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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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.

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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.”

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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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