Subtitled “Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation”, Khalil provides his first-person insights into the 2011 Egyptian Revolution from his home base of Cairo where he serves as a journalist for an English-language paper in the country. Contrary to what was originally reported in the American news media, the revolution was more than a spontaneous uprising.

The problem was not just Hosni Mubarak but the way his reign turned Egypt into, according to Khalil, a country full of cynical people who believe nothing can change. But small events, particularly the murder of a young man who was seen as everyone’s son by the general public, helped contribute to years of mounting tension brought on by a state that shamelessly abused its authority rigging elections, silencing opposition, and violently attacking its citizens.

Introducing readers to these small events help to foster a better understanding of why the revolution occurred the way it did. Painting a bigger, clear picture of the country suddenly thrust into the spotlight in the American news media would certainly go a long way in helping readers understand the country Khalil is from and covers. In many ways, I felt like I was right there in Tahrir Square with Khalil as he interviewed the participants, as he was mobbed by pro-Mubark protestors.

I can appreciate this insight and wish it had been available as events were unfolding, but I can’t help think this isn’t a definitive account. It relies so much on seeing events as participant that the background as to how Mubark came into power, how he consolidated that power and created the Interior department that terrorized the Egyptian people is fairly glossed over. I found myself reaching the final page and wishing for a more detailed historical analysis, and I guess I will have to wait a few more years for that book to be published. This one, after all, was published in the same year as the revolution.

Book Mentioned:

  • Khalil, Ashraf. Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011. Print. 324 pgs. ISBN: 9781250006691. Source: Library.
Book Cover © St. Martin’s Press. Retrieved: May 31, 2014.

In 2035, a virus renders everyone over the age of eighteen sterile and teenage pregnancy is not only rampant but encouraged. Sixteen-year-old Melody is still “prebump” meaning she has yet to become pregnant, but her parents are economists and have negotiated a record-breaking contract for her. Biding her time until a sperm donor can be found, Melody wants to become president of her high school pregnancy club and resents the intrusion of her newly found twin sister, Harmony, into her life.

Raised in a religious community, Harmony is determined to save her sister from teenage pregnancy and bring her to live within the community where girls are encouraged to save themselves for marriage. The virus still affects their lives but more twenty- and thirty-year-olds are able to get pregnant than outside the compound, which the community sees as a sign that God is one their side. But a case of mistaken identity destroys everyone’s carefully laid plans and forces both girls to confront the dark side of their upbringing and beliefs.

An interesting concept I was excited to read, but finishing this book was one confusing and long slog. The mark of a good dystopian novel is a well-developed world where a problem in this world is twisted to the extreme and addressed. Is the problem teenage pregnancy and the celebration of it in our culture through shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom”? Or, is the problem the strict yet hypersexualized culture of fundamentalist religions? I couldn’t tell.

The long lost sisters plot is overused, but I could have overlooked it had the dystopian world and other plot points been more engaging. But because there isn’t one clear problem, the world in McCafferty’s novel is not developed to the point it should be. It would have been easier to follow had McCafferty focused on the religious aspect like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or if the author had better developed the world in which Melody lived. More information and details; more explanation and clear writing. For example, the slang used by Melody and Harmony — words like neggers, cock jockey, fertilicious, rilly — is over the top; difficult to understand and seemingly inserted in an attempt to show that McCafferty can “write” teenagers.

And what is this virus that renders everyone over eighteen infertile? Where did this virus come from? What is MiWorld? How does it work? If babies are so valuable, then why are girls allowed to get pregnant by their boyfriends or from group orgies? Why are there group orgies? Why are these girls not separated with their reproduction regulated? Obviously, I finished the book with far more questions than answers.

And, in the tradition of all young adult novels published lately, the book is written to become a series with a cliffhanger at the end. It’s supposed to encourage me to pick up the next book, but the muddled plot and flat, boring characters certainly doesn’t entice me to do so.

Book Mentioned:

  • McCafferty, Megan. Bumped. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2011. Print. 323 pgs. IBSN: 9780061962752. Source: PaperBackSwap.
Book Cover © Balzer + Bray. Retrieved: May 30, 2014.

Charlotte Parkhurst was raised in an orphanage for boys, prevented from being adopted by the cook who wants to exploit her as a kitchen maid. Charlotte’s only escape is to the stables behind the orphanage where the caretaker allows her to ride her beloved horse, Freedom, and she dreams about spending her life training and riding horses on a ranch of her own.

In the mid-1800s, however, such options are out of reach for young girls, but the death of Freedom and the adoption of her closest friend sends Charlotte on the run. Disguising herself as a boy named Charley, Charlotte makes her way from New Hampshire to Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence and, finally, to California where Charley becomes a stage coach driver.

I purchased this book in 1998 at the school book fair, and I can remember reading it over and over again because of how much I adored horses as a child. Now, I can appreciate all the commentary on the role of women during this time period. The real Charlotte Parkhurst voted in the United States thirty-one years before women had to write to vote in this country. Her fictional counterpart is such a strong, inspiring character, and the plot is fast moving and engaging. Certainly one I’ll be holding on to eventually pass on to children or nieces and nephews.

It would be great to find a nonfiction book about the real Charlotte Parkhurst. Or, maybe one about women who circumvented the political system and voted long before the suffragette movement. If nothing else, I want to find one on the US suffragette movement.

Book Mentioned:

  • Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Riding Freedom. New York: Scholastic, 1998. Print. 138 pgs. IBSN: 0439087961. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © Scholastic. Retrieved: May 29, 2014.

For more than a decade, Kathy Harrison has sheltered a shifting cast of troubled youngsters — the offspring of prostitutes and addicts; the sons and daughters of abusers. She and her husband are devoted foster parents listed on the emergency hotline meaning they are willing to take a child into to their home day or night, vacation or workday, but Harrison serves on the front lines – the stay-at-home parent who stays up all night with crying babies and who monitors the behavior of children who are sexual predators. All this, in addition to raising her three biological sons and two adopted daughters.

Although I’ve always wanted a large-ish family, I’ve also considered growing that hypothetical family through adoption of former foster children. I don’t know if I’m equipped to be a foster parent given the constant flux in family dynamics, and reading Harrison’s book shows just how difficult this life can be — monetarily, emotionally, physically. At one point, Harrison’s family has two foster children — a boy and a girl — who are sexual predators due to learned behavior in their prior, abusive homes. Harrison characterized the boy, Danny, as a child incapable of change, and she writes frequently about wanting to remove the child from her home whilst she believes the girl, Sara, wants to overcome her highly sexualized, learned behavior. (When Sara first moves into their home, she tries to touch and flash Harrison’s husband.)

Danny moves to another foster family where he abuses the foster mother’s two-year-old niece; Sara abuses two other female foster children in the Harrison household. I bring this up not to highlight how difficult it would be to be a foster mother in this situation, but to point out how Harrison blames Danny’s other foster mother for the situation whilst saying how much she tried to prevent Sara’s behavior and should not be to blame. I understand her defensiveness because foster parents are so readily vilified yet I could not overlook how Harrison was willing to vilify another foster parent. It’s good that Harrison can recognize there are bad foster parents in the system, but much of her skills and knowledge about being a foster parent is learned on the job and she needs to recognize that.

There are several moments of very refreshing honesty. Harrison writes about being jealous of how her foster child was pulling away from her as she tried to reconnect with her birth mother that she goes so far as to buy a plastic, princess crown and try to bribe the child’s affection back. And she writes extensively about how she and her husband struggled with the decision to adopt one of their foster children. The little girl, Lucy, had lived with them for years but Harrison explains how Lucy never felt like “her” child after all those years. Given how much Harrison struggled to say no to accepting children into her home — the timeline is a little convoluted, but it appears that the family had upwards of nine children in their home — I found it refreshing that Harrison would be willing to admit that and help Lucy find an adoptive family where she would be the only child and clearly cherished. Certainly an important read for someone considering foster care or adoption.

Book Mentioned:

  • Harrison, Kathy. Another Place at the Table. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2003. Print. 242 pgs. IBSN: 9781585422821. Source: PaperBackSwap.
Book Cover © Jeremy P. Tarcher. Retrieved: May 28, 2014.

Chevalier’s attempts to answer the mystery behind one of the art world’s great masterpieces — a set of medieval tapestries hanging in the Cluny Museum in Paris today. They appear to portray the seduction of a unicorn, but the story behind their making is unknown. Set in France and Brussels in 1490, Chevalier introduces us to Jean Le Viste, a French nobleman who commissions six tapestries celebrating his rising status at Court. He hires the charismatic, arrogant, sublimely talented Nicolas des Innocents to design them.

Nicolas creates havoc among the women in the house — mother and daughter, servant, and lady-in-waiting — before taking his designs north to the Brussels workshop where the tapestries are to be woven. There, master weaver Georges de la Chapelle risks everything he has, including the future of his young blind daughter, to finish the tapestries — his finest, most intricate work — on time for his exacting French client.

Having read and loved Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, I was excited to find this book available at the library used book sale and early anticipated picking it up even though I’ve never heard of these tapestries before. Unfortunately, this book turned out to be an utter disappointment. The book switches between the point of view of eight characters; a difficult task given how short the novel actually is. And the entire novel quickly dissolves into a series of hook-ups followed by a string of illegitimate children. Possibly true, yes, but there is nothing remotely engaging about this particular kind of story. The characters lack depth, and the plot is riddled with cliches.

I’ve read several books where the main character is a womanizer, and I could have accommodated such a description of Nicholas des Innocents. However, Nicholas’ exploits, particularly his desire to sleep with Jean Le Viste’s daughter Claude, are manifested into the tapestries and the unicorns appear less pure and more sinister than I had originally seen them. And, because Nicholas’ exploits are the main plot of the novel, it meanders along without any point or interest on my part.

Book Mentioned:

  • Chevalier, Tracy. The Lady and the Unicorn. New York: Plume, 2004. Print. 250 pgs. ISBN: 0452285453. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © Plume. Retrieved: May 27, 2014.
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