Cover Image: Cold Clay

Cold Clay

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"Yes ma'am," Vera said meekly. If she'd learned only one lesson as a cub reporter, it was this: Never cross a librarian. You might not come out of the stacks again. Page 107

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Shady Hollow again and following along with Vera Vixen as she is investigating another murder. This time, the skeleton of a moose has been unearthed in the local orchard. Our favorite serpentine coroner quickly ascertains that this moose did not die of natural causes, even though the death was over ten years ago. Vera quickly begins unraveling clues to solve this cold case. Though she does have a few distractions. There's an attractive new mink in town who has opened an etiquette school and her boss wants Vera to attend classes and write articles for the paper. And what's up with Orville taking dance lessons?  Lenore, as always, provides sage advice. Sun Li offers good food and wisdom. And Joe dishes up the coffee and pie. Looking forward to #3.
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The second entry in a series of three books (to date). Shady Hollow is a small, quiet town inhabited by animals (yes, animals). Reminiscent of Susan Wittig Albert's Cottage Tales series, 8 equally delightful (and I was so sad when Ms. Albert stopped writing the series), this charming book has memorable characters and a lovely setting (and a map--you know how I love a book with a map!). Vera Vixen, fox reporter, is our amateur detective, and she is ably assisted by her best friend Lenore Lee, the raven who owns Nevermore Books, and her boyfriend, Deputy Orville Braun, bear. I loved this book. It was so charming and sweet, the animal characters kind and realistic and relatable. Shady Hollow and its inhabitants were enchanting and I immediately looked for the other two books in the series. The mystery is well plotted, the characters are fully fleshed out, and while there was one aspect of the whodunit conclusion that was a little bit of a stretch to believe, it was still a great read. It did not escape my notice that Vera appears to be a vegetarian, and every meal she has at Joe's Mug read deliciously. I am eager to return to Shady Hollow, especially during these tumultuous and scary times. A sweet, innocent murder mystery that is appropriate for both advanced child readers and adults--perfect.
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I’m so glad I found this series and I really hope there is more to come! The mystery in this installment is quite unique- a woman comes home and declares that the man in her house is not her husband.  He looks just like her husband and knows everything about her, so the townspeople wonder, is she having a mental breakdown? Vera the fox senses something is off and sets off to investigate- is the woman possibly right? I found it hard to put this book down and really enjoyed revisiting the world in the woods where so many different animals live together in harmony.  Hoping for many more in this series!!
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Cold Clay is the second book in the Shady Hollow series and picks up not long after the first book. In this installment, all of my favorite characters are back, Vera, the tenacious reporter; Lenore, the bookstore owner, Joe; who owns the coffee shop; and Orville, the town police officer. 
The community of Shady Hollow is rocked again when the bones of a large creature are discovered buried in the orchard. The bones appear to be those of a female moose, and as it happens, Joe, the moose coffee shop owner, was once married, and his wife left town years ago, or did she?
Once again, Vera is on the case of investigating the story behind the found bones. She turns up some fascinating history and meets some colorful characters along the way. 
I enjoyed Cold Clay just as much as the first one; it is a cozy mystery that I highly recommend!
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I'm sure there's an interesting sociological reason for the recent rise of anthropomorphism in popular culture aimed at adults, where once it was considered primarily the province of children's books and media. From the bestselling <a href="">Wanderhome</a> role-playing game to this delightful Shady Hollow mystery series, a longing for creature comforts seems to have seized grown-ups looking for diverting entertainment in places usually dominated by violence, even as heroic and/or off-the-page as in sword and sorcery epics or, as here in the ultimate fantasy of justice, cozy mysteries.

Cold Clay is the second book in the Shady Hollow series penned by the writing duo that goes by the name Juneau Black. I was lucky enough to review the <a href="">series' debut</a> over at, and found it perfectly charming, escapist fiction. The world-building is terrific, fully immersing readers in a world reminiscent of, as I mentioned in my other review, Disney's Zootopia. The second book picks up a short while after the first left off, as reporter Vera Vixen contemplates how much her life has calmed down since moving to the sleepy town of Shady Hollow from the big city further south. While the recent murder certainly enlivened affairs, things have swiftly gone back to normal, and both Vera and her editor at the paper, BW Stone, are chafing slightly at the lack of hard-hitting headline news.

Fortunately or otherwise, this changes once a set of bones is discovered while workers are digging up old trees at nearby Cold Clay Orchards, a fruit farm renowned for its cider as well as its other apple products. As the bones appear to be quite old, Vera is ready to just write about an unfortunate and perhaps mysterious discovery... till all signs point to the skeleton belonging to the missing wife of local cafe owner Joe Elkin.

Joe and Julia Elkin came to town over a decade ago and established the now-beloved institution of Joe's Mug. Alas, Julia's ambitions were for far greater things, even after the birth of their son Joe Jr. So no one was really surprised when Julia disappeared one day. Everyone assumed that she'd just left her family and was off wandering the world. She'd never made a secret of her dissatisfaction with small town life, and everyone sympathized with poor, steadfast Joe, left behind to raise their son while running the cafe and nursing a wounded heart.

Only now it's clear that Julia didn't get very far. Even worse, the medical examiner confirms that she was a victim of foul play. Suspicion immediately falls on Joe despite his reputation for gentleness, as who else might have had a beef with the aloof, if otherwise polite Julia?

That's what Vera is determined to find out, despite the local police department coming down hard on Joe. She refuses to believe that her friend could have killed his own wife, and is determined to clear his name. This puts her at odds with her beau, Deputy Orville Braun, who is uncomfortable with the way her sleuthing has already put her in mortal peril. But when a killer threatens to take out any investigator, official or otherwise, who will end up saving whom?

This was another cozy, easy read, tho I don't remember the question of whodunnit being quite so obvious in the first book as here. The construction of the mystery is quite simple -- making it perfect for mystery novices -- but the ample charms of this novel are anything but. From the characterizations to the world-building, from the dialog to the relationships, this is a fully realized setting with a deeply absorbing tale perfect for whiling away a few pleasant hours.

If you're looking for maximum coziness, I can't recommend this series highly enough! The third book, Mirror Lake, comes out next week (and I'll be covering it over at Criminal Element!) Also, the physical copies are absolutely darling, with those lovely covers and their wonderful fingertip feel. I love my ebooks for convenience and maximum portability, but having these delightful novels on my bookshelf is so aesthetically pleasing, too!

Cold Clay (Shady Hollow #2) by Juneau Black was published March 1 2022 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard and is available from all good booksellers, including <a href="">Bookshop!</a>
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When the bones of a moose are found, the police believe they have an open and shut case, but Vera begs to differ and she puts her reporting and research skills to work to find out who really killed the moose.  If you’re being falsely accused of murder in Shady Hollow, your best bet for vindication is when Vera Vixen decides to dig into the matter and find the truth!

What a great escape to get away to Shady Hollow for awhile!  The second book in this series, it’s full of red herrings, twist and turns hat make you change your mind over and over on whodunit!  I definitely recommend this series to anyone who wants a great cozy read to get away from life and reality for little while.
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Yet another wonderful story from Juneau Black. We're back in Shady Hollow following the same critters we feel in love with in the first book of this delightfully charming series. Will Vera Vixen be able to solve yet another mystery and bring peace to her friends?
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Cold Clay is the second Shady Hollow village cozy mystery by author co-op duo Juneau Black. Originally released in 2017, this reformat and re-release from Knopf Doubleday on their Black Lizard imprint from 1rd March 2022 is 240 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. Other editions are available in other formats. 

This is a whimsical and offbeat cozy with the unusual twist that all the characters are highly anthropomorphic animals who talk, have jobs, and occasionally commit crimes. The story is set in a village (Shady Hollow) and the book is replete with those oddball/eccentric small-town cozy characters. Main protagonist Vera Vixen is the local beat reporter who is investigating events surrounding the discovery of a skeleton long buried in a local orchard. 

All the standard cozy tropes are front and center: amateur plucky reporter who can't let a mystery go uninvestigated, handsome lawman love interest (he's a bear), a long ago unsolved disappearance, skullduggery, and lots of village secrets. There are several disparate plot threads which are skillfully woven together into a comfortably satisfying denouement and resolution.

Despite being full of talking animals with "schtick-y" alliterative names, it's definitely not a children's or juvenile book and wouldn't be appropriate for small kids. It's also not animals as characters (à la Rita Mae Brown, Lillian Jackson Braun, & co.), but more like Mandy Morton's trippy Hettie Bagshot mysteries. The characters - are - animals. They speak and go about their business like humans in animal form. They do seem to refrain from eating one another for the most part and rabbits and mice coexist mostly peacefully with foxes, mink, and bears. 

The mystery was straightforward. The dialogue was a bit choppy, but not egregiously so, especially considering that this is a collaborative writing effort. There is a weird atmospheric vibe throughout, but that could just be the surreal effect of the characters being talking animals which is never addressed in any way. I had some issues engaging with the main protagonist. She strikes me as an appalling combination of gullible and obnoxious, but she is undoubtedly plucky. It's not stated explicitly, but there is also a retro vibe to the whole story. For example, early on in the story, Vera's so concerned that other diners in a restaurant shouldn't get the wrong idea when she shows up at the local diner with boyfriend-bear Orville at breakfast time that she makes a point of saying to those present that they happened to run into one another on the way (just so no-one would think they spent the night together). 

Odd mystery. Well constructed, but off-kilter in some way which is difficult to define. It has definite shadings of noir, but is, at the heart of it, a village cozy. 

Three and a half stars. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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OK, so the Shady Hollow series is ostensibly a story about extremely anthropomorphized animals acting like the standard characters in a small town cozy mystery. In this particular case, the small town is Shady Hollow and the coziness includes more than a bit of fur.

But also more than a bit of quite literal teeth and claws. Even when the victim and/or the perpetrator are not actually equipped with any or all of those accouterments. As it proved in the first book in this series, named for the town where the mystery takes place, Shady Hollow.

In the first story, two of the village’s less popular residents became what everyone believed were the town’s first murder victims in seemingly ever. The case was all about whittling down the list of who might have done it because motives, at least on the surface, were all too easy to imagine.

This time around, it’s more of a case of intrepid investigative reporter Vera Vixen doing her level best to prove that the obvious suspect isn’t the actual guilty party. Because everybody in town loves Joe Elkins and his coffee shop. Not just because he keeps everyone fed and caffeinated, but because he’s just such a nice person and a pillar of the community in more ways than one.

But Joe has ALL the motives for the murder of his long-missing wife. Everyone thought she left town years ago, unable or unwilling to settle down to small town life running the coffee shop with her spouse and raising their son, Joe, Jr.

The discovery of Julia Elkins skeletal remains in the roots of a fruit tree that wasn’t doing all that well puts Joe in the crosshairs of the police investigation into yet another murder. Joe IS the obvious suspect – not just because it’s ALWAYS the husband (except when it isn’t) – but because Julia was so obviously unhappy, she and Joe were constantly arguing, and someone robbed the coffeeshop just before she disappeared. That’s a LOT of motives.

It doesn’t help Joe’s case that relatively few of Shady Hollow’s residents would even be capable of taking down a full-grown moose!

Vera is certain that the police, in the persons of perpetually fishing Chief Theodore Meade and Vera’s possible beau, Deputy Orville Braun have the wrong person in their sights. And she has every intention of proving that her friend Joe is innocent.

But her boss, the owner of the Shady Hollow Herald, orders Vera to drop her murder investigation in favor of writing fluff pieces about a new business in Shady Hollow that has tempted the veteran newspaper owner with dreams of full-page ad revenues.

New mink-about-town Octavia Grey, with her striking silver coat and her hoity-toity new “School of Etiquette” has all the local gossips twittering. The newspaper wants a piece of that pie, but Vera is sure that there’s something not quite on the up-and-up about the so-called school and its mesmerizing owner. She thinks taking etiquette classes is a waste of time when she should be looking into the latest murder.

It’s only when she digs a bit deeper into both cases that she begins to suspect the two cases might be one and the same!

Escape Rating B: My reading of Cold Clay was a case of how I felt about the book being influenced by my circumstances as I was reading the book. I was stuck in a small airport for 12 hours and I was looking for stories that would take me away – hopefully far away – from where I was sitting at the time. Having read and enjoyed the first book in this series, Shady Hollow, I knew this was a world that I could step into for a couple of hours and just be gone for a bit. (I read a LOT of books that day!)

The world of Shady Hollow reminds me of the movie Zootopia. The characters are basically humans in fur-suits who populate this small town and this cozy mystery with the stock characters we expect in a cozy – just with a little bit extra.

It’s not nearly as twee as you might think it will be – or at least not any more twee than the usual small town with a much higher homicide rate than anyone would think a town that size would be able to support.

Like in many such mysteries, the reader is aware that the long arm of coincidence just isn’t that long. If a new person arrives in town, and an old crime is uncovered, the odds are that the two are somehow connected. And so it proves in Cold Clay.

In other words, I figured out that Octavia Grey had something to do with Julia Elkins’ long-ago murder long before Vera did – even if I didn’t yet have a clue as to how she done it. THAT she done it was pretty obvious.

And it didn’t matter. What makes this series so charming are its people, as is true of most small town cozies. I liked visiting Shady Hollow, and I like the people who live there, fur-suits and all. I went into this story expecting to be charmed and entertained and I was not disappointed in either of those respects. The story did exactly what I wanted it to do – it whisked me away for a couple of hours and that was just fine.

But speaking of expectations, one of the other frequent expectations of cozies is that the investigators, whether professional or amateur, will find some kind of romance along the way, even if that romance is of the on-again, off-again variety. Vera’s relationship with Deputy Orville Braun has been edging in that direction since the first book, to the amusement of MANY of Shady Hollow’s residents.

As difficult a time as I’m having trying NOT to imagine how that could possibly work in the physical aspects, the push-pull dance of wanting to protect vs. needing to prove oneself an equal has more heart than I expected.

I hope they figure it out. It’s one of the things I’ll be looking for in what seems to be the final book in the series, Mirror Lake, next month when it comes out.
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If you enjoy the vibe of Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox and, perhaps, can really dig the idea of The Usual Suspects by way of Wallace and Gromit, please treat yourself to Cold Clay.  There's  danger and intrigue, midnight meetings and shady characters, a smattering of romantic interest and strife, and a mystery that is just difficult enough for a casual read.  I'd love to se this realized on film, which seems like a back-handed compliment, but I think it's a real hats off to the writers; they've created a fully realized world in which the reader/I can see the characters move three dimensionally pretty easily.  An enjoyable read that's a definite "read before bed" recommend.
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Cold Clay is the second book in the Shady Hollow series by Juneau Black.

I love this young series with the animals being the characters.  
The series contains multiple chuckles throughout, and I particularly enjoy imagining the various animals as they go through their day-to-day activities.

It’s a chilly autumn morning and Vera Vixen, a fox, is on her way to work at the Herald where she is a reporter.  She comes upon movers moving someone into a long-empty building; the movers have no idea who is moving in.   She makes a mental note to check later.  As she continues along, she meets Orville, a deputy. They have been stepping out since solving the murder of Mr. von Beaverpelt.  They decide to head to Joe’s Mug for some breakfast; as they are leaving after breakfast, a rabbit who works at the Cold Clay Orchard, owned by the rabbits of the Leveritt Family.  Panting heavily, the rabbit says Orville has to come right away to the orchard.  
When they arrive, they find that a large bone has been buried for years.  Soon, more bones of a rather large animal have been unearthed.  It will be identified as the bones of a moose.  Vera remembers that Joe’s wife, Julia, left some ten years ago and has never been heard from or where she might have gone.  Later one of the rabbits, Winifred, that works at the orchard, gives Vera a locket she had found the day after Julia disappeared.  Vera feels sure this has to be Julia and wants to get closure for Joe; she will begin an investigation, hopeful that she can learn who the killer was.

Vixin learns that a silver mink, Octavia Grey, is who has moved into the vacant building and plans to open a school on etiquette.  Vera knows she will never be friends with Octavia.  First, she finds Orville dancing closer than necessary one day. Second, her boss BW Stone wants her to forget about the bones, take some classes with Octavia, and write stories on Shady Hollow’s newest resident.

The book is well-written and plotted, and at times funny.  The book is a quick read and is one that is hard to put down.  There were enough twists and turns that I was kept guessing until the end as to who the killer was.  The characters are all enjoyable and well described.

I am anxious to read the next book in the series, Mirror Lake, due on April 26, 2022.
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This series is the cozies of cozy mysteries.  Seriously, reading Cold Clay was like a warm hug.  I love the world that Juneau Black has created and the characters are very charming.  A lovely blend of an old school murder mystery and the types of animal stories I read as a kid,
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I went and bought the first book in this series so I could read this one. This series is really adorable and a great cozy mystery. I’m liking all these characters, where they live and how they live day to day. This world made me smile and definitely what I needed right now. I can see this turning into a stop animation tv show. It would be wonderful to see these adorable woodland creatures come to life! I’m excited for the third book and to read the holiday short story. Hopefully this duo keeps this series going!
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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the E-ARC copy of this book. The rating of this book is entirely of my own opinion. #NetGalley #ColdClay
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The writing style didn't particularly work for me, but the overall premise is very cute and compelling.
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I received this book for free for an honest review from netgalley #netgalley my book lol
Ike this series alot
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Ah, life--and death--in Shadow Hollow! This imaginative and captivating series continues in Juneau Black's COLD CLAY, when the death (murder?) of a moose sends the community's investigative reporter on the trail of another crime. Something a little different for suspense readers....
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Cold Clay by Juneau Black is another wonderful mystery set in the imaginative world of Shady Hallow.  All the animal inhabitants of Shady Hallow and the mystery surrounding the finding of a moose skeleton buried under an apple tree make this sequel a very fun read.
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I received this galley via NetGalley .

This second book in the Shady Hollow cozy mystery series continues the investigations of intrepid reporter Vera, a fox in her small town of anthropomorphic animals. This time around, when decade-old moose bones are found in an apple orchard, blame is placed on Joe, the beloved moose who runs the local cafe. Vera sets out to find the truth, butting heads against her bear beau Orville, the local deputy.

I found this mystery sadly transparent from early on, simply not quite as tight as the first book. That said, it’s still a fun, breezy read. Vera is a great heroine and Shady Hollow is a fun murder village to explore.
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Cold Clay is the second book in A Shady Hollow Mystery series by Juneau Black and I was really looking forward to reading this one after having finished the first book in the series last week. The murder mystery caught my eye and looked juicy since it was focused around the disappearance of Joe's estranged wife, he's the moose who runs the Joe's Mug coffeeshop in Shady Hollow. After reading the first book, I grew to love this big gentle creature so needless to say, I was very curious on how this story would play out and what he was up to.

I really love the main character, Vera (the fox reporter), and her determined attitude. Nothing slows down this fox! The clues to the mystery were pure fun to follow alongside a few surprising twists, I ended up binge reading this book in one day... completely avoiding the dishes, oop's! The focus on wild creatures rather than humans makes this book and series so different from other cozy mysteries, sometimes a little change like this is much needed.

I'm loving this series and this specific book in the series was such an enjoyable read, I highly recommend checking it out when it's published in March!
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