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.

Radio silence

So my neighborhood’s Internet service died yesterday afternoon (probably more than just my neighborhood, actually, but that’s what I know). I’m assured that technicians are working on it and we’ll be back online by Monday morning.

Good grief.

Anyway, that’s why there was no Friday oath the Founding, why there’ll probably be no Saturday Miscellany, and nothing else until Tuesday. I’ll try to use this time to draft some other posts, but as my family won’t have Hulu, Netflix or social media to entertain us, we may end up-gasp-interacting with each other and I may end up accomplishing anything.

Also, this is the first time I’ve tried, and I’ve decided that I hate composing on the Android version of the WP app. Just in case anyone was wondering.

The Dead of Winter by A. B. Gibson: A Creepy Tale Perfect for October Reading

The Dead of Winter

The Dead of Winter

by A. B. Gibson

Kindle Edition, 154 pg.
Consolidated Gibson, 2017

Read: October 10-11, 2019

I’m going to preface this post with this: The Dead of Winter is not my kind of book. That’s not an evaluative statement—I didn’t read the blurb as carefully as I should’ve, it’s just not the kind of thing I’d typically read. Like collections of haiku, Amish Romances, or Military Fiction. Given that, take what I’m going to say with the appropriately-sized portion of salt, it’s probably better than I think it is.

When I was in junior high/high school, I remembered we’d frequently find ourselves watching some Horror/Thriller kind of movie where a handful of teens/young adults would go on a trip, find themselves in a remote area being terrorized/hunted/killed by locals. Sometimes they’d get away (sometimes they wouldn’t); sometimes they’d stop the locals (sometimes they wouldn’t); more often than not, it’d be a mixture of the two and any victory would be Pyrrhic.

In this case, we have 5 twenty-somethings who agree to meet at the Pumpkin Patch Bed and Breakfast for a weekend of picking apples and pumpkins and having fun with hayrides and the Giant Corn Maze.

One of their number (the one who was supposed to arrive first), isn’t around when the others check-in, they assume she’s uncharacteristically decided to not come at the last minute. Then another guest comes to them with a warning about strange happenings and disappearances around the B&B, which they just laugh off. The hayride features some horror F/X that’s disturbingly real and the scarecrows are dressed really fashionably.

Which gets the friends set on edge and starting to wonder if the other guest was on to something—if only she hadn’t left in the middle of the night so they could ask her some questions.

Before they realize what’s happening, the four are separated and largely isolated; Ma and Pa seem to be less hospitable and down-homey; and their children are less eccentric and not-well-socialized and more menacing and disturbing. Things get worse from there.

The plot was at the same time exactly what you know it’s going to be, yet it kept going in unexpected directions with unexpected results. It plays to the conventions of the genre but not always in the ways you’d predict.

The young professionals and other guests weren’t as fleshed out and developed as you might hope—but they don’t need to be for this kind of story. Their antagonists aren’t either, but they are more multifaceted and are the embodiment of hazardous. Which is exactly what you want.

As I said, the book was never really going to work for me. But it kept me engaged, kept me turning the pages, and kept me wondering just how messed up the ending was going to be (the answer: very). The Dead of Winter didn’t make a fan out of me, but I can easily see where it’d make fans of many other people. I hope it finds its audience—and if you’re the kind of reader who likes this sort of story, you should really give it a shot.

3 Stars

My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Love Books Group

Saturday Miscellany—9/7/19

Not a big crop this week, but some good stuff. Here are the odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire—Toby, the Luidaeg, and Selkies—what more could anyone want out of the 13th Toby Daye? It’s been sitting on my shelf since Tuesday, and I’ve been kicking myself for agreeing to post about things so I can’t get to it yet. I need to plan better.
  • The Nobody People by Bob Proehl—Proehl’s second novel looks like a literary version of the X-Men. Looks good.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Isabelle @ BookwyrmBites, KATO NASHIF, William Johnson, tourinfonepal and AKidneyStory (I’ve been reading their stuff for a few months, and really appreciate this blog) for following the blog this week.

Death Before Coffee by Desmond P. Ryan: A Veteran Detective Faces Fresh Challenges

Death Before CoffeeDeath Before Coffee

by Desmond P. Ryan
Series: Mike O’Shea, #2

Kindle Edition, 245 pg.
Copper Press Publishing, 2019
Read: April 9 – 10, 2019

Detective Mike O’Shea is a detective with a couple of reputations — many know him as a cop’s cop, one who gets the job done right. Everyone knows him as one of two detectives who were on the hunt for a prostitution ring (that specialized in underage girls) and one particular runaway teen that came thiiis close to breaking the ring before his partner was killed and he almost was, too. The killer got away and O’Shea was left with a cloud over him. No matter what he’s done since, all his achievements are colored by that failure.

We join O’Shea as he’s transferred to a new platoon, with a new partner (Ron Roberts, who can’t seem to cope with the idea that he’s not in traffic anymore – he’s the only cop that I can remember in Crime Fiction who seems to think that’s a good place to work). Before they can really get a feel for each other (beyond previous knowledge and inherent prejudice), they’re called to the scene of a homicide. A one-legged man was beaten to death and dumped in a residential area.

The uniform on scene is not the shiniest star that the Academy has produced, but O’Shea and Roberts get things started enough that when the Homicide team shows up the investigation is well under-way. DS Amanda Black is tough, smart and driven and directs this investigation like her career depends on it.

We follow — O’Shea and Roberts through the preliminary stages of the investigation, through some hiccups caused by overzealous colleagues up to the hunt for their prime suspect. We also get a few scenes with just Black. Those are insightful, but feel pretty weird — there are so few scenes without O’Shea involved that anytime he’s not “on screen” it feels strange.

Along with this hunt, O’Shea continues to deal with the investigation that made his reputation — as much as he can while staying off the radar of his superiors — a suicidal retired cop, and his family. His marriage is all but over, but his siblings, son and mother are a very present realities for him. We could’ve gotten more time with his son for my taste (and probably O’Shea’s, now that I think of it). This all takes place over the course of a few days and O’Shea seems almost as in need of a good night’s sleep and a good cup of coffee as he is in getting resolution to any of his cases.

The novel is well-paced and it takes no time at all to get sucked into the story. This has all the hallmarks of a solid crime novel and police procedural. O’Shea is the kind of old school detective that readers love, Roberts has a lot of potential as a character and Black could easily dethrone O’Shea as the series’ focus (I’m not suggesting she will, but she’s written in a way that it could happen without anyone complaining).

I do have a few issues with the book, naturally. Things that detracted from my enjoyment, things that kept me from being over the moon with is (and it had that potential), but nothing that ultimately was that problematic.

This is the second of a intended six-book series and really reads that way. Can it be read as a stand-alone? Yes, but it’d be far more satisfying as part of a series (well, I expect it would be, anyway). There are some aspects of the timeline that I’m not convinced I can buy, but maybe with some context I could. Similarly, while this book and the main plotline do have definite conclusions, it feels like Ryan just presses “Pause” on so many other things it’s a little annoying. I’m not talking cliffhangers (minor or otherwise), it’s more of a “well, we’re done talking about this for a bit” kind of feel. Whether it pushes you to the next book is irritating, probably depends on the reader.

That last idea probably ties in to the realism vibe Ryan is going for. Which is great — to a point. We all like the idea of something realistic, no matter the genre, really At least we all say we do — but aren’t so much of us really looking for types of satisfaction that reality can’t provide? Especially in crime fiction — we want the kind of resolution not available in our lives. Ryan’s depiction of himself as a realistic writer works against him as much as it works for him. He has a little note to the reader before the novel assuring the reader “I’m an ex-cop, I’ve done this stuff, this is how it is.” Pretty much insulating himself from criticism of a lot that goes on in the book unless you’re prepared to bring an armload of research to bear. That note actually prejudiced me against the book, it reeked of someone who “doth protest too much,” and just set my teeth on edge. Show me your realism, show me your authenticity and convince me of it — don’t boast about it. It took me a long time to shake that bad first impression, but I do think I was able to push past it — but I’d have liked O’Shea and the rest a lot more if I hadn’t had to.

Ryan has a strong voice and uses it to give the right details to provide a very compelling read — it’s fast, gritty and with characters that’ll stick with you after you’ve moved on to your next read. Was it as good as it could have been? No, but not because of an inherent weakness, just because Ryan didn’t do enough with his strengths — but he’s got four more books in this series to fulfill the promise. I had a good time reading Death Before Coffee and I bet you will, too.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided — including the book, which did not influnce my opinion.


3 Stars

The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo by James Bailey: This Kid’s Struggles will Bring A Smile to Your Face

The First World Problems of Jason Van OtterlooThe First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo

by James Bailey
Series: The Jason Van Otterloo Trilogy, Book 1

Kindle Edition, 193 pg.
Read: March 15, 2019

Subject: New worst day of my life

If you have stock in me, sell it now. Or is it buy? Buy low, right? Then buy, buy, buy, because if JVO shares go any lower it can only mean I’m dead. Nothing is going right and everything is going wrong. Very wrong.

It’s been awhile since I read an epistolary novel (maybe Where’d You Go, Bernadette? — oh, and The Summer Holidays Survival Guide from last year — duh — I should stop thinking before I have to rewrite this whole paragraph), but I’ve always enjoyed them. There’s something about the structure, the conceit, the immediacy of it all that really appeals to me, and has since the day I first cracked the cover of Dear Mr. Henshaw 35 years ago or so.

This particular novel is a collection of e-mails from fifteen year-old Jason Van Otterloo (known by some as Otterpop, others just call him Jason) and his friends over the summer of 2003 in Seattle. This is a good setting for the book — it’s before the ubiquity of cell-phones/texting among teens, but at a time they could be emailing several times a day and it not seem strange (like it would in the mid-90s). I don’t know if that was Bailey’s thought process, but it’s what occurred to me. The emails are primarily Jason’s — not just because he’s prolific, but that’s a lot of it. Incidentally, I only caught one thing that jumped out at me as an anachronism — which is about the best that I can think of in an indie book set in the past (I don’t go looking for them, but they jump out at me. Binge-watching wasn’t a thing in 2003. At least not by that name)

Jason’s a pretty bookish kid who loves classic movies — not just AMC (back when that’s what the station was about), but there’s a theater near his home that shows old movies. His best friend, Drew (the recipient of most of his emails), frequently goes to those with him — they also play video games together, generally at Drew’s. Jason’s parents, Janice and Rob, aren’t in the running for Parents of the Year, to say the least. I’m not sure at what point Jason lost enough respect for the that he started calling them by their first name, but it could have been when he was pretty young. On the other hand, there’s enough venom in it (at least the way it reads to me) that it might be a recent development.

Janice shows the occasional burst of maternal activity or instinct, but it’s rare. Rather than a father, Rob seems like the bullying older brother character in most books I read as a kid. But in general, the two of them act like they’re stuck in their early 20’s — coming home from work long enough to greet each other and Jason, then they leave (not together) to meet up with friends and get drunk. Occasionally, they’ll get into a fight with each other, but nothing too serious. It doesn’t appear there’s any intentional abuse — physical or mental. It’s primarily neglect that they’re guilty of. Over the course of the summer, Rob does say a few things that will likely cause emotional scars when Jason has a few years to think about them, but they’re unintentionally mean (one was said when Rob was attempting to be nice and fatherly).

Generally, Jason’s e-mails are about whatever antics his parents are up to, arranging to meet Drew or whoever else, Jason’s soliciting Drew for advice about a girl he meets (he ignores almost everything Drew says, to the reader’s amusement and Drew’s frustration), and Jason recruiting Drew or someone to get summer jobs together. There’s an ongoing thread about a new neighbor who enjoys sunbathing, and Jason enjoys (hopefully surreptitiously) watching her. Rob enjoys watching her, too, but doesn’t bother trying to be surreptitious.

Jason’s emails are largely self-centered. Most of the stories told are his, not Drew’s. He does seem to care about Drew and is interested when Drew unloads a little. But largely, the relationship seems to be about Drew listening to Jason. Drew gets something out of it, however — maybe offline — because he seems emotionally-centered enough (for a fifteen year-old) to not put up with Jason as much as he does, if Jason just didn’t contribute anything to the friendship. Just don’t ask me what it is. His self-centeredness seems typical for his age, and it doesn’t make him a bad kid — just a selfish one, and a lot of that is because he’s never been parented by anyone who has a clue. Although, really, I’m not sure how many kids who have been well-parented who don’t act like that.

His parent’s (individually and corporately) show a signs of self-improvement — AA, marriage counseling, and others. Jason is openly skeptical about these efforts — perhaps because he’s seen similar things before. Not only is he skeptical, but he seems to actively subvert these efforts. It seems odd for a kid who spends so much time complaining about his parents to complain about them trying to be better — but it’s honest. He doesn’t believe in them, so why get his hopes up that this time will be any different? Sure, from the reader’s perspective it’s easy to say that these reforms might be longer-lived if he supported them. But from Jason’s? Nah.

There is a little character development over the course of the novel — but not a lot, But it’s just a few months, so there shouldn’t be a lot, right? What’s there seems genuine and true to the character — which is great. At the end of the day, you’ll have enjoyed watching Jason struggle and survive — learning enough to keep going.

Jason’s optimistic and amusing — which is says a lot about him. The whole book is told with a light touch –it’s not overly comic, but you grin as Jason recounts his latest embarrassment with Gina, or Rob’s most recent humiliating escapades — or even as he and Drew talk about their mutual astonishment when another friend has some romantic success. Things are bad, but they’re not bleak. They’re even kind of fun.

The cover, by the way, is perfect. It not only reflects a plot point, but it encapsulates the feel of the book. In a figurative sense the world pees on Jason the way this dog literally does. Yet, it’s kinda cute and amusing while it’s happening. Several good things happen to the boy, but overall, the book is about his problems (right?) and his reactions to them.

I don’t know what a YA reader would think of this — I imagine they’d find Jason relatable and likeable, but I’m not sure. But for those of us with enough distance from their YA days, it’s something that can be read with an air of “I remember when life was like that.” Even if it’s set over a decade later than my own teen years, I know people like Jason, I had friends who had a Gina in their life, and I dreamed of a girl like Sian. I’m probably not alone in this. This is a comfort-food kind of read — it’s entertaining and makes you feel good. I get kind of a Thomas Rockwell or 80’s version of Todd Strasser feel from this, very much a Lad Lit starter kit kind of thing, now that I think about it — which is good. Young Adults need something that’s not dystopian. There’s a sequel coming out in a week or two, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.


3.5 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Baptism: Answers to Common Questions by Guy M. Richard: A Solid and Encouraging Introduction to a Complicated Topic

Baptism: Answers to Common QuestionsBaptism: Answers to Common Questions

by Guy M. Richard

eARC, 129 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019
Read: February 3, 2019

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book on baptism — it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a new one published, too (but maybe I stopped paying attention), so when I saw this on NetGalley, I had to take a chance. I’m very glad I did. Richard discusses in his introduction that questions about this sacrament are some of the most frequently asked to Presbyterian (and, I assume, Reformed) pastors. Sadly, they’re usually asked when pastors can’t give the kind of answers they should — at least based on his experience.

He begins looking at the meaning of Baptism — both the Greek terms translated as “baptism” and the sacrament. He does so very well, covering all the bases. Following that he moves to the method of baptism — how should the water be applied? Once he’s finished with these matters he moves into the more complicated question — who should be baptised? He begins with the “household” baptisms in the New Testament before turning to the objections and arguments of Baptist and baptistic brothers. He not only examines and explains them fairly well, he responds to them in an irenic manner, but not giving an inch to them.

The conclusion, “What Can We Take Away from All This” is just fantastic. Richard’s meditations on how our baptisms should shape our lives and our faith, to build our faith and give us assurance. It’s easily worth half of whatever you pay for the book, and maybe more.

This is probably not a book that will convince any detractors. It may not be enough to convince the earnest seeker. But it will explain the basics for each topic considered. It will demonstrate the systematic and biblical basis for Richard’s positions exists and they aren’t mere tradition. These are outlines to be filled in with further reflection, reading and research by the reader.

Along those lines, each chapter could really use a “For Further Reading” to help the reader get deeper into the topics covered — or one at the end of the book. But I do think as each chapter is so topic-focused, it’d be very helpful. As good as each chapter is, they are just an overview. Not every reader is going to want to go deeper into, say, the mode/method of baptism but they might want to spend more time on the meaning of Baptism, or his response to Baptist interpretations of Jeremiah 31. For example, I think I agree with his differing from Murray on the former — but I’d like to read more about that, if it’s possible.

Richard’s tone throughout is gracious, kind, yet unbending. It’s not easy to putt off in print, especially on a topic like Baptism. There were many times he could’ve gone for the jugular, rhetorically speaking. He never did, trusting that the arguments would carry the day. And, in my not so humble opinion, he’s right to trust that.

Gracious, encouraging, thorough and easy to read — this introduction to “the waters that divide” Christians is just what you want in a book on this topic. But more than those, it’s deeply biblical in nature. Richard’s focus in bringing the light of the canon to this topic, and he succeeds there. I strongly encourage you to read it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.


4 Stars