Book Review ~ Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlistch

Tomorrow and TomorrowSUMMARY ~ “Yesterday can’t last forever…

A decade has passed since the city of Pittsburgh was reduced to ash.

While the rest of the world has moved on, losing itself in the noise of a media-glutted future, survivor John Dominic Blaxton remains obsessed with the past. Grieving for his wife and unborn child who perished in the blast, Dominic relives his lost life by immersing in the Archive—a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh, accessible to anyone who wants to visit the places they remember and the people they loved.

Dominic investigates deaths recorded in the Archive to help close cases long since grown cold, but when he discovers glitches in the code surrounding a crime scene—the body of a beautiful woman abandoned in a muddy park that he’s convinced someone tried to delete from the Archive—his cycle of grief is shattered.

With nothing left to lose, Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the ruins of the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.”

T&T extended

WHOA!  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of TOMORROW AND TOMORROW directly from the author, Thomas Sweterlistch, aka my brother-in-law, a few months ago.  “Whoa” is the word I kept repeating to myself as I read this intense, dark, skillfully written, deep, creepy, heartbreaking, detailed and extensive book.  I continued to pinch myself from the first page to the last because I was continuously amazed and impressed with Tom’s writing.  The imagination on this guy blew me away!  Tom is a sweet, quiet, shy and soft-spoken man who adores my sister and my little niece, loves his adopted home of Pittsburgh, and has a great love and understanding for the classics, poetry and philosophy.  All of these things shine through in this world and story he has woven together. 

The main character, Dominic, is a tortured soul.  He’s one of the darkest, saddest and devastated characters I’ve ever read.  My heart poured out for him as his heartbreaking story unfolded.  The world Dominic lives in is one he wished didn’t exist.  He longs for the days of old, when his since-obliterated home town of Pittsburgh still stood in the hills and along the tangled rivers of western Pennsylvania.  The life he misses was shared with his beloved and sorely missed wife and their unborn daughter.  Fortunately and unfortunately there is a digital version of his, and many other’s, Pittsburgh that can be visited from the comforts of their new homes across the world via an extensive network called “The Archive”.  This access creates an addict of sorts of Dominic.  The detail with which Tom has written this experience is nothing short of impressive.  The imagery that is created from his words allows the reader to experience Pittsburgh through The Archive as Dominic does.

Pittsburgh isn’t the only city that Dominic finds himself in.  My hometown area of Washington, D.C. plays a definitive role in Tomorrow and Tomorrow as well as a couple of other well-known world cities.  (You’ll have to read the book to find out which ones!) Dominic finds himself in these cities, trying to figure out a mystery that is dark, horrific and disturbing.  The thing is, the mystery is so crazy and terrible because it could easily happen in real life!  Tom’s writing enveloped me in this world he created, this mystery I joined Dominic in trying to solve. 

Politics, murder, digital magic and a hint of a world that isn’t too far from our reality is what is waiting for you in the pages of Tomorrow and Tomorrow.  Vibes and echos of MINORITY REPORT and SEVEN kept running through my head as I read.  I swear I am not just saying these things because Tom is family.  I stepped out of my comfort zone of prefered genres when I read this book and it still haunts me today as I see scenes clearly in my imaginiation.  I continue to be amazed by Tom’s talent and am so thrilled with the accolades he and his debut novel are receiving on the eve of its release, Thursday July 10th.  You can learn more about Tom on his website HERE.

Rating: 5 stars

Book Review ~ The Dinner by Herman Koch


It’s been a while since I read a book from cover to cover. I was familiar with The Dinner by Herman Koch by Herman Koch. I had read reviews and heard chatter about it here and there, so when I received an email from the lovely Kayleigh over at Random House asking me to consider reading/reviewing the novel on my blog I said, “Sure!”

I haven’t read a book like The Dinner before. The story rolls along at a slower pace than I’m familiar with but it was comfortable and fit the vibe of the book. The Dinner is narrated by ‘Paul’, a husband and father, and brother to a candidate for Prime Minister. All of these roles are tested in this book. The book begins, and continues to take place at a formal dinner in a high end restaurant in Amsterdam. Of course there are the informative flashbacks that help to create the narrative for two families and one fateful night, but Koch manages the transitions cleverly and smoothly. Sometimes narraters are neutral parties to other characters in the book but not in this case. Our view of the story and the characters are biased thanks to Paul’s experiences and opinions. His brother is obtuse and egotistcal. His wife is the love of his life and can do no wrong in his eyes. Their son Michel is their only child and they will always stand by him, no matter what. It’s this way of thinking and parenting that makes for a story of loyalty, deviousness and consequence.

The tone is dry, with a slow build. I have seen reviews of The Dinner calling it “dark”, “shocking”, “provacative” and “tremendous”. I think “dark” is a good word to describe The Dinner but “shocking” may be going too far. In a world where the nightly news is full of real darkness and shocking headlines, I was a bit disappointed after hearing all the hype. It was still a good read and I found it interesting to read a book that had been translated to English from it’s native Dutch. I enjoyed the pace of the book and if you’re a fan of conversational as well as strong descriptive writing, then pick up a copy of The Dinner. The moral questions it proposes are interesting and unfortunately relevant in this world we live in, full of school shootings, bullying and questionable consequences in our present day societies. I would advise this title if your book club is looking for something that isn’t violent but still provides the hard to imagine situations you hope you only encounter in the pages of a book.

Thanks to Kayleigh at Random House for asking me to read an review The Dinner by Herma Koch. The paperback edition was released October 28th and back in February The Dinner was named as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month.

Review & Giveaway of DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow

I am not very well versed in politics, government or military history, but I do enjoy listening to NPR, watching national news broadcasts every evening and the occasional talking head shows, including The Rachel Maddow Show. I had downloaded the audiobook version of her book DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power last fall but hadn’t listened to it yet. Then, out of the blue, I received a nice email from Jessica over at Crown Publishing a few weeks ago. She offered me a copy of the new paperback version of DRIFT. I quickly accepted and after some pleasant email banter with Jessica, receiving my copy of the book and diving into the book, I am ready to share my thoughts on DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power.

DRIFT paperback

What a history lesson! I did finally listen to a bit of the audio version while sewing, since you can’t “read” and “sew” at the same time, and that helped to set the pace for reading the book and not approaching it like a text-book. I am not a regular reader of nonfiction so I was a little nervous, but there was no need to be. Maddow’s conversational story telling style of writing made for an enjoyable read.

Going into detailed depth on topics that run the gambit from Thomas Jefferson and his thoughts on the young U.S. Military and how to manage reserves and active duty members, to Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign and then administration, to Vietnam and LBJ’s fear of stirring unrest within the country, (instead of calling up the military reserves who were trained and had chosen to be in the position of fighting for their country, he upped the numbers of a draft, sending fresh troops half way around the world to a living hell where hundreds of thousands made the ultimate sacrifice), to the United States role in today’s wars and developments in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade. It’s an incredible number of points in our nation’s history that is discussed here.

Dusted with her humor and wit, Maddow has written a book with great thought and in my opinion, balanced opinion without preaching. I loved one part in particular. At the end of the book she has made some suggestions, in bullet point format, to our leaders and to us, as American citizens, on how to get back to what is important and what could work to make us a more united country once again.

I think the most important quote of the book, and a great way to sum up the message Maddow is trying to get across to her readers, and really our government leaders, begins the epilogue. Maddow has selected a quote by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2007-2011.

“If the military drifts away from its people in this country, that is a catastrophic outcome we as a country can’t tolerate.”

Having friends who are members of our great military forces, and knowing that a small percentage of my other friends have little knowledge of what sacrifices these people and their families make on a daily basis for our country, this book really hit home with me. If you would like an in-depth, understandable, yet conversational recap of our military, this country and the world they effect, and has been effected by, then pick up or download a copy of DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow.

* I am hosting a giveaway here at Planet Books of two copies of the new paperback edition of DRIFT that comes out today, March 5th, 2013. Please leave a comment below sharing your favorite news show by midnight, Saturday March 9th PST, and you will be eligible to win one of my giveaway copies Jessica from Crown Publishing has provided. Thanks Jessica!

To finish… or not to finish? That is the question.

I’m 42% into reading The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson and I’m faced with a decision I need to make, and soon.  Do I keep reading, although I don’t feel attached to the story, some of the characters and I feel like I’ve plateaued out, or do I keep going and maybe take another two weeks to get through?  I think I just answered my own question.  I have such a hard time with the guilt I feel when I don’t finish a book I have invested a good chunk of time in, but that’s how I end up falling off the reading wagon.  I have to be more assertive and realistic with myself and just let things go when the time is right.  In this case, the time is here.

The Family FangThe Family Fang had potential!  A story about a brother and sister who were unwillingly, and sometimes willingly, subjected to participate in their parent’s odd public acts of live art as they were growing up.  Then as adults, brought back together with their parents due to times of change and tragedy in their lives.  Their parents angered me every time the story focused on them and their antics.  I did like the way the story moved from present day to the family’s past where the parents had taken their kids to some far off small town to execute their live art events.  Most of these live art events were not art in my opinion but I let the story be told.  The present day story lines were good too, actually.  I just got bored and tired of waiting for something to happen.  I believe something should happen in a book earlier than 42% in.

So, with that all said, I don’t think The Family Fang is a bad book.  I think it is a good story full of good ideas, but I’m looking for something better than that in my reading experiences this year and in years to come.  Is that so wrong?

{Rating ~ 2.75 out of 5}

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Summary ~ Ready Player One ~ At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

Are you ready to take a ride? Because that is what this book has in between its covers. A roller coaster ride into the future with some wonderful visits of nostalgia along the way. I can honestly say that Ready Player One is unlike any book I’ve read because it is SyFy and totally out of this world. It is like many books I have read though because of the human emotion and relationships built between the four main characters along the way.

Wade is just another teenager who hates his life, hates where he lives and wishes for something more. His sanctuary is a virtual reality where he finds peace and can be the best version of himself. This sanctuary is called OASIS and it is an online universe created by a mastermind software designer. The world has fallen apart because no one wants to look right outside their door. Instead they would rather live a virtual life in OASIS. Wade attends high school on the school planet in OASIS and his best friends are people he only knows virtually. Everyone creates an Avatar to meet their needs, be it almost true-to-life or something completely unexpected.

When Halliday, the designer and developer of OASIS dies his will is made public. It states that the first person to complete the ultimate computer game will win his entire fortune and control of OASIS. Let the race begin! Ready Player One is a wonderful story that takes the reader on a memorable and wild ride through the depths of an online world and into our past, specifically the 1980’s. From video games to movies, the challenges that Halliday created for the Gunters (honest to goodness Halliday fans who love him and all he stood for) and the Sixers (of course there are bad guys!) are fun and clever.

It’s not hard to understand why Ready Player One is a perfect read if you are a Geek, 80’s fan or just plain love action and adventure. Author Ernest Cline’s movie FANBOYS (2009) is a Geek fest of a film and a cult favorite. I agree with the critics who say that you don’t have to be a videogamer to enjoy this book. In my case I love to play the occasional video game (God Of War anyone?!) but I never dabbled in RPG’s like D&G, I love 80’s movies and music and I loved Ready Player One.

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

Thanks Katie at Random House for offering me a brand new copy of Ready Player One to read and review. You must have read my mind that I wanted to read this! Also thanks to Mike at Books On The Nightstand podcast for you contaigous enthusiasm about Ready Player One. It’s all your fault! 😉

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

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