Cover Image: Pine


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Member Reviews

Wow is really all I can say. I'm so glad I got the opportunity to read this galley copy because a publisher friend of mine had been raving about it. Five stars.
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Thanks to Random House UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Woohoo! A book set in the Highlands and not just anywhere – my neck of the woods!  Full disclosure, I grew up in pretty much the middle of nowhere. My school bus took over an hour just to get to school and not because of traffic, it was just that bloody far away. There were numerous times reading this book that I felt the narrator’s pain SO hard. As an adult I can look back on my childhood home and think it sounds lovely. As a child...not so much. 

It’s quite hard to categorise this book. Atmospheric mystery maybe? Gothic thriller? There’s definitely a supernatural element to the story but it’s firmly couched in reality too. 

Lauren and her distant father come across a young woman in white when they are returning from guising (NOT trick or treat people, GUISING) and take her home. The woman bears an uncanny resemblance to Lauren’s missing mother, yet aside from Lauren, it seems that people forget about her as soon as they have seen her.  

I really liked Lauren and I think the author did a great job in capturing her life and feelings. She’s a little odd, a little different yet seems comfortable with who she is and her rather eccentric home life. The other characters didn’t resonate with me so much and I felt like some of them lacked character development. I found myself getting extremely frustrated with Lauren’s father and quite frankly just wanted to give him a slap and tell him to man up.   

I did have some niggles with some of the continuity. Forgive my pickiness but I really couldn’t help myself. The story is set in the current day (ish- there's 4G mentioned for example, which is pretty recent in remote Highland areas, if at all) but some of the other references were to things that are long since closed or gone like Pentangle (2005, RIP), Highlander Crisps (2013) and Waltzing Waters (2011). I think the chances of these being remembered by a young teenager is slim to none. Also, there aren’t any polecats in the Highlands. 

Overall, I did enjoy this book even if it was a little slow at parts. People not from this area of the world might struggle more with the rather sedate pace of things at certain points. The pace picked up towards the end and as someone who isn’t normally a huge fan of the genre, I'd say it was an above average thriller.
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Lauren and her father, Nial MacKay, lead a simple life in a small village in the Scottish highlands. When they return one evening after trick-or-treating, a skinny figure in a large white dressing gown appears next to the road. Nial decides to take the woman home, but Lauren senses that something is wrong and unearthly about the woman’s clothing and hair. She smells musky, like warm blood and soil – “like a nocturnal animal that has come out from its den”.

When Lauren wakes up the following morning the woman is gone and her father has no recollection of the incident. Shortly after there are more incidents of people noticing the ghostly woman, yet they all seem to forget about it afterwards – all except Lauren.

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This book is certainly being praised to the hilt currently and I can see why. Francine Toon’s debut novel centres on Lauren and her father, Niall, living a fairly isolated existence in the Scottish Highlands. It soon becomes clear that Lauren’s mother, Christine, vanished when Lauren was a baby, traumatising her father and the remote community where this is set. 

‘Pine’ (Oren, Lauren’s Christened name, means pine) is a creepy novel, largely due to its Gothic setting: gloomy forests, damp cellars, locked rooms. But, Toon’s characterisation - Vairi, for example, and the gossippy Angela - add to this. What I really appreciate is the focus on viewpoints from the third-person - especially Lauren’s, and the way she is ostracised on the bus, and at school, highlighting how cruel children can be, even at primary school; and that of Niall - a haunted man, one who is a suspect, to a degree, largely due to the way we are, perhaps, forced to see single men - as in his behaviour at Catriona’s house. 

Toon creates some beautiful imagery here. Her similes, though, particularly near the beginning, are often surplus to requirements, I feel. The mysterious elements of the novel - the figure that others can’t see, the noises and the disruption - are perhaps not necessary considering such things dissipate as the novel reaches its climax. Here, Toon merges the everyday with the fantastical - all linked to Christine’s disappearance and the life she led, with healing and candles.

In many ways, this is a human story, of the destruction a disappearance can have on a community - and also how people can be supportive but harbour grudges regardless of truth. Toon interweaves fantasy elements, too, making this evocative and spooky.

An accomplished debut.
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Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for this arc in exchange for an honest review. 

I loved the cover of this book and was drawn by the spooky, rural and Gothic elements of this book. While I loved the atmospheric feel of this book, and it is brilliantly written, with a captivating location that is eerie and alluring, ultimately I just found the book was lacking in terms of plot. For most of this book this was about a man and his 10-year daughter struggling with the grief of their mother's disappearance and the effect it has on their life. Nothing much happens until the 70% mark and the ending was so rushed, that when things were revealed I was like, "Huh? That's it!" Also there wasn't enough answers and events weren't explained. There just no payoff and having invested time reading through the book hoping I'll get answers for these strange events, it was just frustrating. Also I feel like this book wasn't marketed properly. This felt more literary Gothic, than horror.
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The point of view alternates between 10 year old Lauren and her father Niall. 

Laurens mother disappeared mysteriously when Lauren was a baby, Niall has never got over it and regularly drinks in order to dull the pain of abandonment.

The story is a slow burner, but very well written. There is a chilling air of suspense woven throughout the supernatural thriller. It is not my usual genre of choice but I'm really glad I read it. Once I started, I couldn't put the book down. I read it all over the course of a day.

10 year old Lauren is mature for her age, so it doesn't feel like reading a children's book, but her observations are in keeping with what you would expect a 10 year old to notice. 

The foreshadowing was well done, the last 20% of the story really leaves you wondering how it is going to end!

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC in return for an honest review! Loved it!
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An evocative, moreish story which got under my skin and kept me reading. Perfect for a winter read snuggled up under the blankets by a roaring fire.
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This is an atmospheric thriller perfect for Autumn/winter months. It's a slow burner, not like a very fast-paced thriller. It'd be good to know what to expect. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book and the writing. 
Thanks a lot to the publisher and NG for this copy.
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Lauren is 10 years old and lives with her father in the forested hills of the Highlands.  Her mother disappeared when she was small and odd things seem to happen in the community.  A woman appears one night and then disappears, Lauren's room is moved around and then a girl goes missing

There are some really positive reviews of this book but I found it very slow to pick up.  The first part is mainly scene-setting and drags a little.  When it does pick up I found the 'magic' theme a little annoying.  In terms of characterisation, Lauren could have been any age.
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Pine is a slow burner thriller set in the rural Scottish highland community. 
The story begins with the discovery of a woman on a dark road one Halloween. The woman is taken in by Lauren and her father Niall but has disappeared come morning with only Lauren remembering she was even there. When another disappearance occurs it begs the question, could the events be linked?

If you're looking for something unsettling and atmospheric I would recommend picking this book up. Especially around the Autumn/Winter months as it is quite the atmospheric read.
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Lauren,  her father and their dog Jameson live alone at the edge of the forest in a tiny village in the Highlands where everyone knows everyone else (and their business). Lauren, or Oren as she was christened misses her mother, although she didn't really know her at all as she disappeared 10 years ago. She was the love of her dad Niall's life and he still deeply misses her, drinking to forget. 

One Halloween night they spot a woman in the road and take her home only for her to disappear in the morning. Lauren's dad denies all knowledge of her but Lauren sees her around and wonders. Lauren is different and bullied at school. She wishes mum was still here - she dabbles in her mum's tarot cards and the occult.

An atmospheric tale which was slightly creepy and dark in places with a few twists along the way. Would recommend.
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Dark, ominous and otherworldly, Pine is a subtle, creeping novel that infiltrates your subconsciousness with its sense of mystery. It isn't scary, per se, but quietly unnerving with a disturbing conundrum waiting patiently to be solved. I was wholly absorbed in Pine, looking for good reasons to be reading during, traditionally, non-reading times. So glad the rainy weather conspired to help me!

Here, our protagonist is a charming, sweet girl of ten, Lauren. She lives with her dad, Niall, and dog, Jameson. Her family has been the center of rumor and speculation since her mother disappeared whilst Lauren was a baby. Living in the remote, heavily wooded highlands of Scotland, there are few places for her to escape the whispers and taunts from her schoolmates. Interestingly, our girl has picked up a passing fancy with the occult becoming fascinated by relics, like tarot cards and supernatural texts, left by her mother. She is thoroughly fascinating as she tries to understand the mystery of the woman who stumbled into the road in front of her father's truck to be brought home, cared for and vanished without a trace by morning. Her father has no recollection but Lauren remembers it all with clarity.

The depth of probing into the darker corners of human emotion is professional-grade in Pine. Niall has great turmoil roiling inside him and only drink brings him calm. Not the ideal situation for a young girl to live with but one that feels authentic and believable. The trauma of her mother's disappearance has left deep scars in both of them though the wounds fail to heal. Much revolves around the unease and that is the platform this story is artfully constructed on. Spine-tingling and original, Pine left me guessing and keen to understand what this novel was trying to say. I felt and appreciated the otherworldly elements as they created tension that only eased with the climax. I great read that delivers more than meets the eye.
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I liked Pine well enough, but it didn't blow me away. It was very atmospheric and a good read for winter. I liked Lauren a lot, and I thought she was well-written, and the author captured all the feelings that come with childhood. Overall, Pine was fine, but I wouldn't rush to recommend it.
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I don’t know why reading something which is slightly spooky set in a cold location during the winter months is so satisfying, but it is. “Pine” takes place over the chilly months of Autumn and Winter in a remote town in the Highlands of Scotland where the community often helps each other through personal difficulties and hard times, but there are also long-held secrets, bullying villains and mysterious characters. 

The story centres around the lives of an adolescent girl named Lauren and her hard-drinking father Niall. Lauren’s mother Christine disappeared while she was a baby, but there are moments where her ghostly spectre seems to haunt their lives. Christine practiced New Age techniques and magic which is a speciality her daughter Lauren also pursues. This a novel set in contemporary times but it harkens back to a gothic sensibility where the supernatural blurs into reality. It makes for an atmospheric and riveting reading experience. But there’s also a moving tenderness to the way the characters are portrayed with their long-held grief and solemn isolation. 

This novel excels at building tension where it feels like a ghost might slide out from behind the trees at any moment. But the narrative maintains a psychological tension where the characters might be dreaming or experiencing these oddities in reality. This sense is enhanced by Niall’s frequent bouts of drinking and Lauren’s adolescent sensibility which strays into fantasy. Their relationship is touchingly portrayed as Niall struggles to be a good single father though he’s prone to occasional neglect as well as earnest bouts of caring. At the same time, Lauren is accustomed to his erratic behaviour brought on by alcoholism and heartbreakingly conceals much of the torment she receives at school. 

I enjoyed how “Pine” transported me to this snow-swept rural landscape using concise descriptions which are so effective in conveying an atmosphere that’s at once beautiful and menacing.
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The story is set in the rural Scottish highland community. Lauren and her father Naill are driving through the wood that surrounds their village one Halloween when a woman stumbles onto the road. They take her home with them but in the  morning he woman has disappeared. Only Lauren remembers that the woman was there. But where has she gone. Then Ann-Marie goes missing. Is there a link?

This is an atmospheric and suspenseful read. It starts off as a slow burner  ut the pace picked up around the middle. The story is told in the greater part by Lauren. Lauren's father, Naill is dependent on alcohol and he still has bot come to terms with the loss of his wife. Lauren has an unhealthy interest in Tarot cards and spell making. This is a creepy thriller that's also slightly of mystical.

I would like to thank Netgalley, Random House UK, Transworld Publishers and the author Francine Toon for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Pine tells the story of 10 year old Lauren and her father Niall, who live in a small Scottish village. Lauren’s mum, Christine, disappeared when Lauren was small, and Niall has never recovered. No one knows where she is. Lauren is bullied at school by a girl who lives in her village because of her mother, because of the way she looks and dresses, and because she can. 

Lauren keeps seeing a strange woman around the village, a woman that everyone else forgets they’ve seen immediately after they’ve seen her. Lauren remembers the woman though. 

Lauren wants to remember her mother - she wants to learn more about her, but Niall just can’t bring himself to talk about her. He has been badly affected by their apparent abandonment: he drinks too much, stays out late and expects the neighbours to look after, and often feed, Lauren. 

There is an undercurrent of dread throughout this novel. I was never sure if it was going to turn into a full-blown horror-fest, and I don’t think I would’ve been disappointed if it had. All the ingredients are there: a child left alone in a farmhouse away from everyone else; a still, dark forest; a constantly dimly lit farmhouse with strange smells and noises; a strange figure moving in the trees and around the local houses, that everyone sees and no-one rememberers. 

I loved the atmosphere of this book. I had to remember to actually breathe, and the tension was set at just the right level to achieve this for pretty much the entire book. 

I won’t say anything else about what happens in the story, in the hope that it’ll encourage someone to read it. It definitely WON’T be time wasted! This is one of my highlights of my January reading! 

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy of this book to read and review.
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My thanks to Random House U.K. /Transworld for an eARC via NetGalley of Francine Toon’s highly anticipated debut, ‘Pine’, in exchange for an honest review.

First off, in terms of design its stark white and black cover with stag/forest motif was extremely eye catching. It conveys both a sense of beauty and of unease given the surreal image. Ever since I spotted the cover and read the premise I felt that ‘Pine’ was likely to prove the kind of novel that I would fall in love with. This proved to be the case band I have ordered its hardback edition.

Lauren and her father Niall live alone in a small Highland village surrounded by pine forest. On their way home from a Halloween event a woman stumbles out of the forest almost into the path of their pickup. Niall drives her to their house yet in the morning she has gone. More worrying when Lauren asks Niall about her, he denies knowing what she is talking about. However, Niall drinks heavily in order to forget the disappearance of Lauren’s mother, Christine, ten years previously and may have had a blackout.

Christine had been a free spirit, a healer who read tarot cards. Now Lauren, who is about to turn eleven, hopes that she can solve the mystery of her mother’s whereabouts. She tries to read her mother’s tarot cards and to perform spells from the books she left behind. Mysterious events linked to the forest occur. Then a local teenager goes missing....

Trees and the forest remain potent symbols throughout myth, legend and folklore. Here the inhabitants live with an appreciation and acceptance of the mysteries contained within the forest. 

I found this a highly engaging, atmospheric novel with elements of the Gothic and folk horror. Toon confidently spans genre and delivers a brilliant novel that held me enthralled.

Given the lyrical prose it came as no surprise that Francine Toon is a published poet. 

Highly recommended.
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I don't always enjoy the perspectives of children in books, but it was done perfectly in this one. Lauren acted and thought older than her 9 years (due to life) and I really enjoyed being in her POV

We follow Lauren when, on Halloween night, she and her dad see a woman standing in the middle of the dark road. They take her home, feed her, and in the morning there's no trace of her...and her dad remembers nothing about the encounter

This book was super atmospheric and I felt incredibly unnerved while reading, though I could never put my finger on why exactly. The small, Scottish town vibes were made creepy by the mystery and the misty, wet weather of the woods

The narrative made this story feel otherworldly, even though it is solidly set in rural Scotland. I really enjoyed the tone and atmosphere, and it all added to the unease

Overall, I'd recommend this book if you're looking for a quiet, unnerving read with mystery and small town vibes
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This is a hyper atmospheric slow-burn thriller set in a rural Scottish highlands community. The disappearance of Christine, mother to Lauren, devastates Lauren and her father Niall. He turns to drink, she turns to rites of old and introspection. Soon, strange things are afoot in the nearby woods and speculation is rife.
What happened to Christine and who is responsible?
Team this with figures in the gloaming and reports of strange occurrences in the night and you have a fever dream of a thriller that kept me reading until the wee hours.
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''With all the lights on, there is still a darkness in the house.''

In a small community in the haunting Scottish Highlands, the strange disappearance of a mother has cast a shadow over the lives of the residents. Lauren, a 10-year-old girl, lives with her father and tries to find the links that may lead to the resolution of her mother's enigma and the healing of her family's wounds. Strange incidents, insecurity and bullying form a terrible labyrinth for the young girl.

This novel is really something else. The plot is tightly woven and touches on a plethora of themes. There are elements of Mystery, Horror, Folklore, Literary Fiction but at its heart lies a very real, very deep story of a family that has lost its way and joy and a community that is divided between pity and cruelty. Toon focuses on the father-daughter relationship, a very particular, very demanding process, and the teenage inclination to question and search. Where would the world be without it? The writer presents the harsh reality of bullying coming from the awful so-called ''popular'' students (more like monsters, if you ask me....) with stark clarity and honesty without being over the top or melodramatic. Lauren and Niall are two people looking for an anchor, hiding secrets that darken their world. 

Apart from the realistic elements of the plot, Toon pays a moving homage to the vast Scottish tradition and the legendary British Horror genre. The Scottish Highlands is a land of mystery and tremendous energy. Lauren has to put up with people who call her mother a ''witch'' and live in what seems to be a cursed house. Selkies, kelpies and other mythical creatures of the Scottish tradition are interwoven with features of ancient and modern witchcraft and the story is taken on a whole new level through the focus on folk music, ballads, and lullabies that make the reading experience so much special. You will discover real gems here.

The temperature drops suddenly, a flowery perfume fills the air in an empty house, strange shadows and female figures are seen, women appear in the nightly streets. Houses are plagued by unnatural phenomena and a strange darkness hovers over the community. Windows turn black out of the blue and candles flicker. There are quite a few deliciously scary parts and the haunting atmosphere of Scotland is at its best in this beautiful novel. And on a side note, I realized -once more- that I've always found nurseries really, really unsettling.

Just read this short paragraph:

''The clouds shift and a bright day comes through the kitchen window, catching dust motes and things that need to be replaced or fixed, After an hour's work, the light fades and the house feels emptier. He watches the dark oven and the bulb that has been dead for years behind the murky glass door.''

I love unsettling stories and this novel is beautifully unsettling. Full of memorable and realistic characters, written in excellent, haunting and moving prose, it has the readers checking over their shoulders and wary to expect the unexpected because you are certain that danger is close yet its source is inscrutable.

This novel is an autumnal twilight. A silent wintry night, lit only by the flickering lights of the windows. It is a late summer evening. A mystery lurking at the side of the road...

''The water stretches out in the twilight mist to the large slopes of hills like the resting bodies of giants under a huge sky. There is a tiny house with a red roof on the other side of the firth, evaporating into the falling dark, on a clear day he can usually see white specks of sheep. In the grainy night air he looks carefully for flat stones along the smooth curve of the shore. Once he has found a few he skims them across the black water. The ripples go one two for each stone. One day in summer he skimmed a stone and it touched the water six times before sinking. He tries again. One two. He is tired. Night is young; the moon is bright.''

Many thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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