I'm not sure what to make of this book, as some parts were quite fascinating and others felt flat. This book covers a part of Rio de Janeiro that so mI'm not sure what to make of this book, as some parts were quite fascinating and others felt flat. This book covers a part of Rio de Janeiro that so many people have seen, whether in person or in photos: the favelas, the slums of Rio, easily recognizable as small colorful dwellings built on top of one another up the mountains. Rocinha, the largest of Rio's favelas, was under the control of one don after another until the subject of this book, Nem, took over. The author chronicles Nem's rise to authority in Rocinha and how his reign over the favela fared until he became the most wanted man in Rio, culminating in his arrest.
Although Nem was apparently once Rio's most wanted criminal and well known within the city, his name is not one widely known elsewhere, so I began this book without any real knowledge of what would be covered. I think this is the book's main weakness: while the book definitely contained an interesting history of how favelas came to be and Nem's rise to power, it failed to impress upon me why this story needed to be told. Additionally, with Nem currently in prison and many details of his arrest, and his ultimate fate, still unknown, this didn't feel as "complete" as it could have, had the book been written years from now. The author interviewed Nem multiple times as part of his research, and it also felt like he often sympathized with him instead of staying completely neutral - something I realize can be difficult to do when getting to know subjects. Yet the slant toward Nem being, yes, a criminal, but also someone almost "forced" into that life and one who was bad at times only for the greater good made the narrative seem more one-sided than it should have.
The best parts of this book, for me, were the parts that explained the history of the favelas and how they came to be, as well as day-to-day life there. These parts comprised quite a bit of the book, which I appreciated, since it really gave a good foundation for the bigger story; on the other hand, it often felt like the history of the favelas was the real story in here, with the narrative about Nem included only to provide a more "explosive" story. The two storylines - the favelas and Nem's life - intertwined, of course, but I felt like both could have been greatly expanded on. Nem's personal life, for example, was briefly touched upon here and there, his violent tendencies mentioned, but his personal life seemed glossed over a little too much for this to be a definitive account of him. Again, I felt like the author sympathized too much with Nem to portray him fairly - perhaps subconsciously, since there were passages that tried to balance out this slant. Perhaps part of this also stems from the fact that most of the people in these pages are still alive and clarity in hindsight has not yet been achieved.
This was a pretty easy read and nicely researched, although the narrative did jump around between people, places, and dates. I had a hard time keeping track of all the players in here and when/how everything unfolded. Some reviews for this book said it read like a thriller, a statement I don't agree with. This was interesting overall, but I never came to a part where I felt like I couldn't put it down because it was so riveting or tense. I did find many of the details fascinating, however, including how the police interacted with favelas and how some of the major players affected Rocinha's pacification and Nem's fate. It's so interesting to see other countries' strengths and weaknesses in dealing with internal problems.
I think this book would definitely be of the most interest to people with a knowledge or familiarity with Rio's favelas and its criminals. However, I would caution to recommend this simply because of how sympathetic it is to Nem, glossing over serious concerns and accusations and providing an inexplicably positive portrayal of a known drug lord and criminal. To be sure, this book was interesting to read and I definitely learned a lot. The underlying problem is that I think the book was written too soon; in another decades or two, when more is known and events/people can be examined through the lens of history, this would have a lot more depth and balance....more
This is the first time I've read anything by Connie Willis, courtesy of my book club's pick for the month, although I'd heard good things about her wrThis is the first time I've read anything by Connie Willis, courtesy of my book club's pick for the month, although I'd heard good things about her writing, making me quite intrigued. I'm not sure how well you can judge an author overall by a short story collection, but despite all the short stories in here being Hugo or Nebula award winners (some both), they were kinda hit and miss for me. Some I really enjoyed, while others fell flat.
A Letter from the Clearys
This story started off the collection on a weak note and really didn't make me all that excited to read on. It was written rather simply, probably due to the narrator still being a child, and instead of feeling intrigued by what was going on and why, I was rather uninterested. The story seemed to lack tension, and even when the narrator kept announcing she'd picked up a letter from the Clearys at the Post Office, I didn't ultimately care about what the letter said or why it was such a big deal.
At the Rialto
The second story in here was much stronger and quite different from the first. In it, the narrator goes to Los Angeles for a science conference and ends up dealing with all sorts of scatterbrained locals who are all aspiring actresses/models/whatever. I liked the zaniness of the story and how the author took stereotypes of people in L.A. and turned them into funny characters and completely bizarre situations. The only thing I didn't get about this story were the various science-oriented quotes sprinkled in throughout... maybe I missed something, but it was still entertaining to read.
Death on the Nile
Another engaging story. A woman heads to Egypt with her husband and two other couples and the entire journey there, and their journey once they land, is just off. I read it, unsure how things were unfolding the way they did (they leave their luggage at the airport to go see the pyramids and decide they'll return later to pick it up!). The entire story, I couldn't figure out what was really going on, and the ending wrapped it all up so perfectly. Disarming and thought-provoking, plus incredibly timely.
The Soul Selects Her Own Society
Probably my least favorite story of the entire collection. I couldn't get into this story at all. It's written in the form of someone's dissertation, explaining how Emily Dickinson was actually involved with an alien invasion. I didn't like the way the story was framed (although I do think it's clever for the author to have tried framing this as a scholarly paper) and I couldn't get into the story. My eyes kept glazing over, and I don't even remember all the details.
An interesting story, although I don't think I understood the full thing. In it, a man is sent back in time to St. Paul's Cathedral during the London Blitz, keeping a fire watch there. There was some backstory to what was really going on, sprinkled throughout the story, but I felt like it wasn't developed quite enough for me to fully enjoy it overall. I liked this one but didn't love it. Perhaps this could have been stronger as a full-length novel.
My favorite of the collection! The narrator works at a skeptic's magazine, dedicating his time to debunking psychics, channelers, and others. His employee suggests they check out a new channeler, whose show starts off with the usual theatrics and then suddenly a new being is channeled mid-show, someone who's skeptical of the entire channeler community and is insulting the audience. The narrator can't figure out the channeler's end game - trying to get him to endorse the channeler as legitimate? This story was clever, entertaining, and perfectly wrapped up. This was also one of the longer stories of the collection, which was great because I wanted to stay in the story for a long while!
Even the Queen
A weird but ultimately enjoyable story about a future when women are different from today and the narrator's daughter decides to join a cult called the Cyclists. This was a little odd, but the story ended up being entertaining and thoughtful, with questions of how feminism and patriarchy are compatible and what makes a woman herself. Strange but clever.
The Winds of the Marble Arch
Set in London, where a couple has gone for a conference, the wife refuses to ride the subway while the husband takes it all around town, feeling weird winds at certain stops that no one else seems to notice. The interactions between the main couple felt kind of stilted, especially at the beginning, but the story was interesting. Not my favorite but not bad.
All Seated on the Ground
A clever story about an alien invasion, where the aliens don't seem to be intent on attacking humans or communicating with them but are simply here, not doing anything - until the one day when they suddenly sit down. The narrator then tries to figure out what they respond to and why they obey certain commands (such as the command to sit). I liked both the characters and the storyline. It was different from other "alien invasion" stories out there and fun.
The Last of the Winnebagos
Kind of a weird story to end the collection. Another story set in the future, where most RVs and dogs are gone and there's only one Winnebago left. The narrator is a reporter sent to cover an event where a couple shows off the last Winnebago in existence. On the way there, the narrator sees a jackal that'd been hit by a car, which brings back memories of times when dogs still existed. I'm not sure what to make of this story. It wasn't enjoyable per se, but it wasn't bad. I think this is something that might have been better had more been fleshed out, but perhaps it just isn't a setting that I particularly care to read....more
This is the first Jackie Collins novel I've ever read, although I have of course heard her name many times. My book club picked this to read this montThis is the first Jackie Collins novel I've ever read, although I have of course heard her name many times. My book club picked this to read this month, and I had no clue what I was getting into based on the title, the author, or even the book's description. The book jumped all over the place, with probably a dozen "main" characters in Hollywood living their own dramatic, crazy life: Jack, the famous talk show host who's currently tied to the actress Clarissa; Manny, an actor who's on his second wife, Melanie-Shanna, but still in love with his first wife, Whitney; Howard, a producer who's addicted to cocaine, has a number of kids and ex-wives plus a current social status-happy wife, Poppy; Jade, a new hot model who Jack starts pursuing; Silver, an older model and actress (and Jack's estranged sister) who's making an amazing professional comeback and is on top of the world; Heaven, Silver's estranged teenaged daughter who wants to be a singer; Wes, a bar man who does whatever it takes to get by until he meets Silver at a party.... and there are probably lots of other characters I'm forgetting to mention!!
This was definitely a soap opera!! The book was over 500 pages, and every page was filled with drama: affairs, sex, drugs, social climbing, etc. etc. It took me a while to get into everyone's lives, since there are just SO MANY characters to keep straight, especially since everyone's lives overlap from time to time. There wasn't a big plot in here moving the story along, but there was just so much drama that the story just kept rolling forward.
I can see why Jackie Collins is so popular: this was incredibly engaging. Originally published in 1986, the majority of this book seemed like it could still take place today - and I had to remind myself on occasion that it didn't. A few things were dated (biggest is that the internet today would change some of the stories...), but the story itself was fairly timeless. The writing wasn't astounding, but it flowed and kept me wanting to read on, just to find out what would happen next with all these crazy rich people. I think part of the appeal in this book is reading about the "real" lives of stars and how life gets even more complicated and crazy when fame is added.
I didn't expect to like this book because of how trashy it was, yet I couldn't help it. This was indeed trashy and I was occasionally embarrassed to be reading it (especially in public....) when I came across parts that were exceptionally smutty. But, it was entertaining and made me understand Jackie Collins' appeal. So many people are fascinated by celebrities, and this seems to give a glimpse into the scandalous "real" lives of Hollywood superstars, letting the reader watch as the focus revolves from one star to the next, all of them engaged in some sort of outrageous behavior. It reminded me of why tabloids are popular; this was a whole book filled with tabloid-worthy stories, without the "filter" of tabloids but watching the action directly as it unfolded. ...more