Baby X and other fiction must-reads: review and giveaway

I get a little worried when people ask me to review books here. What if I don’t like them? What if I never get to them because I take an extremely long time over the simplest tasks nowadays? Yet here I am, with a review and giveaway of fiction you really shouldn’t miss.

The former hasn’t been a concern when offered books by independent publisher, Mother’s Milk Books. I’ve been repeatedly stunned by the quality of the work emerging from such a small operation, running out of founder Dr Teika Bellamy’s home. Unfortunately, I have taken a long time over this review.

The reading actually mostly came quickly. I consumed Rebecca Ann Smith’s Baby X in one go, breathlessly reading it over the course of a week, starting the day after Delilah was born (would you believe?!). It was a welcome companion as I bedded in with my newborn. Thriller meets medical ethics wouldn’t have struck me as an apt choice for exhausted postpartum reading but the driving force alive in this book wouldn’t let me let go.

The story takes us through the conception, gestation, birth and kidnap of the first baby grown in an artificial womb. Chapters flit between the perspectives of three women: Alex Mansfield – the genius doctor overlooking this landmark medical feat, her research assistant Dolly and Baby X’s expectant mother, Karen.

So much energy, heart and research has gone into this book. The science underpinning it appears thorough and the story raises genuine ethical questions about egg donation and about the future of reproductive medicine. Karen’s losses and struggles to conceive are utterly agonising and the bond she forms with Baby X does not feel at all contrived. Smith has here written pain and love in terms we can all access.

Alex’s story of bonding with this baby with she has artificially grown is surprisingly touching and relatable. She finds herself emotionally invested in the project, psychologically and even physically connecting with this history-making baby. As I read him, book in one hand, Baby X felt as real as the newborn I was nursing and cuddling to sleep.

I can scarcely believe this is Smith’s debut novel, it’s that accomplished. I’m looking forward to her next work and, also, someone needs to bring Baby X to the big screen, OK?

I took a bit longer over the second in the series of The Fantastical and the Forgotten, edited by Teika Bellamy, but only because I prefer to digest short stories like these an evening at a time, preferably with a bath or as a last thought before bed (a grown up’s bedtime story, if you will). However, I felt it made for such compelling reading that I actually gave my copy to a writer friend of mine and bought myself another copy. I’ll soon be buying the third instalment too.

The collection consists of eclectic rewrites of fairytales and mythology for adult readers, bestowing new meanings on familiar tales or introducing haunting new stories. They ask searing questions about where we come from, how we love and who we are. Themes of motherhood and femininity are recurrent but neither have to be your experience for these stories to inhabit your imagination or feed your mind.

Finally, I’ve recently enjoyed Alison Lock’s debut fantasy novel Maysun and the Wingfish. Towards the end, I wondered what it might be like to read it aloud to my eldest daughter (though it may be a little too exciting for her just yet), both because it’s really aimed at a younger audience and because the text carries the sense of an oral tradition, in keeping with the tribal world it depicts.

This is an ecological fairytale about people living at odds with and desperately seeking to survive in an environment that has grown increasingly menacing toward them. A young girl, Maysun, has been chosen to lead the way to restoration but her path is littered with danger.

The foundations of this world are convincingly laid. Animals come alive with character and the images throughout are remarkably alluring. The novel carries an almost poetic quality that makes it enjoyable reading for anyone.

Mother’s Milk Books is offering Beautiful Tribe readers a chance to win a copy of Baby X and The Fantastical and the Forgotten.

To be in with a chance to win, comment on this post, telling me how you make time to read, whether it’s a few hurriedly snatched minutes or a decadent session of hours, and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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When a home replaces period timber windows with uPVC

We live in an old house. Our cottage dates back to the late 1800s and I still haven’t wrapped my head around that history. When we were house hunting, we really didn’t know what we were looking for so checked out bungalows to new builds to period homes. It quickly became obvious that we were both drawn to “character properties” and, while we just wanted to buy the right place, we’d prefer an older home if possible.

Now that we’re here, we’re at the starting point of learning to live well in and care for our little piece of history. We’re discussing tricks to reduce condensation, how to let the house breathe, how to maximise energy efficiency and whether we might update some of the windows flagged up by our surveyor as a potential fire hazard. The house already has uPVC windows but the ones in the middle floor only open a flap so they’re the ones concern has been expressed about and that we’d be looking to replace.

Certainly, we’re appreciating the benefits of uPVC and the drawbacks of timber having lived here for a couple of weeks, especially as we looked around another period home which had not replaced its period timber windows. Our new windows make the house warmer, quieter and better insulated, all surprisingly so for a cottage in the countryside. The glass is also a lot less likely to break. Our front door has a wooden frame and I must admit the rattling panes set us a little on edge, imagining one of the children running through it.

Our uPVC windows don’t at all detract from the quaint style of the house so we’d be looking for a similar match for the middle floor set. In the event that it is confirmed that we need to update the windows quickly, a look through Rose Collection sash windows offers us three options: UltimateRose, HeritageRose and CharismaRose. Each includes a timber effect sash so by going with one of these options we could even restore some of the house’s historical character if we wanted to. There’s definitely no compromise on style there.

We’re still unpacking boxes and finding places for things to live but it’s something we will have to give more thought sooner rather than later. Like so many things, hey?

Brought to you by Rose Collection


Lässig changing bag: eco review and giveaway

I was asked to review a Lässig changing bag and, honestly, my first thought was, “Not another changing bag.” Then I took a closer look and realised that this really isn’t just another changing bag! Made from recycled polyester by a company committed to pursuing sustainability and taking social responsibility seriously, the Lässig mix ‘n match changing bag deserves a closer look. In fact, I thought you might want a chance to win one too and the brand has sent one for a giveaway here on the blog too.

The mix ‘n match changing bag doesn’t scrimp on style. It comes in three colour combinations, all of them simple, casual and eye-catching. I went for the rose, pictured here, which is also the colour of the bag I’m giving away. It feels like I’m carrying around a big handbag rather than an obvious changing bag.

My usual complaint about changing bags is that they’re designed to store disposable nappies but this one is roomy enough for bulky cloth. It fits three or four reusable nappies, washable wipes, a spare set of clothes for Delilah and Ophelia, my big water bottle, lunch, snacks and the usual other bits and bobs. There are loads of pockets too to make it easy to find stuff like your phone and keys. Sadly, I tend to absentmindedly shove both of them in and forget where but, you know.

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It comes with three sets of handles so you can grasp by hand, wear on the shoulder or sling over the shoulder. Personally, with three kids going with me most places, I pack it too heavily for the over-the-shoulder option but on the shoulder it’s fine going out and about and it’s easy to hang on a pushchair if we’re going somewhere with one. Full disclosure, on changing bags in general, I prefer a backpack if I’m going to be carrying for any serious distance but a bag like this is fine if we’re not doing that much walking or if we have a pushchair. And as bags go, the straps on this one are built for comfort.

Lässig only uses sustainable materials in their bags. PVC, nickel, azo dyes and phalates are out of the mix. They also use an FSC-certified print shop and are teamed up with tree planting and water supply projects among other environmental and social initiatives. They have combined their concern for nature and people with genuinely strong design.

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They also do kids backpacks. We were sent a couple of the Little Tree – Fox mini backpacks for the girls, which they’ve been delighted with. Again, they’re beautifully made, with lots of compartments (both useful and fun) and the prints are lovely. They’re a bit on the small side for Talitha, I think, but it probably depends on what you’re taking out and, obviously, I wouldn’t want to load her up anyway.

So, on to the giveaway! To enter to win a rose Lässig mix n’ match changing bag, visit their social responsibility page, leave a comment on this blog post telling me which of the initiatives listed there most interests you and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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UK entrants over 18 only
This giveaway is not in any way affiliated with Facebook or Instagram


What they wore – Lighthouse kids coats

Autumn in all its rainy, windy, leafy glory is here, which would once upon a time mean I’d be spending most of the days indoors. Life with kids, however, now means we need to get out a lot so we don’t all drive each other mad. So, of course, the change in season has given us many opportunities to test run the girls’ new coats sent to us for review by Lighthouse clothing.

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At five and two and a half, Talitha and Ophelia are both at ages where clothing is fun. They especially love the vibrant colours and cheerful prints on these Ella waterproof raincoats. The shared colours in the details means that they’re kind of matching without twinning. They often ask to match but sometimes would rather not so this satisfies both desires.

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In terms of performance, they’ve taken these coats into some serious rainfall and bitter winds and have been absolutely dry and toasty. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare through the winter season but they look so well made, I have no doubt they’re up to the job. The soft waterproof outer and the fleece lining make for a great combination of comfort and practicality.

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I’ve come to really love this time of year. The world is full of celebration and change and altering your wardrobe is a silly, little, fun bit of that.


George Bedroom Makeover Challenge

The girls’ bedroom has changed a lot in the last few months. For a start, we decided to swap their room with the guest room which was slightly more spacious. We’ve also introduced a wardrobe (discovered by the side of the road – score!) and ditched their old chest of drawers for an easier-to-open to chest from the diningroom. All in all, it’s improved their room’s functionality but I do feel like an aesthetic makeover is due at some point.

With their input, I’ve put together a mood board of what their dream bedroom might include, using items from the George Kids Home range. Talitha wanted: “Dinosaurs! Blue and yellow because they’re my fravourite colours! Lots of fairy lights and maybe my own lamp?” Ophelia said: “Lots of amamals!”

Here’s what would make it to their dream George room. It comes up to a total of £376.

Kids Bedroom Makeover Challenge

These circus blackout curtains (£24), this kids bean bag (£20), this seahorse clock (£9), this purple and yellow lava lamp (£14), this zig zag print throw (£12), these bunk beds (£199), this blue desk and chair (£75), these owl string lights (£7) and this dinosaur cushion (£7).

This is my entry for the George at ASDA kids’ makeover challenge. Check out the hashtag #GeorgeousRoomChallenge on Twitter and Pinterest for more kids’ bedroom ideas.

This is a collaborative post


Five ways to make your home more kid-friendly

My own personal brand of nesting has less to do with cleaning the oven (though, yeah, should really get on that some time) and more to do with making our house as accessible as possible for the children before the baby comes. A little organisation goes a long way and making small changes not only aids their independence but hopefully means less stress when getting to grips with looking after a newborn again. In this vein, I’ve been gathering ideas for ways to make various rooms in our home more child-friendly.

Child seat and stool in the bathroom
This won’t be a change for us as we’ve had them for a while but now that two-year-old Ophelia is out of nappies, I’m really grateful that our in-build child seat has made the toilet an appealing alternative to the potty. With the stool, she can get on to the toilet on her own as well as wash her hands. Of course she still needs support with both these tasks but now that I’m less able to get on the floor or lift her, it’s an appreciated addition to our bathroom along with some extra accessories .

Water dispenser
We bought a glass mason jar dispenser last year and (when I remember to refill it) it’s been brilliant for the girls fetching their own water. They love using it. Ophelia can mostly use it on her own though sometimes Talitha helps her. I even think they drink more water as a result.

Labeling boxes
While I try to regularly declutter so they don’t have an overwhelming number of toys and to have things displayed on shelves because out of sight is out of mind, we have boxes for multiple objects like puzzles, games and duplo. Labelling them has meant that the kids know where things are and are more likely to find ways to entertain themselves. It’s also made clean up easier for all of us.

Visual checklist
I’m terrible for remembering to remind them to brush their teeth and use the loo when we’re leaving the house. It often feels like enough to remember myself! So we’ve pinned up a visual checklist of stuff that has to be done before we go out and before we go to bed. We’ve had it for a while now and so far they are loving it and it’s actually making life run much more smoothly. The drawings means that even Ophelia knows what’s on there and loves getting things done so she can tick them off – most of the time, anyway!

Make your home more child friendly

Accessible clean up
My kids are still at the stage where they enjoy cleaning – as long as it’s self-chosen! So if they spill something, they’re happy to wipe it up. We use old rags instead of kitchen roll and store them in a low drawer so they can access them as they need then put them in a bucket underneath the kitchen sink, ready for the wash.

Have you made any child-friendly changes to your home? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Teaming up with Tesco for these insights


Buying and Selling a House

We recently came to the end of our three-year mortgage agreement and have been going through the arduous process of renegotiating. Obviously, it was on our radar for a while, cue lots of discussions about what we should do. Sell up and buy another house, maybe upgrading or going for a fixer upper this time? Should we move to another part of Bristol? Should we think about whether somewhere totally new is where we’re meant to be?

I’m sure we’ll continue to have these discussions (we never seem to completely settle) but for now, having a new baby is enough without the stress of moving or even of renovations this close to the due date (I’m 35 weeks now). So we’re staying in this house and thinking about what we can change over time. To be honest, even a thorough decluttering will be enough of a change!

With buying and selling on my mind, it’s been interesting to look through Carpetright’s Property Guide and Survey. They’ve put together tips on buying and selling a property as well as a survey that you can complete to enter with a chance to win £500 in vouchers and a hamper.

The house we’re in now is our first property. When we were looking to move out of renting we looked at maybe twenty houses or even upwards of that. It honestly got to the point where it felt like it didn’t really matter which we bought, though obviously it did. We’d set our eyes on moving to South Bristol, a bit more centrally but were put off by the fact that we wouldn’t be able to afford anywhere with a decent garden.

Meanwhile, closer to where we were currently living, the houses are much bigger, the gardens excitingly spacious – vital as we’ve got so much into gardening – and it feels like we’re in the countryside in some bits, even though it’s a quick drive or bus journey into the city centre. All of this was going for far lower prices. Granted, property in our area has shot up since but it probably still compares favourably. Anyway, we decided to stay put and it’s absolutely been the right decision for us so far.

The first point in Carpetright’s buying guide is to work out what you can afford and this was key for us. We already knew that we were going to be home educating as well as having more children (Talitha was a toddler at the time) so we wanted to get a mortgage Laurence could pay on his own. Although I do work, I earn very sporadically and not enough for us to rely on. The pressure of a mortgage based on a double income would have dictated our lifestyle in ways we weren’t comfortable with.

Looking at their selling guide is a bit daunting. I can’t imagine our house ever being clean enough or toned down enough for a sale, though I’m sure we’ll manage when we eventually do, especially as our area is becoming so desirable. The cats might have to live outdoors for a while!

Are you thinking of buying or selling? Do take a look at Carpetright’s guides and don’t forget to enter the survey to win.

This post is sponsored by Carpetright