Sunday, 16 November 2014

Book Review: The H-Bomb Girl


Lately I feel like my blog has been moving away from the original 'bibliophilia' concept, which doesn't bother me too much as I never really intended to only post about books, but I thought I'd get back on track today with a review. If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll know that my idea of a review is less of an objective analysis that goes through the good and bad aspects of the novel, and more of a chance for me to rave about my favourite books under the guise of professionalism.

On precisely that note, it's not the first time I've read The H-Bomb Girl, and as it's one of my favourite books of all time I highly doubt it will be the last - however, I felt that this time round I read it is really worth talking about here on my blog.

Note: this post will contain spoilers

The H-Bomb Girl by Stephen Baxter

One of my favourite things about this book is that its genre is not entirely obvious. Although it's filed under dystopian fiction on my bookshelf (and it really ought to be under science fiction, only that shelf isn't high enough to fit it on as my copy is hardback and really quite huge), there's certainly a case to be made for it being historical fiction: it's set in the sixties, more than 50 years ago (an often-cited criteria for historical fiction), and the author writes from research rather than personal experience.

I tend to love books which are somewhat ambiguous in terms of genre, for instance the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray, which falls comfortably in between fantasy and (my old favourite) historical fiction. Another example is Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, a book of such epic proportions and mind-boggling complexity I can't even begin to think how to label it.

But anyway. The H-Bomb Girl is set in Liverpool in October 1962, with the Cuban Missile Crisis looming. It just so happens that in history class at the moment we're actually studying the Cold War and in particular this crisis, so for the first time I actually fully understood all the political background - while it is sort of explained, it's assumed that the reader has a decent knowledge of the Cold War, which I can't say I had until recently. Essentially, the Cuban Missile Crisis was a 13-day confrontation in October 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Union over the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba, poised ready to annihilate several major American cities at the push of a button. It was the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full scale nuclear war, which I find absolute fascinating in itself - if things hadn't gone exactly as they did during those 13 days, it might have resulted in one of the two superpowers deploying their missiles, which would have meant a swift retaliation by the other side and BOOM: the world as we knew it would have ceased to exist.

The H-Bomb Girl centres on, among other things, what would have happened if this had actually occurred. The main character is 14-year-old Laura Mann, who has just moved from London to Liverpool and on of this is dealing with her parents' difficult divorce and the return of her mother's American love interest from the days of the war. Her dad is an RAF officer, and has entrusted her with a strange key whose existence she must keep secret: she doesn't know what it is or what it's for, only that it will keep her safe if the worst should happen. On her first day at school she meets Bernadette, a tough girl who looks older than her age, and Joel, the only black kids in the school. Joel is extremely knowledgeable about the political situation, and works out that Laura's key is somehow linked to Vulcan bomber planes.

I won't go into the whole plot here, but I will say that time travel is a major plot element, and parallel timelines begin to converge in a very confusing way. Any fans of Doctor Who will be more than able to cope with the concepts introduced, which include paradoxes and moments where time is in flux, not to mention thrilled at the mention of a new BBC programme introduced as 'Dr Who' at the end of the novel.

One of my favourite things about the story is the way Liverpool's vibrant youth culture, particularly music (the Beatles make several appearances) is seamlessly interwoven with the science fiction side of things. One minute you've got teds making trouble in the Cavern Club, and the next minute future versions of Laura are explaining how they came to be in 1962. Another element which breaks up the narrative to particularly interesting effect is excerpts from Laura's diary, which turns out to be very relevant to the plot.

There is so much content in The H-Bomb Girl that it's quite easy to pick it apart, although I hardly want to for fear of spoiling its wonderful integrity. Something I might say in criticism of the writing itself is that, in my opinion, Stephen Baxter seems to miss the mark in a lot of the action scenes and ones where the characters are interacting with a lot of emotion. I think it works, on the whole, but some moments are a little less than smooth which does bother me on occasion. But on the whole it's a terrific read, and one I know I will come back to over and over again.

Rating: 8.5/10


Friday, 7 November 2014

UK Haul - Clothes & Books


Last week was half-term, so I was in the UK visiting family and generally doing a lot more work that I would have liked. But of course no trip to the UK complete without a healthy dose of shopping, a significantly lighter purse at the end of it and finally a haul post with poor quality photos to let you all know how much of a consumer I am.

Note: I'm getting a fairly decent camera for Christmas so hopefully there's some comfort in knowing my photos will be better soon!

Velvet Top from New Look, £12.99

I have a slight obsession with velvet (I've been on the hunt for a red velvet skirt for years), so when I saw this top I was over the moon. It's a really dark, almost-black blue, and I think it has so much potential for the festive/party season.

Red Plaid Top from Primark, £6

Another of my obsessions is plaid, and specifically red plaid: I have a dress, a jumper and two shirts in it, but no actual tops, surprisingly. This one is really nice, because it's the perfect amount of stretchy to tuck into skirts and it also has a collar, which I love.

Blue Checked Shirt from Primark, £8

I have far, far too many checked shirts, but (and this is how I justified this purchase to myself) none in this exact shade of blue.

Shawl from Matalan, £12

This has honestly become my new favourite thing. It's unbelievably warm and cosy (although not quite enough so for the bitterly cold mornings we've been having lately), and best of all is reversible so it's essentially a 2-in-1.

Houndstooth Skirt from New Look, £12.99 

Skirts are just about my favourite thing ever to wear in autumn (and even winter, if I can stand it), with thick woolly tights and boots. But I realised I only really had skater style skirts, with the exception of one black miniskirt which is frankly on the risqué side for school. This, however, is a dream: it's a perfect fit, really thick material and also happens to complete my trilogy of houndstooth patterned pieces (the others are leggings and a sheer top).

Chelsea Boots from Primark, £12

I absolutely adore these boots, and having worn them all week I can't recommend them highly enough. They're also exactly what I set out to get, which is somewhat of a miracle in itself since that never happens for me.

A Death in Tuscany by Michele Giuttari

Well hello there, you Italian crime novel, you - I can't say this is a genre I'm overly familiar with, but it was a 3 books for £5 deal and this was the third one I picked out. The cover really reminds me of the cover of The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster, a play we read in Advanced English last year.

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

I was first and foremost on the lookout for historical fiction (to feed my insatiable penchant for it), and happened to come across this intriguing read. It's set in Italy in the late 15th century, which just about does it for me as I love everything about the Tudors and the Renaissance.

The English Girl by Margaret Leroy

I'm not particularly captivated by the title or cover of this book, but the blurb really drew me in - it's described as a 'breathtaking historical novel' and set in 1930s Vienna, which really interests me as last year we studied the period between the two wars in a lot of detail and as far as I know I don't own any other books set around then.

I also got a few other odd things like nail varnishes, pyjamas, fur-lined black leggings that were impossible to photograph and a coat from New Look that I forgot to photograph.


Monday, 3 November 2014

Melanie Martinez


Once again it's been a while, but today I really wanted to share my thoughts on an artist I've discovered recently through my good friend Aoife.

Her name is Melanie Martinez, and incredibly she's only 19. She was a contestant in the American version of The Voice a couple of years ago and got to the top 6, and since then she's released an EP, Dollhouse, which has literally become my favourite thing ever. For some reason it's not on iTunes (as far as I'm aware), but you can buy the EP here and the songs can easily be found on YouTube.

I'm absolutely in love with the creepy pop vibe to her music - I've seen her described as a cross between Lana Del Rey and Marina & the Diamonds (two of my top favourite artists, coincidentally), which I can see some truth in, but at the same time her music style is so different and unique I can't really compare it to anything. My favourite song of hers is definitely Carousel, it honestly feels like I'm going around on a carousel in an abandoned theme park. I also ADORE her adorable quirky style and hair, it really ties in well with her music.

Here are the four songs from her EP Dollhouse, including the music videos for Dollhouse and Carousel:

In my usual tradition, I also made a Polyvore polaroid set of her to add to my collection of similar sets I've made for my other favourite artists - you can see the collection here.