Cover Image: Queen of Spades

Queen of Spades

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Member Reviews

I no nothing about casinos or gambling, but thought this story was intriguing enough to read. I haven't read the original by Pushkin, but intend to seek it out when I have more time (so many books.....!). I enjoyed the characters and found the setting interesting. I liked the way the whole book meandered, but ultimately tied up so neatly!
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I will not be reviewing this title. I feel that this is no more in my comfort zone of reading and the subject no more interests me.
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This book was a bit of a strange mixture for me where i loved the idea and parts of the story, but the overall way it was told, written and structured just felt... off in some way for me. It didn't seem as if it all was completely thought through completely from start to finish or as if later on some parts were added. 
Still an interesting book just not the smoothest read.
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Wasn’t sure what I was going to think about this – it was a bit out of my comfort zone and I have not read the short story the novel is based on. But I thought the author did a wonderful job developing the characters and I found myself fascinated with the behind the scenes workings of the casino. Nice debut and an enjoyable read. I think it would make a great movie! 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Queen of Spades is the debut novel by Michael Shou-Yung Shum, who for several years dealt poker at a not-so-top-of-the-line casino in Lake Stevens, Washington. He also holds doctorates in both psychology and English. Among other things, he once worked as a traveling Rave DJ across America. None of this odd vitae is wasted on him. In this smart, mysterious, and sometimes magical retelling of the classic Pushkin short story of the same name, Shum brings all his past experiences to life. 

The story takes place in Snoqualmie, Washingon, a suburban community about ten minutes from Seattle. The big casino is at the center of the economy and the characters who inhabit this novel. Those include a recovering gambler trying to work a cultish 12-step program and having some difficulty, not just because of the bizarre leader of the group but also because of her former boyfriend; he is not in recovery. There is a pit boss who has six months to live, a newly hired dealer, and a mysterious elderly, and quite wealthy, woman who appears to have a system. They call her the Countess, not unlike the original short story. 

I didn’t know a lot about the card game Faro when I started the book. I felt Shum gave enough information to educate without talking down to his readers. He manages to capture the dysfunction of those who live around gambling but also the skill it takes to play the game. Some of his descriptions of dealing cards are mesmerizing. Do face cards really have different weights because of the extra ink? There is having a gift at cards. There is sheer luck. And then there is magic.
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Adapting a 19th Century Russian fable into a contemporary setting, albeit one 30 some years back in the hey-days of the early eighties, and from a first-time author no less, can be considered a gamble. With Queen Of Spades, Michael Shou-Yung Shum doubles down and beats the house. And as much as I would like for that to be the last gambling metaphor of the review, the speed and tone of the book simply will not allow me to throw down markers on Odd when the roulette wheel will definitely come up Even. Shum, you see, has a way of stacking the deck in his favor.

Set in a unique casino in the Pacific Northwest, Queen Of Spades focuses on a new dealer and his quest to understand the system of Countess, a legend in those parts who only plays the high-stake tables. Shum deals in other players, a dying pit boss, a sad-sack gambler, the ex-wife attending 12-step recovery meetings, a palm-reading teen among others, whose tales are just as unique to that of the dealt hand. More Robert Altman than Woody Allen, although Shum plays tight with themes of both humor and friendship, Shum focuses on his cast of characters, ensuring the prime players are available for the climatic big deal. By the end of that hand, and the read, when all players have called, a few of those folded tales become lost amongst the victory of others, and is a slight problem that is easily forgotten and forgiven.

Shum has a light, easy tone making Queen Of Spades a fun read not only through his narrative, but also as he picks and tempts with the theory of the gamble, the strategy behind the play, and how luck envelops it all.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Forest Avenue Press for dealing me into this well-played round. I feel like a winner.
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A pit boss, a Countess, a dealer, and a recovering gambler meet in the High Limit Salon for a game of Faro.

At least that's how the story ends. This book is about chance, and the events that led to that faithful night in the Royal Casino.

And here, you're introduced to the characters, and the events that led them there.

This Michael Shou-Yung Shum's debut novel is based on Pushkin's short tale "The Queen of Spades". It is a work of fiction, best described as a gambling fairy tale, with suspenseful writting, full of twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. A suspenseful thriller if you will, that will not only introduce you to the characters, but put you in their shoes, make you go through their daily routines and present gambling to you through a new set of eyes. A definite must read for any fan of good writting.
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Queen of Spades is a retelling of the classic by Pushkin of the same name. I really enjoyed the look into the reality of gambling with its highs and lows.
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While I am not familiar with the Pushkin tale that inspired this book, I enjoyed the tale as told here. The greatest strength of the book is the fantastic cast of characters, each with a particular link to gambling, from the dealer to the recovering addict to the mysterious Countess who gambles vast sums on the single turn of the card. Each character is well developed as are the connections between them, and it is these connections and relationships that drive the plot of the book to it's dramatic and unexpected conclusion. A few loose ends were just a little to neatly tied up for my liking but other than that the book was an engaging read and one that I would recommend. I also found that I learned about card games and their history while reading, so it was informative as well as entertaining. 
I reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley.
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Unfortunately I did not finish this book. I went into expecting something totally different then what it turned out to be and it just wasn't something that I'm interested in. 

Perhaps if I continued reading further I would of gotten hooked, but it just didn't pull me in.
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A very interesting well written book.   It involved gambling at a casino and I admit as a non gambler, I did not understand all the jargon., but the author kept the book moving and very interesting, and thus provided an insight to how casinos operate..  Quite a mix of characters, one very mysterious, powerful  lady who had a strange, but insightful way of winning, that Chan (one of the dealers) was determined to seek out.   A great summer, I recommend it.
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I had no idea a story about casino dealers would hold my attention, especially when there were 13 rules for the game Faro described in the beginning pages. But it did hold my attention. What hit home the most for me was the way Shou-Yung Shum juxtaposed the mathematical probabilities of winning, where one takes into account the weight of the ink on the cards, and the effect of gravity at certain times of the year such as solstices; against pure intuition and luck, where one considers sensations felt in the body, lucky streaks, and matters simply intuited. We get the feeling he’s talking about more than cards.

Arturo Chan, a new dealer at the Royal, deals mathematically, feeling the weight of the cards, and using probabilities in his calculations. Sam Chimsky, a high-limit dealer unhappily divorced from Barbara, deals intuitively, focusing all his mental energies on feeling the placement of cards and leaving the rest to chance. The way these two dealers handle the cards with the mysterious gambler, The Countess, will determine their fate.

The Countess is an intriguing character and I don’t recall meeting one like her in other novels. She has her own chair in the high limits room. She often watches the play without betting. Other times, she places a single bet of $25,000 or more. Her one time $100,000 winning is legendary at the Royal. She never loses. The dealers believe she has a system, but no one can figure out what it is. Chan is so intrigued, he investigates and learns she donated the $100,000 she won to a school. Still, he cannot determine that she lives anywhere other than her Rolls Royce Phantom driven by her assistant, even though from her winnings alone, she’s very wealthy. “[S]he played. . .as a reason to live.” The Countess is a gambler who plays using mathematical principles. 

Enter Barbara Chimsky, a one-time Gamblers Anonymous member and Sam Chimsky’s ex-wife. She can’t resist buying a lottery ticket and wins $1000. Barbara believes in lucky streaks unlike the Countess. She goes on a wild ride.

It was fun to learn that dealers, too, like to gamble. A memorable scene among three dealers occurs at the horse races. It seems dealers have developed their own systems. Do dealers beat the odds?

What bugged me at the end of this novel was realizing I had to stop and think about who the protagonist was. There were several strong characters, all of whom had conflicts and resolutions. I believe the least interesting character, Mannheim, the pit boss, was the protagonist. We learn the day he hires Chan that he is dying of dementia. He seeks help from a young boy who is prescient and a special kind of doctor who can see his aura and help prepare him for death. The two fall in the category of living life through intuition and feelings and help Mannheim do the same. These three could have been interesting, but they weren't. Their characters were hardly developed.

Both the people who live life with precision and mathematically calculate their odds, and those who live by intuition sensing their way through life, experienced magical occurrences. Overall, who is better off, the former or the latter?

Queen of Spades held promise but somehow the structure was off. Mannheim’s character development was lacking. Who is he? Why should I care he’s dying? If he’s not the protagonist, who is? This novel read more like a draft of one that could be really good but missed the mark.

I appreciated getting a sneak peek from Net Galley.

P.S. I have never read Pushkin's novel. Maybe this one would have made more sense. But I think novels should stand on their own.
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While I've never read the original Pushkin story, this novel is thoroughly enjoyable. It had the flavor of a retelling, but it still seemed original and had its own personality. All the characters are well-written and relatable, and while we don't learn too much about their past (I would have enjoyed a little more detail), there is enough so that we can understand each character and carry on with the story.
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This was such an intriguing read! I loved seeing how the characters' storylines blended for the big finale.
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Enjoyable insiders tale - aimed at recounting an amazing win one night at Faro a rare game played in the back of the casino, we work up to the night - the players from dealers to card gamers. Issues are tackled too in the character's lives - Chan crossed a line (or was seen to) and now a former colleague has his over a barrel - a dying manager has his final wish to head up the high dealing Faro room - a couple deeply in debt trying to get away from gambling just get in deeper ... and a mysterious Countess who senses when a fix is on, and capitalises on it - astute assessments of character in what is a claustrophobic surrounding - very highly manipulated tensions and no easy way to say who is the 'good guy' - I was surprised how much I was engaged by this ... I hope the writer will go on for more - he knows his stuff.
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Fantastic debut; would make a great movie. Vivid, interesting characters that felt fresh.
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Queen of Spades is a book with a slightly, magical-leaning look at gambling. It's set in a pacific north west USA town (Twilight country in my mind), in a casino called The Royal. We focus on a dealer called Arturo Chang and his obsession with a mysterious Countess who comes to the Royal every night to watch the high stakes game Faro. She rarely gambles, though does occasionally, and no one can figure out her system.

I'm not a gambler, I don't go to casinos and I don't know the rules of these games. Queen of Spades doesn't require any of this knowledge and it doesn't get bogged down with the games. We learn early on that there is one legendary game of Faro played at the Royal, and we are building up to this game and its consequences.

You get to know a whole cast of characters who are all associated with The Royal and it's a really enjoyable read. There's a dealer with a gambling problem, his ex-wife who attends a support group for gamblers, his bookie and his bookie's goons - who really just want to open a salon and gym! It's nice to read something about such different characters to the ones I normally read about.

I enjoyed reading Queen of Spades and recommend it of you want an interesting look into a world of gamblers.
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Proof from Netgalley (released this October). Apparently it's an adaptation from the famous Pushkin short story of the same name. I can't claim to know the original only that the world of gambling and gambling literature intrigues me. It was a short tale but I connected with the characters and the setting but due to my ignorance, I can only assume there are many underlying themes in 'Queen of Spades' which allude my limited brainspace. I'm sure there are metaphors a plenty but for me, it was a decent and at times, exciting romp in a casino.
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The suspense is killing me! This story is placed in Western Washington in a little town that only the locals might know. Makes the book even more special to Washingtonians. That aside this is a all around fantastic story. Very well devolved involving a tangled web around the Royal Casino. From the first bet placed you are hooked. The author does a fantastic job including explanations of the different type of games and casino life without boring the avid card play or insult the ignorant.  You might even learn a new card trick or two. You will have a hard time putting this book down
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