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Christmas Cake Murder

Christmas Cake Murder

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Christmas Cake Murder

3.5/5 (20 valutazioni)
264 pagine
4 ore
Sep 25, 2018


The story of how baker Hannah Swensen got her start as a sleuth: “A lovely, frothy treat.”—Mystery Scene
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.”—Publishers Weekly
Sep 25, 2018

Informazioni sull'autore

JOANNE FLUKE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Hannah Swensen mysteries, which include Chocolate Cream Pie Murder, Raspberry Danish 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

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Christmas Cake Murder - Joanne Fluke


Chapter One

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 Two

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?

We went to see Essie this morning and we had a very sad conversation with her. She was talking about the past and we could hear the longing for those days in Essie’s voice.

What did she say? Delores asked.

She told us about the first Christmas Ball she attended at the opening of the Albion Hotel. That’s where she met Alton, you know.

Of course, Delores responded. He built the hotel.

Essie was so excited when she described the Christmas Ball, Annie continued. And for the very first time since her accident, she actually looked happy.

Grandma Knudson nodded. She said she wishes she could go back in time just to see the splendor of that first Christmas Ball and something she called the Christmas Cake Parade.

Yes, Annie continued. "We talked about it on the way over here to see you. Both of us wished that

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  • (5/5)
    Hannah Swensen, home from college to help her newly-widowed mother, decides not to return to college and to open a bakery and coffee shop in Eden Lake instead. But first, she must bake cakes for the Christmas Cake Walk at the Christmas Ball they’re recreating for beloved hotel owner Essie Granger. But an unexpected guest creates havoc and may change everything for the Eden Lake folks.The twenty-third book in this cozy series includes a more than a dozen recipes, the majority of which are for sweets, not a surprise since Hannah’s business is cookies. Calling for ingredients most readers will have on hand in their pantries [or that can be found at the local supermarket], they’re easy to put together and promise to be tasty. And all the non-cereal readers may commence cheering for the delicious, crunchy cookie included here that gets its crunch from something other than corn flakes! Thank you!In this narrative, the author takes a step back, fondly recalling Hannah’s first steps in opening The Cookie Jar. It’s a sweet remembrance, but one that is tinged with mystery. A clever story within the story sets up the mystery and, although astute readers are likely to guess the secret before its reveal, it’s a heartwarming story that fans of the series are sure to appreciate. Readers new to the series will have no problem determining who’s who with this cast of well-defined characters. The sweet story is relatively straightforward, but readers will appreciate the unexpected events in the unfolding mystery and are certain to find themselves looking forward to the next Eden Lake installment.
  • (4/5)
    This cozy is a flashback to an early time in Hannah’s life. If you’ve wondered how she acquired her cookie shop, the answer is here. This delightful Christmas tale is a light and happy mystery, and has a story within the story. It also contains several mouth-watering recipes. Both stories have their own mystery, but eventually converge. It was interesting to see this young Hannah before she is caught in the throes of undecided romances, in this heart-warming and entertaining novel, perfect for the Christmas season.
  • (4/5)
    This is a prequel to the other books in the Hannah Swensen series. The story provides the background to the rest of the novels, telling how Hannah opened her bakery. This needed to be made clearer to the reader at the outset, as it seemed a little confusing to me at first. There was no introduction to let the reader know the date or timing of the story. This would be key for those who have read all the other novels in the series, since this one is out of sequence and almost seemed like an afterthought.I like her sisters and her mom Delores, but I do not always like Hannah. I also enjoyed the "story within a story" which is a key feature of this novel. As a Christmas cozy, it was a fun read, but the murder happened too late in the story for me to classify it as a murder mystery.Having read all the other books in the series, I was getting really tired of the love triangle thing. This story does not include that aspect of the novels, thankfully. I do enjoy the recipes, although the "impeccably clean hands" remark got old after awhile. I also skimmed and scanned over the many minute descriptions of how to bake things--I am perfectly capable of reading the recipes myself. I felt like this was filler and the story needed to move forward without the details. I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
  • (3/5)
    This book actually tells of an event which took place early in Hannah Swensen's cookie-baking career. Hannah and her sisters charge their mom with recreating a Christmas Cake Parade like the one an older lady named Essie discusses. They discover a manuscript written by Essie. Hannah purchases the building which will become the Cookie Jar. We finally reached an "attempted murder" near the end of the book, but most of this is simply back-story. While the descriptions of eating the baked goods is quite good, I'm always frustrated by the "extra comments" in the recipes which make them difficult to use in a real kitchen. As a reader, I wish I'd been alerted in some manner this book, written as the 23rd installment of a series, is chronologically first (or wherever it may actually fall since it's been so long since I read the first installments). I received an advance egalley from the publisher through NetGalley with expectations of an honest review.
  • (5/5)
    Christmas Cake Murder by Joanne FlukeHave read most all of other books in the series, can be read as standalone also.This one starts out when Hannah is just in college and they've lost their dad. Delores, their mom is taking it bad spending a lot of time in bed, napping.One day her friends come up with a suggestion that might help get her going again. Only she'd be able to handle the huge event.She accepts and we learn about how it all came together and what she has to do to make the event a huge accomplishment.What I like also is that Essie has notebooks of stories she had written and it's played out by other characters. Love getting two stories in one book.Love hearing how the cookie shop started-had no idea after 25 books. Like hearing of the regular day when their dad was alive and how he'd spill food on his clean shirt-reminds me so much of my husband also.There are many components to the Christmas Ball and a cake parade is one of them, sounds so yummy and colorful. Loved lerning new things: spray Pam in spoon before measuring molasses! it won't stick!Quite the mystery surrounding Essie, glad it got solved! Conversion tables at th eend of the book. Recipes included after every other chapter that relate to the topics in those chapters.Received this review copy from Kensington Books via Netgalley and this is my honest opinion.#ChristmasCakeMurder #NetGalley
  • (3/5)
    Christmas Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke is a prequel to her Hannah Swensen Mystery series. The story begins three weeks after the death of Hannah's father (not by murder in case you're curious) and explains how she became the owner of her coffee shop. After the death, her mother's grief has caused her to give up all her many interests and take to her bed. Since three weeks is much too long for grieving apparently, Hannah, her sisters, and friends devise a plan to snap her out of it. Another woman who was injured while trying to navigate the steps in the abandoned inn in which she lives has fallen and is now in a hospice. She has talked about the heyday of the inn and the Christmas Ball that had occurred there some twenty years ago. Hannah and friends will have her mother help organize a ball.In fairness, cosies like this one are more a holiday treat for me and I rarely follow a series. This is, in fact, the first book I have read by Joanne Fluke. I did think it was well-written overall although the dialogue was a bit stilted. But I guess I was hoping for more felonious Xmas cheer and less details about baking,cooking, eating, and other domestic details of life in the Swensen household. The most interesting part of the book for me was a book-in-the-book written by Essie, the woman who fell at the inn. Hannah reads the story in small installments throughout the novel and she and her family wonder if it's fiction or based on reality. Unfortunately, Essie hadn't finished the story and it is only at the end, we learn the answer.Anyway, for me, this book was just okay but I suspect, judging from other reviews I have read, that it works very well for fans of the series. For anyone else, I would suggest either give it a miss until or unless you are planning to read the series. For me, Thanks to Netgalley and Kensington Books for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (3/5)
    This is a "prequel" to the Hanna Swensen series. It gives the background of how Hannah was able to open her cookie shop after dropping out of college and returning to Lake Eden.It is shortly after her father passed away. The whole family is dealing with the loss, each in their own way. Her mother, Delores, seems to have withdrawn from all her activities and this worries the girls.Delores is asked by Grandma Knudson to help put together a Christmas Ball for Essie Granger, one of the Lake Eden elders, who is in hospice. This is something that Delores excels at and it is just the thing to bring her out of her mourning. She also recruits Hannah and her sisters to make this recreation of times past an elegant and successful event.When Hannah and her mother go to Essie's rooms, where she used to live, to find a particular ball gown and beaded purse, Hannah also finds a stack of notebooks. They contain the story of a young girl. Essie was know as a wonderful storyteller, so Hanna and Delores wonder if these are a book Essie has written. This is a mystery of its own.I've read almost all the books in the series and was not really interested in how Hannah got her shop started. It seems a little late in the series to bring this in. I'm more interested in what was happening in the last book.I did enjoy the mystery of the notebooks and what the solution was.
  • (3/5)
    I have not read Joanne Fluke for quite a while and I enjoyed Christmas Cake Murder. Joanne Fluke constantly discusses food that lead me to believe that life revolved around food. I must applaud Joanne’s recipes for being extremely thorough in the directions. My biggest complaint is that no pictures accompany the recipes in either the novel or in the cookbook. I always enjoy seeing what the recipe should be in living color. The mystery happens in the end of the book, and quickly comes to resolution. Joanne Fluke employs much conversation in the story, but still presents a basic amount of setting and characterization. Lars Swensen, Hannah’s father, must have saved bundles of money for his 3 girls, because Delores always buys each of her daughters expensive gifts. Money seems to grow on trees.
  • (5/5)
    I am a huge fan of Fluke and loved this installment. It was a fun look into Hannah’s past, showing readers how she started her bakery. The unique format of the women reading a short story as the premise for the mystery was a fresh approach. Still a fan and will always be.
  • (4/5)
    This book was so fun because it was a prequel to the Hannah Swensen series, showing how Hannah came to open the Cookie Jar and start her cookie business. We also see younger Dolores, Michelle, and Andrea pregnant with Tracy. There is no romance dilemmas so it was just a fun read. I do like books that have a story in the story and this one had that too, actually it was the mystery within.Great addition (or was it the start?) of this series.
  • (3/5)
    This story is not your usual cozy mystery. Oh sure, someone does get killed (as the title would suggest) but not anyone you might have expected. The book's real charm (not that one would consider murder "charming") lies in its story within the story. This 23rd installment in the Hannah Swensen Holiday Mystery series is actually a flashback to the early days before Hannah opened her bakery café. She's dropped out of school and come home to Lake Eden licking a few wounds of the romantic persuasion. She settles into a routine at her mother's home where baking and cooking are Hannah's new normal. Her mother is a disaster in the kitchen whereas Hannah is a whiz and quite creative. A dear older friend, Essie, has ended up in the local hospital after an unfortunate altercation with a flight of stairs. While looking in Essie's "home" for a few personal effects to cheer her in the hospital, Hannah comes across some of Essie's writing of what appears to be the start of a book. Hannah's reading aloud of the story is the point at which the mystery truly begins. Not wanting to give away the plot, just know that baking plays a large role in the story and Hannah is a champ when it comes to trouping out the desserts. It's a sweet story (literally, with all the dessert recipes contained therein). Pour yourself a cup of egg nog, grab 2 cookies and a plate and curl up for a cozy few hours in Lake Eden with Hannah and her family.I am grateful to author Joanne Fluke, Kensington Publishing Corps and Goodreads First Reads for having provided a free copy of this book. Their generosity, however, has not influenced this review - the words of which are mine alone.Synopsis (from book's dust jacket):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 bemurder . . . 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 . . .
  • (4/5)
    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)
  • (3/5)
    Being different from the others in the Hannah series, Christmas Cake Murder tells of the origins of Hannah and her bakery while also telling a story of a woman looking for safety. This book lacks the murder aspect of the rest of the series but focuses on a mystery. Due to this fact, the reader sees how everything always works out for Hannah and that her family has a lot of money and they all eat a lot especially full meals including desserts everyday. All in all the story leaves some questions uncovered as these parts are rushed in the book yet is a good and easy read.
  • (3/5)

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    This book takes us back to when Hannah's father had just died and she had completed six years of college and just broken up with her professor boyfriend who married someone else. Andrea is pregnant with her first child and is a happy homemaker. Michelle is a high school student acting in the school plays who is friends with Lisa. There is, of course, no Mike or Norman as they haven't moved to Lake Eden yet.Dolores, Hannah's mother spends most of her time in bed weeping and Hannah and her sisters are worried that she'll follow their father to the grave in her grief. Grandma Knudson whose grandson is the local Luthern minister and Annie who runs the orphanage are powerhouses at getting things done. They come by once again to visit Dolores and Hannah tells them of her worries. But they have just the thing to pull Dolores out of her depression. A project to help Essie, a local woman who owns the rundown, now shut down hotel who used to have storytime for the kids which gave the mothers a chance to get things done.Essie fell down the stairs of the hotel and broke her hip and can't stay at the hotel to recuperate so she is staying at hospice until she can get better. But Essie has declared that nothing would make her happier than to have a Christmas Ball like the one where she met her husband Alton all those years ago at the hotel. Complete with a Christmas cake walk and a dessert buffet. The problem is the hotel is in disrepair and needs to be fixed up and they need someone to spearhead the project. Would Dolores agree to take on this monumental task? Of course, she does and immediately feels better when she does.Hannah, Michelle, and Lisa agree to make the cakes and desserts. But Hannah will need a big freezer to hold the cakes they make in advance. Dolores agrees to buy one. However, Michelle and Andrea and Hannah are talking about what Hannah wants to do with her life and she says that her dream is to open up a coffee and bakery shop. Dolores hears her and lets her know that there is still money left in her college fund to put down on the old bakery that is being rented to buy in town if she is serious.When Delores and Hannah go to the Hotel to get some things for Essie to have in the hospital they stumble across some old notebooks written faintly in ink. Essie tells them they can read them if they want that she was trying her hand at fiction but that she didn't finish the book because she couldn't figure out an ending. The story is about a young pregnant woman who works for her cousin, a mobster, and how she and her husband plan on turning him in and escaping the life. He stays behind to face them like nothing is wrong because they shouldn't suspect and she sneaks out and mails off the evidence to the authorities, then gets on a train and heads off to Minnesota where no one will find her.This book is alright in that it explains how Hannah got her start, but its a murder mystery series and there's no murder. There's a tiny bit of a mystery at the end that she's kinda been stringing you along throughout the book if you've been wise enough to pick up on. Overall, it was a bit of a disappointment. Some of the recipes included are Cocoa Crunch Cookies, Ultimate Lemon Bundt Cake, Bacon, and Sausage Burritos, Chocolate Hazelnut Bon-Bons, and Minty Dreams Cookies. I give this book three stars out of five stars.

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  • (3/5)

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    I've read other books featuring Hannah Swensen, but I had to go back and see when this one was published because it seems to fall at an earlier time than other books I've read in the series. My only explanation for that is that this is billed as a "Hannah Swensen Holiday Mystery" which may be different than the Hannah Swensen series.In the last book featuring Hannah that I read, she already owned The Cookie Jar and already lived in a different location than her mother. Michelle was a college student (not a high school student as she is here). And I don't remember mention of Dolores's husband Lars in the books I've read in this series prior to this. So this book goes back to fill in some of the history: why Hannah left college, how she came to own her business, etc. At the same time, it presents the story of Essie. I liked the notebooks telling a story within Fluke's story. I also liked the idea of the Christmas Cake parade though the constant references to it throughout sometimes did get a bit repetitive.I also missed Moishe's antics (Hannah's cat in other books) as well as not having Norman and Mike hanging around. And it does bother me some that every recipe Hannah makes is delicious--she never seems to burn cookies or make something that doesn't work for some reason--yes, sometimes there are tweaks that are suggested, but not usually because whatever they're tasting tastes bad, just because they think it might be interesting to try.I was interested in a couple recipes from this book but upon reading them don't think they'll fit into my low salt diet for medical reasons since the pork roast one starts with canned soup (very high in sodium) and, of course, most baked goods have salt in the recipe too.

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