Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Turbulent Times and Sour Nostalgia
Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith is, admittedly, not my usual reading fare.  But we were featuring the audio version on a digital display at work, it's been positively reviewed all over the place, and it scratches my dormant Former History Major itch.  All that and The Autobiography of Malcolm X was one of the few books I was required to read in college that didn't make me want to poke my eyes out.

This book covers a few brief years (from the late 1950s until Malcolm's assassination in 1965) and details Ali's rise to Heavyweight Champion of the World, Malcolm's break from the Nation of Islam, the rise and eventual fall of their friendship.  It's the sort of book where nobody comes off looking all that good.  I'll be honest - not an Ali fan.  There are certain things I respect about the man, but this book covers the period immediately before and after Ali defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title.  It's easy to forget now, what with the canonization of Ali that has occurred over the past 20 to 30-odd years - but he was a once a young man.  A young, insufferable, 21-year-old kid.  It truly is amazing what Ali was accomplishing (both personally and professionally) at such a young age - but I'm an old lady now.  I'll be honest, it's a rare 20-something that I don't find insufferable. 

The book is interesting and it's obvious the authors put a lot of time in researching it.  But where this book sings is in the final third after Malcolm has broken with the Nation and he's got a giant target painted on his back.  Look, you know what's going to happen.  Malcolm is going to die.  But knowing that doesn't make the final chapters of this book any less suspenseful.  It's like a thriller towards the end, as Malcolm is slowly marching towards his final destination.  I'll be blunt: it's a nail-biter, even though you know exactly how it's going to end.

It's an interesting mix of race, politics, social history and boxing.  If you're a non-fiction reader, chances are there's at least a little something to appeal to you here.  It's a book about complex men, one of whom finds himself on the path to tragic destiny.  It's not an easy read, but then history seldom is.

Final Grade = B+
Back in the day Mary Higgins Clark was my Kathleen Woodiwiss.  I devoured her books during my teen years, but once college hit (and all leisure reading came to a dead stop), we parted ways.  Shortly after I finished school and could start reading for fun again - I discovered romance.  So I never did get caught up on MHC.  The Melody Lingers On is a recent release (2015), and while it features some Clark trademarks, I can't say it's a book I particularly enjoyed.

The plot is basically Bernie Madoff.  Wealthy hedge fund guy swindles a bunch of people, and then disappears off the face of the Earth, presumed dead.  The heroine is a single mom who works for an upscale interior designer in New York City.  Through a series of events she ends up dating, and falling for, the missing-Bernie-Madoff-like-guy's son.  The son is also in investment/finance and the assumption is that he's in cahoots with Daddy Dearest.  Is he innocent or is he a scumbag?

What Clark does well in this book are what I consider her trademarks.  She's the master at juggling multiple points of view and peppering in misdirection.  She's one of the standard bearers when it comes to introducing multiple characters and then setting them on a collision course - all coming together for a dramatic finish of the novel.

What doesn't work well in this book?  The heroine.  When the heroine isn't uninteresting, she's annoying.  She's like a reactive Mary Sue.  Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth and she wouldn't know proactive if it hit her upside the head.  She's the type of heroine who "reacts" to what is around her and she takes zero initiative.  She never thinks to ask why - about anything.  Plus it doesn't help that she's raising her daughter, the very definition of Plot Moppet; a kid so cutesy-wootsy I'm keeping my uncharitable thoughts to myself before one of my Dear Blog Readers has me committed. 

The story marches on to the conclusion, which is OK but not terribly suspenseful.  Mary Sue comes off smelling like a rose, even though she's a ninny.  Blah, blah, blah - The End.

I've read worse (Lord knows I have), but this isn't very strong at all.  Especially given my fond memories for 1980s/1990s era MHC.  Which makes me wonder: is it just the more recent work that is problematic?  Or are my fond memories colored by rose-tinted glasses?  Is this a case of nostalgia getting the better of me?  Whatever it is, I think I'll dip further back in the MHC's archives for my next read by her, just to satisfy my curiosity.

Final Grade = D+


Nikki said...

Thank you for this review. I used to read her books back in the 70's (Where Are the Children?, A Stranger Is Watching, etc.) but they became too creepy/suspenseful/stressful for me. I think I read the first 10 or so, and then switched over to Star Trek novels. I have dipped my toe back in the suspense and wondered about her, but I think I'll pass.

Wendy said...

Nikki: And that's the other thing. I too remember her books being more "creepy and suspenseful" and this one really wasn't. I wasn't sure if it was an age thing (I read her 70s and 80s work as a teen!), or if over the years she's mellowed out the creep factor. Another reason to make my next MHC read/listen an "oldie."

Frédéric Michaud said...

When I was a teen I read a whole lot of Mary Higgins Clark (thanks to my local library at that time!). Then I stopped reading for a while and got back to it in early 2000. I remember that I was really excited when I bought You Belong To Me at a local bookstore. It ended up being just okay. My sister gifted me I've Got You Under My Skin back into 2014 and it is still on my TBR list. I am way more into Kathie Reichs and Louise Penny mystery books now. I don't think her writing style and her plots changed that much, I guess that it is showing where we were and where we are now. The same thing happened with Jude Deveraux, I was a huge fan in my teen years and a couple of months ago I read one of her books and I was not impressed at all. That being said, those memories of the entertaining time I had to read MHC, I am cherishing them. We shall see what will come out of it when I will finally take time to read it:)

Wendy said...

Frederic: I think I would have been kinder to MHC if I had read one of her older books, like Loves Music Loves to Dance or Stillwatch. Books I read and loved as a teen. It's easier for me to enjoy them through the lenses of rose-colored glasses. The books may not hold up for me as well now that I'm adult, but I can reminisce on how much I loved them as a teen.