Review: Queenpin by Megan Abbott

It’s a noir tale as old as the genre itself. A sharp young teen or twenty-something is toiling away in a two-bit operation — maybe legal, maybe not — when one day, in walks The Boss. The Boss notices something special about our protagonist and soon, that former nobody is The Boss’s protégé, slowly and surely seduced by the perks that come with keeping The Boss happy.

Megan Abbott’s Queenpin tells that tale with a simple yet transformative twist: The Boss and the protégé are both women.

We never learn the name of the novel’s narrator, whom we first meet cooking the books at a crummy club called the Tee Hee. That’s just as well, because the main character of the novel is really the Queenpin, Gloria Denton, who plucks The Girl (as we’ll call her for this review) out of the Tee Hee and brings her into a much bigger and more ambitious organization.

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Review: The Jack Reacher Series

This summer at a wedding, I found myself seated next to an editor at a top national press. We began discussing our reading lists, and after putting in my mandatory plug for Jhumpa Lahiri and NK Jemisin, I half-sheepishly admitted that I love the Jack Reacher books. Her response? “I love those too!” We then began discussing how excited we were for the new Jack Reacher novel, Never Go Back.

At first I was surprised to find another literature-loving woman who had read and liked these books, but after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that the only other Reacher fan I know is a woman who’s a tenured professor at a top-five university. There’s something about these semi-cheesy airplane thrillers that appeals to devout readers — and particularly to women. So what makes us love Jack Reacher? I’ve got some ideas.

1. The female characters don’t suck. Although Reacher goes through a series of one-book love interests, Lee Child has a knack for writing strong, competent women — they’re characters in their own right, not sex objects who are only in the books to prove that Reacher gets laid regularly. In fact, the Reacher series even has several interesting female characters who don’t sleep with Reacher. I know! Amazing!

2. Reacher isn’t just a punching and shooting machine. Sure, he’s a huge muscular guy who’s used to winning five-on-one fights without breaking a sweat, but he’s also the kind of guy who will remember a briefing he was once given on how to spot suicide bombers in minute detail. He’s scary in a fight but he’s also a dogged investigator who excels at putting together puzzles and is constitutionally incapable of leaving a question unanswered. It’s interesting to spend time with him even when he’s not punching bad guys.

3. Lee Child is a pretty darn good writer. No, he’s not going to win a set-the-scene prose contest with Jhumpa Lahiri, at least not if you ask him to describe a Cambridge kitchen. But boy does he know how to create suspense. Child also manages to convince the reader of Reacher’s intelligence without ever using the word “smart” to describe Reacher, either directly or indirectly. That kind of show-don’t-tell writing is harder to pull off than you might think! Furthermore, Reacher’s height (six-foot-five) and muscular build aren’t just cosmetic details described at the beginning of the book and then forgotten; the Reacher books have an incredible physicality to them. Reacher’s size matters. In almost every novel, Reacher’s size plays a role in how he handles a confrontation or a chase. Reacher also looks threatening and he knows it, which determines a lot of how Reacher interacts with the people around him.

Interested in the Reacher series and wondering where to start? They can pretty much be read in any order, so don’t worry about picking the “wrong” entry point. That said, I have some favorites and less-favorites in the series. Since I’m still on the waiting list for Never Go Back, I’ve written bite-sized reviews of each and every one of the Jack Reacher books and ranked them in order of quality, with 1 being my very favorite Reacher novel. Ready? Begin!

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Review: Sandman Slim and Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey

Urban fantasy is a genre that I find a little dicey. On the one hand, it gives you the complete brilliance of War for the Oaks and Neverwhere. On the other hand, it gives you the Anita Blake novels. Still, there’s something about magic in a modern setting that’s undeniably fun, and so when Chuck Wendig posted this list of reader-favorite urban fantasy, I went right to the first one on the list that I hadn’t read: the Sandman Slim series. So far I’ve finished two, Sandman Slim and Kill the Dead.

In Sandman Slim, James Stark — soon to be known as “Sandman Slim” in the world of demons and angels — escapes from Hell after ten years battling in Colosseum-style fights to the death. He heads back to his hometown to wreak havoc on the people who sent him there–and who killed his girlfriend Alice. In Kill the Dead, Stark has carved out a place for himself in the Los Angeles supernatural community and finds himself on-call for some unusual missions.

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Review: Killing Floor by Lee Child

I am probably the last person in the whole entire world to have learned about Lee Child.  Apparently his series about ex-Marine badass Jack Reacher has sold over 40 million books.  I only learned about the series when I picked up on the fan outrage surrounding the decision to cast Tom Cruise as Reacher in an upcoming movie.*  The description of the Reacher books intrigued me.  They sounded like solid airplane thrillers, so I placed a library hold and patiently waited my turn to read the first Reacher novel, Killing Floor.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.  I expected, and received, over-the-top villains, gory violence, and some ridiculous coincidences.  What I didn’t expect was a likable love interest, a great supporting character/sidekick, and a surprisingly thoughtful protagonist.

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