Review: Walking in Beauty by Phoenix LaFae

Walking in Beauty: Using the Magick of the Pentacle to Bring Harmony in Your Life by Phoenix LaFae

Published: July 8, 2020 by Llewellyn Publications

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Synopsis: Using the pentacle and its five points as a magickal framework, this inspiring book presents techniques and exercises that help you manifest joy, discover your inner and outer beauty, recognize blessings, and bring balance to your life. Phoenix LeFae presents a revolutionary approach based on the five points of the pentacle–Beauty, Devotion, Desire, Creativity, and Expression.

Walking in Beauty awakens you to the magnificence of the world; it is both a meditation tool and a key to greater awareness. Through exercises, rituals, affirmations, and beauty acts you can take out into the world, this marvelous guide shows you how to run the energy of the pentacle through your body and clear any blocks that keep you from living a fully engaged and beautiful life. 

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Llewellyn!***

The concept of this book was really appealing to me. One of the first ideas that you learn in paganism and witchcraft is that the points of the pentacle symbolize the five elements and the circle represents all of those elements working together in harmony, toward a greater goal. LaFae takes this concept and applies it to the concept of beauty. Beauty of the self, beauty of the soul, beauty of the world. Our society is severely lacking in an appreciation of the small things and that is what this book is about. Everyone gets too busy to notice small, beautiful things in the world but this is ultimately detrimental to your magick and to your soul.

I loved the layout of this book. It has sections where it asks you to journal all of your feelings or revelations about the portion that you previously read. Some of the assignments are to find a beautiful thing and add it to your beauty notebook. This book is definitely going to be added to my personal collection. Reading it for the purpose of a review, I didn’t get a chance to work through some of the assignments but I want to. So I will be going through this more thoroughly later.

The rituals were also pretty good. They are not beginner rituals (as the books points out it is not a beginner’s guide to magick) in that it doesn’t cover the basics like grounding, casting a circle, releasing a circle, setting up an altar, that kind of thing. The rituals are beautiful in their own way and I can’t wait to try them out.

The ultimate goal of the beauty pentacle is to use the newly positive view that you develop and spread that beauty outward. To use small acts in your community to spread the power of the pentacle ever wider. I love that idea. If everyone did that the world would be a much more positive place.

Review: The Swap by Robyn Harding

The Swap by Robyn Harding

Published: June 23, 2020 by Gallery

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Synopsis: Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging…that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Gallery Books!***

This was the first book I have read by Robyn Harding but it will not be the last. This book was such a deliciously dark guilty pleasure. If you need to have a likeable character in your books then this one might not be the one for you. A LOT of people really hated everyone. I kind of liked Low but I think it was because I empathized with her from my own experiences at that age.

Low is a girl who is searching for something to call her own. She has a polyamorous family, both of her parents have other partners on a regular basis and occasionally on a short term basis. She doesn’t have many friends in school because the other kids look down on her because of her weird family and because she is rather strange herself. She goes by Low because her hippy dippy parents named her Swallow (after the bird) because….well they are idiots. They prove how idiotic they are over and over again. Low finds herself attracted to Freya and she struggles to try and figure out why. Is it a friend thing? A romantic thing? A sex thing? She isn’t sure and wants desperately to just have a friend that is all hers so she can figure that out. I empathized with that coming of age struggle. As a result, she got a lot of leeway from me for some of the terrible thing she did. Yes, she did those things. Yes they were wrong. But she is a dumb kid that got taken advantage of and betrayed by the adults around her.

Freya was just delightfully devious. I could never really get a read on her. Was she evil? Or just rather self absorbed and selfish? It was hard to tell and her character made me feel constantly off balance. She utilizes both Jamie and Low as weapons against each other, ruthlessly pitting them against each other in a competition for her affection.

Jamie took me by surprise. Her character was largely boring. Then suddenly when her friendship with Freya was threatened she exploded into action and it was wonderful! Her husband though was as boring as watching paint dry.

The twists and turns kept me wondering what was going to happen the entire book. But looking back none of the things that happened come out of nowhere. They were the logical journey of the story but I didn’t see it. I could not put this book down. It was delicious.

Audiobook Review: Luster by Raven Leilani

Luster by Raven Leilani

Published: August 4, 2020 by Macmillan Audio

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Synopsis: Sharp, comic, disruptive, tender, Raven Leilani’s debut novel, Luster, sees a young black woman fall into art and someone else’s open marriage

Edie is stumbling her way through her twentiessharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She’s also, secretly, haltingly figuring her way into life as an artist. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriagewith rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and falling into Eric’s family life, his home. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.

Razor sharp, darkly comic, sexually charged, socially disruptive, Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make her sense of her life in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way. 

Review: This is probably one of the sharpest, wittiest debut novels I have ever read. The author is very good at evoking an atmosphere and feeling from the reader with her words. The entire book felt authentic and raw to me. Which is also why I found it largely sad and uninspiring.

The audiobook narrator was just perfect for this book too. Edie is cynical and fatalistic about literally everything. The narrator perfectly matched that attitude and it was wonderful. That’s also why I wasn’t really invested in this book for most of it. Most of the book is Edie making foolish decisions, getting hurt by it, and repeating those decisions. Which, I think, a lot of us can probably relate to from our early 20’s. I know I can. And an older, hopefully wiser, version of me wanted to appeal to her to stop it. That she was destroying herself for the convenience of others and it wasn’t worth it.

The ending of this book made it for me. I listened to the entire last three hours in one sitting, it was absolutely riveting. All of a sudden all those fatalistic, disparate threads of plot were pulled together in a beautiful moment of clarity for Edie. That ending took this book from a two star book to a four star book, without a doubt.

Review: Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

Published: June 16, 2020 by Europa Editions

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Synopsis: 1878- The Lyceum Theatre, London. Three extraordinary people begin their life together, a life that will be full of drama, transformation, passionate and painful devotion to art and to one another. Henry Irving, the Chief, is the volcanic leading man and impresario; Ellen Terry is the most lauded and desired actress of her generation, outspoken and generous of heart; and ever following along behind them in the shadows is the unremarkable theatre manager, Bram Stoker. Fresh from life in Dublin as a clerk, Bram may seem the least colourful of the trio but he is wrestling with dark demons in a new city, in a new marriage, and with his own literary aspirations. As he walks the London streets at night, streets haunted by the Ripper and the gossip which swirls around his friend Oscar Wilde, he finds new inspiration. But the Chief is determined that nothing will get in the way of his manager?s devotion to the Lyceum and to himself. And both men are enchanted by the beauty and boldness of the elusive Ellen. This exceptional novel explores the complexities of love that stands dangerously outside social convention, the restlessness of creativity, and the experiences that led to Dracula, the most iconic supernatural tale of all time.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Europa Editions!***

Through this entire book I got the feeling that I should be liking it more than I actually did. I felt like I should have been more motivated to read it than I was. I put the book down and it seemed to leave my thoughts. Often, I wouldn’t remember to pick it back up for days at a time. Then when I would pick it back up I felt no excitement for it, but found the story enjoyable.

So, in the end, I decide that I liked this book but it was forgettable. I loved the characters of Bram Stoker and Henry Irving. The two of them together were utterly delightful. Their banter was my absolute favorite part of this book. I could have read an entire of the exchanges between the two of these men.

I also loved the progression of Bram’s character. He starts out as the unwilling manager of a mismanaged theater who occasionally writes and turns into a passionate writer who has a family to support. I appreciate it when characters have a logical progression in a story and this one did. It also seemed fitting that the style of the novel was structured like a play. It was one of those things that didn’t distract from the story but I could nod to the author and think “I see what you did there. Nicely done.”

The biggest flaw this book had was the minutiae. There was just so many words. We did not need an entire 40 pages of Bram’s diary entries. We did not need a whole chapter on the accounting that goes into running a large theater. We got more than 100 pages in before they even had a play at the theater! I struggled to get to the good parts because there was just so much extra crap that did not need to be there.

Audiobook Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Published: May 13, 2014 by Ecco

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Synopsis: Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page. 

Review: WARNING: The best way I can review this book is with a good/bad/ugly comparison, which will almost certainly include major spoilers for this book. Consider yourself warned.

Good: I really love the way Josh Malerman writes. He is very adept at creating suspense. Some parts of this book made me feel like I would crawl out of my skin with the anxiety of the moment. He is a very good writer.

I loved Malorie. She is a strong, kick ass woman. She starts off the book pregnant, scared, and with no idea of how she is going to cope in this new world. But she does. Not perfectly. Sometimes not even competently. But she moves forward all the same, trying to protect herself and her children.

I really loved the uniqueness of this world. I can honestly say that I have never read a book that portrayed the apocalypse this way. An unknown…something, that has a devastating effect on humanity. No one knows why. No one knows how to stop it. No one even knows what it is. It’s a terrifying concept, and I loved it.

Bad: The audiobook narrator was a really bad fit. Every time she did Malorie’s part the narrator made her sound timid and scared. There were undoubtedly moments when that was appropriate. But like I mentioned, Malorie is a tough, kick ass woman. When she stands up in her boat and says “Get away from me!” it is not a trembling, quavering plea. It is a command to GET THE F*** AWAY! In fact, it says it in the text for that line, it is a command, it is angry. So that was really annoying throughout the audiobook.

I didn’t like the villain. It felt really cheap and out of place. I still can’t quite remember why everyone thought he was such a horrible guy originally. The whole plot felt like the author thought he needed a villain apart from the “creatures” so he scrambled to add in this side plot. It wasn’t necessary. It detracted from the overall plot.

Ugly: There were a few things that bugged me the entire way through the book.

Why didn’t Malorie name the children? It was so incredibly weird that she just calls them Boy and Girl. And then says at the end that names are a luxury for safer times. Okay…..that literally makes no sense. Every human calls other humans by a name or nickname to identify them. Even if she called them a cutsie nickname it would have made sense but Boy and Girl? Wtf! It made it impossible for me to relate to them as characters at all.

There were some serious physics problems with how Olympia died. She dies shortly after giving birth to a child. First off, I won’t get into the logic problems of two pregnant women going into labor at exactly the same moment. Or the logic of a whole group of adults leaving the two laboring women all alone in the attic to go argue. But Olympia jumps out a window after giving birth and they mention in graphic detail the umbilical cord getting caught on the window sill and her body being suspended by it. Um, this was very obviously written by a man who has no idea how childbirth works. The purpose of the umbilical cord is to be detach itself from the uterus after birth and then come out. Even if it remains attached if pressure is put on it then it will tear away. There is just no possible way that scene is happening. It was completely bizarre. I had no idea what the point of that scene was except for a gross factor but it was weird.

The “creatures” were also really inconsistent. Most of the time they don’t even seem to be interacting with humans at all. They are simply present and it drives the humans insane. Then, later on, they seem to be physically stalking the humans but only enough to scare them. Then all of a sudden out of nowhere, a creature is trying to forcibly remove someone’s blindfold. This particular scenario never happens again. So, which is it? Are they simply inadvertently having this effect or malevolent? Because they display both traits.

So, in the end I enjoyed the story but it was also pretty deeply flawed. I am interested enough to read the next book and see what happens next.

Review: The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

Published: December 30, 2019 by Graydon House

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Synopsis: Imagine that your husband has two other wives. You’ve never met the other wives. None of you know each other, and because of this unconventional arrangement, you can see your husband only one day a week. But you love him so much you don’t care. Or at least that’s what you’ve told yourself.

But one day, while you’re doing laundry, you find a scrap of paper in his pocket—an appointment reminder for a woman named Hannah, and you just know it’s another of the wives.

You thought you were fine with your arrangement, but you can’t help yourself: you track her down, and, under false pretenses, you strike up a friendship. Hannah has no idea who you really are. Then, Hannah starts showing up to your coffee dates with telltale bruises, and you realize she’s being abused by her husband. Who, of course, is also your husband. But you’ve never known him to be violent, ever.

Who exactly is your husband, and how far would you go to find the truth? Would you risk your own life?

And who is his mysterious third wife? 

Review: I really loved this book at first. I thought it was stupid that the “Thursday” wife’s name was actually Thursday but after a short laugh at the idiocy of it I moved on and had a good time. The plot was engaging. I enjoyed unraveling the mystery.

Thursday was an alright character. A bit naive and jealous but she told us a very concise and interesting story. I liked hearing about her marriage as she scrapped together details of the other wives. Seth was rather useless though. Since we’re seeing him through either the rose-colored glasses on Thursday in the beginning or the “OMG he’s evil!” glasses of later in the book. As a result I never got a good read on who his character actually was supposed to be. He could have been a cardboard cutout with “Husband” written on it and it would have made no difference.

WARNING: Spoiler alert for the ending!!

What brought me down on this book was the ending. Again. Once again we ended up with an unreliable narrator. Thursday is crazy and making it all up. Well, she is crazy but they were also setting her up. It was very convoluted. To be frank, I am sick and tired of endings that go “Ha, see, they are mentally ill and not telling you the truth dear reader, or are they…” It’s cheap, it’s boring and I am really weary of reading it. It cheapens mental illness and it’s become nothing more than a thriller trope.

Just once, can I get a thriller where the character actually uncovers the truth about what’s going on? Couldn’t we have actually had two other wives? The ultimate twist still would have worked! Pointless. Annoying.

Review: Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle

Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle

Published: June 16, 2020 by Morrow Gift

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Synopsis: In this eagerly awaited sequel, Nathan takes us back to his charming and instantly recognizable planet colored in bright pinks, blues, greens, and purples, providing more escapades, jokes, and p h r a s e s.

Nathan mixes his most popular Instagram comics with more than thirty original works created exclusively for this second volume to explore four major topics: traditions, nature, emotions, and knowledge. He inducts new and longtime fans into a strangely familiar world and its culture, from “cohesion” (marriage) to “mild poison” (alcohol) to the full lyrics to “The Small Eight-Legged Creature” (sung to the tune of The Itsy-Bitsy Spider).

Review: I have been following Nathan Pyle on Facebook for a little over a year now. I have found him to be uproariously funny. So when I saw this book was coming out, I knew I needed to pick it up.

It did not disappoint. It was funny and insightful. I found myself taking pictures of the funnier bits and sending them to my family or friends to get a good laugh too. If you need to lighten the mood these days, this is the book to do it.

Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Published: July 17, 2018 by St. Martin’s Press

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Synopsis:

Meet Hanna.

She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.

She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette’s husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

Review: This is one of those books that as soon as you read the synopsis, you know exactly what book this is. You will have an evil child that is trying to kill her mother. You will have a useless father who lets it go on. And it will end in a violent mess. You know it, I know it and we read to see how depraved it can get.

WARNING: Potential mild spoilers. Nothing directly plot related, but some character descriptions might give you some hints.

This book was a mixture of both good and bad. That narrative was quite engaging. I found that the pages seemed to fly through my fingers and I was very entertained by the story. But, I didn’t actually like anyone in this book and only felt sympathy for Hanna. Suzette was annoying and frankly, I never got the sense that she actually loved Hanna at all. This was confirmed for me at the end, she loved the idea of having a child but when her child ended up troubled then she disconnected entirely. Alex was the most useless excuse for a spouse or father that I’ve ever seen. Not only did he completely cater to his child’s every whim but he blatantly refused to believe from ANYONE that his child was exhibiting troubling behavior. Not his wife, not the school, not the therapist. If my husband blatantly refused to believe me when I commented on our child’s behavior while he was gone, I wouldn’t stick around for long.

I felt really bad for Hanna in the end. Her troubles weren’t her fault. They weren’t even anything she was aware of for the most part. And since she’d spent her entire life being pampered and told how perfect she is then no wonder she indulged her violent whims. I also don’t understand how her parents weren’t more troubled by the fact that she refused to speak at 7 years old? They determined long before then that it wasn’t a medical problem, which leaves a psychological one. Why was this child not seeing a child therapist to deal with the reasons she was choosing not to speak? Why were her parents content to just let her behavior spiral out of control without intervention? It was really frustrating and broke my heart for Hanna.

The ending was not quite the blood bath I had been expecting based on how the novel was proceeding. I also felt like it wasn’t much of a resolution. We leave the characters almost exactly where we started with them. It felt a little bit pointless. I liked the plot and enjoyed myself all the way through but only to be left without any concrete resolution. But maybe that was the point. That this situation is not fixable and eventually there’s the likelihood that the whole cycle will repeat itself. I would definitely read more by this author, even though I wasn’t crazy about this book. I do like the way she writes.

Audiobook Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Published: July 7, 2020 by Flatiron Books

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Synopsis: A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

Review: ***Disclaimer I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for a free review. Thank you NetGalley and MacMillion Young Listeners!***

The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. It’s very eye catching and striking. Now that I have listened to the audiobook, I can say with certainty that it is the most perfectly descriptive book cover I have ever seen. The serpent twining around a rose is a perfect representation of this plot.

I found the audiobook narrator to be delightful for this book. There are a lot of words and names that are Persian in origin and quite difficult to pronounce, but she did perfectly. Her tone and characterization for Soraya was exactly the way I imagined in my head.

This plot was an interesting mix and was also where it lost a star for me. It started off with a huge bang. Within the first 20% Soraya’s entire world explodes in violent drama. Then the plot really slows down and frankly I didn’t know what the point was for awhile. It started to get a little boring. Then the ending picks back up and the pace races all the way to the end. I loved the story but I felt the middle could have been shorter and the book would have been better off for it.

And in one last fangirl moment, Soraya’s romance was so romantic. I mean, what more could a girl ask for than someone who promises to bring your enemy to you on their knees. Swoon.

Overall I really loved this book and the audiobook does it perfect justice. I highly recommend it.

Audiobook Review: Broken People by Sam Lansky

Broken People by Sam Lansky

Published: June 9, 2020 by Hanover Square Press

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Synopsis: A groundbreaking, incandescent debut novel about coming to grips with the past and ourselves, for fans of Sally Rooney, Hanya Yanagihara and Garth Greenwell

“He fixes everything that’s wrong with you in three days.”

This is what hooks Sam when he first overhears it at a fancy dinner party in the Hollywood hills: the story of a globe-trotting shaman who claims to perform “open-soul surgery” on emotionally damaged people. For neurotic, depressed Sam, new to Los Angeles after his life in New York imploded, the possibility of total transformation is utterly tantalizing. He’s desperate for something to believe in, and the shaman—who promises ancient rituals, plant medicine and encounters with the divine—seems convincing, enough for Sam to sign up for a weekend under his care.

But are the great spirits the shaman says he’s summoning real at all? Or are the ghosts in Sam’s memory more powerful than any magic?

At turns tender and acid, funny and wise, Broken People is a journey into the nature of truth and fiction—a story of discovering hope amid cynicism, intimacy within chaos and peace in our own skin.

Review: I gave up on this book about halfway through. It was just boring. It wasn’t so awful that I felt I needed to give it one star, and the writing was somewhat competent, but it was really pointless. Another point that hindered this book is that it read like a poorly disguised memoir and the audiobook was voiced by the author. It was monotone and came across as whiny.

The first 20% of this audiobook was about the main character, Sam, whining to his friends. And his friends whining back at him. Seriously, we spent (what felt like) hours hearing his friends drone on and on about their pointless lives. Brand name clothes they bought, disappointing lovers they had, drugs they did recently, bad parties they attended, and on and on. At one point I forgot to put it on pause and walked away for 20 minutes and when I returned had no idea that I’d missed anything because we were STILL WHINING when I got back.

I thought things would pick up once we got to the shaman. That was mildly more interesting until Sam has a conversation with his friend about whether it’s a moral problem to see a white shaman who was using rituals inspired by indigenous people. And his friend replies (not an exact quote but close), “Well yeah, probably, but capitalist worshippers are screwing over everyone anyway so whatever.”

It was just so asinine. Nothing actually happens. Then I realized what happened when I read a few other reviews. Sam wrote a memoir, by all accounts a profound one. He approaches his editor (this is real life Sam, not character Sam) and says he wants to write a memoir. His editor replies, “Sam, buddy, memoir sequels are not really a thing. So that’s a no.” So Sam went home and wrote this memoir and then called it fiction.

In the end this was nothing more than a young white male whining about the endless privileges he enjoys. It was boring. I didn’t want to read an entire book about Sam’s self loathing and woes about being a prep school graduate who would consider a dusty condo in the middle of Manhattan to be slumming.