Sunday, March 3, 2013

Book Review: Cherry Cheesecake Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #8)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: A wonderful cast of friendly characters.
Cons: The plot is slow in spots.
The Bottom Line:
Not a good intro
Because the story is slow
Fans will still enjoy

Hollywood Comes to Lake Eden

Cherry Cheesecake Murder is the eighth book in the Hannah Swensen mystery series. Hannah lives in the small town of Lake Eden, Minnesota where she runs a cookie shop called The Cookie Jar.

Living in a small town has certain advantages and disadvantages. Right now, Hannah would list among the disadvantages everyone knowing her business. Ever since both town dentist Norman and police detective Mike proposed to her, she has been getting lots of phone calls from people telling her whom to marry. The phone calls start even before she leaves for her shop early in the morning.

All that gets set on the back burner when Hollywood comes calling. Director Dean Lawrence chooses Lake Eden as a location for the independent movie he's making, using many of the locals as extras or giving them slightly larger bit parts. Hannah's niece Tracey lands the part of the main character as a child, and even Hannah's cat Moishe finds a roll.

Hannah is shocked to discover old college friends among the cast and crew. She is especially pleased to see the script's writer, Ross Barton, a man Hannah had secretly had a crush on back then. When they begin spending lots of time together, the rumor mill starts up and both Mike and Norman are seeing red.

The movie is not without controversy, however. Mr. Lawrence wants to move a statue to film one scene, and the late sculptor's sister will have none of it. In addition, Dean is generally rude to the locals and hits on every woman in sight. He's demanding of those under him. At least he does love the cherry cheesecake Hannah made especially for him and jumps at the idea of using mini cherry cheesecakes in one scene.

Then the unthinkable happens. Dean Lawrence is demonstrating a scene for an actor who is having a hard time grasping how he should play it when the prop gun goes off and Dean is killed. There's no way it was an accident and little likelihood is was suicide, so the police begin to investigate. Never one to ignore her curiosity, Hannah begins her own investigation. But was it a local or someone from the movie? There's certainly no shortage of suspects or motives to sift through.

This series has developed a loyal fan based because of the characters, and this book will be sure to please them. The entire cast is their usual charming selves and spending time with them is always fun. Tracey really gets a chance to shine in this book. She may not behave like a normal seven year old, but watching her campaign to get the part in the movie was wonderful. As always, Moishe manages to steal every scene he is in. That cat has a mind of his own and it shows.

Many readers are getting tired of the Mike/Norman/Hannah love triangle. They will find this book disappointing. While I realize the on going story line is completely unrealistic, I also find it fun and really don't care. It provides lots of laughs in the first two chapters and several more over the course of the book.

The writing style of this series is rather simple. Joanne Fluke doesn't use fancy words or complex phrasing. I find it makes for a fun, easy read. I'm sure this helps explain why she has readers from the sixth grade to grandmothers.

My only strike against this book is the pacing of the story. While we seen the murder in the prologue, it doesn't take place in the story until after the half way point. While there is still plenty going on to keep the reader entertained, it begins to drag before the murder takes place and anyone new to the series will be bored since they don't know the characters. Once Dean dies, the story picks up the pace again and leads to a clever solution. I do wish the murder had come sooner and the sub-plots woven in after it happened, however.

This book features fourteen new recipes. I've only tried the title recipe. Trust me, if you like cheesecake you need to get the recipe. It's worth the price of the book alone.

This series has always been light and fun, and Cherry Cheesecake Murder continues that tradition. It's best to start with the early books because the half the fun of the series is the characters and the more you know about them the better you appreciate them.

Looking for more?  Check out the Hannah Swensen Mysteries in order.


  1. Hi Mark,

    I hope you don't mind my commenting here so ridiculously late but I've only just found your blog through a post you made last week on Lisa K's Book Thoughts blog.

    I think the reason some readers are annoyed with the M/N/H love triangle is that they feel annoyed that Hannah gets two (sometimes three, including Ross from this book) boyfriends and some people don't even get one significant other. They may also feel that Norman is the clear choice and they just wish she would pick the better man for her.

    So, I gotta know (but feel totally free to not answer): Are you the Mark Baker in the Acknowledgements of this book, the one who'd "been hoping for this title."? And the Mark Baker from the next one (Key Lime Pie), "who always shows up, sometimes twice."? And, from the later books, just 'Mark B.'? If you are, that's totally cool.

    I'm off now to read some more of your reviews because you have a lot and I see I have some catching up to do there.

    1. I don't mind a "late" comment in the slightest. Welcome and glad to have you here.

      Those who complain about the love triangle are right that it is unrealistic. I get that. And I've gotten a little tired of it myself, but I still enjoy the books for what they are.

      And yes, that is me in the acknowledgements. It was a shock the first time around for sure, but a pleasant one.

  2. Thanks so much for the reply!

    Oh, yeah, I still totally enjoy the books for what they are (and, sometimes, for what they are not), I was just trying to offer another perspective.

    Off now to read more reviews. I'm really enjoying the Trixies. Can't wait until #13, because that's my favourite in the series. And I know I could skip ahead and read that one next but I won't because I'm reading in order.

    1. Trixie #13 is one of my favorites, too.

      I am humbled that you'd take the time to read all my backlog. Hope you find it worth it and a few fun new books to try.