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  • The Barren Earth

    It took me a little while to actually get in to the book as, initially, the words overpower the story. The language and sentence construction I found to be initially offputting and it all smacked a little of a vanity project or as though this was a self-conscious attempt at writing literature. After 20 or so pages I began to get used to the cadence of the narrator and realised that this wasn't the author intruding on the story, this was just the way that Richard was. After 40 or so pages I couldn't have cared less, I was hooked deep in to the story. There is something undeniably unsettling about the setting. The lonely house on the Peak District moors, the barren field that once hosted a legendary oak tree. The very remoteness of the setting puts you on edge and then to transplant a folk tale of a hanging bough and the shadowy Jack Grey on to this location just ups the ante even further. Really The Beacons are just an adjunct to the tale, whilst Juliette sees them as vitally important and Richard dismisses them as charlatans to the reader I found they were neither here nor there. What interested me was the relating of the changes in Ewan once he started at the village school. How he moved from a happy, well adjusted child to a creature of fear was superbly handled and the parental confusion at this change in their little boy is well drawn on the page. It is not so much his actions but his fear, his certainty that something is speaking to him, forcing him in to these behaviours and the way his parents initially dismiss his accounts and then start to fear this cuckoo in their midst that speaks to the reader. The obsession of The Willoughby family is undoubtedly the oak tree. It consumed Richard's father and now the search for evidence of it's existence seems to be consuming Richard. There is something deeply unsettling about his obsessive digging in the barren field, perhaps more so than Juliette's obsession with contacting her dead son and her belief that he is still in the house. The way in which grief has warped and worn them both is extremely well executed and heavily nuanced. There is no, nice, neat little ending to the book. In the tradition of the best ghost storys it leaves you on a knife edge. Balanced between the nightmare the Willoughby's seem to now be accepting and inhabiting and the out and out shock value of that final sentence. It leaves you wanting more and yet relieved that you can step out of the claustrophobic nightmare that is their home. This book will stay with me for some time. Not just because of how unsettling it all is but because of how cleverly crafted and constructed the story is. There is no waste here, every word has been crafted to up the sense of unease and paranoia - maybe too well crafted as occassionally the author does peer through to the reader and spoils the tension. THIS IS AN HONEST REVIEW OF A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK PROVIDED BY READERS FIRST.

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  • A Creeping Folkloric Nightmare

    Richard and Juliette have lost their only son, Ewan, and neither of them knows how to cope. Starve Acre, the family house that had begun to feel home is now filled with painful memories and shadows of the past. While Richard retreats into himself and tries to move on, Juliette chooses to live in the past, sleeping in Ewan's room and watching for him, convinced that his spirit is still in the house. When a group of spiritualists comes over to help them move on, will they be more help or hindrance to the family's grieving process? The cover reads "Genuinely and brilliantly disturbing", and the further into this book I got, the more apt this phrase seemed to be. Filled with slow pacey scenes, and dark foreshadowing, this book is a perfect balance between a straightforward narrative and a creeping folkloric nightmare. I was reminded of early classic horror movies like Rosemary's Baby and Vertigo, which embody that spine chilling subtlety of horror, working simple things into the psyche until something simple like a framed photograph or a road map (or a hare...) can send you into nervous convulsions. The characters in this book were wonderfully crafted from real life, and while I felt for Richard, I found that I did not feel any desire to sympathise with Juliette or take her side. The relationship she had with her family made me so uncomfortable, I think it added a lot to my experience of this claustrophobic tale. I loved this book all the way through, and enjoyed the ambiguous magic at play, if I may be allowed to call it that. The narrative is told so straightforwardly, and yet there is enough of a veil over what is really happening, to create a somehow plausible realm of story. My only complaint, and It isn't really that if I'm honest, is the ending. I was frustrated by where the story was left, and how it just suddenly finished without conclusion or explanation. The reason I say this is not really a complaint is that an explanation probably would have ruined the story's eerie subtlety, and conclusions are often not nearly as satisfying as you would hope. At the end of the day I suppose this ending adds a certain something to the book overall, and so who am I to say it was too abrupt? This folklore noir is a short but languorous work of fiction, and I guarantee that it will capture your imagination for weeks after you finish the last line. For fans of local legends and dark history, this book will certainly keep you on your toes. I think if you loved this story you should try Lanny by Max Porter, which although very different overall, shares some similarities with Starve Acre.

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  • Wonderfully creepy and atmospheric!

    “He says my name sometimes. Tells me to come to the tree.” Richard and Juliette Willoughby are grieving after the death of their five-year-old son, Ewan, and this may be manifesting itself in different ways. Richard has become obsessed with digging up the field opposite their house in search of the legendary Stythwaite Oak. It seems that Juliette feels Ewan’s presence in their home and after a visit from a group called The Beacons and after Richard digs up the skeleton of a hare in the field and brings it back to the house things take a peculiar and otherworldly turn. This novel tackles the difficult subjects of grief, in particular losing a child whilst also approaching the subjects of family and tradition. Andrew Michael Hurley has written Starve Acre beautifully using atmospheric, dark descriptions that make the surroundings leap from the page. The starkness and bleakness of the countryside create a feeling of coldness throughout and I felt as though I witnessed the novel in black and white. Starve Acre is home to a small cast of wonderfully written and well-developed characters whom I grew to like and dislike in equal measure. My only complaint is that I would have enjoyed spending more time here, another hundred pages perhaps, and have had the scenes with Jack Grey explored further. But that is just me being greedy. Starve Acre is a wonderfully creepy, disturbing and beautifully written story with an ending to strike horror into even the hardest of readers. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Starve Acre and will definitely go back and read Andrew Michael Hurley’s previous work. Thank you to John Murray Press, NetGalley and Readers first for the opportunity to read this book.

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