It’s Christmas many years ago, and topping young Hannah Swensen’s wish list is becoming the go-to baker in Lake Eden, Minnesota. But as Hannah finds out, revisiting holiday memories can be murder . . .
With her dream of opening The Cookie Jar taking shape, Hannah’s life matches the hectic December hustle and bustle in Lake Eden—especially when she agrees to help recreate a spectacular Christmas Ball from the past in honor of Essie Granger, an elderly local in hospice care. But instead of poring over decadent dessert recipes for the merry festivities, she instantly becomes enthralled by Essie’s old notebooks—and the tale of a woman escaping danger on the streets of New York . . .
Hannah’s surprised by Essie’s secret talent for penning crime fiction. She’s even more surprised when the story turns real. As Hannah prepares to run a bakery and move out of her mother’s house, it’ll be a true miracle if she can prevent another Yuletide disaster by solving a mystery as dense as a Christmas fruitcake . . .
Features Over a Dozen Cookie and Dessert Recipes from The Cookie Jar!
“Series fans will enjoy learning how the Cookie Jar bakery came to be.”
About the Author
JOANNE FLUKE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Hannah Swensen mysteries, which include Double Fudge Brownie Murder, Blackberry Pie Murder, Cinnamon Roll Murder, and the book that started it all, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. That first installment in the series premiered as Murder, She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. Like Hannah Swensen, Joanne Fluke was born and raised in a small town in rural Minnesota, but now lives in Southern California. Please visit her online at www.JoanneFluke.com.
Read an Excerpt
Hannah Comes Home From College
Hannah Swensen took her mother's potholders off the hook by the stove and removed a sheet of cookies from the oven. Since her mother only had a single oven, Hannah set the cookie sheet on a cold stovetop burner to let the cookies cool for a minute or two. Then she used a metal spatula to take them off the cookie sheet and move them to the wire rack she'd set on the counter.
The familiar scent of the cookies cooling brought tears to Hannah's eyes. These had been her father's favorite cookies. She brushed the tears that threatened to fall away with the back of her hand and sighed. Lars Swensen's funeral had taken place three weeks ago, and Hannah was worried about her mother. Delores was upstairs in the bedroom she'd shared with her husband and she was napping again. She'd taken a lengthy nap every day since the funeral and hadn't come downstairs until Hannah had called her for dinner. Even though Hannah had made some of her mother's favorite foods and Delores had complimented her on her wonderfully tasty meals, she hadn't eaten more than a few small bites. And when Hannah had dashed upstairs to straighten the bed after her mother's lengthy afternoon naps, she'd found her pillow wet with tears. Delores was crying in private, unable or unwilling to share her feelings with anyone. She had cut off all efforts her friends had made to see her by claiming that she was too tired to visit with them.
Of course Hannah had discussed this worrisome situation with her sisters, and all three of them had attempted to pull their mother out of her self-imposed isolation. Hannah's youngest sister, Michelle, was still in high school, and she had tried to engage their mother's help in learning her lines for the lead she'd landed in the junior play. Michelle had even talked about cheerleading tryouts and how she hoped she'd get a spot on the cheerleading team, but Delores just didn't seem interested in her youngest daughter's high school life.
Andrea, Hannah's middle sister, was married to Bill Todd, a deputy sheriff with the Winnetka County Sheriff's Department. They had purchased a house only blocks from Delores, and Andrea was expecting her first baby. She had attempted to engage their mother's interest by inviting Delores to help her decorate the baby's room, an invitation that normally would have delighted their mother. But instead of jumping at the opportunity to help by doing something she loved, Delores had claimed that she was simply too exhausted to help Andrea.
All three Swensen sisters had tried every way that they could think of to get their mother into some activity that would get her involved in small-town life again, but everything they'd tried had failed.
Hannah looked down at the cookies she'd baked. They were almost cool enough to eat and for one brief moment, she considered taking some up to her mother for an afternoon treat. Then she'd discarded that notion, fearful that the sight of her father's favorite cookies might remind Delores of Lars.
Hannah gave a weary sigh as she realized that all three Swensen sisters were walking on eggshells around their mother, afraid that anything they tried might make things even worse. They knew that they had to do something to help their mother, but they were fresh out of ideas.
The doorbell rang, pulling Hannah away from the dilemma, and she hurried to answer the door. It was snowing again, a regular occurrence in Minnesota winters, and the temperature outside was well below zero. Hannah pulled the door open and began to smile when she saw Grandma Knudson, the unofficial leader of the Lake Eden Holy Cross Redeemer Lutheran Church. She was the current pastor's grandmother and everyone in Lake Eden called her "Grandma" as a term of affection and respect.
Standing next to Grandma Knudson was another one of her mother's friends, Annie Winters. Annie was the current head of the Lake Eden Children's Home, an orphanage situated just outside of town in a large, rambling brick mansion.
"Hello, Hannah. How are you?" Grandma Knudson greeted her.
"I'm okay," Hannah answered, giving her a smile before she turned to Annie. "Hi, Annie."
"Hello, Hannah. We came to call on your mother."
"Please come in," Hannah said, opening the door a little wider. Perhaps Grandma Knudson and Annie would know what to do to help Delores. Grandma Knudson always gave everyone wise advice, and Annie had her doctorate in psychology.
"Would you like tea?" Hannah asked them, leading the way to the living room.
"That would be lovely, Hannah," Annie answered. "Will your mother join us?"
Hannah shook her head. "I'm afraid not. Mother is napping upstairs."
"Again?" Grandma Knudson asked, looking more than a little distressed. "I've been here four times and it's the same story."
"Yes," Hannah admitted. "She's been taking long naps every afternoon."
Annie and Grandma Knudson exchanged glances and then Annie spoke. "You look troubled, Hannah. Tell us why and perhaps we can help."
Hannah took a deep breath and blurted out her worries. "It's Mother. Andrea and Michelle and I have done everything we can think of to coax her out of her bedroom, but she still spends more time in there with the door closed than she does in the rest of the house. And when I go up to straighten the bed, her pillow is wet with tears. We're afraid that she's going to withdraw from life completely and we don't know what to do about it!"
Grandma Knudson gave a sad little smile. "It's a common reaction, Hannah," she said. "Some wives just don't want to go on with their lives when their husbands die." She turned to Annie. "Isn't that right, Annie?"
"Yes, and sometimes husbands feel the same way when their wives die," Annie added. "They think that getting involved in life again is a betrayal in some way."
"That's it exactly!" Hannah confirmed, feeling slightly relieved just telling them about it. "What can we do to convince Mother to start living her life again?"
"We have to come up with a project that only Delores can accomplish, a project that she can't refuse to accept," Grandma Knudson told her.
"That makes sense, but ..." Hannah paused and wiped away a tear with the back of her hand. "Andrea and Michelle and I have tried everything we could think of, but ... nothing has worked."
"Did you try things that your mother would enjoy doing?"
"Yes. Michelle was chosen for the lead in the junior play and she asked Mother to help her learn her lines. I know that, normally, Mother would have loved to do that, but she claimed that she was too tired to help Michelle."
"That's because she would have enjoyed helping Michelle," Annie explained. "And she didn't want to enjoy anything without your father. What did Andrea try?"
"Andrea asked her to help decorate the baby's room. And you know how Mother loves to decorate."
"Of course she does." Grandma Knudson gave a little smile. "And your mother claimed that she was too tired to help Andrea?"
"Yes, that's exactly what she said."
"And what did you do, Hannah?" Annie asked her.
"I made all of Mother's favorite meals for dinner, but she just pushed the food around on her plate and said she just wasn't hungry. And when I asked her if she'd go antiquing with me to find some unusual Christmas gifts, she told me that she wasn't interested in antiquing anymore."
"All right then," Annie said. "Grandma Knudson and I discussed the problem, Hannah, and we think we have a solution for you and your sisters."
"What is it?" Hannah leaned forward, eager to hear what two of the women she respected most in Lake Eden wanted them to try.
"We came up with a project that your mother won't really want to do, but one that she'll feel guilty about refusing," Annie explained. "Delores won't want to help us, but she's going to feel obligated."
Hannah thought about that for a moment and then she gave a little nod. "Yes, I can see how that could work. And you have a project like that?"
"Yes," Grandma Knudson said. "We think we have the perfect project. You know Dr. Kalick's niece, don't you?"
Hannah began to smile. "Of course I know Essie. She was married to Alton Granger, the owner of the Albion Hotel. I used to go to there for Essie's story-time on Saturday afternoons, and so did Andrea and Michelle. Essie's story-time was really popular in Lake Eden."
"So popular that they bussed in all the kids from the Children's Home," Annie added. "Everyone loved to hear Essie's stories, and it gave every mother in town a break for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoons."
"That's right." Hannah began to smile. "And I think I see exactly where you're going. Mother used to say that everyone owed Essie a debt of gratitude for telling those wonderful stories and entertaining all the children in Lake Eden. Mother used to drop us off there and go to yard sales and farm auctions."
"Perfect!" Grandma Knudson declared. "I think our idea is going to work, Hannah. We went to see Essie at the hospital last week."
"At the hospital?" Hannah felt a stab of fear. "Is Essie all right?"
"Not really," Annie responded. "We had a long talk with Doc Knight, and he says that Essie can't live alone in those two rooms at the hotel any longer. He said that she wasn't eating right and the flight of stairs to her rooms is simply too much for her to handle. She doesn't have running water, you know, and Essie has to go up and down the stairs to use the bathroom at the café."
"But the café closes at nine at night!"
"That's why Rose gave Essie a key. She can get in if she needs to."
"But you said that Essie can't handle the stairs any longer."
"That's right," Annie agreed. "She's fallen a few times, and the last fall was the worst. She was planning to go to your father's funeral, but she fell halfway down the stairs and broke her hip."
Hannah felt tears come to her eyes again. "That's awful! What can I do to help her?"
Grandma Knudson smiled. "That's exactly the reaction I hope your mother will have when we tell her about Essie. Doc Knight has her in the hospice ward at the hospital."
"You mean ... Essie's dying?"
"No," Annie was quick to correct her. "Essie's not terminal, but she can't go back to living alone, especially with the stairs and the fact that she doesn't have electricity or running water. It's going to take her a couple of months to heal, and that's why he's keeping her in the hospice ward."
"I understand, but what, exactly, do you think Mother could do for Essie?"
"She can make Essie very happy," Grandma Knudson said. "You told me that Delores feels she owes Essie a debt of gratitude for inviting you girls to her story- time. That's why we think we know the perfect way for your mother to pay Essie back."
"How can she do that?"
"We'll tell both of you when your mother gets down here," Annie said. "Go get her, Hannah. Tell her she's got to come downstairs, that we need her help and we won't take no for an answer."
"I would ... but ..." Hannah stopped and gave a little sigh. "She'll just say she's too tired."
"Then we'll go up and get her," Grandma Knudson declared, springing up from her chair. "Go put on the tea, Hannah. Annie and I will have your mother down here in less than five minutes."
Hannah watched the two women climb the stairs to get her mother. If anyone could get Delores out of her bedroom, it would be Annie and Grandma Knudson. She watched them until they'd reached the top of the stairs and then she made a beeline for the kitchen to heat the water for tea.CHAPTER 2
Hannah was setting out the tea tray and a platter of cookies when she saw her mother coming down the stairs with Grandma Knudson and Annie. It had been five minutes since she'd heard them knocking on her mother's bedroom door and here was Delores, walking down the stairs with them.
Delores smiled when she saw the tea tray on the living room coffee table. "Oh, good!" she said to Hannah. "I'm so glad you made tea, dear. Do you happen to have any cookies that we can have with it?"
"I have Cocoa-Crunch Cookies," Hannah responded, lifting the napkin she'd placed over the platter of cookies.
"Perfect!" Delores turned to Grandma Knudson and Annie. "Lars used to say that they were like little bites of heaven. He loved those cookies and so do I."
Hannah began to smile. After three weeks of picking at whatever Hannah had made for her, Delores was finally enthusiastic about eating. This definitely reinforced her belief that Grandma Knudson and Annie were miracle workers.
Grandma Knudson picked up the cookie platter and passed it to Delores. "Have one, dear."
"Thank you," Delores said politely, selecting a cookie and taking a bite almost immediately. "These are wonderful cookies."
Hannah felt like turning cartwheels on the living room rug, and if she'd been more athletic, she might very well have been attempting it. "Thank you, Mother," she said as she filled the cups and passed the tea.
"As I mentioned upstairs, Annie was the one who found Essie," Grandma Knudson said, turned to Annie. "Tell Delores about it, Annie."
Annie drew a deep breath and Hannah could tell that the memory still upset her. "Essie and I had dinner every Sunday at the Children's Home. Essie always met me at the café and that night, she was late. I sat there for a while, waiting for her, but then I began to worry that she was sick, or she'd forgotten, or ... worse."
"I had a key to the hotel." Annie stopped speaking and cleared her throat. "I used it and opened the door. And there was Essie at the foot of the stairs, just lying there and not moving."
"So Annie called the paramedics," Grandma Knudson reached out to pat Annie's hand continued with the account. "They were there in less than fifteen minutes and they took Essie's vital signs, loaded her onto a stretcher, and took her to the hospital."
Annie nodded. "I followed them and when we got there, Doc Knight told me that Essie had broken her hip. He took her into surgery immediately and I waited until he came back to say that she was going to be all right."
"That must have been awful for you!" Delores said.
"It was ... especially when she wasn't moving and I couldn't tell if she was breathing or not." Annie stopped again to take a sip of her tea. "I'm just so glad I was there that evening. I don't even want to think about what would have happened if it hadn't been our night to have dinner. Essie has been almost like a mother to us at the Children's Home. And she's like a grandmother to the children now."
"Annie grew up at the Children's Home," Grandma Knudson explained.
"Yes, and Essie was a volunteer. Then, after she married Alton and moved into the hotel, she started her Saturday story-time. She invited me and two of my best friends to come to the hotel after school every day. She always fixed us an after- school snack, and we sat at a booth in the Red Velvet Lounge." Annie stopped to smile at the memory. "You have no idea how special we felt, being in a grown-up place like that! Essie helped us with our homework and then Alton would give us a ride back to the Children's Home. It's a good place, Delores, and I'd like to think that, because of my background, I was able to make it into an even better environment for the children."
"You've done that, Annie. No question about it," Grandma Knudson said.
"Thank you. The point of all this is that I loved to take Essie out to the Home. Having her there was a chance for me to make sure she had a good breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
"That was kind of you, Annie," Delores responded.
"Perhaps, but it was also self-serving. Essie was wonderful with the children. They called her Grandma and they all looked forward to seeing her."
"It's so sad that Essie didn't have any children of her own," Delores said.
"That's not the saddest thing," Grandma Knudson told her. "Doc Knight says that Essie won't be able to go back to her home at the hotel again. I know that almost everybody in Lake Eden would be happy to help Essie out, but you do know how proud she is, don't you?"
Delores nodded. "Yes, she's never accepted help from anyone. Lars found out that there was no running water or electricity in those two rooms she had on the second floor, so he found her a battery-operated electric blanket."
"How nice!" Annie commented.
"Yes, but Essie insisted on paying him for it. He tried to give it to her, but she wouldn't have it. He ended up telling her that it was a sample from the company and all she had to do was pay for the shipping and keep a record of any problems she had with it."
"Oh, that was really clever!" Annie exclaimed.
"Thank you. It was my idea," Delores beamed, and Hannah realized that she hadn't seen her mother look happy in weeks. "Just a little thing like that made both of us feel good. It's so rewarding to help someone you like."
"Exactly!" Grandma Knudson agreed. "That's why we came here today, Delores."
"What can I do?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Christmas Cake Murder"
Copyright © 2018 H.L. Swensen, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Disappointed This is not the story I thought would follow the previous book. I was looking forward to reading what happened next with Hannah.
Great story.; Kept me interested, could not put it down!
Ok mystery about Essie. Prequel to Hannah Swenson mystery,
This book was great. Really kept my interest
I just love the plots as much as the recipes of Hannah Swensen. Thank you for the wonderful prequel, Joanne Fluke!
Wonderful and fast read!
I might give this a 2.5, because the mystery about Essie was very intriguing, and I really wanted to know what was happening. However, even that mystery was left wanting. For example: Where did Tony get the jewels? Just exactly WHY did the mob want to kill Essie, even before she turned in the books? Beyond that, it felt like the publisher pushed the author to crank out what would have been a potentially great book by padding it with redundant pages of nothing just to get it in the Christmas Catalogue. I didn't need to read that Hannah turned on the oven, or went to the pantry to retrieve the bag of ingredients she'd bought at the Red Owl and brought them back to the work station...etc. I had been looking forward to this book, to see how Hannah came back to Lake Eden and set up her business, and I really liked the idea of an historical mystery, but this book had only about 100 pages of interesting material. Also, the bundt cake recipes are basically the same, with flavor variations, and each one took up to 6 pages in the book. Seriously??? Joanna Fluke is a better writer than this, so I lay this travesty at the feet of the publisher. Joanna, please take your time, and do what you do best. Hannah and all the other Lake Eden characters deserve better.
This book is set at the first Christmas since Hannah's father has died. Hannah has dropped out of her graduate program and is home trying to help her mother, Delores, deal with life after her loss, and Hannah is beginning to worry. Fortunately, Grandma Knudson and Annie come up with the perfect project to get Delores's mind off her loss. It seems Essie, a beloved member of the community, has fallen and broken her hip. In an effort to cheer her up, Delores is asked to organize a Christmas ball, with Hannah recruited to bake the cakes for the events. While all this is going on, Hannah begins to share her dreams of opening her own cookie and coffee shop. And a novel that Essie was working on captivates Hannah, Delores, Michelle, and Lisa. You'll note my teaser doesn't mention the mystery. That's because it isn't until late in the book that it comes into clear focus, although enough bread crumbs have been laid out earlier that we do get a satisfying wrap up. Meanwhile, we get lots of planning for the ball and Hannah getting the things that will become staples of her life as we know it from the rest of the series. It's fun for series fans, although even then I thought the book could have been shorter. Those new to the series definitely shouldn't jump in here since it is so atypical.
Christmas Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s Christmas many years ago, and at the top of young Hannah Swensen’s wish list is to be the go to baker in Lake Eden, Minnesota. With her dream of opening The Cookie Jar taking shape, Hannah’s life matches the hectic Christmas hustle and bustle in Lake Eden especially when she agrees to help recreate a spectacular Christmas Ball from the past in honor of Essie Granger, an elderly local in hospice care. Instead of poring over decadent dessert recipes for the merry festivities, Hannah and her family become enthralled by Essie’s old notebooks that tell the tale of a young woman escaping danger in New York. Hannah is surprised by Essie’s hidden talent for penning crime fiction, she’s even more surprised when she finds out that the story is true. As Hannah prepares to run a bakery and move out of her mother’s house, it’ll be a true miracle if she can prevent another yuletide disaster by solving a mystery as dense as a Christmas fruitcake.
I've been a fan of the Hannah Swensen series since I first read book #1 back in 2013.Even though there are many culinary cozy mystery series on the market today, this series is still one of my favorites. Even though despite some disappointments in the last 2 or 3 books I won't go into a lot of detail so I don't spoil things for any newer readers who haven't gotten very far in the series of for those who haven't read the last 3 books. This is a prequel that takes place shortly after the death of Hannah's father, and before Hannah has opened her bakery The Cookie Jar.
First I'm going to list what I like about this book first, then get to what I didn't like about the book. I like that the plot of is a bit different a story inside a story that contains a mystery where Hannah doesn't discover the body as she usually does. I like the fact that this story was completely pre-love triangle, while Hannah is busy deciding what to do with her life. I like that the book gives us some insight into the lives of Hannah, her sisters and her mother. Since I've invested so much time with these characters it was nice to read about what things were like for them before Hannah opened The Cookie Jar.
Now it's time for the things that I didn't like about this book. I didn't like that the dialogue seemed to be clumsy, clunky, and overuses the names of the characters throughout the conversations. I also didn't like that the characters would unnecessarily be repeating conversations or situations to other characters. The last thing that I didn't like was that the author's writing style seemed to be different, and less polished than the books in the rest of the series.
All in all this was a nice Christmas story and mystery with some new elements that I did enjoy. I do have to be honest and say the story should've gone through another round or two of editing to tighten things up, and bring it up to the standard of the first 22 books of this series.
I thoroughly enjoyed finding out about Hannah’s Cookie Jar beginnings. Joanne Fluke makes this particular mystery very touching when she brings the story of Essie to life. She teases us with it throughout the book and ends with the answers. There is one little mystery connected that I would like to know the answer to, though, although I will see if any other readers catch on. Delores, Hannah’s mother, plays a key role in everything that happens to the futures of all her girls and even a friend. She comes through in the midst of her own grief. Delores turns out to be much more likeable now that I know her better. It was fun to read about beginnings and strangely enough, this was the perfect time for it. Ms. Fluke presents this book in the series just when we need it (after the Raspberry Danish Murder book).
We get to go back in time a little to when Hannah was first opening her Cookie Jar bakery. This book was quite a bit different from the rest of the mysteries in this series that I've read. There wasn't a lot of action until closer to the end. But it was still interesting to read about Hannah, her mom and her sisters' lives when they were younger. I really liked their friend Essie that they were putting a Christmas Ball together for. She was the most loved community member because of everything she did for the kids, and now it was time to do something special for her. An interesting side story was the story that Essie had started but never finished. Hannah wondered if this story was about Essie herself, or someone she knew. A heart-warming story for the Christmas season with a very happy ending!
Hannah Swensen fans will be happy to take a step back in time to see Hannah in a time before she opened the Cookie Jar and started solving murder mysteries. This book in a fun story that follows Hannah just after her fathers death while she was trying to decide what to do with her life. Hannah and Deloris step up to help their friend Ellie recover from injuries to a fall. They happen to discover several notebooks written by Ellie that tell a story about a woman fleeing mobsters in New York. The story within a story is a unique twist in this series and I enjoyed it very much, as I think most fan of the series will.
3.5 I think the author has upped the ante with this book. taking us back to when Hannah was just starting out as a cookie baker was pretty ingenious. This gave a fresh spin on a series that is twenty-three books in. I have always enjoyed the Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series. I find them to be a fun and easy read. But I must admit that some of the stories were getting a little redundant. The last few really started to mix things up and make the story line more interesting. This one was a game changer. My thanks to Kensington Books and Netgalley.
A wonderful holiday cozy mystery as a prequel. Great backstory to the series. You’ll love the mystery & fabulous recipes! #NetGalley
Very disappointed, wanted finally find out what happened with Ross. Not buying this book.
Christmas Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke is the twenty-third novel in A Hannah Swensen Mystery series. It has been three weeks since Hannah’s father, Lars passed away. The three Swensen girls (Hannah, Andrea and Michelle) are worried about their mother, Delores who is spending her days in her room. When the girls run out of ideas, Grandma Knudson and Annie Winters stop by with the perfect project for Delores. Essie Granger who owns the Albion Hotel fell down the steps and broke her hip. Essie used to entertain the children of Lake Eden on Saturday’s at the hotel with her stories. Essie wishes she could go back and revisit the splendor of the first Christmas Ball she attended at the Albion Hotel where she met her deceased husband, Alton. There was also a Christmas Cake Parade at the event. Grandma Knudson and Annie want Delores to recreate the ball for Essie. Delores has the organizational skills plus the needed charm (to coerce donations from local business owners) to pull off the project in two weeks. Delores agrees if Hannah will bake the cakes and desserts. In Essie’s rooms at the hotel, Hannah finds a stack of notebooks that contain an intriguing story. With Essie’s permission, Hannah reads the stories to Delores, Michelle and Lisa about a woman, who is pregnant and on the run, who finds a safe haven in Minnesota. They discover that the story is unfinished. Hannah is on a break from college, but she does not wish to return in January. When the family asks what she would like to do for a living, she tells them about her idea for a cookie and coffee shop. Soon, with the help of her family, Hannah’s dreams are coming true. Come along for a Christmas adventure in Lake Eden with the Swensen family in Christmas Cake Murder. I found it delightful to go back and see how The Cookie Jar came to fruition. I found the Christmas Cake Murder to be well-written and engaging. It has a steady pace and a conversational writing style that makes for an easy to read story. All our favorite characters are in the book (Delores, Hannah, Michelle, Andrea, and Lisa). It was nice to get to know our main characters a little better. Delores has suffered a devastating loss and must find a way to move forward with her life with her husband, Lars. Hannah is at a crossroads in her life. She is given an opportunity to make her dream come true. We also get to know more about Lisa, Michelle’s friend. There is plenty of cooking and baking (as usual). The recipes for the delectable desserts and meals that Hannah creates for her family are included. I wish the publisher would put them at the end of the book instead of between chapters (it messes with the flow of the story). I liked the story from Essie’s journals. It captured my attention and intrigued me. We get a story inside of a story. It is easy to keep track of the two storylines. The mystery is one that plays out instead of one that readers can solve (just go with the flow). The dialogue is off. I find it awkward at times, but I was enjoying the story and just let it go (it was the middle of the night and I was wide awake). I am giving Christmas Cake Murder 4 out of 5 stars. Christmas Cake Murder is a charming book that reminds me of the earlier novels in A Hannah Swensen Mystery series.
Thanks to Netgalley, Kensington Books and Joanne Fluke for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are 100% my own and independent of receiving an advanced copy. So you know when it is a Saturday afternoon, it’s quiet outside and you’re in one of those moods when you just want to curl up in front of the TV. A Hallmark movie or some such comes on and for the next two hours you surrender yourself to pure saccharine. Ahhh bliss… First let me say - you have to be in the mood for this type of novel or don’t bother. It is formulaic, the writing accessible, the characters stock. Usually set in a small town where everyone knows your name. They are always super happy, not a serious care in the world, supportive - a real community. There will be a mystery to solve, but nothing violent and sans any twisty turns. Don’t look for high literature, descriptive flowy scenes, deep and thoughtful statements on life. You know what you are getting. But in the mood I was, and Fluke delivered, yet again. Pure escapism and I loved every bit of it. If you are familiar with the Hannah Swensen series, you will feel right at home. We go back in time to when Hannah has left school and returned to Lake Eden to help console her mother, after her father recently passed. Hannah is baking up a storm and realizes that this might be her path after all. You get to witness the opening of “The Cookie Jar”. If you can’t tell from the titles of these novels, baking is very much a part of each and every one. Hannah has a passion for baking and as a bonus, each chapter has her amazing recipes that you make yourself, at home. The premise this time is that they are trying to recreate the Christmas Cake Parade. Essie, an elderly woman beloved by all, has had an accident and is laid up. She has also fallen on hard times but has been too proud to say anything. She remembers the Christmas Ball fondly and would love to see it one more time. This will be a great project for Hannah’s mother to get involved in to get her back in the swing of things. Hannah has been tasked with baking all the cakes for the parade. The whole community will need to pitch in to get the old Hotel ready for the ball. While getting some things from home for Essie, Hannah comes across these boxes full of pages of what looks like a manuscript. It turns out Essie was writing a book! This is where the mystery comes in. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I tell you everything works out amazing for everyone. All the ends are neatly tied up and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, I’m counting on it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little fluff in my life. It is what I love about reading. There are so many different types of books out there, each like a different dessert that Hannah makes, and if it tastes good - don’t we all enjoy it? Who cares if it is a cookie, cake, meringue, brownie - bring it on. The best things about reading is - no calories! Fluke has done great job, yet again, with this latest instalment. I enjoy spending time with daughters who love mothers, mothers who are nothing but supportive, friends that care for each other and a community that reaches out to help those in need. It’s a world I like to live in, even if it is just for an afternoon. So if that is what you are in the mood for - this one takes the cake! (I know, I know, I couldn’t resist)
I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book was fantastic; learning how Hannah started The Cookie Jar was very exciting. Learning more about Delores, Michelle, & Andrea was interesting too. And we all know Hannah can't go anywhere without there being a murder. Very well written and entertaining as all of Joanne Fluke's books are. Enjoy!
The Christmas Cake Murder turns the clock back to before Hannah opened her bakery, The Cookie Jar. In a short prequel set before the rest of the books in the series, Hannah returns home from college to attend her father’s funeral. Her mother, Delores, is understandably depressed so she is given a task to take her mind off her troubles. She is asked to help a local older woman, Essie, who has broken her hip. Essie wants to return to her youth by recreating the old-fashioned Christmas Cake Ball. Delores, Hannah and her sisters work together on the project by renovating an old ballroom and baking lots of cakes. Most of the cake and frosting recipes are shared with the reader. Meanwhile, Hannah decides to drop out of college and forego her dream of becoming a college professor. Why quit college? Over a man (foreshadowing the issues many had with the previous book in the series). Also, the family reads a unfinished crime novel by Essie they find in her room. The mystery in the Christmas Cake Murder is painfully obvious from the beginning. However, Essie’s crime story is good and drives readers to finish the book. It was also nice to hear why and how Hannah started her business. In addition, there is a heartwarming Christmas story ending. However, the lack of any mystery in a cozy mystery is a serious plot problem. For completists out there (like me) who have read the entire series, this is an interesting read. For others, I wouldn’t recommend it. Do not start the series here—start at the delightful series beginning. 2 1/2 stars rounded up to 3 stars. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Thank you, NetGalley for allowing me to review "Christmas Cake Murder.". I am a huge fan of Joanne Fluke and I have read almost every book in the Hannah Swenson series. In "Christmas Cake Murder" is a prequel to the series of books. We finally find out how the Cookie Jar came to be and when she moved into her condo. This wasn't the typical mystery where Hannah went sleuthing for answers it came together on its own with a little bit of help from her. My only complaint about this book and the others in the series are the recipes at the end of the chapters. I feel that it breaks up the continuity of the story and it is used to lengthen a short book. Some of the recipes are also variations of the same recipe such as the Coolwhip frosting, these could have been all grouped together and given a list of variations.
Not interested in story of when Hannah was younger, wanted a continuation of the series, hate when I am tricked into buying a book.