Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in March 2016 Part I

What I Read in March 2016 Part I . . .

Hannah Swenson Mysteries

Key Lime Pie Murder (Hannah Swensen, #9)Key Lime Pie Murder (#9)

It's summer and Hannah Swenson is busier than ever. The county fair is in full swing and she has been chosen as a judge in the baking contest and volunteered to help her mother with the Historical Society booth. Then she has to watch her little sister Michelle in the beauty contest and her sister Andrea and niece Tracy in the mother-daughter look-alike contest. Plus, she has two guys fighting over her and she's worried about Moishe, who won't eat. All she really wants is a deep-fried candy bar but someone keeps interrupting. When one of her fellow judges, a Home-Ec aide named Willa, ends up dead at the county fairgrounds, Hannah is first to discover the body. In fact, Hannah heard the murder. Though Willia's death was shocking, Hannah insists on solving the mystery herself to show Mike she's the better detective.

This story isn't my favorite entry in the series. I don't like any of the recipes in the book! My mom loves key lime pie so I'll copy the recipe for her. The plot was engaging enough to keep me interested half the night. I thought I had figured out the identity of the murderer right away but I was way way off base. I never guessed who it was. Hannah guessed pretty early on but had to figure out who and why. There was a lot of extraneous fluff padding the story. While I liked the baked goods contest, the actual judging was just too much. Also the love triangle is incredible silly and unrealistic. The Moishe plot was easy to figure out. Hannah does something really really stupid at the end of the book that nearly gets her killed.

Hannah is supposed to be 30 years old but she acts much older. She acts as her own personal grammar police, wincing every time she uses a "colloquialism" or someone says something that is not grammatically correct. She doesn't know how to use a computer and makes excuses not to set up her new computer. It's not rocket science. Follow the directions to plug it in, turn it on and follow the prompts. Learning how to use the operating system can be a learning curve depending on which one it is but if my MOM can figure it out on her own, Hannah can. She finally gets a cell phone but apparently she's blind as well as technologically challenged because she can't figure out how to make a call and end a call. Again, my MOM (the most technologically illiterate person I know) can figure it out, Hannah can. It's also not rocket science. Green phone icon makes a call, red phone icon shuts it off. Say this story takes place in 2007, the year the book was published . Hannah was therefore born in 1976. She's only a bit older than me. How can she run a business without knowing how to use a computer? Does she use an antique cash register? The author seems unsure of how technology works and the descriptions are cringe-worthy bad. She should have consulted someone Hannah's age or made her sleuth older.

Speaking of older, Hannah's mother manages to be less annoying in this book but she's so smothering of Hannah but kicks Michelle out because she's too busy? That doesn't sound very motherly. What mother doesn't want to spend time with her kid home from college? I love/hate the way Dolores speaks in Regency cant. It's funny but it sounds out of place in modern language. Not that I don't do the same thing but it sounds awkward when reading it in a contemporary novel.

I enjoy this series mostly for the baking. I'm skipping around based on which books I can get at my local library off the shelf. It doesn't seem to matter if I read them in order or skip some.

Cream Puff Murder (#11)
Cream Puff Murder (Hannah Swensen, #11)

Hannah Swenson has only a few weeks until the launch of her mother's new Regency romance novel and she's expected to fit into the special dress her mother ordered. Andrea's solution is to put Hannah on a diet and exercise regime to lose weight. She is not happy to be dragged out to the gym every morning at the crack of dawn but she does like the soak in the Jacuzzi afterwards. That is until she finds fitness instructor Ronni Ward face down in the Jacuzzi with Hannah's special cream puffs smashed nearby. Ronni was very popular with the men of Lake Eden, especially in the sheriff's department, but not so much with the ladies. As someone with close involvement with the victim, Mike is taken off the case, along with Lonnie, Rick and some of the other guys. Even Bill removes himself and has a hot shot detective from the city take over. The locals want Hannah to solve the mystery and insist on telling her what to do. Hannah is determined to prove that she is just as good at solving murders as the guys.

I liked this book best of the series so far. The murder doesn't happen until halfway through so there was a lot more about baking and Hannah's life. I came to the same conclusion as Hannah just before she did about the identity of the murderer. She was pretty stupid to blab details about the case to everyone but smart enough to get herself out of trouble. The story kept me guessing and reading until very late.

Hannah is a terrible businesswoman. I don't see how she stayed in business for a year. Lisa is a decade younger but much more business savvy. On the plus side, Hannah is a bit more technologically literature this time around. She finally learned how to use her cell phone. She still has relationship drama though. Mike comes across as a major jerk in this novel and I hope she's done with him. Not only was he controlling and paranoid, he lied to her about his relationship with Ronni. That woman was trouble with a capital T. Norman, on the other hand, is too good to be true. I still get a gay vibe from him. I picture him like Ross Matthews from E!. However, I find Norman a bit creepy with his dream home designed for Hannah and Moishe. I would run away screaming if I found monogrammed towels with my initial in someone else's home. Of all the characters in this book, Andrea and Bill have the best relationship. She trusts him and he would never do anything to hurt her.

Bonus points in this book for the yummy sounding recipes! I want to try almost all of them!

Plum Pudding Murder (#12)

Plum Pudding Murder (Hannah Swensen, #12)

It's Christmas time in Lake Eden. Hannah is busy baking cookies, planning menus and being forced into taking business classes with her mother. Carrie is conspicuously absent whenever Dolores wants her and she's even brushing off Norman. The Cookie Jar is busier than ever and about to get even more busy when the residents learn Hannah has discovered yet another dead body. She and Norman went to collect a check from Larry Jaeger, proprietor of the Crazy Elf Christmas lot only to discover shots through his large screen TV and Larry lying in a pool of his own blood. Who would want to kill the owner of the happiest place in Lake Eden? Could it have something to do with his bad business practices?

This story starts off differently than all the others. The reader is inside the head of the murder victim until the time of his death. I found this diversion from the format interesting but then it took too long before Hannah discovered the murder. I also found it easier to guess who the murderer was. I didn't have the proof that Hannah collected but I had a hunch from the internal dialogue in the opening scene. The rest of the story follows the usual plot until the very end when the reader is left hanging! I looked at the next book and nothing was mentioned about Michelle's friend from school. I'd like to know how Hannah coped with that and what the implication of the visit was. There's a mystery about Carrie Rhodes that I already knew from reading the cookbook so beware of spoilers if you read out of order! There's also too much random information tossed into the story for no good reason at all. Yet, the reason plum pudding is called that despite not having plums in the recipe, remains unknown to Hannah.

As far as the romance, I was surprised Hannah is still dating Mike even though she knows he'll never be faithful to her. Norman is a much better boyfriend. Moishe steals the show as far as male characters go. Both the boyfriends try to woo Hannah through her cat and I get the impression Norman is a crazy cat guy while Mike is more interested in pleasing Hannah.

The characters in this book are largely the same - the usual regulars from Lake Eden. I liked seeing Lisa come into her own. I love how she spreads the story of how Hannah found the body. Lisa is not only a smart businesswoman, she's a talented story teller. Mike is still kind of a jerk and I would dump him if I were Hannah. There's also Larry Jaeger, a shady businessman and his partner/fiance Courtney who seems like a smart businesswoman. Then there's Dr. Love, aka Nancy, Larry Jaeger's estranged wife, who is fast becoming one of Dolores' good friends and the intense business instructor Miss Whiting. I'll leave you to guess which one is the murderer.

As usual, the recipes are the real stand out here. I really want to try many of them!

Devil's Food Cake Murder (#13)

Devil's Food Cake Murder (Hannah Swensen, #14)

The Lake Eden Sheriffs Office has just been consulted about a jewel heist in Minneapolis. The city police want Bill and his deputies to look out for the stolen items. This is a job for Dolores, since many of the pieces are heirloom antiques. Meanwhile, Rev. Bob and Claire are off getting married and Grandma Knudson receives a welcome surprise; a young man from her past has returned for a visit. Matthew Walters, a Lutheran minister, stayed with the Knudsons for a time when he was a teen. Grandma hasn't seen him since and she's a bit concerned that he may not be who he says he is. There are a few little things that seem off, so she asks Hannah and Andrea to investigate. All seems to check out and when Matthew is murdered, everyone is shocked. Who would kill a minister? They all hope Pete's Mynah bird Jacob will give them a clue since he was the only witness. When Matthew turns up very much alive, Grandma Knudson is elated. It seems the dead man was Matthew's look-alike cousin, Paul. This creates a whole lot of problems for Paul was not an ordained minister- he was an ex-con. Could his death be connected to the jewel heist? Was the deceased really Paul or is there something fishy going on? Grandma should know which is which, right? Her unease increases and she turns to Hannah for help. With her mother's book launch party coming up, Hannah barely has time to sleep, let alone investigate a murder but Grandma Knudson is a dear friend and Hannah feels compelled to help. She may have to leave Norman out of the investigation because he's acting strangely now his ex-fiance and partner, Bev, has come to Lake Eden.

I didn't care for this story as much. First, I hated the love triangle plot. It's bad enough Mike is a two-timing jerk but now Norman has feet of clay. I was beginning to warm up to him and was rooting for Hannah to choose him. I hate Hannah's jealousy. She's dating two guys at once and there was one more who was interested but she gets green whenever Mike or Norman sees another woman. Since Bev is barely in the story, I can hardly judge her character to determine whether she's good enough for Norman. (view spoiler) Another thing I hated about this book was the political rant pro guns. Yes, you really need a .22 semi-automatic to kill deer. Really, you would think Hannah would be anti-guns since she's seen so many murders! It didn't make sense for her character and political discussions don't belong in cozy mysteries. I can turn on the news for that. There's also too much random information dropped into the story that has no bearing on the plot.

As far as the plot goes, I guessed it all right away. It was painfully obvious. I would think in this day and age, Mike could have fingerprinted the victim or done some kind of DNA test to determine the identity of the victim. This was the most obvious plot of them all. I hate obvious plots. One of the best things about this series is that it isn't easy to guess the murderer.

What I did like about the book are the recipes. I got very excited at the Devil's Food Cake title but I was crushed to see the recipe contains coffee. I HATE coffee and it does nothing to enrich the chocolate flavor, it just ruins the taste. Maybe add a little Kahlua? Hannah would be shocked at the suggestion and Mike would flip out if that cake was served to minors. (I guess he's never attended Sunday dinner with an Italian family....) There are so many other recipes I want to try and I will pass on the Good Kitty Cake recipe to my best friend for her furry children.

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