Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in February/March 2016

What I Read in February/March 2016 

Hannah Swenson Mysteries

Strawberry Shortcake Murder (Hannah Swensen, #2)Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke--cozy mystery

Hannah Swenson, owner of The Cookie Jar bakery is planning to expand her menu to include desserts. As a judge for the Heartland Flour Bake Off, she gets to try out new recipes to debut on the local news. When Hannah's fellow judge Coach Boyd Watson stings the contestants with his negative comments, Hannah tries to soften the blow with more positive comments and constructive criticism. The next time Hannah sees Coach, he's lying dead on the garage floor, his head bashed in with a hammer. The police want to believe it was Coach Watson's wife Danielle, acting in self-defense. It's not common knowledge but Hannah knows Coach was a wife beater but she also knows Danielle wouldn't hurt her husband, not even in self-defense. To save her friend from a trial and possible jail time, Hannah sets out to solve the mystery with the help of her sister Andrea.

My introduction to Hannah Swenson came through the TV movie based on Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. I like cozy mysteries and I love to bake so I thought I'd check the series out and see how I liked it. This story is very comparable to other similar cozy mysteries. It feels very dated with people recording on VCRs and using dial up internet which puts this book at a disadvantage compared to other cozy mysteries but plot wise it's a typical cozy mystery. I couldn't figure out who the murderer wad. The one thing that surprised me about this book was the lack of suspects. Hannah really wanted to believe it wasn't someone from Lake Eden so the suspect was unknown. Once she put the clues together and found the motive, then she (and I) could guess who the murderer was. There's a little romance between Hannah and Mike, the detective. They're still getting to know each other slowly. Meanwhile, Hannah's mother wants her to marry a local dentist whom Hannah considers a friend. This book contains some delicious sounding recipes. The recipes are put into the story instead of at the end, which I liked. I felt some of the scenes felt repetitive. The reader doesn't really get drawn into the baking competition to feel it was necessary to go through each day of the competition. That made the book a little long.

Some readers found Hannah to be incredibly stupid but I didn't think she was any more stupid than any other cozy mystery heroine. That's the thing about cozy mysteries- the sleuth is an amateur, usually a woman, who sticks her nose in police business to save herself/a loved one/a friend. She adds up the clues until she's almost killed and then she saves the day. This does require some suspension of disbelief. If that is not your thing, stay away from cozy mysteries. I liked Hannah well enough though she's a cat person. She meddles because she cares and wants to help. She's a successful business owner (apparently residents of Lake Eden, Minnesota need cookies all day starting first thing)and yes she's too busy solving murders to do much in the way of running her business, but in this book she's giving away day old cookies as publicity and at least she's baking something if only for a news spot. She's a good boss and tries to be a good daughter to her over-involved mother. She has good taste in cookies. She's trying to be a better sister to Andrea, recognizing their differences and embracing her sister's strengths. She did do something illegal in the course of the investigation but that's pretty much a trademark of this type of mystery. However, I did find her to be a little stupid in that everyone knew she was investigating the murder and she gave herself away to the murderer pretty easily, which was not too brilliant of her but let's just say she was naive.

Andrea is the brains behind the investigation. She's a real estate agent and therefore a people person. She gets people to give up information without them knowing it and she's constantly asking Hannah what her cover story will be when Hannah wants to make it up on the spot. She seems a little high strung though and does she spend any time with her kid?

Dolores, Hannah's mother is the comic relief. She's overbearing and annoying at times but she loves her daughters and doesn't have anything else to do except collect antiques and gossip with friends. She also belongs to a Regency Romance book club - her favorite author? Georgette Heyer, of course.

My library has this series so I will probably check out more and ignore the fat cat. This series would be a LOT better if Moishe was a dog.

Fudge Cupcake Murder (Hannah Swensen, #5)Fudge Cupcake Murder

Hannah Swenson has a full plate. It's nearly Halloween and she has to come up with the perfect cookies for community events. She's also teaching adult cooking classes in the evenings and editing the Lake Eden cookbook. As editor, she has to ensure all the recipes work as written. She runs into a problem with the fudge cupcake recipe from Ted Koester's late mother; the recipe calls for a half-cup of secret ingredient!! No one knows what the secret ingredient is but if anyone can find out, it's Hannah. There's also her mother's incessant phone calls to deal with, her brother-in-law Bill's campaign for Sheriff and a finicky cat who won't eat his senior food. Then Hannah discovers another body - the body of Sheriff Grant (Bill's rival) in the dumpster behind the school where she's teaching cooking classes. Bill becomes the prime suspect when he can't provide an alibi and with him home on suspension, he's driving Hannah's very pregnant sister crazy! Hannah has extra motivation to solve the crime this time because she's also mad at Mike for a)suspending Bill and b)keeping company with Shawna Lee, a woman from his past who won't stop flirting.

The writing in this story is pretty pedestrian and the plot follows the cozy mystery guidelines closely but with one big difference - the whole town knows Hannah is investigating and willing to cooperate. She also has no problems doing illegal things to get information she wants, going a bit beyond the usual. The writing is full of dated references that seem off even for 2004. I haven't used a phone with a cord in I don't know how long and I'm pretty sure that most pregnant women learn the gender of their baby through an Ultra Sound and not some vague test. I think the author must be an older lady and a technophobe because Hannah seems much older than her 30 years.
The mystery plot was pretty improbable but I liked how Hannah and Andrea worked together to solve it. I couldn't guess at all until about halfway through when two vital clues were dropped. Hannah should have picked up on them a lot sooner and told Mike. I also figured out how she would end up in danger so I didn't really feel compelled to stay up all night and find out what happens. The number of unhappy marriages in Lake Eden really makes me sad. It's supposed to be an idyllic town yet so far there are murderers, corrupt cops, wife beaters and other unhappy relationships.

Hannah's love life seems to be moving forward more than when I read about her last. She's dating two guys at the same time yet is jealous of Mike spending time with Shawna Lee. I didn't really enjoy the love triangle. Frankly, I think Norman would be better off as the gay bff supporting character. He doesn't do anything to float Hannah's boat but he's a nice guy and they're good friends. Mike is supposed to be the sexy cop who isn't sure what he wants to do with Hannah - throttle her or kiss her.

All of this is OK because I'm not reading this book because it's great literature. I picked it up for some mindless entertainment and some amazing recipes. I especially liked the mystery of the secret ingredient and liked trying to guess what it was. I guessed mayonnaise. There are also several good cookie recipes. I also really enjoyed the parts where Hannah tries to get Moishe to eat his senior kitty crunches and take his vitamins. Anyone who has been owned by a furry friend will laugh out loud at the hilarious hijinks.

Sugar Cookie Murder (Hannah Swensen, #6)Sugar Cookie Murder 

Lake Eden is holding a community pot luck to test out the recipes from the Lake Eden cookbook. Hannah's editor plans to be there and have a photographer take pictures for the cookbook. Hannah wants everything to go right but of course things get off to a bad start when Mother brings along her new man, Winthrop, a real English lord straight out of a Regency romance novel! Then Martin Dubinski shows up with his brand new wife, Brandi Wyne, a Las Vegas show girl. Brandi comes across as irritating, showy and rude, annoying just about everyone, especially Martin's mother and ex-wife Shirley. When Hannah stumbles across Brandi dead in the parking lot with a blizzard blowing in, she knows she has her work cut out for her. Mike is short handed, so surely he will appreciate Hannah's help in solving the mystery. She enlists her sisters, Lisa and Norman to aid her.

This is a novella mystery and not a full novel. It's also a cookbook! The plot is pretty standard for this series. I was bothered by the fact that Mike asked Hannah to keep the murder a secret and she pretty much tells the whole room. Then she gets childish and petty when he doesn't have time to listen to what she has to tell him. He's a cop for goodness sake and she's a nosy baker. I couldn't believe the easy resolution to the story. I was also wondering what century this book takes place in. They finally have a digital camera but then the hospital has an "expectant fathers room" and the father doesn't even go in the delivery room with his wife. Hannah hates sexist behavior from Mike and yet she lets someone else get away with it. There's a twist at the end of the story that I didn't expect. Hannah also gets jealous of Mike's friendship with Shawna Lee and yet she is friends/more than friends with Norman. She needs to stop with the double standards and stop stringing Norman along. He's a nice guy but in a totally non-threatening, non-sexy way. I also found Tracey's letter to Santa unbelievable. My kindergarten-age niece can't write like that and she's very verbal.

The cookbook is wonderful! It was fun to read the annotations about the characters and how they got the recipes. Some of the recipes sound familiar to me so they must be adapted from other cookbooks/online sources. I want to try some of them but I am really icked out by the proliferation of pre-made ingredients, syrups and doing some steps in the microwave. Jell-O is gross, pie filling is gross, canned fruit is gross. I do make a Jell-O pie once in awhile for my mom's birthday but I think it's disgusting. Sorry Andrea! I'd like to see some of these recipes revised and made more natural.

Great Moments in Chocolate History: With 20 Classic Recipes From Around the WorldGreat Moments in Chocolate History: With 20 Classic Recipes From Around the World by Howard-Yana Shapiro --Non-fiction

Where has this book been all my life? Full color photos, interesting trivia and recipes that sound to-die-for - all on my favorite food! What more could a chocoholic ask? This makes a nice companion to a book on European Chocolate my parents got me in Switzerland. I'm dying to try some of the recipes. I think reading them made me gain 10 lbs.

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