Book Reviews

ARSENIC AND ADOBO: A Chat with Mia P. Manansala


Today, we are thrilled to celebrate the release of Arsenic and Adobo–an own voices cozy mystery (featuring an adorable dachshund named Longanisa) from debut author Mia P. Manansala!

And in order to kick off the celebration in style, we’re thrilled to have interviewed Mia to talk about her book.

A Chat with Mia P. Manansala

The Book Smugglers: If you could host a dinner party with characters from your book at Tita Rosie’s, and any other characters from any other fictional world: who and why? And, what would you serve? 

MIA: Ooh, great question! My guest list:

Odessa Dean from Olivia Blacke’s Killer Content – she’s a small-town transplant currently living in NYC and has been expanding her palate (and crime-solving skills) ever since moving there. I’m sure Lila and her family would love to take her under their wing and introduce her to the world of Filipino food.

Lana Lee from Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series – anybody who can appreciate a good bowl of noodles the way Lana does is always welcome at Tita Rosie’s.

Charlotte Holmes from Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series – Charlotte is someone who appreciates food, particularly sweets, and it would be hilarious to have her turn her sharp insight toward the aunties and Lola Flor.

Elizabeth Bennett from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – I’m super basic and absolutely love Lizzie. I think it’d be so much fun to have her over for a tea party full of gossip and judgment. Plus I think she’d appreciate a loud, ridiculous, loving family.

I’d keep the dishes on the simple side since it would likely be everyone’s first time trying Filipino food: pancit bihon, lumpiang shanghai, lumpiang togue, shrimp sinigang, chicken adobo, maybe a vegetable dish like pinakbet, and lots of different kakanin so they can sample the wide variety of sweet rice cakes we have in the Philippines. An icy bowl of halo-halo would be the perfect finish.

The Book Smugglers: Your thoughtful author’s note mentions that as a Filipina American, this book is shaped through your experience and worldview. How did you use parts of your background in Lila Macapagal’s voice?

MIA: Unlike Lila, I didn’t have a Filipino community growing up. All I had was my family and the food we shared. I grew up in a multi-generational household with my maternal grandparents, parents, younger brothers, and cousins. I was the second oldest kid in the house and the only girl, so that deep-seated feeling of obligation and family responsibility is something we both share. Both of us were raised to put family first, but while I’m a bit of a people pleaser, Lila is a little resentful of always having to put others before herself.

The Book Smugglers: Did you do any research (arsenic, etc) or recipe-testing (adobo, etc) to write Arsenic and Adobo

MIA: Yes to both! I like to joke that I’m probably on some FBI watch list thanks to all the poison research I did. I had to look up how quickly certain poisons take effect, what the symptoms look like, how to easily source them, etc. As for the recipes, I looked up a few versions online (my dad was the cook in the family and sadly didn’t leave behind any of his recipes before he passed away) and cobbled them together, tweaking them to fit my taste. This is probably my favorite part of writing this series since whenever I’m procrasti-baking, I can say it’s research for my books!

The Book Smugglers: A central theme examined in your novel is the importance of family (even if there are some relatives that may be overbearing and judgmental). Please elaborate on those bonds and what they mean to you in the context of your writing. 

MIA: As I mentioned earlier, I was raised to think of family first and I still genuinely believe it. But like Lila, it’s something I’ve struggled with. As the oldest girl in an immigrant family, I had a lot of responsibility, particularly regarding my little brothers who were much younger than me. I resented it as a kid, but my brothers are still the most important people in the world to me. And similar to Lila, with her judgmental aunties and grandmother, my relationship with my grandparents was complicated, because as a child, how do you understand that your family says things that are hurtful because they love you? That the words “I love you” aren’t ones they can say, but there are so many ways they try to show it?

And as I got older, I started to realize family doesn’t just extend to blood relations, and on the flip side, just because someone’s blood doesn’t necessarily make them your family. For me, looking at all the ways these complicated feelings bash up against each other, and how love and resentment or jealousy can sit so close to each other in a person’s heart…it’s fascinating. Family is such a central theme in my life, I can’t imagine it not being one in my writing.

The Book Smugglers: Arsenic and Adobo is a delightful, food-centric cozy mystery–what are some of your favorites in the genre and/or works that influenced this book? 

MIA: I love Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series, Ovidia Yu’s Aunty Lee Singaporean Mystery series, and Gigi Pandian’s Accidental Alchemist series (not exactly a culinary cozy, but there are still loving descriptions of food and recipes).

The Book Smugglers: Finally, a question we ask all of our interviewees: We Book Smugglers have faced condemnation because of the sheer volume of books that we carry back home on a daily basis. As such, we have on occasion resorted to “smuggling books” home to escape judgmental, scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books? 

MIA: I was probably the only kid in my neighborhood to get in trouble for “reading too much.” I would spend what little allowance I had on Scholastic book orders and book fairs, and would often have my mom or grandmother snatch away my book because they didn’t like me reading while eating (or while I was supposed to be doing homework, or watching my brothers, or helping with dinner, or…) so would often have to sneak around with my reading material. My husband has resigned himself to my book addiction and knows not to make comments on any new books I’ve brought home (despite having towering piles of unread books all over the house and a library job…)

About The Author

Mia P. Manansala 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 2018-2020 mentor. You can visit Mia online at miapmanansala.com.

About The Book

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, Longganisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…

Adobo and Arsenic is available today, May 4th, 2021.

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