Book Review: Arsenic and Adobo

As Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month comes to an end, I thought it was a good idea to write this book review.  I don’t do many book reviews because I’m not an avid reader, despite my attempt at becoming a published author myself, but this one hits close to home. 

It may be the fact that the author, Mia Manansala, is a family friend on my mother’s side, or the fact that she’s Filipino American like me, or even the fact that my family knows someone who published a book that inspires me to want to write this review.

It inspires me because I, too, have a chance and that is a crazy concept to wrap my head around. After all this time with my internal struggles with myself and with my family in pursuing a career that doesn’t necessarily see an income flow, a job that is seen as “not a real job” in the eyes of my family and many more people around me.  As a first generation Asian American growing up where dreams were often killed and unsupported by the people you seek approval from most, it is absolutely inspiring and motivating to see it being done by not only a Filipino-American stranger, but by someone who my mom and many others in my family knows.

Did it hurt to see my mom being excited about someone other than her own kid for accomplishing something I’ve only dreamt of doing? Yes.  But is it also exciting to see someone doing it? HECK YES. So all that aside, even though it saddens me to know that I will never get my family’s support in writing my first novel until it’s successfully published with many physical copies out there, the hope of having a chance is far too great to be bogged down by what my family thinks of me. (But that’s another story on its own.)

Ok – enough about me.  Let’s get to the good stuff.

Arsenic and Adobo is a crime fiction novel, described as a cozy mystery book. For me, I don’t read much crime fiction as I am more of a sci-fi fantasy girl, but I have to say this was a good book and I’m excited for the next one, which will be out in February 2022. It was slow at first because there’s a lot of background information that maybe she could’ve done without, but every writer has their quirks and the first page is the one that got me hooked.

Things to note before I continue.  There’s an author’s note, which is basically more of a warning than anything as some of the scenes in the book can be triggering to those who were brought up in the Philippines or maybe even other Asian countries – that I’m not sure, but as someone born and raised in America, I didn’t feel triggered by any of the scenes – annoyed, yes at some of the characters and at Tita Rosie and some of the Ninangs, but nothing too serious for me, at least. That’s normal though, I get annoyed at characters all the time when I’m reading.  I also LOVE LOVE LOVE that Mia provided a glossary in the front, full on with pronunciations. If you know Spanish, it’s very similar to Tagalog. The vowels: A, E, I, O, U are Ah, Eh, E, Oh, OO. And for all the food lovers out there, there are recipes at the end of the book. 

Speaking of food, I recommend reading on a full stomach! Filipinos and the love of food can really be seen in this book.  Our culture revolves around food and desserts and feeding others and always having more than enough food to go around and even for everyone to take a to-go box home too. Knowing the culture first hand helps me relate better, which is kind of triggering on its own – There’s a part in the story when Lila is with her Ninangs (godmothers) and she ends up eating just to eat because of the stress of being around all of them – I know this feeling all too well, sometimes I dread family parties just because of it.  It doesn’t help that I look “skinny” on the outside, they’re still gonna try to put meat on your bones and then body shame you when you put on some weight – that’s Filipino culture in a nutshell. Another thing about food and this book is that she describes food so much that I think non-food lovers would not enjoy. I was reading some reviews on goodreads.com and some people have mentioned it was too much, but it could just be one of those culture differences where people don’t understand how much food and family means to a particular group of people.  Although, I love the talk about food in the book, I do have to agree that some of the food scenes are a bit much, like I think there was one whole page dedicated to describing a food item, but then again it’s called Arsenic and Adobo for a reason.  You can’t expect to not talk about food if it’s in the book title.

Mia fully captured what it’s like to be a Filipino American growing up in the States.  So, if you’re interested in the cultural aspect of things, it hits home. Some crime fiction lovers didn’t particularly like this book because of how light the mystery was, but to someone who isn’t hardcore into crime fiction, I enjoyed the family banter, the relationships, the humor, and the mystery.  What I love most about this book is that it’s in an Asian American perspective, more specifically Filipino American. I don’t know about you, but in my almost 31 years of life, I’ve never read a book for fun that was in an Asian American’s point of view. I’m really interested to see where she takes these characters in her upcoming books. The next book is called Homicide and Halo-Halo and I’m stoked. Probably more about the Halo-Halo than anything. 

My rating: 5/5
Recommend: HECK YES!

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