By Shea Ernshaw
(or 3 out of 5 stars)
From Amazon Page Description
Travis Wren has an unusual talent for locating missing people. Often hired by families as a last resort, he takes on the case of Maggie St. James—a well-known author of dark, macabre children’s books—and is soon 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.
Once Upon A Time...
The author of macabre children's books gets lost in the woods and is tracked down by a man who can see glimmers of the past like ghosts? Sign. Me. Up. I couldn't add this to my Book of the Month cart fast enough! I was so excited for what sounded like a whimsical, spooky, mystery to follow up my previous read, The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix. But... I was disappointed to find that the storyline I was expecting disappeared like Maggie St. James about 50 pages into the book. The majority of the book actually follows a married couple, Calla and Theo, and Calla's sister Bee on the recluse commune that we come to know as Pastoral. A place enclosed by trees infested with an illness that can (and has) infected the people of Pastoral who try to leave the boundaries of the community. Also interesting! But not what I thought I was signing up for.
Even though this book wasn't at all what I was expecting, I still really enjoyed the story. It has a very Midsommar/M. Night Shyamalan's The Village/cultish vibe to it that absolutely fascinated me. There is the benevolent leader, who is clearly battling an unknown inner turmoil. There are two brand new characters, Calla and Theo, who have differentiating beliefs on whether or not they should remain in Pastoral or venture out to see what is left of the world. And you have Bee, Calla's blind sister, navigating the world and her secret romance with the benevolent leader. There is the birth of an ill child, human sacrifices, and an exciting attempt at escaping the commune that ultimately left me with a positive review of the book.
I am not familiar with the author, Shea Ernshaw's, other work. I've come to learn that she has a successful catalog of YA novels and this is her first venture into writing adult suspense. There were times when I thought her writing was beautiful. The way she uses sensory descriptions to guide us through the chapters where Bee is the narrator are really impressive and I really enjoyed them. But, and this is petty, one thing that takes me out of a book when I'm reading is an author who uses the same descriptive word multiple times in a row. I don't know why, but it pulls me right out of the story. Ernshaw falls into that trap often in the book and it does give the story a more YA feel.
Honestly, the "twist" in the book was underwhelming. If you are paying attention at all to the obvious bread crumb clues Ernshaw is leaving you will see the reveal coming from a mile away. That doesn't make the story less interesting! It's still a compelling idea and I was excited to see how the final climax of it played out... However, I was ultimately disappointed. There was great potential for drama, a struggle, suspense at whether our characters would make it out of Pastoral alive... But there was no real thrill to their escape. It went off without much of a hitch and then the book was over.
Take It Or Leave It
I can't say I'd recommend you read this book. I didn't dislike it but I also didn't love it. It was intriguing, but very slow-paced, with an ending that didn't really satisfy. Take it or leave it!