Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky – Review

Book Jacket:

Juniper’s parents have not been themselves lately. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. And lonely Juniper Berry, and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to figure out why.

On a cold and rainy night Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world’s secrets in a simple red balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t.

M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut novel is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are.

You can read an excerpt here.


Juniper Berry is a delightfully disturbing, deliciously unsettling, Grimm type of book. If you’re a fan of Coraline, Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal, Juniper Berry is most definitely one for you.

I love the atmosphere that permeates this story, a brooding menace that lurks between the pages. Kozlowsky creates the type of ambiance I tend to associate with fog and gaslight in the shadows of a perfectly Stepford affluent suburb, serving up a lovely sense of dread. And with stark and original imagery, this story just leaps from the page in a very vivid, very visual way – and it must be said, the illustrations are gorgeous.

Juniper’s story is a fantastic culmination of a child’s worst fears – virtually forgotten by her parents, deemed worthless when they do happen to notice her, Juniper is forced to watch as her parents slowly destroy themselves. Kozlowsky just nails the sense of helplessness that comes from being a child in an adults world, and in doing so he has created a story we can all instantly identify with, no matter what age we happen to be. And Juniper doesn’t just have to save her parents, she also to save herself – this story is laced with that ever treacherous desire to take the easy way out, to surrender to temptation, and there is a lovely tension in waiting to see if Juniper is going to succumb – and I readily believed she could at any time. Watching Juniper battle on two fronts made for a taut and engrossing story.

I particularly loved the parents’ transformation – just the sheer physicality of it, the wonderfully creepy nature of the descriptions. Yes, those moments did get a tad repetitive towards the middle of the story – the same note was hit perhaps one or two times too many – but you just can’t take away from how effective those moments are, and how terrible they are for us to watch. And I have to say, I would absolutely LOVE to see those scenes unfold on screen.

Being someone who lives in LA, I also rather enjoyed the fact that Juniper’s parents were starlets – Hollywood is such a wonderful shorthand for the unattainable dream, and it made for a fun play on the soul sucking nature of being a “star.” I also like how this story addresses a very different, equally seductive kind of dream – the dream of social acceptance, and the terrible power that dream has over kids who have never fit in. Juniper and Giles are at an age when social pressures are so very, very powerful, and it’s wonderful to see them forced to confront them. Skeksyl is not only a genuinely creepy villain, he also represents the seductive whisper we all have in our heads, the one that tempts us to sell ourselves out to get what we really, really want. The moral of this story may not be subtle, but it still is an important one.

But while I liked the overall design of this story, I would have liked just a bit more character – this book was built along traditional Grimm lines, and I got the sense that, as in many fables, the characters were painted in broad strokes: Juniper, the plucky heroine, Giles, the nerdy weakling, Mom and Dad, the actors, etc. I liked them all, but they felt a bit too broad.

Still, overall I found Juniper Berry to be an intelligent story, brimming with the dangers of temptation. It may have been a tad mechanical at times, but the imagery and originality easily carried me through. And I really do adore good creepy fun.

This is definitely an author to keep an eye on.

Byrt Grade: A-/B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

The Book Smugglers say:

Juniper Berry is, at its heart, a darker reimagined fable that plays with familiar themes – the taint of temptation, Faustian bargains, and the importance of being true to oneself…Although Juniper Berry falls a bit on the heavy-handed side of the morality spectrum and does have some voice inconsistency, Mr. Kozlowski’s imagery and imaginative story are more than enough to make up for those flaws.

Bookalicious says:

Juniper Berry is dark, chilling and devilishly entertaining. I fell in love with the dark undertones of the book and the mystery unfolded at a great pace. The book plays perfectly on children’s feelings that their parents do not pay enough attention to them and kids reading the book will find an instant affinity with the characters.

Alison’s Book Mark says:

I will never look at a red latex balloon the same again! “A Tale of Terror and Temptation” is the phrase on the cover of Juniper Berry, and it’s right on the money.