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…Amazon
This is my book review for Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
In my continuing quest to broaden my horizons and read things in genres that I tend to, well, not read in… this week’s book is chick-lit… errr, I mean a cozy mystery.
Why THIS book?
I don’t like Chick-lit. I don’t like romance. I don’t have too much experience with mysteries. Enter a Facebook friend who told me that I should give a cozy mystery a try. Despite the vaguely uncomfortable feeling the phrase gave me, I decided to a.- not look up what it meant until after I had read one such book and b.- read one…. If one should ever cross my path. I figured I was safe. Amazon would know better than to recommend… oh wait. Well. darn. Here we go!
Atmosphere / Plot
Kowing what I know now about cozy mysteries… I can say that this one has an almost paint by numbers sort of atmosphere and plot. Small town. Check. A bright educated woman who is an amateur sleuth tossed into a mystery and trying to save her family’s livelihood while dealing with the romantic overtures of two different men (one an old flame and one a new guy who is connected to her nemesis on the police force) with the help of her spunky bet friend… and a victim that kinda deserved it… CHECK! Oh boy, This is not just a cozy mystery. This is Hallmark movie chick-lit extraordinaire.
It even admits as much… which would be cute like “I know how this sounds but..” except that it is more like “Hey look, water is wet.” Yes. Yes it is. That… that doesn’t shock me or interest me. But… umm.. I am glad we are on the same page…?
So even if the book gets full marks for nailing the atmosphere… I don’t know if it should get full marks for the plot itself. Again, I am not a mystery reader, but I had this one figured out really really fast. Not just faster than the amateur sleuth, although, yes, but fast enough that I had a hard time engaging with the last third of the novel because I was bored waiting for everyone else to figure it out.
Note: I’m not a genius. I get surprised by plenty of things in books and TV shows etc. So, I don’t *think* that this was just me… I kinda think that this was the fault of the writing. BUT then when looking up cozy mysteries online I see that some people like the whole “figuring it out really fast” bit because the point of these books isn’t to figure out the mystery,. The point is to watch the likable lady amateur sleuth figure it out while balancing her work-life issues and maybe get some flirting in on the side.
I wanted to like the main character and her family full of racial stereotypes. A few of them were indeed likable. Sadly though the secondary characters were written as flat and our main character kept making silly mistakes or… ok, personal pet peeve, not calling or texting or listening to voice mails! AGH!
Style… Writing Style
This was the biggest hurdle for me. I can give a “pass” for the atmosphere and the plot.. And kind of for the characters although less, because those are parts of this specific genre. But the writing style… isn’t. At least I don’t think it should be. There were awkward phrases. There were awkward descriptions. There were repetitive verb clauses. And then… there was the over-explaining of all the Philipino foods.
Ok. Let me be clear. I love that this book has a Philipino lead. I love that there are Philipino foods and that they maintain their actual names. What I am not a huge fan of is every single item being translated (sometimes very awkwardly) into an Anglo explanation over and over and over again. Give your non-Philipino readers some credit to remember the last time you explained what it was. Or better yet, let them rely on the glossary of food and familial terms that is helpfully listed in the front of the book. Having the constant translation just keeps “othering” everything and it isn’t authentic. Our main character isn’t mentally translating her dessert to it’s English word description every time she takes a bite and we know it… so stop having her do it. It rings false and it is super distracting.
Also… the food. Yes. It gets its own tab.
I almost put “food” under the Character tab because there is so much food. Which, sure, the book is about people in a restaurant and all the suspects in the crime run other restaurants and Philipino families are big, really big, into food as love… I get that there is going to be a lot of food in this book. But the levels of description of all these foods get tedious. People cannot be having these pseudo-religious experiences with every blasted thing they eat. Sometimes, food is… just food.
Caveat: I am not a foodie. I don’t like cooking and I don’t really like eating. However! I like watching cooking shows and baking shows (occasionally) and even those people’s overdramatic food descriptions pale in comparison to what is going on in this book.
No. I was interested for the first chapter because I liked the almost sarcastic opening tone (that sadly got lost by chapter 4) and because my best friend Mark was Philipino and I miss him and going out to eat with him. I haven’t had lumpia since the family meal after his death and there was something comforting about hearing the slang and thinking about the food that isn’t really in my life anymore. It wasn’t long, however, that I realized just how chick-lit this cozy mystery was and that there was no mystery left.
Another note: There is an overly complex plot point I can’t get into because I don’t spoil thing in my reviews but there was an opportunity for either the mother of all red herrings or a very clever bit of writing… and Manansala did neither… Why she didn’t do something more interesting with the knife… well, that’s the real mystery.
Plus… the ending… I won’t spoil it but there was a bit of a heel turn / “let’s just ignore justice” bit that didn’t sit well with me.
Would you recommend it?
Strangely: Maybe. IF you are in the mood for a cozy mystery or a very fast chick-lit book. I honestly can’t tell if this is a great example of its genre (a genre I don’t like based on this example) or this book just isn’t that great. I say “maybe” because I know different people read different books for different reasons. I do not read books for mindless escapism. That is what TV is for. I read books in order to escape and sometimes feel good, but also to think and learn and grow and be challenged. This book did none of that *for me* but I can totally see how this would make a good choice if you want to read something while getting super buzzed on the beach.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?
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