Member Reviews

Starve Acre; A Novel by Andrew Michael Hurley was not for me, personally. I am still thankful that I got to read this!

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I’m not sure how I feel about this one still. I liked it while I was reading it but I found it very forgettable. I did really like the characters and the story line.

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Grief, occult, folklore, creepy kid horror. PHEW. Yes please and thank you. I decided to read this one via my ears and honestly, I think that did deter me from enjoying this story as much as I could have. Why? Because the narrator's voice was so soothing that I honestly felt like I was watching an animal documentary and I kept imagining all the characters as meerkats and gophers. Don't ask me why my brain is like this, it just is! What I should have done was switched to my physical copy and read this with my eyes instead. After bopping myself on the side of the head a couple of times, I found myself concentrating on the story itself (sans animals and y'all it was HARD) and found the pacing a bit slower than I would normally have liked. There are some truly suspenseful moments and I do love to hate on these characters as I found every one of them quite interesting. However, the philosophical aspect of this story and the ambiguous ending left me wanting.

I'm extremely curious as to how this will translate on screen and I'm definitely going to watch it. This is my first by this author and I will definitely read Hurley again - with my eyes for sure. And this cover is just amazing and makes ALL THE SENSE after you read the story. If you love a slow to semi-moderate pace that gets you thinking, this is definitely the story for you. It's absolutely beautifully written - I'm just not the reader for it.

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I tried to start this book twice but could not get into it. I think the writing style just is not for me. I was thoroughly confused the whole time I was reading it.

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"Starve Acre" by Andrew Michael Hurley is a haunting and atmospheric adult novel that delves into the realm of psychological horror and the mysteries of a haunting past. Hurley's storytelling mastery shines as he crafts a tale of grief, isolation, and the eerie presence of the supernatural. The book's evocative prose and eerie plot create a chilling reading experience that resonates with fans of atmospheric and psychological fiction. Hurley skillfully explores themes of loss, guilt, and the unsettling boundaries between reality and the supernatural, adding depth to the narrative. "Starve Acre" is a spine-tingling reminder that the past can cast a long shadow, and that the line between the seen and unseen can blur in unexpected ways, leaving readers with a sense of unease and a renewed appreciation for the power of suspenseful storytelling.

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Richard and Juliette Willoughby have lived through every parents nightmare; losing a child. Through grief and time both are working through it in different ways. Different paths that may have destructive ends. Starve Acre deals with death and the destruction it leaves in its wake. While the overall plot gave a spooky and suspenseful atmosphere, the plot only hinted at gothic experiences. While teasing of darker motivations can only do so much and only leave the story with a feeling of disappointment. The plot seemed to drag and not have a clear purpose since it focused on everything but what happened.

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After Richard Willoughby’s father dies, he inherits the lonely old house known as Starve Acre. Richard’s wife Juliette is enamored of the idea of country living, and thinks it will be the perfect place to raise their young son Ewan, away from the hustle and bustle of the city of Leeds. Richard isn’t so sure. His own mother, a city transplant herself, was never really welcomed by the villagers, and young Richard went to a series of boarding schools well away from the countryside where his parents lived. But Juliette has her heart set on a perfect pastoral upbringing far different from her own stifling Edinburgh childhood. Wanting to please his wife, Richard swallows his misgivings and moves his young family into his childhood home.

At first, everything seems fine, or fine enough. Once Ewan is old enough to go to nursery school though, strange things start to happen. Ewan complains of hearing voices and begins to engage in acts of senseless and increasing violence. Richard tries to reassure his wife:

“It’s all for attention,” Richard said. “Nothing else.”

“But he doesn’t want our attention,” said Juliette. “He wants to be on his own.”

“Deep down, I mean.”

As far as Richard could see, Ewan was as needful of his parents as any other child.

“Do you like him?” Juliette asked. “As a person, I mean.”

“Of course,” said Richard. “Why? Don’t you?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Genuinely. I can’t say.”

“He’s still our Ewan,” said Richard, and she looked at him as though that were the problem. He was whatever they had made him. If they didn’t like what they saw, then it was their own fault.

Juliette’s insecurities as a parent do little to calm the strange energies swirling around and through their home. When Ewan suddenly dies, Juliette is overwhelmed by her grief at losing him and her guilt over how she could have been a better mother.

Unable to console his wife, Richard submerges his own emotions by continuing his father’s eccentric studies into local history. Legend has it that an enormous oak tree once stood in the barren field that’s part of their property. Its abrupt death poisoned the entire acre, hence the name of the Willoughby’s home.

Richard believes that there must be some grain of truth to the legend, and is glad to utilize his skills as an archaeologist to carefully dig for evidence while Juliette grieves. But the outside world refuses to let Juliette and Richard be. Spurred into action by well-meaning friends and family, Richard finally confronts Juliette about the less than rational beliefs she’s nurtured since Ewan’s death, only to have her turn on him:

“This is proof,” she said, brandishing her notebook at him. “I’m not mad, Richard, despite what you think.”

The pages were filled with lists of all the moments of contact she’d had with Ewan since the funeral. Lists had become much shorter in the last few weeks, sending her into an even deeper despondency. Hoping to pick up the faintest traces of Ewan that she believed were still left in his room, she used Richard’s portable Sony to make recordings each evening and had filled the place with mirrors. They sat on the window ledge and the chest of drawers, on the bedside table and against the walls, so that wherever Richard looked one reflected another and the room fell away into infinity.

After her need to contact Ewan from beyond the grave leads to a domestic visit from a group of spiritualists, Richard decides he’s had enough, and sides with Juliette’s family on the need for an intervention. But it’s Richard’s own folly that unwittingly opens the door to evil, as an ancient terror all too deftly insinuates itself into their lives.

The perfect horror novel, to me, balances the supernatural with human frailty such that the question of “who really did these terrible things?” provides an exquisite throb of suspense as readers raptly turn the pages to discover the truth. Is the monster in the narrative real or a convenient scapegoat for all-too-human emotions and actions? Regardless of where the answer lies, readers of great horror novels are left satisfied by the logical and emotional connections between the real and the uncanny.

Starve Acre fulfills that remit with flair, spinning a yarn of monstrosities birthed by human failure while still showing plenty of sympathy for the family caught in the middle of it all. There are no real heroes or villains here, as the Willoughbys do their best to do the right thing and fail utterly in the face of unthinkable evil. This novel is a deftly constructed, gorgeously written thriller that embodies the best of British horror writing. Little wonder that it will be turned into a movie starring Matt Smith and Morfydd Clark soon.

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Starve Acre is a deeply unsettling folk horror novel by Andrew Michael Hurley. Juliette Willoughby and her husband, Richard, have different ways of coping with the loss of their young son. Richard wants to move on, put the past to bed, and perhaps even have another child, while Juliette cannot seem to let Ewan entirely go. Will this couple find their way out of the darkness that has befallen them at Starve Acre?

This book can be bleak at times, but it's very atmospheric and keeps you invested as things are revealed to the reader that the characters do not know. It's an exploration of grief, gothic and gratifying. The final line is a stunner. Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Books for the chance to review this advance copy. Starve Acre is available for purchase everywhere you buy books now!

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Starve Acre centers on grieving father and history professor Richard Willoughby as he muddles through life at his old family estate of Starve Acre following the death of his five-year-old son Ewan. For Juliette, Richard’s wife, grief has driven her toward Spiritualism and a desperate desire to make contact with the spirit of her dead son. But Richard takes the opposite approach, trying to stave off thoughts of his son by throwing himself into work. When Richard’s university colleagues force him to take a sabbatical, he instead turns his obsessive productivity toward two personal projects. The first of these is the monumental task of reorganizing and cataloging his late father’s study, which once was the meticulously arranged library of a passionate autodidact but had been utterly trashed during the months of madness that preceded his father’s death. Richard conceives of his second project as a piece of scholarly research he’ll be able to impress his colleagues with when he returns to work, though mostly it’s just the perfect kind of repetitive labor that will empty his mind of thoughts: Each night, Richard methodically digs up a section of the moors across from his estate, searching for evidence of the legendary Stythwaite Oak. As busy as he keeps himself, unexpected little things still send Richard spiraling into reminiscences about his son. The strange events leading up to Ewan’s death are slowly woven into the narrative while Juliette and Richard each go further in their quests to reach beyond the veil and dig beneath the earth for answers to their grief. But they will ultimately find more than they bargained for buried in the sterile earth of Starve Acre.

Back in May, I included Starve Acre in a list of recent additions to the folk horror subgenre. As I mentioned in that post, works of folk horror often incorporate regional folk beliefs as a source of horror in the narrative—either folk beliefs that can be found in the real world or fictional ones that have been created by the author. Starve Acre is an example of the latter. The little village of Stythwaite, in which the book is set, has all sorts of local lore known only to the inhabitants. For example: the locals say that the hanging tree was struck down and the surrounding land made barren as a divine reprisal for the cruel and violent use to which the tree was put. But not all of the supernatural forces at work on this land have such strong ethical considerations. Stories abound about a malevolent entity called Jack Grey that lurks in the woods and peers through windows to frighten sleeping children. Richard dismisses these legends with an anthropologist’s detachment, lumping them into a category of vague entities like Robin Goodfellow or Hag o’ the Hay that add local color to the English countryside. But to Ewan, Jack Grey is all too real, visiting his room at night and whispering terrible things in his ear. Richard blames his neighbor Gordon for poisoning Ewan’s mind with superstition, but folk horror asks us to consider whether there might truly be powers beyond our understanding that come through to us in the form of local myth.

I’ve found that folk horror often goes hand in hand with a slow and subtle pace. Films like The Witch really take their time building up atmosphere and only slowly hinting at the terrors to come. Starve Acre is likewise a real slow-burn horror. It spends plenty of time wallowing with Richard in this grief and digging with him in the field and in his father’s study before we even see hints of something supernatural or scary. The horror is built piece by piece as the different narratives are woven together—what Richard uncovers in the dirt, what he finds among his father’s records, what Juliette experiences during her seance, and the strange behavior Ewan exhibited in the months leading up to his death. There are two mysteries at the heart of the story: What happened to Ewan? And, what happened to the Stythwaite Oak? The answers to both are connected in a way that only becomes clear at the end of the novel.

If you love slow-burn horror and British folk horror, I recommend checking out Starve Acre.

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In this folk horror, a couple living at a remote (scottish?) estate try to cope after the loss of their son. The husband, Richard, finds solace trying to unearth an ancient tree and the wife, Juliette finds solace in a local occult group. But both of their coping mechanisms may collide in terrifying ways. I really liked a lot of aspects of this book. The way they slowly, expertly reveal the dead son, Ewan’s actions and personality during his life is slow and deliberate. And the pacing, albeit slow for a horror novel, feels so precise and expertly crafted. I appreciate the craftsmanship of this novel a lot. I also don’t think this was totally for me. I’m generally fifty/fifty with folk horror, it’s not always my genre. I didn’t really love the characters, but I did like the town lore and the atmosphere of Starve Acre and the town surrounding it. There’s a ton to love here, and even if it wasn’t what I was craving in the moment doesn’t mean it’s not a really well crafted folk nightmare.

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2.5 stars rounded up to 3. The authors writing style is lovely but if you ask me what happened in this book I couldn’t tell you. This is an extremely slow paced book about grieving parents dealing with the death of their son. It has some folk-horror aspects that I found interesting but overall, not enough for me to enjoy the book.

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This is a great gothic folk horror tale - as someone who is incredibly interested in folklore, I was fascinated by the tale of the tree and how the characters interacted with me. I would say this is a quintessential Folk Horror novel.

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Readers who enjoy slower paced stories, with folk horror vibes are really going to love this one.

Richard and Juliette a married couple are grieving the loss of their son Ewan. They live in Richards’ family’s estate which is tucked away on the outskirts of a small town. Juliette is taking the ranger hard snd Richard, along with Juliette’s sister and a host of other characters, band together to assist with helping Juliette through her grief. Weird things happen and that’s about all I can say about this story.

I was very gripped by this story, a pretty simple story with some very complex layers and an ending that is just wow!! Let’s just say this would be perfect to read during Easter holiday.

This is the kind a psychological horror that I enjoy. This short story packs a punch, I was impressed by the authors ability to capture the tension with all the characters.

My only gripe is that there was so many unanswered ideas, I explored themes that it left me wanting more. Thanks to #netgalley and penguin books for an arc copy in exchange for my honest opinion.


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Hear an adaptation was being made and got curious about it so I read the book. I'm very excited to see how it translates to film now because I was a fan of it. Very fun read.

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Fans of slowburn domestic fiction and folk horror, Starve Acre may be your next read.

After moving to an old farm in Northern England, Richard and Juliette's five year old son, Ewan, dies unexpectedly at the age of five. Juliette is convinced he is still on the farm in some form, and seeks answers from a group of occultists. Richard tries to move on, spending his time in a nearby field, in search of an ancient oak tree.
In an attempt to find peace while pushing through grief, the couple end up unearthing new horrors.

✨️I found the story to be nicely atmospheric. The narrative wanders between present and past, allowing the reader to learn the family has always had a bad reputation. We also get glimpses of Ewan's behaviors, which add a new dimension to some perceptions.

The story drew me in with its beautifully rendered atmosphere and exploration of the psychological depths of grief. There are a couple inconsistencies in Richard's character-- specifically his levels of supernatural skepticism.
It would have been nice to have more background about Starve Acre and the oak tree throughout.
I was also hoping the story would lean harder on the horror aspects set up, but overall-- a hypnotic reading experience.

I'm curious to see what the filmmakers are able to do with the source material. ✨️

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books for the ARC.

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Story was so so, and I’m more interested in seeing this adapted to TV. The story just kept putting me to sleep! Sorry.

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STARVE ACRE by Andrew Michael Hurley (The Loney, Devil's Day)

Release Date: New edition, July 2023
General Genre: Folk Horror
Subgenre/Themes: Book to Movie, Gothic, Folklore, Psychological, Domestic Drama, Small Town Horror
Writing Style: brisk pacing, character-driven, cinematic, authentic dialogue, 2 parts/no chapters

What You Need to Know: Richard and Juliette Willoughby are grieving the loss of their young son in different ways. Juliette seems unable to let him go while Richard is ready to move on and have another child. As their marital story is told to readers, readers gather small clues as to why their child Ewan was so different and what happened to him just before he died.

My Reading Experience: Grief and Folk horror together in one book? This is my jam. When I tell you that I was glued to these pages, I mean positively whisked away to the setting of this book. Juliette and Richard move to Richard's family home in the Dales despite the fact Richard didn't have the best childhood experience there. Juliette 100% believes that the property will be ideal for raising their child.
The author LOVES to drop little breadcrumbs and clues for readers to gather from the characters. There is so much going on behind the scenes, between the lines, it's just delicious. I collected ideas and guesses the whole time.
How much do you love that? Readers, how much do you love when the author is letting you in on their secrets while they are additionally keeping those same secrets from the characters. It's my favorite. So many times while I was reading this book, the characters were doing something in the darkness, while they think nobody is watching--BUT WE ARE. WE ARE WATCHING.
And folk horror? Are you kidding me?
It is the most fun when a naive couple try so hard to pretend everything is normal, everything is fine but all the while, we see it all coming apart at the seams. The denial, the squabbles between husband and wife, the rejection of the supernatural, the occult, the paranormal...horror fans thrive under these conditions. It's so fun when we know something they don't know and it's just a wait-it-out-and-see game between author and reader. All the spoils go the reader. The reward is just waiting for you at the end of this book.
A new favorite folk horror. All the stars. I can't wait for the movie and I can't wait to read more by this author.

Final Recommendation: You need this book if you love grief horror, the occult, folklore, small town secrets, marital secrets, building suspense, something sinister in the woods, creepy kids, and a banger, one-sitting read.
Comps: Dark Harvest, Halloween Fiend, Cunning Folk, Children of the Corn

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Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of Starve Acre.

I've never read a book by the author before but the writing was great.

But, the character development and exposition about the woods was lacking.

Starve Acre is the star in the novel, but there wasn't enough background about the town's horrifying historical past.

The author spent a bit too much time in Richard's past, about how his mother was treated as an outsider, same as his wife, Juliette, when I needed to know more about Ewan. and Richard and Juliette's relationship.

What kind of young boy was he?

What made him susceptible to the ghost in the woods?

Has anyone else even been affected in this way?

Ewan's deterioration and his death sounded like books with similar premises.

I look forward to the film adaptation.

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Like a drunk squinting through one eye, Starve Acre keeps the reader continuously engaged with the moment and yet unaware of what lurks in the periphery. Channeling horror legends like Blackwood, King and Poe, Hurley manages to pay homage to great works like Levin's Rosemary's Baby or Jackson's Haunting without borrowing any material, creating a wholly original nightmare. Some aspects of the storytelling reminded me of Farris' All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By or Machen's Great God Pan, or in terms of contemporary authors, Adam Nevill. While the story requires some patience to be fully appreciated, there are always hints at the coming horror, which arrives rather quickly, and the atmosphere, character development and lore are all top-notch. The story builds to a vision of terror in its conclusion that rivals those of the great authors in its tradition.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books for the ARC.

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