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Arsenic and Adobo - Review

Coming in as my second quarter anticipated read, I got a chance to check out first-time author Mia Manansala's cozy mystery, Arsenic and Adobo. I believe this is my first time riding the "cozy mystery" wave, as I usually go for the exciting yet anxiety-ridden mystery thrillers. I didn't know whether to brew up some tea and curl up on the couch or break out the whiteboard and thumbtacks so I could connect the dots on who killed who. Because yes! There's a murder! *I don't know why I'm excited about that. I may need help*

"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…"

I like watching people work and talk about their craft. There's something special about witnessing an artist put a pencil on a pad of paper. Or listening to a composer piece together sounds to make music. Or even watching a sous chef savor and deconstruct food recipes. You see the dedication and how much they love what they do. And I think that's what I love most about the main character, Lila, and her story. Lila and her family love everything about food and enjoy sharing that love with the world. I'm excited that Manansala added a few recipes in the book because I will be trying out those cookies Lila introduced to people.

Between the love for food and the family atmosphere, you can feel the wholesomeness of the story. Even though they can be a pain in the ass, family is everything. I like that Manansala talked about the ups and downs of dealing with family. They are meddlesome, annoying, and sometimes downright disrespectful, but they are the ones who will have your back when things go wry. And Lila certainly needed their support when she was accused of murder.

Though I liked the book, I saw some things that didn't sit well with me. Arsenic and Adobo had a lot of Dead Dead Girl vibes, and if you have seen the review, you will know why it disappointed me. Again, we have another character who's trying to play detective and is terrible at it. Most of the situations were unbelievable. There was nothing slick or coy about Lila's sleuthing skills, and to add, the lead detective on the case wasn't too bright-eyed and bushy tail either. I think more investigative research could have been used to help shape this mystery better.

The plot was good, but I tripped on a few plot lines trying to follow the story. Some spaces felt empty, as if we were going to get more details and information on a scene, but the director yelled cut and moved on. It made Lila look like a scatterbrain. It seemed as if she couldn't focus on a single task, and when she did, she flaked on the important ones.

Most of the dialog and thought process felt like I was walking into a middle of a conversation, and the record scratched. Many times, Lila would mention a situation we had no previous knowledge of and won't delve deeper into it. Why mention it? Most of the time, the reflection had nothing to do with whatever was going on in the story, making it pointless.

My last grievance with the story was the characters. I found some characters unnecessary and lacking. Where I thought certain characters could have had more shine in the book, we learned more about others that had no real goal with the story. The character development could have been better for Lila as well.

Overall I rated this book 3-stars. It was an okay book. It didn't scream mystery to me, and I figured out who the perpetrator was very quickly. I'd hope to see growth in Manansala's writing and Lila's character. I am interested enough to check out her sequel—Homicide and Halo-Halo, which comes out in February 2022.

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