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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The Children’s Garden by Matthew Appleby

A while ago, I was sent The Children’s Garden a book filled with inspiration for things to make and do with children the garden. It’s written by Matthew Appleby, a former primary school teacher and author of The Allotment Planner. An aesthetically pleasing hardback, full of beautiful and helpfully instructive images, it’s a real pleasure to own and lovely book for the kids to flick through to see if anything appeals if they’re at a loose end.

The Children's Garden by Matthew Appleby-2

The book presents 52 family projects, themed and ordered by season, ranging from dead-easy, (nighttime snail watch with a torch, anyone?) to reasonably challenging (why not keep some chickens?). Everything is given careful step by steps, not assuming knowledge. There are even follow up ideas to take activities further and deepen your family’s outdoor experience. Some projects even take you beyond the confines of your own garden.

Looking ahead to Autumn, I’ve nabbed a few ideas from The Children’s Garden for our bucket list. We’ll hopefully be picking apples and blackberries and making crumble, crafting temporary collages with collected Autumn items, carving pumpkins and toasting marshmallows over a bonfire in our garden.

The Children's Garden by Matthew Appleby-3

We don’t need too much beckoning to get outdoors generally but I imagine once the weather gets colder, I’ll be glad of easy inspiration when my hands are full with the baby and my older two. I can particularly see this book helping those who don’t spend that much time in their gardens but would like to.


What I’m loving lately and Win a copy of Modern Romance

It’s been a while since I shared some of the things I’ve been loving lately so I thought I’d welcome the weekend with a little roundup. Let me know anything you’ve been into lately that you think I should checkout.

More time outdoors
What I'm Loving Lately-2 This is such an obvious thing but we are so much happier and healthier when we’re outdoors, aren’t we? The trouble is, I hate winter. Even all bundled up (this was my best winter on the layers front) I think having grown up in a tropical climate makes me particularly susceptible to suffering under the dark and cold. I’ve also been finding that carrying Ophelia or pushing a pushchair leaves me in agony with my ligaments softening in pregnancy.

I’ve been pushing through recently and committing to taking the kids outside once a day and staying out with them, even if it’s just the garden or the park across from where our home ed co-op meets, and it’s really been helping me to cope a bit better with everything else. It helps that we’ve had some warmer, sunnier days recently but I’ve been appreciating that there’s something to be said for a walk through the rain or pushing through the wind too. Ophelia is walking so much now that getting out is far less daunting. She’s also making good strides with learning to ride her scooter.

Peaky Blinders, Vikings and Winter’s Bone
wintersbone We’ve been waiting – it feels like forever – to watch Series 2 of Peaky Blinders. Yes, I know Series 3 is out now but Season 2 only recently came to Netflix. I was repulsed by so much in this series and really went off Cillian Murphey’s character, Tommy Shelby, in the earlier episodes but it’s impossible to stop watching, so beautifully shot and really captures British city bleakness. I only wish we hadn’t flown through the whole series in about a week.

Over on Amazon Video, I’ve been making my way through Series 4 of Vikings. This is one of those shows Laurence and I really should watch together as it appeals to both of us but for some reason we keep catching it when we’re apart. He doesn’t seem to be as into the latest series (maybe not enough full-on battles?) but I continue to be intrigued by what’s happening with Lagertha, the shield maiden turned earl. I have no idea how historical the programme is despite being produced by The History Channel but even if it’s pure historical fantasy, I’m happy to be taken in.

Also, a few weeks ago I watched Winter’s Bone on Netflix while babysitting for a friend and it’s really stayed with me. It’s truly a sign of a quality movie when you can’t stop thinking about it, isn’t it? This is the film Jennifer Lawrence was nominated in the Oscars for a few years ago and I can definitely see why. It’s terrifying, shocking, bleak and reassuring in one hit. I keep recommending it anytime “what have you been watching lately” conversations come up.

All the rainbows
Frugi rainbows Rainbows seem to have taken over children’s clothing. Maybe I’m really suggestible with this sort of thing but I’m desperate to get a hold of some for my girls, especially for Ophelia who is rainbow-mad at the moment. I love this Frugi dress and almost bought it for her birthday but wound up being a bit skint at the time. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get around to making some rainbow clothes. Time to dust off those applique skills.

Creating over consuming
Crocheting baby blanket - Instagram On that note, I’ve felt really convicted recently that I want to make more than consume. There’s a lasting pleasure that comes from creating that the quick thrill of buying just can’t match up to, for me anyway. Crocheting a granny square baby blanket for our baby due in July has been nothing short of therapeutic. I’m really looking forward to wrapping her in it.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Modern Romance Instagram

Lastly, you might remember me going on about how Netflix’s Master of None was basically the funniest, most culturally literate TV series I’d seen in a long time and that I’d become an Aziz Ansari mega fan as a result. Well, on the back of that, Penguin asked me whether I’d like to check out his new book, Modern Romance and give away a copy. Well, yes I would. So here we go.

The book reads as a hilarious study of how technology, from sexting to online dating to social media, has complicated how people find love today. Ansari is astute in his understanding of people, open about his own experiences, thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny in turn. He writes as he speaks and if you’ve ever seen his standup comedy, you’ll know that can only be a good thing.

To win a copy of Modern Romance, enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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Competition added to Loquax and ThePrizeFinder.

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Mother’s Milk Books review and giveaway

I first came across indie publisher Mother’s Milk Books a few years ago, both through La Leche League (the breastfeeding charity that has been a source of strength, support and community to me since becoming a mother) and through chatting about breastfeeding and parenting online.

Their tagline “Celebrating femininity and empathy through images and words” pretty much encapsulates what drew me to them and the books they publish. I say “they” but the press is run solely by at-home mother and founder Dr Teika Bellamy.

Mother’s Milk Books receives no funding and makes no profit but they are putting out such important books. I want to tell you about three of them, which Mother’s Milk Books are giving away to one of my readers.

Mother's Milk Books

Musings on Mothering

After meaning to for ages, I finally bought their Musings on Mothering – About Pregnancy, Birth, and Breastfeeding: An Anothology of Art, Poetry and Prose at an LLL event last year. The collection covers broodiness to the first feed to remembering our own mothers. It is page after page of voices speaking what is true about the human experience of being mothers, fathers and children, illustrated often with children’s artworks. Musings is a beautiful and powerful book. Describing and sharing our family experiences artistically (fathers’ voices feature too) can mysteriously connect us. This collection realises that mystery.

In strangers’ arms my mother’s touch,
My friends when all alone
In strangers’ eyes my father’s face,
In all my pathways, home.

Mother's Milk Books-3

The Forgotten and the Fantastical

This is an entirely different sort of collection. The Forgotten and the Fantastical brings together modern fairy tales for adults, filtered through many different voices and experiences.  The writers take on Red Riding Hood to the Arthurian Legends, leaving only echoes of the familiar. Every tale is thrillingly unexpected. I found myself wanting to read some of them aloud – so strong was the sense of the oral tradition on the page. The authors’ notes at the end complete the experience. It’s definitely worth getting your hands on, especially if you’re looking for something to easily dip in and out of.

“Grief made no reply but the boy could see her clearly now. She had swelled from a voice in the wind to a grotesque face that enveloped the whole grey sky, her great mouth opening in a putrid mess of rotting teeth and stale blood.”

Little Loves-2-2

Oy Yew

Oy Yew is a children’s novel, suitable from age eight, which equally targets adult readers. Gripping from the start, it is dark, tense and wickedly humorous. It follows the plight of Oy Yew, a parentless waif who adopts this name since it’s how he’s been addressed as long as he can remember. He’s enslaved in a great house, along with other waifs, all underfed to stunt their growth and they must creatively make their way to freedom. The fantasy world and characters that author Ana Salote has created in Oy Yew are rock solid. I echo another reviewer in affirming that this is a classic in the making. I’m looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

“He fed daily on the smell of bread, letting the vapours swirl around his brain and conjure themselves a high-risen floury loaf. He would sieze it with his two hands, break open the crust and inside it would be fluffy and white with a puff of steam, and he would scoop out the new bread and eat. That warm salt vapour would feed his mind for hours, but his body did not know bread.”

To win a copy of Musings on Mothering, The Forgotten and the Fantastical and Oy Yew, tell me what your favourite spot for reading is and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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Five things to do before the baby comes

At thirty-three weeks pregnant, the countdown has begun. Laurence asked me yesterday if we’re in the third trimester yet. I pray he was joking. At any rate, I’m determined to make the most of these next seven (or five or nine or God alone knows how many) weeks.

This does not entail, as has been previously suggested to me, clubbing. Anyone who’s made that suggestion (and they’ve tellingly all been male) doesn’t quite understand that this thing around my middle really is as heavy as it looks.

Nope, dancing days waved goodbye a week after I peed on the sticks. Then the first trimester’s exhaustion/nausea/generally-feeling-like-I’m-dying was speedily followed by the ligaments in my pelvic girdle deciding to fall apart and do a fancy jiggle called SPD. Though that’s admittedly chilled quite a bit with exercise and listening to my body, the third trimester has brought the return of exhaustion, coupled with needing to know where the restroom is at all times.

So, in short, I’m afraid this list won’t be as active as some of my friends would probably like but it reflects how excited I am about meeting the creature. Call me 25 going on 50.

Before the baby arrives I want to:

1. Get all things “baby” ready

This might actually strike some as surprising, since I clearly have the kid on the brain rather a lot of the time, but I haven’t set up the nursery yet. Yes we’ve bought things. We even have the pram and car seat. But everything is sitting in the room, mostly in bags, unwashed and wondering if a baby is really coming. Then Braxton Hicks rudely reminds me that it’s worth getting my tush into gear, even though I do have loads of time left.

2. Learn origami

I mentioned this to a crafty friend the other day and she seemed excited that we were going to make a mobile or something (not a bad idea though, not at all). Really, I meant that we need to work this nappy situation out.

We’ve opted to do the cloth nappy thing. My brother and I wore reusable nappies and I’m keen to continue the family tradition mainly because we don’t have much money and I saw an exhibition in Bristol Zoo last year that freaked me out about what disposables do the environment.

I now have a collection of pocket nappies, all-in-ones and terry toweling but little idea of how to use them so I’ll be having some fun with Videojug and online diagrams these next few weeks. I say “I” but I do mean “we”.
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Will the baby like libraries?

Today I’m over at WAHM-BAM with a guest post I’ve written for Tasha Goddard’s Book Week. It’s called “Will the baby like libraries?” Please mozy on over there and share your thoughts.

Hopefully I’ll be sufficiently sniffle-free soon to write something equally substantial over here. In the meantime, I’m catching up on my reading and prepping for the big BabyBash on Saturday. In fact, I’ll probably tell you all about that tomorrow.


There are no books I must read before I die

We’ve been massively sorting out the house (and the garden, thanks to my in-laws) this weekend. It’s about time, I suppose, considering that we moved in a month and a half ago and once the baby’s here (nine weeks to the due date now), it will probably be a while before we care about where those picture frames should hang.

Also, we’re hoping for a mass invasion this Saturday with friends coming over for the event we have dubbed The JK BabyBash. No doubt, I’ll tell you more about that later as much excitement surrounds it and I’ll be getting well into it once this stupid cold is gone.

So, um, yes. My mind is wandering. Fever does that. I was saying that we were tidying the house. Well, that’s meant I’ve found all the bags of stuff we’ve been planning to take to the charity shop or the library for…literally years. Including these:

I recently wrote in a guest post that will appear on Tasha Goddard’s blog WAHM-BAM later this week for her Book Week that Laurence has a penchant for hoarding books while I’m very much a read ’em and donate ’em kinda gal. If it’s good, it’s worth sharing, I say. These, however, are his books.

I have an ongoing battle in my mind over what I should read and what I do. It’s probably a hang up from my days as an English Literature undergrad.

By the time I was on to my Masters, I was rather comfortable with my new philosophy that although “experts” will expound on what you must read before you die, life really is too short to be reading things that you downright don’t enjoy.

It’s like my in-laws insisting on watching every one of the Coen Brothers’ films, knowing full-well that they probably won’t enjoy them because they never do (except True Grit. This is the one Coen Brothers’ film they like).

I’m a hedonist when it comes to reading. Irvine Welsh is a genius, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean I feel compelled to read his work and certainly not to re-read it. I forced my way through Ecstasy past rape, bestiality, necrophilia and beyond and felt more than a little sick, which is likely what you’re meant to experience. I also gave Porno a go but soon trailed off, wondering why I was bothering to do this to myself. It’s sadistic.

Laurence agrees he likely won’t read them again so off they go to the library today to some other reader who’ll get more out of it than I.

That said, I have begun reading Crime and Punishment again, having used to describe it as a punishment in itself for those who struggled through it. Yes, this Lit graduate is a smidge Philistine.

One of my housemates in my second year at university forced her way through it so I gave it a quick go. But I had too much on my mind at the time and a reading list that was already daunting so after a few chapters, I put it aside with: “Ah well.”

But since Mama – and more suggested that I should make the most of reading in response to my post about things I should do before the baby comes, I looked through our shelves and thought, I’ll give you another go.

So far, I don’t understand what was blocking me with this book. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m curious to know whether there’s anything you wouldn’t read. Or whether you think that we should at least attempt to read everything touted as “valuable” that’s out there?