Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWinterwood by Shea Ernshaw science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWinterwood by Shea Ernshaw

Nora Walker is all alone in the world. Her whole family are rumored to be witches, which sets her apart from other kids her age. Her grandmother is dead, and her mother is something of an absentee parent. And now that winter has set in at Jackjaw Lake, all the tourists are gone, leaving behind only Nora in her cottage and the residents of the nearby camp for delinquent boys. Nora’s isolation increases still further when a storm drops four feet of snow on the area, cutting off the roads and knocking out the phone lines.

Everything changes when Nora ventures into the oldest, spookiest part of the woods on the full moon and finds Oliver Huntsman, a boy who went missing two weeks ago from the camp. She helps him recover from hypothermia and takes him back to the camp, but in the process learns that there is more to the story than just one boy getting lost in the woods. Another boy died the same night, and Oliver has no memory of what happened. Nora begins to suspect that Oliver played a role in the death, even as she is also becoming more attached to him.

Winterwood (2019) is an atmospheric tale, told with beautiful (if sometimes a bit overdone) prose that makes the isolation and the cold at Jackjaw Lake truly palpable. If you read it during a real-life cold snap, which I did, you might feel like you will never be warm again! The snow doesn’t work as well; it seems to come and go depending on the needs of the plot. It keeps anyone from getting into or out of town, but doesn’t seem to hinder anyone from walking or running around the lake.

There are other things that seem glitchy as well — for example, there is one Walker ancestor whose history suggests she didn’t die until 2021, but the novel appears to be set in the present day, and Nora has never met this person. Additionally, the middle of the book sags a bit, seeming to go around in circles for a while.

Shea Ernshaw

Shea Ernshaw

I was able to guess one of the big twists, because several characters behaved in ways that made no sense unless that twist was true, but I didn’t guess every detail about it. This plot element and Nora’s latent powers come together at the end for a mostly satisfying conclusion.

The scuttlebutt on Goodreads is that Shea Ernshaw made some changes to Winterwood after the ARCs were sent out, and so the finished version will be somewhat different from what I read. I’m curious to see whether the published novel smooths out some of the rough spots. It’s worth a try if you’re looking for a book to curl up with on a cold night. (Also, there’s a cute wolf-dog.)

~Kelly Lasiter

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsShea Ernshaw’s novel has loads of atmospheric prose (verging on overly poetic at times) which effectively conveys the bone-deep chill of winter and the suffocating closeness of the Wicker Wood, but it also has a too-circular plot relying on coincidence and the sheer thick-headedness of its teenaged cast of characters, sucking momentum out of the mystery-heavy storyline. The setting lacks consistency; if a massive load of snow is blocking the only road out from the mountains and into town, it doesn’t follow that random strolls around a lake or to various houses would be so casually undertaken. And when characters constantly wander off just so that others will be left alone or be forced to look for one another, it’s hard to get a sense of urgency over the mystery of one missing and one dead boy is going to be resolved. There’s some good witchcraft and family lore here, and the creepy forest is definitely creepy, but overall Winterwood was an underwhelming experience for me.

~Jana Nyman

Published in November 2019. From New York Times bestselling author of The Wicked Deep comes a haunting romance perfect for fans of Practical Magic, where dark fairy tales and enchanted folklore collide after a boy, believed to be missing, emerges from the magical woods—and falls in love with the witch determined to unravel his secrets. Be careful of the dark, dark wood… Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even. Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing. But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago. For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why.


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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  • Jana Nyman

    JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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