BOOK REVIEW: Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix – by J.K. Rowling

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Title: Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
(Harry Potter Series #5)
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: YA, Fantasy
First published: June 21st 2003
Finished reading: February 14th 2015
Pages: 796
Rating 4

“Youth can not know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”

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Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix has always been my least favorite Harry Potter book of the bunch. Don’t get me wrong; I still love the series, but I guess the main problem I have with this fifth book is that I absolutely despise Umbridge. Her character isn’t supposed to be likeable, but still… Both the last chapters of the fourth book and fifth book mark a turning point in the life of Harry, where he is forced to deal with death and the fact that Lord Voldemort has returned. Harry is growing up, and the books get only darker as the story continues. The initial innocence is gone, and the last few books of the series are definitely not suited for the youngest audience. I remember crying the first time I read the ending… Sirius has always been one of my favorite characters and sometimes I wish J.K. Rowling would have mentioned him and the other Animagi characters more frequently. Who knows, maybe one day?

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WARNING: Spoilers! Please don’t read this summary if you haven’t read the previous books yet...

After Harry Potter’s fourth year at Hogwarts ended terribly with the death of Cedric and return of Voldemort, he still had to go back to his aunt and uncle during summer. His friends and godfather Sirius seem to have forgotten him as they are busy with the order of the phoenix; a group of witches and Wizards working together to fight Voldemort. Things change when two Dementors show up and attack both Harry and his cousin, forcing the young wizard to protect both of them and use magic in front of a Muggle. The Ministry Of Magic tried to expell him, but Dumbledore interfered and Harry has to go to a hearing instead deciding his fate. The problem is that Harry is the only one who actually saw Voldemort’s return, and The Ministry Of Magic doesn’t want people to believe Harry and let the panic of his return spread. All summer long they have been running an anti-Harry and Dumbledore campaign, but it hasn’t been completely succesful… For now.

Things are about to change at Hogwarts as the Ministry decides to interfere. They have appointed Umbridge as the new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher, and soon it shows that the Ministry doesn’t want the students to know how to defend themselves. Paranoid that Dumbledore is trying to create an army to fight against the Ministry, Umbridge has the task to slowly take control of the school and make sure everything is up to standard… And she turns out to be a true dictator in pink disguise. Harry now has to fight both against the numerous decrees of Umbridge and the all too real dreams he has been having… How long will it be before Voldemort shows himself again?

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The prose is as good as ever even though the story gets darker as Harry ages. The parts with Umbridge read slower and I found them annoying in general, but that is probably mostly because of my dislike for this character. While this is my least favorite Harry Potter book, I still enjoyed reading it and even discovered a few facts I didn’t remember. All in all this reread was another magical journey to the world of Harry Potter; one I cannot get enough of.  Recommended as it’s part of the series and necessary to understand the rest of the books!

BOOK REVIEW: The Known World – by Edward P. Jones

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Title: The Known World
Author: Edward P. Jones
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary
First published: August 14th 2003
Finished reading August 10th 2014
Pages: 388
Rating 3

“The hitter can never be the judge. Only the receiver of the blow can tell you how hard it was, whether it would kill a man or make a baby just yawn.”

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I first found this book when I was browsing for interesting historical fiction novels back in January. The story itself about a black farmer and former slave in the US of the 19th century sounded interesting and I decided to get a copy. After many months of collecting dust, I finally had the chance to read The Known World for the Dusting Off The Shelf Read-A-Thon. Unfortunately it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be… Don’t get me wrong, the story itself is definitely worth reading. It’s just that Edward P. Jones seemed to be wanting to include the stories of too many slaves and their owners, and the change in POV was confusing at some points. The fact that he wasn’t following a straight timeline didn’t help either, and it slowed down my reading considerately. If you don’t like keeping track of many characters and timelines, this book is definitely not for you. But if you like reading more about the situation of slaves and former slaves in the US before the Civil War, this one is still quite interesting.

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In The Known World, we mainly follow the story of Henry Townsend and his family. Henry is a black farmer and former slave who is now one of the few black slaveholders in the South. His former slave owner, William Robbins, has always favored him and helps him by selling him the first slave named Moses. Robbins is a very powerful man in Manchester County, and uses his influence to help him build and expand his farm. Henry’s parents don’t agree with his choice of owning slaves after all that took his father Augustus to finally buy them free. He doesn’t give in though, and when he dies at an unfortunate young age, he leaves his widow Caldonia in charge with quite a few slaves.

We read a lot about the years where Henry grows up being a slave of Robbins. His father bought himself free early in the story, but it took him years to buy his wife and son free as well. Henry worked close to Robbins during those years, and Robbins took a liking to the boy. Important to know about the slaveholder is that he has a black mistress and two children with the same woman. He is thus not the typical white slave owner and symphatises Henry in a way others might haven’t. When Augustus finally gets a chance to buy his son free, Henry keeps in touch with Robbins, and later starts his own farm close to the one he had worked as a slave. The Known World is also about the slaves Henry owns; different families all with their own problems. A few try to escape, others try to win over their owners. Caldonia doesn’t seem up to the task of holding the farm together when Henry dies, and the County has to jump in and intervene.

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 The Known World is an interesting book if you can ignore the multiple POV’s and the sometimes dense prose and suitable for those who enjoy historical fiction. It’s about the cruelty of the white officers, trying to make money out of selling free slaves, and violence used on innocent people. And it’s also about hope and a future without slavery… And the lives of those who still are slaves.

BOOK REVIEW: The Da Vinci Code – by Dan Brown

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Title: The Da Vinci Code
(Robert Langdon #2)
Author: Dan Brown
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Crime
First published: April 2003
Finished reading: November 14th 2013
Pages: 489

Rating 3

“Telling someone about what a symbol means is like telling someone how music should make them feel.”

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I remember that the first time I picked up The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown as a teenager I actually really enjoyed it. I guess I was less critical back than, because when I found a copy while I was traveling and decided to reread it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have thought. There is no doubt that The Da Vinci Code is a very entertaining story as long as you don’t think too much of the details. I remember enjoying the mathematical details and explanations throughout the story, although I do have to admit some of it is farfetched. But I guess that Dan Brown wasn’t exactly looking for the next historical correct masterpiece and focused more on the bestseller qualities; with millions of copies sold around the world he sure did a great job reaching a broad public. It’s not a mindblowingly good read, but if you are looking for a fast paced and entertaining read, The Da Vinci Code does fit the description.

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A phone call wakes symbologist Robert Langdon in the middle of the night after a lecture in Paris. The curator of the Louvre museum has been murdered and his body was found covered with symbols. The police found evidence supposedly incriminating Langdon, and they start a man hunt when Sophie Neveu, the curator’s granddaughter and cryptologist, forces Langdon to escape. They follow a trail of clues hidden by the curator, grand master  of the Priory of Sion, which according to the myth will lead to the Holy Grail. It is a desperate race that will lead the two main characters to cathedrals and castles throughout Europe while they try to uncover the truth… And their enemies are closer than they imagine.

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This novel by Dan Brown is without doubt an entertaining read and it shows in the millions of copies that have been sold ever since it was published. It’s not exactly the next literary masterpiece and I felt the story lacked some dept when it comes to character development and plot. Still, if you don’t focus too much on the details I’m sure you will end up enjoying The Da Vinci Code.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bookseller Of Kabul – by Asne Seierstad

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Title: The Bookseller of Kabul
Author: Asne Seierstad
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, History
First published: 2003
Finished reading: May 19th 2013
Pages: 276

Rating 2

“What the sounds and smells do not divulge, gossip supplies. It spreads like wildfire in the neighborhood, where everyone is watching one another’s morals.”

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I’m not sure what to think of this one. After having read works of Khaled Hosseini, this interpretation of life in Afghanistan doesn’t seem that believable to me. Asne Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who spent four months living with an Afghan family in Kabul. She then (in my opinion) makes the mistake to tell us a story of the bookseller Sultan Khan and his family based on her own rather colored observations. That alone maybe isn’t that bad, but she wrote herself out of the story and wants to make us to believe everything she wrote is an exact representation of the family life of the Khan family. And that honestly I cannot believe. She only spent four months with the family, and she was only able to talk to the only three members who know the English language. So how on earth would she be able to understand and know the feelings of a family with a culture so different from her own? The story itself is not bad, but if you want to learn more about how is life really like in Afghanistan, I would recommend not even touching this one.

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The story is about Sultan Khan and his family. For a long time he has been supplying books to the people of Kabul even though it has been prohibited by various authorities like the communists or the Taliban. He didn’t get away unpunished: he was arrested and imprisoned by the communists, and the Talibans burned books on the street. He still continues his job as a bookseller, and at the same time has rather strict views on how his family has to live their lifes. Women and men are strictly separated, and women besides have to move within a restricted space.

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Asne Seierstad doesn’t believe in this discrimination of women and it shows too much in the story. Maybe good enough to pass as a novel written from a Western world point of view, but it fails to show how it’s really like to live in Afghanistan. And I doubt the Khan family shared all their emotions and family secrets to a total stranger. All in all for me a disappointment.

BOOK REVIEW: The Kite Runner – by Khaled Hosseini

brthekiterunnerTitle: The Kite Runner
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary
First published: May 29th 2003
Finished reading: January 5th 2013
Pages: 371

Rating 5qqq

“It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make ANYTHING all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.”

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The Kite Runner was my first experience with Khaled Hosseini‘s work and it is still my all time favorite (although A Thousand Splendid Suns comes a close second). I have read this story various times since it first came out, and it manages to enchant me every time. The Kite Runner tells us a story that is both well written, inspiring, full of raw and real emotions and simply a rollercoaster ride that will make you laugh and cry at the same time. The character development is very well done and the unlikely friendship between the wealthy boy Amir and the son of his father’s servant, Hassan, will bring tears to your eyes. Not only is it a heartbreaking story of family, love and friendship, but it also gives facts about the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years. All in all it’s a very beautiful and powerful read that will surely appeal to those who like reading historical fiction and learn more about foreign cultures and Afghanistan in particular. It’s Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, and for me his best work so far.

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Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant and member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan is the son of his father’s servant and part of the despised and impoverished Hazara caste. Despite these differences an unlikely friendship has grown between the two boys. When Amir has to abandon his home and friend due to the increasing tensions during the last years of the Afghan monarchy, he never truly forgets about Hassan. The bond between the two boys is so strong that Amir decides to travel back to find him. The political and religious situation is more complicated than ever in Afghanistan, and that only complicates their reunion? What will happen to the two boys and their country?

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I love reading books set in cultures I am not that familiar with and the fact that The Kite Runner is so beautifully written is a huge bonus. Not only is the historical information really intriguing, but Khaled Hosseini managed to mix those facts with a heartbreaking story of friendship, love and family. If you like the genre and haven’t read this book yet, I would definitely recommend picking it up. It’s easy to say The Kite Runner belongs to my list of all time favorites.

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’)

Rating 3,5qqq

“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.