Warning: This book review contains spoilers for “Christmas Cake Murder” by Joanne Fluke. If you’re trying to avoid spoilers, don’t read this one!
I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “Christmas Cake Murder” by Joanne Fluke! I’ve read another book from the same series before, so it’s nice to come back to this series and read more of it again! Yes, I’m aware that it’s far past Christmas now, despite this being a Christmas-themed book. But for those in the Christmas mood, still, you might be interested in reading it. Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“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.”
Plot Development: 3.5 out of 5 stars
In terms of continuity, readers will be happy to learn that this book is a literal prequel to all the other books in the series. You don’t need to know anything about the whole rest of the series to read this one at all. Having read books in the series such as “Cinnamon Roll Murder” and “Blueberry Muffin Murder” (which I read long before starting this blog) before by the same author, it’s nice to know that I didn’t need prior knowledge of the rest of the series to understand the depths of this one,especially since there are many books in this series. The setting of the story takes place far in the past, just as Hannah is about to start her own bakery and move out of her mother’s house.
Unfortunately, there is very little that happens in the plot other than Hannah starting her own bakery, moving out of her mother’s house, and reading the stories that Essie wrote. The summary seemed to imply that Essie’s stories would have a much larger impact on the plot, but there was very little of the story that it impacted overall at all, except for the last twenty-percent of the book. What I would’ve liked is to see more of Essie’s plotline spread out more throughout the book in more than just reading the stories she wrote herself, because the pacing of the mystery would be a lot more interesting and more fun to track. I would’ve liked reading more of Essie’s story connecting with the in-real-life events other than the last fifth of the book. Jamming majority of this plotline into the last fifth of the book rushed the ending and gave no real conclusion-esque chapter that took place after the mystery was solved.
Character Development: 3 out of 5 stars
We get to know Hannah and her family a lot more in this book compared to other books I’ve read in the series. We learn of Hannah’s love of baking, learn of how Delores, Hannah’s mother, suffers from depression due to the father of the family recently dying (it’s three weeks after his death at the time of the book’s start), and we readers have the opportunity to read more of the overall family interactions between sisters and mother-daughter bonding moments. Some readers may be relieved that there are no love triangle-plots in this book (which is also why there is no romance category in this review, this time around). There are mentioned past romances for Hannah, but it’s not touched on much. For those more familiar with the series than just reading one or two books, some of the information may be old (such as the love for baking for example, given that it was apparent since the first book onwards—why else would Hannah run a bakery?), but this also helps for those that are new to reading the series, especially since the events of this book take place chronologically before the entire rest of the series as a whole.
However, I would have liked to see more development in characters such as Essie, especially given how the mystery part of the plot revolved around her. Even with the plot twist of the story Hannah reads being actually based on real parts of Essie’s life, I still finished the book feeling like I didn’t know a whole lot about her. The same goes for a few other characters I won’t name here because that will lead to major spoilers.
Overall, I’m rating this book out 3.25 of 5 stars!
Other than the odd pacing of the actual mystery plot in this book and lack of character development in some plot-vital characters, this was, as a whole, a good read. If you’re still in the Christmas mood and you want some mystery (but not a heavy amount of it), this might be the book for you.
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