climbed up to the top deck of a stories-tall cargo ship.  I imagined the men working all around, the hot smells in the air, the noises of the machinery, the challenge of not tripping over the cables and hoses that littered the ground.  That scene didn’t end up in the novel, but it did give me the sense of how small a person must have felt in those surroundings – and how much work would always have been underway at once.

After getting the visuals in my mind, I hunted for details in shipyard newsletters, which included reports on everything from the various work departments to men’s and women’s team competitions in bowling, baseball, curling, and basketball – as well as intriguing items like: “The baldheaded boys in the front row will approve of the girls in the yard wearing sweaters, but the Safety Department doesn’t.” 

Next, I interviewed some local experts who answered questions that had come up in my research and shared some extra details, including the job of a loftsman.  I hadn’t known that the ships’ original plans were transferred into full-sized paper cuttings of each of the ship’s pieces and laid out in the “loft,” a football field-size room covering the entire upper story of one of the yard’s huge buildings.  From the paper cuttings, basswood templates were made, and these were taken to the punch shed, where men used them to cut the ship’s steel components.  I decided to make Grace’s uncle Chief Loftsman, so she’d be aware of what went on in that department and could share it with the reader. 

The more I tried to write about the work that Grace and her friends would have done, the more I realized I needed to learn (at least in general) the sequence of construction of the ships.  At the University of Wisconsin-Superior archives, I looked at the plans of the C-1 Cargo ships, which were being constructed at the local yards in 1944.  (The yards didn’t hire women until late 1943, so my timeframe was set for me by that fact.)  Also at the archives were copies of job orders, along with reports of official sea trials and of jobs completed.  These materials gave me perspective on all the many jobs large and small that needed to be done on each ship.  I began to appreciate the complexity of the process, and the choreographed way in which workers of all the departments (including shipfitters, pipefitters, pipetesters, outfitters, welders, burners, chippers, insulators, layout men, tank testers, foundation men, and on and on) labored together to get the job done right and quickly. 

From other interviews and sources, I got a sense of the mood of the time.  Most people said that everyone willingly worked the long hours and did the hard work because they wanted to do their part for the war effort.  They admitted the money was good, too.  A man who’d worked at the shipyard as a teenager, before being drafted into the Army, shared with me a copy of a novel he’d written in about 1950 about working at the shipyard, and his descriptions were invaluable.  Finally, the source I ended up referring to most often was a 20-page written memoir of a woman named Carol Johnson Fistler who’d worked as a welder.  I was able to borrow several incidents from her, including a time when she was assigned to crawl into the narrow bilge to make a weld and ended up sick from smoke inhalation, and another time when she was in a rowboat welding on the side of a ship and nearly fell in; she was rescued only by her foreman’s quick thinking. 

As I learned more and more, and wrote more and more, the setting of the shipyard became an adversary for my characters – the long hours, the physical demands of the job, the dangers … and, of course, the changeable, often brutal weather.  Another of my favorite sources was a Superior Evening Telegram article which describes May 1944 as “the warmest, coldest, cloudiest, foggiest, sunniest, rainiest, and snowiest May in several years.”

After studying newspapers and newsletters, ship’s plans and work orders and memoirs and interviews and manuscripts, I had to decide what could fit into my novel.  There simply wasn’t room for all I learned.  (I always thought it would be fun to have Grace and her friends on the bowling league!)  Notwithstanding my fascination for details, my task was to make them as unobtrusive as possible, integrating them into the background so the characters and their story come to the fore.  The research becomes like set decoration – only the beginning, providing the backdrop against which the drama plays out.

Friday Finds ~ July 29th, 2011

Friday Finds ~ July 8th, 2011

This was my favorite meme to put together when I get the time.  I like looking at the book covers and putting them all together.  It makes me want to go to the book store!  Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  While browsing fabulous book blogs,, Washington,, various other places on the Internet, checking out the book section of Hubby’s Entertainment Weekly Magazine and getting recommendations from friends, these are the books that either made it to my wish list this week or I downloaded the samples on my Kindle from



The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Summary ~ The Paris Wife ~ A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

Before reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain the only familiarity I had with Hemingway was the look-a-like contest held in Key West, FL every year and some of country singer Kenny Chesney’s tunes and his admiration for the writer.  Having just finished The Paris Wife I feel more familiar with the man but am left wanting to know more and feeling left in the dark a bit  when it comes to Hemingway.  He proved to be very interesting to read about. 

I had the great pleasure of meeting Paula McLain and listening to her read from and talk about her exceptional novel The Paris Wife a couple of months ago at the 2011 Gaithersburg (MD) Book Festival.  As I started to read her book last week I could hear her effervescent and charming voice reading her words in my head.  Quickly Hadley’s voice took over for Ms. McLain and I was happy to have her company for a week.  The Paris Wife is a book unlike any I’ve read.  It read like a novel told in first person most of the time but at moments a biography about Hemingway popped up from the pages and introduced me to the legendary writer in a very informative way.  I found myself feeling like a voyeur into the city of Paris in the roaring 20’s and the lives of Hadley, Ernest and their very interesting friends.  I was glad that I had recently seen Woody Allen’s lovely film, Midnight In Paris.  I had never read anything by Hemingway nor had I looked into the lives of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the number of other writers introduced in The Paris Wife.  Now I want to!  Isn’t that what a book should do?  Lead you somewhere else!

Regarding McLain’s writing I found the insight directly into Hemingway’s thoughts and experiences brought an additional richness to Hadley’s words and story telling.  At times it was heartbreaking to learn what Ernest was truly about but it created even more depth that was just so great to read.

The Paris Wife is an emotional, romantic, painful and wonderful book.  It made me glad that I didn’t marry a man like Ernest Hemingway!

{Rating 4.5 out of 5}

I Gave My Heart to Know This by Ellen Baker

Summary ~ I Gave My Heart to Know This ~ In January 1944, Grace Anderson, Lena Maki, and Lena’s mother, Violet, have joined the growing ranks of women working for the war effort. Though they find satisfaction in their jobs at a Wisconsin shipyard, it isn’t enough to distract them from the anxieties of wartime, or their fears for the men they love: Lena’s twin brother, Derrick, and Grace’s high school sweetheart, Alex. When shattering news arrives from the front, the lives of the three women are pitched into turmoil. As one is pushed to the brink of madness, the others are forced into choices they couldn’t have imagined—and their lives will never be the same. 
More than five decades later, Violet’s great-granddaughter, Julia, returns to the small farmhouse where Violet and Lena once lived. Listless from her own recent tragedy, Julia begins to uncover the dark secrets that shattered her family, eventually learning that redemption—and love—can be found in the most unexpected places. 

Well my dear Ellen Baker, you have done it again!!!  I Gave My Heart to Know This is an intricately woven tale of family, friendship, love and loss and it is simply amazing.  Ellen Baker’s debut novel, Keeping The House, is one of my all-time favorite novels and her sophomore release sits right up there with it.  This book had me reading when I could and even when I really shouldn’t have.  Baker’s mastery of character development as well as plot twists and turns kept the pages flying and are what makes her so great and her novels very memorable. 

Grace, Violet, Lena, Joe and Jago found themselves in tragic times along with many of our great-grandparents and grandparents.  The times were WWII and the U.S. was asked to make the sacrifice and help its military overseas by giving blood, sweat and tears.  Grace, Violet, Lena and their friend “Boots” joined the work force as welders and ship builders.  Relief from the dangerous work and long hours came from Lena’s twin brother Derrick’s letters from his military base in California and later the Pacific theater.  On Lena’s suggestion, Grace and Derrick became pen-pals and soon star-crossed lovers who never met but made plans for after Derrick’s return home.  That never came and from that sorrow and heartbreak grew lies, deception and more heartbreak.  The family never quite recovered from the loss of the golden brother/son who wanted to see the world. 

Baker’s storytelling crescendos throughout the story but reaches great volume when later generations discover hidden letters and secrets that tore the family apart all those years ago.  The history of our nation is rich and told well in I Gave My Heart to Know This.  Little known facts enriched the everyday actions and helped create a very realistic feeling for the reader.  I feel like these characters truly lived there on that rural farm and cried real tears.  Though most of the time the vibe of the book is sad and melancholy, I was rewarded with one of the best endings I’ve read as of late.

I can’t tell you with enough urgency TO BUY I GAVE MY HEART TO KNOW THIS ON AUGUST 2nd and while you’re waiting for that day to come TO READ KEEPING THE HOUSE NOW! Sorry for “yelling” but I felt it extremely necessary. 🙂

Thank you to the lovely, kind, friendly and interesting Ellen Baker for thinking of me when she received her galleys of I Gave My Heart to Know This and felt the need to get one to me as early as she did.  I’m sorry it took so long to finally read it!  I adore her and our pen-pal friendship.  XOXO

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

I Totally Fell Off The Wagon But Now I’m Back On!

Friday Finds ~ July 8th, 2011

This was my favorite meme to put together.  I like looking at the book covers and putting them all together.  It makes me want to go to the book store!  Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  While browsing fabulous book blogs,, Washington,, various other places on the Internet, checking out the book section of Hubby’s Entertainment Weekly Magazine and getting recommendations from friends, these are the books that either made it to my wish list this week or I downloaded the samples on my Kindle from

I’ve decided to get back to posting my #FridayFinds but I was so mad at myself when I went back in the Planet Books archives and learned that it has been over a year since I posted this meme.  I suck.  But hey!  Better late than never again right?  Right!  So here are my #Friday Finds for this week ending July 8th, 2011.

The First Husband by Laura Dave
Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter
Ten Things We Did (and probably shouldn’t have) by Sarah Mlynowski
Joy For Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
The Maid by Kimberly Cutter
Smuggled by Christina Shea

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

Summary ~ Then Came You ~ Jules Strauss is a Princeton senior with a full scholarship, acquaintances instead of friends, and a family she’s ashamed to invite to Parents’ Weekend. With the income she’ll receive from donating her “pedigree” eggs, she believes she can save her father from addiction.
Annie Barrow married her high school sweetheart and became the mother to two boys. After years of staying at home and struggling to support four people on her husband’s salary, she thinks she’s found a way to recover a sense of purpose and bring in some extra cash.
India Bishop, thirty-eight (really forty-three), has changed everything about herself: her name, her face, her past. In New York City, she falls for a wealthy older man, Marcus Croft, and decides a baby will ensure a happy ending. When her attempts at pregnancy fail, she turns to technology, and Annie and Jules, to help make her dreams come true.
But each of their plans is thrown into disarray when Marcus’ daughter Bettina, intent on protecting her father, becomes convinced that his new wife is not what she seems…
With startling tenderness and laugh-out-loud humor, Jennifer Weiner once again takes readers into the heart of women’s lives in an unforgettable, timely tale that interweaves themes of class and entitlement, surrogacy and donorship, the rights of a parent and the measure of motherhood.

Usually it’s not a good idea to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Jennifer Weiner’s new release Then Came You, the cover invites you into a wonderful story of four women who are bound together by decisions and wants.  It’s a gorgeous cover and I enjoyed picking the book up every time I went to read it.  The pages within the covers were filled with a story that brings the reader into the lives of four women.  Four very different women all bound together by a child.  I don’t want to say much more about the story than is listed above because I want you to read it and I don’t want to give anything more away.  I will say that I loved reading Then Came You and it quickly became one of my favorite Jennifer Weiner books and one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.  It’s not cheesy chic lit at all and Weiner takes care to create rich and deep back stories for each of her main characters.  I became invested emotionally in each woman and her story.  I liked the twists Weiner took with the story on a whole and never once rolled my eyes. 

I don’t want to lighten things by suggesting that this be a “beach read” this summer because I found myself reading an intricate book that is focused around the timely subject of surrogacy.  With surrogacy having its spotlight in the headlines and celebrity magazines in the last couple of years (Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker to drop a couple of names) this was an interesting look into the people it takes to even get a surrogate pregnancy off the ground.  The money, donors and the “gestational host”.  Though Weiner’s book isn’t a heavy read like say a story by Picoult or Shreve, it still made me think about the people who find themselves and place themselves in that situation. 

All in all I loved this book and hope that even if you have never picked up a book by Jennifer Weiner that you will buy Then Came You this summer and find a good story in it.  I must also take this moment to recommend the two other books by Jennifer Weiner that I love.  First is her debut novel from 2001, Good In Bed.  The other is Little Earthquakes, a story that focuses on four women in a different stage of life than the ladies in Then Came You.

{Rating 5 out of 5} Available July 12th, 2011

I would like to thank Irina Binder with Engelman & Co. PR for sending me this beautiful book.  It was such a lovely surprise the day it arrived!  Thank you Irina!!