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I’ve been on a mystery reading binge lately!  I even tried (and ultimately enjoyed) my first noir thriller – I invite you to join me as I guest blog on Meritorious Mysteries today!

I have the (admittedly annoying) tendency to judge people based on their grammar and spelling habits, even over informal channels such as gchat and texting.  Some have complained that this practice is unfair; but until recently, I thought it was a fair testament to a person’s overall worth.

I admit, I was wrong (at least in one instance).

I’d like to introduce you all to Max (a real NYC friend!).  Not the most grammatically correct gchat or texter (or best Scrabble-er), but good at fixing things and entertaining over a beer.  Fed up with my correcting him and assuming he’s incapable of writing, Max recently decided to prove me wrong, with the following that he wrote on his lunch break from solving white collar crimes.  Please welcome Max and I’d love to hear your thoughts:

From the desk of Max

It is the dead of winter and I am behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied Russia, 60 kilometers from Leningrad. Bundled up in my Red Army issue parka I have taken up position in a stand of trees, perched high above a clearing on the edge of the enemies’ base.

I can faintly hear what I imagine are the punch lines to jokes about killing Jews,
Something like, “eichenschleimenheimer” or “heishdenjewdemkillier.”

Looking through the scope of my Kalashnikov sniper rifle, I’ve identified six Nazi soldiers standing in a circle, huddled together for warmth. I’ve zeroed in on the Swastika emblazoned on the hat of the soldier whose voice I heard right before the group burst in laughter.

I glance at my watch – only eight minutes left before they report back to their posts among the trees. If I don’t move quickly enough I will surely be discovered and killed. I prepare to fire, switching off the safety while carefully positioning myself to kill all six of them in one burst.

Five minutes.

My heart is pounding. My hand trembles. My vision goes in and out of focus. I am exhausted from the long nights in the trees, but there is no room for error.

Three minutes.

Adrenaline takes over, and I go to work.

THWAP. THWAP…THWAP. THWAP. THWAP…

“Shit” I whisper. The sole survivor of my barrage dove to the ground after seeing his companions fall dead in front of him. He scrambled into the wooded area and has sought cover behind a large oak. Precious time ticks away, but he hasn’t discovered my position. 30 seconds left. He peaks his head out from behind the tree. THWAP.

I breathe a sigh of relief and lay my #2 pencil down as I return to the reality of my fluorescently lit LSAT testing center in New York City.

“Please stop writing and lay your pencils down.” booms the proctor. “You will now have a fifteen minute break after which you will begin the final two sections of your exam.”

This is only a practice exam, but that was too close for comfort. You see, since reading David Benioff’s sophomore effort “City of Thieves“, I have developed a proprietary test taking strategy for the LSAT, for which I am currently studying despite my lack of desire to go to law school (long story for another post).

At the onset of my campaign towards LSAT domination, during breaks in my studies, I would read Benioff’s novel to break the monotony of the “Logic Games” section. The novel takes place during WWII, and follows the adventures of a trio of unlikely heroes, one of whom is a Russian sniper. I enjoyed these breaks, which made the LSAT study sessions somewhat bearable, but quickly finished the book, and was left with the emptiness that only multiple choice questions can provide. So rather than thinking of each question as a series of logical premises that lead to “the best possible answer”, I started imagining myself as Vika, the sniper, my pencil as my rifle, and the questions as Nazis. Haven’t missed a question since. December 5th, test day, will be a bloodbath.

As an aside. I would recommend the book highly. Like cotton candy, it’s light, fun, and will give you a little rush, like a sugar high. I haven’t read his first book, The 25th Hour, but Benioff’s screen play adaptation was turned into one of my all time favorite movies, it’s a Spike Lee joint starring Edward Norton. If you haven’t seen it, do so. Shhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiit. (You’ll understand once you’ve seen the movie.)

“You will now have 35 minutes to complete this section. If you finish before time is called, you may check over your previous work from this section only. Do not work on any other section, and please do not disturb the other test takers. You may begin.”

I can see my breath again.

Although many argue that there’s a lack of women authors acknowledged in the literary world, I’m consistently surprised, impressed and intrigued by the women protagonists kicking ass in the mystery and thriller genre, written well by authors of both genders.

From the talented hand of Sue Grafton, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has had many bestselling mysteries and is starring in Grafton’s 21st, U IS FOR UNDERTOW out 12/1/09.  There’s also V.I. Warshawski written by Sara Paretsky, the Women’s Murder Club series from James Patterson, and I’ve also discovered many strong female characters on both sides of the law in John Sandford’s titles.  I’ve found the mystery genre is especially generous with women in important roles (CERTAIN PREY, my favorite Sandford title, features a hit-woman) instead of simply being the victim.

Kay Scarpetta?

One of the most iconic and recognizable female characters is Kay Scarpetta, penned by the renowned Patricia Cornwell.  Cornwell’s latest, THE SCARPETTA FACTOR, hit the NYT bestseller at #2 (behind only Dan Brown).  For those rare readers unfamiliar with the series I urge you to give them a try (and I have found they’re not necessary to read in order); not only are they tantalizing and smart mysteries but you’ll want to be ahead of the media storm when, drumroll please, Angelina Jolie appears on the big screen as Kay Scarpetta (watch Cornwell share this information on Good Morning America).

Because I enjoy Scarpetta’s character, when shopping for a new mystery I found the following quote from James Patterson:

“Karen Vail is as compelling a character as any created by Patricia Cornwell, or yours truly…”

I bit it hook, line and sinker and proudly walked away from the register clutching THE 7th VICTIM by Alan Jacobson in my hands.

Some may say my standards were set too high by the Cornwell quote, but whatever the reason my disappointment was genuine.  Karen Vail is supposedly a profiler (comparable to Benton), so I find it either too far fetched, or just doubt her skills, that she would be completely clueless as to the background of her own immediate family.  Additionally, I understand we as readers are supposed to connect with “flawed characters” – but she was too unrelatable.

Also, I enjoy mysteries with some clues to keep the pages turning and not just assumptions, hints and lucky guessing.  This book offered very little to the reader by way of the serial killings taking place and seemed to focus much more on the personal life and happenings of Karen Vail.

Bottom Line: Scarpetta gets a blackberry in her latest, and while SCARPETTA FACTOR may not be my favorite Cornwell title, it’s worth reading.  While I suggest avoiding THE 7TH VICTIM for reading purposes, I think the book is very high quality as it’s been keeping my big heavy window open for the last three weeks with hardly a divet in the board of this repurposed hardcover.

**Mark your calendars to join me this Tuesday, November 24, as I guest blog about mysteries (and working on some of the biggest names in the genre) on Meritious Mysteries! **

For being the biggest city in the U. S., NYC is quite a lonely place.

I tell my friends back in Chicago that it’s really fun because you can truly wear whatever you want without people caring or noticing (if you’d like me to illustrate with pictures of other East Village locals wearing neon colors, animal prints, or an occasional live cat on the head let me know) – but you’re often invisible as well.

Maybe it’s because I’ve led a spoiled life – always had close family and friends, but NYC is a test.  Not just because it’s ridiculously expensive w/less than optimal living space (I don’t allow pictures to be taken of my apartment; I insist upon visiting for the experience over a still image) but because you’re by yourself.  A lot.  And the crazy thing is, I think I’m starting to like it.

With the exception of my mom reprimanding me for drinking wine alone tonight (before you judge, I was trying to write and I now understand why real writers are notoriously heavy drinkers), I’ve learned I may not be quite as social or as talkative as I would have previously believed.  I actually enjoy eating dinner out by myself (usually with a good book) and the solitude when my roommate leaves and is no longer  constantly trying to speak to me.

I recently read Jen Lancaster’s memoir, BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG ASS.  It resonated with me not only because she hails from my beloved Chicago and the bus lines she spoke of were so familiar, but when she talks about the fast and easy friendships of the past giving way to new living, and relationship, situations:

“Suddenly I found myself living around people very different from me.  We were diverse not due to ethnicity, race, or age, but because we didn’t come from a shared past; our jobs, hometowns, educations, and experiences were all vastly different and we had no instant commonalities…” (pg. 178)

This I can commiserate with.  Yes, I’ve made acquaintances here in this huge, vast city that sparkles in the night and grimy by day… Even some people I call friends.  But it’s hard work when you don’t have the baseline from which to start.

Luckily, I have books to escape the real world and I find myself disappearing into them quite often.  For the second “luckily”, this trait is advantageous to being in a job I love.  So while I desperately miss my friends in Chicago (there’s nothing comparable to living with your two best friends in a downtown highrise boasting a pool on your rooftop with a view of Lake Michigan) I like to believe I made the best decision in transferring my life to the East Coast.  While I admit I’m not exactly living an Into the Wild survival expedition, I think I have given up some basic luxuries.

This may be a pointless post, but thanks for indulging in my slightly-wine induced thoughts and joining me all the way out here in NYC.  In fact, I think I officially belong in that annoying group of people that think “everyone should live, and thrive, in NYC at least once in their life.”

 

Update: Oprah (along with some kind words and admittances of solo and proud drinking from OUB & OAD) has made me realize that moving to NYC is a worthwhile adventure for a job I love.  Recently, Oprah shared a list of “The Top 20 Things I Know for Sure” and I’m happy that I am totally in line with several, including #13:  Let passion drive your profession.

 

I miss you!

I’ve been reading all sorts of good books lately and haven’t even had the chance to update my spreadsheet (nerd alert) and have been trying to keep track via my cell phone.  I owe you reviews for the following, which are the books I felt most strongly about one way or another:

KNIT THE SEASON (Kate Jacobs)

(though check out some great KNIT THE SEASON reviews and interviews with Kate Jacobs at Nat’s Book, Like, and Sinker and Susan’s Suko’s Notebook)

CERTAIN PREY, WICKED PREY, ROUGH COUNTRY (John Sandford)

LITTLE WOMEN (Louisa May Alcott)

HIGH FIDELITY, JULIET, NAKED (Nick Hornby)

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG ASS (Jen Lancaster)

DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM (David Sedaris)

And I stayed up way too late last night reading THE SCARPETTA FACTOR (Patricia Cornwell)

Me and my friend Maggi enjoying a glorious autumn in Central Park!So you see, it’s not actually that I’m not reading, I just haven’t been reviewing.  I’ll do my best to rectify this situation shortly… but most likely after the weekend, as it should be a busy one!

In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying the season as much as I am.  It’s my first time witnessing the leaves turning in NYC and it’s a glorious sight!

 

Love,

Lydia

 

 

 

 

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