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They are driving home from the search party when they see her.

The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men. Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she's gone.

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren's mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father's turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it's no longer clear who she can trust.

In spare, haunting prose, Francine Toon creates an unshakeable atmosphere of desolation and dread. In a place that feels like the end of the world, she unites the gloom of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published January 23, 2020

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About the author

Francine Toon

1 book223 followers
Francine Toon grew up in Sutherland and Fife, Scotland. Her poetry, written as Francine Elena, has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Best British Poetry 2013 and 2015 anthologies (Salt) and Poetry London, among other places. Pine was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award. She lives in London and works in publishing.

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5 stars
1,646 (12%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,758 reviews
Profile Image for Ruby Granger.
Author 3 books46.9k followers
December 29, 2020
This was one of the best books I've read this year. It is set in the Scottish Highlands (in the modern day) and focuses on ten-year-old Lauren who lives with her dad on the outskirts of a hamlet. Though the book is told in the third person, the narration is quite clearly through Lauren's eyes. Toon uses child-like similes ("her hair was as black as school shoes") and picks up on the little details which only children really seem to. A truly wonderful narrative.

The plot also has a nice mix of supernatural thriller and provincial town story. My favourite books are highly provincial (i.e. focusing on domestic, rural life with a focus on the role of nature/family in the community). It's unusual to find a book which fits this genre but is also hugely gripping. I read it in an afternoon and was hooked the whole way through.

The only thing I didn't like was the ending. No spoilers, but it felt pretty rushed and like all of Toon's careful characterisation had gone out of the window. The characters were suddenly two dimensional which was pretty disappointing.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,191 reviews1,134 followers
February 10, 2020
I was really looking forward to Pine as it is described on the Book Jacket as “both eerie and thrilling” and seemed to be a perfect choice for one of my February reads. However, I am afraid this one failed to either thrill or creep me out hence my 2 star rating.

Set in the Highlands of Scotland in a small village surrounded by Pine Forest. Lauren and her father Niall are struggling through life after the disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago. Neighbours whisper and gossip and appear to know more that they let on and when a local teenager goes missing the community come out in force to find answers.

This is short book and yet I felt it dragged on and on. The first couple of hundred pages slowly set the scene as the characters profiles are build up and yet I never connected or cared about any of them and while there is a little suspense in the story it never came across as gripping. The last part of the novel is a little more entertaining and I liked how the story ended.

An ok read but not one for my favourites shelf.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,794 reviews4,440 followers
January 22, 2020
10-year-old Lauren lives with her dad, Niall, in a small Scottish town. Her mother Christine disappeared some years ago. Right from the start we are plunged into an intriguing, eerie mystery: a young woman keeps appearing around Strath Horne, sometimes merely glimpsed and sometimes having extended interactions with others, yet only Lauren seems able to remember her. She slips from the others' minds as soon as she is out of sight, even if they're mid-conversation.

Part of what made Pine so beguiling to me was the opening chapter. Lauren and her friend Billy are meeting up to go trick-or-treating or, as it's called here, guising. Lauren is wearing her mother's lipstick; she's just, vaguely, half-consciously, beginning to understand that there are things about Billy she finds attractive. Dressed in makeshift Halloween costumes, the two children traipse from house to house, visiting neighbours they've known all their lives, performing 'party tricks' (Billy tells a joke and Lauren sings 'Bat Out of Hell'). This first chapter establishes everything important about the story: the way Lauren sees the world, the relationship between her family and the community, a backdrop that interweaves small-town cosiness with the chill of the unknown.

Lauren is such a pitch-perfect character. Her preoccupations ring so true, the way she pores over Christine's book of magic but, when she's scared, just wants to listen to the Frozen soundtrack; the sense of looming metamorphosis about her admiration of older girls and newly precarious friendship with Billy. Teens and adults react to her in authentic ways as well – I'm thinking particularly of her tarot card readings for Diane and Ann-Marie, the way their responses strike both indulgent and careless notes, the sense they'll forget her predictions as soon as they leave the room. Toon is great at this in general – sketching the transience, the shifting nature, of exchanges (of words/thoughts/emotions) as they happen.

I haven't written much about the plot because it isn't what mattered to me most. It's definitely compelling, but I wouldn't have minded if it wasn't. I just wanted to soak up the mood and the small perfect details.

I loved Pine. I know this is a worn-out compliment, but I mean it: it is hard to believe that this is a debut novel. I was simply bowled over by the richness of its world – characters and setting both. The hush of the forest; the glow of a Himalayan salt lamp against pine-panelled walls; condensation trickling down the windows of a school bus, words scratched on the seats; a pale figure slipping between the trees. These are images and feelings that will stay with me.

I received an advance review copy of Pine from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Profile Image for Fiona.
1,271 reviews238 followers
March 6, 2020
This book bewitched me. It's been days since I finished it, and I'm still mooning about the house like I've lost a friend.

It's such an immersive, completely captivating experience. I should qualify that it's doubly so for me because it's essentially set in my childhood; I grew up in the North East UK rather than Scotland, but the language and setting were so nostalgic for me. But that's not to write off the author's (amazing) talent; it wasn't nostalgia but some fantastic writing that had me almost able to see these people and the setting as I read.

Pine isn't just a study in nostalgia though, it's a haunting book, both figuratively and literally. But if you like your horror overwhelming or gory, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. This is a subtle book and that applies to it's horror - think unsettling rather than scary. Because it's a slow build, though, that unsettling nature sank it's claws right in and when it wanted to squeeze - boy did it. There are moments here that had me physically tense, but there was absolutely no way I was putting the book down.

Such a great book. Definitely one of my favourites of the year.
Profile Image for Théo M. (bookswiththeo).
260 reviews58 followers
January 28, 2020
Such a disappointment.

The book opens up really atmospheric, and has the potential to be really interesting. And story at its core had a lot of potential.

However the mystery element was really poorly written at the end. The entire actual plot only introduced and solved within 20 pages no lie.

The prose was SO WEAK and incredibly stilted. The whole story felt really dragged out with so much useless detail, just to be rushed and solved in 20 pages.

What was the point in reading this?
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,471 reviews1,013 followers
October 7, 2019
I seem to be on a run of unsettling, beautifully written novels at the moment, Pine is incredibly moving, intensely unnerving and genuinely absorbing from first page to last.

The edgy, offbeat prose really digs deep, it is a disjointed, haunting tale that is at turns terrifying and heart wrenching. Lauren sits at the centre of a maelstrom of adult emotion, her connection to her missing mother tennous and spiritual – meanwhile danger lurks in the forest surrounding her while her father falls apart and the community grows stranger and more off kilter by the moment.

The setting is both beautiful and relentlessly claustrophobic, the author paints pictures with words and leaves the reader unbalanced yet fully immersed, it is a peculiar talent that held me in its thrall the entirety of the read.

The ending when it arrives is pitch perfect and emotionally raw – Francine Toon has managed to write a genre crossing novel with wonderfully gothic undertones, written in a freshly observant way and I loved every minute of it. Even as it gave me strange surreal dreams that I didn’t manage to throw off for hours I was still desperate to pick it up again at every given opportunity.

Brilliant. Different. Highly Recommended.

Profile Image for Fiona.
844 reviews448 followers
September 21, 2020
DNF. I’ve read great reviews of this book but I’m not in tune with them at all. I was expecting a thriller but instead I got a slow burning, not very menacing, predictable tale set in the Highlands but it could have been anywhere. Eventually I decided life is too short for books I’m enduring rather than enjoying. It’s not for me. 21/9/20 - just awarded the William McIlvanney Prize. I am gobsmacked!
Profile Image for Sarah.
329 reviews158 followers
February 20, 2021
3.5 Stars. Pine is written well and has an intriguing premise. I kept getting this particular title recommended to me.
It is a slow burner to begin with, folk horror usually tends to be, as it follows a young girl Lauren and her father Niall. It is clouded in mystery, as they have been dealing with the disappearance of Lauren’s mother, Niall’s wife, Christine (she is presumed dead). It gives the reader the claustrophobic feel of this small Scottish village and it immerses you in mysteries that surround it.

One Halloween night, Niall is driving Lauren out for trick-or-treating, when they run into, and subsequently give a lift to, a young woman who appears to be lost and is clad only in a bath robe.
After this happens, Niall appears to have no recollection of the woman or that event where they picked her up even occurring. His focus appears to be more on drinking away the pain of losing Christine and wondering what happened to her than on Lauren. She often appears to be an afterthought to him.
Her mother was quite the mystical person, and Lauren takes an interest in that side of her, picking up her tarot cards. I think this is Lauren’s way of feeling closer to her.
As the story creeps on, it appears as though the whole village is talking about Lauren and Niall, as though they don’t have a very good reputation. People act peculiar and off with Niall at the pub, and Lauren is relentlessly bullied by some other girls at school. But why are they talking? And how is it whenever someone sees the aforementioned mysterious women, that they never seem to remember encountering her?

Overall, it was a fine story with little twist and turns but, I don’t know, I guess I expected just a *little* bit more out of it. However, it did keep the sense of mystery throughout.
October 22, 2022
As of late, I've been on a most unfortunate run of mediocre books. In the case of Pine however, this has gone one lower, and has earned a place in the to-throw-from-a-high-building shelf. It's a difficult shelf to get a place on actually, but once there, you'll eventually move to the box under the stairs, until that final move to the charity shop.

I have no idea what this book was attempting to achieve here, as according to the cover, this was supposed to be an eerie thriller. This was no thriller, and I was certainly not on the edge of my seat, if anything, I was laying back asleep in it, ready to settle in for the night.

The repetition of the characters issues were mentioned in detail in every chapter. Okay Toon, I get it, Niall was a drunk. Do I really need reminding in every chapter?

The characters, if given the chance, could have been developed into people that I'd be interested in reading about, but instead, I was left with characters that experience a terrible incident, or something supernatural, and all the do is lay about on the sofa, not talking about it, acting like nothing has happened.

The majority of the book is descriptions, no plot twists, no thrilling character development, and when something minor does happen, they act like it hasn't. I just don't understand the point of this bland and tedious book, and I feel like I've been robbed of valuable reading time.

Profile Image for Joseph.
479 reviews125 followers
September 19, 2020
Francine Toon’s eerie and unsettling debut novel Pine is set in a small and remote Highland town, where the nearest supermarket is 23 miles away, and the planned opening of an Aldi has been a topic for discussion for months. It is a community where everybody knows everybody else. So, it’s quite ironic that there’s a mystery at the heart of this story. Just under ten years before the events described in the novel, a young woman named Christine disappeared without a trace. Her partner Niall and their baby Lauren are still struggling to come to terms with this. The villagers gossip about Niall’s possible involvement in this disappearance, their suspicions fuelled by his alcohol problem and evident anger management issues. Lauren, who doesn’t remember her mother, is bullied at school, branded as the daughter of a “witch”. Christine might well have recognised herself as one – before her disappearance, she was into alternative remedies, crystal healing and fortune telling. In secret, Lauren is teaching herself spells and tarot reading from one of her mother’s books - her way of coping with a harsh and dangerous world.

The novel opens on a Halloween night. On their way home in their truck after an evening out “guising”, Lauren and her father come across a strange, white-gowned woman stumbling onto the road. They take her home with them, but the following morning she’s gone, and Lauren notices that Niall seems to have no recollection of the event. Other ghostly and unexplained events take place. Could they be harbingers of an impending tragedy? The disappearance of teenager Ann-Marie unearths memories of a mystery which has never gone away and Lauren – and the whole village – fear the worst.

Francine Toon was raised in the Highlands, and she ably uses a setting familiar to her to create a dark, uncanny atmosphere. The novel’s title refers both to Christine’s name for her daughter (Oren, the Gaelic word for “pine”) and to the forest which surrounds the village. As in traditional fairy tales, the “trees, coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men” evoke dread but also a sense of something timeless and otherworldly. This idea is also visually conveyed in the brilliant, minimalist cover.

The references to folklore, the Highland setting and the supernatural elements reminded me of another debut novel which I had greatly enjoyed – Kerry Andrew’s Swansong. However, there are also some clear differences between the approach of the two authors. Whereas Andrew’s story is steeped in folklore, Toon’s is darker, its Wiccan elements pushing it more towards horror. It also owes much to the contemporary thriller, which has turned the “missing person” trope into a veritable sub-genre.

The result is a gripping, genre-bending book which provides plenty of thrills, supernatural and otherwise. Indeed, in the excitement of the story it’s easy to miss its subtle, realist aspects – particularly the challenges of living in a small, remote community especially if you are a young teenager raring to see the world. This novel should also be read for this.

Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
687 reviews3,403 followers
January 23, 2020
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.

Read my full review of Pine by Francine Toon on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Jess☺️.
488 reviews84 followers
February 13, 2020
Pine by Francine Toon is creepy, thrilling and has a supernatural feel to it.
It keeps you on the edge for what's coming next but I felt I was dropped into the middle of the story and not feeling which was or what was going on but it's a book you need to stick with just to know and the ending left me with the ' oh right ' feeling and I realized I didn't really care because I needed more of something.
I will definitely try this author again.📖
Profile Image for Brenda Waworga.
606 reviews676 followers
February 26, 2020
Descriptive writing style is rarely work for me… and this one isn't work for me as well, The design and premise of this book are really interesting but the execution is MEH in my opinion

90% of this book I swear is just about the author trying to describe EVERYTHING!!… from the color of the wall, the itsy bitsy tiny details on the desk and wall, the clothes, the people, what they buy on grocery store… it’s driving me crazy cause it felt so unnecessary and only to make the book longer and this book is just 300ish pages long with big fonts

The plot is so slooowwww and tbh I don’t feel the eerie and thrilling feeling – like on the blurb said – through the book… we got 2 POVs here: Lauren (10 years old girl) and his father Niall and got zero attachment for both of these characters

The book finally got interesting in the last 10% but at that point I already feel bored!! and the final revelation also felt meh 😔 the villain got no motive.. oh well... Here goes another beautiful design outside with meh story inside book
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,907 reviews1,640 followers
January 22, 2020
This 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 ut in the morning she 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 but the pace picked up around the middle. The story is told in the greater part by ten year old Lauren. Lauren's father, Naill is dependent on alcohol and he still has ot 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 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.
Profile Image for Ken.
2,208 reviews1,330 followers
October 31, 2020
This modern gothic thriller wonderfully depicts a small Scottish village surrounded with mystery and folklore traditions.

The opening set at Halloween sees father and daughter out 'guising', on the way home they encounter a women stumbling out of the road. Niall takes her back to their home along with 10 year old Lauren, only to find that the stranger has disappeared the following morning.

Whilst the mystery wasn't entirely engaging, it's both the Scottish Highland setting and the relationship between parent and child after the disappearance of a mother that is interestingly explored.

It's certainly a beautifully written debut that's vividly atmospheric.
Profile Image for greta.
211 reviews224 followers
November 24, 2020
dnf. i absolutely did not enjoy reading this at all.
Profile Image for Paperback Mo.
302 reviews82 followers
February 14, 2021
What was the point of this story?

Included in my January Wrap Up video youtube.com/watch?v=NBn9SQpYUvQ

It wasn’t really ‘moving’ anywhere. Words on a page.
Got a little interesting towards the end...then it ended.

1.5 stars
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,681 reviews2,668 followers
April 2, 2020
What I liked most about Pine was the atmosphere: a remote village in the Highlands of Scotland surrounded by deep forest and infused with magic and mystery. There’s a feeling that anything could happen here and either no one would ever find out or they wouldn’t find out until long after the fact, when it’s too late. Ten-year-old Lauren lives with her father Niall; her mother, Christine, has been missing for years and is presumed dead. But starting on Halloween night, when Niall drives Lauren out for guising (trick or treating in costume) and they pick up a lost young woman wearing a bathrobe, there are hints that the dead aren’t as removed from daily life as one might think.

Third-person narration sidesteps the annoyances of having a child narrator, although we still get a sense of what Lauren understands or doesn’t about her mum’s past and her dad’s present. The dialogue and local slang work well. I was fully immersed for the first third of the book but then it started to become a slog, focusing too much on secondary characters and a new disappearance case. The writing reminded me of Andrew Michael Hurley’s and Kirsty Logan’s. As this is a debut novel, I’d be willing to try something else by Toon in the future.
Profile Image for Mary Durrant .
347 reviews129 followers
October 12, 2020
I was drawn in by the cover an expecting a gothic thriller.
Very disappointing no suspense and just ambled along.
Another hyped up book which could have been set anywhere, no feeling of time or place and nothing much happened.
Didn’t really like any of the characters and it’s left me yearning for a classic.
Profile Image for Beckee❤️.
140 reviews166 followers
October 20, 2020
I liked this a lot. I enjoyed the writing style, the dialogue, the setting and the characters. I did think it ended almost quite abruptly, but overall it was a good, creepy, suspenseful read - perfect for October!
Profile Image for Indieflower.
348 reviews114 followers
March 2, 2020
An engrossing story set in the Scottish Highlands, beautifully atmospheric with touches of gothic, folklore, mystery and the supernatural. It's a tale of a child not only coping with her father's ongoing grief but her own emptiness at the mysterious loss of a mother that she was too little to remember. The story feels like shadowy corners and things glimpsed out of the corner of one's eye and seems to almost drip with chill and mist. This reminded me very much of Starve Acre and Devil's Day, so if you like stories by Andrew Michael Hurley you may like this one too. A great debut novel, I'll be watching for more from Francine Toon.
Profile Image for M.L. Rayner.
Author 4 books176 followers
December 17, 2021
There are many mixed reviews about this book. I personally found it fantastic and would put it as my top read for 2021. The setting is eerie and descriptive. And although a big portion of the book is wrote from a child prospective, I never grew tired of the story. This is a slow burn read. Perfect for this time of year.
Profile Image for Sipping Tea With Ghosts.
37 reviews1 follower
June 1, 2020
If this book is supposed to be eerie and thrilling, I suppose whoever wrote that on the cover lives in fear of whenever they have to go grocery shopping at night. No, this story is the exact opposite of thrilling. Thrills promise at least some form of consistent or occasional adrenaline pumping pace, but this 300+ page story is slower than a snail dying on a salt factory floor. The proper pairing of words for this novel is mundane and overwritten.

Every chapter in this story is about 80% description and bout-less exposition, 15% tangents and clumsy metaphors, and perhaps if you're lucky, you'll have the other 5% be dedicated to plot progression. I understand that you need to set things up for pay offs later, but you need to remember to actually pay it off and not go on another tangent.

The characters had the possibility of having interesting growth through these unsettling circumstances but the rather patronizing repetition of their flaws and struggles as well as jarring tonal and setting shifts breaks any hope of that happening. Examples being that Niall, one of the main characters is a drunk. Did you not catch it the first time? No worries, you'll be reminded of it in some fashion in almost every single chapter he's in. Even a recovering alcoholic like King doesn't hammer that into your skull that hard, even in stories where that's the focus. Example of the tone shift is when something bad happens to Lauren such as getting bullied or seeing blood leak in the house, instead of focusing on it or telling her dad about it, the plot just shifts to her sitting on a couch watching jeopardy as if nothing happened. Regardless of her character, that makes no sense. No one ever mentions what happened the previous night when something odd or supernatural occurs and just go on like there's nothing to be concerned about.

If you estimated this novel to be 100,000 words, you could take out every sentence dedicated to the central mystery and only add up to 2,000 at most.

It's not "atmospheric" writing, it's filler and nothing more.
I was drawn in by the cover and the premise and what I'm left with is another disappointing read, with a mystery mostly relegated to the very end, literally dumped on you within the last 20 pages.

No twist, no surprise, just left pining for anything else.
Profile Image for David.
70 reviews10 followers
September 1, 2023
The isolated location in the Scottish Highlands combined with small town mentality had the makings for a good eerie story. But perhaps gothic thrillers aren’t my thing as I found the story a bit boring. I’m so pleased this was a short book.
Profile Image for Ellis.
1,217 reviews137 followers
November 15, 2020
A delicious slow burn that rewards the patient reader. I was trying to decide what to read last night and picked this because of the cover - that cover! - and it was a fine choice. Starting with going guising on Halloween with her friend Billy, this puts you into the day to day lives of ten & a half year old Lauren and her dad, still eyed with suspicion and distaste by the town after the disappearance of Lauren's mother when she was a baby. Lauren gets teased mercilessly by her classmates, but there are some older girls who stick up for her. Niall does handyman work, drinks too much, and often treats Lauren as an afterthought to wallowing in the misery of wondering what happened to his wife. Lauren doesn't know if he's telling the truth or not, but he says he doesn't remember the strange woman they picked up on Halloween night and brought home, and he refuses to talk to her about it. And little by little, weird things start happening with increasing frequency: rock circles around the house, a strange woman in the orchard, forgotten once she's out of sight. Lightbulbs popping, dogs barking at nothing, leaky roofs and the smell of something rotten. This easily could've gotten boring because nothing too overt happens for a long while, but I never lost interest. It's wonderfully atmospheric and I loved Lauren and her cool older girl babysitter Ann-Marie, the neighbors who look out for her and the weird old lady up the road. This crescendos into a missing person situation that had me frantic and a very scary scene in the woods that had me wondering if I should save the rest of the book for the daylight. Of all the folk horror novels I've read this year, this one was the best.
Profile Image for Thomas Stroemquist.
1,522 reviews126 followers
January 4, 2021
Brilliant start of the reading year. Flowing, beautiful narrative and a haunting, mesmerising, dreamlike story that just draws you in. I was waiting for a change of atmosphere, of pace or just for the story to ket me have some breathing space, but it didn’t - just spun on, pulling me deeper into the darkness of it. And yet I felt like I could not have enough. Great characters, great location and a really great ending. I just capitulated and threw all the stars onto this one. Obviously recommended!
Profile Image for Renee Godding.
643 reviews633 followers
December 18, 2020
''With all the lights on, there is still a darkness in the house.''

3/5 stars

After reading Francines Toons debut novel, there is no doubt in my mind about two things:
1. She is a very promising author, whom career I'll be sure to follow.
2. This book just didn't work for me

What I loved about Pine was the atmospheric writing. An eerie mist of forboding floats between the pinetrees that surround this remote Scottish Village, creating the feeling that anything could happen at any moment. I also think our main character Lauren was the perfect fit for this story. Her characterization was perfectly done: from scene one where she goes trick-or-treating wearing her missing mothers lipstick, her (perhaps unhealthy) fascination with Christine becomes clear, and remains consistant throughout the story. The same goes for her father Niall, and it was their characters that kept me reading, wanting to find out what had brought their lives to the place it's at now.

It was that very mystery-aspect that I didn't end up enjoying. It feels like this novel was a coming of age story, that had a mystery tagged on to it, rather than woven into it natural. This lead to a rushed conclusion at the end, where rather than slowly unveiling the answers, they are all dumped onto the reader in the final 20 pages.
Had this been just a coming of age story, I might have rated it higher, but as a mystery-horror novel it doesn't work for me.
Profile Image for ThatBookGal.
674 reviews88 followers
January 28, 2020
Dark and moody, Pine felt like the perfect winter read, easily read in one sitting. At times utterly terrifying, there is an air of unease to the entire novel.

I could talk for hours about the Scottish Highlands setting, just this in itself was completley captivating. The snapshot of life, in a small remote village, was perfection. The fragile and fractious neighbour relationships are explored thoroughly, and its evident just how much small communities in remote locations rely heavily on each other.

You can find my full review on my blog here.

Profile Image for Heidi.
1,064 reviews219 followers
November 16, 2019
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!

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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