HCPL Staff Pick Best of 2010 | Harris County Public Library


HCPL Staff Pick Best of 2010

http://www.hcpl.net/content/hcpl-staff-pick-best-2010


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2010 in review


    The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

    Healthy blog!

    The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

    Crunchy numbers

    Featured image

    A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,700 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.

    In 2010, there were 56 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 110 posts. There were 106 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 9mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

    The busiest day of the year was October 26th with 48 views. The most popular post that day was Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe Series .

    Where did they come from?

    The top referring sites in 2010 were ifreestores.com, facebook.com, en.search.wordpress.com, en.wordpress.com, and lisawallerrogers.wordpress.com.

    Some visitors came searching, mostly for kay hooper bishop series, anna godbersen, genghis khan, envy by anna godbersen, and arukiyomi.

    Attractions in 2010

    These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

    1

    Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe Series December 2009

    2

    Kay Hooper’s Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novels April 2010

    3

    Norman Itzkowitz & Enid A. Goldberg’s Genghis Khan : 13th-century Mongolian tyrant (A Wicked History) July 2010

    4

    Sean Stewart Price’s Cixi: Evil Empress of China? (A Wicked History) July 2010
    1 comment

    5

    Sean Stewart Price’s Attila the Hun: Leader of the barbarian hordes (A Wicked History) August 2010

Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea


Allende, I., & Peden, M. S. (2010). Island beneath the sea: A novel. New York: Harper. 9780061988240

A few years ago, I picked up Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. Allende cast her spell on me with her characters and her storytelling. Oddly enough, several years passed by before I read another Allende work. As it happened, I chose her latest work Island Beneath the Sea which I requested through HCPL.

Allende tells the stories of numerous people living on 1700s Saint-Domingue (Haïti). First, she introduces readers to the young Toulouse Valmorain. He and the female Valmorains live comfortably in France thanks to his father’s sugarcane plantation, Saint Lazare, in Saint-Domingue.

His planter father sends a letter, requesting Valmorain to come the island in 1770. Valmorain arrives on the island, receiving a rude awakening. The elder Valmorain can no longer run Saint Lazare. So, it falls to Valmorain to make a go of it, turning Saint Lazare into a profitable plantation. Settling into Saint-Domingue, Valmorain marries a Spaniard Eugenia living in Cuba. In the midst of all of this, Valmorain purchases a slave to serve Eugenia.

This slave is a child named Zarité – called Tété. She’s the daughter of an enslaved African woman and a sailor. Tété leads a harsh existence and discovers comfort in voodoo and the slave community. Numerous passages in the book are related by an adult Tété. The rest of the novel told in third person.

Tété endures many abuses and hardships at the hands of Valmorain, who aims to be a “benevolent slave owner.” Yet, they later flee to New Orleans – together.

All I can say without further spoiling the plot is that I found the storytelling and character development of Tété mesmerizing. I also enjoyed learning about the enterprising courtesan Violette and Dr. Parmentier, the man of science with twenty-first century ethics. I even appreciated the complexity of Valmorain. Characters such as Gambo, Maurice, Rosette, Zacharie, and the Murphy family seemed unrealized, though. I could’ve easily done without Hortense! Nonetheless, I guess there was need for such a catalyst.

I also felt Allende did well with the rising action and then slammed the reader into a wretched nightmare that was Tété’s early life. Then, in the New Orleans part, the novel seemed rushed. I wanted to find out more about New Orleans life as well as denouement for Tété and her family. Overall, it was good storytelling but the plot needed help.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Places:

France, Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Cuba, New Orleans

For more on Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea, please check out the following links:

James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain


* 1001 Books Book
Baldwin, J. (1995). Go tell it on the mountain. New York: Modern Library. 9780679601548

The title of this book alone piqued my interest. Prior to  checking it out from HCPL, I was quite wary of this book. Nevertheless, my curiosity beat out my fear; after all, I’m strong in my beliefs.

Generally speaking, this semi-autobiographical novel follows characters connected to a storefront Pentecostal church in 1930s Harlam. It’s a day in the life sort of thing as well as a multi-generational  story.

The main character is John (James Baldwin), a young teenage boy being reared by his victimized mother Elizabeth and her husband, the strict, violent “preacher” Gabriel.  Gabriel abuses his family and seems to “have it in” for John, more so than John’s siblings. In return, John despises his father and fantasizes about killing him.  When John has such dreams and homoerotic feelings, he feels the wrath of God.

John shares center stage with his parents and his Aunt Florence as well. Still and all, it’s mostly John’s story. In addition to all of the abuse, John carries the burden of being held to high standards. He is expected to be a preacher when he grows up, unlike his impish younger brother, Roy. So, the reader sees the fateful day where John must decide between duty and temptation.

I have a feeling that this was a good book. The prose is clear and illustrative. These could be people I know. Yet, I didn’t enjoy it much. I’m tired of reading about abusive fire and brimstone spouting types at the moment. I felt Baldwin’s pain but I’m weary of reading about violent Christians. Maybe I should reread Cry, The Beloved Country.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Word Bank: (pending)

  • Come to Jesus
  • Fundamentalist
  • Pentecostal
  • Seventh Day
  • Storefront
  • Threshing Floor

Places: Harlem & Manhattan, New York; Georgia

For more on James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, please check out the following links:

Sean Stewart Price’s Attila the Hun: Leader of the barbarian hordes (A Wicked History)


Price, S. (2009). Attila the Hun: Leader of the barbarian hordes. New York: Franklin Watts. 9780531207376

When I discovered “A Wicked History” series, the biography of Attila the Hun was among the first I checked out from HCPL. I knew next to nothing about Attila but looked forward to reading the book.

The Roman Empire ruled most of the known world for over 400 years. Towards the end of the Roman Empire’s dominion, the brutish Huns imposed their own reign of terror. The Romans weren’t immune, either. The Huns were a scary cavalry which galloped through Eurasia and broke up “civilization.” The Huns were united under one man, Attila. Under his direction, the Huns extorted emperors, bullied neighbors, and made themselves known. The civilized people called him the scourge of God.

Only one record remains from an historian who encountered Attila. This Attila biography intrigued me. I’m still astonished by the hostage exchange of Attila and Flavius Aetius (a West Roman). It amused me how the Huns extorted Theodosius III, the East Roman Emperor. Also, I was impressed with how the citizens of Constantinople dealt with disaster. Yet, Attila would be no friend of mine. I definitely think he was wicked. What do you say?

Four Out of Five Pearls

Quote:

He was a man born to shake the races of the earth, a terror to all lands. . . .

– Priscus of Panium, describing Attila the Hun

Word Bank: (from the glossary of this book)

  • ambassador – a person sent by a government to represent that government in another country
  • assassinate – to murder someone who is well-known or important
  • avenge – to inflict harm in return for a wrong done to oneself or another
  • barbarians – people from various tribes that invaded the Roman Empire during the third to fifth centuries A.D.
  • battering ram – a large wooden weapon that was used to break down city walls
  • cavalry – soldiers who ride on horseback
  • consolidate – to bring several different parts together into one
  • corruption – to bring several different parts together into one
  • coup – a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power
  • demoralize – to cause to lose confidence or hope
  • deploy – to move troops into position for military action
  • depose – to remove from office suddenly and forcefully
  • devastate – to cause great distress, damage, or destruction
  • devout – deeply religious
  • divine – to do with or from God
  • empire – a group of countries or regions that have the same ruler
  • envoy – a person appointed to represent one government in its dealings with another
  • formidable – inspiring fear or respect through being impressively powerful
  • impale – to torture or kill by piercing with a sharp stake
  • legion – in the late Roman Empire, a military unit made up of about 1,000 men, each armed with a long, thrusting spear
  • monastery – a group of buildings where monks live and work
  • monk – a man who lives in a religious community and has promised to devote his life to his God
  • negotiate – to discuss something in order to come to an agreement
  • nomad – a person who wanders from place to place
  • pagan – a person who is not a member of the Christian, Jewish, or Muslim religions; such a person may worship many gods or have no religion at all
  • pillage – to rob using violence, especially in wartime
  • proposition – an offer or suggestion
  • province – a district or region of a country or empire
  • refugee -a person who is forced to leave his or her home because of war, persecution, or a natural disaster
  • reprieve – a postponement of a punishment
  • savagery – behavior that is fierce, violent, and uncontrolled
  • scourge – a cause of great harm and suffering
  • siege – the surrounding of a place, such as a castle or city, to cut off supplies and then wait for those inside to surrender
  • successor – one who follows another in a position of leadership

Places: Hungary, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Central Asia

For more about Attila the Hun, please check out the following sites:

Norman Itzkowitz & Enid A. Goldberg’s Genghis Khan : 13th-century Mongolian tyrant (A Wicked History)


Itzkowitz, N., & Goldberg, E. A. (2008). In Genghis Khan: 13th-century Mongolian tyrant. New York: Franklin Watts. 0531125963

When I searched online for a listing of “A Wicked History” Series, I discovered that the biography of Genghis Khan was one of the first. Disappointed that none of my local libraries had this one about Genghis Khan, I requested the item through interlibrary loan (ILL). Before reading this slim volume on the guy, I knew next to nothing about him – he was a scary man who still had the world talking, he left numerous descendants, and John Wayne, of all people, played Genghis Khan in a movie sans accent.

Genghis Khan was  born Temujin in the twelfth century on the harsh Mongolian Steppe. Here, many tribes duked it out constantly – fighting for survival and turf. His parents were the tough Yesugei and his kidnapped bride Hoelun. This was all but a dog eat dog world where the Mongols and others nomads of the treeless plain lived in yurts and eeked out an existence. When Yesugei died from a poisoned dish, Temujin and his family were left to fend for themselves. Where most perished, Temujin was scrappy and ornery enough to survive.

Temujin grew strong and conquered his world. His warriors maded up the best army and, with them, Temujin terrorized cities, raped and pillaged, rendered people homeless. He punished his enemies mercilessly.

However, Temujin became Genghis Khan (thought to mean “universal ruler”), a man also known for his loyalty and providence. He unified the clans and the tribes of the Steppe. Genghis Khan was even called religiously tolerant and he established a sort of pony express and even a written language.

Not much is certain about Genghis Khan; he permitted no one to paint his portrait and his grave site is unknown. A copy of The Secret History of the Mongols turned up in China in the 1880s.   This work depicts a son born in a bad situation, who pursued his own life ruthlessly.

Whether or not Genghis Khan was wicked seems to be an easy call for me. What do you think?

Three Out of Five Pearls

Quote:

The leaders of the Mongols said to the young Genghis Khan: We will make you khan . . . . And if we disobey your command, separate us from our families, from our ladies and wives. Separates us, and throw down our heads upon the ground! If we disobey you, exile us and throw us out into the wilderness.

– Excerpt from The History of the Life of Genghis Khan: The Secret History of the Mongols

Word Bank: (from the glossary of this book)

  • alliance – an agreement to work together
  • ally – a person or country that gives support to another
  • andas – in Mongol culture, friends who proved the closeness of their bond by drinking each other’s blood
  • ballista – a weapon that worked like a giant crossbow; it shot arrows that could break through the walls of buildings
  • Buddhist – a person who practices Buddhism, a religion based on the teachings of Buddha and practiced mainly in eastern and central Asia
  • caravan – a group of people traveling together
  • civilized – highly developed and organized
  • clan – an extended family group
  • descendant – a person’s child, grandchild, or other such relative on into the future
  • empire – a group of countries or regions that have the same ruler
  • exile – a situation in which one is forced to stay away from one’s homeland
  • firelance – a spear-like weapon with a tube containing gunpowder
  • Genghis Khan – Mongol words meaning “universal ruler”; Mongol leaders gave Temujin this title in 1206
  • khan – a Mongol word meaning ruler or leader
  • Muslim – someone who follows the religion of Islam, a religion based on the teachings of Muhammad
  • nomadic – wandering from place to place
  • ruthless – cruel and without pity
  • sable – a small animal that looks like a weasel; its soft brown fur is very valuable
  • sacred – holy, deserving great respect
  • scribe – a person who copies documents by hand
  • shaman – a person who communicates with the spirit world to help tell the future, control events, or cure the sick
  • steppe – treeless plains found in Asia
  • sultan – an emperor or ruler of some Muslim countries
  • tribe – a group of people who share the same ancestors and customs
  • Yasa – the code of law created by Genghis Khan
  • yoke – a wooden frame placed around a person’s neck to hold him or her prisoner
  • yurt – a circular tent made of felt stretched over a light, portable frame of branches

Places: Mongolia, China, Persia, Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia

For more on Genghis Khan, please check out the following sites:

Sean Stewart Price’s Cixi: Evil Empress of China? (A Wicked History)


Price, S. (2009). In Cixi: Evil empress of China?. New York: Franklin Watts. 0531221717

Scanning HCPL’s catalog for books of  “A Wicked History” Series, the only female I found was Catherine the Great.  Looking beyond the scope of HCPL, I found two more females in this series – Mary Tudor and Cixi. (When selecting biographies, I seek out the  females first due to my youth spent in Girl Scouts.) I knew next to nothing about Cixi, even the pronunciation of her name (it’s tsu shee, by the way). Thus, I requested her biography through interlibrary loan (ILL).

Cixi was born on 29 November 1835, more than likely in the Anhui province. Since she was a girl, she probably didn’t even have a first name. Later on, she was called Yehenara. Scholars believe she was born in the Anhui province of China. Her family was very poor but she was fortunate to be born into the Manchu clan, the ruling clan of China.

Being a Manchu enabled Yehenara’s family to register her as a concubine for the emperor. Additionally, Yehenara was pretty, crafty, and power hungry. Yehenara became a concubine of Xianfeng (shee-ahn-fung), Emperor of China, part of the Qing (ching) Dynasty. Yehenara secured her position in the dyanstic family by bearing Xianfeng a son. At Xianfeng’s early demise, Yehenara became Cixi, Empress Dowager of the West Palace.

From there, Cixi developed into a despotic puppetmaster, residing behind a silk curtain and directing her son, then her nephew in all matters. Many believed she poisoned those who opposed her conservative, then reactionary ideology. During her time as the woman behind the man, Cixi dealt with the hard blows of rebellion, invasion, natural disaster, and famine. She hindered more than helped, accused of driving her very own people to “chaos and starvation.”

I appreciated much that Price provided pronunciations of Chinese words and Price explained events well. Of all the biographies from the series I’ve read, I thought this one the most appropriate for juvenile audiences. As I previously stated, I knew very little about Cixi and can’t argue much with what Price has told me.

Was Cixi simply a product of her environment or was she evil?

Four Out of Five Pearls

Quote:

I have often thought that I am the most clever woman who ever lived, and others cannot compare with me.

– Cixi, Empress Dowager of China

Word Bank: (from the glossary of this book)

  • ancestor – a relative who lived a long time ago
  • barbarian – someone who is savage or uncivilized
  • barricade – a barrier to stop people from getting past a certain point
  • blaspheme – to say offensive things about a religion
  • billet – a chunky piece of wood
  • Buddhism – a religion based on the teachings of Buddha and practiced mainly in eastern and central Asia
  • calligraphy – the art of beautiful handwriting
  • civilization – an advanced stage of human organization, technology, and culture
  • concubine – a woman who has been chosen to be one of a Chinese emperor’s official mates, but whose social status is below that of a wife
  • Confucianism – a religion based on the teachings of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher who lived in ancient times
  • conservative – someone who opposes change and likes things to stay as they are or used to be
  • convert – a person who has changed his or her religion
  • corrupt – to make someone bad or dishonest
  • democracy – a country in which the people choose their leaders in elections
  • diplomat – a person who represents his or her country’s government in a foreign country
  • elite – a group of people who have special advantages and privileges
  • embassy – the official place in a foreign country where an ambassador lives and works
  • emperor – the male ruler of an empire
  • empress dowager – the title given to the mother of a Chinese emperor
  • eunuchs – men who could not have children and were servants to the Chinese imperial family
  • famine – a life-threatening lack of food
  • missionary – someone who is sent by a religious group to another place to teach that group’s faith
  • opium – an addictive drug that comes from the sap of the opium poppy
  • queue – a brad of hair, usually worn at the back of the head
  • reform – a removal or correction of an abuse or wrong
  • regent – a person selected to act as head of state because the ruler is too young to rule or is absent or ill
  • seal – a design pressed into wax and made into a stamp; it may be used to make a document official
  • sedan chair – a portable chair that is carried by two men
  • shrine – a holy building that often contains sacred objects
  • stupefied – astonished
  • succession – the order in which one person after another takes over a title or throne
  • Taoism – a Chinese religious tradition that emphasizes compassion, moderation, humility, and simplicity
  • treachery – the act of turning against someone who trusted you

Places: China

For more on Cixi, please see the following:



Libba Bray’s Going Bovine


Bray, L. (2009). Going bovine. New York: Delacorte Press. 0385904118

Davies, E., & Bray, L. (2009). Going bovine. New York: Random House/Listening Library. 9780739385579

Yes, they say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. However, seeing the cow carrying a whimsical gnome drove me to check out the book from HCPL. Unfortunately, I had a stack of other books at the time and had to turn in the book. Later on, I checked out the audiobook and was quite pleased by Erik Davies’ narration.

Cameron John Smith seems to be a stereotypical sixteen year old boy living in Hidalgo, Tx – too smart to give a flip about anything. He’s an awkward underachiever who has rejected the world before it can reject him. He tries to get by without calling much attention to himself. Yet, his body seems to have lost control. Cameron sees weird things, too – a punk angel, fiery giants, etc.

By some odd twist of fate, Cameron has gotten Creutzfeldt Jakob’s Disease (commonly known as mad cow disease) from a burger eaten at his former place of employment, Buddha Burger (ironic, isn’t it?).  (A side note here for all of my former Natural World II classmates – thanks to Deadly Feasts, we know all about CJD and folks going bovine.) Cameron finds himself in the hospital bed by spring break, sometimes sharing a room with a hypochondriac dwarf classmate of his, Gonzo. That is when Dulcie, the punk angel addresses him and commissions him to save the world in exchange for a cure. Finding he has nothing left to lose, Cameron ventures forth with sidekick Gonzo.

Without revealing much more, I loved the parts involving Balder, the Norse god trapped in a garden gnome shell. Also, I can describe this novel with one of my favorite words – quixotic. Cameron goes on quests, has a sidekick, fights for the honor of Dulcie (Dulcenea), and tilts windmills.

The imagination and creativity of Bray impressed me greatly. Nonetheless, she carefully minded boundaries; leaving Don Quixote and Disney World as is.

One caveat: this is for older teens. Going Bovine deals in topics such as sex and sexuality as well as using profanity.

ALA | The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, given by YALSA

Four out of Five Pearls

Word Bank:

Places: The United States

For more on Libba Bray’s Going Bovine, please check out the following: