Hannah Swensen Mystery #1: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder

Hi there! Welcome to my blog series where I will be reading and reviewing Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series, as well as trying out some of the recipes included in the books!

You do not necessarily have to read these books in the order that they were published; however, for the purpose of this blog, I did start from the beginning. Since there are so many books in the series (26, with number 27 expected in late February), I will not be writing a blog over each book, but every five or so. Today I will be discussing the first book in the series, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

Review

The book begins by introducing Hannah Swensen, a twenty-something year old woman who owns a cookie and coffee shop called the Cookie Jar in her hometown of Lake Eden, Minnesota. We learn that Hannah once had aspirations to become a professor, and was well on her way to a Doctorate Degree when her sister, Andrea begged her to come home when their father died to help their mother get his affairs in order. Hannah dutifully returned to Lake Eden to assist her family, and subsequently ended up staying and opening the Cookie Jar instead of going back to school.

One morning, Hannah happens upon a crime scene in the alley behind her shop involving the Cozy Cow delivery driver, Ron LaSalle. The scene leads into a criminal investigation led by Andrea’s husband Bill, a Winnetka County Deputy Sheriff. Hannah uses her wits, some skills she’s picked up from mysteries she’s seen on TV, and possibly illegal tactics to help Bill track down the criminal and solve the town’s mystery. Through her investigation, we meet some Lake Eden locals, and learn some shocking town secrets.

I would consider the Hannah Swensen books to be cozy mysteries. They are gentle, easy reads, and though they include murder, they are not overly graphic. I read this particular book in two days, and it kept my interest the entire time. The plot lines aren’t overly complicated, but they aren’t obvious either. In Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, I thought I knew who the murderer was about halfway through, but I ended up being wrong.

For the most part, I really do enjoy these books. I love Hannah Swensen’s sarcastic character, and the fact that she is an independent woman. However, I feel these books are a bit problematic. For the sake of space, I will go deeper into these issues in future blogs, but here are some things I’ve noticed. Joanne Fluke uses the r word to describe Freddy Sawyer, a character with a developmental disability. The character Betty Johnson is never mentioned without also mentioning how fat she is and how unflattering her outfit is. There’s also a sort of unhealthy dynamic between Hannah and Mike, one of her love interests. All that being said, this book was published in 2000 and I realize times were different then. I’m interested to see if these things continue into the later books.

If you want to get started on the series, APLD has a large print, regular print, ebook, and eAudiobook copy of Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder! You can go online or call the library to place a hold on our print copies, or access the digital copies on Libby or OverDrive.

Recipe

I decided to try to make the Regency Ginger Crisps that Hannah made for the Lake Eden Regency Romance Club. The recipe makes 6 to 7 dozen. Since I had so many extras I brought them to the library with me the next day, and they were a hit with the staff!

Regency Ginger Crisps

Do not preheat oven yet, dough must chill before baking.

3/4 cup melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 large beaten egg (or two medium, just whip them up with a fork)

4 tablespoons molasses (that’s 1/4 cup)***

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 1/4 cups flour (not sifted)

1/2 cup white sugar in a small bowl (for later)

Melt butter and mix in sugar. Let mixture cool and then add egg(s). Add soda, molasses, salt, and ginger. Stir it thoroughly. Add flour and mix in. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour. (Overnight is even better.)

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F., rack in the middle position.

Roll the dough into walnut sized balls in white sugar. (Just dump them in the bowl with the sugar and shake the bowl gently to coat them.) Place them on greased cookie sheets, 12 to a standard sheet. Flatten them with a spatula.

Bake at 375 degrees F. for 10 to 12 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool on cookie sheets for no more than 1 minute, and then remove to wire rack to finish cooling. (If you leave these on the cookie sheets for too long, they’ll stick.)

***To measure molasses, first spray the inside of the measuring cup with Pam so that the molasses won’t stick to the sides of the cup.

Yield: 6 to 7 dozen, depending on cookie size.

 


 

Mary Poppins Returns

There is a lot of hype surrounding the new Disney movie Mary Poppins Returns, which is to be released December 19, 2018, and the Aurora Public Library District is here to help you jump on the bandwagon! Keep a lookout for an Author Biographies blog featuring P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins and all of her adventures. In the meantime, check out Saving Mr. Banks to hold you over.

The first book in the Mary Poppins universe, Mary Poppins, was released in 1934, with subsequent adventures periodically released all the way up to 1988. We have several of these titles available both digitally and physically to check out.

Mary Poppins Returns is actually intended to be a sequel to the popular 1964 film Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. And while the film is similar to the books created by Travers, it has become its own entity entirely. In other words, you don’t have to read the books in order to watch and understand the film, which is definitely still one of my favorites. The sequel promises to deliver all of the magical realism elements present in the original, as well as new musical numbers. I have high hopes that this new movie will be able to bridge the gap between generations; maybe it will even become as iconic as the childhood staple that is the original!

Starring Emily Blunt as the titular Mary Poppins, and including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, and Meryl Streep, Mary Poppins Returns has been anticipated since its announcement in September 2015. Dan Van Dyke is also going to make an appearance in the new film, so we can only hope that the Queen of Genovia herself (Julie Andrews) will follow suit!

Watch the trailer here.

Can you tell I’m more than a little excited? It’s bound to be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Let’s Take a Moment: Almost Innocent

almost-innocent

Jane Feather has been one of my personal favorites since I first read: Almost Innocent. It’s such an amazing tale. It draws you in and keeps you interested. It makes you want to put it in your to-read-again pile.

The story begins with the Duke of Lancaster and his mistress, Isolde, who also happens to be with child. Throughout the first few paragraphs you can tell something is about to happen; I personally heard gloomy music in my mind as I continued to read. It turns out that Isolde was trying to poison the Duke and he instead poisons her. While she lays dying, the child within her begins to push its way into the world. He thinks about leaving the child there with her dying mother, but instead decides that there was too much death in the room.

Magdalen grows up believing the Lord of Belair is her father. The lord isn’t particularly rude or nasty but almost indifferent to the young girl, mainly because he believes she is ‘tainted by her birth.’ In just a few short-lived moments, we meet the hero: Guy de Gervais.  He arrives to stand-in for his nephew for Magdalen and him to marry. He takes her under his care. She meets her real father, and though he doesn’t mean to, the Duke is cruel and flings her away from him because of the “eyes of her mother.”

Guy’s wife dies, and even at such a young age, Magdalen believes herself to be madly in love with Guy. So she tells him she shouldn’t marry Edmund, his nephew, she should marry him. Guy tosses it away as the naivete of a young girl. She and Edmund marry and Magdalen is sent back to her old home.

Following this, we see Magdalen grown up and see Guy falling in love with her despite himself and everyone else.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Not only was I sympathetic to Guy and Magdalen but I was moved by their passionate love for each other.  There was equal drama and action as well as love and romance. It was just the perfect amount of everything that it didn’t give too much or too little.   I do think there could have been some improvements, but nothing too serious. If you aren’t one to read romance novels because of their specific scenes, then this story is perfect for you.

five-out-of-five

Reviews:

“An accomplished storyteller … rare and wonderful.”
Daily News of Los Angeles

Click here to check out ALMOST INNOCENT!!