Powerful and moving — Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

The blurb: Emilie Pine speaks to the business of living as a woman in the 21st century – its extraordinary pain and its extraordinary joy. Courageous, humane and uncompromising, she writes with radical honesty on birth and death, on the grief of infertility, on caring for her alcoholic father, on taboos around female bodies and female pain, on sexual violence and violence against the self. Devastatingly poignant and profoundly wise – and joyful against the odds – Notes to Self offers a portrait not just of its author but of a whole generation.

These vividly told and highly readable personal essay touched a chord with me for the raw, honest way they deal with everyday experiences — particularly female experiences from menarche through peri-menopause to middle-age.

The collection opens with a powerful account of Pine’s experience of the Greek healthcare system. She tells of the difficulties she encountered finding care for her father during his hospitalisation in Corfu for a serious alcohol-related condition. She reflects on the challenges families face when their loved one is an addict — of picking up after them when they are not able to look after themselves and of how it is not just practically taxing but metaphysically difficult. It hardens the heart.

The second essay — “From the Baby Years” — recounts Pine’s  experience of miscarriage and infertility. She describes the emotional and physical pain she went through while trying to conceive and the added heartache that came with the unexpected loss of her baby niece.

Then comes  a piece reflecting on Pine’s parents’ separation and her experience of being a go-between when communication broke down. 

“Notes on Bleeding & Other Crimes” is a strong essay on menstruation that captures intensely personal, unspoken experiences many women will relate to. 

For me, these four essays outshine the final two pieces — “Something about Me” which reflects on Pine’s troubled adolescence and “This is not on the Exam” which covers her experiences as an academic, teaching, researching, chasing funding and on the conference circuit.

All in all, though, a highly-readable collection. I enjoyed it. 

[Disclosure: I read an advance copy via Netgalley.]

The Last of Us by Rob Ewing | An engrossing read

Set on a remote island off the coast of Scotland, The Last of Us is the story of six children who have survived some kind of plague that took the lives of their parents and the other islanders.

All communication with the outside world has been lost. With no adults to rely on, the children must use their individual skills and imaginations to survive. Each new day involves searching for supplies — the food, water and medicines that they need to keep going. All of the children have lost their parents — either through death or through a parent being absent for one reason or another. Each is troubled by this loss and their grief influences their behaviour in different ways. Memory is important to all of them and they collaborate to preserve what they can remember of the past. They also keep to routines that help them maintain social order and respect the dead.

Mixed reviews

I really liked this book and am curious what other readers think. Reviews seem to be mixed with some readers thinking that the narrator’s voice is occasionally too adult for an eight-year old child. To be honest, I didn’t particularly notice this — perhaps because I was so caught up in the storytelling that it didn’t bother me.

Overall, The Last of Us held my attention from the first page to the end. So, for what it’s worth, I found Rob Ewing’s book an engrossing read and am  happy to give it the thumbs up. I think young adult readers in particular might like it. In terms of comparison with other novels, it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies.

[Disclosure: I received an advance review copy]

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land | A pacy psychological drama

Ali Land’s debut novel Good Me Bad Me caught my eye because it’s described as a psychological thriller.  It could perhaps equally be  a ’young adult’ novel in that it deals with teenagers and bullying themes, although it is very dark — perhaps too dark for some younger readers.

The main character is Annie whose mother — a serial killer of children — is awaiting trial after Annie reported her to the police. 

With her mother in jail, Annie gets a new name — Milly — and is sent to live with a foster family. Almost immediately, she is bullied by her foster parents’ daughter Phoebe and Phoebe’s friends. But Milly has skills learned in her past that help her to cope with the pressure.

What is a bit depressing in this novel is that virtually all of the characters are either manipulative or  exploitative of others. The possible exceptions are Morgan, with whom Milly forms a friendship, and her 

Foster father, Mike, for example, seems kind in his interactions with Milly  as he counsels her to help her prepare for her mother’s trial. But even Mike has an ulterior motive as he’s writing a book about Annie.

Milly is an interesting character and Good Me Bad Me is a pacy read.  It’s published by Penguin. I read an advance copy courtesy of Netgalley.