Hi friends! It’s no secret that I love reading #OwnVoices books by Filipino and Fil-Am authors–so you can bet that Arsenic and Adobo has been one of my most-anticipated reads of the year! I’m so excited to be on the blog tour hosted by Caffeine Book Tours.
Before we get to my review, read on for a bit about the book!
Title: Arsenic and Adobo
Author: Mia P. Manansala
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Release date: May 4, 2021
Synopsis: “The first book in a new culinary cozy series full of sharp humor and delectable dishes—one that might just be killer….
When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.
With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…”
Content warnings for Arsenic and Adobo: indications of evidence planting and police intimidation, drug use, fatphobia, racism, domestic violence (implied, not on the page), murder, perpetuation of diabetes-related stereotypes.
Lila Macapagal has been working at her Tita Rosie’s restaurant ever since returning to her hometown following a messy breakup. Surrounded by her friends and family, she’s been working on putting her life back together. But when a well-hated food critic, Derek, who also happens to be Lila’s ex, drops dead in Tita Rosie’s restaurant, suddenly all eyes are on her. With the restaurant on the brink of closure and the cops just waiting for an excuse to arrest her for murder, Lila knows that her ony hope is to solve the case herself.
Arsenic and Adobo is a cozy mystery that also explores themes of family, friendship, cultural identity, and so much more. Lila is a strong, witty, passionate character full of determination. She’s fiercely protective of her family and of Tita Rosie’s restaurant. I loved how relatable Lila was–she’s just returned to her hometown after her bad breakup and is trying to figure out what’s next for her. Lila always dreamed of getting out of her hometown, and now that she’s returned, she’s struggling with feelings of failure while also trying to envision a new future for herself. I think a lot of readers, especially millennials (*raises hand*) will relate to Lila’s anxieties about the future and the pressure she feels.
I loved the way friendship and family play such a big role in Lila’s narrative. Her return to her hometown means that she’s facing all that she left behind when she left for college: Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, the pressure and judgment from her family, and the changed relationship between Lila and her best friend Adeena. Lila never thought she’d return to Shady Palms, and now she must reconcile the changes in her community, her relationships, her dreams, and in herself.
Arsenic and Adobo brings some much-needed diversity to the cozy mystery subgenre, which has historically been white-centric. Lila and her family are Filipino, and the book feels like such a celebration of Filipino culture–especially food! As a Filipino-American reader, it warmed my heart to see this representation, and I particularly loved the mouth-watering descriptions of so many Filipino dishes. The book also includes several recipes at the end, which I adored; in fact, as I write this, my ube crinkle cookies are baking in the oven!
In terms of other representation, Lila’s best friend Adeena and her brother Amir (Lila’s love interest) are Pakistani Muslims, and Adeena is also queer. There are several other supporting characters who are Black, Korean-American, Japanese-American, Latinx, queer, and multi-ethnic. Overall, I truly loved seeing such a diverse cast with so many different identities. However, I do wish the diabetes rep had been handled more sensitively; Derek, the food critic, is diabetic, and during the investigation several characters make negative comments that perpetuate stereotypes about diabetes and diabetic people, and I wish those had either been omitted or challenged on the page.
Arsenic and Adobo follows the traditional plot structure and pacing of a cozy mystery, while also bringing new elements to the sub-genre. The focus on Filipino culture & cuisine, a diverse cast, and a young protagonist all make the novel feel like a fresh addition to the world of cozies. Mia’s writing is super readable and easy to get into, and I found myself getting sucked right in. The small town setting and food descriptions really brought the story to life. The mystery unfolded in a compelling, engaging way that made me desperately want to keep reading until the final reveal. Even as someone who isn’t normally a cozy mystery reader, I still had so much fun reading this one and couldn’t put it down.
This is the kind of book the cozy mystery sub-genre desperately needs. Whether you’re a fan of cozies or fairly new to them (like me!), this is one worth picking up. As a Filipino-American reader, I’m so glad to see Filipino culture and cuisine being celebrated like this. I’m really looking forward to seeing where the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Series goes, and will definitely be recommending this one to mystery readers at my library. Just make sure you look up the number for your local Filipino restaurant before you start reading–because you’ll definitely be craving some adobo by the time you’re done.
Mia P. Manansala is a writer from Chicago who loves books, baking, and bad-ass women. She uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture.
She is the winner of the 2018 Hugh Holton Award, the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the 2017 William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship. She’s also a 2017 Pitch Wars alum and 2018-2019 mentor.
Thank you to Caffeine Book Tours and Berkley Publishing for the digital review copy, and for including me on this tour!