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Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

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There it was, winking at me from the corner of the table. It was my favorite color. It had an eye-catching title. And best of all, it had a skull.

A skull made of blueberries. Baked into a muffin. How could I resist?

I snatched it up, along with its lemon meringue and fudge cupcake buddies, hoping I’d found treasure. But I have to admit, I had my doubts.

Cute is great when it comes to baby animals. Or stuffed animals. Even a cute guy is fine. But I like my reading material a little less light.

I wasn’t expecting much when I cracked open Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke. I’m not into cutesy mysteries with a reoccurring theme…I’ve stayed clear of the cat ones and the alphabet ones. But these books were free, just waiting to be taken home, so why not? What did I have to lose?

Three books later, and I’m addicted. Thankfully, my parents got me an Amazon gift certificate for Christmas, which will feed my Fluke habit quite nicely.

For those not in the know, the Hannah Swensen mystery series features a thirty-something woman who manages to squeeze in some detective work while running her bakery and cafe. Seems Hannah is always stumbling over dead bodies, and someone always manages to convince her that she “really should” investigate. No one ever needs to twist her arm very much. (Although with so many people turning up dead, one wonders why anyone sane would stay in Lake Eden.)

The stories are set in small town Minnesota, with a memorable cast of characters, including a cantankerous feline roommate. And the plots are cute, all right. Sometimes they’re almost unbearably trite. The murder victim is either a bad guy or a woman with questionable morals. The murderer is always a minor character that you haven’t formed an attachment to. And Hannah, who continuously vacillates between two boyfriends–the bad boy and the boy-next-door–somehow manages to keep her virginity intact. Some pristine kisses are the most either guy is going to get.

There’s no swearing. No sex. And very little violence, considering these are murder mysteries. When Hannah gets into trouble, as she invariably does, you know she’s not in real danger. Even the discovery of the corpse manages to be cute…and yet….

Something about these books is so compelling that they managed to overcome my initial cynicism. Maybe it’s the original recipes, which are sprinkled throughout each story like edible gems. (It’s all I can do to stop myself from flipping forward to the next one, but that would ruin the surprise.)

As good as the recipes are, though, I think the real recipe for Fluke’s success is another secret ingredient…

fun.

Fluke’s books are just plain fun. They’re fun to read, and you can tell that the author had a hell of a lot of fun writing them. Even Hannah has fun as she goes about her days making cookies, eating too much, and solving mysteries.

Fine literature, they’re not. And you won’t learn anything from them, except maybe how to make a kick-ass cookie. But who cares? If it’s an escape you’re looking for, I can’t think of any place more appealing to visit than Lake Eden.

Have any of you read the Hannah Swensen books or another series like it? What did you think? And if you’re a writer, how do you keep it fun? Have you ever been tempted to write something purely for fun? I’m a writer of psychological suspense, but I have to say I’m feeling the urge. All that dark stuff gets pretty dreary after a while.

In the meantime, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a Cherry Cheesecake Murder.

Oh yeah, did I mention Fluke is a NY Times best-selling author? She’s not just slinging cookie dough.

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8 Comments

  1. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I don’t read many “cozies” but I do enjoy Blaize Clement’s series about petsitter Dixie Hemingway – the first is called CURIOUSITY KILLED THE CATSITTER. They’re cozies but a little edgier than the average. I enjoy the characters and the “voice” the most. I also like the different animals (and their owners!) that she comes in contact with in her business.

    Full disclosure here: I know the author and the stories take place near where I live. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Dianiewill

    I love her work, but have never read this series. Its been on my list, but I just havent gotten past the cute factor to choose it over something more hard core noir-ey. With this review, I will move her ahead. Thanks! She also writes YA fiction that is really readable and will hook you in. Get her other stuff too.

    Oh- and yeah , i read the cat stuff (great character profiles and wonderful for teaching visuals: I am talking Lillian Jackson Braun not some of the other uber cute cat/mystery knockoffs, I stay clear of those as well.) and I read the Sue Grafton alpha books. If you do start these, start em from A. This series is truly worth the popular acclaim. Once again the character relationships are the best feature. The main character is rough and cynical and hurting and smart and sassy, not “cute” at all. Her backstory is as complete as her apartment and her closest relationships are, and the mysteries themselves are smart and twisty. Just do it. The Braun cat books I can read in a day and forget the content two days later (I call em brain candy.) The Grafton series stays with me much longer and is much more satisfying,, although with a few inconsistenties in the middle of series where she was trying some growth (the romantic stuff didnt work for me- I like Kinsey alone and cynical, with her neighbor and diner pals, sorry.)

    i also read a cutesy kinda cozy recently and liked it enough to friend the author on FB. I am awaiting the 2nd in the series now: Paige Shelton’s farmer’s market murders. Yeah, she has dead bodies, slight danger to self, and recipes. Oh well. Brain candy is GOOD sometimes.

    Reply
  3. Dianiewill

    ok now I am seriously embarrassed. I have read two of Fluke’s books, and I did enjoy them. (Brain candy may not always stick around very long.) BUT I read alot, and sometimes, I also get confused. Fluke, Funke, Joanne, Cornelia… author from Minnesota, author from Germany, chaste main characters, author similar in name…ya you get it, I got confluzed about who was whom.
    Cornelia Flunke writes mostly YA fantasy, but also has childrens books. More info on her is here http://www.corneliafunkefans.com/en/cornelia/bibliography

    have you read any Dianne Mott Davison books? http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/d/diane-mott-davidson/
    or Carolyn Hart? They are kinda old school food-mystery authors, although both are extremely different they are both well written and memorable. Yeah, even for me.
    One of my favorite authors is Joan Hess, and specifically her series with Claire Mallory, a bookseller who has a university campus bookstore in Arkansas. (The most recent one wasnt all that, but she writes brilliantly and smartly.)

    Reply
  4. Story Teller

    @ Madeline and Diane – thanks for your comments and your recommendations. They all sound interesting.

    @ Diane – I haven’t read any of the other authors you’ve mentioned, and I’m a little afraid to start, at least until I’m out of debt. The farmer’s market sounds particularly interesting.

    Reply
  5. Laura Best

    So I totally want to eat a blueberry muffin now.lol! Holli, I love your review. So much fun to read. Since I haven’t heard of this author or this series I thank you for this! I’ll be keeping an eye out from now on.

    Reply
  6. Story Teller

    Thanks, Laura. If you think the blueberry muffin suggestion is bad, you should see some of her recipes! She has one for cookies that supposedly taste like pancakes with syrup…there’s so many that I want to try!

    Reply
  7. Elspeth Cross

    I’ll give this a try. I like cute up to a point… which is right before sugar shock sets in. If this book has some substance to it as well, I’ll probably be hooked. (And I *love* books with recipes in them!)

    Reply
  8. Story Teller

    Me, too, Elspeth. I especially love food memoirs. Just tried my first recipe from Fluke: Cinnamon Crisps. Decadent, but good!

    Reply

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