Review: Shady Hollow By Juneau Black

Review by Luanne Clark


Are you ever in the mood for a break? Break Books are the best! Often after I finish a book that was meaningful, or important, or a classic ( I call them Thinkers)  I like to be entertained with a Break Book. I don’t need to be challenged or instructed; I need some comfort and fun. After finishing my recent Thinker I found the perfect little Break Book. And to learn it’s the first of a series of three was a bonus.   Shady Hollow was published in January and  number 2 is called Cold Clay; it came out March 1. The third in the series is entitled Mirror Lake and it will be arriving  April 26. These three little cozy mysteries are great Break Books.

The author, Juneau Black, is a pseudonym for two friends, Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel. The two women work at a bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One day, their manager handed them a box of children’s finger puppets and asked them to price the woodland creatures for sale. As they went about the task, they found themselves naming the adorable puppets and creating a forest community complete with vivid backstories and adventures. It sounds like they know how to have fun at work!  And so Shady Hollow was born.

Shady Hollow is a peaceful village, inhabited by all types of woodland creatures. They live harmoniously as the predatory among them seem to have adopted the vegetarian lifestyle. The issue is never addressed, neither is the fact that a bear and toad can have an eye-to-eye conversation or that a moose can run a coffee shop. With a little suspension of disbelief, the reader is easily drawn into Shady Hollow life. Juneau Black has cleverly incorporated traditional animal traits into their characters: the VonPelt beaver family industriously runs the sawmill, Gladys the hummingbird flits as the town gossip, a raven owns a bookstore named Nevermore, brown bears are the local law enforcement, giant panda Sun-Li espouses Eastern medicine,  and the village curmudgeon is a toad named Otto Sumf.

Joe’s Mug is the local coffee shop and it’s abuzz with news about a first-ever event–a murder in Shady Hollow!  Our main character is an intrepid  local newspaper reporter,  a fox named Vera Vixen.  With help from the local constabulary and her raven bestfriend, Vera becomes a detective as she tries to solve the crime before another murder befalls our peaceful little Shady Hollow. 

As a child I was enamored with the Thornton Burgess chapter books. I loved the woodland society and the adventures of Reddy Fox, Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Jerry Muskrat, and all the others. Children of the 1960s (and before) may remember them. Reading Shady Hollow is like a grownup version of those childhood books. All the animals talk, wear clothes, drink coffee, have inter-species love affairs, and yes– even commit murder! Coming in at just 240 pages this humorous cozy mystery is just the ticket for a relaxing weekend. It’s a little Murder She Wrote, a little Wind in the Willows, and a lot of fun. Take a break!