recommendations and reviews for the aspiring reader

recommendations and reviews for the aspiring reader

Recommendation: Chances


by Jackie Collins

” Costa Zennacotti stared at the girl sitting across from hi, his ornate carved wood desk separating them She spoke rapidly, gesticulating wildly, making faces to emphasize a point. Christ! He hated himself for having such thoughts, but she was the most sensual woman he had ever laid eyes on. . . 

“Costa?” the girl questioned sharply. “Are you listening to me?”

“Of course, Lucky,” he replied quickly., embarrassed because she was only a slip of a girl — what was she now, twenty-seven or -eight? — and ye she was so bright and knowing. She probably knew what he was thinking. 

Lucky Santangelo. Daughter of his lifelong best friend, Gino. 

Child. Liberated lady. Temptress. Costa knew her as all of these things. 

“So you see” — she fumbled in an oversized Gucci bag and produced a pack of cigarettes — “no way is it the right time for my father to come back into the country. No way. You must stop him.” 

He shrugged. Sometimes she could be so stupid. How could she expect anyone to stop Gino doing exactly what he wanted? As his daughter, she above all others should know that. After all, Gino and Lucky, they were two of a kind, they were as alike as two separate people could ever hope to be. 

“Are you going to tell him?” she demanded. “Well?” She demanded. “Well? Are you?”

Costa thought it best not to mention that at that very moment Gino was in a jet circling the city. Soon he would be landing. Soon he would be back. Lucky would just have to face the fact that her father would be taking over again. “

There are few books that I have re-read.

It’s not that I don’t desire to or have the time to do so, I just simply have so many books that I want to read that  it’s difficult for me to re-read something just for the sake of it. My library is filled with dozens upon dozens of unread books and more come out each day that I can’t wait to get my hands on,  so many of my favorite books are safe from dog-eared pages and broken spines.

Not so the case for Chances, an epic novel written by notoriously acclaimed British author Jackie Collins. My copy of this book has been read so many times, that I finally had to break down and buy a new copy a few years ago. The binding was so badly broken that pages were falling out! I’ve read this book probably 100 times since I first picked it up at around age 13. . . not that I would ever allow my own 13-year old to read this; I snatched it from my aunt’s stash one summer when visiting my grandmother. I was bored and had already plowed through the few Babysitter’s Club books I’d thrown in my backpack. I found a box of paperback books abandoned in the closet and made my way quickly through them, my innocent and young mind blown by what I read in my first of many (I have read and own them all) Jackie Collins novels.

Jackie made her debut onto the writing scene with The World is Full of Married Men, a salacious novel that pushed and frequently broke the boundaries of etiquette and certainly of morality for the time it was published – but a book that could not be put down by most everyone who read it (even if they refused to admit being associated with it). The book was banned in a few areas, adding fuel to an already out of control fire, and pushed Collins to crank out several more scandalous stories (several of which have been transitioned into film).

Chances, however, choose a different path than that of her previous works. While the scandal was still there, as was the sex, the focus was on the story and it’s captivating characters. I call this novel “epic” because it spans several different decades and generations, as well as chronicling the lives of several very different main characters in extreme detail. The reader is consequently bonded to each character and the author weaves their lives into the other with such creativity and pizazz that I as an author myself, have always truly admired. Jackie Collins is the reason I wanted to write my own stories. She is the reason I write my characters with such description and with such depth. She is why I am drawn to strong female leads and she is why I love a good twist.

Reading Chances at age 13, I was introduced to Lucky Santangelo, a woman that I would begin to literarily follow for the next two decades. The Santangelo Novels span nine books, with Lucky being a (and sometimes the) main character in them all.

The book opens up with a city-wide blackout in 1970’s New York and the reader is introduced to all of the main characters in real time:

  • Lucky is a headstrong, talented, scrupulous woman who is also wild and sometimes unpredictable. Her father, the notorious crime boss Gino, is due to come back into the country after being exiled because of tax issues. She is appealing to his attorney (and lifelong best friend) to block her father’s return to life as she knows it and more importantly, to the business life. In Gino’s absence, Lucky has taken over – and she is unwilling to share the seat of power anyone – especially with her father. In a heated fury, Lucky leaves her mentor’s office and finds herself trapped in an elevator when the city plunges into darkness, sharing the enclosed space with a stranger named Steven Berkley, of which she has more in common than she could ever believe.
  • Steven Berkley is a successful black district attorney and is working on a case against high profile mobster Enzo Bonnatti (consequently, the man is also Lucky’s godfather),  when he finds himself encased in an elevator with an enigmatic and shocking young lady. He tries not to be attracted to her, but he just can’t help himself. Readers are introduced to his mother, Carrie, as she travels through the dangerous streets of Harlem on her way to pay a blackmailer who has been contacting her on the phone. Carrie currently lives a life of affluence and wealth, but that wasn’t always the case. Secrets from her past are threatening to destroy her quiet and contented life and she has to take matters into her own hands to protect everything she holds dear.
  • And finally, Dario Santangelo, who is Lucky’s younger brother.  The attractive but petulant young man finds himself trapped in his own apartment when the blackout hits. A one-night stand he picked up off the street is stalking him through the darkness with a knife and Dario has to wonder, did his father finally get fed up with his tawdry tastes and send someone to murder him?

After becoming somewhat acquainted with our main characters, we then are taken back in time to the year 1913. The story of Carrie and Gino’s lives are told in parallel and come together only briefly, but in a poignant and long lasting way. Carrie grew up poor, thrust into the world of prostitution at a very early age and was driven nearly into the ground by a deviant pimp who hooked her onto drugs in an attempt to further control her. Carrie tries to get her life together and is taken in by a benevolent patron who cleans her up and gives her a job as a maid, but it doesn’t last forever, forcing Carrie to strike out on her own again and pick up where she left off. The ups and downs of her life leave her near death, but she eventually finds a way to claw herself out of ruin and find love in the unlikeliest of places.

” The noise hit Carrie first. Early morning noises: children shouting, milk bottles clinking, dogs barking. 

Then the discomfort of lying on the ground with her foot throbbing and body shivering.

She opened her eyes and for one long moment thought she must be dreaming. She was lying in an alley — stark naked — and it was morning. She sat up in a panic. Where was Whitejack? Dolly? Lucille? How had she gotten here? What was happening? 

She hunched up, bringing her knees to her chest to cover her nakedness, and shrunk back against the wall. Her head hurt. Her throat was dry. Tears filled her eyes. 

What was she doing here? She blinked hard to stop the tears. Think Carrie. Think.

Vaguely she remembered a party. It was all a blur, really. Whitejack gave her a shot of magic and she went on and did her stuff. 

Frantically she stood up, pressing her back to the wall. It was then she realized she was in the alley outside her window. 

She threw herself into the room and only then allowed herself to break down in a paroxysm of sobbing. She was truly scared. It was getting so she didn’t know herself anymore. Drugs were killing her mind. They were killing her. “

Carrie gives birth to a son, a beautiful baby boy named Steven. He is the light of her life and her reason for everything. Under the guidance of his stepfather, Steven grows up to be an intelligent and successful man of color in a white man’s world, blessed with privilege and wealth. His journey isn’t always easy though, and his mother has to bail  him out a time or two – if unbeknownst to him at the time.

Gino is the teenage son of Italian immigrants, growing up in the hard parts of New York where he learns early on that an honest man can make an honest living, but it probably won’t be prosperous. It is the era of bootleg liquor and speakeasies and Gino is determined to get a cut of the pie. He strikes out on his own after years spent involved with two-bit gangster types and begins his own businesses – both on the up and up and on the down low. He meets who he believes to be the love of of his life and devotes himself to her from afar, only to have his heart beaten to a pulp, subsequently hardening him against women forever – or so he believes.

” At fifteen he was street-wise, a bright sharp boy who knew how to keep his mouth shut. He was admired and looked up to by the kids on the street. Sough out by the older boys when they could make good use of him on one of their minor jobs, and idolized by the girls. 

Grown-ups were suspicious of him: a fifteen-year-old boy with the bleak hard eyes of a man. Somehow, in spite of his ready smile, there was something almost threatening about him. 

He was not very tall — five foot six inches, a fact which bothered him — and religiously he worked on his body, running, playing baseball, doing knee bends, pushups, stretch-outs. 

He had black curly hair, another physical fact he didn’t like, so he plastered on the grease to smooth it down. His complexion was dark and clear and he was not bothered by the unsightly acne which seemed to plague his friends — a definite plus. He was not good looking in the convention sense — his nose too big, his lips too fleshy– but he had a wonderful smile and good teeth. 

The combination worked. Gino Santangelo had style.  “

Lucky is his daughter, and one of her earliest memories is of her mother’s dead body floating in the family swimming pool, the result of a business deal gone bad. She is bundled off to boarding school at a young age and spends much of her growing up under the eye of anyone but her father. Lucky befriends a vivacious and playful girl at school, a shipping heiress named Olympia, and they run away to the South of France together for what she believes will be an adventure of a lifetime. After being dragged back home by her father, she is sure she will be sent back to boarding school but is holding out hope that her father will allow her to remain at home to learn the “family business” under his tutelage. Unfortunately for her, neither of these is an option and instead, Lucky is married off to the less than desirable son of a senator who owes Gino a favor.

The relationship between father and daughter is an estranged and volatile one. Lucky has grown into a wild woman and is just as stubborn and opinionated as her father. Gino views women as the lesser sex and would prefer it if his daughter was more like her mother, his beloved Maria, but it is simply not in Lucky to be soft and serene. To say the two can never see eye to eye is an understatement. Gino has always envisioned passing his businesses along to his only son, Dario, even though the boy could not be less interested in anything to do with his father (or his sister for that matter). Dario is only interested in spending money and picking up transient men.

His black eyes were as deadly as hers. “Because I’m tellin’ you, that’s why. And watch your language. Ladies don’t talk like you.” 

She put her hands on her hips and arrogantly faced him. “I ain’t no lady,” she mocked. “I’m a Santangelo. I’m just like you — and you ain’t no gentleman.”

He stared at his wild black-eye daughter and he thought, Christ! What have I raised here? I’ve given her everything money can buy. What more does she want?

“Why don’t you just shut up and sit down?” he said wearily. 

This made her even angrier. “Oh, sure! Shut her up. She’s only a woman, what does she matter? Shut her up and marry her off, and who cares whether she’s happy or not?” She took a deep breath and hissed, “You’re a male chauvinist who thinks women are only good for screwing and cooking. Keep ’em in the kitchen or the bedroom where they belong. Is that what you did with mommy before she was murdered? Did you lock-“

He cut her words off abruptly by hitting her across the face with all of his strength. 

Costa jumped up from the table. “Gino!” 

Dario watched uneasily but did not move. 

Lucky was desperately trying to control the burning tears which threatend to slide down her face. “I hate you,” she hissed. “I really hate you. And I never want to see you again.”

“Lucky–” Gino began. 

She stormed from the room. “

 When Gino is sent away to Israel to avoid jail time, Lucky sees her chance to step in and take over, much to Costa Zennacotti’s digress. Costa has known Gino since they were children and has always protected Gino’s interests. He cannot hold the pushy Lucky back though and soon enough, she is mixed up in the business in all aspects, helping to complete a huge hotel project with investors that are not exactly honest businessmen. She will eventually learn her lessons, but Lucky always comes out on top. She is ruthless and cunning, just like her father before her, and she is fit for the business even if her father cannot accept it.

The book careens in and out of time as well as in and out of the character’s story lines. Jackie Collins is a master at this – pulling characters together while also giving them their own individual spotlight. I read somewhere that for decades, Jackie only wrote her books using regular pen and paper. I cannot imagine how she kept things so straight with twining timelines and elaborate connections. I also love how she adds in real-life characters (Lucky is named after the mobster Charlie Luciano, better known as Lucky Luciano, who plays a significant role in Gino’s business life). This is something that Jackie has always been known for and in later novels such as Hollywood Wives, readers had a wonderful time trying to figure out just who she was writing about. Jackie has never been shy about admitting to the fact that she enjoys pulling characters right out of real life and adding her own twist to their fates.

The climax to this novel is stunning, bringing all of the characters together in such a way that is so brilliant. . . each time I have read this book I am still floored by how it all comes together. Jackie Collins is undeniably a storyteller, and I have always found it a shame that her books are marketed more as works riddled with sex and bad language, thus cheapening her immaculately told stories. Sure there is some sex, sure there is some bad language – but you wouldn’t expect Lucky to ask a fellow gangster for something nicely, would you?

Chances is the first of nine novels in the series; the first five in my opinion are the best. They are in depth and stay true to the original stories. The latter four are also good, but felt rushed and were written later in Jackie’s life. I was disappointed to find Steven’s story trailing off as the novels were written, and he ended up being nothing but an afterthought in later novels – if he was mentioned at all.  Lucky’s story is passed on to her son and her daughter as we watch them grow up and have their own trials.

The Santangelos was Jackie’s final published work before she died of breast cancer in September of 2015. It was the perfect send off for both Jackie in the literary sense and for Lucky and Gino, in my opinion.

The books in the series are as follows:

I give Chances 5 out of 5 stars. I truly, truly love this book. It is the one book that I can read over and over again and never tire of. If you’re looking for a stunning story with a shocking twist of an end, centered around strong characters and an old-fashioned mob war, then this book is for you. While she has written many books I have thoroughly enjoyed, Chances will always be my absolute favorite.

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