Mystery, Reviews

Review: Coconut Layer Cake Murder (Hannah Swenson #25)

Coconut Layer Cake Murder (Hannah Swenson, #25)Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke

My rating: 2.25 of 5 stars

I signed up for the Goodreads Giveaway of Coconut Layer Cake Murder for my mother who’s been a fan of the series for a few years now. She enjoyed this 25th book in the Hanna Swenson series enough to give it 3.5 stars, saying that the steadiness of the familiar character was comforting like a warm cookie and the precise explanations made the story easy to follow even when her attention was divided. She did admit, though, that she prefers to listen to the audiobook versions.

I’ve been wanting to check the series out myself since my mother and I have similar tastes in books and, I must admit, because the books are so pretty (It isn’t judging by the cover if you’re just observing that they are attractive, right?) so, after she read it, I decided to give it a whirl. I was a little worried that in starting with book #25 that I’d be lost but while I did have some questions about the characters and past events that they referred to, that wasn’t one of my problems with this book.

The first thing that caught my attention was the stiff, stilted nature of Fluke’s writing, especially in the dialogue. It felt as if Hannah was talking to strangers or acquaintances rather than her family and friends. Also, the characters often said the name of the person they were speaking to way too many times as if Fluke had read books where pronouns had been overused causing confusing and she wanted to make sure that didn’t happen here. I get that; I’ve read books like that too but her was just as annoying. Then there are the detailed explanations of what each character is doing – step-by-step lists of mundane actions that have little or no bearing on the story or the mystery. This attention to detail works very well for writing recipes; in fact, I loved the way she wrote the recipes with so many details, tips, and suggestions, but their inclusion within the story was distracting. As was the characters’ talking about the recipes. There was more about the baked goods than any actual sleuthing which begs the question: Why not just write a cookbook? (which Fluke has done with her Lake Eden Cookbook).

As for the story itself, I expect certain things from a cozy mystery. Either it is a really good mystery with an interesting amateur detective or there is a bit of fun mixed into the character’s story or the detective work. This book had neither. The mystery was interesting for a while but I figured out ‘whodunit’ pretty quickly and just had to wait for Fluke to stop writing recipes and Hannah to focus on the task at hand to find out if I was right. I was though the murderer’s explanation left a bit to be desired.  At least it was a quick read.  I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of Hannah Swenson’s mysteries though I’ll probably ask my mother which great guy Hannah chooses and how that works out because that part of the story was more interesting than the murder case at the center of it. 

I don’t read a lot of mysteries but when I do they are usually cozy mysteries like this.  If you enjoy a good cozy mystery with interesting characters and a bit of fun, I recommend M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series starting with The Quiche of Death.  If you’re looking for a really intriguing mystery written by a master mystery writer, you cannot go wrong with Agatha Christie.  I’ve been reading her Miss Marple mysteries which may be the gold standard of cozy mysteries.

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Chick-Lit, Reviews, Romance

Review: The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living

The City Baker's Guide to Country LivingThe City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love a good foodie novel and Louise Miller’s The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is the sort of foodie novel that warms your heart like a wood fire in a little cottage – or an oven in a cozy kitchen. Olivia is a world-class baker whose life is currently a recipe for disaster. After a catastrophe at her job in Boston, she runs away to the open arms of her friend in the small rural Vermont town of Guthrie. When a job opportunity arises at the local B&B, Olivia feels like she has no other choice than to take it no matter how unwelcome the inn’s stern owner, Margaret, makes her feel.
It isn’t long before Vermont’s magic begins to work on Olivia’s heart, bringing back tender memories of her father. Her heart is also warmed by a connection with Martin, the son of Margaret’s best friend, and his family who welcomes her with open arms giving her the feeling of a family she never knew she was missing.
When it looks like her new found family will not welcome her as she’d imagined, Olivia does what she always does. She runs away. Once again she turns to baking, and it is baking and friendships that help her to find her way again.
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is a romance and Martin was pretty swoon-worthy, but it is Olivia’s journey of healing and the wonderful female friendships that carry this story. And the details that thrill the senses from the mouth-watering descriptions of Olivia’s bakes to the crispiness of the autumn leaves and the smell of the woodsmoke. Vermont is a character in this novel, leaving me to wish I’d read it in winter rather than the height of summer.

If you, like me, enjoy a good foodie novel with a touch of romance, please read Ruth Reichl’s only foray (so far?) into fiction, Delicious!which not only has food and romance but some history and lots of wonderful characters.

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Review: The Ice-Cream Makers

The Ice-Cream Makers
The Ice-Cream Makers by Ernest van der Kwast

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is really a 2.5 rating. I’m not sure what I expected when I signed up for an advanced copy of The Ice-Cream Makers but what I got wasn’t it. Though Italian culture and the history of the Northern Italian Ice-Cream makers are subjects which should have interested me, I had a difficult time getting into the story of the Talamini family (or is it Calamine? The translator probably changed that for the novel’s U.S. release thanks to the well-known anti-itching lotion.). I don’t know how much of the heart of the story was lost in translation but the form was sort of anecdotal which doesn’t flow well and often confused me since characters from the past and present share the same names.
I did eventually get into the central story of the consequences of the oldest son’s decision not to inherit the ice-cream business leaving his aging parents and younger brother to pick up the slack. The result is a thought-provoking look at evolving family dynamics and the weight of obligation. Every time, though, that I found myself really getting absorbed in the story I was jolted out of it when the narrative jumped back or forward in time or, in one instance, went on a chapter-long discussion of hotels around the world. Most frustratingly, one of these jolts happens at the end of the novel, leaving the reader guessing.

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Chick-Lit, Reviews

Review: Luck, Love & Lemon Pie

Luck, Love & Lemon Pie
Luck, Love & Lemon Pie by Amy E. Reichert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are a lot of novels out there about middle-aged women struggling with a marriage that has gone stale after years of routine and child rearing. What sets Luck, Love & Lemon Pie apart from the multitudes is the main character, MJ. Often when female characters are written as strong and self-reliant, they come off as a caricature of what we think those women should be. MJ is real. She is strong; she is self-reliant, but she has weaknesses and is more vulnerable than she knows. It is fascinating to watch as she goes from being a force of nature to a coward hiding in a poker room to a screw up that makes many wrong turns rather than have a tough conversation with her husband to someone who finally realizes she needs other people as much as they need her.
There are some absurd bits to the story (like the $1 million chip seduction and the coffee shop confession) and the sexy Doyle whose character just falls flat, but it is fun with a wonderful message about love, and marriage being about opening yourself up completely to you partner. Plus I really want to try that Lemon Pie recipe!

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