Hidden Steel by Stuart Field: An Ambitious Thriller on Land and Sea


Hidden Steel

Hidden Steel

by Stuart Field
Series: John Steel, #2

Kindle Edition, 618 pg.
Next Chapter, 2019

Read: February 15-17, 2019


It sounds like the first volume of this series has John Steel working closely with a group of detectives from the NYPD, but the sequel has them (ultimately) pursuing the same criminal group from very independent directions—Steel is in Britain and then on a trans-Atlantic cruise ship following leads he uncovered while investigating his family’s death.

Meanwhile, Det. McCall and those she works within Homicide are investigating a serious of suspicious deaths (deaths that would be easily written off as random crimes or accidents). Eventually, the detectives conclude that they are murders, the question then shifts to why these people were killed as much as who did the killing.

Ultimately, as one would guess from the outset, the work that Steel and McCall are doing lead to the same culprits and there is plenty of interaction to satisfy fans between Steel and the team in New York over the course of the novel.

I want to stress that this is one of the most complex and ambitious plots that I’ve read in months. The more you read of this the wider-spread the scope of the action is. I can’t imagine how much planning this took to get all of the parts and pieces to line up just right with each other to produce this—I’m close to using the word audacious to describe the scope of the novel. Once it all starts to come together and the reader can understand all the ways that the criminals were moving to get their schemes rolling, the mind will reel.

Most of this book reads like the novelization of a TV episode/Movie. More often than not, the visuals evoked by the book belong to a visual medium. The way people move, stand dramatically, climb out of this or that, and so on is very screen-inspired. Once I realized this is what’s going on, everything made so much more sense.

I don’t like being this guy, but the number of proofreading problems in this book were very distracting. I don’t remember any words that were spelled incorrectly, but there were repeated instances of similar words being used instead of the correct ones, e.g. “guy’s” instead of “guys,” “he’s” instead of “his,” “draw” rather than “drawer,” and so on. There were scenes/passages that begin the same way they began, a sentence that is a direct contradiction of something mere paragraphs before; commas that serve no function; commas that are missing; unnecessary question marks; and so on. This kind of thing happened so frequently that it drew attention away from the action and I couldn’t focus.

At the end of the day, whatever good I’d want to highlight from the novel was offset by a problem, concern or drawback to either the logic, grammar or word choice. There’s a lot to commend, but the issues suck all my enthusiasm for it away. This is the kind of thing that will truly entertain an audience if it finds one, and I hope for Fields’s sake, it does.


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Hidden Steel by Stuart Field

Today is my day for the Book Tour for Hidden Steel by Stuart Field. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. But let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay?


Book Details:

Book Title: Hidden Steel (John Steel #2) by Stuart Field
Publisher: Next Chapter
Release date: December 25, 2019
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 618 pages

Book Blurb:

In the UK, Detective John Steel is investigating the organization who killed his family. When he comes across information that something big is going to happen on the cruise ship Neptune, Steel goes undercover. He has fourteen days to figure out what is going to happen – and to stop it.

In New York, Steel’s NYPD partner, Detective Samantha McCall, is investigating a series of deaths. All seems run of the mill for the homicide detective until they find out that the deaths are somehow connected to the cruise ship John Steel is on.

McCall is convinced there is a mole in the department, but can she figure out who he is – and who he’s working for? Meanwhile, Steel is running out of options… and the clock is ticking.

About Stuart Field:

Stuart FieldStuart Field was born in the UK, in the West Midlands. He spent his early years in the army, seeing service in all the known (and some unknown) hotspots around the world. He now lives in Germany with his wife Ani. When not engaged in highly confidential security work, he writes thrillers which perhaps mimic his life-experience more than the reader would like to believe.

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

WWW Wednesday, February Month 19, 2020

Hey, it’s the middle of the week. Time for WWW Wednesday!

This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived on Taking on a World of Words—and shown to me by Aurore-Anne-Chehoke at Diary-of-a-black-city-girl.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Easy enough, right?

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading the very fun Highfire by Eoin Colfer and am listening to Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator) as a refresher before the release of the next Rivers of London novel next week.

What did you recently finish reading?

I was away for a few days last week and got a little extra reading in, but yesterday I finished Joe Ide’s Hi Five (I have so many things to say about it) and Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn, Nicole Goux.

What do you think you’ll read next?

My next book should be Madam Tulip and the Serpent’s Tree by David Ahern (I’ve been waiting for this for a while) and Dark Harvest Magic by Jayne Faith, Amy Landon (Narrator) on audiobook.

Hit me with your Three W’s in the comments! (no, really, do it!)

Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn, Nicole Goux: A Fun & Compelling Refreshed Origin Story

Shadow of the Batgirl

Shadow of the Batgirl

by Sarah Kuhn, Nicole Goux

Paperback, 193 pg.
DC Comics, 2020

Read: February 18, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Cassandra Cain has intrigued me for quite a while now, but as I’ve limited my comic reading (for financial and time considerations), I haven’t read nearly enough about her to satisfy my curiosity.

Enter Sarah Kuhn and her YA graphic novel to take care of that. It was a brilliant idea to have Kuhn write this—as she explains herself in the introduction, Cain is exactly the kind of super-hero that Kuhn writes.

This retelling of Cain’s origin story from the moment she decides to leave the life of crime she’d been born into and trained for (not that she knew that’s what she’d been doing), through her meeting Barbara Gordon and (a new character for this telling) Jackie, and into her first steps as Batgirl.

Jackie is an elderly Asian Aunt figure who provides emotional security for Cassandra while Barbara is helping with intellectual stimulation (there’s also a boy she meets at the library, but Jackie and Barbara are the foci).

I really enjoyed watching Cain make connections with people, learning how to redefine herself—it’s an atypical origin story and exactly the kind of thing we need to see more of.

Goux’s art wasn’t the style I expected—I expected something darker, more angular, with a lot of shadows. Instead, we get something almost playful and joyful, while not detracting from the serious story. Goux’s art fits Kuhn’s voice (both here and in other works) perfectly and won me over right away.

This was a fun read, establishing Cain as a person and as a hero while telling a compelling story. I recommend this and would eagerly read any follow-ups that might come along (like the upcoming The Oracle Code.)


3 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge
This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Not Dressed by Matthew Hanover: If this book doesn’t bring a smile to your face, something’s broken

Not Dressed

Not Dressed

by Matthew Hanover

eARC
2020

Read: January 3-6, 2019

“Hey there, Jake. This should be fun, right?”…

“I guess,” I say.

“You don’t sound too excited,” she says as she takes a hair tie off her wrist and pulls her disheveled hair back into a ponytail.

“Yeah, well. I’m not good at dancing.”

“Obviously! That’s why you’re here. Same as me. I’m probably just as bad as you. But we’ll learn together, okay?”

“Okay.”

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra,” she says.

“I…have no idea what that means.”

“It’s from Star Trek…Actually, Star Trek: The Next Generation. It means we’ll work together to solve a common problem. In this case, the problem is learning how to dance.”

“I gotcha. So, you’re like…a Trekkie?”

“Was my sweatshirt not a big enough clue?”

“No, I just—”

“You’re not a Star Wars fan, are you? If you are, you’ll have to find a different partner.”

Jake Evans is our protagonist—he’s a decent enough guy, who could probably use some maturing (which means he’s like 90% of guys in their twenties). He’s got a great girlfriend (although the relationship seems a bit rocky when we meet him) and is second-guessing his chosen career (partially because he has a horrid employer, and partially because architecture isn’t the career he thought it would be). There are signs that he’d be a pretty fun guy to hang out with, but when the book opens he’s got a pretty good-sized cloud over his head between the girl and the gig.

Lindsay’s his long-time girlfriend. She works in radio and is very passionate about her job. She’s enjoying a little bit of success, and has a hard time relating to Jake’s struggles. She’s the producer and in-all-but-name on-air sidekick to a Boston-area conservative talk show host, who calls her “Lefty Lindsay.” (don’t worry, politics are absent from the book!) At least when the book opens, I really didn’t see why the two of them were a couple. There’s a good chance that neither of them rembered at that point, either, it had been so long.

Two things about their relationship provide most of the initial conflict for the plot. First, due to some financial hits they’ve taken recently, Lindsay has taken some modeling gigs to make some extra money. She did it back in college, which was recent enough that she still had connections. Why didn’t Jake do something to make extra money? He’s having a hard enough time finding a replacement full-time job that it didn’t seem like a good idea to try to add another job search to his plate. Besides, Lindsay’s moonlighting is profitable enough. What she neglects to mention to Jake is that this modeling is for art classes at a local college. And, well, none of these artists-in-training are working on fashion degrees—clothing gets in the way of what they’re learning to draw/paint/sculpt. Jake’s an open-minded kind of guy, except when it comes to this, it’s not pretty when he finds out (although it’s a pretty amusing scene for readers when he does).

Meanwhile, Jake’s sister’s wedding is coming up and Lindsay has decided the two of them need to learn to dance before it. Besides, it’s a fun activity for the two of them—they never go out mid-week anymore, and their relationship could use a boost. So she signs them up for a dance class, and then tells Jake about it after she paid for it, so he pretty much has to agree to it, but isn’t really that interested. So she basically promises him sex if he goes. Which pretty much seals the deal. But then Lindsay’s show gets moved to a new (and better) time slot. So, in addition to not being able to make the class, the couple will hardly see each other during the week. Her plan is that Jake will go, and then on the weekend, teach her the moves (he insists on getting his payment in advance for this).

Jake hates this new plan, and is convinced that he’s going to be stuck dancing with the instructor (after he and the reader meets this instructor, no one thinks this is going to be fun for him). Thankfully, just before class starts, Kaylee walks in. You read her opening dialogue up above. She’s a few years younger than Jake, taking some time out from college to figure out what she wants to do with her life, and is a major geek. She’s almost a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but doesn’t fit the category in a few ways (I’m only using that term because I’m afraid this post is getting too long and I want to pick up the pace). She’s also my favorite character of 2020 so far (granted, that would mean more if it wasn’t January 13th).

Kaylee and Jake strike up a nice little friendship during the class, and pretty soon, he’s going so he has an excuse to hang out with her. The two of them are fun together—she’s socially awkward and embarrassed to be herself, Jake tries to shake her out of that, and even encourages her to let her Geek-Flag fly (even if he doesn’t get any of it). Meanwhile, she’s encouraging about his job hunt (as opposed to Lindsay, who mostly nags or wants him to find a way to succeed where he is), and gets him to be a little less angst-y about his life. I like Jake more when he’s in friend with Kaylee-mode over guy with Lindsay-mode. But what do I know? I have a tendency to pick people the protagonists don’t in these situations (I won’t provide examples because I’d expose myself to too much ridicule).

The one last bit of Jake’s life we need to talk about is his job. It’s horrible. He has a nice group of work-friends who band together for mutual support (and complaints), but the atmosphere at work is toxic, and their superiors would be enough to turn anyone against their chosen field. For example, in the first chapter, Jake’s two-year anniversary with the company happens and he asks his boss about scheduling his annual review (which will hopefully involve a raise, which he could really use). His boss stammers and suggests an alternate date, nine months away. Yeah, Jake’s bad attitude toward work makes a little sense, doesn’t it?

I worked as a draftsman at an architecture firm some years ago, and while the atmosphere there wasn’t at all what Jake experienced, Hanover did do a great job of capturing the kind of work and personalities that I saw—which doesn’t really match the typical depiction of architects in fiction. I liked that bit of realism. (I asked Hanover about that in an upcoming Q&A, but I haven’t read his responses yet, looking forward to seeing where that authenticity came from).

Getting back to Jake’s life—what we have here is a stagnant (at best) relationship that’s got a couple of pretty big things to work through; a job situation that needs addressing; and a new friend that is really the only positive thing in his life. Jake’s life is basically begging to be shaken up, is Kaylee going to help instigate that?

There’s something about Hanover’s style that I can’t express, but I wish I could. This book (like last year’s Not Famous) is effortless to read. When I started this book, it was late in the day and I thought I’d just stick a toe in the water, maybe read about 10% of it. Before I knew it, I was about a third into the book (and were it not for the time of day, I’d have probably finished it in one sitting!). It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s infectious, it’s engaging as anything I can remember. I cared about these characters and got invested in their lives faster than I typically do.

Jonathan Tropper tends to have certain character types that show up in every novel—particularly the wise sister/friend-who-might-as-well-be-sister* (many authors do this kind of thing, I know, but Tropper is who I thought of when I was reading this book). Hanover shows signs of the same thing—sisters play a big role in both of his novels to date. He doesn’t use them the same way that Tropper does, don’t get me wrong, but his male protagonists are more honest and open about their emotional lives because of sisters. This is neither good or bad, it’s just a trait that he may have—it’s something I’ll be looking for next time. (again, see the Q&A for more on this topic). I like that there’s someone who can draw this out of a character without the need for alcohol, drugs or trauma—also, that he bares his soul first to someone who isn’t a love interest.

* There are other types that Tropper utilizes constantly, too, if I ever get around to my big re-read of his corpus, I’ll end up compiling a chart.

There’s a bit of conventional wisdom discussed here that I didn’t know before reading this book.

“You realize that dancing is basically foreplay, right?”

“So I’ve heard.” [Jake replies]

Four chapters later:

“Because dancing is, like, totally foreplay, you know.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” [Jake asks]

I counted someone telling that to Jake four times (with at least one more allusion). Is this really a thing that everyone thinks/says? I may need to cancel some of my daughter’s plans for the next 20 years…

I’d forgotten that Hanover had said there’d be a link between Not Famous and this book. It’s small, and if you haven’t read his other novel, you won’t miss anything. But if you have, you’ll enjoy the brief catch-up you get about the lives of the protagonists of that novel. It brought a big grin to my face.

There was a slight flavor of Nick Hornby wanna-be-ness to Not Famous that’s not present here. Instead, what Hanover has done is take that same voice and put it to use telling a story that’s all him (while being the kind of thing that Hornby readers will appreciate). I do think that Hanover could go a bit deeper in his characterizations (I have very little sense about Jake apart from work/Lindsay) and his plots could add a little more complexity. I’m looking for a few degrees of depth/complexity, not much. But that doesn’t stop me from loving this world and characters, and it doesn’t keep me from encouraging you all to grab this book when it releases next month.

This heart-warming tale about being who you are and finding acceptance for it is a real winner. Adorkable, irresistible, and just fun—Not Dressed is sure to please (if you are so led, book is available for pre-order). I don’t know what Not Description is next for Hanover, but I’m already eager to read it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion and this post. I appreciate the book, but it didn’t sway what I had to say.


4 Stars

QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle (Translator): George Orwell Goes Shopping

QualityLand

QualityLand

by Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle (Translator)

eARC, 352 pg.
Orion Books, 2020

Read: February 13-15, 2020

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


When you boil it down, QualityLand is simply the epic tale of a man trying to return something he didn’t order (and doesn’t want) to an online retailer. Peter Jobless’s tale involves a paranoid hacker, a blackmail scheme, an armed stand-off, a smitten sex-bot, a TV news panel show, a revolutionary tablet computer, swaying a presidential election, and a revival of interest in the films of Jennifer Aniston. We’ve all been there, right?

There’s no way I could describe the plot in a way to do it justice—so we’ll stick with the broad sweep. Before much gets underway story-wise, there’s a lot of set up required. When the dominoes start to fall in earnest, they go quickly. But so much of the book is devoted to setting them up, establishing/explaining the culture, government and everyday life of the QualityLand’s citizenry.

Here’s the best part about the set-up time: it’s totally worth it, and the way the dominoes are being placed is enjoyable/entertaining enough that even if the results were duds, I wouldn’t really have minded all that much. The icing on the cake is that the plot works well (we’ve all seen too many examples of elaborate worldbuilding that accompany a story that’s not worth it).

This is a world given over to algorithms, a world where the algorithms of various retail entities know so much about their customers that they no longer have to wait for a customer to order something to provide it—no, the algorithm will know what you’re going to want and will deliver it before you know you want it.

Not only are all your possessions provided for you in this manner, the algorithm decides what kind of career you will pursue, but it will also guide and govern your romantic life, your health care, and so on and so on.

It even gets into politics—so much so that during the course of this novel, there is an android running for president—because, we’re told repeatedly (mostly by the candidate), “machines don’t make mistakes.” An android chief of state (the theory goes) will better all of society because the android will know what’s needed.

At each step of the way, as each aspect of society is introduced and explained, as each character appears for the first time, it’s done in a way that will make you grin, chuckle, or laugh. The world is so zany, so…out there—and yet, completely recognizable as a natural progression of our world/society/culture.

Unlike so many satirical novels, the ending of this novel doesn’t get out of control. The plotlines come to natural conclusions and resolve in a satisfying way.

The characters—from the Everyman Peter Jobless, to the campaign manager (she can give Malcolm Tucker some lessons on the use of words as weapons), to the history teacher’s trouble-maker daughter (in-person to public officials or in online comments), to Peter’s collection of electronic companions—are wonderful. They’re a little better rounded than I’m used to in satires.

There’s a wonderful playful quality to the language, making the whole thing a barrelful of fun. I’m assuming that Searle captured the feel of the original in that, and did a great job. There’s an acronym that’s used a couple of times, that I think may be funny in the original, but doesn’t translate into anything (at least as far as I can see). That one thing aside, the ability to make a translated text feel so natural, so easy is no small feat.

QualityLand is a fun read t’s a thought-provoking read, it is (occasionally) a frightening read as you realize how close to this dystopia we are (and how fast we’re running to it). I strongly recommend this one.


4 Stars


My thanks to Tracy Fenton and Compulsive Readers for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) provided.


This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling

I’m excited to welcome the Book Tour for QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling this morning. I’ve got this little spotlight post and my take on the novel coming along in a bit. But let’s start by learning a little about this book, okay?

Book Details:

Book Title: QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle (Translator)
Publisher: Orion
Release date: February 20, 2020
Format: Hardcover
Length: 352 pages
QualityLand

Book Blurb:

Everything in QualityLand is geared towards optimizing your life. QualityPartner identifies your ideal mate, earworm personal assistants get you where you need to go and android drones know you need a six pack of beer at the end of a long day even before you crave one. Humans, robots and algorithms co-exist, everything is seamlessly corporatised, stratified and monetized. Your very name reveals much of what we need to know about you and your profile discloses the rest.

Peter Jobless is a down and out metal press operator, dumped by his long term girlfriend when she is alerted to a better option on her QualityPad. But Peter has another problem – he seems to be the only one noticing that his fellow Qualityland robot citizens are experiencing an existential crisis. There is a drone who’s afraid to fly. A sex droid with erectile dysfunction. A combat robot with PTSD. Instructed to destroy these malfunctioning A.I., Peter starts to suspect the technology that rules us all has a flaw, perhaps a fatal one. Not only that, these robots might be his only friends…

 

About the Author:

Marc-Uwe KlingMarc-Uwe Kling is one of the most successful authors in Germany. His latest book QualityLand is an astounding satire of the future that sometimes feels closer to the present than you could wish for. QualityLand spent months on the German bestseller lists, has up to now been translated into twenty-four languages and the HBO is planning an adaptation with Mike Judge as show runner.


My thanks to Tracy Fenton and Compulsive Readers for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) provided.