Hello friends! I’m on a roll with my reading this week. For my fifth book of the year, I dove back into cozy mystery mode!
I’m a longtime reader of the Hannah Swensen series by Joanne Fluke. Have you checked this one out? Set in small-town Minnesota, this series centers around bakery owner Hannah, her assorted friends and family, and, as in any good cozy series, her tendency to discover murder victims.
A few months ago, I read and reviewed Christmas Cake Murder. This holiday novella was set mostly as a flashback to Hannah’s earlier years, when she was just opening her bakery, The Cookie Jar. It was so much fun to see a younger Hannah in this story, along with her mother and sisters. Fans of this series, however, were all atwitter over the last couple of books prior to that. (The rest of this review will contain some spoilers if you’re not caught up in the series.)
You see, a longtime love triangle between Hannah and her two would-be suitors (handsome sheriff Mike and fun-loving, attentive Norman) was suddenly swept aside when she married Ross, someone she’d known in college!
It was scandalous… not only was all of Lake Eden, Minnesota dumbfounded to discover that Hannah wasn’t choosing either of their favorite sons, but it was astounding to see readers who were firmly Team Mike or Team Norman enthusiastically band together… in hating Ross! Fans thought that not only was Hannah with the wrong man, but that Hannah had become a shadow of her former self.
But then, with the last “in-sequence” book, Raspberry Danish Murder, we find out that Ross has disappeared! At the end, we discover that Ross is not at all the man Hannah thought he was… and that he has gone back to his WIFE! (A different wife. That he’s still actually married to. Not Hannah. Wow.)
Which, with a mix of sympathy for Hannah and glee that Ross is gone, brings us to the present, and to the next book in this series, Chocolate Cream Pie Murder!
Some minor spoilers may lie ahead, but I’ll try not to reveal too much!
As the book opens, we find Hannah faced with the difficult task of telling her fellow Lake Edenites that not only is Ross gone, but that it appears she was never legally married to him at all. Mike and the sheriff’s department (with assistance from Norman and others) have been looking for Ross, and everyone wants to see some kind of justice for the man who not only hurt Hannah, but outright betrayed and deceived her.
Eventually Ross turns up, nastier than ever, wanting money that he’d set aside. After Ross threatens Hannah, she ends up under constant watch by Norman, Mike, and others. To top it all off, the town is trying to plan a TV special about movies filmed in the area (bringing some other old friends to town), one of Hannah’s neighbors is attacked, and finally, a murder victim is found *in* Hannah’s condo!
As the saying goes, it takes a village, and in this case, it takes Hannah and many of her loved ones to set this mess to rights!
I’m delighted to say that I really liked this book. Above, I mentioned some less-than-stellar reactions to recent installments of the series. In addition to fans hating Ross, many readers felt that the writing and dialogue in the past few books hadn’t been up to the standard of earlier titles. Plus, most of us longed for the spunky, independent Hannah of old.
And readers, we got her!
This book was a definite step back toward the series we all know and love. Not only did Hannah seem to be herself again, the book was also a much smoother read than the last few. Sure, there were still a couple of over-explained conversations (and I personally found there to be one too many episodes of the cat racing game), but overall… I was *invested* in the writing and the results!
It was refreshing that after years of the love triangle, and the ill-fated relationship with Ross, romance didn’t play a big role in this book. I feel confident it will return, but while you could see that both Mike and Norman still care very much for Hannah (and she for them), it was nice to see Hannah come back to herself.
In the end, Hannah finds some closure on her doomed marriage and the whole mess with Ross, solves the murder case, and still manages to come up with some new cookie and candy recipes for Valentine’s Day!
Speaking of the recipes, I usually just skim over them… but some of them really caught my attention this time. If you read cozies partly for the food ideas and discussion, I think you’ll really want to check out some of the offerings in this book!
All in all, this is a welcome addition to the series, and I’m giving it a solid four stars. And… based on Hannah’s last words in this book (I did suspect that might be coming, based on a few hints sprinkled throughout), I will be anxiously looking forward to the next installment. Now I only have to wait a year for it. Sigh.
Pre-order Chocolate Cream Pie Murder at:
Well, while I certainly plan to keep mixing it up with my reading choices, I’ve enjoyed my detour back into Cozy-ville… and I think I just might stay here for a bit! Let me know what great books are on your list lately, and especially if you’ve read any great new cozy mysteries. They are indeed perfect for a winter curled up with a cup of hot tea or coffee! Happy reading!
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My thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for a complimentary digital review copy of this title. All opinions are my own.