The Parking Lot Attendant


Debut novel – April 2018

I have really been striking out with books lately. Yet another is The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat, which is an ARC provided to me by Macmillan Publishing Group in return for an honest review.

I read more than I expected to of this strange “girl hangs out in parking lot with older man” book. All parties involved have ties to Ethiopia, and you sense an undercurrent of the mob or a gang, at least some unsavory goings-on. A sentence on the back of the book claims that this would be “an unforgettable, haunting story of family and fatherhood, national identity, and what it means to be an immigrant in America today.” Really? I read 60% of this book and it’s mostly this girl hanging out in a parking lot where the attendant, Ayale, lets her do her homework in the attendant booth and eventually involves her in “package delivery” when she seems to be hanging around enough to pick up what’s happening.

Her father is largely absent, and when he is present he’s upset about how much time she spends with Ayale but doesn’t take steps to prevent her from going there. I guess she kind of goes to school too? And the book begins with her and her father escaping to an unnamed island to start over, which I suspect is a kind of witness protection, but I am okay never finding out.

If this is what it means to be an immigrant in America today then I apparently don’t get it. This book is written well enough to keep me hooked longer than others have lately, but it is not compelling enough to make me feel guilty about not finishing it. I became tired of the short chapters revealing nothing, and stringing me along without revealing anything. Perhaps this story is too personal to what it’s like to be an immigrant in Boston, and so alienates readers outside the limited sphere of influence. We’re not in on the joke. We’re not in the know enough to connect.

I guess I just didn’t get it. There is an immigrant story to be explored, but this book seems to be reaching out to a very small audience. The writing was good enough to keep me going, but eventually I got tired of Lucy pulling the football out from under me and set the book down. If you are looking for a book about the immigrant experience in America I would seek out Americanah, Homegoing, or Behold the Dreamers, among others.



The Friend

the friend

New Release 2-6-2018

This is one of those books that sucked me in with the jacket description, but once I was inside the book reading the contents, I felt hecka bamboozled. The only explanation I can offer is that I must not be smart enough for what this book was trying to tell me. I thought it was going to be about how we deal with grief, but then it was about sexual things like rape, assault, affairs, and lust. Also this book is about being a writer and how being a writer is multifaceted and difficult and yet unchanging over time.

I’ve read about 5 pages max about the dog. If I am being honest with myself, I was expecting this book to be about how pets help us process grief and move forward.

That is not what this book is about. I mean, I guess it kind of is but it’s sneaked in between all this other…junk.

Hecka bamboozled. I put it down at page 77, just over 33% or so Goodreads tells me. There are so many good books to read; I’m not going to spend my time reading one that feels like it would be assigned for a deep post-feminism writing seminar for which I have not completed the prerequisites. Hard pass.



New Release 3-6-18

Happiness by Aminatta Forna as provided to me by Grove Atlantic/Atlantic Monthly Press via NetGalley and Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

It has been a long time since I have read a book that I suspected I would like, and then come to find out that it just wasn’t what I expected. I requested Happiness as an ARC because its descriptions on all the “most anticipated books of 2018” lists made it sound like a deep, enthralling novel.

I loved the descriptions in Forna’s writing. Her setting and characters are so vividly described that I have no trouble picturing them. I can taste the food, see the parakeets fluttering, hear the foxes and rabbits crying and screaming. Her writing is gorgeous and should be converted to an oil painting to be displayed for all to see.

Unfortunately this is one of those books where I gave myself until 30% on the Kindle, and then gave myself permission to give up. The writing and language could not save the fact that I did not care about what was happening. I am certain that if I had continued to read everything and everyone that was involved with whatever it was that was happening in the city of London in this book would have been brought together in a grand finish that displays the puzzle in a bright light, allowing you to finally see how all the pieces connect, how all the players mattered to the central idea.

The problem is that I read to escape. I read to be strung along, to be fed at least a few breadcrumbs along the way to make me curious to read more. You can bore me in the first 30% but if you give me just enough to make me wonder, then you’ll hook me for at least another 20%, and by then I’ll know for sure if I’ll finish or set your story aside.

I am not interested in Attila, the Ghanaian native whose ex(?) is in a home in London due to early onset Alzheimer’s. I’m not interested in Jean, the scientist studying the behaviors of urban foxes and creating wild rooftop spaces for landlords in London. I don’t understand why it’s important that these two people have found each other and by the time you throw in that Attila’s niece and her son have been apprehended by immigration authorities and her son becomes lost and they go to find him…I don’t know, man, I just don’t care. There isn’t enough connective tissue here, it just feels like someone is throwing story ideas at a wall to see what sticks.

By 30-50% I should have an idea of the characters, what their individual purposes are, how they relate to one another, and what the overarching goal of the plot line seems to be. By 30% I should be at cruising altitude and about to be offered a drink from the cart. I shouldn’t be wondering if I’m on the wrong plane, or where my seat is, or why I’m on this trip at all.

So while the writing was spectacularly descriptive and enjoyable in its own right, the journey was not clear enough to hook me into the rest of the book. You might try it to see if it’s more your cup of tea, but for me it’s a not so much. Sorry.


Down the River Unto the Sea

Down the River Unto the Sea

New Release: 2-20-2018

This is the stupidest fucking book I have ever read, and I’ve read The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak.

Oh, btw this book was provided to be by Mulholland Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review and HOLY SHIT ARE THEY GONNA GET WHAT THEY ASKED FOR.

The main character is a cop, we’re gonna call him Dick Cop. Now Dick apparently has been forced out of his position because he was set up for… rape I guess? In his explanation of his past, we are told that he is sent by his dispatcher to a townhouse to arrest a woman for grand theft auto. When he gets there, the car in question is parked out front, and when he knocks on the door a beautiful woman opens the door and gives a 3 sentence explanation about why she has the car, AND THEN THEY IMMEDIATELY FUCK. He admits in his own description of his past that he can’t keep his dick out of the ladies. “It’s gotten me into trouble” he says. NO SHIT.

He’s arrested for rape (she falsely accuses him as part of the set up AND THERE WERE CAMERAS ALL THROUGH THE APARTMENT so his family gets to see them after he’s thrown in the slammer…omg) and like, somehow also getting head in exchange for not arresting her? and is sent to jail. While in jail he is treated as you would expect a cop to be treated despite being in a single bed cell, and then to protect him after a few attacks the cops decide he’d be better off in solitary confinement? where he stays for almost three months? and makes a “blackjack” which he plans to murder people with. Oh and he has a wife and a daughter at home that find out about all this through the news.

So in just the first 10% of the book I’m told that this cop is (1) dirty, (2) gross, (3) murderous, (4) framed? and now as we work into the story in the “present day” (8 years later) I’m supposed to feel sympathy and be interested in how he moves forward to solve his own case and also maybe move to Hawaii to start over? And also his daughter is somehow on his side and works for his private detective agency that he started when he got released from prison because the charges were dropped?




Don’t read this book. Period.


Dreaming in Chocolate


The Secret Ingredient of Wishes

New Release 2-6-18

One of my favorite quick bite books from last year was The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell. It involved magical pies, found families, romance, and new beginnings and it was a beautiful combo of everything I love in a short and spectacular novel.

So when I saw that she had another magical food book out, I requested the ARC right away, and it was provided by St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in return for an honest review. And you guys know that I am always honest.

Penelope and her mom run a chocolate store in the small town of Malarkey.  Turns out that an old cabinet/desk in the store gives out magical recipes that only Penelope and her mom, Sabine, can see and execute. The town believes in the magic and comes in often for the regular chocolates and the magic chocolates alike.

Penelope’s daughter Ella has an inoperable brain tumor and we are told that they have decided to stop treatment and just let Ella enjoy life since there is nothing more the doctors can do.

At the previous year’s Festival of Fate, they all drank a hot chocolate from one of the magical recipes called “Kismet Hot Chocolate” and wished for Ella to be cured. So when P&E stopped treatment, the town thought she was better, and Penelope let them believe it so they wouldn’t lose business because people would think the recipes didn’t work.

Ella is the daughter of Penelope’s high school sweetheart Noah, who the Kismet hot chocolate told Penelope that she would be together with forever. She told Noah this, and he went running for the hills. She found out she was pregnant, had the baby, and stayed in Malarkey while Noah went elsewhere to start a business and live his life.

Only now he’s back because a relative of his broke their leg and needs help running their in-town business, and so not only is Penelope trying to help Ella live out the remainder of her life in a happy way, but she is hiding Ella’s parentage from both Ella and Noah, because she doesn’t think that involving Noah at this point would be good for Ella in their current situation.

Everybody still with me? Okay.

I was with this book for a long time. The Kindle, at the time of this blog post’s composition, is reading 61%. But I just cant anymore guys, I can’t take it. Every other sentence is how Ella doesn’t have much time left, as if we had forgotten about the cancer and don’t have the mental capacity to feel that tension build as time passes. And sandwiched in between these reminders and actual storyline are reminders that Noah is her father and how she must keep the secret that Ella is his. Ella is his. Ella is his. Ella is dying. They went to the store and saw Noah. She can’t tell Noah that Ella is his. Over, and over, and fucking over.

Crispell tries to convince us that there is some kind of physical connection between Noah and Penelope but every time they brush against each other lightly Penelope cringes or flinches – nothing heats up. The only cool things about this story are Ella’s bucket list and this magical fucking table and I haven’t heard about them in what feels like a very long time.

When books get repetitive like this I lose interest in things. There isn’t anything pressing me to finish the book at this point. I’m not invested anymore. In fact, the repetition and constant nagging actually makes me feel babied, patronized, and a little intellectually insulted. THERE IS A KID. IN THIS BOOK. THAT HAS CANCER. WHO WILL DIE. IN SIX MONTHS. and I don’t care. Not even a little. No emotions.

There is a lot to be said about subtlety. You can pull my heartstrings by inserting little reminders about her cancer in Ella’s actions and health. She’s enjoying an ice cream but loses her balance. She gets lost at school because she suddenly can’t remember the route back to her classroom. It was like Crispell figured headaches must be the symptom of a brain tumor, and bad cancers only end in death, and that was the extent of her research. There was a way to handle at least the cancer in a way that made me want to see Ella’s story through to the end, even if the reappearance of the dad wasn’t that interesting.

So while I would wholeheartedly recommend The Secret Ingredient of Wishes, Dreaming in Chocolate turned out to be a boring flop for me. I’d give it a hard pass.


The Sky Is Yours

The Sky is Yours

New release review: 1-23-18

I did not finish this book. I even broke my rule about getting to 30% before passing judgment. This book was so bad in the first 20% that I had to force even that, but then I just had to stop.

I’m not sure how Chandler Klang Smith managed to make the dragons the most boring part of the book. They just swirl above the metropolis burning random stuff and it’s SO. BORING.

There is a prison complex in the middle of the city that is locked and surrounded by a huge wall and generations of people have lived and died inside. It’s basically its own society and it’s also where the dragons burn the most. That could be like Batman: Arkham City cool, and honestly it should be a little depressing, but overall it just read as…normal? Which made it lacking in interest, what’s the word? BORING.

There is an immature rich boy who is engaged to a “duchess” with endless teeth(?), and he runs away and finds a girl and her dead mom (?) on the central garbage island and fucks her even though she’s childlike and doesn’t even know what having sex is (and neither does he so he doesn’t even make her feel good – I think he actually says “oh yeah, I probably hit your G-spot, definitely.”). She thinks that robots have taken over the city and are waiting to kill her if she goes back.

This book is confusing, unnecessarily obscene, kind of rapey, and the fun parts are somehow boring and ancillary AND THAT’S JUST THE FIRST TWENTY PERCENT. 80ish PAGES.

To be fair I’ll include the description from Goodreads here too. I think it’s a little extra but hey, you gotta try to sell the book, right?

Read this book if you want, but I say skip it because it’s gross and boring and there are SO MANY GOOD BOOKS TO READ THIS YEAR. I added some of my own commentary for flavor. Enjoy.


A sprawling, genre-defying epic set in a dystopian metropolis plagued by dragons, this debut about what it’s like to be young in a very old world is pure storytelling pleasure. (NO IT’S NOT OMG DID WE EVEN READ THE SAME BOOK)

In the burned-out, futuristic city of Empire Island, three young people navigate a crumbling metropolis constantly under threat from a pair of dragons that circle the skies. (This makes it seem like it’s suspenseful. IT ISN’T) When violence strikes, reality star Duncan Humphrey Ripple V, the spoiled scion of the metropolis’ last dynasty; Baroness Swan Lenore Dahlberg, his tempestuous, death-obsessed betrothed; and Abby, a feral beauty he discovered tossed out with the trash; are forced to flee everything they’ve ever known. (This sure sounds like a neat journey, right? I DIDN’T GET HERE BECAUSE THE BEGINNING WAS SO BAD) As they wander toward the scalded heart of the city, they face fire, conspiracy, mayhem, unholy drugs, dragon-worshippers, and the monsters lurking inside themselves. (Oh my god no one wants this) In this bombshell (REACHING) of a novel, Chandler Klang Smith has imagined an unimaginable world (with dragons and horny dudes? Oh my goodness I can’t even imagine that kind of world…WAIT…): scathingly clever and gorgeously strange, The Sky Is Yours is at once faraway and disturbingly familiar, its singular chaos grounded in the universal realities of love, family, and the deeply human desire to survive at all costs. (Honestly I think we’d all be better off if these characters died. Especially the stupid dude whose nickname is, I shit you not, THE DUNK.)

The Sky Is Yours is incredibly cinematic, bawdy, rollicking, hilarious, and utterly unforgettable, a debut that readers who loved Cloud Atlas, Super Sad True Love Story, and Blade Runner will adore. (This is all false advertising, don’t be lied to.)


A State of Freedom


There is a rule that I hold to in all of my reading that if I reach anywhere between 30 and 50% complete with a book and I am not “feeling it,” I have permission to put it down and move onto another read. A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee was a DRC provided by W.W. Norton and Company via Netgally for an honest review, and while I gave it a good faith effort, I had to set it aside.

Each section of the book is a story set in India, and it’s meant to slowly expand upon different cultures and experiences that exist in the large, diverse nation while keeping you grounded in a set of connected characters. The first section is about a man who takes his young son sightseeing, only to eventually witness him die at the hotel where they are staying? To the casual reader, the first section would be enough to go back to Barnes and Noble for a refund. I, however, pressed on to give the next section a chance.

The second exploration is much more relatable. A son has moved away to go to school and to work in London, but returns home to his well-to-do parents’ home once a year for a month. They think he doesn’t come home enough, he thinks that their treatment of the servants is inhumane and unkind, and so the generations clash as only modern and older generations can. The themes in this second section really spoke to me, and the additions of uniquely Indian issues helped me relate my experience to one with which I am not familiar, and so I learned some things! Hooray for learning!

The third part of the book is where Mukherjee completely repulsed and lost me. A baby bear is found abandoned in a small, rural, poor town in India and a man decides to keep it, break it, and teach it to dance so that he can make money by entertaining people. The descriptions of the treatment of the bear made me tear up and become very uncomfortable, and the overly academic writing made the story feel disjointed. The bear is beaten, starved, tortured, mangled, and eventually it dances but, since my Kindle informed me I had reached 40%, I could say “that’s enough!” and put it down.

It may be a literary triumph, as many reviewers have already decreed, but for a casual reader looking to travel through literature, this is not the book to pick up. It’s more of an academic journey through Indian culture, working with layered characters (one story references a character from another story while expanding on another character from yet another section) in order to show how such different pieces of the Indian puzzle are interwoven to make one nation. It’s the kind of book that a very cultured book club might read and pat each other on the back for understanding each of the complex themes and messages while drinking a very dry chardonnay. It’s definitely not a fun or easy read, and while I enjoy a challenging read, this one just wasn’t worth the effort. It’s cruel in parts, obtuse in many others, and you should probably choose a different book to spend your time with.

On to the next one!