Confessions Of A Bookaholic: Noteworthy Fiction For May 2014

This month’s list has books spanning 21 years, but I did get a recent title on there (a goal of mine after last month’s list). I don’t think you’ll regret trying out any of the titles on this list. Enjoy!

“The One I Left Behind”
By Jennifer McMahon (January 2, 2013) five_star.fw

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The summer of 1985, a serial killer called Neptune begins kidnapping women. Neptune follows a set pattern, abduct a woman and leave her severed hand on the police department steps and then five days later, display their bodies somewhere in town. This is that summer that changes Reggie’s life when her mother, Vera, disappears and her severed hand is left on those steps. Five days pass, however, and there is no trace of Vera. And Neptune… well Vera is said to be his last victim…

Twenty-five years later, Reggie is a successful architect who has left her hometown and the memories of that summer behind. Until she gets a call revealing that her mother has been found… alive. Now Reggie must confront the phantoms of her past and find Neptune before he kills again. She better do it fast, or she is going to be next!

There are thrillers and then there are THRILLERS. “The One I Left Behind” by Jennifer McMahon is certainly the latter. When I first considered doing blog posts about books that deserved time in the spotlight (whether or not they need me to give them that spotlight is irrelevant), this was the first ‘top pick’ that came to mind, even though I read this book nearly a year ago. Then I bumped it from March’s list because I felt Junot Diaz’s novel “The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao” should have the first top pick slot. Then when it came to April’s list, Tami Hoag’s “Ashes to Ashes” was fresh and I felt compelled to write about that (particularly because I planned on a different Hoag novel for this list and didn’t want to have two books from the same author in a single month). But it was then I knew that while I kept bumping this book because I refuse to have two top picks on the same list, and this is certainly no less than a top pick, I resolved it would not happen again.

When I read this book in March 2013, I could not put it down. What I mean to say is, it physically hurt me to even try. I felt a need that raged inside me to keep going because I had to find out the truth and there were many truths to be discovered. When I had to put down the book to work I felt utterly distracted because all I could think about was getting back to Reggie, Tara and the other characters and trying to figure out the truth about Neptune and what happened to Vera (as much as why). McMahon has created layers and layers of secrets, questions and skewed memories. The reader will want to know what happened between Reggie and her friends to make them go their separate ways (one of many terrible secrets) as much as who Neptune really is. The truth lies with Vera… and unfortunately for Reggie that is not very helpful.

This book takes the reader down many plot twists and with every answer, three more questions are born. In the end, however, light is shed on everything, wrapping up everything nicely without any rush (a fault with many novels, I find, the rush from climax to finish). While the story itself is terrifying and involves dozens of mysteries, each just as significant as the next, the characters are what puts this book in a category above many others. The characters are so rich and complicated and authentically human that you’ll forget you are simply reading about them and feel them next to you. You will care about Reggie and fear for her when Neptune draws near…

I think everyone (even people who aren’t usually into thrillers) should read this book. It is that GOOD. A word of caution though – try to read it in one sitting. It is just over 400 pages, but you won’t want to put it down as the book starts off running. If you can’t find the time to read this in one sitting then be prepared for the agony of setting it aside to go about your life and know that thoughts of Reggie and Neptune will not give you any peace until you reach the novel’s startling conclusion.

“Dust to Dust”
by Tami Hoag (August 1, 2000) five_star.fw

dust_to_dust“Dust To Dust” is the second installment in Tami Hoag’s four-book series ‘Kovac and Liska’ (for the first installment, see Confessions Of A Bookaholic: Noteworthy Fiction For April 2014), which centers around Minneapolis homicide detectives Sam Kovak and Nikki Liska. “Dust To Dust” begins with an apparent suicide, when an Internal Affairs cop is found hanging in his bedroom. Kovac cannot shake the feeling that this was not a suicide though, and it wasn’t an accident either. When Kovac and Liska begin to investigate the young cop’s life they stumble upon a number of motives and suspects from a buried internal affairs investigation to a secret lover or two. When the powers that be in the department try close the case, Kovac and Liska continue to work it in secret. When the second body drops, another apparent suicide, they are pointed in the direction of a two-month-old murder case that has been closed, and another closed case from twenty years ago. The cloud of suspicion hangs over the heart of the police department, and someone will stop at nothing to keep a dark and shattering secret just that… secret.

I enjoyed “Dust To Dust” much more than I thought I would. Why? This is not a thriller. Critics or readers may call it that, but there is a difference between a thriller and a mystery. This is one hell of a crime novel and an enthralling mystery, but it is all about what already happened versus what will happen (a key difference). Even when Liska and Kovac are threatened because of where their investigations take them, I was not scared. It added to the story, made the pace lightning quick, but I had no problem reading this book at night or alone.

Rather than focus on what this book isn’t, however, let me focus on what it is. This book is a true whodunit in every sense of the word. Hoag weaves separate cases, past and present, together to create several mysteries that all seem to be interconnected and completely separate and individual all at once. Both compelling and complex, I was surprised Hoag was not only able to not lose the reader, but not lose herself as well. Each layer of the stories reveals a half answer and three new questions, down to the final ten pages. As the bodies continue to drop (yes, I was impressed by the body count, though not sure what that says about me) you will find it much harder to put this book down.

I struggled with what rating to give this book because I did enjoy “Ashes To Ashes” more, probably because it was a true thriller and its main character Kate Conlan (a bonus of this book, you find out what happened to her after the last book’s events in this novel). While this is not a top pick it still warranted five stars because of Hoag’s masterful storytelling and the characters that make this book work. I suspect that when Hoag wrote the first installment, she had not intended to turn it into a series focusing on the characters Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska because in the first installment they are background characters at best. As a writer, I completely understand being surprised by seemingly background characters demanding their spotlight and wonder if the series was born from the first book rather than preconceived. This book’s focus is where it should be, on Sam Kovac, the man and the cop, and Nikki Liska, the woman and the cop, as well as their partnership. They are rich and raw (painfully authentic). I also appreciated that Liska was not a Kate Conlan copy. While I loved the character of Kate Conlan (hey Hoag, please write another novel centering around her – please!) I felt Liska needed to be her own person. This may seem obvious, but when you have two beautiful and single women who have to be tough-as-nails because of their jobs in the same field it can be easy to have them be eerily similar (unintentionally of course). But this was not the case and Liska holds her own, even against my bias for Kate.

As far as the story, I am almost always able to figure out who the bad guys are and the mystery early on or midway through the book I am reading (I did in “Ashes To Ashes”), but with this book I really couldn’t. I knew the players, everyone who was involved, but how and to what extent, why, etc. remained a mystery. I didn’t even figure out principle killers versus merely accessories. I never came close to thinking I had everything figured out beyond the people involved (but again not their actual roles in said events). Every time I tried to piece together who did what and why or how, I lost myself and had to be content with reading on to the end to figure it all out. This is a rare treat for me.

This is a great good cop versus bad cop, cover-up murder mystery and is a must for anyone who likes to read (because I really cannot find any group of people who would not love this book). When the last body dropped… well I am still trying to catch my breath from experiencing that scene and am completely shocked by the who, what, and why of it. So, get ready and settle in with “Dust To Dust” – it will leave you breathless.

“Straight Lies”
by Rob Byrnes (April 1, 2009) four_star_half.fw

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 Grant and Chase are a pair of small-time hustlers with no money, little patience and lots of get-rich-quick schemes. If only they could pull off “The Big One” and stop all of the small con jobs to retire in style… Romeo Romero is the world’s hottest openly gay celebrity. He has the face, the abs, the fame and the fortune, but it is all put on the line because he also has a sex tape that has gone missing. If the tape should fall into the wrong hands, it is all over for Romeo because all of his adoring fans will be in for quite a surprise: he’s straight! Thanks to a ridiculous Hamptons gossip, Grant and Chase hear about the tape. They know all they have to do is get the tape and blackmail the star to collect some serious cash. But then the video is left in a New York cab and the pair has to wheel and deal a sleazy tabloid editor, a man-hating lesbian real estate agent, a kinky internet stalker and a provocative professional boy toy to finally get to the truth behind the not-so-straight lies.

This book is pure camp and oh-so-much fun! The characters are surprisingly rich – I say surprisingly because some of them emulate so many bad stereotypes and all of them are completely outlandish, but for a book meant for laughs, Byrnes pulls them off and gets the job done! This book will make you laugh, and at times it may make you laugh until you cry. This novel is full of twists and turns you’ll never see coming and as absurd as the plot is, a celebrity banking on a minority status he does not belong to, Romeo Romero’s inevitable ‘coming in’ is the most mundane part of this book (and for the record this book is not mundane at all). As the band of crooks come together including a crazy lesbian couple, a twinky ‘model’, a ridiculously annoying gossip who can’t do anything (the fact that he knows how to dress himself is amazing) you will be rooting for them to pull off a larger than life heist (and that works because they are larger than life characters). From undercover assignments to spying, stealing and dealing with a crazy cabby, sleazy journalist (if you can call him that), bad cops and old-fashioned robbers – this is pure caper all the way. “Straight Lies” is the very definition of a beach read, and I am not sure about you, but I am more than ready for summer! 🙂

“Jesus’ Son”
by Denis Johnson (December 1992) three_star.fw

jesus_son “Jesus’ Son” by Denis Johnson is a collection of short stories that deals with the lives of the addicted and desperate. There has been many a discussion on whether the narrator in every story of this collection is the same person or not. There are certain similarities such as place, but with the narrators so abstract many people believe they are different and just as many feel they are one person at different times in his life. This book is critically acclaimed and most readers find it intense and beautiful. I didn’t understand the hype when I read it in graduate school (2007), but I wanted to give it another go, because a few of the reviews mentioned a different reading experience the second time around. Unfortunately, my opinion hasn’t changed much. I don’t understand why this book doesn’t speak to me. Everyone sees something that I don’t, but I want to. The subject matter doesn’t turn me off or make me uncomfortable, and I typically love gritty and chaotic fiction because to me that’s real life. I understand that Johnson wrote in a chaotic fashion to mirror the chaotic psyches of his characters, and I appreciate this. The writing is simple, and this is a very fast read – also appreciated. But I found the prose beautifully simplistic, not a simplistic that is especially beautiful. I encourage you to give this book a try because in terms of investment concerning your time, it doesn’t take up much. Ninety percent of people love it, and if you are in the majority please leave a comment and let me know what I am missing, because when I put down this book a second time my only thought was, “I didn’t miss this.”


I try to keep these book lists diverse, which is difficult because I tend to read specific genres or ‘types’ because they are what I respond to. While I was successful in keeping this list different (thriller, mystery, LGBT fiction, short stories centering on addiction) I will continue to try, but not make any promises. I found myself in the predicament of being one book shy of this month’s list, so I went into my reserves and quickly reread the final book on this list, “Jesus’ Son”. I chose this book only because it was different from the others on this list. I didn’t respond to it then, and I didn’t this time either, but the book has a lot of hype that was worth giving it a second look. Next time, I may just go with a reserve book I loved, even if it means there are only two genres represented for that month. I hope you enjoyed this list. Please note, I am a little behind so my ‘Noteworthy Nonfiction For May 2014’ will not be posted tomorrow. I am finishing up the last book, but hope to post it Tuesday, April 29.

Read on and until next month’s fiction list! 🙂

-DMW

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One Response to Confessions Of A Bookaholic: Noteworthy Fiction For May 2014

  1. Pingback: Confessions Of A Bookaholic: Kovac and Liska – The Concluding Chapters | Just A Little Red

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