The final book club book of the year was Delirium by Lauren Oliver. Set in a world where love is considered a disease that the population can be cured of when they come of age, Lena is counting down the days to her operation. But when Lena meets Alex things take a turn.
Overall most of the group seemed to enjoy the novel, pronouncing it interesting but at times a little superficial. Certain aspects of the books didn’t seem to quite add up, particularly the timeline with Lena’s mother and the concept of passion amongst the regulators finding pleasure in their job. But with reminders of 1984 and cold war communism this book seemed to tread the balance of science-fiction dystopia and a love story well. The group really liked the way a teenage relationship was depicted from Lena acting silly and irrational, but being self-aware enough to know this. In fact the group felt the whole depiction of being a teenager, even trapped in a dystopia, was accurate and the theme of growing up was well played. Certain questions like why the regime exists and how big the compound they all live in were left unanswered, but being the first in a series of books it was thought they might be answered in later novels. Overall an absorbing read.
Questions/aspects we discussed:
- How well did you find the portrayal of a love-cure?
- Did the book do a good job of explaining first love and did it feel relevant to modern day as well as the novel’s setting?
- Did the book explain how people could feel pleasure in their job like the regulators?
- What about the idea of unnaturalism, the idea that homosexuality can be cured in this regime – how did that make you feel, did you notice it (p.47/8 in our copies)?
- What about why the family unit still existed – do you think this was realistic in the world the book was set?
- Did it remind you of any other books/regimes?
- And the usual: did you like it, would you recommend it and if so to who?
It’s not really kidnapping, is it? He’d have to be alive for it to be proper kidnapping.’ Kenny, Sim and Blake are about to embark on a remarkable journey of friendship. Stealing the urn containing the ashes of their best friend Ross, they set out from Cleethorpes on the east coast to travel the 261 miles to the tiny hamlet of Ross in Dumfries and Galloway. After a depressing and dispiriting funeral they feel taking Ross to Ross will be a fitting memorial for a 15 year-old boy who changed all their lives through his friendship. Little do they realise just how much Ross can still affect life for them even though he’s now dead. Drawing on personal experience Keith Gray has written an extraordinary novel about friendship, loss and suicide, and about the good things that may be waiting just out of sight around the corner …
I’ve been meaning to read something by Keith Gray for a while now, so when earlier in the year I noticed the Rep in Birmingham was putting on a performance of Ostrich Boys I had to go – especially as the ticket was only £5. This in turn made me want to read the novel it was based on before I went and I’m glad I did (the play was fab though).
The story centres around three boys dealing with the death of their friend Ross and decide to honour his wish to visit a town which shared his name so Ross would be in Ross. Along the way they come to terms with the news Ross’s death might not have been an accident and their guilt towards how they each individually treated him in his last few days – from girlfriends, to bullies and lost things.
This really was a wonderful book. It sounds so cliched but it dealt superbly with some really heavy subjects which sadly aren’t all that uncommon amongst teenagers. The reaction to the news that Ross might have committed suicide, both anger and quiet understanding, is so well played out that at no point does it feel patronising which it could so easily have been. The understanding and portrayal of how the nature of friendship groups change after a big event and the loss of one friend rings painfully true and the depiction of teenage boys feels entirely realistic – like hearing the story of a friend’s little brother. This novel is wonderful - I read it in less than a day and relished every minute of it.
My copy suggests this might not be suitable for younger readers, but I disagree. I think this book does a fine job of showing how unaware and well hidden other peoples emotional states can be and explaining the confusion and anger of those left behind. The main characters might all be boys, but I fail to believe that anyone wouldn’t be touched by this book. Beautifully bittersweet.
Velvet is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry. With both her mother and father dead, she is an orphan and has to rely upon her own wits to make a living. The laundry’s work is back-breaking and Velvet is desperate to create a better life for herself. Then Velvet is noticed by Madame Savoya, a famed medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet’s very life is in danger. (From Amazon.co.uk)
I’ve always thought I disliked historical fiction, but Velvet really changed my mind. Having won a set of Mary Hooper’s historical young adult novels from Wondrous Reads I figured I should at least give them a go and I’m glad I did.
The interweaving of historical fact with a fascinating fictional tale was superb. I hate unnecessary description and thankfully this book doesn’t suffer from it. The author doesn’t dilute the story with boring unnecessary history, rather keeping everything relevant whilst still being descriptive enough to evoke a great tale of Victorian/Edwardian Britain. There’s some informative notes at the back for readers wanting to know more about the history, with more details about one of the characters, Amelia Dyer, who was a real-life baby farmer during the time the novel was set. Velvet’s level of scepticism about the ways of mediumship was also a real pleasure to read in a genre which seems to be a bit obsessed with the paranormal at the moment. Not that I don’t like a bit of paranormal in my novels, but it was really refreshing to have a character that questioned what was going on.
The book is well paced and all of the characters are relatable, from the main characters to the peripheral ones visiting the Madame for spiritual guidance. I really liked Velvet herself, whose growth from humdrum laundress to personal maid of a famous medium is handled well. Velvet’s childhood friend Charlie is also another fascinating character and Lizzie, a fellow worker from the laundry, provides a good level for the difference in Velvet’s situation.
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable book and one I might be recommending to the Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub! I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and looking forward to reading more of Mary Hooper’s novels.
It’s not often that I enjoy being woken up before my alarm but when it’s the postman baring a parcel for me I make an exception. Turns out it was a set of Mary Hooper’s historical fiction novels that I’d won as part of a giveaway Jenny over at WondrousReads.com ran last month. Behold!
And what good timing – I finished reading Bumped by Megan McCafferty last night and need a new book to start. Historical fiction has always been something that I’ve shied away from in the past and really wanted a reason to give it a go, so this seems as good a reason as any. Now I’ve just got to decide which one to start with!
Thanks to Jenny and Bloomsbury UK!
by Lauren Oliver
Published in the UK in February 2011 (Hardback) and August 2011 (paperback)
Set in a world where love is considered a disease and the population are cured of it when they reach adulthood, Lena is counting down the days until she is cured and will forget the pain of her mother’s suicide. That is until Alex comes along and everything changes.
I have to admit I’ve been waiting for this book to come out in paperback ever since I read the plot summary. I adore dystopian fiction and I loved the idea of a world in which love is a curable disease. Yes, the idea itself was fairly brilliant, but the way it was executed really was something. Lena is a superb main character and to see her understand the beauty of love is truly heart-warming.
I was so gripped that about two thirds of the way through I had to put the book down for a few days because I just could not conceive of a way it would end well (unless the author was a real wimp and thankfully she isn’t) and I wasn’t sure I could face it. This book will get to you in the heart-aching kind of way that makes you think you’ve read a truly great piece of fiction. Read it, read it now. Probably my favourite book of the year.
I’ve been reading Sarah Dessen books for a while, but for some reason Along for the Ride passed me by. It’s pretty standard Dessen, in so far as a slightly awkward teenage girl who is a bit of an outsider spends a summer learning about herself and falls in love along the way. But why mess around with a tried-and-tested formula that works? That’s the beauty of Dessen’s novels, the charming way she shows the transformation of the main character coming of age and the undeniably sweet romance.
Along for the Ride is no different – studious Auden spends the summer with her father, his new wife and baby, where she learns about female friendships, experiencing life as a care-free teenager and crushes. Throw in some insomnia, late night drives and a boy who is guilt-ridden over the loss of a friend.
And it’s delightful. Auden is, like all of Dessen’s main characters, instantly likeable and easy to identify with. The love interest Eli is initially mysterious but once Auden knows more the more likably he becomes – particularly as he helps Auden capture a sense of youthfulness she missed trying to be the perfect daughter to an academic mother. The development from Auden as a solitary character to one who gets to know the girls who work at her stepmother’s store is well executed, particularly the move from grudgingly interacting with them to eventually appreciating that she had judged them on stereotypes. But it really is the late night jaunts and the transformation of Auden, who moves from being unsure of herself and a bit lost, to someone who seems to find a place for herself amongst the chaos of her family.
A delightful uplifting read, particularly for anyone who ever felt like they just didn’t quite fit in enough.
EDIT: Talking of similarities of Dessen’s characters, I came across this brilliant flow chart of the boys in Dessen’s novels by Karen Healey (via The Sarah Dessen Diarist). Utterly brilliant!
I know it’s midway through March, but the book club choice for February (Never the Bride by Paul Magrs) counts towards the British Book Challenge I’ve signed myself up to. Plus, I wanted to write a bit more than the general review I do for the coffee shop it’s hosted at.
Although some people in the book club really hated the book, I found it quite a pleasant book to read. It’s very easy to read, which meant that I managed to finish it without really feeling like it was a lot of effort. It read to me very much like a Sunday afternoon show on the BBC. It’s quaint, fun, a little dark, but in a wholesome kind of way. To the point where I was a bit shocked when one of the characters swore – it’s very middle England by the seaside, with a bit of a Doctor Who spookiness going on.
The chapters weren’t really chapters, and more a way of splitting up episodes of short stories. This works and doesn’t, as the short story nature of the book meant not everything was resolved. Being a fan of the monster-of-the-week type shows, I know they usually show the monster rising from the dead or something, but this didn’t feel wrapped up enough.
Not really sure who the book is aimed at either. But would say if you want a nice, light-hearted book to read and enjoy a bit of supernatural mystery, then this is probably for you. Suspect it would make a good holiday read.
- Questions for a book club/group on Never the Bride by Paul Magrs:
- What did you think of the book, would you recommend it?
- Did you finish it?
- Who did you think it was aimed at? There have been some suggestions it’s teenage fiction, does this fit with the characters and could you see teenagers reading it?
- What did you think of the Christmas Hotel and its owner?
- What did you feel about the chapters, did they feel like episodes?
- The book is the first in a series, would you read the others?
- Did you like the pop-culture like Manifest Yourself (we thought it was like Most Haunted) ?
- … and the literary references and Whitby & Bram Stoker and Frankenstein?
The book for the end of this month is The Bell by Iris Murdoch. My friend Liz is doing a piece of research into how book clubs respond to Murdoch and we’re her guinea pigs. She’s got some other groups signed up to read it too – if you’re interested, check out her blogpost on it.
After a year of trying to read proper books, I’ve cracked and gone back to reading what I know and love: Young Adult novels. The first of which was one I saw recommended on a few YA blogs (including Wondrous Reads) and my first read for the British Books Challenge – debut novel by Sita Brahmachari, Artichoke Hearts.
And what a novel.
I could feel myself welling up from page fifty when the main character’s dying grandmother goes to visit the art-shop for the last time. Towards the end of the book I was in tears. There is something so touchingly simple about this book that you cannot help but wonder what will happen to twelve-year-old Mira, her grandmother and Mira’s burgeoning interest in her classmate Jide Jackson, a boy with more to him than meets the eye.
The main arch of the novel is the way Mira deals with grief for the first time, but Brahmachari gentle description of other new eye-opening experiences, like Mira’s discovery over the genocides in Rwanda is dealt with in an honest and un-patronising manner, something which sadly is not always the case (particularly in YA novels).
I slowed down the speed I usually read in order to savour this book, I was that taken with it. And I’ve already recommended it to three other people. It’s a truly delightful, subtle yet powerful read. Highly recommended.