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Book review

Wedding Cake Murder, by Joanne Fluke
Hannah Swensen #19

Warning, spoilers ahead perhaps

If you’ve been following this series, you might know that this book is the one in which Hannah gets married. However, as I know people reading the series who have not reached the getting engaged part yet, I’ll try not to mention the name of the groom.

Ever since I read the very last sentence of Double Fudge Brownie Murder last year, the moment when Hannah tells her sister she is going to marry someone, I’ve been anticipating this newest book in the Hannah Swensen series. I preordered it from Audible and read it in a day from the moment I got it downloaded yesterday. I went to bed Monday night thinking, when I get up tomorrow, the book will be in my audible library! I loved it in many ways, but I was also disappointed in many ways.

The book opens with Hannah talking to someone about her upcoming wedding plans. We had learned in the previous book, that Hannah’s youngest sister, Michelle, had entered Hannah into a cooking contest with a fictional food channel, and Hannah had won and been invited to participate in a televised cooking show contest. At the beginning of this new book, Hannah is getting ready, planning to get married, and then spend her honeymoon in New York participating in the contest. All her plans fall apart, when a rep from the contest calls to tell her they are moving up the dates of the contest, and whichever contestant wins the first round in the competition will have the home advantage, because the contest will be moved to their home town. But this also means that it might affect Hannah’s wedding plans. She tells the producer about the wedding, and he assures her the contest will end before that date, and the food channel will stick around and film her wedding.

All this to set the scene, so most of the book can take place back in Lake Eden and around the friends and townspeople we’ve all come to know and love.

I enjoyed the parts of the book about the cooking contest very much. Michelle is Hannah’s assistant, and I always enjoy their interaction as sisters. The recipes, the judges, the other contestants, it was all fun and interesting. My only negative thought on that part of the book was that for one of Hannah’s desserts she made apple pie, and I happen to hate apple pie. Good thing I wasn’t her judge, isn’t it?

Hannah wins the first round and the contest moves to Lake Eden and continues on. In the midst of that, Hannah is still preparing for her wedding, but it seems to be the least important thing on her list of too many things to do. In the midst of the contest, one of the judges is murdered, and of course Hannah adds sleuthing and solving mysteries to her already too full agenda. Okay, it’s Hannah Swensen, and there has to be a murder and Hannah has to try to solve it. But this is where the book started breaking down for me.

Hannah is so focused on trying to solve the mystery that her excitement over her wedding seems so far back in her mind and heart that it might as well not be there. I’ve always loved that these books are not heavy on the romance, but it would have been nice to see more of Hannah and her intended. It seemed she saw more of one of the people she didn’t marry than she does of her fiancé.

There’s a scene where Hannah is asked to go next door to Clair’s dress shop to pick out her wedding dress, and Hannah balks and tries to get out of it. She has no interest, excitement or concern about what she’ll wear to her wedding. This was extremely off-putting to me. I know plenty of women like Hannah who aren’t much interested in fashion and clothes, makeup and the whole bit, but I’ve never known any woman who wasn’t the least bit interested in getting her wedding dress. That scene fell flat and I wanted to give her a good shake and say, “don’t you want to make his eyes pop when he sees you come down the aisle?”

But here’s the clincher, the worst moment for me, the most unrealistic thing I’ve ever read in one of these novels, a moment that might have been meant to be funny or humorous in some way but came off to me as slapstick. It’s Hannah’s wedding day. She’s alone. Her mother and sisters are already at the church, and she’s going to drive herself to the church to get ready. On the way, she stops into the Lake Eden Inn to arrange for a special bottle of wine for her groom, and through conversation with one of the owners, she realizes who the murderer is. Cool. Sure, this is what Hannah does. But it’s getting late, and she barely has enough time to get to the church to get dressed and marry her sweetheart, but what does she do? She goes off to the inn’s kitchen, where the contest cooking happened, and waits to confront the killer. Now, if you’ve read earlier books, you know, Hannah knows at least four or five men in the sheriff’s office. Under those circumstances, if it was my wedding day and I was already nearly late, I’d be making a quick call with my handy cell phone, letting one of those nice sheriff guys know the scoop and off to my wedding I’d go. I wouldn’t be hanging around waiting to confront the murderer when I was supposed to be getting married!

Of course, there’s a big confrontation scene, Hannah is nearly killed and has to do something extreme and crazy to save herself. She jumps into the Inn’s dumpster and is carted off by the garbage guy who handles the dumpsters! Of course her cell phone battery is dead and she can only, finally get off part of a message to one of the sheriff guys in order to get rescued. She’s nearly an hour late to her own wedding, rushes into the church screaming “I’m here” all while being covered head to toe in gunk, gross nasty food garbage from the dumpster! I didn’t find it funny or entertaining at all.

There’s a scene nearly an hour into the book, when Hannah meets individually with people she needs to clear the air with. I can’t say who because it will reveal who isn’t her groom. But in these scenes, it seems Hannah cares more for their feelings than for the feelings of her groom. And this brings up other issues I had with the story that I can’t say because of trying not to reveal the groom. But it felt as if everyone else was more important to her than the man she was planning to marry.

Other things I didn’t like were:
Not enough Moisha, and no particular funny Moisha mischief.
No Tracy, Hannah’s sweet and too adult seven-year-old niece. She’s mentioned but has no air time.
Hardly any Lisa and hardly any time in the Cookie Jar, Hannah’s bakery.
Not enough time, as I said earlier, with Hannah and her groom.

Things I loved:
I loved the overall contest.
I enjoyed the interaction with Hannah and Michelle, and with the three sisters, when it happened. There were some lovely moving scenes between Hannah’s mother, Dolores, and the three sisters, Hannah, Andrea and Michelle.
Loved what time we had between Hannah and what’s his name.
The mystery was fun as always and took me time to figure out who and why.
And I loved that Hannah finally did get married to the one I’d been hoping she would for several books.

I’d give this book four out of five stars. It wasn’t what I was hoping for in many ways. I was wanting to see the reactions of everyone when Hannah announced her engagement: how did her sisters react after her big reveal at the end of the last book? How did Dolores? What about the ones not chosen? What about Lisa and the rest of the town? Did Lisa “tell the story” of how Hannah got engaged to the wide-eyed audience in the coffee shop?

But the book was also full of much of what I enjoy in this series. Hannah is entertaining. I love Lake Eden and wish I could visit, have cookie and coffee at the Cookie Jar and meet the colorful characters I’ve come to know after nineteen books. I thoroughly enjoyed what time we did have with Hannah and her groom. He’s always been the most supportive of her, accepting her for who she is. There were the recipes, the mystery, a fun contest, great sisterly interaction and a wedding. So of course, I loved it. I just wanted more of some things and less of others. I’m already waiting for the next book! And though Wedding Cake murder might not be my favorite in the series, it certainly is not my least favorite. It was fun, and that’s a pretty good thing to find in a book.