- Gabby Womack
Homicide and Halo-Halo by Mia P. Manansala
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Representation: Filipina-American, PTSD, Black, Latinx, South Asian & Disabled
Content warning: Predatory behavior, ableism, grief, murder
"Death at a beauty pageant turns Tita Rosie’s Kitchen upside down in the latest entry of this witty and humorous cozy mystery series by Mia P. Manansala.
Things are heating up for Lila Macapagal. Not in her love life, which she insists on keeping nonexistent despite the attention of two very eligible bachelors. Or her professional life, since she can’t bring herself to open her new café after the unpleasantness that occurred a few months ago at her aunt’s Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen. No, things are heating up quite literally, since summer, her least favorite season, has just started.
To add to her feelings of sticky unease, Lila’s little town of Shady Palms has resurrected the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, which she won many years ago—a fact that serves as a wedge between Lila and her cousin slash rival, Bernadette. But when the head judge of the pageant is murdered and Bernadette becomes the main suspect, the two must put aside their differences and solve the case—because it looks like one of them might be next.
Content Warning: PTSD, fatphobia, fertility/pregnancy issues, predatory behavior, unresolved grief, parental death (occurred in childhood), and dismissive attitudes toward mental health."
The second book in the Tita Rosie's Kitchen Mystery series is darker than the first. It makes sense that Lila doesn't feel okay after the terrifying experience she had months prior. She feels like she's lost her baking spark and can't stop second-guessing herself. This seems like a natural response to that trauma. Unfortunately, Lila feels like therapy is out of the question and that she will be fine if she just throws herself into her work. Which is a classic way of (not) dealing with mental health for folks from immigrant backgrounds who have always had to struggle. I found this extremely relatable. A lot of children and/or grandchildren of immigrants (and/or low-income folks) have a hard time grappling with the idea of asking for help because their parents or grandparents didn't have that luxury. We can see that we have been through less hardships than them and if our family made it through the struggles without help, then we tend to think that we have to do the same.
Homicide and Halo-Halo felt more serious than Arsenic and Adobo because Lila's trauma was more evident in her physically. Prior to this series, I'd only ever read one other Cozy Mystery book, so I'm not sure if confronting a murder mystery in this way is common. The heaviness of it made the presence of the love triangle, both, understandable and out of place. Lila is going through a lot so it makes sense that she hasn't had a moment to think about romance which made that part of this plot seem like a last minute add on.
As for the delicious food, I loved learning about more dishes but it seemed like there were less of them in this book. It relied heavily on halo-halo, which I get, but it felt like something was missing. Regardless, the recipes are great and I appreciate Manansala continuing to provide a glossary!
Looking forward to the third book in this series!!