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The Particulars of Peter
Dance Lessons, DNA Tests, and Other Excuses to Hang Out with My Perfect Dog
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"A hilarious addition to the dogoir canon.” ―People
"Perhaps the greatest love story ever told.” ―Refinery29
From one of the Internet's most original voices, a hilarious journey through the odd corners of obsessive dog ownership and the author's own infatuation with her perfect dog Peter.
The Particulars of Peter is a funny exploration of the joy found in loving a dog so much it makes you feel like you're going to combust, and the author's potentially codependent relationship with her own sweet dog, Peter. Readers will follow Peter and his owner to Woofstock, "the largest outdoor festival for dogs in North America," and accompany them to lessons in Canine Freestyle, a sport where dogs perform a routine set to music, creating the illusion that they're dancing with their owners. From learning about Peter's DNA, to seeing if dogs can sense the presence of ghosts, The Particulars of Peter will give readers a smart, entertaining respite from the harsh world of humans into the funny little world of dogs.
Readers will accompany this lovable duo through exciting trips, lessons, quiet moments of connection, and probably a failure or two. By fusing memoir and infotainment, The Particulars of Peter promises to refresh the perennially popular dog lit category in a scrumptiously bighearted barnstormer of a book.
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I need to start by acknowledging some guilt I have about all of this. I’ve spent the majority of my writing career not writing anything particularly personal, because I’m shy and private and the idea of selling my privacy creeped me out, but also because I didn’t particularly have anything I wanted to say about myself. (I don’t have any delusions, though, that I ever attempted to not be the story. Journalists will rightly gripe when a writer turns a piece about something or someone else into a piece about themselves, and I’ll always join in on the griping, because I love a good gripe, but most often when I write about something or someone else, what I want you to notice most are the clever asides; the funny way of phrasing things. Yes, we’re happy to be taken on this journey about why cinnamon sticks are more expensive than ground cinnamon, but mostly what we like is this charming writer.)
I was also, and maybe still am, pretty sure that in order to write about your life in a funny and compelling way you have to lie, or at least stretch the truth, to make your story seem worth telling; more vibrant and memorable than anyone’s life actually is. I don’t like the idea of doing this, even though I do like reading it. This is mostly because I fear even the lies about my life wouldn’t be particularly funny or compelling.
But then I adopted Peter. I want to acknowledge, too, that it’s very difficult to figure out the vocabulary around the “ownership” of a dog. I know I don’t own him, other than legally. “Dog owner” feels cruel, and it’s not something I like to identify as, but it is unfortunately the clearest term, and one I use a few times within the book. Dog guardian, human companion, “dog mom”…I think they’re all sort of distracting in their too-obvious attempts to be something other than the one we all know, which is “dog owner.” I admit that this sucks, and I’m sorry. And while we’re on the topic of language, as far as a pronoun goes, in this book I usually use “he” to refer to the general dog, because the dog I know best—the subject of this book—is biologically male. I hate to give men more visibility than they already have, but that’s the way it is. I do, however, know dogs can also be girls.
Anyway, after I adopted Peter he became all I wanted to write about. He replaced anything I previously found curious, and anything I was previously interested in. He is my great love and my obsession. My sweet number one man. And you can write about your dog while keeping readers at a distance, to an extent. I wrote about attempting to build a gingerbread house that he could fit inside of; I wrote about how to respond to someone on the street when they pay him a compliment. But what I really wanted to write about was him. Everything about who he is as a dog is interesting to me.
But this proved difficult. Although he is his own being, he is my companion animal, and because we are of different species, and because I am not an expert in dog cognition, the majority of what I know about him is in relation to me. I feel like I do know him deeply, but of course I only know him through the eyes of a human, and I can, for the most part, only talk about him that way. I know how he is when we’re together. I know how I am, and how I’ve changed, in relation to and because of him. I don’t think he could be portrayed honestly, the way that I know him, without including bits of myself as part of the story. And I really, really want him to be seen, because I think he is truly special. (Just like your dog is, I’m sure, if you have one.) (If you don’t have one—why?) This is not the guilt-ridden part, though, this is just the embarrassing part—that I have to be here, too.
The guilt-ridden part is that I am doing this for money. I’m a writer and I love writing, and I love thinking and writing about Peter in particular, but I am getting paid to do this. It’s an odd thing about the dog memoir genre. We are ostensibly the ones who love our dogs so much that we are compelled to write thousands and thousands of words about them, but we’re also the ones, it can be said, who are not satisfied keeping their dogs as what they are: dogs. We turn them into public figures, into content. Worse, we use them as a vehicle to think and write about ourselves. We use them for a paycheck or at least the hope of one. We turn them into work.
Here is something that worries me: I’m judgmental about people who use their dogs as fame-grabbing or moneymaking tools on social media. Particularly those who run accounts in the “voice” of their dogs, the voice usually being something embarrassing like, “ooh me mommy she luff to give me yummy good scarfums!”—like, why do you think your dog talks like that? Jesus. It’s hard not to see the dogs being used as a prop in these sort of accounts. An often anthropomorphized version of what a dog is. A means to an end. A tool only for human gain, and not even particularly worthwhile human gain: clicks, followers, favs.
But is what I’m doing now that far removed? I’m hoping you’re thinking of course, but as I write this alone I’m not sure. Peter isn’t getting much out of this. Mostly I tried not to bother him with it, and otherwise I tried to give him some fun experiences. He took agility classes, he went to a dog festival. But even in these cases—I’m so sorry to take you down all of these horrible paths of self-obsession, please feel free to skip ahead—it’s guilt-making to be a writer when undergoing experiences. I always hate admitting that I’m doing something to write about it to those who are doing it simply for the experience of doing it. It makes people suspicious, like I might have some sort of cruel ulterior motive, and it makes me feel like a phony. It’s better if you can refrain from divulging your writerly intentions, but then you feel like a liar, and I’ve found that it always eventually comes out anyway.
And this is bad enough when it’s just me. But to have Peter alongside me, it opens up the opportunity for the understandable thought that not only are my motives as a person incorrect, but so are my motives as a dog, um, guardian. That I’m using him as a prop, as a vehicle for my work. She is dragging around a dog for her own means. Her intentions are not altruistic!
But I think he deserves to be documented and remembered, by someone better than me, in fact, but unfortunately I’m the writer who has him, so I’m his best shot. I want to know everything I can about him. And I want you to get a sense of him. And more than anything else, I wanted an excuse to hang out with him all the time, and think about him all the time, and write about him all the time. I wanted to spend time getting to know him. I feel so lucky that I was able to do that, to make him into work. What an incredible scam.
How Did We Get Here?
What did I do before Peter? I’m trying to remember. I have to imagine there were things. I did computer, I guess. Typed. Sat alone. Shuffled around the apartment in stockinged feet. Made dinner and ate it while doing, what? Looking at the wall? And who did I feed a noodle to? No one?
It’s almost too gruesome to recall.
I think once a person has a dog the idea of not having one quickly becomes absurd. I know there are other ways a person can fill their time—golf, et cetera. I know you can Hula-Hoop. You can pan for gold, or “do some work at a café.” I know a person can exist without the ability to make a creature they love thrash with uncontrollable joy, wild-eyed and ecstatic, at the mere mention of din—; hush, that’s enough, they’re already excited. I know you can watch TV without a dog resting his paws and head on your leg, breathing quietly, warming you and allowing you to feel like you’re having a real human experience rather than idly ingesting The Sopranos. I know you can go to sleep without a dog in your bed and wake up without a little face staring down at you, whiskers in your eyes, and a nose dripping onto your skin, waiting for you to take him outside so that he might urinate. But…why? Why even wake up at all?
If I’m being honest, though, the idea that you’re going to have to take the dog outside to urinate (et cetera) a few times every day for the rest of his life is something that also quickly becomes absurd. You wake up and think, again? Not that it’s gross, it’s not, but the completely altered routine, the to-dos you don’t even get to add to your to-do list because it would be like adding “digest” or “breathe”—it’s odd. The strange newness of this fades after about two months, in my experience. Then the routine becomes unremarkable, the only experience of novelty now being the dog’s, again and again, in realizing that—against all odds—if you can even believe it for a single second—I promise you this is not a drill—they are getting the opportunity to take: another walk.
I guess another principal absurdity is the fact that anyone entrusted you with a dog at all. (I assume all of these feelings are amplified with human children, but I don’t know about that firsthand, my apologies; I only know about Peter, who is a dog.) Even if you had to jump through hoops to get your dog—apartment visits, letters of recommendation, several emails begging the dog rescue to let you adopt your foster dog even though you know it’s against their rules—it’s eventually just you and your dog in a room and you look at him and think, Oh my god. What do I do with you now?
Going over the series of unplanned events that led to something good always makes me feel tense. I’d rather not think about how easily something could not have been. It’s true in this case particularly (the case of how I ended up with Peter), because I was very close to not being able to keep him at all. I hate thinking about it. It feels like if I think about it too much the universe will overhear and take it back, realizing it should never have happened; a cosmic screwup that I was idiotic enough to remember out loud, and now I’m caught. It feels like it’s something I just need to accept and never mention again, just to be safe. So.
* * *
(I’m going to tell you.)
I worked at a website before Peter—one of the ones people disliked until it was gone, at which point it had always been their favorite. I’ve worked at a few of this kind of website, typically right until their bitter end, but at this one I’d been laid off about ten months before it died, allowing me to be both sad and haughty at its many funerals. This job loss was once a source of great angst, but it made space in my life. It gave me time. It made me a freelance writer, which is a generous term for an unemployed person who is able to tend to a dog day and night.
At that point I lived alone in a Brooklyn neighborhood called Windsor Terrace. I still live there now, but with Peter. I moved to Windsor Terrace because I found rent there I could afford, but I’ve come to love its peacefully post-apocalyptic vibe. With blocks and blocks of one- and two-family homes, some even featuring driveways, the area is almost suburban in its loneliness, and in the fact that you have to leave it in order to do anything fun. On most afternoons you’d go on a walk in the neighborhood and see no one, save for maybe the large Great Dane who somehow always managed to escape his family’s front gate to stroll around as if he were a simple Brooklyn podcaster. Gone to fetch ambient tone for your squirrel-and-bird podcast again, hm, Great Dane? Then you’d escort him back. Friends won’t come to visit you because it’s too far away, and when they do they say things like, “It’s so…ah, peaceful here,” by which they mean post-apocalyptic, and you say, “Thank you. Maybe you should move here.” And they say, “Ahh, ha…uh, maybe!”
One of the loveliest parts of Windsor Terrace, along with the quiet so tranquil it makes you wonder Oh no, has everyone died?, is Sean Casey Animal Rescue. The rescue is about a block away from where I lived, and during the day they allow volunteers to stop by and sign out dogs to take for walks. While I was a dogless freelancer, I’d walk a dog every afternoon; picking up their poop, defending their right to pee (not everyone was as happy as I was to live in the proximity of an animal rescue), cooing and giving them affection. Much to the rescue staff’s relief, I eventually stopped crying after handing them back post-walk.
Lovelier still, another rescue is headquartered about a block away, a rescue called Badass Brooklyn. I decided I wanted to be a foster there after seeing a photo of a basset hound on their website. It’s a quite tantalizing idea, I’m sure you agree: a basset hound in my apartment. A basset hound waddling around, sitting his big basset hound butt on the floor. Me asking a basset hound, “Does this look gross or should I wear it?” Me picking up the basset hound and holding his whole body. A basset hound waiting for his forever home while I kiss his big droopy face.
The dog adoption process in New York City can be quite laborious, for good reason—I know a lot of good people who should absolutely not have a dog—and the foster application process is equally so. I filled out a long questionnaire detailing my lifestyle, my experience with dogs, and my expectations for my experience as a foster. I tried to make myself look good. For example, I’d recently convinced Tony Hawk to attempt to teach me how to ollie in under an hour for an article. I added this fact to the application. I guess I imagined them thinking, Well, Tony Hawk wouldn’t attempt to teach an irresponsible person how to ollie in under an hour. (They never confirmed whether this helped.) (And, ultimately, Tony Hawk was only sort of able to teach me how to ollie.) (I blame that failure entirely on Tony Hawk.) I also had to include the phone numbers, email addresses, and job descriptions of three references. If those all checked out, I’d have an apartment visit, so someone from the rescue could make sure my living situation was tenable. This made me very nervous.
My apartment was a one-bedroom on the second floor of a house on a tree-lined street. It had three big windows that looked right out onto trees whose blooming process, after six years of living there, I’d become intimately acquainted with. They were the sort that dropped red shit everywhere. It was really wonderful, to see the tree growing its little red shit that it would drop everywhere, right before it began to grow its green leaves. Such a pleasure to behold…all that red shit everywhere in the spring.
Next to my bedroom I had a teeny-tiny living room, just big enough to fit a love seat and a TV, and then an oddly large kitchen. It made the apartment good for parties, as people tend to hang out in the kitchen anyway, and good for cooking, but otherwise I did tend to wish there weren’t so much weird empty space in the gigantic kitchen compared with the teeny-tiny adjacent living room. I had a dinner table in there, if you can imagine. A dinner table in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. Kitchen largeness relative to the other rooms in one’s apartment, I hoped, would be paramount in the foster approval decision.
A volunteer with the rescue came by to do the home visit. I pictured her snooping through my drawers, saying things like, You don’t separate your pajama shirts and non-pajama shirts? How do you expect to take care of a dog? Looking at the old, framed portrait of a young man in a suit that I bought for $12 at a yard sale and asking, Why haven’t you burned this haunted object? Seeing stacks of mail indicating that I don’t seem to open the majority of my mail and commenting with suspicion, You don’t seem to open…the majority of your mail.
She looked through the apartment gingerly and told me if I were assigned a puppy I would need a better system for keeping my recycling, as my system at that time was to put it on the ground, and a puppy would tear it apart. Otherwise everything checked out. We sat down to chat in the living room and she asked me, with some, ultimately prescient, suspicion, why I thought I wanted to be a foster. I explained that I wanted to care for a dog, but didn’t feel like I could, at that point, commit to doing it forever. I didn’t feel particularly settled, and I wasn’t particularly happy with the life I’d built for myself; I assumed big changes had to be coming. A new job, big opportunities, a guy I wanted to marry. I didn’t know if a dog would always fit. She told me she could never do it, “you know, get to know a dog and then send him off.” I didn’t think much of the warning.
Foster training was a one-day seminar at the Windsor Terrace headquarters that involved learning how to teach dogs to walk on a leash, to go to their crate, and to be quiet. As a foster, part of your job was to train the dogs, ease them into city life, and make them more adoptable. “You’re going to want to adopt the first dog assigned to you,” the no-nonsense Badass Brooklyn employee in charge of the training told us. “But know that we have a strict no-foster-to-adopt rule.” Got it. “Some of you will still ask,” she said, “and we will tell you no.”
Badass has this rule because the rescue doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location at which their dogs can live, and they rely on their fosters to enable them to rescue and temporarily home the dogs. It makes sense. Allowing these fosters to adopt would, more often than not, put their home out of commission. Plus, they have a stable of wannabe-adopters waiting to find their own special friend who would not be aided by a foster swooping in and adopting their dog out from under them. I’m telling you this to make sure you know that I am aware about why I was wrong to do what I did. That said I do need you to remember that you like me and you’re on my side.
I was told the first dog I’d be looking after was named Jon Hamm. (The rescue gives all the dogs celebrity names. I ultimately never got a chance to meet this dog so I can’t confirm any similarity to the human version, however I’m willing to bet he was equally suited for both comedy and drama.) I was perfectly fine with the idea of fostering Jon Hamm, as well as the idea of calling out to him in public: JON HAMM!
That I would be taking care of Jon Hamm changed after a get-to-know-you portion of the day revealed that I worked from home. Ah-huh. In that case, I’d be taking care of Peter Parker, who needed to urinate an unreasonable number of times per day, which is none of your business, due to the heartworm medicine he was taking. His current foster couldn’t handle all the peeing, and they were looking for the right person, free of the sort of responsibilities that force one to regularly leave her house for either work or socializing, to take over. A writer was the natural choice.
At home, I set up my space for him. I put his crate in my room, and put a few towels and a bedsheet inside to make it softer. I set up a plush doggy bed, and his food and water bowl. I scattered the dog toys I’d bought. I tapped my foot, I waited impatiently. His former foster, a woman named Megan, dropped him off at my apartment in the late afternoon the next day, and looked physically pained to do so. Oh, Peter…goodbye, she told him. Lady, get over it, I thought. In a plastic bag, she gave me a can of dog food, his medicine, and an alternate leash. Then she was on her way, and we were alone.
We were instructed to put the dogs in their prepared crates immediately upon receiving them, so they could calm down and adjust to their new location. I put him in and he lay down. We listened to the birds chirp outside and looked at each other. Sometimes he would look around the apartment, and sometimes he would put his head down, completely stoic, every move measured and in silence. I just stared at him.
A bit later I let him out, and he investigated his new surroundings. He sat in his bed, he chewed on his new bone. I fed him dinner and he ate it very fast. It felt strange to suddenly have a dog in my apartment. A gentle little soul, quietly alive with me. Sitting in my small living room. Looking at me with his big, sweet eyes. Padding around.
* * *
In the following days I tried to convince myself that I did not desperately need to adopt Peter, and that I was just going through the sort of new foster symptoms they warned about. Maybe I would feel this way about any dog; maybe we weren’t unusually linked. It soon became clear, though, that I in fact did desperately need to adopt Peter. This realization occurred after a gynecologist appointment. I understand that is maybe too much information, but these happen to be the facts of the situation and I do hope it at least makes any prudes reading this uncomfortable. During the appointment the doctor asked if I had a history of cancer on either side of my family and I told her yes, both sides. She looked at me like I’d made a horrible mistake, as if I’d accidentally requested the cancer be on both sides after misreading some sort of form—a grievous error, indeed. Curse my carelessness!
The look lingered with me, and the simmering anxiety spilled over into panic when I got a message from her on my phone a few days after my appointment, explaining nothing and asking me to call her back. I don’t understand why doctors do this. If any doctors are reading this—please do not do this. It’s not only the lack of information, but the apparent belief that it is possible to just call them back. Instead of, This is Dr. Whomever calling for Kelly. Give me a call back when you can, how about:
This is Dr. Whomever, and [either everything is fine or everything is not fine]. You are [either fine or dying]. With the state of health care in our country, this is going to cost you [either a small but annoying amount, as it seems like the insurance you pay for should cover it, or all of your money and much of the money of your loved ones and potentially some money from kind strangers online]. [Sorry.] [You can attempt to call me back but good luck.]
It would at least be more honest. Anyway, I was sobbing, panicked, frantically trying to get in touch with her via the hospital’s labyrinthine phone system. My sobbing got more violent as I was transferred to further and further areas of the hospital, and finally a receptionist I scared agreed to just forward me to the doctor’s personal office telephone. Thank you. As I sat there hyperventilating, Peter, who was sitting next to me on the couch, pushed his body closer and closer to me, knowing something was wrong and doing his best to snuff out the flame of it. He stuck his sweet head under my arm, then right in my face, making direct eye contact, and eventually he forced his whole little cannonball body right on top of my lap. The doctor told me she had to call me back, and while I waited I held Peter and cried. He was pushing his body onto mine with force, making himself weightier, as if to communicate, I’m here, I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.
The phone call ended up being about some fucking insurance thing.
* * *
In what I believe is a remarkably self-controlled move—and I do think you’re going to be impressed—I waited ten days after getting Peter before reaching out to the rescue to beg them to let me adopt him. He was on crate rest for the extent of it, so he couldn’t do much in the way of dog-like activity, but we walked. I bought him toys and we played. We sat on the bed together, and he rested his head on my shoulder. I talked to him, and I told him that I know it might seem too soon to say it, and he didn’t need to say it back, but I loved him. I looked at him and he looked at me. We existed and got to know each other. He was otherworldly.
“Hi, I’m fostering Peter,” I emailed on the tenth day. It still exists in my Gmail, nauseatingly. “I know it was explained very clearly that fosters aren’t able to adopt their foster dogs, and then explained again, and it was then explained that probably some will email to ask anyway and they will be turned down. That is the process I’m entering into right now.”
Of course, I was turned down.
“I am not surprised by your desire to adopt Peter Parker as he is a charmer!” the rescue wrote. “But you are correct in assuming what our response will be. Peter Parker does have interest from adopters and in order to be fair to those who went through the long process of being approved to adopt we must allow them that chance before considering a foster for adoption.”
The email was, I think, the second-to-worst part of my desperate quest for Peter. The worst part came the next day. The rescue held regular adoption events, during which fosters would drop off their dogs at a location for a few hours for potential adopters to meet them and, maybe, adopt them right on the spot. A blissfully wonderful and, in my case, nightmarishly horrifying concept. The only thing keeping me upright was the fact that Peter was still taking his heartworm medication, and I was told he was ineligible for adoption until he completed the prescribed course.
- "This might be one of the month’s, if not the year’s, sweetest books — zaniest, too, as Conaboy indulges her love for her rescue mutt with a visit to “Woofstock” (“the largest outdoor festival for dogs in North America”), among other adventures. Conaboy brings voice and verve to this examination of why our pets make us swoon."—The Washington Post
- "[A] moving and hilarious memoir. . . a must-read for dog owners and dog lovers alike."—Oprah Daily
- "A hilarious addition to the dogoir canon."—People
- "Perhaps the greatest love story ever told, Kelly Conaboy's The Particulars of Peter is a pure delight of a book; it is a tender, curious, and hilarious exploration of Conaboy's relationship with her adopted dog, Peter. . .Conaboy captures the ineffable, joyful quality of experiencing unconditional love, and reminds readers of the pleasures that come with having a pet, all perfect in their own ways."—Refinery29
- "Kelly Conaboy has nailed it: the feeling of being madly, wildly, desperately, endlessly in love with your dog--the kind of love that every time he moves an ear or twitches his nose, you swoon afresh with adoration. If you know that feeling (and I live it every day!) you'll totally relate to this tender, honest, hilarious, portrait of an iconic, precious, and particular inter-species love affair."—Sy Montgomery, bestselling author of How to Be a Good Creature
- "Very, very funny and very, very charming. I'd sit up and beg for this book!"—Jack Handey, author of Deep Thoughts
- "An utterly charming, big-hearted, witty memoir of a girl and her dog. The Particulars of Peter was an absolute joy to read."—Jami Attenberg, bestselling author of All This Could Be Yours
- "Conaboy merges humor, memoir, and reportage in her winning debut about the experience of sharing one's life with a dog. . . Dog enthusiasts will especially delight in this book, but anyone looking for a good laugh will have a ball."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- "Kelly Conaboy captures, with sagacity and wit, why everyone thinks their dog is the very best dog and why hers just might be. The Particulars of Peter is a great big belly rub for the reader's brain."—Josh Gondelman and Maris Kreizman, authors of Nice Try and Slaughterhouse 90210 (respectively) and owners of Bizzy the Pug (collectively)
- "Conaboy's commitment to pleasing a mild-mannered dog is admirable and charming. An unusual book to please pet lovers."—Kirkus
- "Have you ever thought about how much you love your dog and maybe cried just a little bit? If that’s you, you need this book. In quite possibly the most unique memoir of 2020, Conaboy takes us into the life she shares with her pup, Peter. . . In combining her love for her dog and her own unique, hilarious genius, she takes us into her world of dog psychics, canine freestyling (you learn new things with this book!), dog festivals in Canada, and beyond. This should be your go-to gift for all the people in your life who are absolutely obsessed with their dogs."—Shondaland
- "The Particulars of Peter by Kelly Conaboy is the feel-good book the world needs in 2020. After a year where dog owners spent more time with their four-legged pals than ever before, Conaboy's charmingly sweet exploration of her admittedly codependent relationship with her pup, Peter, is both a warm and informative look at the time-honored bond that exists between dogs and their humans."—PopSugar
"What you'll get out of this book is an appreciation for Conaboy’s complete and total adoration of Peter, and you'll smile and chuckle often while reading each chapter. . .Get ready to look at your dog through new eyes. Be prepared to smile. Or give this book to someone you know who is obsessed with their dog. They’ll love it."
—The Book Reporter
- "The Particulars of Peter is quite simply about the delights of dog companionship, something every human who consorts with a dog knows all about. What is beautiful about Kelly Conaboy’s book is that she captures the sweetness of the first few years of her and her dog’s life together. . . If you have had the pleasure (and the privilege) of a dog changing your life, The Particulars of Peter is the book for you."—Write Now Philly
"[Kelly Conaboy] is one of the funniest writers out there, and her debut. . .is utterly charming."
- On Sale
- Dec 8, 2020
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Grand Central Publishing