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Book Review: Pine

Pine by Francine Toon.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Pine, Francine Toon’s debut novel, is the story of Niall and his daughter Lauren, who are both trying to come to terms with the disappearance of Lauren’s mother. The novel is set in winter, in a small village in the Highlands of Scotland.

The cover describes this as a literary gothic thriller, and it certainly is that. The settings are bleak, including forests, ruins, and delapidated homes. Some of the key themes are equally dark, including bullying, alcoholism, and death.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Pine was the strong sense of place. This was reinforced by the realistic use (but not overuse) of Scottish vernacular in the dialogue. I also loved the detailed description and inner dialogue, and how I didn’t guess the ending.

There wasn’t much I didn’t like, but to nitpick, I felt a couple of scenes were a little too ‘supernatural’ for the rest of the book, and I personally found them difficult to believe.

Definitely a recommended read. Best enjoyed at night, while sitting in front of a wood-burning stove. Rain and wind should also be battering the windows.

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Book Review: Starve Acre

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Starve Acre is the story of Richard and Juliette who moved into Richard’s family home to bring up their young son, Ewan, only for him to die suddenly at the age of five. The novel begins after Ewan’s death, when Juliette is still struggling to cope, turning to the occult for answers. What happened to Ewan is presented as a series of recollections, juxtaposed with the strange things happening now.

There are the familiar tropes of folk horror, such as the rural setting, villagers who are unwilling to fully accept the newcomers, and strange local practices and folklore. Interestingly, the theme of a couple moving to a new rural home returns. Devil’s Day has the same theme, as does The Loney, although that move is temporary.

As with all Hurley’s books to-date, I loved the detailed nature description, the familiar sense of place, and the way he drip-feeds hints and tidbits from the start, maintaining the suspense and making the reader work to fill in the gaps. The final three sentences of the novel were unexpected, powerful, and shocking.

I was a little disappointed by the length of this book. It seemed a lot shorter than The Loney and Devil’s Day, and was over too quickly. There were definitely opportunities to explore some of the themes in more depth, but to criticise a novel for what it doesn’t contain is extremely unfair, so I will put this disappointment down to my own greed for Hurley’s words.

Definitely recommended. Preferably, you should read it alone, in a big old house. It should also be snowing outside.

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Book Review: Sharper Knives

Sharper Knives by Christopher Fowler.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Sharper Knives is a collection of fourteen dark short stories by Christopher Fowler, first published in 1992, during the earlier part of his writing career.

Ranging from the punchy and witty Norman Wisdom And The Angel of Death to the lyrical and beautiful Persia, this book is a great showcase for Fowler’s distinctive voice. Many of the characters have a bitter, cynical edge to them, which, when combined with the late twentieth-century settings, capture something of the 1980s zeitgeist.

In the collection, there was only one story I wasn’t so fond of, and that was Can’t Slow Down For Fear I’ll Die. It was only four pages long, and well-written, but it felt like a metaphor which I couldn’t fully get. In the explanatory notes at the end, Fowler simply says it ‘… is a warning’. Perhaps it was a warning to himself, and us, not to strive so hard with our endeavours.

I definitely recommend this book, and love Fowler’s writing. Dipping into these short stories in between novels is a great way to lose oneself and escape, albeit not always to a happy place!

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