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    UrbanCoffeeCo book club: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

    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?
    I read Delirium earlier in the year – here’s my review of it.
    Books

    Review: Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray

    From GoodReads:

    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 …

    Review:

    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.

    Books, Internet and social media

    A social media book club (no really)

    Wednesday was an interesting day for me; in the morning I went to a social media book club held by two of the students from Birmingham City University’s MA in social media and in the evening was the Birmingham Skeptics in The Pub discussion by Michael Marshall on How PR came to rule modern journalism (more about the latter in another post I think).  Wow that was a long sentence.

    I pitched up to the Social media book club (or #masocialmedia book club on twitter) after Alina and Grace, the organisers, turned up to my book club last month and invited me along.  Sadly the short notice on getting the book and two trips meant I didn’t get to finish the book, but I made a good way through the book of choice; Making Is Connecting by David Gaunlett.

    I don’t think it would be fair of me to try and explain what the book is about as I didn’t finish it, but the longer version of the title is a good place to start ‘Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0’.  I thought the parts of the book I read were pretty interesting, although very optimistic and could’ve done with being a little more sceptical at times.  I sort of waffled through something about Apple and approving/rejecting apps and some issues it got into trouble with that I read a while back, which in hindsight the MA social media students were probably in a better position to talk about than me!

    Was interesting to see how a non-fiction book club could work.  Seemed everyone (apart from me) read the whole book, with each chapter being given to someone to focus on and lead the discussion, which I think worked superbly and really gave a sense of interaction with everyone.  I’m thinking of nicking the idea for my book club, but I’m not sure they’d be overly keen on homework!

    Music

    Stumbling across acoustic gems: Koji and Into It Over It

    I love it when a gig surprises you.

    A few weeks ago I went to see Koji and Into It Over It on the Birmingham leg of their UK tour at the Wagon and Horses.  It was the first time I’ve been there even though I’d been meaning to go for ages.  It’s a pretty cool place – looks a bit like an old man pub, but the function room (“out the back and up the fire escape” was how it was described to me) plays host to a load of punk, hardcore and metal type stuff on a regular basis.  Which I’ve kinda been missing since moving back to Brum.

    Anyway this gig wasn’t really that kind of show.  Well a couple of the bands were, but the two main acts were delightfully acoustic, which I have to admit now I really wasn’t expecting.  But it was a great surprise.

    First of the main act was Koji.  His original stuff was stunning, I picked up a CD and its been a delightful distraction to rush hour traffic on the way home from home.  But one of my favourite songs on the night was his cover of Ted Leo/Pharmacists’s Biomusicology.  I found a copy of youtube;

    I adored what became the audience participation part; “All in all we cannot stop singing we cannot start sinking, we swim until it ends.  They may kill and we may be parted, but we will never be broken hearted”.  I’d not heard the original before, but koji’s version has to have been one of the best ways to be introduced to the song.  Just beautiful.

    And Into It Over It was also pretty brilliant too.  Would highly recommend checking out both guys’ music, I know I’ll be buying more of it soon.

    Books

    Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper

    VelvetVelvet 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.

    Birmingham, Books, Internet and social media, My Thoughts

    My thoughts on Library Camp 2011

    I felt a bit of a fraud on Saturday morning turning up to Library Camp, an unconference for librarians, until I realised that I had actually spent some time looking after a library.  And I made cake, which actually seemed to be more of a prerequisite for attendance than a library career.  Thankfully everyone was so utterly delightful that I think as long as you are passionate about libraries and had cake you were greeted with welcomed arms.

    Photo of part of the timetable by smilylibrarian from flikr

    The first part of the unconference was the pitching for sessions, duly written on post-it-notes, groups and organised into sessions.  It’s a shame we could only go to five, but when the disappointing thing is too many interesting sessions you know you’re on to a good thing.  Thankfully lots of people tweeted throughout the day so it was possible to catch up on other discussion and people have subsequently blogged their thoughts on them too (like this one from Jennifer Yellin).

    It’s hard to pick favourites, but I really enjoyed the two on advertising and what libraries can learn from retail, which isn’t surprising given that I work in communications and marketing.  Bums on Seats made some really good notes on these two sessions.  The retail session seemed to focus on a lot of practical things that could be done in libraries – displays and books facing outwards, although the idea of having books in categories seemed to split opinion.  Personally I think opening times are one of the biggest barriers to people using the library – something which I mentioned on twitter and seemed to get some good responses.  The last session on advertising was the one I understood the best, having experience in public sector marketing and it seems that some of the problems the librarians found were similar, if not worse, to those I found in the NHS.  Sadly it sounded like the will to market was there, but with little support from their corporate communications teams (one team has to email tweets to the webmaster which are frequently changed and lose meaning)

    The other notable session I sat in on was one on Shared Reading  A group of about ten of us read a short story about a father and son, paused at relevant places, which provoked some really unexpected and strong emotional reactions.  I’m not entirely sure I can convey how powerful and moving this session was, but when a 45 minute session with a group of strangers nearly brings you to tears you might get the idea.  I’m determined to learn more.

    Discussions at lunch about further education libraries, children’s development and a whole raft of bookish talk were really interesting.  Plus I was given a free book by the lovely @JennySarahJones which I found out about thanks to the power of twitter!

    So what did I learn

    • Library folk are some of the nicest people ever and really like their cake.
    • Following a hashtag (#libcampuk11) on tweetdeck when its updated fairly regularly is rubbish, the twitter app was a lot more useful.
    • The cola cupcakes recipe from Hummingbird Bakery book was actually a hit – people even tweeted me to say so!
    • If the people at libcampUK11 are anything to go by, so long as the current government doesn’t completely chop the library budget to shreds, the future of libraries are in good hands.

    Initially I wasn’t sure how interesting I’d find the day or how useful I’d be, but in the end I left Library Camp inspired and hopeful – and determined to use the library more.  A big thanks to those that organised the event and to those in attendance for providing me with some really interesting ideas.

    Books

    In My Mailbox

    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!