Christmas Cake Murder

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 28 Sep 2018

Member Reviews

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 got an ARC of this book from Netgalley and Kensington books for my honest review.

View all my reviews
Was this review helpful?
Christmas Cake Murder is the latest in the Hannah Swenson series.  It’s a quick, cozy read with a good plot and likeable characters.  It goes back in time to when Hannah first opened The Cookie Jar.  Christmas Cake Murder reads like a prequel to the entire series.

I received an advanced review copy (ARC) of this book from the publisher through NetGalley for my honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Synopsis from Publisher/
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 . . .
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this little trip back in time to when Hannah Swenson made the decision to open her bakery. It was interesting to see what her life was like before she had the Cookie Jar, or her cat Moishe. 

To bring Delores out of her depression over her husband's death, her friends asked her to put together a Christmas Ball for one of the community's most beloved members, Essie Granger. In going through Essie's things, Hannah found some notebooks that told an interesting but unfinished tale of a young woman on the run from a hit man. She had been pregnant and the story ended abruptly as the baby started to come. At the ball, when an attempt on Essie's life was made, Hannah knew they had to put the pieces of this puzzle together and find out who wanted to kill the sweetest woman in town...and why. Did it have anything to do with those notebooks?

The story was quite a bit different from the usual Hannah Swenson I'm used to reading. It did move a little slowly at first when there wasn't much action going on, but at least the story was interesting enough and filled to the brim with the most delicious-sounding food and desserts! I keep saying I'm going to try one of these recipes some day! I liked the side story that Essie wrote too. It ended up with a very sweet ending, just like this book had! Even though Christmasy thing told about in the book was the Christmas Ball, the book was still very heart-warming and perfect for the magical holiday season.
Was this review helpful?
Hannah has come home from college after the death of her father and has no intentions to go back after a disastrous ending to her love affair with a professor. As Hannah tries to keep the house running for her youngest sister, she sees her mother declining more and more into depression. No projects the daughters think of can pull their mom back into the land of the living that is until two church ladies tell Hannah and her family about Essie. Essie is the elderly owner of the Albion Hotel who lives above it with no water or electricity. Essie is to proud to accept help even though all the townsfolk love Essie. Unfortunately Essie has fallen and broken her hip. Essie wants to revisit the Christmas Ball with its Christmas Cake parade one more time before dying. Hannah and her family are determined to make that happen for Essie. While gathering info for the Christmas Ball, Hannah and her mom run across several notebooks that Essie said are the beginnings of a novel she has written. Can Hannah make Essie's dreams come true of the Christmas Ball or will a story of fiction become all to real?

This book can be read out of sync from the rest of the series since it takes place before Hannah opened The Cookie Jar. I found this book delightful. Yes, it does read differently from the other books in to series as Hannah is not solving a murder mystery but she does have a mystery to solve. I liked seeing Hannah's mother on a more real, down to earth basis than her usual snooty self at times.

If you are looking for a quick Christmas themed read during a cold, dreary day then this is the book for you. I read it in one day. My only complaint is I didn't leave any for today. If I could I would be a regular customer at The Cookie Jar. Lots of yummy recipes included.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kensington through NetGalley. Any and all opinions expressed in the above review are entirely my own.
Was this review helpful?
This was the first I have read of Hannah Swensen character and the cozy mystery series. I didn't feel lost and it read like a first in the series. There were a few back stories I'm sure I was missing but I didn't feel that way as I read so it was all good. If your looking for a fun cozy mystery set in the holiday season than Christmas Cake Murder is right for you!
Was this review helpful?
Christmas Cake Murder:  A Hannah Swensen Holiday Mystery with Recipes
By Joanne Fluke
October 2018

Review by Cynthia Chow

Before Hannah Swensen baked mouthwatering treats out of Lake Eden’s premier bakery The Cookie Jar, before she dated both Norm and Pete, and before she finally married only to discover that her husband…Before all of this, Hannah was a graduate student who returned to her hometown following the death of her beloved father.  Hannah and her two sisters were at a loss on how to pull their mother out of her understandable depression, but Grandma Knudson knew exactly how to nudge Delores out of bed and back into her normal domineering role.  Essie Granger recently fell and broke her hip, and the always helpful Delores can be counted on to rally the forces and cheer up the woman as she recuperates in the hospital.  

Essie and her husband lived in and ran the Albion Hotel until it fell into disrepair, so Delores asks Hannah to take her there to pick personal items for Essie during her hospital stay.  Among the knickknacks Hannah discovers a stack of notebooks, where Essie seemed to have begun writing a compelling tale of a young woman fleeing for her life and escaping on a bus to Brooklyn.  Delores, Hannah, and her sisters soon become immersed in the adventures of the woman forging a new life in a strange city even as they themselves find themselves forging new paths themselves.  The investments made by their father have given them the means to achieving their goals, which for Hannah means abandoning heartbreak and college for her dream of opening a bakery and café.  It is Delores who pushes Hannah into making the first step towards opening The Cookie Jar Bakery, with some of the first delicacies being recreations the Albion’s innaugral Christmas Ball Christmas Cake Parade.  When not discovering the secret ingredients to perfecting the colorful festive pastries, Hannah will unravel the mystery behind Essie’s notebooks and whether they were truth or fiction.

This is a delightful palette cleanser for readers anxiously awaiting for the next installment of the Hannah Swensen mysteries.  Both they and Hannah were left reeling with shock following the events of Raspberry Danish Murder, but this novel takes a breather by going back in time to the start of her life as a professional baker.  New readers can jump right into this long-running series, while faithful fans will find themselves appeased with an abundance of delicious recipes, elaborate cooking descriptions, and the good-natured humor of the Swensen women.  This is the perfect heart-warming novel for the holiday season, one that is light on danger but full of emotional moments for those dealing with loss through the support of love and friendship.
Was this review helpful?

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.
Was this review helpful?
This book is essentially a prequel to the series and it is a book within a book since the story is peppered with the story from Essie's notebooks.  There isn't much character development so if you haven't started the series, do not start here.  It was a really quick read but it lacked the substance that is present in the rest of the series.  The "murder" plotline is almost an afterthought and no one gets killed.
Was this review helpful?
Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the latest Hannah Swensen mystery.  I fell in love with the series when it first came out and I was so hoping that the flashback storyline would take the series back to the early books that I loved. Unfortunately, I could not get over the writing style. It was so unnecessarily and unnaturally descriptive about what Hannah and her family were eating and doing. I’ve never read anything like it and I’ve read a ton of cozies. The mystery was also very predictable and almost an afterthought to the main "Hannah returning home" storyline. All in all, It was nice to see how the cookie jar got started, but I feel like this was an opportunity wasted to reboot this series. If I wasn’t so invested in the series I would not have finished it.
Was this review helpful?
I thoroughly enjoyed the plot, atmosphere, and characters.  I would recommend the book to friends and family for their reading pleasure.
Was this review helpful?
I am finally caught up on the Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series by Joanne Fluke. I finished reading Christmas Cake Murder, the 23rd of 24 books, published in the last year. The next one is in ARC form and I'm hoping to get my hands on it soon as I'd rather not wait until early 2019 when it's formally published. Overall, I'd give it 4 stars as it had a lot of the traditional elements we normally love in these books, but the mystery was very different.

The book takes place before the first one in the series actually took place. It's the beginning tale of how Hannah got started at The Cookie Jar. The story is a reflection on all the major characters we've come to love and shows us what happened when Lars, Hannah's father, passed away. We also see how Delores reacted, what drove Andrea to become a real estate agent, and how Michelle was in high school. It was lots of fun and helped provide us with some wonderful and tender moments about this beautiful family.

It was also a bit repetitive for regular readers as we knew 25% of this content already. I can overlook that tho, as I like the setting and relationships. The other big piece of the book was a different sorta mystery where a local citizen, Essie, has an accident (truly, an accident) and is in the hospital. Hannah finds her journal and reads the book Essie had been writing. Is it about herself? Someone else in Lake Eden? Completely made up? We find out in the last chapter as the entire time we're meandering along, we're clueless, too. Once we find out, it's nice closure for this book but doesn't really connect to all the others in the series in terms of the mystery. Part of me was hoping to learn a fun fact about a new connection among the town's inhabitants. I sadly didn't.

That said, normal recipes look good. Everything else is spot-on. But it's just a re-cap book with a little bit of new content... I judge it on that merit rather than give it a poor rating because it didn't have a mystery. That was never what Fluke intended... and I'm glad I had this chance to read a bit more about Hannah's younger years. It's worth a read but not necessary to read in order. It could even be read first. Okay, off to find an ARC of the latest book. Wow... I completed another series (just about, don't deny me this fact please - LOL)!
Was this review helpful?
A wonderful holiday cozy mystery as a prequel. Great backstory to the series. You’ll love the mystery & fabulous recipes! #NetGalley
Was this review helpful?
I really wanted to like this just wasn't possible.
 It was okay but nothing that was keeping my attention...i really had to drag through it because i kept thinking it would get better.  It didn't.
  Some people like the recipes in the book but honestly i wasn't going to flip through a book reading the pages even if i wanted to make something in there...i think the recipes are the idea of the book and it's a great concept for some...but for me it was annoying to have to flip through them to finish the book.
   Just not the kind of book for me.
Was this review helpful?
This was not my favorite of the series, it goes back to the beginning of the story before Hannah has opened the Cookie Jar and while no murder takes place it contains a mystery. 

While helping an older resident of Lake Eden they find a story which is fictional, until they are not quite sure if there isn't some truth to it. A mystery to solve, while enjoying some sweet treats. Essie's story is interesting and took a lot of twists which was nice. 

The recipes tend to never disappoint, I wish the story was a little stronger though as they were in the beginning of the series.
Was this review helpful?
Joanne Fluke's latest book in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series, Christmas Cake Murder, is actually a prequel to the entire series.  It is meant to explain how Hannah got started with her bakery.  The dialogue in this book felt forced and very unnatural.  The mystery was almost non-existent, and too much time is spent on very mundane things.  This particular book would have worked much better as a short story rather than a full book.  I did find a couple of interesting recipes but not much else.
Was this review helpful?
I loved reading this “prequel” to the rest of the series and going back to the very beginning of how the bakery began.  The “story within the story” concept worked well, and Essie’s story was as interesting as Hannah’s main storyline.  This book is a nice addition to a series we love.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
I have read all The Hannah Swenson stories and this newest installment didnt disappoint.  This story is a prequeal to the series.  I really like it.  It tells the back story of how Hannah came to open her bakery.  I am anxiously waiting for the next mystery for Hannah and her family to solve.  Thanks netgalley gir tge arc of this book, the review is solely my opinion
Was this review helpful?
Another great Hannah Swenson mystery. It was entertaining to read how it all began  and Hannah got her start in the cookie business, not to mention a few more recipes to try as the holiday season approaches.  At first I was missing Mike and Norman, but as the story unfolded I found myself really enjoying the interplay Hannah had with her mom, sisters, and friends.  If you've never picked up a book in this series, this is a great place to start.  If you're a seasoned fan you'll enjoy learning a little more about Hannah and her family which makes all the other books even more entertaining.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
I have never read any of the Hannah Swensen mysteries front to back, but I did have the opportunity to read this installment in the series and it did not disappoint.
  This one was especially satisfying to read because it provided the backstory of Hannah and how her set up came to be, and how she established herself in Lake Eden after her father's passing.
The intrigue was in a set of notebooks found while helping an elderly friend in the community and the twists and turns that take the reader to the conclusion.
  Very smooth, entertaining and now I feel like baking some cookies!
This ARC was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for my thoughts and opinions on the book.
Was this review helpful?