Cover Image: A History of Wild Places

A History of Wild Places

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This quietly disturbing novel immerses the reader in a growing atmosphere of dread, keenly shaped by contrast with its forested bucolic setting. Two individuals disappear into the woods, searching for a community that established itself in the 1970s, living off the grid and isolated from the rest of society. After these brief introductory sections, we jump some years into the future and get to know several members of this community. What happens over the course of the book is a gradual unveiling of the lies, paranoia, and measures of control that have steered the settlement off the rails. Ernshaw, generally known as a writer of YA fantasy, has proved that she is capable of stellar writing for adults, masterfully crafting a setting that almost feels like a character in itself, and engaging deeply with themes of community, trust, and memory. The fact that the final revelations seem somewhat unlikely doesn't detract at all from the intrigue of the plot and the pleasure of reading well-crafted prose.
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Wow, what a phenomenal book! I had no idea where it was going, but I definitely didn’t anticipate things panning out they way that they had.

The story begins with Travis Wren who has a talent for locating missing people, and when the family of author Maggie St. James hires him to find her, he is led to a reclusive community called Pastoral. The people there believe there is a sickness in the trees surrounding their community, and if they go beyond the borders, they too will get sick. It isn’t until years later that Theo, a member of Pastoral, finds Travis’s abandoned truck beyond the border.  From there, secrets unravel and Travis, Calla, and Bee begin to discover that Pastoral is not as perfect or safe as it seems.

This truly was a remarkable and mind-boggling story.  The lengths that these people went to keep their community secluded and “safe” were a bit over-the-top and I almost felt like the residents were far too gullible. But that’s what happens when you’re cut off from the rest of the world and can only be influenced by what remains in your own little bubble. The ending was quite surprising, but I loved how well the author kept the truth hidden and only let a few details out at a time. Definitely helped with the suspense factor!

Highly recommend!
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Thank you so much for approving me! I have loved Shea's YA novels and her adult debut did not disappoint! Beautifully lyrical and haunting prose. I could envision exactly what it was like to walk through Pastoral. The plot was excellent and the mystery unraveled so sweetly!
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A History of Wild Places is the first adult novel by Shea Ernshaw, whose YA work transcends above the tedium of predictable plots many YA novels fall into. Her latest follows those same rules. 

It takes place in Pastoral, a village that reminded me of M. Night Shyamalan's, The Village. A quaint place where people patch their clothes, where hand-me-downs have been handed down for generations and life moves at a slow and deliberate pace. Truth be told, I found myself wanting to move there...if not for the creepy trees oozing disease that can kill and the pervading sense of fear every village member displayed. 

A simple comparison might be 'The Village' meets 'Get Out.' There is more going on within the pages of this novel, and the beauty of Ernshaw's storytelling delivers a melodic, eerie folktale. At times I felt the pacing was slow. Did it end up working for the building dread she was painting? Sure.  

I am in love with the way Shea Ernshaw writes. If her writing were to be illustrated by a single image, I would refer to the stunning cinematic moment when Elizabeth Bennet (Kiera Knightley in Pride and Prejudice, 2005) stands at the edge of a cliff overlooking the rambling countryside. The wind whips her dress back in dramatic fashion and she stares into the great beautiful beyond with a sense of wonder and longing. Ernshaw’s novels stir up in me a desiderium, an ardent longing for something unknown.

A History of Wild Places delivers the same vivid earthiness, the magical, intangible something that transports readers as her previous works. I'd highly recommend this book to her adult readers, especially if you are fond of mysteries involving cults.
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Travis has a talent for finding people, and when he is hired to find Maggie St. James, who went missing years earlier, his search leads him to a commune deep in the mountain wilderness. When Travis goes missing too, the story picks up with Theo, Calla and Bee who are residents of pastoral, a community cut off from the rest of the world. They do not leave the safety of the commune for fear of being infected with the deadly tree rot that is killing the forest around them and had claimed the lives of community members too. But Theo has a secret, he has been sneaking out of pastoral in the dead of night, and one night he stumbles upon an old truck. The truck belongs to Travis Wren and inside it, there is a photo of Maggie St. James. Theo, Calla and Bee are caught in the mystery of who Travis and Maggie were, and work to uncover what happened to them.
This book was so beautifully written. The atmosphere was dark and enchanting and I was easily swept up in the story. I was able to guess about halfway through what one of the plot twists was but there were still other twists and turns that I never would have guessed. The ending left me feeling unsettled, which is Shea Ernshaw's style and I love that she ends her books that way. I would say this book was 4.5/5 stars but I rounded up to 5. Really enjoyed this one.
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I love anything cult related and this did not disappoint. It has a eerie feel right from the start that kept me on the edge of my seat, anticipating the next turn.
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This book was beautiful, haunting, and is going to stick with me for a long, long time. This is just one of those books that will be so hard to forget because of how emotive and beautiful (sorry, I know I'm using this word twice) it was. I only have amazing things to say.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for sending me an advanced copy! 

A new unsettling Shea Ernshaw horror novel that’s a lot like Midsommar? I requested this galley SO fast. This is one of the most enticing book synopsis’ I’ve ever read, so I went into this expecting something terrifying and gruesome. Not that this was a bad book by any means, but this book wasn’t quite what I was expecting and I  was a bit disappointed by what I got. 

The book starts by setting the scene perfectly. A small husk of a town with nothing but a firehouse and run down gas station, complete with creepy fluorescent lights and apocalyptic emptiness. The book starts perfectly, immediately making you feel unsettled and lonely as if you were the one in this vacant town. What is it about small, scarcely populated, rundown towns that make you feel so uncomfortable and lonely? Add that with a missing author who writes children’s books so grisly and disturbing that literary journals quip that they “wouldn’t read this to a serial killer let alone a child”, and you’ve instantly got my attention. There is biiiiiig cult energy instantly as soon as you hit part two of the book, and from then on, the rest of it takes place in Pastoral from the POV of some of the inhabitants who suspect something is just not right about their safe little community. 

I can’t really disclose what exactly went wrong without going into spoiler territory but I will say, if you think that there is a supernatural explanation to all this, you will be disappointed like I was. I really did assume this would have some sort of supernatural element such as a curse, some sort of spell gone wrong, evil spirits holding the town hostage, I dunno just SOMETHING scary and unsettling that ups the scares and the stakes regarding this secretive little community. This doesn’t mean that a book has to have supernatural elements to be scary. This book just didn’t live up to previous books I’ve read about cults. I have read absolute TERRIFYING books about cults that had me truly fearing the characters. A History of Wild Places didn’t measure up plot wise compared to these, and when I found out what the big reveal was, that was the biggest disappointment. It’s the most unoriginal, commonly done route the author could’ve possible taken. 

I still battled between 3 and 4 stars regardless because unoriginality and disappointment aside, Shea Ernshaw really is a talented writer and I’m still a fan. It wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t great. In the end, I settled with 3 stars. GREAT concept, but it wasn’t developed well enough with a strong enough plot.
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I was really looking forward to this book, and I did not dislike it. But I found that Shea's writing for adult novels is very different from her YA novels. I found this a lot more literary than I was expecting. Literary fiction  is 99% of a "no" from me. 

That all being said, the writing was stunning. Such vivid descriptions that I could definitely imagine exactly what was happening. I did get lost in the descriptions a lot, but that was probably more of a me problem because like I said I do not enjoy overly descript writing. 

The cult aspect was wonderful, and I did find myself on the edge of my seat throughout the second half of the book, not knowing where it was going to go. It just me a long, long time to get there. 

If you are into literary fiction and thrillers, I definitely recommend this book for you.
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This story revolves around a community called Pastoral founded in the 1970s by people looking for a simpler life.  As the community grew and times changed, they became increasingly reclusive and as a result almost unknown in the present day.  Travis Wren has a gift for tracking missing people and he's hired by the parents of Maggie St. James - a children's book author who disappeared 5 years prior.  Using his gift, Travis is led to the gates of Pastoral.  Years later, Theo (a member of Pastoral) finds Travis's truck in the forest and starts to investigate who Travis is and what he might have been doing in Pastoral since Theo has no recollection of anyone new coming into the community for many years. Theo, his wife Calla, and her sister Bee each hold their own secrets and only when those secrets start to come out can they piece together the truth of Pastoral and the darkness hiding inside the pristine community.

My favorite part of this book, hands down, was the setting of Pastoral.  Each of the characters has a really complicated relationship with Pastoral and we see that range in our three POV characters.  I think the background and lore of Pastoral was really well integrated in the story so we didn't need a big info-dump history lesson.  I really liked how our POV characters could recognize the pros and cons of living there so it didn't feel like a complete brainwash-y cult situation, but there were certainly cult-like aspects to the community.  There were a number of aspects that reminded me a lot of the movie The Village - isolated community, mysterious danger in the woods that keep the community members inside, even a blind main character. The characters are constantly weighing the dangers of staying in the community (lack of medicine, for example) with the dangers of leaving (mysterious illness that lives in the forest). I also liked the choice to not make it clear right away when, exactly, this Pastoral timeline was in comparison to Travis's timeline. Since the community is so isolated, it very much felt like we are stuck in time and thus the story could have been either years before or after Travis found them (the synopsis does give away this answer, but I didn't pick up on that until after I was done reading the book). I think this is an excellent example of the setting being its own character, of sorts.  Especially with it being, at times, in direct opposition to what the characters want and standing in their way of reaching their goals.

The multi-POV was fantastic.  When we get into the meat of the story in Pastoral, we are pretty frequently switching between Theo, Calla, and Bee's POVs.  I really liked how short most of the chapters were (maybe 5-10 pages) which really helped keep me engaged in the story.  Each of them had their own plot lines that we explore as well as giving us different view points of different aspects of Pastoral. I also thought the interpersonal tensions between the characters were really well developed and the switching POVs was done to really heighten and explore those aspects.  We see one character knowing the other isn't telling the whole truth, then we switch POV and see that other character's reasoning for that choice.  I do wish we got a more interactions between our main 3 characters and the other members of the community.  We get a few, and we see some of the weekly community meetings, but our main three characters felt very isolated and I wanted to see them with their friends or doing other activities with the other people there. 

The beginning was a bit jarring but I got over it fairly quickly and it, overall, didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book.  We start of following Travis as he searches for Maggie.  We get a pretty in depth explanation of Travis's backstory and his gift for finding people.  I was extremely intrigued and immediately invested in Travis.  We're following Travis for the first 10% of the book so when we suddenly switch to following Theo, Calla, and Bee, I was a bit confused.  The two plot lines do, eventually, converge, but there was a pretty significant gap before that happened.  It very much felt like I had just started reading a second book in the middle of this first book and I didn't love how harsh that transition was.  I think 10% is long enough for me to get invested in a character and their story so then, having that character basically ripped away, it did take me out of the reading experience for a bit.  Luckily, the plot line inside Pastoral was also very interesting so I was able to get back into the book pretty quickly.  I do think if either Travis's initial part was shorter and treated more as a prequel or if it was handled in a more dual-timeline type of way it wouldn't have been such a harsh difference and I think it would have made the narrative feel a bit more cohesive. 

So when I requested this book from NetGalley, it was just categorized as 'General Fiction' but I think there are some very heavy mystery aspects that are expertly done.  The book starts off really strongly with Travis on the search for Maggie and unraveling the mystery of where she went and if she's still alive.  However, once we make the switch into Pastoral, those elements are dropped.  We do get back to more mystery elements, but it takes us a while to get there.  For quite a bit of the book (about from the 10% - 50% mark), we are just following the sort of day to day interactions of Theo, Calla, and Bee. But as the interpersonal tensions rise inside Pastoral, we start to see the cracks and want to explore them to see what the truth is behind the curtain.  I think the setting of Pastoral and its cult-ish behavior immediately leads the reader to want to pull back the layers.  Most readers with a basic knowledge of cults know communities like this don't just form overnight and they are really unsettling to read about when we've just been plopped into the middle of the situation.  So I think it would be fair to say that most readers, by the time the characters start to feel unsettled, are 100% ready to start sneaking around and finding out what secrets we can find and that is where the mystery elements start coming back into play.  And once we're full on into investigation mode, this story gets even better.  I loved how intricate and complex the mystery became and I was completely blindsided by the reveals. I was guessing all sorts of crazy theories trying to tie all the threads together and when all was revealed, it was *chef's kiss* perfection.

Overall, this was a fantastic read and will probably go down as one of my favorite reads for 2021.  I absolutely loved the setting of Pastoral and exploring the history of the place.  I thought the multi-POV elements were used expertly and I loved the mystery elements that emerged in the last 1/2 of the book.

Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for the ARC

Expected publication date is December 7, 2021
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'A History of Wild Places' by Shea Ernshaw is a compelling and eerie story about an investigation into a missing woman and a seemingly idyllic community that may or may not be harbouring some dark and deadly secrets. The story starts off with Travis, a finder of lost things who sets out to locate a famous children’s author Maggie St. James who disappeared near Pastoral, a guarded community deep within the forest. The book then shifts to three members of Pastoral -Theo, Calla, and Bee who are confronted with the truths about Pastoral while grappling with their own mortality. Pastoral is not what it appears to be and the reckoning that comes with the truth is somehow intertwined in the disappearance of Maggie St. James and Travis. 

I believe this story is about the monsters of fear and cowardice that lurk in the deep woods of our souls. Those monsters that feed off our pain so that they can control and manipulate us into believing the convenient lies that are more bearable than the truths of our own existence. There are so many points of reflection in this story that serve as a looking glass into the state of our world. Humanity, memory, and identity converge in a twisted yet relatable way, in this book that is ultimately about pain and healing. 

The story was well paced and suspenseful making it difficult to put down. The writing was evocative and descriptive without being wordy or clunky. I think readers will find bits of themselves in each character who are trying to find their way back to themselves, amidst a flurry of tragedy, compassion, temptation, and morality. The major plot twists were existential and the chilling similarities to our world today, raise some very important questions.

It’s been a long time since I have read such a fascinating mystery and if you like darker tales about self-discovery and haunted woods, this should be the next story you devour, but please be warned, it will linger in your mind for a while after you have read it. It’s that good.

Thank you to the publisher for providing the ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.
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Thank you to Atria books for providing me an advanced digital copy through Net Galley.

First let me start by saying I'm a big fan of Shea Ernshaw's books. Winterwood was my introduction to her writing and admittedly I picked it up because I thought the cover was so nice. Instantly I was drawn in to the rich world she created and the unique characters this book provided much of the same richness with a bit of an eerie twist.

A History of Wild Places was such a delight to read. The twisted utopia she created had me completely captivated. I have to say even with the creepiness I found myself thinking I'd totally stay in a Pastoral Air bnb. 

For a little bit I thought the twist was going to be some alternating timelines sort of like the movie The Lake House but good. I was completely wrong!

From the first introduction to Levi, I knew he was going to be no good and I was right about that.

Calla, Theo, Bee, and Travis were all such dynamic and charming characters. 

This book was so well written and enjoyable. I'll pick up any book Shea Ernshaw writes, I think she's fabulous.
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This was an engrossing mystery that had me interested from the first chapter. Travis Wren is a people finder. All he needs to find them is a personal object from the missing person. He begins his search for Maggie, a children’s book author who goes missing in the the woodsy town of Pastoral. The people of Pastoral are self-sufficient people who live off the land. We meet Calla, Bee and Theo and hear some of the story from their POVs. While searching for Maggie, Travis also disappears. The book has several twists and turns and a surprisingly good ending. It is creepy in all the best ways.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book.
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I have been a huge fan of Shea Ernshaws writing from day one and I truly think she is just a fantastic and magical author. With this being her first work of  adult fiction to be published I was very optimistic that this was also going to be a great story, but I clearly didn’t prepare myself for how wonderful it ended up being! 

This is her first book to be set in multiple perspectives and I honestly hope she can continue to write books in this way because it really did add so much to this book. 

Ernshaw’s books have this whimsical and atmospheric quality to them that sucks you in from the first page and this was no different. Honestly her books are near impossible to put down when you start so definitely keep that in mind if you have a lot of plans because you will be canceling them. 

I truly love this book and I am so excited to see all Shea Ernshaw has in store for us in the future.
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It's taken me a few days to fully wrap my head around this book.

Let me first start off this review with one word.


It's truly the only way to describe this book. The premise, the setting, the characters, the language, the story telling, just wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.

I knew I loved Shea Ernshaw after I read The Wicked Deep last year, but A History of Wild Places just takes it to another level. Shea - you are such an incredible storyteller! Incredible. Wow.

I'd love to tell you the synopsis of this, but you can find that on Goodreads.

What I will tell you are the three stages I went through reading this book:

1. Intrigued 🧐
2. Freaked the F out 😱
3. Mind Blown 🤯

This story pulls you in from the very beginning, you want to know more and more and more. Then all of sudden you're freaked out, checking over your shoulder for monsters unknown and you're like what the hell is happening?!? Then your mind is just completely blown just 🤯🤯🤯 cause you absolutely did. not. see. that. coming!

So please read this book.

Thank you so much to Atria Books, Shea Ernshaw and Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review. A History of Wild Places is out on Dec. 7.
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This book was a big departure from what I usually read and I really enjoyed it. She Earnshaw has a beautiful way of writing and it was atmospheric, dark, compelling. I spent an entire day reading this book when I planned to do other things, I couldn't put it down. I kept promising myself one more chapter. 

The problem with that? The chapters were potato chip chapters, short and left you ready for the next one. 

How do I describe this? We follow a man who was hired by a family to find a missing woman. He's not a professional but he's someone that people go to when they're out of options. And he has a special ability. 

When he touches things that other people have touched, he sees glimpses of their lives. Things they've done, places they've gone. It's interesting and this ability of his plays a pretty heavy role in his backstory which was heartbreaking. 

The characters are interesting but I was more interested in him than anyone else just by virtue of his personality. The book is split into three different points of view and they're all fairly distinct. 

I wasn't expecting the twist that came in this book. And I actually, audibly, gasped, eyes went wide when I figured it out at the same time the characters did. I love that feeling. The pure actual shock? It's amazing. 

As I said, the chapters are short for the most part. Except for maybe the last twenty percent of the story but even though those are the longer chapters, they feel like they're nothing at all because of how well paced it all is. 

The book is expertly paced with beautiful prose. I have two issues. A lack of diversity and the way a disability is used. 

The disability comes in the form of a blind woman. Due to the lack of vision, her hearing has improved. This is a thing that actually happens. I've read articles that say when someone looses their vision, the occipital lobes are repurposed for hearing. Cool little science stuff there.

However, it doesn't turn people into Daredevil and it doesn't give them super hearing. This character could hear literally everything, the sounds trees were making, worms underground, hearing things she really shouldn't have been able to. 

Disabilities don't' give people super powers. 

When it comes to diversity, everyone is white. I mean everyone. That's unbelievable and it always will be. Writers need to do better. I'm never going to let that go. 

All in all, a solid four (4) stars. 

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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As a social worker, I loved the psychological aspects of this book. It was beautifully written and a great read!
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An absolute masterpiece! This book is beautiful and atmospheric. The writing is almost lyrical. I will absolutely be buying a physical copy when released! Wow!
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I went into this not knowing much about what to expect, and after a bit of a slow start I was quickly hooked and read the rest in a single sitting. I’d say this is best described as a literary mystery with some light horror/magical realism elements.
The book begins with Travis, an ex-detective who has a magical gift of being able to have visions of people when he touches items that belonged to them, so he is called by a friend to help track down Maggie, a missing childrens’ book author. We are then introduced to Theo, Calla, and Bee, residents of a commune, and we quickly learn that Travis and Maggie disappeared in the vicinity of the commune, and the trio start to investigate the disappearance. We feel right away that things aren’t right in this sinister cult and as soon as we started getting into the mystery I was addicted to the story and had to find out what happened next!
I am seeing this compared to the movie The Village and I think Shyamalan’s films in general are a good comparison to what happens in this book, complete with a bonkers reveal at the end.
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I had no idea what this book was about. The title implied something else but after reading the first paragraphs, I was captivated. This is an engrossing plot with a unique setting that places the reader in Pastoral, a place you may or may not want to live in. I love the unraveling of the story. You will ask yourself whether things are true. The short chapters made it easier to read so I couldn't stop even when my eyes burned. I was walking in those woods with the characters. The suspense makes you gasp when the truth is unveiled. It's a gripping read.
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