Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Jan 2020

Member Reviews

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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A very atmospheric book that could settle into a multitude of genres: thriller, mystery, fantasy, supernatural horror, but also holding the heartwarming elements of a family tale. I loved the setting of Pine the most: the earthy forests were immersively written and delivered the punch of uniqueness I was looking for. While I felt the start and ending were both a little weak in comparison to the meat of the book, I loved the characters and the overall plot line as well as the interwoven supernatural elements. Would love to see this as a movie as I see all the right components for it to be a great one!
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Pine is a wonderfully different book which manages to combine a few different genres making it a very interesting read.

This book drew me in from the start as the author sets the scene beautifully with her vivid descriptions of the small Highland village which has some interesting inhabitants. The beauty of the area is constrasted nicely with the eerie, almost oppressive forest which seems to hold a lot of mystery. I loved the little details the author has included in this book which just helped me envision everything that was happening even more clearly.

Lauren is a wonderful main character who I felt very sympathetic towards. She’s just starting to like boys and wants to be able to act like the older kids she sees at school. She’s being bullied at school by people who thought her mother was a witch which made me want to give her a huge hug.

Overall I thought this was an enthralling read which was easy to get lost in for hours at a time. The inclusion of witchcraft and some of the Scottish Legends was very interesting and gave the book an eerie feel. I really liked how the book manages to be both frightening but also quite emotional at the same time which has meant I’ve continued to think about it long after I finished reading it.

Huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me onto the blog tour and to Antonia from Doubleday for my copy of this book.
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Lauren and her father, Niall, live in a secluded area of the Scottish highlands. Her mother had disappeared years before when Lauren was a baby. 

One night, after a trip to the village for Halloween they come across a young woman in the road. Naked except for a dressing gown, Niall takes the silent woman back to their home to help, but by morning she has disappeared.

Then young Ann-Marie goes missing… there a link between the two women? Is the same person responsible?

What follows is a moody, creepy thriller with a slightly mystical, supernatural edge. With Lauren, nearly 11 years old, who has an interest in tarot and spells, her father’s grief and heavy drinking and the oppressive, almost claustrophobic atmosphere of the woods, this is a tale of loss, grief and a small community. A gripping, goosebumpy read. 

Thank you to The publishers and NetGalley for a free ecopy of the book. This is my honest, unbiased review.
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After reading 60 pages or so I just wasnt invested in the plot so I DNF'd - may well be the mood I'm in rather than any failing of the book.
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This is a suitably dark and menacing tale, full of gothic or horror motifs for fans of the genre. Menacing trees, an isolated community, water drips from ceilings, ghostly figures picked out in the headlights... While the central character of Lauren is well done, the others were, for me, a little formulaic. Good atmosphere, edgy style, plot outcome a little predictable. 3 stars.

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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This novel is well-written but starts out slow, and continues that way for possibly a bit too long. From the midway point it finally starts to build and find its centre. 

The description of place is very evocative and the dialogue works well, capturing the Scots language without slipping into hoky territory.
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Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

"Pine" is an accomplished debut from future literary star Francine Toon. With the pathos of "The Wicker Man", resonance of "The Turn of the Screw" and some enduring tropes of the psychological thriller, "Pine" is a spine-tingling, evocative tale of long buried secrets and the constructed nature of memory. For nothing is as it seems in the small Scottish hamlet in which Lauren and her father Niall live. Claustrophobic and eerie, with a cast of characters that leap off the page, the mystery of Lauren's mother's disappearance is at the core of the novel. Stimulated by the appearance of a strange, ethereal woman on a Halloween night, the process of remembering, reconstructing and even repressing the memories surrounding the disappearance, ten years earlier, of Lauren's mother begins anew with the disappearance of local teenager, Ann-Marie. This is very much eleven-year-old Lauren's story. Wonderfully imagined by Toon, the young girl is a compelling narrator - a powerful , yet realistic concoction of childish naivety and budding distrust of the adult world with its secrets and lies. Secrets cannot remain hidden for long in this story that evokes a dreamlike atmosphere - always on the edge consciousness, where myth and reality form a seemingly impenetrable Gordian knot. This is a story of 'truth', purposefully in inverted commas, because there are always multiple-truths where human subjectivity is concerned and the mythologizing of the 'real world' is never far behind. "Pine" will leave you wondering what is real and what is imagined with the gossamer-like thread between unconscious/conscious worlds. In this prickling atmosphere of suspense and uncertainty, Toon proves masterful. Intense and haunting - the very definition of a page-turner, "Pine" is a powerhouse of a novel that will live long in the memory.

4.5 Stars. #Pine #NetGalley
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An absolutely amazing story. I loved it. I got completely sucked in and the setting of this story what really made it for me. As a fellow Scot who had s visited the Highlands, the writing was spot on. Brilliant story xx
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Pine is set in a small hamlet in the Highlands, where a father, Niall, struggles with alcoholism and depression following the disappearance of his wife, Christine. As a result, his daughter, Lauren, is neglected and often left to fend for herself and is bullied at school. 
Lauren does seem to have an unknown presence looking out for her, however, tidying her room and protecting her bed with a ring of polished stones. 

This is a mix of family drama, dark crime thriller and supernatural. 

The atmosphere and landscape are conjured up well; dark and damp forest, mouldy and decrepit properties, and  close-knit struggling families. The characters are realistic and Niall is at turns, pitiful, shameful, suspicious and unsettling. I think it is his character that is the one the reader finds most fascinating. Your feelings for him constantly shift and you are never quite sure whether his desperation for female company is linked to loss and attraction or something more uncomfortable and sinister when another teenage girl goes missing.

A perfect Scottish dark noir tale
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I can't say I enjoyed Pine, it is an odd tale of a young girl Lauren/Oren who lives in Scotland with her father Niall, Lauren is  a quiet girl with very few friends, her mother has been missing for years and rumours fly about the village where they live about what has happened to her, her dad struggles to cope and leaves her to her own devices when one night a mysterious women appears to them in the when they are driving home, they take her home but she is gone again in the morning and her dad has no recollection of the encounter. 
I found the writing seemed disjointed and I didn't warm to the characters and I found it a struggle to finish it and even when I did I was underwhelmed, I see others have loved it so maybe I'm missing something but I wouldn't rush to read again..
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Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC of this book. Wonderful writing, mysterious atmosphere, excellent storyline. Finished this in one setting. Great book to read at night, snuggled up, during the winter months. Looking so forward to more of this author's work.
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I loved every word of #Pine. Lauren and Niall are perfect creations and who couldn’t do without more Billies and Kirstys in their life?  To describe this as atmospheric - even hugely atmospheric - seems a grotesque understatement.  Quite how she’s done it I can’t say but Francine Toon has conjured an atmosphere of nail-biting suspense that settles itself around the reader like Haar.  Even when I was away from this novel, I was still there. Yesterday I couldn’t face that it would end and so forced myself to save a nice big slice of creepy (yet perfectly judged) dénouement for today.  I cannot wait to see what Francine Toon does next.

With thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for letting me see an advance copy of Pine.
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I read this spooky, atmospheric book in as few sittings as possible last week, eager to find out what exactly was happening in the remote Scottish highlands where Pine is set. The story follows Lauren, a young, lonely and thoughtful girl, who lives with her alcoholic father and does not remember her kind yet strange mother who disappeared under mysterious circumstances years ago. One Halloween night, a waif like woman appears in front of their car, which sets in motion Lauren's discovery of the secrets that her father and the other adults in the town have kept from her. I loved reading this in such sharp cold weather, mainly on a dark bus journey and then from the comfort of a large blanket, with my dog beside me, and every one of Toon's sentences felt special, and were infused with a beautiful energy that transported me into the woods with Lauren.
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Unsettling, mysterious and evoking a fantastic sense of place, this tale  told primarily from the perspective of the young protagonist or her father, is an at times unsettling piece of Scottish folk horror. The sense of something off-kilter in this rural highland setting,  kids free to do broadly as they wish in a realistic rather than sensational style, the barely coping father... it all hangs together convincingly.
Thoroughly recommended.
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Tartan Gothic.

Lauren and her father, Niall, live in a close-knit village in the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by a pine forest. Driving through the wood one Halloween, a woman stumbles into the road. They give her a bed for the night, but in the morning she’s gone and only Lauren remembers the woman was ever there at all.

Toon artfully misdirects the reader and piles on the menace, whether it is supernatural, a possible serial killer, or a schoolgirl bully. Her keen eye for detail grounds the reader in the scene.

Eerily atmospheric. 

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers., for the ARC.
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Wow! This book just came out of nowhere and totally swept me away in its five-star tidal wave. What a journey! If I had to describe PINE in one word only, it would be “unsettling”. It didn’t help that I innocently started reading it in the evening, and ended up putting in an almost all-nighter to get to the end, followed by some pretty strange nightmares – which you will totally understand once you read this book for yourself.

Talk about creepy! From its atmospheric, rural Northern Scotland setting to its characters and the supernatural events (or are they?) that ethereally drift in and out of misty forest roads, the story had me on edge the whole time. What I loved most about this book, and which deserves a whopping five stars from anyone looking for a spooky read, is that it achieves this seemingly without trying. This isn’t the contrived, try-hard ghost story you so often come across when looking for a haunting read. I’m not sure how Toon does it, but every single, innocent word on her pages was infused with a gentle but unmistakeable sense of menace and danger. The most unsettling scenes wouldn’t withstand translation if I tried to tell them to you, as they are built on fleeting impressions and seemingly innocent happenings, like the dripping of water, shadows on the wall, voices in the dark. It took my breath away!

Let’s also talk about Lauren, the eleven-or-so year old main protagonist. I’ve read quite a few books this year featuring young adult characters, but Lauren is in a league of her own. Rarely has a young girl touched my heart this way, and I felt that Toon managed to capture the very essence of this child who is still grieving for a mother she has never known, a mother who has disappeared but is still very much part of her life, in a way no mother ever should. Lauren’s story unfolded almost dream-like, wandering through a landscape where nothing is quite as it seems, and nothing can be taken for granted. Is it in her mind, or is it real? That shadow place between childhood innocence and adulthood is so well captured here, as Lauren’s magical childhood mind collides with her developing adult logic. Some scenes were simply so unsettling (this word again) that I caught myself holding my breath. One particular scene in an abandoned house in the forest had me slam the book shut in shock and fear and make a hot cup of tea to get my courage back before I could continue reading. It was definitely a “keep all the lights on” type of read! This book haunted me from page 1, and I think it won’t leave my mind easily now even after I have finished reading.

So let’s just cut to the chase: if you are looking for a haunting, Gothic novel with an eerie, claustrophobic setting and characters that worm their way into your mind (and dreams), then this book should definitely be on your radar. Prepare to be emotionally wrung out. Caution when reading it at night, because it brought up some pretty strange dreams for this particular reader! It’s one of the best spooky mysteries I have ever read, and thankfully lacks all the things I normally dread finding in this particular tricky genre. Francine Toon has gifted us with a stunning debut novel that deserves to take the world by storm. I loved everything about it!
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