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I've been on a bit of an online shopping spree lately, starting with Memorial Day sales, but there's always some sort of sale. I can't get clothing since I need to try it on, but have bought several items for the apartment and computer. Thank you, Mommy! (she left enough for this sort of thing, but not enough to come anywhere near buying back the house I grew up in, which is now on the market. We got about 5% of that price when we sold in 1974, alas).

One of my purchases was a keyboard for the iPad. The price was so good I couldn't resist, even though I can also attach my old PC keyboard to the iPad with a converter. I still can't really solve puzzles on the iPad, since none of the apps recognize the old-style large keyboard Home/End and arrow navigation keys I use. I'm typing with the Logitech now (soooo much faster than typing onscreen).

I got 4 new bookcases recently (the ones in the photos with the thin bars on the sides), and had no problem filling them. I have enough books and magazines boxed and piled that could fill still more shelves, but I'm running out of wall space (there may still be a corner here or there that could fit the conveniently sized smaller shelf). I do often give away books after reading, and need to step up the pace: reading could be a full-time job! (unfortunately, one without pay)

Speaking of books, I need to review some I received from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review:

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican - I was lucky enough not to experience any Mean Girl culture in Great Neck in the '60s (and any separate social groups then are now all one big, happy family on Facebook), but the Pittsburgh Catholic school in this book is a hotbed of Mean Girls and Boys. Set in 1991, before social media and cell phones, Brutal Youth depicts a culture of bullying, hazing, and just plain nastiness. No one can truly be trusted, and even the teachers and administration aren't always invested in making the crumbling school a safe place. I would dread going there every day. Not much actual learning was described, but more the day-to-day lives of the kids. Occasionally someone showed warmth and humanity, but the general mood was bleakness. The book has a plot, and the characters are strongly drawn and interesting to read about, but go elsewhere if you want blissful escapism.

Expecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton - There was a bit of a mixup with NetGalley. They originally rejected my request to read this book, and then wrote asking if I was interested in various publicity events. Um, you rejected me, I replied. They then made the galley available, and all is well. A much more serious mixup occurred in the book (spoiler - but it's near the beginning and all the reviews mention it. Stop reading NOW if you want to be surprised). Laurie and Alan are happily married and have suffered 2 miscarriages, so decide to try a fertility treatment using Alan's own sperm. Laurie is thrilled when the pregnancy takes, only to learn that there was a mixup at the clinic, and she is carrying the baby of Donor 296 - Jack, an Asian-Indian UCLA student. They track Jack down, and he becomes part of their lives. We hear the story from all three points of view. Possibly a far-fetched premise, but it makes for interesting reading.

You're Not Much Use to Anyone by David Shapiro - This novel is about David Shapiro,  a recent NYU grad whose parents want him to go to law school. Meanwhile, he has a mind-numbing city job and starts a Tumblr blog called Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, sneaking to write entries under the desk and in the bathroom. The author is David Shapiro (not his real name), a recent NYU grad who had a Tumblr blog about Pitchfork... you get the idea. In interviews, he says the story is not completely true, but certainly semi-autobiographical, and he eventually did become a lawyer. Fictional David leads a drifting, Downtown kind of life, with changing girlfriends, apartments, roommates. As an upper West Side, middle-aged nerd who didn't know what Pitchfork was until I looked it up, I don't quite relate, but the book was still fascinating.

Reviews and musings from the terrace on the first night of summer

NetGalley emailed me asking where was my feedback, so I'd better get cracking. I do have a few books I finished to review for them and you. Also some from LibraryThing early readers' program.

I'm typing from my terrace on a warm night, the first day of summer. This 10-year-old laptop's battery is so shot (life = about 25 minutes) that the machine has to be plugged in to work. Its ill health was confirmed today at the Genius Bar, where I brought it when it failed to start. The tech took out and reinserted the battery and then it booted. But he advised the battery had no capacity, and Apple no longer sells it. iBook G4 batteries are available online and I'll investigate that, but I don't mind using this only when plugged in. I have an iPad for when I need portability. I'll probably get a MacBook Pro with retina eventually (I love the iPad display), but I just bought a new PC so will live with this a bit longer. And if you're wondering how I'm plugged in on the terrace, there is a covered outlet in the outside brick wall. I don't think I've ever used it, and was a little scared it would zap me, but I seem to still be alive. More likely the plug wouldn't work at all.

Now to the books:

Pretty in Ink by Lindsey Palmer - Heads are rolling and knives are being inserted in backs at the fictional Hers magazine as a new editor is installed to shake up the mag's stodgy image. The (mostly) women who work there take turns narrating what happens as staffers cope with the changes. The result is a fun, funny novel. I haven't worked at a magazine, but I'm a big reader (and my apartment is piled with magazines back through the 90's that I have every intention of getting to) and this seems to capture that world perfectly. My only beef is that some characters could have been covered more thoroughly; I wanted to know EVERYTHING. Received from NetGalley.

Real Happy Family by Caeli Wolfson Widger - Lorelei wants to be a reality star, and comes oh so close to getting a part on the young, fashionable gal pal show Flo's Studio. When she loses, her stage mother Colleen (who had her own aspirations a generation before) unleashes a drunken rant on national TV. Mortified, Lorelei flees to Nevada with her shady boyfriend, sinking into drugs and despair. Now estranged from her daughter, Colleen decides that the way to patch things up is to stage an intervention on another reality show, Real Happy Family. She works with its producers to make that happen. What could possibly go wrong? These people are sad and not always sympathetic, but interesting to read about. Received from NetGalley.

The Bluffer's Guide to Insider Hollywood (The Bluffer's Guides series) by Sally Whitehill - I don't have much experience with Hollywood, despite being a movie star. Actually, I do know Hollywood has no use for the likes of me (middle-aged female nerd? Get off my Wordplay DVD cover and let's put this anonymous model on instead!). I'm still endlessly fascinated with what I call "evil Hollywood" and its devotion to illusion. This book fit right in. I mean, what better place for a bluffer than the capital of BS? Written for Brits, this tongue-in-cheek yet actually practical guide lists terms a Hollywood wannabe should know, advises how to worm your way in without any discernable talents or background, ways to deceive, manipulate and fake fake fake. It's all in fun, yet probably sad-but-true on some level. Received from LibraryThing early readers.

Woman of Valor by Lihi Lapid - This was a best-seller in Israel and I don't understand why. Maybe something was lost in the translation to English. Or maybe you have to be a wife and/or mother to empathize. It was an effort to get through 202 slim pages. The book alternates between different women's stories (one apparently the author's real life) and letters from readers (the author writes a weekly column on women's issues). I had a hard time telling them apart. There is not much plot, just how the women feel and react to motherhood and other events in their lives. Many emotions are expressed, but it didn't really get through to me. Received from LibraryThing early readers. [While I was writing, someone on BookMooch requested the book, so away it goes. Buh-bye!]

I heard birds chirping and hightailed it inside (it was getting late anyway). My neighbor (in a nursing home for over a year, if he's even still alive) used to feed the birds on his adjoining balcony, resulting in feathered creatures on my terrace railings at all hours, making noise and leaving souvenirs. Ugh. A handyman came a while ago without my even asking, to hose off the stuff, and it's still not perfect though much better. I bought some special bird poop cleaner at the nearby Petco (probably the only time I'll ever be in Petco; the only animals I like are stuffed), but it gushes out of the bottle and seems to have little effect. I don't hear anything now, so that may just have been an isolated fly-by. [Update at 1 am: chirp, chirp, chirp. Hope there's no new white stuff tomorrow.]

Now coming to you from the dining area table (which I never moved back to the center of the room after window installation 2.5 years ago, so it's close enough for the shortish charging plug to reach an outlet in the kitchen). I've only finished one more NetGalley, and it's not being published until late July, so I think I'm not supposed to review it yet. But I have 3 shelves of "to be reviewed" books (after which I can trade them away and clear much-needed space), so there's no shortage of backlog.

Investigating the Hottie by Juli Alexander - This was a Kindle book, so I can't give it away, but I would if it were paper. There's even a sequel which I have no desire to read. It's really for a teen audience, so I'm not the target demographic. Amanda visits her aunt Christie as a break from problems at home. Turns out Christie is really a spy and needs Amanda to go undercover to investigate suspected hacker Will (the title hottie). Sure, that happens every day. It was mildly entertaining, but not really for me.

Love Will Tear Us Apart by Tara McCarthy - Imagine not one but two Britney Spears, and not only that, they're Siamese twins! Olsens but REALLY close. Except one wants to go solo. That is the basic premise for this book, about teen pop stars Flora and Fauna Sparks, literally joined at the hip. Celebrity journalist Sloan is asked to write their bio, and moves into their palatial house, where they live with their father. There was something distasteful about all of this.

King Dork by Frank Portman - Being of the nerd persuasion, I wanted to like this more than I did. Tom is an angsty teen, yes, a dork, but he does have a close pal Sam and they're constantly starting bands with ever-changing names. They even play in public sometimes. Being an angsty teen, Tom also has girl problems. Mainly, who is the mysterious Fiona he met and made out with at a party? Is that even her real name? Trying to find Fiona, he encounters another strangely willing girl who hooks up with him when her other boyfriend isn't around. And there's his deceased father - did he kill himself, what do the mysterious jottings in his old books mean, and can the evil assistant principal shed any light? There is a sequel forthcoming, and I guess I'd read it if it fell into my lap (or appeared on the Times book giveaway table), but I won't go out of my way.

My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up by Russell Brand - This 2008 autobiography predates the Katy Perry era (I don't know about the sequel, which I also own), but there is plenty of dirt. The book begins when Brand enters sex rehab in 2005 and then flashes back to his wild escapades all over the world. I hadn't heard of Brand until Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), where he played a hairy, sleazy rock star, and he doesn't seem far from his character. He had some wild times, yes sirree - drugs, sex, drinking, and using MTV's car service to shuttle around family, friends, and drug dealers - but is said to be in recovery over 10 years now. The book has a quirky, British bad-boy charm. It sounds like his authentic voice, but who can be sure? I was supposed to hear Brand speak at the Times Center in 2010 (through a ticket club), but they cancelled me when it got overbooked; he was just too popular. So I watched from a 4th floor NYT atrium window, where I could see his tall, gaunt figure from the back as I also followed the web stream. Even from that distance, he exuded star power.

Gee, the last batch all have sequels, except for the twin book (I hope).  I didn't realize this when I pulled them out.

This is getting so long that the book I was waiting to review will be published by the time I finish, so that's all for now.

Books mostly about women in the NYC area

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz - One recent trend in fiction is the psychological suspense thriller with a twist, and I'm on board (though I can't see what's so great about other trends like dystopian societies, witches or vampires). NetGalley was kind enough to give me this book, and I loved the plot, with its frequent revelations (didn't see THAT coming). I had to downgrade it to 4 out of 5 stars (which is still good; I'm a tough grader) because the writing was a little windy. It took its sweet time getting to those revelations and let us in too deeply to the heroine's every thought (she is a psychologist, so maybe all that navel-gazing is on purpose). Without spoiling too much, I'll say it's about a psychologist (yeah, we know) who seems to have the perfect life - grew up in wealthy Manhattan, went to Harvard, psychology grad school at Columbia, married to a pediatric oncologist (who everyone is in awe of for doing such meaningful work), has a bustling practice of her own, one precocious tween kid, and lives in the sprawling pre-war apartment she grew up in (mother died, father remarried and moved into the new wife's place, and gave her the old one). There's also an adorable country house in rural CT.  At the start of the novel, Grace is being interviewed ahead of her upcoming book release (also titled You Should Have Known), about how women should heed early signs that Mr. Right is not so right - like, he's GAY, silly. Events then occur that make Grace need her own advice.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead - A young girl growing up in Manhattan in the '70s leads a seemingly humdrum life, but wait, there's a sci-fi element. Maybe I need to reread this, but that part was a little confusing. I didn't like this enough to want to check it out of the library again.

The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer - I met the author at a friend's book party, which was kind of neat since I'd read some of her (and her mother's) books. This one was about a couple of English teachers in suburban New Jersey, who have a  good marriage and one teenage daughter. The new drama teacher stages Lysistrata, and weird things start happening as women are seized by a magical spell driving them away from their men. It almost feels real, and when the dust clears, lessons are learned.

Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger - I don't remember much about this book (some of the "to be reviewed" pile is a few years old), but it's my type of thing, about a New York showbiz publicist. Let's see... (reading about the book) Bette's job revolves around partying with the jet set, and she's soon dating a rich playboy and the subject of gossip herself. It's a similar environment to The Devil Wears Prada, but I liked the first book more (and do remember it).

In the Bag by Kate Klise - If you ignore the fact that the plot is somewhat contrived, this was a delightful little book (maybe not that little, 306 pages). A single mom traveling to Europe with her teenage daughter entangles with a single dad and his teenage son. There are notes, emails, mixed-up luggage, and much coincidence (oh gee, the mom's friend is able to lend them her Paris apartment because she is overseeing the exhibit in Spain that the dad is organizing). I was rooting for everyone. The plot seemed cinematic, but I didn't find anything about a movie version.

Everything Nice by Ellen Shanman - Mike (female) loses her NYC advertising job, and finds work teaching life skills to seventh grade girls. Sounds like BS, but I could have used a few lessons in this subject. Away from the fast-paced ad biz, she learns about herself and her relationships, etc.

L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad - I admit to watching more than a few episodes of The Hills (though not every season). I was not expecting great literature, and in this era of branding and packaging wonder if Lauren really wrote this. Not that it's so great that she couldn't possibly have written it, but c'mon. She does thank "collaborator" Nancy Ohlin. I don't know for sure who wrote what, so these remarks are "alleged," OK? Anyway, Lauren definitely knows about the subject matter, a young girl who finds her every move documented for a reality show. It's dishy, show-bizzy fluff. And I'll admit that it's not the only Lauren Conrad book I own.

Perfect is Overrated by Karen Bergreen - This book wasn't perfect or overrated (groan). I loved the author's Following Polly, and this wasn't as good, but still OK (I gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars, which for me is decent). Kate is a former prosecutor now raising a child. Her marriage to an NYC cop has fallen apart, but he still lives in the same building. This comes in handy when moms in her daughter's posh preschool start dropping like flies.

Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner - I saw Jennifer Weiner read a snippet from this at the Upper West Side B&N, and read it much later. Another book about a murdered mom, this time in suburban Connecticut (didn't realize this was such a risky job). Kate didn't know the victim well, but is a bit bored and investigates with the help of some quirky pals.


I don't have more NetGalleys to report on (not surprising, since I wrote an entry yesterday), but realized if I report on my backlog of about 100 already-read books more often, I can catch up in the foreseeable future. We will not even think about how many shows and movies I haven't written about.

Today's category: Mysteries/Thrillers. Not a favorite genre (that would be chick lit and showbiz), but somehow I read these fairly often.

The Insiders by Craig Hickman - A business exec is in a coma after an attempted murder, and his son uncovers more than he bargained for when he investigates. I didn't really understand the corporate shenanigans and conspiracy and who were the good and bad guys. It seemed pretty convoluted. There was danger, hiding, chases, dead bodies... but I wasn't sure what was going on.

Echo Park by Michael Connelly - Decent police procedural, but I'm going to leave it on the laundry room shelf for my neighbors to enjoy (which may be where I got it). LA policeman Harry Bosch revisits an old case, when the bad guy confesses years later. There is a lot of police work connecting the dots, talking to people, going to crime scenes, etc. Solid but not especially thrilling.

Magic Hour by Susan Isaacs - A movie producer is murdered in the glitzy Hamptons and recovering alcoholic cop Steve Brady is on the case. He seems a little too obsessed with the ex-wife suspect. I don't remember who the killer actually was, so this book couldn't have been too exciting.

Riding the Snake by Stephen J. Cannell - Cannell is an action TV guy, so you'd expect this to read like an action show. Aging playboy Wheeler works with a female African-American LAPD detective to investigate the murder of his seemingly perfect brother. They run up against evil Chinese gangsters. Violent and fast-moving, not really for me.

The Letter of the Law by Tim Green - Ambitious female attorney Casey Jordan is called upon to defend her former law professor in a grisly murder of a young woman. The defense is successful, but the victim's father (a savvy rural guy) is doubtful and wants to take the law into his own hands. Is the professor really an evil murderer? Turns out there are some similar unsolved cases that fit the pattern. The story takes place in Austin and has a strong sense of place.

The Craigslist Murders by Brenda Cullerton - Charlotte is an interior decorator for the Manhattan elite, with a sideline of serial killing rich women. Don't ask. It's actually funny and satirical and I found myself rooting for her (so wrong...).

The Broker by John Grisham - I usually like Grisham, and this was a good one. A former DC power broker is pardoned and released from prison into a kind of witness protection program in Italy so the CIA can leak info and see who kills him. Or something like that. The hiding and cat-and-mouse game kept the pages turning.

Tax time reading

What with the tax deadline and birthday (thanks, Mommy! Though at the time, Tax Day was March 15), this is always a stressful time of year. To add to that, Microsoft just withdrew support for Windows XP, forcing me to buy a new computer. I'm not crazy about my old, slow Dell that sounds like a Boeing jet, and heard bad things about Windows 8. Also thought I might downsize to a laptop, considering I'm on the iPad constantly (I also have an old iBook). Despite that, I bought a new, large fancy Dell all-in-one with Windows 8 (.1). Just didn't like the options with Windows 7, which will eventually go off support earlier and I'd have to do this again. It arrived last week, but I haven't taken it out of the box, since I wanted to do my taxes on the old computer. If I hate the smallish chiclet keyboard, I'm not sure if I can attach the old one (there are converter cords, but I haven't determined if the computer will automatically recognize a wired keyboard). I got a program to help migration, so I'll have to run both computers until I'm sure the new one is OK. Quicken 2011 is also going off support (downloading from the bank won't work as of 4/30). I own but never installed Quicken 2012, so that'll buy me another year.

In other computer stress, Verizon practically browbeat me to upgrade from DSL to FIOS (by the fourth phone call, I was like, "OK already"), though it's true it'll be faster and cheaper. I'm not sure they'll be able to work around the clutter in order to install next week, and I'm attempting to move some of the piles of books and magazines out of sight. I'm running out of room, even though I have great closet space. I need to be more efficient in my home organization.

I do give away many of my books after reading, so it's productive to get reviews done so I can then move the books out of here. eBooks don't go anywhere, but I can move those off the iPad and to the cloud, and in some cases fulfill my obligation to NetGalley.

Hidden by Catherine McKenzie - Got this from NetGalley, but also had an advance copy from the Times book table. Good thing, since the Kindle review copy is no longer authorized and was permanently deleted. I liked the author's first book Spin, and liked this so much I purchased her 2 other novels. McKenzie is Canadian, but there's no Canadian sense of place; the book is set in 2 generic Springfields. Accountant Jeff Manning works for a corporation in Springfield, and strikes up a friendship with HR person Tish from the "other Springfield" branch. The book is narrated alternately by these 2 and Jeff's wife Claire. Jeff is struck by a car and killed at the beginning of the book (spoiler?), but speaks from the dead. This isn't as weird as it sounds. It's unclear until the very end if Jeff and Tish (who is also married) are just colleagues, emotionally attached, or having a physical affair. This uncertainty, along with the use of modern electronic sleuthing devices, keeps things interesting as the plot moves back and forth in time. Complicating matters, Claire's old boyfriend was Jeff's older, estranged brother Tim. Once this got going, I couldn't put it down. Some Amazon readers found the narrative device jumpy and confusing, so your mileage may vary.

Slate by Brian Rowe - Evil Hollywood is one of my favorite topics. Vivien owns a not exactly A-list casting agency in the Valley, while pushing her teen son in his own acting career. After she walks in on her dentist husband cavorting in the hot tub with his young secretary (spoiler?), she realizes she has the perfect "casting couch" to find a replacement man. Shades of Argo, Vivien's wannabe screenwriter assistant writes a fake script for a fake movie called The Men, specifying hot studs of varying ages for her approval. I could have lived without some violent and graphic incidents, but generally relished this at times over-the-top, dishy tale. Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this.

Bond Girl by Erin Duffy - Wall Street isn't as much fun as Hollywood, but good novels can come out of there. This one follows a young woman in her job in the boys club world of bond trading. I'm not clear of the mechanics of her job, but that was less important than the people and relationships, from browbeating bosses to lecherous clients to the occasional good guy. Called Girlie, she was at first given a folding chair with no desk, and sent on crazy errands to get massive coffee orders and pizza from the Bronx. The few other women in the firm were not always supportive (one is known as Cruella), and it did not sound like the best atmosphere.

Trading Dreams by J.L. Morin - This is supposedly about the Occupy movement as well as a young woman working on Wall Street, but I gave up at Kindle location 2648. I never was clear what was going on. There was something about a past murder, mortgages, a diary, kinky stuff, who knows? The author is Harvard '87, and I'm Harvard reject class of '73 (though I did go there for grad school), so maybe I'm just not bright enough to appreciate this.

Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld - I really wanted to like this more. After all, it's about contemporary downtown Manhattan... real estate porn. But the novel was more like interconnected short stories, and sometimes it wasn't clear who was who. Some characters were struggling, some raking it in, some committed to family, others not, good kids, mean kids, lots of casual drug use. Not awful, but it didn't grab me.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple - Loved, loved, loved it. Possibly the best book I read last year. There are some fun documents like letters and emails, but even without them the story would glow. Bernadette is a former award-winning architect turned stay-at-home-mom living in a fixer-upper (to put it generously) house in Seattle with her tech whiz husband and precocious teen daughter. The other private school moms don't get her, and she is so isolated and agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India does her daily chores. She eventually disappears, and her family's journey to find her takes them to very remote places. Fascinating, funny, biting, everything a novel should be. I'm NOT giving this away.

(no subject)

I've kept pretty much up to date on listing completed puzzle books. When I looked at the pile done since I last updated, almost all were sudoku or kakuro (I do them while waiting for food to cook, etc.). I have nothing to say about them and won't even list them. Many of the sudoku books were won at tournaments, where all the crossword prize books were NYTs or others I'd already done.

Because I'm on the iPad so much, I've gotten far behind on solving online puzzles. I was behind to begin with on Matt Gaffney, Newsday and others, so it's gotten even worse. I don't like solving on the iPad; Puzzazz is the best of the apps, but it's awkward to speed-solve without a real keyboard. Before the tournament, I concentrated on catching up on online BEQs and am now in the fall of 2013. I like to read his blog and comments as I do each puzzle, so that takes time. I also made progress on Newsday, but insisted on solving them all and not just the Saturday Stumper, so still have a ways to go.

I finished these puzzle books:

Sit & Solve Spiral Puzzles by Byron Walden - These were hard. Sometimes I even peeked at the answers.

Sit & Solve Tough as Nails Crosswords by Todd McClary - I don't remember these too well, but I guess they were hard.

Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book #11 by John M. Samson (ed.) - This was sitting on the bed for ages, and I finally finished it shortly before the ACPT - and started #12, in which I'm already up to puzzle 223 out of 300. I only have #13 left after that, but see that #14 is scheduled for November. This is a decent series.

Bet You Can't Do This! Crosswords: 75 Really, Really, Really Hard Puzzles by John Samson and Sam Bellotto, Jr. - I bet I CAN do these puzzles. They were on the hard side, but not ridiculously so. I did have 5 wrong squares in the 75 15x15s. However, one was due to an editing error where the crossing did not work both ways (#71, 16A/11D). The last puzzle would have been right at home as an ACPT puzzle 5.

Merl Reagle's 100th Anniversary Crossword Book by Merl Reagle - This was just delightful. Merl has a unique sense of humor and makes solving fun. I've probably done some of these puzzles before, but am not consistent in downloading them online and I never remember puzzles anyway.

Since I signed up with NetGalley, I've downloaded 45 books to my iPad (usually Kindle app), but only reviewed 10 so far. So I need to get cracking on the reading, which got behind during tournament prep. I did finish 2 books from other programs:

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (web copy from PulseIt) - After losing her father in an auto accident, Amy is barely going through the motions of living. Her twin brother is in rehab in North Carolina and her best friend has moved to Florida. Left alone in California to finish the last month of junior year while her mother gets settled in Connecticut, she won't drive and limits social interaction. With money tight, her mother arranges for college-aged family friend Roger to drive Amy and the car east, carefully mapping out their route and making hotel reservations along the way. Amy barely knows Roger, so is pleasantly surprised when he turns out to be cute and nice. They ditch her mother's regimented itinerary and take off across the country, visiting places and people of significance to them, and eating mostly junk food. I have never made such a trip, and it was fascinating. iPod playlists, receipts and handwritten lists every few chapters didn't add much for me (I'd never heard of most of the songs). Amy was a little too angsty and the details of the accident were slow to be revealed (and weren't that earth-shaking), but the journey was generally satisfying and enjoyable.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White (requested from LibraryThing Early Reviewers, but never arrived. I obtained a Nook copy) - When I was younger, I read Betty Martin's memoir Miracle at Carville, about life in a leprosy treatment facility in Louisiana (yes, that's the same family as politico James). I think I also read the sequel No One Must Ever Know. Betty Martin is a pseudonym; leprosy had such a stigma that patients used other names, and were often buried with aliases or numbers. Even the word leprosy has its own alternate name: Hansen's disease.

In later years, Carville shared its site with a federal prison. Magazine publisher Neil White was convicted of white-collar crime and sent there in 1993. When I started reading this book about his incarceration, images of sleepy, old, Southern, dignified grounds and buildings that I'd conjured up while reading Martin's books came back. The prison part of his story wasn't especially compelling, but the interaction with the leprosy patients was. I was most grabbed by the story of Ella, an elderly patient who was dropped off at Carville as a child and never saw her family again. Leprosy had quite a stigma. Yet she tooled around in her antique wheelchair, always upbeat, wise  and giving.

After release, White managed to rebuild his life in Mississippi and published this book in 2009. I'm not sure I'd want to do business with him (ex-con has more of a stigma to me than leprosy), but I was intrigued by this glimpse into a vanishing world. Carville now houses a museum and camp for at-risk youth. The treatment center has been phased out and only a handful of patients remain.

Girly books

The books I pulled for review are all on the girly side, though a few may have broader appeal.

Phone Calls by Ann Reit - I once bought a box of teen novels from eBay, mostly from the Wildfire series which was after my time in the '60s, but not current. This is one of them, dated 1983. Juliet has lots of friend-boys but no boyfriend. She starts getting phone calls from a mystery swain who quotes Shakespeare. Could he be the Romeo to her Juliet? This sounds creepy, but isn't. I'm really too old for this stuff.

Here's to You, Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume - Judy Blume is also after my time (this is from 1993), so I don't hold her in beloved esteem. Rachel is in seventh grade, and deals with perfectionism, family and friends, and that unattainable boy. Didn't grab me, but might have had a different effect if I were 12.

Jennifer Johnson Is Sick of Being Single by Heather Mcelhatton - Jennifer has hit 30, has an unsatisfying career as a copywriter for a family-owned Minneapolis department store and bad luck with men. When she meets the heir to her store's family, he seems too good to be true. Maybe I don't relate to the Minnesota setting, but I couldn't get into this or relate to Jennifer. There is a sequel where she is sick of being married (spoiler?), and I think I'll pass.

How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo - The author worked on Sex and the City and cowrote He's Just Not That Into You, but I just wasn't that into this book. Julie takes an international road trip to research singledom around the world, and has many adventures. The foreign settings and people just didn't do it for me.

Hot Property by Michele, Samantha and Sabrina Kleier - You'd think a novel set in the world of high-end NYC real estate would be up my alley. While there was plenty of real estate porn with sumptuous locations, there wasn't much plot and there was a faint air of privilege that turned me off. The authors have an actual real estate firm, and maybe I'd enjoy their HGTV show Selling New York more than the fictionalized version.

The Girlfriend Curse by Valerie Frankel - Peg's exes seem to settle down immediately after dating her. She decides to escape NYC for rural Vermont, but finds her new home infested with mice (ewww), so enrolls in a month-long relationship workshop the cute guy on the train was telling her about. Inward Bound is filled with psychobabble and quirky characters, and makes for a fun read.

Hollywood Girls Club by Maggie Marr - I read the second book in this series first and sometimes got the characters confused. I had the same problem in this first book. Maybe it's because these female Hollywood power players seem interchangeable, as they go through the ups and downs of getting a movie made. That may sound negative, but I enjoyed this book enough that I'm now reading the third installment in the series (all 3 books are packaged in a reasonably priced Kindle edition).

Spin by Catherine McKenzie - Kate shows up drunk to an interview for a dream job at an entertainment magazine, but gets another chance when they offer to send her to rehab if she'll write about a celebrity patient there. This undercover assignment gets complicated when she finds herself becoming friends with the celeb, and realizes that she may not be pretending to be an alcoholic but actually is one. It's a different sort of plot than the usual chick lit, and felt authentic. The author is from Montreal, but the atmosphere didn't seem especially Canadian (whatever that means).

L. A. Woman by Cathy Yardley - Sarah moves to LA ahead of her fiancé to set things up, and then he stalls and is soon no longer her fiancé. Stuck in a strange place, she soon meets Taylor, who becomes her new gay best friend. He in turn introduces her to party girl Martika, who moves in to help with the rent and schools her in the club scene. Not my thing, but interesting to read about.

Following Polly by Karen Bergreen - Alice loses her casting agency job and with nothing better to do, begins following her much more successful Harvard classmate Polly around Manhattan. When Polly ends up dead, Alice becomes a suspect and ends up hiding out with her school crush, Charlie. This sounds bizarre, but unfolds realistically and with great humor. Liked it a lot.



Still have piles of books to review, and I never seem to make much of a dent.

40 Love by Madeleine Wickham - As Sophie Kinsella, the author wrote the Shopaholic series. I liked the one Shopaholic book I read, but this wasn't quite as good. Financial adviser Patrick and his wife host a tennis weekend at their estate in the British countryside for a small group of friends. Besides tennis, the weekend includes business deals and hanky-panky.

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan - Another weekend with a group of friends, this time at a 20th Harvard reunion. There is also some hanky-panky, as well as drama, reflection, conversation, and traumatic events (I won't spoil the plot). The titular red book is the alumni anniversary report bound in crimson, eagerly awaited by Harvard graduates every 5 years. I have no personal knowledge, since Radcliffe rejected me in 1969. The characters' red book pages dot the text and by the end of the book, you feel you know these people.

Wild Bananas by Sandra Thompson - Barry and Baby are newlyweds living in Birmingham, Alabama where he goes to law school and she has a dull government job. Maybe I'm not into sleepy southern life, but this book seemed even duller than the job.

Lessons in Love (Flirt series) by A. Destiny and Catherine Hapka - I read this through PulseIt. Bailey studies hard, hopes to go to MIT and be a scientist, and works in her family's restaurant/bakery near the local university. She has no room in her life for distractions like boys. New kid in town Logan walks Into the restaurant one day, and her plans go out the window. What are these "sparks" she feels? She eagerly accepts their bio teacher's suggestion that she tutor Logan to catch him up, and shares her growing feelings only with her best friend. Meanwhile, two of her more popular friends take an interest in the new guy and go over the top with mean-girl antics, trying to get his attention. Even with this competition, could he possibly be feeling sparks for Bailey, too?

Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller - At almost 600 pages, there's no point in picking this book up without an interest in the subject. That was not a problem for me, since the subjects are 3 singers whose work provided an important sound track to my youth: Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon. Tapestry, No Secrets, and Ladies of the Canyon (and Blue) all came out when I was in college, and Joni especially got played over and over. These artists also had men falling all over them (some famous), and there's plenty of gossip.

I finished 3 books from NetGalley:

Cinderella & the Carpetbagger: My Life as the Wife of the "World's Best-Selling Author," Harold Robbins by Grace Robbins - Although much of the gossip in this book is from the same time as Girls Like Us, it feels a little musty. I haven't read any Harold Robbins (who died in 1997), but he was a hugely best-selling novelist. Grace said it took 20 years to get her book out, so she might have missed the window of timeliness. Both Harold and Grace were married to other people when they met (she cast commercials in the Mad Men era), and they stayed together about 30 years (until she was supplanted by the new assistant/caretaker, who also later wrote a book). Theirs was a life literally in the jet set, with yachts and multiple lavish international homes. It also had its sordid side, with drugs and wild parties that became orgies. After a while, Harold asked for an open marriage and was blatant in his infidelities. Grace had her flings as well, but was much more reluctant to participate in the hedonism. The author talks about her life at this event.

What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin - Nora is Nora Ephron, whose writing and movies are frequently referenced in this humorous novel. Molly is a New York-based writer for an online magazine filled with quirky co-workers. As she approaches 40, she wants more from her job (her own column) and love life. Divorced and dating dull chiropractor Russell, she keeps running into intriguing author Cameron. She breaks up with Russell, but things don't always go smoothly. This book felt too short.

Sutton Place by Louise Gaylord - I usually like books set in upper class New York, but not this one. Julia is a young psychiatrist from a wealthy family (who live in the title address), who suffered past abuse that prevents her from having healthy relationships. The abuser is back to stalk her (even after she relocates to the southwest), and he is downright creepy. Tense, violent and generally unpleasant.

It might have been easier to skip the shot and get the flu

Many phone calls later, I think I see what happened with my flu shot insurance claim.

Called UHC, who said they couldn't see the rejected flu shot claim at all. Huh? It was right there on their site. The woman did not want to listen, and switched me to Oxford.

Oxford also had no record of the flu shot claim being submitted. Duane Reade (DR) had given me a claim number earlier, which Oxford said was not valid for their system.

Called DR pharmacy, spoke to a different person from over the weekend. According to their system, the claim appears to be paid and was submitted to my insurance at the time. She advised waiting until I receive a bill, and then bring it in and they'll resubmit. She didn't want to resubmit now since it looks like it was paid, so on their end nothing needs to be done.

I was set to wait for a bill when I remembered that OptumRx HAD mentioned something about the claim when I called over the weekend. I hypothesized that DR submitted the claim to OptumRx as drugs instead of to Oxford as medical. I called OptumRx and they did have a record of it: $15.86 for the flu shot serum, rejected as "product/service not covered" (this doesn't show when I look at the OptumRx site, so must be internal. Also the amount on my rejected claim was $31.99, so someone is taking a markup). I don't know why they didn't bounce it over to Oxford (it's all the same company). I asked if they could move it over, but they said the provider had to do that. By the way, the DR claim number was not one of theirs, either.

Called Oxford and asked if THEY could retrieve the claim from OptumRx and they also said it had to come from DR. They also advised that it needed to be paid within 120 days of the service date (which will be early March), so if I wait for a bill it might be too late.

Called UHC again and used their automated system, which DID find the claim the other rep couldn't locate. I switched to a rep and asked if they could send the claim over to Oxford (again, they are all part of United), but they said they  couldn't. They also couldn't identify the DR claim number. When I clicked online on "pay this" (which I had no intention of paying, if insurance covers it), a form came up for paying a central Walgreens (who own DR) site.

I called the phone number on the Walgreens form. They said the claim had indeed been sent to OptumRx and after it was rejected, it went to my major medical. Except by the time they did this, my insurance had changed and it went to my current UHC number, which then rejected it because the plan wasn't effective on the date of service. I'm not sure if they got the wrong insurance info from OptumRx or from their own system. I did have an earlier problem with drug claims and effective dates and perhaps my old Oxford member number was no longer in the system (or maybe the dates are still screwed up). I gave them the Oxford info, they entered it... and that system was down! They will try later, and HOPEFULLY it will finally go through, and the pending amount on UHC will be deleted. I asked why my local DR thought the claim was paid, and they said it might appear that way to the front end of the system, but it was still pending to them on the back end.

So maybe we have some resolution. But I wonder, in all the thousands of flu shots, did DR mistakenly send them all through drug insurance instead of medical, or just mine? And why is it so hard to tell what my coverage was for the applicable dates? So much hassle!

UPDATE: Walgreens Central called back, and the claim still isn't going through. They will call Oxford. Crazy! I would wait until this is resolved to update this blog, but who knows when that will be?