Good morning bibliophiles! Today’s intro will be short and sweet, just like this book (although flavorful might be a more apt descriptor, but more on that in a moment). After Dial A for Aunties (my review here), I was craving another cozy mystery so Arsenic and Adobo seemed like the perfect choice!
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…
Overall rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Cozy mystery
Read if you loved: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto, Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Content warnings: poisoning, indications of evidence planting and police intimidation, murder, fatphobia, racism, domestic violence, substance abuse
I really enjoyed Arsenic and Adobo – I wasn’t feeling well on the day that I read it and it turned out to be the perfect blend of easy, fast, and fun to get me through a remarkably sluggish day. That being said, this book has had mixed reviews and I can kind of see why, so let’s get into it.
We jump into the mystery right away, and while this typically isn’t a bad thing, I felt like I got so swept away in the chaos of the plot that it took me time to connect with the characters. I won’t lie – I almost DNF’d during the first half because of this, but I’m so glad I didn’t. In addition to an ~unconvincing~ beginning, there were a couple of plot decisions that didn’t make sense to me. This is a cozy, so it goes without saying that wacky plot lines are not out of the question. However, I think there’s a fine line between a ridiculous/unrealistic plot point which can inject humor into the story and something that’s contrived. An example: a lot of this book centers around Lila and her family’s interactions with law enforcement, and there were so many moments in which I was yelling “but she has an alibi!!!” out loud. It’s a simple case of crucial information that’s being ignored (despite being told to the reader shortly before) for the purpose of furthering the plot, and that got a little frustrating. Finally, the romance element of this story was not really required. It was shoehorned in and then fell apart just as quickly, and I sort of wish the focus just remained on Lila and her friends/family.
Around half-way through is when the story really hit its groove for me. We start to get a better picture of who Lila is as well as her relationships with various members of the community. A big part of this switch in the plot was the inclusion of more food scenes, which are definitely the highlight of this novel. My favorite parts were when the characters were just sitting with each other and appreciating the food in front of them. Not to mention that it made me incredibly hungry, which was quite the feat considering my piss-poor appetite following my second COVID shot. The food element went hand in hand with what made this book a true “cozy”, and that is the small-town community vibe that emerges. I loved following Lila’s own investigation (an example of a ridiculous plot line that is fun!) because that’s when I felt like I got to know the characters, and I loved them. It also integrated very well with the overarching mystery, which I found to be filled with more twists than I anticipated.
Speaking of the mystery itself, I would be doing this review a disservice if I didn’t touch on some of the deeper and darker thematic messages in this book. While it is a light and funny read, Manansala does tackle the complicated relationship between BIPOC and law enforcement as well as the double standard in America’s justice system as it pertains to race. Similarly, she also brings up substance use in this book, which is another important societal topic. I appreciated how she was able to make this thought-provoking while maintaining the cozy vibe – it’s no easy task.
Arsenic and Adobo was a one-day read for me, so if you’re looking for something short and fun, this is one to check out! I will be on the hunt for even more cozys because this warm and fuzzy feeling is one I need a lot more of…especially if it comes with food. Until next time!