Joanna Fluke’s “Strawberry Shortcake Murder”

What exactly is readers’ advisory? It’s not reviewing the books, and it has nothing to do with whether I liked the book. Quite the opposite. I have to figure out who would like this book, and why? What’s similar to this book? Good readers’ advisory has everything to do with what the person to whom I’m speaking would like to read. I have to find out why they liked what they liked. Do they prefer plot or character driven books? ones with dialogue or ones with description? How about the setting? the genre? the gender of the protagonist? and on and on and on…somebody who’s just finished all the Horatio Hornblower novels might not want to read the Patrick O’Brian’s books, even though they’re both set at sea, if it’s the language he liked. He might prefer Jack London.

Therefore, the fact that I’ve done an entry here doesn’t necessarily mean I like the book…keep this in mind.

At sixteen volumes in the series, clearly someone does like Joanna Fluke’s Hannah Swensen mysteries; I’ll do my best to describe them in a reasonably positive way. There’ve been plenty of long running mystery series with a hook or gimmick before Joanne Fluke started writing; Qwilleran has his cats, Jane Jeffrey her carpool schedule, Mrs Malory her pets, literary criticism and the Women’s Institute. I’ve read, and even liked, many of these ‘gimmick’ series; it isn’t even the formulaic aspects I mind here. I happily reread the Nancy Drew mysteries recently, for heaven’s sake. I can’t bring myself to like Strawberry Shortcake Murder, but I have to figure out how to suggest other books to some one who asks “I’ve read all of Joanne Fluke’s books. What do I read next?” It would be unprofessional to grimace and say “Eurgh! How can you read that dribble?”

They’re set in a small town in Minnesota, Lake Eden, and the protagonist, Hannah Swensen, is a single woman running her own small coffee shop/bakery. She’s making enough of a go at it that she can afford her own condo, but her mother nags her about her single state and her cat, a ginger rescue tom, nags her about feeding him on his schedule and not hers. The books are interspersed with recipes, ostensibly from the heroine’s bakery.

Though I can’t speak for the whole series, having read just the one so far, I’d say they were fast reads without much detail to clog the plot and slow the action. I’m inclined to think that women would prefer the series; this is not to say that men don’t read books with female protagonists, but this feels more like chicklit. I can see reading them in a hospital waiting room while a family member’s undergoing surgery; the plot doesn’t require much thought to track and it’s simple enough to allow for distractions and pauses while reading. If I had to come up with an answer to “What next?”, I’d probably suggest Monica Ferris’ Needlework books; both series are quick easy reads, with a female protagonist who is an amateur detective with a talent for sleuthing. Both protagonists own their own shop, and there’s a fair bit of detail in the books about running that business. Both series are set in a small town in Minnesota, and both heroines have a quirky cat for a pet.

Phew. How’s that?

For further reading:
Fantastic Fiction
A Compilation of Mysteries of different types
Mystery Booksellers’ 100 Favorite mysteries
Modern Library’s 100 best novels (interesting to see the difference between the two lists


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