Member Reviews

I loved this brutal story of the Cumbrian fells during the foot and mouth outbreak and the impact of that.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

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A harsh and brutal novel depicting the lives of two hill farmers from the Cumbrian Fells. This book will dispel any romantic notions you may have of leading an idyllic lifestyle in the rural north.Falling on even more difficult times due to foot and mouth decimating the sheep flocks William involves Steve in an outrageous plan to rustle sheep from southern England a plan which gets them involved with serious criminals. Things soon start to go downhill as they are drawn further into the criminals lives not always willingly. Into this. Mix there is Helen , Williams wife who has a mutual attraction with Steve. I found it hard to like any of the characters in this book but also hard to judge them. A different way of life is being portrayed to that most of us will have lived and only those who have lived in that way will know the accuracy of the atmosphere the author creates. Not a book for the faint hearted but one well worth reading.

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I enjoyed the story, though the writing made it difficult to get into it, especially as I’ve not got much to relate to the subject matter. I can see how this book could appeal to those that have some sort of link to the area, unfortunately that wasn’t me.

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The devastation caused by the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak is brilliantly captured in this gritty rural novel about sheep farmers in the Lakeland area of Cumbria in the northwest of England. Neighbouring sheep farmers see their flocks destroyed as their way of life is perhaps for ever finished. But in spite of their heartbreak, two at least are determined to fight back and re-establish their flocks – even if that means stealing someone else’s sheep. That’s the bare bones of the plot, and I hesitate to say much more without giving too much away. In many ways this is a fine piece of writing, and a remarkable debut novel. It’s grim, often brutal, visceral, insightful and a powerful evocation of the faming life. But it is also, in spite of moments of tenderness, extremely violent. And it is this that makes me less enthusiastic than I might have been. Put simply I got fed up with all the graphic descriptions of the violence, which after a while simply became tedious. I didn’t want to read any more about the fights, the brutality. A shame, because in all other respects it’s wonderful novel, brilliant in its evocation of place and time, its descriptions of the landscape and of the animal slaughter, which many of us can remember seeing on the news, authentic in its language and use of dialect, and with a host of memorable characters. But it was just too much for me, and I became less and less engaged as it went on.

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Gritty, grim and visceral. A great story about the love for you flock, the earth and a novel that made me think about some great novels of the beginning of XX century.
One of those book that punch you more times and you love it.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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Scott Preston’s “The Borrowed Hills” isn’t just a novel, it’s an experience. It’s the desolate beauty of the Cumbrian fells woven together with the raw desperation of men pushed to the brink. For fans of Cormac McCarthy’s stark prose, this book delivers a similar punch.

The story follows Steve Elliman, a farmer grappling with the devastating foot-and-mouth outbreak that decimates his livelihood and community. Preston’s descriptions are nothing short of breathtaking. He doesn’t just paint the Cumbrian landscape, he makes you feel the bite of the wind, the damp wool of the sheep, the weight of tradition pressing down on these weathered men.

But “The Borrowed Hills” is more than just scenery. It’s a story of resilience, of the lengths men will go to for their land and their way of life. Steve’s desperation leads him down a dangerous path, one that forces him to confront his own demons and the complex relationships he has with his neighbor, William, and William’s enigmatic wife, Helen.

The characters are superbly drawn. Steve is a flawed but relatable protagonist, a man hardened by life but not devoid of compassion. William is a stoic enigma, and Helen brings a touch of mystery and simmering tension to the narrative.

The story takes a dramatic turn when Steve and William embark on a desperate heist, one that pushes their morals and their bond to the breaking point. The tension builds with each turn of the page, culminating in a climax that’s both shocking and strangely inevitable.

This is not a comfortable read. Preston doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of rural life, the violence of the cullings, the desperation that can fester in a man’s soul. But that’s precisely what makes it so brilliant. It’s a story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page, a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit set against the unforgiving backdrop of the natural world.

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A bleak and violent story of desperate men trying to claw back a life that was lost. Set in Cumbria in the early 2000s, The Borrowed Hills follows Steve, the son of a sheep farmer, who sees his valley decimated by foot and mouth disease. Thousands of sheep are culled. Steve seems hapless at times, someone who drifts about doing what's in front of him. When his dad dies, he comes back to work the farm of a neighbour, William, who is equally lost - trying to get the farm back to what it was. Bad decisions are made. Bad men are involved. Lots of plot rapidly unfolds. Yet Steve works the farm, tends the sheep - the one constant among the chaos. This is a Western with a distinctly Cumbrian voice.

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Steve is called back to the family farm just as 'Foot and Mouth' spreads throughout Cumbria. His father loses all his stock and soon dies. Steve moves south and works as a lorry driver but is called back and begins work with William. To replace sheep the two conduct an audacious theft but as Steve tends the flock, William comes under the influence of a dangerous man. Now it becomes a battle to live...
This is a very brutal book. The violence and hardship contrast so well with the image of countryside that most have. It's not an easy read but it is worth it.

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An incredible debut. Lyrical, visceral, arresting – all those cliches, but they truly do apply here! Scott Preston brings the reader into Steve and William’s world and it comes to life with breathtaking power. Wonderful and I will be recommending this to everyone.

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Not a book I would have chosen browsing the shelves in a bookshop, but thought I would give it a go. Certainly a different read for me but was very enjoyable.

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This book was definitely not what I expected! Scott Preston presents a nauseating yet deeply insightful story about a case of foot and mouth disease ravaging Cumbrian farms which leads to two farmers engaging in unspeakable acts in order to keep their farm afloat. Preston's writing style creates effortlessly vivid images which will stick with me long after I've finished. It is interesting to read a story so heavily male centred, especially concerning a job which is often overlooked. The harsh reality of a farmers life is certainly highlighted here with Preston presenting his characters on the edge of desperation at all times. The brutal descriptions of animal mutilation and death is certainly not for the faint hearted but it definitely highlights the savage reality of these characters lives.

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Written in words as beautiful and occasionally brutal as the Cumbrian landscape, this is an uncompromising read about the difficulties of hill farming. We first encounter the devastating foot and mouth epidemic. Two neighbouring farmers, William and Steve, join forces to try to save some of William's stock, and the sole surviving lamb from Steve's father's flock. Their alliance continues as they decide to stage an audacious heist.
The prose left me breathless at times, but it's a sad indictment of the government's disregard for farming.

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We start with Steve Elliman who has returned home to his Cumbrian family sheep farm to help out his father. Sadly though, foot and mouth is ravaging the area and the whole flock has to be destroyed. Down the road there's another farm, owned by William Herne and he is trying to keep his head above water. He has barricaded the police and authorities out and is trying to hide some of his flock elsewhere to save them. Steve travels to his farm to help and gets involved in what can only be described as the very darkest side of livestock farming. No punches are pulled in describing the tragic events that were suffered by so many.
After the dust settles - or should I say ash - Steve once again escapes but come back after the death of his father and, on returning home, is drawn back into the world of farming, but it's a much murkier place this time around as he teams up with William and together the two of them start to live and work outside the law...
Wow... this book is very brutal and, as I said, pulls no punches. It is visceral in places and often very hard hitting. I do admit to having to put it down for a breather every so often. That said, it was compelling reading and had me hanging on every word as I devoured the pages.
It's very much a cause and effect scenario. With F&M being the cause and how that turned our two protagonist farmers into outlaws and the setting becoming described as the American Wild West. I guess when you have nothing to lose, your values go awry...
Steve was out MC and I took to him immediately. He was a bit easily led and I did wonder about some of his motivations for some of the things he got up to. Path of least resistance, going with the flow, devil may care, I dunno but it all felt credible, albeit brutal. Work is everything.
It's a brutal read and, due to the subject matter, a hard book for me to say I enjoyed, but I did! And, with this being a debut, I'm looking forward to seeing what the author comes up with next time.
My thanks go to the Publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book.

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DNF 25%

I am sorry but I will have to admit defeat! No matte how much I try I cannot get into this. It's a shame as I thought I would love it, and really, there's humour there that I've enjoyed, but the narrator does my head in and the story doesn't seem to be going anywhere... Maybe I will try again at a different time, when in a different frame of mind.

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Steve, the narrator, is a sheepfarmer's son in Cumbria. The landscape and life as a farmer is well described, the despair after culling the livestock during foot and mouth disease, the loneliness of the life and the ways to make a living, sometimes legal, sometimes not. I had to get used to the writing style, but after the first few chapters (numbered with the sheep counting system) it did hook me in. It was worth perservering with.
An unusual book, thanks to Net Galley for the ARC, I look forward to reading more from Scott Preston

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This was phenomenal. More often than not a novel has a strength in either its writing being lyrical, descriptive, emotive, or its characters are well rounded, and alive. This has both. It felt so balanced that I didn't know when to put it down, hence, I flew through it. A strong contender for my Book of the Year.

Thank you Scott Preston.

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A stunning, visceral debut from Scott Preston who has written a book drenched in the oppressive atmosphere of the Cumbrian hills during one of the worst periods in the lives of hill farmers.

Steve Elliman is our narrator. He comes back to his family home to help his father during the cull of sheep due to a foot and mouth outbreak. I remember seeing the scenes of farms, farmers and families devastated by the wholesale destruction of their cattle and sheep. It was a horrific time.

After the sheep are gone Steve goes to the neighbouring farm to help out William Herne. Once William's flock is gone he leaves, going on the road far from the death and destruction. It is on his return that the trouble begins to spiral out of control and Steve is swept along with Williams increasingly dangerous schemes to save his farm.

This book is a real gut punch of a novel. The descriptions of the farmers' ravaged flocks, the struggle that they go through to save their livelihoods, are starkly drawn. The characterisations of William and Steve are of men who have led hard lives since birth and their determination to carry on is often heartbreaking.

Scott Preston has delivered an uncomfortable but excellent novel that brings to life the horror of the foot and mouth outbreak, the poverty that hill farmers endure but also the strength and determination that they have to show every day.

Highly recommended. I look forward to Scott Preston's next work.

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I've been trying to convince myself I liked this one more than I did, what with it being set in the North of England and it bringing all my favourite slang to the page. It's especially great to see the underappreciated "maungy" in a book.

The Borrowed Hills has a very strong sense of place and a unique premise. It is set in Cumbria during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the early 2000s. There is something horror-like about this subject and setting-- farmers left destitute and desperate after being forced to watch their animals slaughtered and their bodies burned-- yet this horror was the reality for many.

Preston perfectly captures the rural setting, making it seem equally lovely and disgusting. I could picture vividly the hills and gorges. I was right there wading through the blood and muck with Steve.

I am not surprised that early US readers are likening this to the Wild West, because it certainly feels wild and lawless. Preston has painted a picture of a world set apart from the rest of society, governed by its own rules and norms, not unlike what Emily Brontë did for the Yorkshire moors in Wuthering Heights.

All this is great, but I hit a barrier as we got into the meat of the story. I loved the writing, the setting, the touches of horror, but once past the set-up of the novel I started to lose interest. The story that evolved out of this catastrophe was not one I could find engaging no matter how hard I tried. Around the middle, I lost track of what I was reading for, what I should care about.

Despite this, I finished it because of the powerful writing and sharp dialogue. It never wavers, finishing just as dark, grim and evocative as it starts. I'm interested in seeing what Preston writes next. It doesn't seem to be the avenue he's going down but I think he'd do a fantastic horror.

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Thank you Netgalley and John Murray Press for the e-ARC of this wonderful book set in my home county of Cumbria!

This was not what I was expecting. In fact, it’s unlike anything I’ve personally read before. I was struggling to get through it at first and feeling like I was in a bit of a reading slump. But I pushed on, and I’m glad I did. Having now finished I feel surprised and a little shaken, like it’s a book that I’ll be thinking about for a long while.

“I’d say it was all dead on the fells, but the smokestacks made it seem alive as I’d never known it.”

‘The Borrowed Hills’ is described as a reimagining of the American Western but set in the fells of Cumbria in the early 2000s. It spans from the outbreak of Foot and Mouth onwards, following protagonist, Steve Elliman, and his unnerving alliance with neighbouring sheep farmer, William Herne, as they plot to steal sheep from an upmarket farm down south.

Preston’s vivid descriptions of the wild, Cumbrian landscape are hauntingly beautiful and lyrical, and yet there’s also a matter-of-factness to his writing in concerns with the laborious and true nature of farming. The Cumbrian dialect and colloquial language is aplenty, which I adored. It puts you right into everything so you feel entirely immersed in the rugged world of the Cumbrian fells.

Although, the Foot and Mouth epidemic can appear more-so as a backdrop to the narrative, rather than the focal plot point, it is the catalyst that drives the men onto their darker paths. The manner in which Preston explores the psyche of tormented men after major tragedy is what makes this book great, although it can be uncomfortable to read at times.

“It was a disease that ate at everyone, foot and mouth, killed the animals with split hooves first but then it killed the farms and the farmers killed themselves[.]”

‘The Borrowed Hills’ shows the extremes of how destructive a tragedy like FMD can be on such a community, and it succeeds in what it sets out to achieve. It’s definitely one I’d recommend. ‘The Borrowed Hills’ comes out 11th April.

“I’ve tried getting off this mountain and I’m starting to think there’s no way down.”

4/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

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With foot and mouth disease spreading across the hills of Cumbria, emptying the valleys of sheep and filling the skies with smoke, two neighbouring shepherds lose everything and put aside their rivalry to join forces. They set their sights on a wealthy farm in the south with its flock of prizewinning animals. So begins the dark tale of Steve Elliman and William Herne.  

This is not a tale for the faint-hearted. The culling and disposal of animals is never a happy subject. Having lived through the time and watching horrific scenes of giant burning pyres every night on tv was distressing for us, the viewers, but it must have been devastating for the farmers. This tale doesn’t hold back. Having said that it’s very cleverly written. Well-paced, once you get used to the language, and the characters are very real. Gory and raw but terrifically entertaining.

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