What a ride.

“Wild” is the wrong word when every Shady Hollow book has been so predictable, but they’re cozy and they’re fun, and I really can’t complain. I love Shady Hollow so much that I resurrected my neglected Kindle specifically so I could read the two holiday specials, which are only available electronically. I have to preface this by admitting that I have never been an eBook girlie, but Shady Hollow has officially converted me and long story short I’ve been having a good time buying Kindle books god I have problems. Bless my impulsive 2020 ass for ordering a Kindle without even knowing what I was going to do with it. I am a ridiculous person, but I am so grateful I already had a Kindle in a drawer (despite some recent drama over the Kindle’s inability to connect to my wi-fi) and didn’t have to buy one just for these two stories. I even had the foresight to order a Kindle cover with little foxes on it, so this really all seems like it was just meant to be.

And with that, I am renewing my request for at least twenty more books in this series.

Obvious obligatory warning: There are spoilers. Other reviews in this series can be found here.

Theme of the week: Shady Hollow short stories.

Evergreen Chase
Juneau Black

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book bites (i.e., theoretically shorter reviews than my usual) and it seemed long past time for round 5, especially as neither of the books in this post is long enough to warrant a full-blown, overly detailed review. TL;DR: They are both so cute. 10/10 recommend.

Evergreen Chase opens on Vera Vixen’s first-ever Shady Hollow winter solstice celebration (i.e., Christmas equivalent). The air is festive, but the village’s excitement is concentrated around their tree, carefully selected over 30 years ago and meticulously tended for the last several decades to ensure it will be a worthy centerpiece in this year’s celebration. Under the patronizing eyes of visiting storks Lionel and Louise Fowler, a pair of city slickers who have business with the von Beaverpelts’ sawmill, the village jubilantly prepares to cut down the tree, only to find that it has already been collected by creatures unknown. The loss of the tree throws the village into a frenzy, as the solstice is only a couple days away, to say nothing of poor Callum Burrows, the heartbroken keeper of the tree. Fur and feathers fly and fingers point to Lathrop Stein, the supremely grumpy keeper of next year’s tree, but he disappears before anybody can ask him what in tarnation he did with their tree.

With nothing else for it, Vera – not yet particularly friendly with the local police bears – begins her own investigation into the theft of the tree. She starts with Lathrop Stein, whose burrow looks as if he took off in a suspicious hurry, though she later learns that he is in fact sitting guard over his own tree to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen next year. However, a surreptitious tip from Lefty sends her to an abandoned warehouse far from town, owned by Lionel Fowler’s freight company. Lionel catches her just as she realizes the warehouse was used to house the tree before it was shipped downriver, and smugly reveals that he stole the tree for Louise, who coveted it the moment she saw it. Having failed in his attempt to buy the tree outright, Lionel resorted to theft and fully intends to smuggle the tree back to the city, there to serve as the centerpiece in the Fowlers’ own solstice party. After delivering his villain monologue, Lionel takes off through the roof of the warehouse and wings his way back home.

There’s just one problem: Orville and Meade had the foresight to send an emergency wingmail to every port downriver from Shady Hollow, and – with Vera’s tip-off about the foul Fowlers – they quickly receive word when the tree is found aboard a Fowler-owned ship. They retrieve the tree and bring it back just barely in time for the solstice celebration, handily averting the worst winter holiday the village might ever have seen. The jubilant citizens put up the tree in its rightful place, and the indignant Howard Chitters, sawmill accountant (er, I think – presumably at this point in Shady Hollow history Reginald von Beaverpelt is still alive, though he is never seen in this story), vows to tank the Fowlers’ company by exposing their attempted theft to every business up and down the river. Happy endings indeed.

My predominant thought: YES. MORE. OF. THIS. MORE. OF. THIS. Shady Hollow is a series custom-built for cozy wintertime stories, and I want ALL the sweet holiday adventures. I don’t care if they’re all exactly the same. I will lap them up and ask for more. I am so shamelessly addicted to the steaming coffee (god, I don’t even drink coffee), the freshly baked cinnamon rolls, the pies, the cheerful villagers, the kindhearted moose who serves as the anchor for the town, the gay chipmunks who own the Shady Hollow B&B and bake amazing cookies, all of it. (Speaking of which, can we see more of Ben and Geoff? Please? They’re adorable.) With every book I fall more and more in love with this series, and I don’t want it to stop.

I really have no other thoughts on this story, which is the pinnacle of cozy winter perfection, though all of my previous complaints about Shady Hollow’s predictability level apply here as well. Now come on, Vera. The storks are clearly assholes. Has anyone ever said that you can’t trust a stork who owns a freight company? No? Well, I’m saying it now, just like I’m saying that you can’t distrust a raccoon just for being a raccoon, because sometimes blinding hypocrisy is the way to go.

“Who else is on your list?” Vera asked.

Orville glanced over his shoulder meaningfully. Vera followed his gaze to a wanted poster featuring an image of a raccoon with the name lefty in bold type underneath. Lefty was Shady Hollow’s resident criminal, and the poster was perpetually on display; Orville just crossed out the old crime and penciled in whatever he suspected Lefty of that week. (It saved on paperwork.)

I mean, jeez, Orville. Not every theft is committed by Lefty.

Phantom Pond
Juneau Black

Next on the list of Shady Hollow holidays: Mischief Night! Fall is in full swing: ’tis the season for spicy soups and crusty breads (because Shady Hollow absolutely does fall right), while the little ones dress up and beg treats from the neighbors. Carved pumpkins are everywhere, and spooky stories of Creeping Juniper – a local legend whose species nobody can agree on – abound. It’s a little unclear where exactly in the Shady Hollow timeline this story falls, but it seems to be somewhere between Cold Clay and Mirror Lake, which both take place in the fall. Vera doesn’t seem to have any cases on her plate at the moment, so there’s no clues to be had there, and if Orville has already won the race for Police Chief, it isn’t obvious because Meade is still around.

Whatever the case, Phantom Pond documents a particularly strange Mischief Night, in which a small squirrel named Hannah suddenly goes missing during a game with her friends. The frantic villagers comb through every inch of the local woods but find nothing, except for an ominous note indicating that Creeping Juniper has Hannah in her possession. To make matters worse, the note is splattered with red, though this later turns out to be raspberry jam, and provides no directions on recovering Hannah. The villagers pool their knowledge of Creeping Juniper in an attempt to find clues, but whatever they know is gleaned from bedtime stories, and all of their information is vastly contradictory. The only thing they can seem to agree on is Juniper’s general location, which is said to be Phantom Pond, just past Halfway Brook. This wouldn’t be much of a lead if it weren’t for Vera, who – acting on a tip from Lefty, given surreptitiously and out of the police bears’ hearing – manages to concentrate the rescue efforts on Halfway Brook, now called Clear Creek.

Phantom Pond is not, of course, marked on any map, but Vera and Lenore manage to find their way by following Clear Creek up Silver Mountain, as directed by Lefty. Here they meet Creeping Juniper in the flesh, and learn that she is not, in fact, an immortal shapeshifting witch, merely the latest in a long line of Creeping Junipers. The current Juniper is a hermitty panther, but her predecessors have come from a multitude of different species, which is why no one can pinpoint Creeping Juniper’s identity. Having puzzled at Shady Hollow’s tardiness in coming to retrieve Hannah, Juniper explains that she found Hannah injured and took her back to Phantom Pond to heal her, later returning to the village to leave both a note and a map showing how to get to her house. Unfortunately, the map blew away in the night, making Juniper’s letter come across more like a ransom note. Either way, Hannah is fine, and Vera and Lenore – having cautiously made friends with Juniper – return to Shady Hollow, where Hannah is reunited with her parents.

One week on, Vera is now the author of an article on Hannah’s rescue, in which she cites Juniper as an anonymous source to protect her privacy. However, this is not the end of her relationship with Juniper: she comes home one evening to find a mysterious package on her doorstep (this time weighed down with a rock), and finds that it contains a small pouch of the tea Juniper served during their visit. In a brief letter, Juniper invites both Vera and Lenore to visit her again in her home by Phantom Pond.

I don’t have much to say here either, except that I’m glad that Vera and Lenore – and Hannah, of course – all agree to keep Juniper’s identity and location a secret. Not that I expected anything less from any of them, but I am glad that Juniper’s solitude is respected, even if there is a teeny tiny traitorous corner of me that kind of wishes Juniper could integrate with Shady Hollow. But she’s not in that kind of a headspace right now, and I respect that, and her new friends respect that. There’s no attempt to drag her into civilization, or even to make the rest of the town aware of her existence. Vera wistfully thinks about inviting her to join the community in the future, but there are no immediate plans. As an apartment hermit who frequently goes on solo day adventures and is not acquainted with the neighbors in the slightest, I appreciate that. It’s also worth noting that this is the first Shady Hollow story that managed to surprise me. I genuinely was not expecting the resolution of the discrepancies in the Juniper stories, but the explanation is both fitting and satisfying.

I do kind of wish there were more literary landmarks that might tell me where I am in the series, but that’s not a big deal. As I say, I’m pretty sure we’re in the brief space between the past murder of Julia Elkin and the upcoming murder of Edward Springfield, when Vera has a bit of time on her paws. She is clearly not a newcomer – she seems completely familiar with and prepared for the delights of Mischief Night – and she is also far cozier with Orville than she was in the last story, so we’re obviously past the murders of Otto Sumpf and Reginald von Beaverpelt. The timeline is more of a nice-to-have than a requirement, chiefly because I am a nerd and this is the kind of thing on which I nerd out, as I definitively proved with the Redwall series. And because I am a nerd and because I delight in making lists, here’s my recommended order for anybody looking to binge the series:

  1. Evergreen Chase
  2. Shady Hollow
  3. Cold Clay
  4. Phantom Pond
  5. Mirror Lake
  6. Twilight Falls
  7. Summers End

And now, with the entire series read and admired, I am back to nursing a whopping Shady Hollow hangover and wishing I could invent a time machine to skip me straight ahead to July for the release of Summers End.