Cover Image: A History of Wild Places

A History of Wild Places

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Member Reviews

I LOVED this book! I've read all of Ernshaw's books and this by far is my favorite which means something considering I also LOVED The Wicked Deep.

As someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest I was mesmerized by Earnshaw's imagery. The woods, the small town... it all came together so well and made me think about all of the similar places I've driven through and now I wonder what's on the other side of those trees.

Though I was able to figure out what was going on fairly early in the story, Ernshaw's writing kept me glued to the pages until the very last word. The ending was exactly what I wanted and the Epilogue sealed the story with perfection.

With everything going on in our world, sometimes a place like Pastoral sounds tempting. A place of nature where technology can't be found and instead you spend your days building, creating, growing and nurturing. A place where books are treasured, family and friends are cherished and community is a place of refuge. 

I want to thank Ms. Ernshaw for creating a story that is so touching and tempting that I can't wait to read it over and over.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

I thought that this was an interesting story. It opens with Travis who is searching for an author named Maggie St. James who disappeared several years ago. The rest of the story follows three different perspectives, Theo, Calla, and Bee who live in Pastoral, secluded from the rest of the world. 

Not everything is as it seems in Pastoral, and strange things are happening everywhere. The story is haunting, and the last half of the novel is quite chilling. 

I wasn't able to become entirely absorbed into the story, and while I was surprised by the plot twists, it didn't blow me away.
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WOW, how to even explain this book.  It is like waking up from a dream....you know what you saw and what you do but you really struggle in how you can tell others about it.  
Travis, how to even start telling you about him and his other worldly gifts that the police trust so much they look to him for help often. This time it is to find a long-missing children's author. But why are we just starting to look for her now?? 
As I read, I could definitely tell what could be cut out to make it to the big screen. But as a reader, I in turn appreciated the all-encompassing world being built around Travis and his mission. 
This is my first novel by Shea Ernshaw and look forward to seeing/reading if this is their style or a one-off great idea. .
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I have read from this author before and really enjoyed their YA titles, I knew that this adult novel would be more darker and more twisty when I requested the ARC, and wow did it deliver. This book gives off total M. Night Shyamalan vibes (mainly The Village but, also the overall creepiness of his other works). It is a very insular mystery about a missing woman, the man hired to find her, and a settlement in the woods that know one knows exists. The very beginning of this story hooks you, and then it does a total 180. You are suddenly following new people, you have no idea what they have to do with Travis and Maggie but you have to keep reading to find out WTF is going on. I did not see the twist of this book coming from a mile away. Literally shocked.

My only qualm with this book is it takes so long to get to the twist and then once you are there, everything happens so fast and you are left reeling from all these reveals that it's a bit much. I wish things were spaced out a little bit more. I will continue to read everything that this author writes, I love the way they tell stories. Highly recommend!
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This ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 This book was wild. There were times I almost out this book down, trying to figure out where the story was going. I felt there was a lot of unnecessary internal dialog that didn’t really progress the story much. But man let me tell you I am HERE for some cult action, hypnosis, brainwashing weirdo shit. This was a fun read. I didn’t see the twist coming till the very very end. The pacing was a little off to me but over all I enjoyed reading this book.
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This story is a beautiful, haunting piece of prose. Highly reminiscent of M. Night Shaymalan's 'The Village' with a touch of Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery', and stopping just short of falling off into 'The Wicker Man' territory, this tale centers around a small community hidden deep in the forest. once a hippie commune but now something much darker.  

Writer Maggie St. James has been missing for five years.  Her parents hire Travis Wren - a man with the supernatural ability to touch objects and see the memories of the people who owned them, a skill he uses to help find missing people.  Just before he leaves to look for Maggie, Maggie's mother gives him one word to help him in his search: Pastoral.

Travis follows the shadowy afterimages of Maggie's last days before she went missing, to a crumbling barn, beyond the last sign of civilization, down narrowing roads into the woods, but what he finds there will change his life.

Within the hidden community of Pastoral, people go about their simple lives more or less content in their isolation.  In a farmhouse at the far reaches of the community, near the fence that marks the separation of Pastoral from the forest beyond, live Theo and his wife, Calla, along with Calla's sister, Bee.  But all is not well within the minds of these three.  Uneasiness sits like a rock in their guts, a feeling of something not right, something missing.  Of something more.

Enigmatic community leader Levi reminds the people of Pastoral weekly of the danger beyond their borders: a disease known simply as 'rot', which spills from the trees and infects anyone who ventures past the fence, which turns a person's blood to black sludge.

What is really happening in Pastoral?  What does it have to do with Travis and Maggie?  And after all these years....where ARE Travis and Maggie?

Author Shea Ernshaw spins this story like a dark, brooding fairy tale, a slow burn of folk horror that hooks the reader and draws you in, hypnotizes you with its mystery and its creeping fear, and refuses to let you go until the very end... if even then.
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Wow. Shea Ernshaw wrote such a magical book about a cult in the middle of a forest, a man who can see afterimages of people when he touches an object they have touched, and a children's book author who goes missing.

This book kept me on my toes guessing, and I still didn't guess correctly what happened to them. My jaw dropped when I read what happened, and I was so surprised! Once I got to that part, I could NOT put the rest of the book down. I do like how she made it all tie together, and it's not something I often, if ever, see in books. Highly recommend this!
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The blurb on this one and the cover attracted me to this book.  It sounded like an interesting thriller/mystery.  However, after finishing this book, it felt like the author had a number of ideas that didn't quite mesh in the end.

We start off with Travis Wren, a sad and lonely guy who has a knack for finding people by seeing flashes of their past by touching objects that belonged to them.  He has been hired to find well known author of creepy children's fairy tale books Maggie St. James who disappeared five years earlier.  Travis follows her trail to a reclusive community/commune called Pastoral deep in the woods.  Travis then disappears as well.

The rest of the book is divided between POV chapters for Theo, his wife Calla, and Calla's blind sister Bee who live in Pastoral.  There is no leaving the boundaries of the town as there is "rot" in the woods that can spread disease to the surrounding trees and the residents of the town.  Something feels off.  Theo is one of the people assigned with watching the entrance of the town and his curiosity has been getting the better of him.  One night, he crosses the border of out of town and finds a truck at the bottom of the hill that belonged to Travis.  Theo is not sure what to do with this secret.  It turns out that Calla and Bee have been keeping some secrets of their own.

It feels like an interesting X-Files setup with Travis's ability and then Bee's ability for super hearing/sensing that includes heartbeats nearby.  The town is creepy as you can sense something is wrong here.  For me, it didn't take long to figure out the what and why of the situation (there are a lot of clues) but the how is held until near the end and it felt like a stretch.  Overall, this isn't a bad book at all--just one that I didn't find lived up to its full potential.
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I honestly don’t know how to review this without spoiling it so I will apologize in advance for how vague this will be. I highly recommend going into this one as blind as possible and just enjoy the ride. I absolutely loved this twisty chilling read about a mysterious commune that is surrounded by a forest. This is one of the most atmospheric and unsettling books that I’ve read in a while that had such a unique plot to it. It was creepy, bizarre, and that ending just…wow. It caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting it. This was such a riveting story with so many twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end. I could not put this one down.

I know this one won’t be for everyone. You only have to see the reviews on Goodreads to see this one is a polarizing book. You are either going to hate it or love it. I love it. LOVE IT! I really think the people that don’t go into this one with certain expectations of what the story would be and that ruined it for them. Please go into this one as blind as possible. Let yourself get immersed in the characters and plot and have fun trying to guess what is really happening. Trust me it will keep you guessing. I know I’ll be thinking about this one for a while. I am hoping I’ll get to add it to my re-read list for 2022.
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This mark Ernshaw's debut for adults and it's just my kind of story! It opens up with an author who has been missing for two years and the man with a special knack for finding people to be put on her trail. But he goes missing, too! The book then shifts perspectives to three people in the cultish community of Pastoral, tucked away deep in the wild woods of California. Soon it becomes clear that Pastoral holds clues about what happened to both Maggie the author and Travis the investigator. 

It's a really well-written book - I love Ernshaw's phrasing and word choices. The excerpts from Maggie's books makes for a nice addition as well - and while the Pastoral plot line may not come as a total shock to some readers, the storyline itself still holds plenty of other surprising turns. The middle section, pacing-wise, does lag a bit from the very strong opening. But it does pick back up towards the end. It's an engaging read from stat to finish and I especially appreciated the epilogue. I think it would make for a lively discussion starter, so I am not surprised that it was selected as a Book of the Month Club option. I am looking forward to reading more from Ernshaw in the future!
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This book was interesting! I unfortunately read it while I was sick with covid, so don't remember too much about it!, I just know that I liked it.
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“A History of Wild Places”, by Shea Ernshaw, is a hauntingly beautiful slow burner.

This dark, twisting story was fascinating, leaving me to stay up way past my bedtime as the eerie mysteries unfolded. It’s a beautifully written and atmospheric. The big twist blew my mind. If you love Night Shyamalan, this book is for you!

Thank you to NetGalley, Atria Books and Shea Ernshaw for the ARC in exchange for my honest review. ❤️️
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This book is much slower paced than I usually read and it sounds like it’s going to be more of a thriller. There are thriller elements all there bud it just doesn’t have that feeling. It’s so lyrical and winding and surreal that I found myself completely caught up in the narrative. Ernshaw is a master at building a sense of place and atmosphere.
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This haunting book was the perfect way to start my year!! The first couple chapters drew me right in and left me yearning to find out what happened to characters. The author begins by introducing Maggie St. James, a missing novelist, and Travis, a man with a supernatural gift who is hired to find Maggie. After these quick but impactful introductions, the author whisks the reader away from the “real world” and plops them right down in the small community of Pastoral. This was a risky move with an abrupt change in pace but it successfully creates a clear distinction in tone and setting. I don’t any time provide any spoilers but I will say that the plot comes together brilliantly!! I really enjoyed as the pieces slowly clicked into place for a beautifully satisfying climax. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves atmospheric mysteries with dark and supernatural elements.
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A History of Wild Places 
By Shea Ernshaw
Atria Books, 7 December 2021

“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.”

I loved this book from the first sentence. Legend, myth, love, lies. A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw is the best book I read in 2021.

Maggie St. James had been missing for two years. She walked into the woods one day and disappeared. Travis Wren was an expert at finding the missing, but he didn’t take cases anymore.  He was depressed and almost suicidal; he took this case reluctantly as a favor for a friend. He already knew where to start – the community of Pastoral. He also knew he was likely to disappear, just like Maggie St. James. 

Pastoral had been closed off for so long, locals thought it was abandoned, maybe even a legend. For those still living inside Pastoral, the outside world was dangerous, toxic, and maybe even apocalyptic. Leaving the community was banned and anyone caught outside the perimeter was forcibly brought back inside and decontaminated. 

Theo, who lived his entire life inside the gates of Pastoral, was becoming curious about the outside. This terrified his wife, Calla. And Theo’s sister, Bee, who is blind, sees life in the community more clearly than either of them. Are they endangering themselves, and the community, with their secrets? 

Pastoral began as a back-to-the-land, family-oriented commune. But had it become something else? Why weren’t members allowed to leave, and why were the trees bleeding? Part fairy tale, part mystery, this is a fascinating story of what people are capable of believing.  

I know I’m late with this review; I’ve found that the more I like a book, the more it makes me feel, the harder it is for me to write about it. This is a brilliant pager-turner that I received as a digital ARC, but I subsequently bought a hardback copy. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Shea Ernshaw makes her adult fiction debut with A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES, a lush and atmospheric novel about the psychology of cults and the lure of dark, hidden places where one can disappear.

Founded in the 1970s, the community of Pastoral has been hidden away in a remote commune, living only on what they can make, grow or kill for themselves. Though some members remember the outside world from their childhoods, the majority of Pastoral has never stepped foot outside the border of their community. For one thing, they have everything they need anyway, but there’s another, more terrifying element keeping them in: elm pox, a highly contagious, deathly illness brought on by sick trees just outside of the border, marked by the seeping, bleeding, rotten black blood of its sufferers. Anyone who steps foot outside has the potential not only to catch the rot themselves, but to carry it into the commune and cause the deaths of their loved ones and neighbors.

Theo, a lifelong member of Pastoral, knows all of this, yet he cannot help but wonder what really lies beyond the border. For almost a year, he has used his role as a night guardsman to walk silently, secretly down the road leading out of Pastoral --- first only a few feet at a time, now nearly to the end of the road, where a simple turn will take him past everything he has ever known. One night, while taking his forbidden walk, he finds an abandoned truck covered in dead leaves. Inside is a photograph of a beautiful woman and the name “Maggie St. James” on the back, along with a wallet belonging to a Travis Wren.

Over a year earlier, in the outside world, Travis was on the hunt for a missing woman. Blessed (or cursed?) with a mysterious gift that enables him to locate missing people using only a single object of theirs, he was hired by Maggie's family to find their daughter. A notorious and acclaimed author of dark children’s fairy tales, Maggie disappeared after a scandal surrounding her books that resulted in the death of a child. As Travis tracks her using a charm from her favorite necklace, he learns about Pastoral and her interest in finding the forgotten commune…and quickly realizes that she knew exactly where she was going when she walked into the woods five years earlier, never to be seen again.

Now, Maggie and Travis have both disappeared, and it seems that only Theo is aware that outsiders came close --- dangerously close --- to Pastoral’s center. But when he confides in his wife, Calla, and her blind but all-seeing sister, Bee, he learns that Bee remembers Travis. In fact, she claims that he was hiding in their own farmhouse for a spell. Despite her ability to see through lies, sense a newborn’s heartbeat and smell when a new couple is in love, she cannot seem to recall where Travis went or how he ended up in their home. With the walls closing in on Pastoral, and Theo growing more and more suspicious of their leader, Levi, it comes down to him, Calla and Bee to track the disappearances of two outsiders who were drawn to Pastoral…and the dangers lurking within.

As a fan of Shea Ernshaw’s young adult fiction, I was immediately drawn to A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES and its premise based in dark fairy tales, visions and hidden communes. I am delighted to say that once again she did not disappoint. For its vivid, atmospheric setting and ripped-from-the-headlines cult themes, it is steeped in magic, infused with a haunting hint of the paranormal that only emphasizes the dark mystery and horrifyingly real cult at its center. This is a difficult novel to label: Ernshaw writes mystery as well as she writes thriller elements and equally as well as she writes dark, alluring magic. The book includes all of that and more.

Where Ernshaw really shines, though, is in her storytelling. From quiet, questioning Theo; anxious, brainwashed Calla; and shockingly observant Bee, each of these protagonists is in the middle of a great dilemma of character, faith and future. The way that she unravels and spins each of their arcs is masterful, absorbing, and utterly raw and human. On top of that, she knows how to keep readers turning pages, ending each chapter on a stunning cliffhanger and cadenced, powerful prose that guides you through as seamlessly as reading a classic fairy tale.

Perfect for readers of Miranda Beverly-Whittemore's FIERCE LITTLE THING, Courtney Summers' THE PROJECT and even fantasies like Ava Reid's THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN, A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES is a truly original story from a writer at the top of her game that speaks to the dark, hidden places in all of us.
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I heard a lot about Shea Ernshaw’s other novel The Wicked Deep so I thought I’d give this one a try but unfortunately I found A History of Wild Places dry :(
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4.5 stars. This was a little bit of a slow start for me but once it picked up it was a wild ride. Unexpected twists with characters that are easy to root for. Very atmospheric.
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Many thanks to Artria Books and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw, in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

A History of Wild Places, Shea Ernshaw's adult debut was one of my most highly anticipated books and thrilled to say it did not disappoint! This dreamy, deeply atmospheric story is rich in mystery with a pinch of Magical Realism and an intriguing twist. I had seen several reviewers compare it to M. Night's movie, The Village, and though I also would have been pleased with that, I found this story to be so much more! 

We begin following Travis Wren, who by the possession of a single object, is able to track and find lost people. He has been hired by the parents of macabre children's author Maggie St. James. The search leads him to a notoriously reclusive community, founded in the 70's, called Pastoral. Though this community was thought not to exist anymore, once encountering it, somehow Travis ends up missing as well.

Enter Theo, a lifelong Pastoral community member who has been questioning their isolated community and the inability to ever leave, due to Pastoral's fear of a spreading disease called "the rot". Though all are forbidden to leave or enter the boundary if Pastoral, Theo crosses the boundary and discovers Travis' abandoned truck. Who is Travis and what was he doing so close to the infectious border? Is their world as safe as they have always believed? Will Theo be able to continue protecting his wife Calla and her sister Bee, safe and content in their simple and isolated Pastoral? 

This haunting and quiet mystery will conclude with an explosion of truth and the reality that the true face of evil can show where we least expect it. Lose yourself in the hypnotic haze of A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
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Picture M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Village’ and that will set up the imagery you need for this book. 

When well known author Maggie St. James goes missing, her family hires Travis Wren to find her.  He tracks her to her last known location, a secluded community that isn’t believed to be inhabited.  And then this story takes a bizarre turn. 
Filled with secrets and misdirection, this atmospheric novel kept me guessing until the end.  The author stepped away from young adult fiction for this, and while there were some aspects that had a YA feel, overall it was a satisfying multiple POV mystery.
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