BOOK REVIEW: Forest Of The Pygmies – by Isabel Allende

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Title: Forest Of The Pygmies
(Eagle And Jaguar Trilogy #3)
Author: Isabel Allende
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Adventure, Children
First published:  2004
Finished reading: December 20th 2012
Pages: 296
(Originally written in Spanish: ‘El Bosque De Los Pigmeos’)

Rating 2

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I have to admit I didn’t realize Forest Of The Pygmies was a childrens book when I first started reading it, and that might have influenced my rating in a negative way. I was expecting another of her well written adult literature novels, and unfortunately I didn’t like the way Isabel Allende changed her original writing style in Forest Of The Pygmies. I also haven’t read the first two parts of the trilogy, which may or may not have worked against the story. But all in all, unfortunately I cannot describe the story in any other way than uninspiring, dull and almost boring. Allende used ‘magic realism’ to spice up the story, but it couldn’t convince me to think otherwise. I know she wrote it for children, but still… I have read way better children literature, and I was highly disappointed especially after having read other work of her in the past.

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Forest Of The Pygmies is the final adventure of Alexander Cold and Nadia Santos in the Eagle and Jaguar trilogy.  Alex and Nadia are in Kenya, Africa together with Alex’s grandmother. This time, she is writing a story for International Geographic about an elephant safari operation. Just before they go home, a Catholic missionary asks for their help in finding two fellow missionaries who have disappeared. They agree to help him, but soon find themselves lost in the swamps when their plane crashes. They discover a clan of Pygmies, and when they see they are treated unfairly, they try to set them free…

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Like I said before, I couldn’t really enjoy this novel. I normally like reading children stories; it makes me feel nostalgic. But Forest Of The Pygmies was just plain boring and cannot be compared to Allende‘s adult fiction work. If you have never read her work before, please don’t choose this one as your parameter!

BOOK REVIEW: Shake Hands With The Devil – by Romeo Dallaire

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Title: Shake Hands With The Devil
Author: Roméo Dallaire
Genre: Non Fiction, History, Memoir
First published: October 21st 2003
Finished reading: December 17th 2012
Pages: 562
(Originally written in French: ‘J’ai serre la main du diable’)

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“The global village is deteriorating at a rapid pace, and in the children of the world the result is rage. It is the rage I saw in the eyes of the teenage Interahamwe militiamen in Rwanda, it is the rage I sensed in the hearts of the children of Sierra Leone, it is the rage I felt in crowds of ordinary civilians in Rwanda, and it is the rage that resulted in September 11. Human beings who have no rights, no security, no future, no hope and no means to survive are a desperate group who will do desperate things to take what they believe they need and deserve.”

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I always like reading a non fiction story every once in a while and I’ve actually had a course involving war crimes and genocide during uni, so when I saw a copy of Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure Of Humanity In Rwanda I was immediately intrigued. In this non fiction novel Roméo Dallaire tells his story of what happened during his time in Rwanda and how politics have influenced in the disasters that happened in 1993. It’s not that he tries to blame someone else, but he does want to show why he couldn’t do more to help the people of Rwanda after he was sent to serve as a force commander of the UN intervention. Betrayal, naïveté, racism, international politics and its consequences… Roméo Dallaire never had an easy job and his memories of his days in the African country still devastate him. It was really brave of him to write down his story and even though it took me a long time to finish this read, I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn more about his experience and deepen my knowledge about the genocide in Rwanda. It’s not an easy story to read and actually quite depressing, but if you are interested in the theme Shake Hands With The Devil does have an interesting perspective.

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The Canadian Roméo Dallaire was sent to serve as force commander of the UN intervention in Rwanda in 1993. What he thought was a simple peacekeeping mission slowly turned into a bloody nightmare… And he has his hands tied as he witnesses the slaughter of 800.000 Rwandans in 100 days. Dallaire recreates the events that lead to the genocide and explains how humanity failed to stop it despite timely warnings… The international community preferring to turn their backs on the problem rather than act accordingly. He also explains the difficulties he had to get the proper equipment sent to him and the treacherous politics around the whole affair… Not denying his own failure and weaknesses, Dallaire helps make the reader understand what happened during the mission and where it went wrong.

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Shake Hands With The Devil is a truly intriguing memoir and a heartbreaking account of the genocide in Rwanda. As the force commander of the UN intervention Roméo Dallaire experiences the horrors during 1993 first hand and by telling his story he wants to bring awareness as to how humanity essentially failed to prevent the murder of all those innocent Rwandans. It’s a dark, violent and depressive story, but also an excellent read for the right person.

BOOK REVIEW: The Help – by Kathryn Stockett

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Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary
First published: February 10th 2009
Finished reading: December 6th 2012
Pages: 451
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“All my life I’d been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine’s thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe.”

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I’ve actually read this book various times already in the past, but it never tires rereading this story. The Help has an interesting setting, the Mississippi of 1962, where racial discrimination is still as normal as going to the loo in the morning. It might feel strange to think about this subject today (even though discrimation still exists!), but it is truly terrible how people of color were treated in the past. Kathryn Stockett is able to portray the difference between the rich white people and their black maids in a way that is truly fascinating, and trust me, the supposedly ‘weaker’ class comes out a lot better than those rich snobs. Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter is the perfect character to demonstrate the upcoming change in racial discrimination. She was raised by her black maid Constantine and sees her more as a mother than her biological one. When Constantine disappears, she is determined to find out what happened and get the word out how the black maids are treated in those rich homes. A very intriguing story, although the bad spelling in the parts where the maids were speaking did feel a bit like discrimination as well. Still, if you are looking for an interesting read about the theme, you will probably enjoy The Help.

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Her mother is doing all she can to find her daughter a husband, but twenty-two-years-old Skeeter has different plans for her future. She doesn’t seem to fit in with the high society of 1962 Mississippi and adores her beloved black maid Constantine that raised her, even though that is frowned upon. When Constantine disappears and her own mother doesn’t want to tell where she went, she asks for the help of other black maids to find out what happened. Furious when she discovers the truth, she decides to start a clandestine project soon afterwards where she wants to document the lives of the black maids in those rich homes. How are they treated? What do they have to do for their employers? What juicy secrets do they know about them? Still, getting the word out might put all of them at risk…

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Every time I pick up The Help I enjoy reading it. The way Skeeter and the maids defy the rules of class separation is both entertaining and interesting to read, even though I’m still not sure what to think of the bad spelling when the black maids are talking. The story itself is a mix of funny, sad, interesting and complicated moments and all in all quite a fast read. If you are looking for a racial problematics themed read, The Help is without doubt an interesting one to pick up.

BOOK REVIEW: Private – by James Patterson

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Title: Private
(Jack Morgan Series #1)
Author: James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: March 23rd 2009
Finished reading: November 29th 2012
Pages: 400

Rating 3

“People trust me with their secrets, and I’m not sure why. It must be something in my face, probably my eyes.”

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I normally enjoy the work of James Patterson, but I have mixed feelings about this one. Maybe it is because he wrote it together with Maxine Paetro. Maybe it is because it felt like they tried to squeeze in too many storylines into one book. Maybe it is because the many sub plots confused me and I couldn’t make out what the main story was. And it could have even been because of the shallow way of concluding each sub plot. What I can say is that this book could have been that much better if they would have sticked with just one main story. The general idea is very promising and the main character definitely interesting. It’s just a shame they decided to develop the story the way they did. All in all I would recommend picking up a different book if you want to enjoy Patterson’s work.

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Private is about Jack Morgan, an ex-Marine who still struggles with memories of the war. His dad is in prison and asks Jack to take over his investigation company called Private. The company works for high profile clients and has access to the best equipment and staff. When the wife of a Jack’s good friend was murdered, he uses his resources to help find the truth. At the same time, they are both investigating the murder of various school girls and the possible fixing of NFL football matches by referees. Last but not least, his brother shows up with an enormous gambling dept and asks for help.

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 A lot of cases at once, and it becomes hard sometimes to keep following the different story lines. Although Patterson wrote better ones, this one is still interesting enough to keep reading if you have a copy at hand.

BOOK REVIEW: Agent 6 – by Tom Rob Smith

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Title: Agent 6
(Leo Demidov Trilogy #3)
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: 2011
Finished reading: November 23rd 2012
Pages: 543
Rating 2,5

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Agent 6 is the third and last book in the Leo Demidov trilogy. The fact that I haven’t read the first two books might work against me and the lower rating I had to give this book… In general it was an ok read, but I felt something was missing to turn it into something great. There are some tense moments in Agent 6, but in general there is not a lot of suspense. And then were are not even talking about the ending, which was not satisfactory at all, even without having read the first two parts Child 44 and The Secret Speech. In short I wouldn’t suggest it. I still might read Child 44 though, since I’ve heard great things about it.

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We start reading about Leo Demidov in the past, and learn how Leo and his wife Raise first met and fell in love. Set in the 1950s, it is a story about love at first sight and rejection by Raisa. But they end up together anyway… Leo in the mean time is a member of the Russian secret police and in training to interpretate secret messages in diaries. In that same first part we get introduced to a black American singer Jesse Austin, who will play a big part in the tragedy of the Peace Tour in 1965. The two plots are brought together by a concert the singer gives in Russia (Jesse Austin is a Communist).

In 1965 he is no longer a secret agent. His wife Raisa and daughters Zoya and Elena travel to New York to be part of a Peace Tour, but he is forbidden to travel along with his family. Leo suspects something, but he cannot protect them as he is on the other side of the world. They end up being caught up in a conspiracy which ends in a tragedy, but Leo was never allowed by the Soviet government to investigate what really happened. But he never ceases to search for justice and has to face his memories and ghosts of the past…

Leo never stops his quest for justice, and we follow him to 1980. He is now an adviser in Afghanistan, a country controlled by the Soviet Union. He cannot stand facing his feelings, so he drowns them in opium. He has a new trainee, a young Afghan girl who is enthusiastic about the new world the Soviets have to offer. But he knows from experience that that enthusiasm will soon change as she realizes what is really going on.

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Like I said before, I just felt like something was missing while reading Agent 6. I couldn’t get into the story and the end definitely wasn’t satisfactory. I wish I would have enjoyed this final book of the Leo Demidov trilogy since I’ve heard great things about the previous books… But I didn’t, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend reading it unless you’ve read the first two book and don’t like to leave trilogies unfinished.

BOOK REVIEW: The Hunger Games – by Suzanne Collins

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Title: The Hunger Games
(The Hunger Games Trilogy #1)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopia, Fantasy
First published: September 14th 2008
Finished: November 14th 2012
Pages: 374

Rating 5

“And while I was talking, the idea of actually losing Peeta hit me again and I realized how much I don’t want him to die. And it’s not about the sponsors. And it’s not about what will happen when we get home. And it’s not just that I don’t want to be alone. It’s him. I do not want to lose the boy with the bread.”

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This is probably one of my favorite YA dystopian series ever. The Hunger Games just has it all: a great heroine to connect with, some serious action and bad guys and a little pinch of humanity to seal the deal. A lot of spin offs have been written since this book has been first published, but none can compete with Katniss and her crew. Katniss is easy to relate to, full of awesomeness and she makes the story THAT much better. She is probably one of my favorite female dystopian heroines ever! The story is easy to read and the book is hard to lay down unfinished. In other words: if you like the YA dystopian genre and haven’t read this one yet, go read The Hunger Games now!

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The Hunger Games trilogy is set in a post apocalyptic future where the world called Panem is divided into a Capìtal and twelve districts. Each of the districts has its own purpose, and they are all suppressed by the people of the Capital. To keep the districts under control after an earlier rebellion, the Capital has invented a very cruel game… Each year these so-called Hunger Games require two children from each district to participate. They are chosen based on a lottery system where all children of a certain age have their name included in the drawing. After they are chosen, the 24 contestants are put together in an arena and have to fight each other to the death until only one remains: the Victor. The Hunger Games are to remind the people of the districts of the past rebellion and its consequences. They are not only forced to watch their children being send away to the Games, but also forced to participate in the feasts before the actual games and to watch and listen to anything broadcasted by the Capital.

The main character and heroine of The Hunger Games is the 16 year old Katniss Everdeen. Everybody is poor in the districts, but when her father dies, she was left to take care of her mother and little sister. Katniss turns to desperate measures and goes hunting with her best friend Gale, something forbidden by the Capital. They struggle, but are able to survive for quite some time. But things change drastically when Katniss’s younger sister is chosen as the female contestant for their district… Katniss cannot bear to see her little sister go, and volunteers to take her place to protect her. The other contestant, Peeta, is a bakery boy who has been in love with Katniss for a long time, although Katniss prefers not to notice. Together they travel to the Capital and begin the preparations for the opening ceremonies… Let the games begin!

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The Hunger Games definitely is definitely a book to make sure you have tissues closeby. There are so many great characters and contestants, and knowing that only one can survive the Hunger Games is heartbreaking. The Games go on for two weeks and we watch as 24 young children try to survive by avoiding and hunting each other at the same time. Until the end comes with a big bang… I myself couldn’t let this one go until I got to the last page. A definite must read!