Cover Image: A History of Wild Places

A History of Wild Places

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Member Reviews

Maggie St. James, the popular yet controversial author of the children’s Eloise and Foxtail series, has gone missing. She’s been gone for five years, and her parents are desperate enough to call on Travis Wren. Travis has a special power—he can see memories in objects. He follows Maggie’s trail to a town named Pastoral, a homestead community removed from the rest of civilization.

We soon go into Pastoral itself and learn where the community came from, and where the community is headed. Told between split perspectives, the mystery only grows as the residents of Pastoral find clues from Maggie and Theo, and the forest’s disease comes closer.

I enjoyed Shea Ernshaw’s writing in The Wicked Deep and was excited to see this was an adult novel. It has been mistakenly tagged as young adult, but it is definitely adult. I loved watching the characters’ secrets come out and their storylines flush out. My only issue is this seemed a bit long, and there was a little repetitiveness, but definitely worth the read. I flew through it in two days.

Thank you to Net Galley, Atria Books, and Shea Ernshaw for the chance to read this advanced review copy. A History of Wild Places releases on December 7th.

CW: suicide, childbirth, domestic violence
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Travis Wren has always been able to glimpse images of a person whenever he touches an object that belongs to them. He uses his uncanny gift to find missing people, and this latest case takes him to remote woods searching for a missing author. Maggie St. James was a well-known author who created a dark fairytale series for children, but one day, she walked into the woods and never returned. Following the trail of afterimages, Travis is led to a commune in the woods called Pastoral, a reclusive community formed in the 1970s by like-minded people who wanted to live a simple life. Travis believes his mission is over, but just like Maggie, he quickly disappears as well. 

No one is allowed in or out of Pastoral, but years later, Theo, a life-long Pastoral member, decides to take a chance and ventures out beyond the border. While roaming the woods, he comes across Travis's abandoned truck. As he digs deeper into the disappearance of Travis and Maggie, Theo starts to get flashes of a life that may have once belonged to him. Unraveling the mystery brings forth long-buried secrets that Theo, his wife Calla, and her sister Bee have kept from one another. Secrets that may prove that Pastoral may not be as idyllic as it seems.

I've only read one other book by Ernshaw that I thought was just ok, so I wasn't too sure about this one going in. The writing was beautifully atmospheric and dark, but I thought the overall plot needed a bit more work. It was a little too slow for my tastes (particularly the first half), and I was able to guess where the mystery was going to go before it happened. There were a fair bit of twists thrown in, but they were almost glossed over, so they didn't impact the story as much as they maybe should've. I think the premise of this cult-like commune in the middle of the woods had all the potential to be creepy and out there, and I wish Ernshaw would've played that up a bit more. Overall, I liked the ambiance but wanted just a little bit more oomph.
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Wow, I really loved escaping into this novel. It was a very dark, mysterious and atmospheric read. It was a bit predictable, but I actually didn’t mind. I was so engulfed in She Ernshaw’s writing that I probably could have read this book in one sitting if I didn’t have all the adult responsibilities. I would have liked to have learned more of Travis’s ability as well as been more a part of the aftermath of the ending. Overall, A History of Wild Places was a journey that I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of.
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Travis Wren is a "seer" - when he holds an object, he has visions of what happened to the owner, which is why he is often hired by families of missing persons as a desperate last resort.  We meet him just as he has been hired by author Maggie St. James' parents, who went missing five years earlier after a scandal following her last book.  Then Travis goes missing himself, after tracking Maggie to an isolated community deep in the woods called Pastoral.  From there we meet the residents of Pastoral, mainly centered on Theo, Calla, and Bee - who wonder, and to varying degrees, explore - what's outside the boundaries of their village, despite warnings from Pastoral's leader Levi, that anyone who does so will infect their community with the "pax."  

This is a slow-burn mystery, a little too slow for me, and the characters did not draw me in enough - both Travis' and Maggie's backstories felt more compelling, though only thinly sketched.  I would definitely read a prequel.  There were a couple surprising turns that I appreciated, though felt rushed into the last 15% of the book.  2.5 stars, rounded up.

Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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This book absolutely blew me away! It's been a while since I have read a mystery/thriller that has sucked me in as much as this book did. Shea Ernshaw's writing is beautiful and the story is absolutely captivating.

Travis Wren is hired by the family of the famous writer Maggie St. James to track her down after she went missing 5 years prior. Travis gets led to dark community, Pastoral, that was founded in the 1970s. Soon after, Travis himself disappears. 

A History of Wild Places bends genres - this story is somewhere between magical realism, thriller, fantasy and mystery. The twists were top-knotch and jaw-dropping. This book really has it all - unique plot-line, vivid descriptions, unreliable narrators, multiples POVs, and so much more.
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I thought this was a solid new story in the adult genre from Shea Ernshaw. The plot is interesting, and I love the small town story. It was dark and thick with atmosphere, creating a slow-burn that at times was a little too slow for me though.  Ernshaw's writing is as always, absolutely beautiful and vividly descriptive, but it could have been reduced a bit to speed the story up.  The mystery was interesting, and I enjoyed the magical elements!
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I’m always hesitant when a novel is described as “atmospheric” because too often I think that translates to “the author describes the scene in agonizing detail and no real action happens.”  “A History of Wild Places” has been described as atmospheric but I think that term is a disservice to the wonder of this novel. Instead, it should be called “experiential” because Ernshaw doesn’t just describe the scenery; she makes you experience it - you become the character and feel what they feel, see what they see. You’re tense and guilt ridden at times, idyllically content at others, confused and unsure. Ernshaw draws on primal human emotions of wanting to belong and fearing the unknown to explore the formation of identity. Is our identity our own choice or are we a culmination of various influences? 

I was quickly drawn into this  uniquely original story and wanted to stay with the characters until the very end. Highly recommend. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES by Shea Ernshaw is a dark fairy tale that has shades of THE VILLAGE and WILDER GIRLS, and it pulls off everything it sets out to do. Ernshaw has two mysteries at hand here. The first is what happened to Maggie St. Clair, an author who walked into the woods and never returned, and what happened to Travis Wren, the man who followed her trail. The other, more present mystery has to do with Pastoral, the forest commune that Maggie was looking for, as a couple years later members are starting to question their realities in the group. Theo and Calla are married and are finding evidence of Maggie and Travis, which is making them question what their leader Levi is hiding from them. Bee is Calla's blind sister who is in love with Levi, and who steadfastly believes that there is a deadly disease that keeps the villagers isolated for their own safety... Until something happens that makes me believe that they need to venture forth out of the woods for help. This book is strange and dreamy, and incredibly intense at the same time, as people start to realize that things may not be what they seem, and that they are part of a dangerous cult like influence. And it kept me guessing the entire time. 

A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES is the perfect creepy read for a cold winter's night. I cannot recommend it enough.
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Congratulations to @sheaernshaw and her absolute masterpiece of a modern-day classic 𝘈 𝘏𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘞𝘪𝘭𝘥 𝘗𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘦𝘴.  

Several days after finishing this book, I’m still thinking about it even though I’m halfway through my next read.  I don’t imagine I will forget this one anytime soon.  It’s a genre-bending and atmospheric fairy tale turned nightmare come to life, and I was left breathless by it.  

Let me try to narrow it down for you.  In this book, you’ll read about:

- a missing women who also happens to be the author of controversial macabre fairy tales for children
- a man who essentially “sees dead people”
- a secret, inaccessible, cult-like commune deep in the forest
- a pox
- and other ominous and thrilling elements I can’t reveal here without spoiling.

M. Night Shyamalan 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘢𝘨𝘦 vibes, anyone?  

The characters here are flawlessly crafted, and the plot construction is brilliant.  The ending leaves the reader hopeful—and as I’ve already stated, the story lingers.  Believe me when I tell you that you will not easily forget #whathappenedtomaggiestjames.

At its heart, 𝘈 𝘏𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘞𝘪𝘭𝘥 𝘗𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘦𝘴 is about loyalty, family, and decisions that have the power to transform one’s entire world.   I found it to be such a meaningful and enthralling read with tragic suspense, unexpected twists, and a genuinely unique storyline.  Read it!

My thanks to @atriabooks and @netgalley for the opportunity to read this book before its publication date.
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I really appreciate Shea Ernshaw's writing, and although this ended up not being my cup of tea plot-wise/story-wise, I still believe she is a very talented writer. Unfortunately, this is not the only book I have read this year (!), let alone in my lifetime, set in a creepy small village cut off from the outside world. I have seen this classified as a thriller, and also classified as magical realism, but although there is a feeling of creepiness and unease that carries throughout the story and although some of the characters have sort of special abilities, I almost think this fell short of being solidly in either genre. While this was not my favorite, I do think there are aspects of this story and the excellent writing that others will enjoy.
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Wow what a freaking book 🥰thank you thank you @atriabooks and @netgalley for the advanced copy of  @sheaernshaw book out December 7th! 
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Summary: Travis Wren has an unusual talent for locating missing people. Hired by families as a last resort, he requires only a single object to find the person who has vanished. When he takes on the case of Maggie St. James—a well-known author of dark, macabre children’s books—he’s led to a place many believed to be only a legend.

Called Pastoral, this reclusive community was founded in the 1970s by like-minded people searching for a simpler way of life. By all accounts, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore and soon after Travis stumbles upon it… he disappears. Just like Maggie St. James.

Years later, Theo, a lifelong member of Pastoral, discovers Travis’s abandoned truck beyond the border of the community. No one is allowed in or out, not when there’s a risk of bringing a disease—rot—into Pastoral. Unraveling the mystery of what happened reveals secrets that Theo, his wife, Calla, and her sister, Bee, keep from one another. Secrets that prove their perfect, isolated world isn’t as safe as they believed—and that darkness takes many forms.
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Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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My thoughts: this book blew me away. It reminded me a little of The Village movie which I loved! A fabulous book with creepy setting and a cult, what more could you ask for ! Wonderful characters and such a fabulous mystery with an ending I didn’t see coming. Add it to your @bookofthemonth box or run to your nearest book store December 7th! Dark and twisty, one of the best books I’ve read in a minute and might make my top ten books of the year!😻
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Shea Ernshaw’s world is cinematically planned with lush, vivid descriptions of setting and place. A History of Wild Places begins with Travis Wren, a finder of missing persons, being enlisted to find writer Maggie St. James who has been missing for 5 years. Travis’s unusual perceptive gift is Maggie’s parents’ last hope of locating their daughter who seems to have disappeared deep into the Northern California woods. Just before he sets out on his hunt for Maggie, Mrs. St. James mentions the name of a hidden community to Travis where she believes Maggie may have strayed: Pastoral. But as Travis sinks deeper and deeper into the woods in search of Maggie and Pastoral, he finds that things may not be exactly what they seem.
The story is split into multiple sections, in the second part we are introduced to three villagers in Pastoral: Theo, married to Calla, and Bee, younger sister of Calla. Each character’s perspective helps tell the story of Pastoral and how it came to be. Ernshaw beautifully engages the reader with her writing, weaving a story of community, loss, family, faith, and deception. Her writing is so engaging that I felt that I was part of the town of Pastoral and could actually envision living there. At times I wished I had a map to show me the exact layout of Pastoral so that I could follow the story even more closely. 
The two narratives of “Before” and “After” Pastoral characters eventually become intertwined through carefully developed storylines told from the memories of Theo, Calla, and Bee. 
What A History of Wild Places does so well is build the environment of Pastoral to the point of place and memory becoming part of one another. Is Pastoral a Promised Land? Or is it the construct of a Jim Jones or David Koresh type leader? Who was Maggie St. James and how or why did she travel to Pastoral? I was so engrossed in the story and world of Pastoral and it’s magical existence, yet kept waiting for the veil to drop, to see what was behind that perfect existence. While reading, I came to a few conclusions as to the turn of the plot early, but because the storytelling was THAT good, I didn’t mind. I just kept waiting to find out what happens next? and could not stop reading. I would recommend  A History of Wild Places to just about anyone that wants to be taken into a fictional world where magic and reality are blurred, but just enough to keep you guessing as to what is real and what is not. Thank you to Atria and NetGalley to an ARC of this book. It was a wonderful departure from my normal reads and I look forward to reading more from Shea Ernshaw in the future.
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This was a very atmospheric slow burn mystery that I enjoyed. It was much slower paced than I had expected, and it isn’t until the second half of the book that the mystery really starts to take shape. It’s beautifully written and very vivid, but at times overly done and in ways that didn’t fully resonate with me. If you are a fan of poetic lyrical writing, you will absolutely love it. I really enjoyed the dark tone of the storyline, but did find it to be fairly predictable from the mystery aspect. Some of the reveals didn’t seem to fully impact the plot, I wish more had been done to expand upon them and tie them in at the end. I think there will be a lot of people who love this if you approach it as more of a very slow pace literary fiction with a touch of mystery and magical realism. 

Thank you to @AtriaBooks and @NetGalley for this eARC. A History of Wild Places will be out on December 7!
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First off the cover is very cool!  The story is imaginative and well written. The only draw back is the suspense is a little long winded!
Travis Wren is a private investigator who can also read objects that he holds and see images of the people they belonged to.  Travis is hired by family to find author Maggie St. James. The road ends with him in Pastoral a hidden valley in the forest where  no one comes or goes.

 Theo and Calla, and Calla’s blind sister Bee, all who live in the community of Pastoral. The town is cut off to the outside world as they believe the trees have Elm rot and is deadly if the cross the border into the forest.  They believe they have lived in Pastoral their entire lives.  Theo begins going past the border each night. He starts finding clues to the outside world and other lives.
The reader is stuck in Pastoral for quite some time anticipating a climax to the story.
The reveal of the character's lives is interesting and satisfying whereas the ending is not.  The author tried to hard to save the story and it didn't all come together as expected.

Overall, I liked it but didn’t love it enough to give it more than 4 stars.. The central plot is a little weak with the tree rot theory, but the characters save the interest level and it is a little less creepy and mystical than expected.  Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book.
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A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES is exactly what my quarantine reading life needed. Atmospheric? Check.
Compulsively Readable? Double Check.
Eerily Unique? All the Checks.

It’s best to go into this story blind, but here’s what you need to know. Travis Wren has a rare gift of finding missing people from cases that have long grown cold. His search for Maggie St. James takes him off the grid to the dense woods of Northern California where the unexpected awaits.

There is no doubt that Shea Ernshaw can write. The first few chapters had me utterly engrossed in the story and the strong sense of place was incredible. Early on, there was an abrupt POV change that threw me for a loop and it took me a bit to get immersed in the story again. 

Ultimately, attempting to get a hold of what in the world was happening is part of what makes this novel so binge-worthy. I never felt like my feet were on solid ground, and I loved it. There was a sci-fi/magical realism aspect (which is normally a deterrent for me), but it was rooted enough in reality that it worked well here.

RATING: 4.5/5 (rounded up)
PUB DATE: December 7, 2021

A big thank you to Atria Books and Netgalley for a complimentary ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Alright ya’ll, I am thoroughly conflicted writing this review. On one hand it was one of my most anticipated upcoming releases and I think the story is imaginative and well written. On the other hand it takes us forever to get where we need to go, and I found myself counting pages one too many times.

Travis Wren is a private investigator. Not that he wants to be but his uncanny ability to ‘read’ objects and see what their previous owners were doing in the past, is a pretty convenient skill when searching for people. During the first part of the story, we follow Travis as he searches for author Maggie St. James. She’s been gone for over five years and the trail has gone cold. At the pleads of Maggie’s father, Travis sets out to find Maggie. During his search, Travis disappears as well.

Enter husband and wife Theo and Calla, and Calla’s blind sister Bee, all who live in the community of Pastoral. They have lived in Pastoral their entire lives, never venturing further than the town boarder. The town boarder, which is the line where ‘Rot’ a sickness that spreads through the trees is known to inhabit. Traveling past the boarder moves sickness, but it also means that small town is completely cutoff from the outside world, if there even is an outside world anymore. But Theo and Bee both long to see what lays beyond the boarder, for good or bad. As they start to question what may really be beyond, they start to uncover secrets in the community that have them questioning their entire lives.

Sounds great right? A bit of mystery, a bit of dystopian, completely in my wheelhouse. Combine that with Ernshaw’s knack for writing unsettling and creepy atmospheres and for most people this will be a winner. It probably would have been a five star read for me as well, except this story seems long and at under 400 pages that’s not a good this. We end up in Pastoral with Calla, Theo, and Bee, pretty early in the story, and while their story is interesting it was too much of a slow burn for me.

Maybe I’ve read to many mystery/thrillers but I also guessed the big reveal a bit early on. While that’s not always a turn off for me, in this case the crescendo to that reveal didn’t deliver for me either. I did like one of the twists at the end but it ultimately wasn’t a big enough save for the story.

I was hoping for a bit more mystical/magical eeriness but somewhere along the way Ernshaw took a step back from her usual mysticism. It might have been an effort to make this story more ‘adult’, as this is her debut into adult fiction., but then I would have hoped she leaned harder into the ‘Cult’ premise. Either way, this was enjoyable, I don’t regret reading this, but would have liked a strong finish.

Overall, I liked it but didn’t love it enough to want a physical copy. The central plot is amazing but the execution could have used a bit of work. I’d probably still recommend this one for those that enjoy a slow burn mystery, maybe rent this one from the library.


A History of Wild Places comes out December 7, 2021. Huge thank you to Atria Books for my copy in exchange for my honest review.  If you liked this review please let me know either by commenting below or by visiting my Instagram @speakingof_books.
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I read this in one sitting! Shea Ernshaw is one of my favorite authors and her plot twists are amazing. She definitely got me with this one! Mysterious and captivating this book will make you question everyone. I loved it and can’t wait to get my physical copy!
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This is a beautifully written dark fairy tale. Travis Wren goes searching for a missing woman, Maggie St. James, and winds up becoming lost himself. 
Theo, his wife Calla and Calla's sister Bee, live together in an old farm house in the village of Pastoral.  A place that doesn't really exist on any map. It's a hidden primitive community lost in a deep woods.  This story switches between the POV of Calla, Bee and Theo as they begin to question what they know of their community and its leader Levi. Especially after a baby is born prematurely in the village. She is in need of modern medicine in order to save her life, but no one is allowed to leave Pastoral. There is a sickness waiting to infect anyone who crosses the safe borders and to go in search of medical help is a death sentence.  This is an intricately woven tale with a twist that I never saw coming. 
Thank you to netgalley and Atria Books for the opportunity to enjoy this amazing e-ARC.
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Ok, this may be one of the best covers I've seen this year! The Rorschach inkblot mixed with trees perfectly matches the eerie feel of the novel. I had to pair it with a throwback photo of one of my favorite wild places: the NC mountains. Thank you to Atria Books for providing my ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Genre: fiction, mystery
Pub date: Dec 7th (also a rumored BOTM December pick)
In one sentence (from publisher): A richly atmospheric adult debut following three residents of a secluded, seemingly peaceful commune as they investigate the disappearances of two outsiders.

This book hooked me, plain and simple. It starts with Travis' perspective as he searches for the mysterious commune Pastoral and the author who disappeared there, Maggie St. James. We also get the perspectives of three longtime residents of Pastoral as they struggle with the rot, a mysterious illness threatening their way of life. Ernshaw's prose is beautifully poetic and dreamlike, and I felt completely immersed in this world. I think this book is being published at the perfect time - the onset of winter, when we all curl up inside and travel through books. I read this one in two sittings, and I did not want the experience to end.

If you liked books like Once There Were Wolves, These Silent Woods, What Comes After, and When the Stars Go Dark, I think you'd enjoy this one! It's not a pulse-pounding thriller, but the story really captivated me. 4.5 stars!
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Thank you Netgalley and Shea Ernshaw for the opportunity to read the eARC of A History of Wild Places!

I have been looking forward to reading this book for a long time, Shea Ernshaw is now one of my favorite writers.  

This book is dark, atmospheric and haunting, I was immediately drawn into the web of mystery and I found that I could not put it down.  You can't mistake that this book is for adults, it has much more mature content.  Pastoral was so detailed it felt like it's own character!  I highly recommend!

I will post my review on Netgalley, Goodreads, Barnes and noble, Amazon and Google play
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