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Wildwood Whispers

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A heartwarming novel of hope, fate, and folk magic unfolds when a young woman travels to a sleepy southern town in the Appalachian Mountains to bury her best friend.

“Dark, tender, and thought-provoking, Wildwood Whispers is a beautifully woven tale of fantasy, feminism, and mystery set in rural Appalachia.” —Constance Sayers, author of A Witch in Time

At the age of eleven, Mel Smith’s life found its purpose when she met Sarah Ross. Ten years later, Sarah’s sudden death threatens to break her. To fulfill a final promise to her best friend, Mel travels to an idyllic small town nestled in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains. Yet Morgan’s Gap is more than a land of morning mists and deep forest shadows.

There are secrets that call to Mel, in the gaze of the gnarled and knowing woman everyone calls Granny, in a salvaged remedy book filled with the magic of simple mountain traditions, and in the connection, she feels to the Ross homestead and the wilderness around it.

With every taste of sweet honey and tart blackberries, the wildwood twines further into Mel’s broken heart. But a threat lingers in the woods—one that may have something to do with Sarah's untimely death and that has now set its sight on Mel.

The wildwood is whispering. It has secrets to reveal—if you’re willing to listen…

390 pages, Kindle Edition

First published August 17, 2021

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About the author

Willa Reece

2 books65 followers
Willa Reece has published more than a dozen books with top publishers as Barbara J. Hancock, most recently the Brimstone and Legendary Warriors series of paranormal romances for Harlequin and her gothic YA AFTER ALWAYS for Entangled Teen. Her novella “Ghost in the Machine” was a Dear Author Recommended Read. Besides writing, Willa is devoted to animal rescue and her three scientist sons—a biologist, a chemist and a physicist. Willa lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where stories are often told on a dark side porch by the flicker of firefly light.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 249 reviews
Profile Image for Jasmine.
200 reviews180 followers
August 23, 2021
This is a beautiful and lyrical novel sprinkled with a dash of magic.

Having grown up in foster care, Mel Smith is an extremely guarded young woman who has only allowed one person into her life, Sarah Ross. Friends since they were children, Mel has always felt very protective of Sarah, putting her own needs second to that of her best friend. When Mel and Sarah get into a tragic car accident, Sarah makes Mel promise to bring her ashes home to Morgan’s Gap. Grieving, Mel is hesitant to follow through, but ultimately decides to fulfill her promise and deliver the ashes to the small town of Morgan’s Gap. This act sets Mel on a journey of self-discovery where she forms connections with both the townspeople and with the Wildwood.

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies in the town of Morgan’s Gap. There is a Sect that seems very cultish with a vile man as the leader of a group of fearful women. And a mayor who is just as slimy as the sect leader. Mel joins her new community in helping these women in any way they can.

This is a slowly paced novel where not a lot happens until the last 100 pages. The writing is stunning; I could practically smell the Wildwood through the wonderful imagery presented. It is told mostly from Mel’s perspective, but there are a few others, including a mouse.

I was really immersed in this novel, but my one critique would be that, at times, the plot dragged. There were moments of suspense, but then it’d be back to making jam or delivering goods. Although, the last third of the book made it all worthwhile in the end.

Huge thanks to Orbit Books for sending me a finished copy in exchange for an honest review.
August 25, 2022
EXCERPT: Twelve year old Sarah Ross reached quickly for the fragrant charm beneath her pillow the same way she would have reached for a parachute ripcord if she'd been rudely pushed from a plane cruising at ten thousand feet. It was only an imaginary fall, one that had propelled her awake, as bad dreams do, but her trembling fingers clutched at the familiar shape of the tiny crocheted mouse like a lifeline. The charm her mother had filled with sage and lemon balm was supposed to help Sarah sleep, and it did, usually, but the dream fall had cannoned her awake with stomach-swooping dread, as if the entire world had disappeared beneath her sleeping body.

This time her knuckles didn't stop hurting even after the bed solidified beneath her. She wasn't falling. She was awake. Her soft bedding still smelled of sunshine from its time on the clothesline.

Her hands hurt.

It was only a ghost pain that had haunted her first waking moments since she was a little girl. There was nothing wrong with her fingers, her knuckles, the palms of her hands. The mouse usually banished the pain by grounding her in the real world.

Not this time.

ABOUT 'WILDWOOD WHISPERS': At the age of eleven, Mel Smith’s life found its purpose when she met Sarah Ross. Ten years later, Sarah’s sudden death threatens to break her. To fulfill a final promise to her best friend, Mel travels to an idyllic small town nestled in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains. Yet Morgan’s Gap is more than a land of morning mists and deep forest shadows.

There are secrets that call to Mel, in the gaze of the gnarled and knowing woman everyone calls Granny, in a salvaged remedy book filled with the magic of simple mountain traditions, and in the connection, she feels to the Ross homestead and the wilderness around it.

With every taste of sweet honey and tart blackberries, the wildwood twines further into Mel’s broken heart. But a threat lingers in the woods—one that may have something to do with Sarah's untimely death and that has now set its sight on Mel.

MY THOUGHTS: I was looking forward to listening to Wildwood Whispers, a story of magical realism set in a village in the Appalachian Mountains. But, sorry, this just didn't strike a chord in my heart. I found it difficult to connect with the characters and found the story very slow moving.

There is no real mystery, because it is apparent very early on, who is responsible. The why takes longer to be revealed, but by then I had lost interest.

I really enjoyed the scenes based around the bees, but the mouse really didn't work for me. I also felt that the romantic interest wasn't necessary, and was far too obvious.

The description of the wildwood and the garden interested me, and I would have liked more information about the recipes.

While I usually like audiobooks to have multiple narrators, there was one narrator whose voice grated on my eardrums, which definitely didn't enhance my experience.

Overall, this was just an average read.


#WildwoodWhispers #NetGalley

I: @willa_reece @hachetteaudio

T: @ReeceWilla @HachetteAudio

#audiobook #fantasy #contemporaryfiction #cult #mystery #paranormal #romance

THE AUTHOR: Besides writing, Willa is devoted to animal rescue and her three scientist sons—a biologist, and an aspiring chemist and physicist. Willa lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where stories are often told on a dark side porch by the flicker of firefly light.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Hachette Audio, Orbit via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and my webpage https://sandysbookaday.wordpress.com/...
Profile Image for Rosh.
1,296 reviews1,015 followers
August 19, 2021
In a Nutshell: A decently-written magical realism story with some hits and some misses.

Mel Smith’s life as a foster child has been a tough one and she has now learnt to stand up for herself. When she meets Sarah at the age of eleven, they form a sisterly bond. Now Sarah is dead and Mel finds herself in a small town in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains to honour Sarah’s last wish. There she finds secrets and threats, and mystique and creepiness, and her visit might just change her life forever.

I was looking forward to this story because of that wonderful title and cover. But somehow, the book didn’t quite work out as I had imagined.

Where the book clicked for me:
• The concept of the book is superb. At its bare essence, the plot promises a journey through a magical wood with a disbelieving main character whose interactions turn her life. (The execution left a lot to be desired, but the concept was good.)

• After a long time, I found a book where the prologue justifies its existence in the story. The incident narrated in the prologue gives a wonderful setting to the kind of relationship that Mel and Sarah have. That’s how prologues must be used, rather than only repeating an incident coming near the end of the story to create an unnecessary suspense, most of which is forgotten as we go along the story.

• I loved everything connected to nature: the mountains, the bees, the wildwood itself! These were fabulously written. The wildwood is a character by itself in this book and it justifies the title through an almost sentient presence through the main story. I also liked Charm the mouse, a cute addition to the human characters.

• Some of the connections between the characters were portrayed well. Their attachment to nature and their interpersonal relationships within the small community stand out.

• The writing is quite lyrical in places, especially when it talks about the wildwood. The atmosphere it creates is at once spooky and appealing.

Where the book could have worked better for me:
• The pace, especially in the first 60% or so, is very slow. Sometimes, it felt like I had read/heard so much but in terms of the story, hardly anything had progressed. The writing takes its own sweet time rambling through multiple characters, flashbacks and incidents, many of which weren’t really needed.

• Most of the characters didn’t appeal to me. Of the three who did, two were dead. So I didn’t really feel much of a connect with the book.

• There is no mystery as such, though the plot tries to build up on atmospheric suspense. The guilty party is clear right from the moment of their introduction. So it turned out to be a game of “when” and “how” and not “who’.

• The romantic subplot was absolutely unnecessary.

• A small subplot depicts how talent in a particular field (not giving spoilers) is independent of gender. I loved that part. Wish there had been more of it. The rest of the book is quite gender-stereotypical.

• For a magical realism book, the magical content is just in a few scenes. Though those scenes are really well-written, they further increased my thirst for more, and that didn’t happen.

The audiobook experience:
A mixed feedback here. The two narrators voicing Mel and Sarah were great in their own way. But one of their accents was really grating on my ears, though it might have been authentic for the story. Furthermore, the identity of the third narrator, who comes in just randomly, doesn’t become clear until almost midway (for valid reasons). While this would have worked well if I were reading the book, it just became confusing the audiobook because I didn’t know who was talking and, more importantly, how he/she fitted in the story.

Overall, the book improves as the story progresses. The end is fairly satisfying. But you do have to trudge through a lot of content to reach that finale. I think I might have enjoyed this a little more if I had read it but I wouldn’t have loved it even then. The second half of the book does save it to a great extent, so if you go for it, have patience with it and focus on the wildwood for it is the best thing in the book.

A 3.5 from me, rounding up to 4.

Thank you, NetGalley and Hachette Audio, for the audio ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Join me on the Facebook group, Readers Forever! , for more reviews, book-related discussions and fun.
Profile Image for Renee Godding.
571 reviews545 followers
December 15, 2021
5/5 stars

"It felt as if I was fighting this injustice, which was crazy: I was making jam and bread. And yet, the truth of the fight pounded in my heart when i realized that jam and bread from the wildwood was life. The simple power of life itself. By sharing what I made, I was sharing the ongoing cycle of life with others."

Set against the background of the a small Appalachian village and its lush surrounding woods,
Wildwood Whispers delivers a story that is the perfect bittersweet mix of haunting and strangely comforting.

We follow Mel, a young woman in de depths of grief over the loss of her best friend and “foster-system-sister” Sarah. To fulfil her final promise to her friend, Mel travels to Sarah’s birthplace Morgan’s Gap, a seemingly idyllic town nestled in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, to scatter her ashes in the surrounding Wildwood. Once there, she feels a deep connection to the place, its community of Wisewomen and the hints of Sarah’s memories that linger everywhere.

Wildwood Whispers sets up an ambitious multi-layered story with some heavier underlying themes, and somehow manages to hit it home without missing a beat. With lyrical, descriptive prose, Reece brings to life the town of Morgan’s Gap and all its inhabitants, enveloping the reader like the misty groves envelope the town. Covering grief, healing, religion, prejudice and found family, she displays an impressive emotional range, without ever feeling melodramatic. We veer from melancholy to healing, from nostalgia to hope, and even from safety to claustrophobia in an instant once the thread that lurks among the town inhabitants makes itself clear. Even a non-book-crier like me had to swallow some emotions away at times at the wonderful depiction of grief and found family here…

In addition, this novel feels like a love song to modern green- or hedge witchcraft, and the healing power and lifeforce that can be drawn from nature. There’s a trend of witchy books in publishing at the moment (especially within YA) that is quite hit or miss for me. This is the kind of witch-story that I personally love: a bit more understated, grounded in nature and written with respect for modern witches. No sacrificing black cats or flying on broomsticks here.

Wildwood Whispers is out on August 17th and is one of my most anticipated releases for this month thus far. Although I highly recommend it regardless of the format, I especially endorse the audiobook. For the perfect experience; take this book with you on a walk through nature. I personally listened to it whilst walking the heathers near my town, and it really added to the immersion.

Many thanks to the publishers Redhook and Orbit for providing me with an ARC as well as a copy of the audiobook in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Latasha.
1,259 reviews360 followers
May 29, 2022
I loved this book so so much. 🥰 The story is beautiful. The sense of community in this book is perfect. Where can I find one like this?! The magic is there and just a part of life. The characters were good, the setting was great. I’m just on the other side of the mountains of NC (I’m in TN). So it was just like home. I bought this as an audible daily deal and so glad I did. I plan on reading or listening to more from this author.
August 6, 2022
What a great book! I enjoyed every aspect of it from the writing style and character development, to the world building and unique story line. It did drag on some in places but was very intriguing overall. I want to read more from this author!
Profile Image for Shirley McAllister.
940 reviews114 followers
July 17, 2021
The Wildwood Knows.

An abundance of memories this book has brought back. The smells and the sounds of the mountains. The morning mist hanging over the peaks at first light. The sounds of the animals, the whip-poor-wills. An overall feeling of contentment and well being.

What a wonderful story of a young lady and her connection to the mountain and the people in Morgan’s Gap. I could see her growing in knowledge. Under Grandma’s teaching. She came to terms with the death of her friend, and began forging a life for herself.

After living as an orphan and foster child she found a home and a community of friends and neighbors in this small mountain community. Mel even found something more in her friendship with the young ranger Jacob.

A story of the mountain people coming together with the spirit of the forest to fight an evil man and his evil ways. Mountain people caring for each other as only they can. Their ways of life, their traditions and rites of passage.

I really enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it.

Thanks to Willa Reece, Redhook Books and NetGalley for allowing me to read a complimentary copy of the book for my honest review.
Profile Image for Maja Ingrid.
442 reviews126 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
October 30, 2022
October 2022: Havent touched this one for a few months so marking it as DNF at page 75

August 2022: I don't know about this book. Started it maybe 2-3 weeks ago and have been trying to pick it up several times since. It feels like a book I should love but whenever I try to read it, it never feels like the right time for it.
Profile Image for Hester Fox.
Author 5 books1,364 followers
May 18, 2021
I loved everything about WILDWOOD WHISPERS, Reece’s poignant writing style truly captured the vivid setting of small-town Appalachia. Readers craving a witchy story full of found family, lush nature, and small-town secrets will find it utterly enchanting.
Profile Image for S. Wigget.
711 reviews33 followers
May 29, 2021
Thank you to Goodreads and Redhook Books/Orbit/Hatchette Book Group for the advanced readers edition.

... it was the yard I walked across every night in my nightmares."

For quite a while, at least the first half of the book, this novel is haunting, melancholy, grieving--not the easiest thing to read when you're grieving.

This book reminds me of Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, although it mostly feels more serious and somber. I'm accustomed to much more whimsical novels about witches, but that's okay. There's room for all kinds of witch novels.

I think this is magical realism. It's realism... with low-key magic. So yeah.
The novel also has a gothic tone. It's set in Virginia, so... Southern Gothic? Southern Gothic combined with magical realism....

Suffice it to say, the novel mixes genres: fantasy, gothic, romance, and mystery.

It took me about 50 pages to get sucked into this book, but it's worth the wait. Part of it could simply be because I'm reading numerous books simultaneously and hadn't sufficiently focused on this one.

I love the mouse familar's perspective! Squee! Or... squeak!

The scenes with members of the Sect--basically, an overtly patriarchal cult in which women are raped and impregnated--are creepy and infuriating. They inspired me to chant about chopping up misogynists, but that's been pretty regular since the 2016 election.

Oh. He is!

I wish Mel had pepper spray. On the bright side, she has magical powers.
Page 157: I'm so glad she took the baseball bat she found. I keep wishing Mel had pepper spray and a taser.

Hmm, I like the word "wisewomen," but I love the word "witch." It's a bit troubling that some wisewomen in this book seem uncomfortable with being called witches--instead of embracing it--and at least some even go to church.

I can understand being Cunningfolk in 17th century England--practicing folk magic but not identifying as witches... in a time when you could be hanged or drowned for witchcraft (or burned at the stake, at least in continental Europe). But you probably won't be burned at the stake in the 21st century.

Stop going to that church and form a coven. EMBRACE YOUR WITCHINESS! USE IT TO TEAR DOWN PATRIARCHY!

Page 273: "How could any of us restore the connection between the wildwood and the town when there was such a blatant evil in the community?"

I love this sentence:
"I knew there would be a fight, but I went to answer the door as if crazed misogynistic freaks often came calling at the cabin in the middle of the night (p. 341)."

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Margaret.
972 reviews6 followers
October 17, 2022
Such a good book!! I loved the imagination and the setting which is in Appalachia. I enjoyed the magical realism and the homespun nature of the writing. The mystery and romance was perfect. I also appreciate the authors' note at the back of the book.
Profile Image for Jamie.
221 reviews20 followers
August 28, 2021
Thank you to Netgalley and Hachette Audio for this advance listener copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wildwood Whispers was my first delve into magical realism and man, was I impressed! What an amazing story!

In this novel, we're introduced to Mel Smith, an orphan since birth. Mel had forged a deep bond with a foster sister named Sarah. Upon Sarah's untimely death, Mel returns to Sarah's Virginia hometown to fulfill Sarah's final wish.

Upon arriving in the small, mountain town, strange things begin to happen and Mel meets Granny, an elderly town wise woman and she begins to study the ways of the wildwood. Along the way she forges bonds with people who had been part of Sarah's life. When a fanatical religious sect threatens this new family she's created, Mel Mel finds out who she truly is.

Magic, fantasy and a lot of heart bring this beautiful story together. I found myself deeply engrossed in this story. I fell in love with the characters and the story. I also loved the writing. We got a first person view of Mel, but we also get Sarah's POV told through dream sequences. The book was just magical. Highly recommended!

As for the audio, I loved it. It was read by three different people and I loved the Appalachian drawl of the narrator reading Sarah's POV. Absolutely perfect narration.

Five stars!
Profile Image for Debbie.
213 reviews34 followers
August 5, 2021
Wild wood Whispers by Willa Reece
I absolutely loved this e-book have never read any of the authors books before and hope to read more.
Profile Image for Tammy.
800 reviews134 followers
August 23, 2021
The nitty-gritty: A lushly written tale rooted in folklore and magic, Wildwood Whispers has a lovely, homespun vibe as comfy as a warm blanket.

I couldn’t resist this beautiful cover, and I’m happy to report that the cover is perfect for this magic-tinged tale. This is a quieter and more uplifting story than I normally read, but I have to admit it was a breath of fresh air. There is a lot of Alice Hoffman's style in Wildwood Whispers, in the whimsical magical realism that Hoffman does so well, although the writing doesn't quite have that sparkling quality that Hoffman's has. Still, if you are looking for a heartwarming, folkloric story of sisterhood, set in a small town with plenty of quirky characters, you will probably enjoy this too.

Mel and Sarah grew up in the foster care system together, and Mel made it her duty to protect Sarah over the years. But one day when the girls are grown, Sarah is killed in a car accident. Sarah had always talked about her life growing up in Morgan’s Gap, Virginia, which she fled after her mother was murdered. And Mel promised Sarah that if anything ever happened to her, she would lay Sarah to rest in her beloved Wildwood, the forest where she spent so many happy years growing up. Now the unthinkable has happened, and Mel makes the trip to Morgan’s Gap with Sarah’s ashes in tow.

When she arrives, she meets some of the quirky townsfolk, including Granny, who takes Mel under her wing; Sadie, a beekeeper; Lu, a musician who makes dulcimers; and Jacob Walker, a mysterious and handsome biologist who seems to always turn up wherever Mel goes. Granny and the others introduce Mel to the Wildwood garden, full of blackberries and medicinal herbs and other rare plants, and Mel is given an old book to read, the Ross Remedy Book, which contains the knowledge of generations of Ross women. Little by little, Mel comes to feel that she belongs in Morgan’s Gap, and that she has some sort of connection to the Wildwood, although she doesn’t yet understand what that is.

As she becomes more and more entrenched in small town life, Mel explores the reasons she was brought to Morgan’s Gap. The Ross women “know” things, can cure ailments, can read tea leaves and predict the future, and seem to have an affinity with certain animals. Mel herself feels drawn to the garden behind the old Ross cabin in the woods, and she’s learning some of the recipes in the Book. But a threat hangs over the town, the threat of progress. Mayor Hartwell is determined to turn the Wildwood into a fracking site, threatening the natural resources that the town’s residents have come to depend on. Mel wants to learn the truth behind Sarah's death, but could being too close to that truth put her in danger as well?

The story is told from Mel’s first person point of view for the most part, and I enjoyed joining her on her journey to becoming a wisewoman of Morgan’s Gap. Reece intersperses Mel’s chapters with flashbacks showing Sarah’s early years growing up near the Wildwood with her mother Melody Ross. These flashbacks are structured as dreams that Mel is having about Sarah’s life, which was a nice way for us to learn bits of the past, but also to reinforce the fact that Mel is somehow connected to Sarah and the people of Morgan’s Gap. Later in the story we get a third point of view from a mouse that has befriended Mel, which turns out to be another connection between the two girls. The mouse, who Mel names Charm, is one of the few magical elements in the story, and I really enjoyed these whimsical scenes.

I loved the message of female empowerment, although there are some male characters that are part of this as well. As one character says, “The Wildwood isn’t concerned with gender,” which I thought was a nice sentiment. But it’s mostly the women who drive the story, and I loved each of them for different reasons. They call themselves “wisewomen,” but the word “witch” is also thrown around a couple of times too. The women are connected to nature in some interesting ways, and they have a fierce sense of loyalty to each other and are always looking for ways to protect the most vulnerable among them. There is a horrid character named Reverend Moon who has a group of women under his control, called “Sect” women, who I’m assuming are abused in some way—probably raped and physically abused as well, although we don’t actually see any of that happening. Granny and the others have helped these women over the years, especially the ones who have the strength to run away from the Reverend. The wife of the Mayor (another awful male character) is a fragile woman named Violet who used to be part of Reverend Moon’s Sect, but the Reverend “gave” her to him and now she’s even worse off than she used to be. My heart ached for Violet, but I loved the way the other women rallied around her.

My very favorite parts of the story, however, were the descriptions of food and how the townsfolk came together to carry on their traditions of making and baking. Granny tells Mel that she should harvest the blackberries behind the cabin, and then Mel makes her own blackberry jam from a recipe in the Book. In another favorite scene, Mel decides to try a pickle recipe, and I can’t tell you how much it made me want to make my own pickles! Some of these scenes were told in lush, sensual language, in particular a scene with Mel and Jacob in the blackberry patch, that I could practically taste the blackberry juice and feel it dripping off my fingers.

I did have a few issues with the story, though. The first half is very slow, and it wasn’t until the midway point that I really became invested in the characters. I also didn’t care for the “bad guys,” the Reverend and the Mayor, who are so moustache-twirly and obvious that I almost laughed every time they made an appearance. The story would have worked better if their characters had been more subtly drawn, although I do admit there were some very unsettling scenes involving the Reverend that weren’t too bad. And if you’re hoping for intrigue and mystery, it's there but it's subtle. I knew immediately who was responsible for the deaths of both Sarah and her mother—it was telegraphed early on—and I also guessed Mel’s connection to the Wildwood, so it’s not hard to figure out either of these “mysteries.” There’s also a very slow burn romance between Mel and Jacob that felt a bit odd to me. I enjoyed the focus on the women’s relationships, and the story didn’t really need a romance on top of that.

But these small issues aside, I loved the story’s folksy vibe and the familial love the characters have for each other. This one really grew on me the more I read, and readers who are in the mood for a feel good story of female empowerment and subtle magic will enjoy this as well. 

Big thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.
Profile Image for Schmimmerock.
57 reviews14 followers
July 3, 2021
I had to make a cottagecore shelf specifically for this book, and you best believe I'll be filling it soon.

Alright, so I did really enjoy this, but man I had a struggle seeing this book through. I started it a while back, made it about halfway, and then realized that I couldn't tell you a single thing that had happened or was happening. I can normally finish a book in a few days depending on what I've got going on. This took about a month and a half. I admit I've been a little scattered lately, but it just wasn't capturing my attention. The thing is that normally, that's when I'd shelf it as a dnf on grounds of loss of interest and move along. But there was so much promise. I remember doing a happy dance when I got my hands on this arc because I was so excited. So, I picked it up again and started over completely.

I'm really glad I did, because I would have missed out on a wonderfully magical read. This book ticks a lot of boxes for me. Southern Gothic? Check. Magical Realism? Check. Botanical magic abounding? Super check. Murders, mysterious deaths, and freaky religious cults? You betcha! Sexy biologists ? Gotta be honest, I didn’t even know that a was a box to tick but here we are. Consider it ticked. I do feel like I need to address the issues that slowed me down initially and then again on the reread. I just also wanted to make it clear that these issues don't change the fact that I loved it.

The first…maybe third to half of this book was often ineffectively flowery. Lots of passages with a lot of words that aren’t actually saying anything, and the verbosity had a tendency to take me out of the narrative. I kept skimming and then would find myself only half-reading, and I did that for long enough that I ended up starting over entirely around the 60% mark. This is really unfortunate because the second half finds a better stride and easier rhythm that is much more absorbing. The language and writing don't necessarily change, it's just more effective, more focused. Paragraphs go from wordy and a bit superfluous to a lush prose that's deliciously atmospheric. The pacing suffers for it, though. This book felt pretty long for what it set out to do, though that could also be because I read the slowest portion twice.

There are all these elements—the magic, Mel’s relationships with Sarah and all the women in the community, the religious cult, the murders—and plenty of space to explore all these things with depth, but I never felt like we really reached a satisfying level of exploration of most of it. It's a good and a bad thing. Reece has created a narrative that I really want to experience to the fullest immersion, but at the same time it's frustrating that it feels like we read so many words and never get there. There is full closure at the end, but when it was over it was less of that feeling you get with a thoroughly satisfying ending, and more of a, “Oh, okay, I guess that’s it." It doesn't help that the primary antagonist is kind of cartoonishly evil to the point that I kept expecting a plot twist where it was someone else pulling the strings because it just seemed too easy. So the big ending just gave me more of that, "Oh, okay," feeling. I wanted more, especially since for how many pages it has, I feel like several things could have been better explored. Don't worry, everything gets resolved, all questions answered, all plot lines concluded, but I just wanted more.

That said, there is a notable exception to this disconnect and surface exploration, and it’s the magic, which for me was just so fully immersive and so gorgeously done I could cry. The incorporation of magic was sublime in that it was genuine without being kitschy or cliche. Lots of herbal spells and remedies, tea leaves and tisanes, songs with words that dance on your tongue even before you know what they mean, exactly. Soft magic, smart magic, emergent magic, ancient magic. Magic in the connections Mel felt and eventually learned to listen to: connections with the earth, with the people of Morgan’s Gap, with music, with energy. Dizzying magic that pervades all your senses. It was understated in a lot of ways, muted but earnest, and just enough that I can believe that somewhere an hour’s drive from me in the mountains of western Virginia, there is a community of witchy wisewomen just like this.

It also might be an odd thing to note (it was weirdly grounding amidst the magic), but there’s a consistent stream of accurate depictions of what overshare in the midst of grief feels like. Where it’s spilling out of you and you just want to swallow the words up but you just can’t seem to get a solid grip on your emotions, on your walls, so it all just keeps spilling out of you. It feels very loose, very out of control, but it’s brief. Once the spillage is done your cup is a little emptier, there’s a little more room, and you feel in control again. But it’s not long after that you have another spillage. Your cup is still nearly full. It’s difficult to manage, and it’s very well represented in the first half of this book before Mel starts to really find her footing.

Anyway, all this to say this is still a wonderful read and definitely one I recommend. It's kind of the perfect transition summer-to-fall book, especially for someone like me who's just moved to the mountains of Virginia. I can't wait to reread it come September.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you very muchly to NetGalley, Redhook Books, and Willa Reece for this arc in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Wulfwyn .
1,094 reviews99 followers
June 8, 2021
I think this is going to be my most favorite read of 2021. It is my most surprising this year, so far. I was expecting a pleasant read that had some drama and was set in the place my heart calls home. I figured it might be a little emotional for me. I was right but oh so wrong, too. It was that but so much more. This book holds so many genres inside its cover that I really can’t determine a best match to just one.
The author did an amazing job with descriptions. I felt the forest and pictured it coming alive in my mind. The characters were well written with some feeling familiar to me. Reading this I thought often of the women who are no longer here but influenced my world. There were romances. The major one between Mel and Jacob. But also some lesser ones that were lovely and written in so naturally it didn’t feel completely like a romance novel at all. There was also the non romantic love between friends who become family. There was a mystery to solve that involved murder bringing with it ties to human trafficking. There was the lessens from nature and folk remedies. The magic found in the hills and hollers that you can hear of in sayings, songs and folklore still today. This would probably fall into the fantasy genre but, as a woman who still holds deeply her girl belief in fairies, I hesitate to place it completely in that genre. There is a battle between good and evil. I would have liked a bit of blending between Christianity and the Old Beliefs but that’s just me. I have a blended belief that holds both equally. Sadly, though, I know there are still religions, (mostly in the extremes, I feel), that lock out other beliefs. The battle between the two religions made for riveting reading, especially in terms of how women can be treated within any religion extremist beliefs. It is a book about small towns and the secrets they can hold. It is a book about grieving and a young woman finding herself while letting go of her best friend. So you can see why I find it difficult to put this book into one genre and why I think this book will be my most favorite of the year. I honestly want to buy copies for all my friends and tell them, “you must read this book!” I hope you, reading the reviews, decide to read it and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

*I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. No review was required, just as no word of mouth recommendations are, but I will be doing both. My review is based on my overwhelming delight in reading this book.*
Profile Image for Elle.
986 reviews83 followers
November 5, 2021
A good mix of magical realism and mystery. This was a book I didn't want to put down and I would definitely shelve it in the "cozy" category. The atmosphere of the woods and the small towns just hit the spot for me and I loved all of the quirky little characters.

The writing is really good and moves with a fantastic flow. The prose is fairly lyrical and great in description. I was really sucked into the story with the imagery created. The pace is a little slow and there is a lot of setup, but it worked for me. Some readers may get bogged down by this.

I also really enjoyed the cultish element that was mixed in to the narrative. I would've honestly liked more, but that's no surprise. Cults in fiction are kind of my jam.

The plot is a bit of a mystery, but it's fairly predictable, so I would plant it solidly in the magical realism genre. Don't go into this expecting a thriller or a complex whodunit. It's just an enjoyable tale with a little bit of tension and a small town with a good mix of good and evil. Cozy up with a blanket and enjoy.

* Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. *
Profile Image for Laura.
287 reviews21 followers
December 1, 2021
I read Wildwood Whispers with two friends, and it has given us a lot to discuss. Overall, I quite enjoyed it. The book follows Mel, who, after returning her friend's ashes to the small Appalachian town where she grew up, finds she has a deep connection to the wildwood + the people who live there. I really appreciated the descriptions of the wood and the plants and animals who call it home; I also enjoyed the representation of folk magic, the development of the relationship between Mel and Granny, and slow shift in Mel's thought process and beliefs as she gradually allows herself to meaningfully connect to her new surroundings. What didn't work for me quite so well were the mystery elements (I kept hoping that the plot with the antagonist wouldn't be as obvious as it seemed from the beginning, but it was) and the romance (which the book may well have been better without, and which certainly wasn't necessary).
Content warnings: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, reproductive coercion, murder, grief, misogyny, human trafficking, forced confinement
Profile Image for Luminea.
275 reviews
May 28, 2022
Like the wildwood itself, this is a dark and beautiful story of life, death, and rebirth, of separation and togetherness. I fell in love with all the wise and wild women of the mountain, as well as the woodsmen and all of the wild creatures. This book is made my fingers twitch to knead bread, brew remedies, weave baskets, forage for food, and cultivate an even deeper relationship with the forest around my home. I loved the magickal realism in this story.
Profile Image for Katie.
462 reviews3 followers
January 24, 2022
3.5 stars

The VIBES and setting of this book are immaculate, and it has so many of my favorite things going for it - witches, Appalachia, a CULT ELEMENT. So I obviously enjoyed myself. BUT I do think the story itself and the pacing of that story left a little to be desired. All the descriptions were absolutely gorgeous though.

Ok bye, going back to my home state of Kentucky to become a mountain wisewoman!
Profile Image for Steph Elias.
448 reviews1 follower
April 17, 2021
Wildwood Whispers is a fantastic book about a woman who is bringing her friend's ashes back to the mountains where she grew up. She meets a cast of really interesting characters, some good, some bad, and along the way she finds that there is a lot more to herself than she knew. I loved all the wise woman stuff, the recipes, the history, all of it was wonderful and really added a lot to the book. The atmosphere was so well written you can feel the blackberry thorns poking you, smell the scent of lavender in the air, and hear the hum of the bees. There is also a thriller/mystery aspect, which while it was a bit predictable near the end, was very satisfying. I absolutely loved the book and can't wait to see what this author has in store next.
Profile Image for Anniken Haga.
Author 10 books76 followers
May 30, 2022
This book had a lot of the things I like in the ''modern but traditional witch genre''. It talked about generational knowledge and traditions, about living with nature instead of off it, and about folk magic. While I generally liked the vibe of the whole book, I had a few minor issues.

Or, one wasn't minor. It is the main reason this book only get a 3 star rating instead of 4.
That's the story. Or lack of a story.
Sure, there was a hint of a plot there - both romance and mystery - but there wasn't any active exploration of said plot. There were a lot of chapters about the MC growing as a person and learning to become a wise woman, and I did enjoy those chapters, but I do wish the MC actually took part in the plot, instead of stumbling into situations that reminded us of the over all danger every now and again. It was like the author couldn't decide what kind of book this should be; a mystery, or a cozy witchy contemporary.

About the story.
I found the plot of the cult very eerie considering the current political climate in the US. Standing outside and looking in, I'm so afraid for all womb carrying people over there, but there isn't much I can't do from Europe, other than making sure the same thing doesn't happen here.

The other thing that was an issue for me, was the LGBTQ+ rep. I loved how many lesbians were in this book, but I was a little miffed that the people were either straight or gay. No bi people, which would have been so easy to introduce! There was also the fact that the MC was straight, which made it feel like the lesbians was just introduced to check a box, which is unfortunate.
(I do not say this lightly, as I haven't read anything else by the author, but it would have been so easy to make the MC queer in some way)

While mentioning this, I also want to talk about racial representation in this book.
The beginning of the book include a description of the MC that only tells us she has dark and very curly hair, but nothing else. I decided that she was black, because we didn't get any other description of her, but as the book progressed, I noticed that the author only gave in depth description when we met a BIPOC character, or the love interest - a white man. It wasn't until late in the book that we were told the MC was white.
And this is a subconscious racist thing that I think it's important that we talk about. The idea that we don't have to describe white characters the same way we describe black characters. Because ''everyone will understand that they are white, but we have to prove that we have BIPOC characters in our books''. I'm not sure I'm explaining it correctly, but I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. It's a privilege to always see ourselves* in books, and we should look at that privilege, learn, and do better.

So, yeah. Otherwise, writing was OK, but all the characters felt one sided.
Considering this author has been trad published at other houses and under other names before, I'm a little disappointed at how unfinished the whole book felt, and I'm not sure I'll read the sequel, whenever it comes. Or anything else by the author.

Now, writing this review, I'm considering pushing the rating down to 2 stars, but I think I'll keep the 3 stars review. It kinda fits a little more than a 2 would. At least, that's what it feels like.
Profile Image for Laura.
131 reviews7 followers
August 21, 2021
WARNING! Everything in the description of this book is true, but a huge part of the plot focuses on a conflict with a misogynistic cult of religious extremists, and it comes with a bouquet of related content warnings.

I feel like that focus should really be mentioned somewhere in the promotional materials or jacket copy, along with content warnings for frequent mention of reproductive coercion, sexual and physical violence against children, kidnapping and stalking, among other things. It is mention and/or implication rather than explicit description (exception: stalking), but it pervades the entire novel and is constantly discussed.

I'm truly baffled that the religious extremism angle is not mentioned anywhere in the promotional materials or jacket copy for this book, because it's discussed beginning in the first few chapters and it's a HUGE aspect of the story.

I enjoyed a lot of this book, but if I had known ahead of time that it was going to focus on that I would have saved it for a time when I was in a better frame of mind to deal with that and probably enjoyed it a lot more. And I just really hope that anyone who needs to avoid that kind of content for their mental health is able to see this or something else before they stumble into it without warning because I felt totally and unpleasantly blindsided despite having an average tolerance for that type of material.

A lot of the rest of this book was charming and heartwarming and I really love the relationships and the townspeople and the atmosphere of the wildwood. The pacing and some of the antagonists didn't always work for me, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the characters enough to push through. I think a lot of people will really enjoy this book, as long as they are okay reading about misogynistic religion.
27 reviews
May 19, 2022
Could not finish this one, stopped at about 35%… I rarely leave anything unfinished, so it hurts me to do this, but I simply could not get into this book. I didn’t feel any connection to any of the characters and I’m very bummed about it :(
Profile Image for Permanently_Booked.
756 reviews54 followers
August 18, 2021
Magical, enchanting and vicious in its overall feminine strength; what a novel! Wildwood Whispers is a delightful mix of nature based magical realism, mystery, murder and folklore all tied up with beating heartstrings. I took slightly longer than I expected to finish due to the length and slower beginning. I had a bit of an initial disconnect from the characters and storyline only because my impatience was catching up with me. I wanted revelations and plot progress quicker than I was getting it. Once I finally simmered myself down, I found my pacing and fell into the Wildwood world created by Reece. However, now that I’ve ended, I do have a feeling of wanting more out of the whole package.

Now don’t stray away yet, that said there is so much beauty in this book and it comes from the captivating writing style and deeply crafted magical realism flowing through the plot. I loved how Reece made this feel realistic and genuine. There’s a beauty in the way she makes the folklore come to life and dance throughout the pages as Mel becomes entwined in the traditions of Sarah’s past. The story is told in multiple POVs that are easy to follow. Mel is a complex character with a history that makes her hold back her trust and favor her instincts. She also has a protector’s heart and comes to the table with the loss of her best friend Sarah. We get to watch her heart mend as Reece creates the found family and support system in this small town. Sarah’s character is slowly pieced together from memories and dreams that merge with Mel’s own awakening. Though Sarah has a prominent spot in Mel’s life she is more of the plot instead of the character for me in this book. Which is perfectly ok, she lends to the mystery and the murder aspect that creeps along the plot’s edges. Granny is probably one of my favorite renditions of a wise woman, mentor and grandmother. Her role tended towards that of a MC for me and she was everything I wanted her to be.

There is a little dash of budding romance with a secret holding biologist, a unique spin on familiars, a cult lurking in the darkness and the mysteries of who is murdering the locals. I do want to point out that there is a decent bit of descriptive text that may not be for every reader. The storyline is slow and lends more towards the everyday musings of Mel learning the ropes. Like I mentioned earlier, I ended wanting more. Even though I adored the magical elements I battled myself on wanting more of the enchantment that hung over the town, creatures and people that lived there. That honestly may take away from how realistic it felt though. I could’ve used a quicker character connection in the beginning, but the slow burning pace made that connection harder to grasp onto for a bit. There is a quote on the cover that’s says, “a feast for the senses,” and I could not find a better description for this novel.

For those who enjoy audiobooks, the novel is read with what I would call a full cast. Three narrators bring to life the young Sarah, Mel, little Charm and more. Questioning who Charm is? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out about that utter cuteness! Each narrator has well delivered cadence and for the characters they speak for. I would’ve liked a smidge more emotional depth on some of the scenes, but the full audio journey was exactly what I love to dive into when I can’t sit back and read. Would I prefer one over the other? I’d say that the audiobook helped me enjoy the slower paced introduction more than if I was reading but being able to hold my copy, sip my tea and finish the ending on the couch was everything.

Overall, I am charmed by Reece’s newest novel. I need to check out some of her paranormal romances and young adult gothic books next. I’d highly recommend Wildwood Whispers to readers who enjoy the quieter reads you can cozy up with that bring folklore and feminist contemporary mystery together in an enchanting tale. Thank you, Orbit Books, for the beautifully gifted novel and Hachette Audio for making my introduction to Reece’s work richly immersive with a gifted ALC. All thoughts are my own and in exchange for the gifted formats.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
480 reviews19 followers
September 5, 2021
I originally wasn't planning to read Willa Reece's debut Wildwood Whispers, but I was glad that I did! Reece's debut is an atmospheric and gorgeous mystery/thriller novel set in rural Appalachia and a story about sisterhood, witches, and feminism.

"The wildwood demanded warmth. I could grieve, but I also had to live on. Here, there was a natural cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth that had to be maintained."

Let me just say that the Reece's atmospheric prose immediately drew me into Wildwood Whispters and didn't want to let me go. One thing I think was done really well in this beautiful debut is the way the natural imageries are woven to convey specific moods / tones in the novel. I personally think Reece really excelled at crafting memorable and touching stories about womanhood and grief with her writing style.

"Magic? Or community? Or a little of both. I'd always been apart, finding strength in being separated from others. Now I wasn't so sure."

Storytelling is never complete without the layers. In Wildwood Whispers, the layered narratives and the exploration about what's beneath the surface are both well explored. I particularly loved the connection between the witchcraft, magic, and how these supernatural elements impacts the collective community. I personally think Mel Smith's vantage point between the collective and the individual showcases her resilient nature - a well deserved feminist story to tell.

"If the wildwood had been layered with scents in the summer, it was even more so now. The frost had only accentuated its richness."

While the novel is slightly on the slow side and I personally wasn't a fan of the graphical details , I do think the atmospheric prose helps keep me in loop of what's happening between Mel's headspace and with the community. For example the way the Reece described the changing of seasons also foreshadows the change of circumstances in the book. Anyways, I can certainly see why the prose could be a potential drawback to some readers who are more used to fast paced books: while it's atmospheric and beautifully written, it also veers on the meandering side.

Concerns aside, Wildwood Whispers is nevertheless a gorgeous and unique debut that packs solid storytelling with feminist narratives. If you're into mystery / thriller books with some fantasy elements or enjoy atmospheric writing styles, this one's definitely worth checking out!

N.B. This book contains following content warnings: death, blood mention, violence, and abuse

(3.5 stars out of 5)
122 reviews2 followers
May 25, 2021
In this atmospheric novel, the idyllic western Virginia wildwood setting of Morgan's Gap is home to an industrious community of "wildwomen," whose avocation, passed down through generations, is making helpful connections between their knowledge of the natural world and whomever of their workaday neighbors may be in need. It would seem that protagonist Mel Smith, a city girl with a shattered past as abused foster child and now newly bereft of her once and only true friend Sarah, the daughter of one such wisewoman, but recently and cruelly killed in a hit-and-run, would make a prime target for the healing touch of these kind women when she lands in town to scatter Sarah's ashes, and she is. But Granny, the matriarch of Morgan Gap's wisewomen, sees in needy newcomer Mel the inherent supernatural healing aptitude that those gifted women possess, and after a fair share of head-butting, she sets Mel on the path to wildwood enlightenment. Mel, in turn, becomes increasingly drawn to unraveling the decade-old mystery behind the murder of Sarah's mother in her own woodland backyard, a quest in which she is repeatedly hampered by the meddlings of the sinister Reverend Moon and his outlier sect of cowed women and unbowing men, who also claim the wildwood as their home. Thank goodness for Jacob, the ever-respectful, ever-gallant forest ranger who has a knack for showing up in white-knight fashion whenever trouble threatens to terrorize our plucky heroine. This novel of Morgan's Gap is replete with quirky but lovable characters, both primary and secondary, and mounting suspense sweetened with a healthy dose of witty dialogue, and we leave this wildwood in awe of its wondrous protectors.
Profile Image for Ashley Holloway.
572 reviews21 followers
August 15, 2021
Thank you to netgalley for the advanced audio copy of this book that was sent to me for review!

I loved the concept of this book and if you’re looking for a book that really nails “cottagecore” vibes, I think this might be for you! It has magical nature elements that I found very sweet, and overall I’d say this book is charming.

However, I wanted to absolutely adore it, and it just didn’t happen. My biggest complaint is that it’s very slow-paced and meandering. I thought I would enjoy reading about the main character making jam and homemade bread with items from the wood, but for some reason it just didn’t work for me as a whole, maybe because the characters just didn’t click with me (I find for quieter books like this, that I need to really love the characters). I also wanted the magical elements explored more, because I loved what was there. For example, the bee scene was amazing!!

While I found this book just “ok,” I think it would absolutely work amazingly for the right reader. So, if you’re looking for small town vibes with a creepy cult lurking fairly subtly in the background and lots of vignettes of very natural home-spun activities, this might be the book for you.
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