Mia P. Manansala

Books: Mystery

Tita Rosie's Kitchen: Arsenic and Adobo, Homicide and Halo-Halo (2022), Blackmail and Bibingka (2022), Murder and Mamon (2023)

Tita Rosie's Kitchen

Arsenic and Adobo (2021)

Arsenic and AdoboLila Macapagal has returned hom–not just to escape her cheating ex-fiance but also to help her auntie try to save their family restaurant.

Unfortunately, that means she has to deal with her family.

I don't know if you've ever been stared down by an elderly Asian woman, but It. Is. Terrifying.

Even someone like me felt utang na loob, that impossible to quantify sense of indebtedness and gratitude, to the people who'd raised me. But where was that magical line between selfishness and independence? Between my family and myself?

When small-town restaurant critic (and Lila's ex-boyfriend) drops dead in their restaurant, Lila and her family are suspects–but then so are the owners of every other restaurant in town.

First off, I loved the characters in all their variety in this story.

I almost said "just friends," as if romantic partnership was superior to platonic friendship, but stopped myself. Adeena hated that term and idea. And I'd learned, time and again, she was right. There was no hierarchy to love.

I also loved all the food. Not just the food Lila and her family make, but the food at all the restaurants she and her friends visited.

Even though I thought with all their financial difficulties, she probably shouldn't have been spending money dining out.

The mystery was interesting, although I didn't quite understand why the inspector kept focusing on Lila, as there were other perfectly good suspects. I suppose he didn't want to look like he was going easy on Lila since he seemed to have a crush on her auntie. But still.

And did I mention the food?

Publisher: Berkley

August 2021 | Rating: 8/10

Homicide and Halo-Halo (2022)

Homicide and Halo-HaloLila Macapagal is supposed to be getting ready for the opening of the cafe she is opening with her best friend. But instead she is guilted into judging the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, which she won as a teenager.

And, of course, another murder.

"Look, I know the other night didn't end well, but if you care about your cousin, it doesn't matter who's right. She needs your help, whether she admits it or not."

Excuse me? It didn't matter who was right?! In what world?

One of the things I especially liked in this book was that it forced Lila to come to terms with the events of the previous book.

"So your family taught you to not talk about your problems and throw yourself into your work to avoid dealing with them? Does that sound healthy to you?"

The mystery was fine. I was pretty sure whodunnit before the big reveal.

Although I dislike pageants I did appreciate they were trying to make it more about accomplishments rather than beauty. But still. I really dislike even the idea of pageants.

Publisher: Berkley

April 2024 | Rating: 7/10

Blackmail and Bibingka (2022)

Blackmail and BibingkaAs previously, I finished this story with a slight pang of disappointment.

It's not bad–not at all–but I want it to be just a tiny bit better.

I think it was the mystery that was the issue. I guessed pretty quickly who was involved in the crime–mostly because the other suspects were written far more sympathetically. I think she doesn't want to like her criminals, so they don't have a ton of personality, or Lila doesn't get along with them.

Which is fine, but it is a bit of a give away.

And we kept getting conflicting views of Denise's first husband, and not only was that never resolved, Lila never questions it.

But it was fun and I was able to borrow it from the library, so all good.

Publisher: Berkley

October 2022 | Rating: 7/10

Murder and Mamon (2023)

Murder and MamonLila Macapagal's godmothers are getting ready to open their new business–a laundrymat–but it seems like their gossiping ways are finally going to cause them trouble, as the business is vandalized with the message "Mind Your Own Business".

On top of that Ninang April's niece has been sent to her for reasons that aren't clear, but Divinia has made Lila and her friends suspicious, so they assume it was something bad.

Honestly, I didn't have high expectations for this book, which is why I waited for it to become available at the library. Despite that, I feel like this book failed to reach even those very low expectations.


The author went out of her way to make Divinia unlikable.

According to the other aunties, Ninang April's family was loaded, so going to a prestigious art school was no big deal for someone like Divina. But like most families in Shady Palms (including mine), Bernadette's family toed the line between working class and middle class.

Ninang Mae said, "You didn't help with the cleaning at all, but you show up in time to eat?"

Divina kept her eyes on the food she was piling on her plate. "I was helping your son with his errands. Remember? That long list you gave him to do?"

"Yes, but I gave it to him. He didn't need your help, we did."

"But you had so much help already, it's not like there was anything for me to do," Divina said, gesturing around the room. "I don't know how to do any of this. And you're the one always saying I'm in the way."

And Lila's friends repeatedly suggest Divinia is going to be trouble.

When Divinia was killed, this completely lessened the impact of her death. You were left to feel like perhaps she deserved what she got, rather than shock and horror at her murder.

In fact, we're made to feel far worse about Ninang April's injury and hospitalization than at Divinia's murder.

That really lousy.

Next, we're supposed to feel some sympathy for Lila's godmothers, but they're pretty awful at times.

"Ninang Mae, I heard you sent Divina out on a lot of errands in the lead-up to your opening. What did you have her do?"

"It wasn't just me! June had her do things, too," Ninang Mae said, childishly throwing Ninang June under the bus to divert attention away from herself.

"I know you all like to think that your gossip is harmless—"

"That's because it is—"

"But we have to consider that maybe something you've said had consequences you hadn't intended."

Ninang Mae shrugged. "If people don't want to be talked about, they should've behaved better. Why shouldn't there be consequences for their actions?"

And almost everyone seems to let their behavior slide.

Ninang June nudged Ninang Mae, who quickly said, "I'm so sorry, April. Please let us know how we can make this right."

"Don't put the burden of forgiveness on April's shoulders," Lola Flor cut in. "You're the ones who wronged her. You be the ones who figure out how to fix this."

And then I had to read this:

"I panicked, OK? It's not like I meant for this to happen! I'm a good person. I go to church every Sunday. I was protecting Tita Ultima. I'm not a murderer! I don't deserve to go to jail for someone like Divina de los Santos!"

On top of that, I couldn't believe Lila failed (repeatedly) to see who the murderer was.

At least she stopped purposefully doing stupid and dangerous things.

Publisher: Berkley

November 2023 | Rating: 5/10