39 Weeks and Counting

Well, here we are, 39 weeks pregnant and still no sign of Little Moore (at the time of writing this, anyway!)

Edit: Less than 12 hours after writing this, my waters broke, so I’ve had to edit it slightly. But yey, Little Moore is on the way!

I won’t lie, I’m getting pretty impatient now. The house is pretty much sorted, we’ve bought everything we need to and I’ve been off work for two weeks now. Yet still no sign of baby! I know I should make the most of the baby free time while I can, but I can’t help but wish labour would just get started!

I’ve not had a lot of complaints throughout my pregnancy, but there are a few more uncomfortable things happening now the finishing line is in sight. The worst was an eczema flare up. I’ve had eczema a couple  of times before, only when I’ve been in Edinburgh for some reason (I think it could be the water there or something) but this is the worst it’s been, and was probably down to pregnancy hormones. It’s almost all cleared up now but for a good week and a half almost my entire body was itchy and painful and uncomfortable (check out my tips for eczema relief here).

As I’m typing this, I’m having to do it very carefully and keep making mistakes, because my fingertips are pretty numb – another bizarre symptom which I’m told will go away once baby is born.

I’ve been pretty nervous about labour and birth before – just the usual things really, pain and exposing myself and pain and the unknown, and pain again. But I feel like I’m a lot more ready for it now, by being prepared with things like my hospital bag, having heard my sister’s recent experience of giving birth, and just being mentally prepared. At the end of the day, baby is in there now and needs to get out somehow, and nothing is going to change that. It’s might be new and scary, and sure it probably is going to hurt a hell of a lot, but women have been doing this for years, multiple times too (I have three sisters so my own mom was happy to go through it four times).

Next time I’m doing a baby post it should be about my birth experience, or introducing you all to Little Moore.

Book Review: Rebel of the Sands (Alwyn Hamilton)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Pages: 368

Release Date: February 4th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Tell me that and we’ll go. Right now. Save ourselves and leave this place to burn. Tell me that’s how you want your story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sand.”

Dustwalk is Amani’s home. The desert sand is in her bones. But she wants to escape. More than a want. A need.

Then a foreigner with no name turns up to save her life, and with him the chance to run. But to where? The desert plains are full of danger. Sand and blood are swirling, and the Sultan’s enemies are on the rise.

Review:

I was lucky enough to have this granted as a wish on NetGalley (first time it’s ever happened to me), so big thanks to them for the opportunity to read it.

I really, really enjoyed this book. It has a real feel of Arabian Nights about it – the sense of magic, the stories, and the vivid desert setting. It was just as easy to lose yourself in that world as it is in Shahrazad’s tales.

Amani is a brilliant protagonist, one of the best I’ve read of late. You can feel her desperation to get out of Dustwalk and carve a new life for herself, and really sympathise with her life and every terrible thing that’s been thrown at her. Despite all that, she doesn’t wallow in self pity and there’s very little ‘woe is me’ about her: she’s just focussed on getting that better life, and doing whatever she can to get there. She’s smart and cunning and I could read about her adventures all day.

The plot doesn’t disappoint either. It jumps from action to action and place to exotic place and you just cant help but read another chapter, and another until it’s all gone and you’re left desperate for the sequel. The twists caught me completely by surprise: I thought I had it all figured out but this book just continually throws out surprises.

While this is the first book in a series, I appreciated that it rounded things off quite nicely at the end. While it still left me wanting more, I liked that the main events of this book were concluded for the most part, without any horrific cliffhanger to keep me dangling for a year.

This is a fantastic debut and quite unlike anything I’ve read before. I just know it’s going to be a great hit and I can’t wait to read the next book.

4

Book Review: The Island (Olivia Levez)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Oneworld Publication

Pages: 288

Release Date: March 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Frances is alone on a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. She has to find water and food. She has to survive. And when she is there she also thinks about the past. The things that she did before. The things that made her a monster. Nothing is easy. Survival is hard and so is being honest about the past. Frances is a survivor however, and with the help of the only other crash survivor, she sees that the future is worth fighting for.

The Island is a gripping and thoughtful story about a girl who didn’t ask to be the person she is but is also determined to make herself the person she wants to be.

Review:

I received a very early proof of this book and was very excited to read it. Olivia Levez and I have been following each other on Twitter for a while and we met at the Birmingham UKYAExtravaganza event, so when she asked if I would be interested in reading her book I was also a little nervous. I’m always really worried I won’t like it and then things will be awkward…

Luckily I loved this book so no awkward situations here! It’s told in very short chapters – in the A4 paper copy I read a lot of them were just a page long, which made it easy to dip in and out of it, and I never struggled to find a good place to put it down (not that I wanted to, because it was brill). The story flits between Frances’ current predicament, trapped alone on a deserted island, and flashes of her past as she cares for her younger brother and we learn the crime that led her to the island in the first place.

I struggled to connect with Frances a bit at first. She’s very prickly, and it’s not as easy to understand at first when you don’t know her background. When the plane first crashes and Frances floats to the island in a raft, I struggled to understand her behaviour – I know she’d been drinking, but surely you wouldn’t want to waste your precious few supplies.

I soon warmed up to Frances though and became really enthralled with her story of survival. For someone who has no skills in this area, she does pretty well for herself (but not in an unbelievable way either). It really is the ultimate survival story and I kept wondering what I would do in the same situation, how well I would cope and how long I would last.

The ending was frustrating but also perfect. I was worried that everything would get tied off too neatly: Frances would be rescued and reunited with her brother and everyone would live happily ever after. While I did want that for her, (she truly deserves it after everything!) it just didn’t feel right for the story. I prefer the bittersweet or not-quite-concluded endings, and that’s what you get here.

I really loved reading this book and I can’t wait for it to come out so everyone else can read it too (I’m writing this in November and the March publication date feels forever away!) I really hope the book gets the praise and readership it deserves.

4

If you enjoyed this, you might like Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine

 

Eczema Relief Tips

This is a bit of a different post for me, as usually everything I do on here is either book or baby related, and this is more of a lifestyle post I guess.

In some ways it is baby related: I think my recent flare up of eczema is down to pregnancy hormones (which are apparently responsible for every weird thing my body does these days).

Being pregnant and also having super sensitive skin, it can be hard to find something to soothe my itchy skin, so I thought I’d share my tips for those in a similar position.

  • Don’t Itch!

Literally everything you’ll read will tell you this, and I know it’s obvious, but it’s so important I think it’s worth emphasising. Sometimes I am so tempted because I know how good it will feel for the few seconds that I’m scratching – I had a session the other day that felt so good I swear it was orgasmic. But, the relief is short lived, and you know it’s going to be short lived, so don’t give in to that temptation.

Keep your nails cut short so you don’t break skin if you do happen to scratch. If you’re a secret night scratcher then try wearing cotton gloves to bed. And most of all, try to stop thinking about how much it itches. Easier said than done, I know, but I’ve found things so much easier when I’m constantly thinking about scratching my skin.

  • Try an oatmeal bath

This is my favourite discovery from this eczema breakout. I did a lot of Googling to try and find something to soothe my skin when it was at its worst – bright red and itchy all over. And a lot of people suggested an oatmeal bath.

There’s two ways to do this. The first is with colloidal oatmeal, which is basically really fine oatmeal – the first time I did it I used Ready Brek, as that was what we had in the cupboard and I figured it was about the same thing. Since, I’ve bought whole oats and used a food processor to blend them into a fine powder. Run yourself a bath – lukewarm, not hot, as hot water will irritate your skin even more – and add a generous cupful of oatmeal.

The second way is with whole oats. You can do this by filling a muslin cloth or the foot of some old tights with oats, and tying a knot in it so they can’t escape. Let this sit in the bath with you – give it the occasional squeeze to bring out some of it’s goodness – and make sure it doesn’t burst, otherwise that’s a horrible mess you’ll have to clean up!

Either way, soak in the bath for a good 20-30 minutes. I found it really relaxing, even with the odd bit of chunky oatmeal finding its way between my toes! When you’re done, climb out – carefully if you’ve used the fine oatmeal, as it can get slippy – then pat, rather than rub, yourself dry, and slap on a ton of your favourite moisturiser.

Oatmeal baths are a great way to naturally soothe and heal your skin. You can pimp it out a bit if you’re feeling more adventurous:

  • add some baking soda for even more itch relief (more on that in a moment)
  • add some essential oils, such as lavender or lemon – but only if you’re sure this isn’t going to irritate your skin more
  • add a cup of milk for some extra creamy goodness – I know this is just starting to sound like breakfast in a bathtub, but it’s good, I promise!

 

  • Use baking soda

Baking soda, or bicarbonate of soda, is the secret miracle in your cupboard. Not only is it good for baking with, as you probably already know, but it’s great as a natural cleaning product, and for some good old itch relief.

As mentioned earlier, you can chuck some into your oatmeal bath, or even just have a baking soda bath by itself. Again, I’d use a generous cupful in lukewarm water, relax until you’re done and then repeat with the patting dry and moisturising.

For a more instant relief, try making a paste with water. I used a tablespoon of baking soda with a splash of water and rubbed it on the worst offending areas. It sounded bizarre and I wasn’t convinced it would work but it really did! Let it dry on your skin, then wash off with lukewarm water, pat dry and moisturise.

I wouldn’t recommend using baking soda on broken skin or if you’re having a really bad flare up, but this would work wonders on things like bug bites too.

  • Moisturise

I’ve mentioned it casually in most of these points, but it deserves one of its own as well. When I’m having bad eczema my skin is usually painfully dry and constant moisturising is key to the healing process, as well as soothing for hot, painful skin. I tend to use Norwegian Formula Deep Moisturiser (this isn’t sponsored by them, I just like it!) and also Sudocrem when it gets really bad (that cream is a miracle cure for anything). I’d experiment and see what works best for you though, as everyone’s skin is different.

 

These are my top tips for more natural/home remedies for eczema and general itch relief. If symptoms persist I’d always recommend getting advice from your doctor or a pharmacist.

Book Review: Anya’s Ghost (Vera Brosgol)

Publisher: First Second

Pages: 221

Release Date: June 7th 2011

Summary:

Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part.

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks.

Review:

This book was a Christmas present from my partner Nathan, who decided I should read more YA graphic novels and sought out some of the best for me, so big thank you to him for the book 🙂

When Anya falls in a well, she meets a lonely ghost girl who’s been trapped down there alone for years. When Anya is rescued, she accidentally takes the ghost girl with her. Anya adjusts to life with her ghost quite quickly, realising the advantages of having one – cheating on tests, getting boy advice – soon outweigh the weirdness of carrying around an ancient dead girl in your pocket. I don’t think I can say too more without ruining the story, so just go read it 😉

Anya is a typical teen girl, trying desperately hard to fit in, though she has more struggles than your average girl, as she comes from an immigrant family and has worked hard to rid herself of her accent and fit in with American culture. She goes to great lengths to distance herself from anything that marks her out as ‘foreign’. She’s a relatable teenage girl with worries about weight and boyfriends too, and I really enjoyed reading her story.

One of the themes of the book is learning to accept yourself, which Anya does over the course of the book, with a little ghostly help. It’s not too in-your-face or cheesy though, which is difficult to do. There’s some really lovely moments, particularly between Anya and her best friend Siobhan, and her younger brother. The art style is brilliant too, and I especially liked the way the ghost was drawn – her eyes were huge and blank, basically dead looking, but still managed to be very expressive.

This was a really enjoyable read and a great introduction for me into the world of YA graphic novels. I’m looking forward to picking up another one soon.

4

Book Review: The Double Axe (Philip Womack)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Alma

Pages: 242

Release Date: February 26th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Dark forces are at work in the House of the Double Axe. Stephan, the thirteen-year-old son of King Minos of Crete, stumbles across a terrifying conspiracy. Is the Minotaur, a half man half bull who eats human flesh, real? Or is something even more dangerous threatening to engulf both the palace and the world?

Stephan must race to save his family from a terrible fate and find out what really lurks inside the labyrinth…

You think you know the story? Think again.

Review:

This is the first book in a new series which aims to retell classic myths from the point of view of teenage protagonists. I love the idea and think it could be a real hit with readers: it’s the kind of thing I would have loved when I was younger. I know one of my favourite books told part of Cleopatra’s story when she was a teenager and I felt more connected to her at that age than in books where she was older.

I love the myth of Theseus and the minotaur, and this was a really interesting take on it. It’s not quite what you expect if you know the story, but enjoyable all the same. The historical setting feels well researched and realistic, while the myth and magical elements are played around with a bit more as Womack puts his own spin on the events.

The sibling relationship between Stephan and Ariadne was really wonderful, and I particularly like Ari as a character – too often in re-tellings like this female characters still take a back seat, but Ari was brilliant: resourceful, brave and smart, just what I wanted her to be. Stephan, our protagonist, was really strong too, and I can imagine him being really relatable for young/teenage readers. He is young but has to deal with the responsibilities of a man, the pressures of being heir to the throne and also saving the palace from a dark conspiracy. It’s not easy being him!

This is a dark and action packed story based on a familiar myth but with its own unique twist. I’m really looking forward to the next installment!

4

Unrealistic Maternity Leave Expectations

I’ve had quite a few people ask me what I plan to do on maternity leave, which I thought was a bit of an odd question. My answer mostly has been “…have a baby.” But some people (ones who haven’t had children yet, predictably) seem to be thinking of maternity leave as a bit of a holiday too.

I get that this is a common misconception, and when I first found out about being pregnant I was looking forward to a long break from work and all the things I could do in that time. But reality soon set in and I knew that maternity leave would be baby baby baby… This was only confirmed when my sister had her baby and said she struggles to either find time for a shower some days, let alone to do anything for herself.

I’m lucky as I have a lot of family living near who I know will be more than willing to help out: my mom wants to take extra time off work to help out with the baby and my dad has decided to move nearby so he can be near both his daughters and grandchildren, which is great. Nathan will also be working 4 days a week, so we get to spend 3 days together as a family, which I’m really excited about.

I still don’t expect to have a lot of time to myself. But I thought I’d make a list of all the things that I would like to be able to do on maternity leave in an ideal world, some very realistic, others a little less so (though we’ll see what I actually manage to get done!)

  • Write every day – this was one of my new year resolutions and hasn’t stuck so far, with the house move and everything taking up a lot of time. It’s not an idealistic expectation, but I’d love to be able to get a little bit done each day.
  • Go for walks with baby – this might not sound too unrealistic, but I know my sister struggles to get out the house sometimes, with the constant cycle of feeding and changing. Still, the weather should be good, there’s a park nearby and I love the idea of getting some exercise and showing baby the outside world.
  • Cook/bake and keep a tidy house – again, the way my sister has found things, this could be pretty unrealistic – I think her husband is often the one who has to cook and wash up after work, but I’d love to try and have dinner ready for Nathan when he comes home, even if it’s something simple. We got a slow cooker recently, which is a great way to make easy and tasty meals without too much effort.
  • Catch up on TV – this is the one I imagine is the easiest to achieve, as there’s not much effort involved in slumping in front of the TV! I’d like to catch up on some series that I’ve been meaning to watch for a while, like BuffySix Feet Under and The 100.

We’ll see how many of these I actually get done, but that’s the dream up there. The main thing though, is spending time looking after and bonding with baby: that’s the important thing, and anything else would be a bonus!

Did you get up to anything exciting during maternity leave, or did the every day things take up all of your time?

Book Review: Allegiant (Veronica Roth)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Harper Collins UK

Pages: 576

Release Date: October 22nd 2013

Summary (from Goodreads):

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered – fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningliess. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend to complexities of human nature – and of herself – while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Review:

This is the final installation in a trilogy that has been pretty average for me. While this one does explain a lot, which was long overdue, it also felt really slow and wasn’t particularly enjoyable. The title felt really forced in to fit in with the others too.

The unusual thing about this book is that it is told from dual perspective: from Tris, as per the previous books, and also Four. As soon as I realised this, it felt like a big spoiler as to what was going to happen in the end – I guessed it straight away, so wasn’t really surprised by the climax, which was a shame.

I didn’t enjoy the dual perspective and didn’t really feel like it added anything to the story. The previous books told the story fine from Tris’ point of view, and Four’s just didn’t seem necessary. I also didn’t feel I could tell the difference between the two narrators very well: quite often I’d forget who was narrating and only realise once Tris called Four by name of vice versa.

Again, this book had too much focus on Tris and Four’s relationship. They were constantly arguing, lying to each other, falling out and making up, and it just didn’t seem like a great relationship to be in to me. I could have done without all that drama to be honest!

We get an explanation on why the factions are in place, and it did make a kind of sense, but it was so long in coming that it just didn’t really satisfy: I’d already spent two books thinking they were stupid, and any explanation towards the end just couldn’t cut it.

The ending is a brave move for a YA book and I appreciated that, even if it was easy to see coming. I still wasn’t impressed with the series overall, and it’s not something I’d really want to read again, or watch the accompanying films.

3

Book Review: Insurgent (Veronica Roth)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Harper Collins UK

Pages: 576

Release Date: May 1st 2012

Summary (from Goodreads):

One choice can transform you – or it can destroy you. Tris Prior’s initiation day should have been marked by victorious celebrations with her chosen faction; instead it ended with unspeakable horrors. Now unrest surges in the factions around her as conflict between their ideologies grows.

War seems inevitable; and in times of war sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge and choices will become ever more irrevocable. Tris has already paid a terrible price for survival and is wracked by haunting grief and guilt. But radical new discoveries and shifting relationships mean that she must fully embrace her Divergence – even though she cannot know what might be lost in doing so.

Review:

My main problem with this book, and the series in general is still the absurdity of the factions, but I won’t rant about it again here – see my Divergent review for that piece of fun.

This book had a lot more focus on Tris and Four’s relationship, which really didn’t do anything for me. I wasn’t really enthralled by their relationship in the first book, and it just got more boring here. Their up and down struggles just felt pointless to me, especially in the midst of all the drama – I don’t understand why characters focus on petty relationship things when their whole world is crumbling. But hey, maybe that’s just me.

This book felt a bit like a filler. After the set up of the first book and its climax, this one seemed to dip in the action and drama – there was a lot of time spent running between different factions and talking about what was to be done, when really I wanted something more to happen.

I think my favourite thing about the book was probably Tris’ character development. She’s still shaken after the events of the last book and finds it hard to shake off the guilt of what she’s done. It makes her reckless and rash and gets her in all kinds of trouble as she enters a downward spiral. It’s great to see a character suffering as a result of their actions rather than taking everything in their stride.

Having read all three books in a row, this is probably the weakest of the three for me, as it feels like it’s just a bridge between the opening and the end, rather than really driving the plot forward. The really key bits happened right towards the end, and I wish that could have been slotted into book three and saved us all a lot of Tris and Four back and forth.

3

Book Review: Divergent (Veronica Roth)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Harper Collins UK

Pages: 487

Release Date: May 3rd 2011

Summary (from Goodreads):

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Review:

This is a series that I’ve always meant to read eventually, despite not hearing brilliant things about it from my younger sister. When I saw all three on NetGalley I thought this was the perfect opportunity to finally read and review them.

Overall, I did enjoy this as a book. It’s a pretty interesting story and I liked Tris as a protagonist, even if I didn’t enjoy some of the others. She had clear conflicts and wasn’t Little Miss Perfect, which is always appreciated. You could see the contrasting nature fighting within her and, especially when she thought on her Abnegation life, how she tried to be selfless as she should be but struggled, and wondered if that made her a bad person.

I found a lot of the other characters just didn’t stand out to me. I felt like I was thinking of them as ‘cannon fodder’ y’know, expecting them to be killed off quickly so not getting very attached to what I saw of them. In fairness to me, I was right in a lot of cases! As for Four, and the relationship there, it was a little insta-love for my liking and I just didn’t see what was that attractive about Four – he seemed moody and rude, a proper Brooding YA Hero! I did enjoy his back story though, and didn’t see it coming.

There’s a lot of action in the story and it moved along pretty quickly. It does have a Hunger Games feel about it and I can see why it took off so well and has followed the classic 4 movies for 3 books thing that keeps happening a lot lately.

Those are my positives (mostly, I did slip into negatives a bit there). Now here’s my rant.

I just could not get my head around the factions. It felt silly. I like a good dystopian story, I’m normally on board with seeing different functioning societies, but this one just did not make sense to me. I’m writing this having finished the trilogy, and it makes a little more sense now, but I don’t think it’s really justified if you have to wait until book 3 to understand it.

In The Hunger Games I can understand the districts that people are split into, mostly because it sounds geographical more than anything. But in Divergent people are split into factions based on personality traits. Honesty (Candor), bravery (Dauntless), selflessness (Abnegation), knowledge (Erudite), and peace (Amity). They’re raised in whatever faction their parents are in, then get a chance to choose their own when they’re 16, based on an aptitude test and basically what they want to be. Which again, is silly to me. In this book, a fair few choose Dauntless and are clearly not cut out for it. And then they find out that only 10 of them are going to make the cut anyway, and the rest will have to become factionless (basically homeless).

I just didn’t get it. It felt silly and contrived and kind of ruined the story for me. It’s just so jarring having them talk about people as if they only have one element to their personality, when so many clearly don’t (but aren’t even Divergent, as Tris is, which actually didn’t seem like the big deal I thought it would be). Them having their own clothes and things just felt like a step too far as well.

Okay, rant over.

This is obviously a popular series, whatever I say, and despite my massive problem with the factions I did enjoy reading it. It’s just not going to rival something like Hunger Games in the dystopian YA world for me.

3