Thursday, January 5, 2023

Book Review: Arsenic and Adobo

Reading is an activity that I have always loved. Being able to finish reading fifty books in a year used to be a normal thing for me. However, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I stopped. I could not bring myself to pick up a book. I read one short romance novel last year but at the end of it, I did not feel the satisfaction that I normally felt from reading. 

Image Credit: Penguin Random House

I decided that it was time to go back to my reading roots. Mystery books, particularly the Nancy Drew series, were my category of choice back when I was a kid. I looked around for current and highly-rated mystery books and found myself getting the book Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. It is a Nominee for Goodreads Best Mystery and Thriller in 2021. 

A mystery book featuring a Filipino family? It was just the right book for me to dive into to get out of my reader’s block. 

The first of the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries series of books, Arsenic and Adobo is about Lila Macapagal, an aspiring pastry chef who moves back home to her hometown after a bad breakup to help with her aunt’s restaurant. She becomes a suspect in the death of her ex-boyfriend after he falls dead in their restaurant, and she becomes determined to prove her innocence by investigating the death herself.

I am a little conflicted about this book. I loved that the lead is a Filipino (well, Filipino American, anyway) and that it featured Filipino culture, with an emphasis on Filipino food. I also loved that it was about solving a mystery, something that I enjoy reading about. The fact that it was not too dark and heavy was a plus for me too. Despite all that, it was not at all what I had expected.

There was so much crammed into the book: the Filipino culture, the romance angle, the relationship with her best friend who wanted them to start a business together, and (of course) the mystery angle. While I appreciate having all those elements in one book, I was hoping that it would focus more on the mystery and just have the rest be the background parts of the story. To me, it seemed that while trying to add all these other components of the book, the quality of the mystery suffered. In the same way that dishes can suffer from having too much added to them, I felt that the story for this book could have been better by paring things down to focus on the mystery and the sleuthing that goes with it. As it was, the resolution of the crime was too easy, probably because there was already too much going on in the story already.

I am not saying that it is a bad book. It was a quick read that entertained me enough to finish in one day. It is just that I expected more than what the book gave. However, I am still hopeful about the story of Lila Macapagal. 

Being the first in a series, I am inclined to think that as an introduction to the main character and the environment this is still a good jump-off point to the next books. I would love to read the other books to see if it gets better as you go along. It would be nice and amusing to see how much more the Filipino culture of how everyone is family despite the loose connections (imagine the vast networking Lila has at her fingertips to solve the crime) and how the whole Marites (aka gossip) culture helps Lila with her mysteries. Plus, I would love to see whom Lila ends up with in the end. Given her love interests and the other potential people featured in this book, I am leaning towards shipping her with someone who does not seem interested in her. I am trying to avoid spoilers, so I have not read the reviews for the other books in the series just yet. I want to be surprised (or disappointed?) with that one.

Arsenic and Adobo is a light read that features a combination of crime-solving and a Filipino American culture that rare in books published in the US. While I felt it could be better, it does deliver on the elements of culture and mystery and introduces you to characters to follow in the next books in the series. If you are a foodie, you would also enjoy reading about the food featured – you can even try making them because there are recipes included at the end of the book.

It was the right decision to start with this book to end my reading slump. It was an easy read and it got me interested in reading again. I cannot wait to see where else my reading spree will take me.


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