Mini-reviews: Plague by Michael Grant; Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy; and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

Title: Plague
Author: Michael Grant
Genre: YA dystopian fiction
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: He stood poised on the edge of a sheet of glass.

The books in this series about kids trying to survive without adults have given my sons and I many enjoyable hours of read-aloud time. While we have enjoyed every title, we all agree that this is the best one since the first. The series is very dark, and books two and three had very little to alleviate the darkness. This book, however, had Nutella and Pepsi, which will only make sense to you after you’ve read it. :) Our only beef is that Michael Grant doesn’t write faster, and we have to wait until next year for book five, and until 2013 for the final book in the series.

Title: Minding Frankie
Author: Maeve Binchy
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Knopf
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Sile Bermingham
First line: Katie Finglas was coming to the end of a tiring day in the salon.

Oh, how I love Maeve Binchy! After Whitethorn Woods and Heart and Soul, I feel like I know the characters in this little corner of Dublin that she writes about. At the heart of Minding Frankie is a motherless baby girl. Her stunned father, Noel Lynch, is trying to get his life together – giving up the “gargle,” going back to college in order to get a better job – but isn’t equipped to do it on his own. Enter his cousin, Emily, from America, who organizes the residents of St. Jarlath’s Crescent to help with baby-minding duties. But can they help convince the ever-vigilant social worker Moira that Frankie belongs with her father?

I haven’t read all of Binchy’s books that include these familiar characters (Quentins, Scarlet Feather, Nights of Rain and Stars), but I plan to. I just wish my library had them all on audio, because Sile Bermingham’s beautiful narration has spoiled me for reading them in print.

Title: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
Author: Erik Larson
Genre: Non-fiction, history
Publisher: Crown
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Stephen Hoye
First line: It was common for American expatriates to visit the U.S. consulate in Berlin, but not in the condition exhibited by the man who arrived there on Thursday, June 29, 1933.

In 1933, William Dodd, a history professor with no diplomatic experience, became the first American ambassador to Hitler’s regime. His family accompanies him to Berlin, and his daughter, Martha, quickly becomes a hit in the round of social affairs attended by the diplomatic community – and top-ranked Nazis. This is an interesting picture of Hitler’s rise to power, and a disturbing affirmation that different choices by Americans in power could have changed the course of history, and possibly prevented the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Third Reich. While I found the subject fascinating, the story became dry and slow in places, which kept me from rating it higher than three stars. However, I still recommend it to readers interested in World War II.

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20 Responses to Mini-reviews: Plague by Michael Grant; Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy; and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    I tried to get my daughter into that first series, but she turned her nose up. And I’m surprised (and sad) that the Erik Larson book wasn’t better. Devil in the White City was so darned good. I’m on hold for this audio at the library.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Sandy – I still want to pick up Devil in the White City. The info in this book was important – I guess I’ve just been spoiled by some of the narrative non-fiction I’ve read this year that didn’t have the slow sections.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I am so unsure about the Larson book. I am kind of sick of WWII, but at the same time I loved The Devil in the White City. Time will tell if I pick it up or not!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Stephanie – I read a lot of WW II books, too, but there was definitely info in this one I haven’t read about before – or at least it didn’t make an impression on me before.

  3. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    The one I was most interested in was the one you liked the least. I do like Binchy’s work and will have to look for Minding Frankie.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kathy – It’s not a horrible book by any means, just drags a bit in places. Still worth reading. :)

  4. Melissa (Avid Reader)
    Twitter: avidreader12
    says:

    Maeve Binchy is such a comfort read author for me. I haven’t read this latest one, but I’ve read almost all of her others. Circle of Friends, Tara Road and Evening Class are probably my favorites. I’m about to start the Larson book and it is a bummer to hear it drags in spots. I had the same problem with Devil in the White City though.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Melissa – I haven’t read very many of Binchy’s older books – I must fix that soon!

  5. Beth F
    Twitter: BethFishReads
    says:

    Can you believe it, I have never read Maeve Binchy! I’m sorry the Larson book wasn’t better for you. I still plan to give it a try.

  6. Kailana says:

    I need to do a few review posts like this because I am very far behind and haven’t been much for posting lately…

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kelly – when I get overwhelmed with drafts of reviews, the mini-reviews help me feel caught up – and keep my sanity. :)

  7. I have the IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS audio, so I’m disappointed you didn’t enjoy it more. How was the narration?

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Jen – Stephen Hoye did a good job with the narration – it was just right for non-fiction, I think. When you listen to it, keep in mind that most of the slow sections are in the first two discs. The information is important as a build-up to what is coming later, but it has a tendency to drag and I had to force myself to pay attention, or my mind would wander.

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  9. Colleen
    Twitter: booksnyc
    says:

    I love Maeve Binchy’s books! I have never tried them on audio but maybe I will do that soon. The Quentins/Scarlet Feather characters are my favorite so I look forward to Minding Frankie

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Colleen – Minding Frankie has lots of characters from Heart and Soul and Whitethorn Woods – and some from Quentins and Scarlet Feather, from what I understand. It’s one of my favorites of hers – and Sile Bermingham really is a remarkable narrator.

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