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Book Review: Luke and Jon

Luke and Jon by Robert Williams.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Luke and Jon is a debut novel by Robert Williams, first published in 2010. Luke and his father, struggling after the death of Luke’s mother, move to a remote run-down cottage on the fell overlooking the northern town of Duerdale. They soon meet Jon, the strange boy with a secret who lives in the next house on the fell, wears 1950s clothes, and goes to the same school as Luke.

The bleak rural setting reminds me of several novels I have read this year, including Devil’s Day and Pine, and this book stands strong beside them. Williams grew up in the same part of Northern England as myself, and his familiarity with life in East Lancashire comes across.

When I reflect on what I most enjoyed about this book, I have to say it’s the voice of the writer. The story is delivered with startling brevity and clarity, and while quiet, it still manages to fizz and resonate with emotion. The sense of place is strong, and all the characters are well drawn and believable.

There was nothing I disliked about it, which puts it among the top three novels I have read this year. At 50,000-60,000 words, it was short, which is unusual for a debut novel, but at the end I didn’t put it down feeling parts of the story were left untold.

I was completely taken by surprise by how brilliant this novel really is, and highly recommend it.

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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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