Kate’s Review: “Blackmail and Bibingka”

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Book: “Blackmail and Bibingka” (Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries 3) by Mia P. Manansala

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, October 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: It’s Christmastime in Shady Palms, but things are far from jolly for Lila Macapagal. Sure, her new business, The Brew-ha Cafe, is looking to turn a profit in its first year. And yes, she’s taken the first step in a new romance with her good friend, Jae Park. But her cousin Ronnie is back in town after ghosting the family fifteen years ago, claiming that his recent purchase of a local winery shows that he’s back on his feet and ready to give back to the Shady Palms community. Tita Rosie is thrilled with the return of her prodigal son, but Lila knows that wherever Ronnie goes, trouble follows.

She’s soon proven right when Ronnie is accused of murder, and secrets and rumors surrounding her shady cousin and those involved with the winery start piling up. Now Lila has to put away years of resentment and distrust to prove her cousin’s innocence. He may be a jerk, but he’s still family. And there’s no way her flesh and blood could actually be a murderer…right?

Review: We are in the full swing of Hanukkah in my house and Christmas is this weekend, so you know that I am both feeling pretty good but also PRETTY frazzled. By this time at the end of the year I am almost always teetering towards burnout, and this year is no different, as we’ve been dealing with child illness AND a surgery in the family this past month. So I was looking for some light hearted reads that were within the holiday spirit, and I realized that Mia P. Manansala’s new “Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries” book, “Blackmail and Bibingka”, was not only out, but also Christmas themed! What’s more festive than delicious recipes and a little bit of premeditated murder, after all?

In terms of the story itself, it’s a solid and fun continuation of Lila Macapagal’s amateur detective adventures in her small town of Shady Palms. She’s running a successful coffee shop, her Tita Rosie is still running her successful cafe, and everything is hunky dory… until Rosie’s son Ronnie shows up after a fifteen year absence, with a winery business in tow. Trouble follows Ronnie, and shortly thereafter the wife of a big investor in the winery is poisoned at an event, and Ronnie is seen as a suspect. So once again Lila is thrust into trying to clear a family member’s name, all while trying to get through the holidays and her own stresses. It’s a pretty standard formula we get here, as with a lot of cozy mysteries as that is part of the point of the genre, but there are strengths and unique bits elsewhere. Whether it’s Lila’s Filipino background and cultural aspects that enter into the plot, or the fact that Manansala does a really good job of bringing in diverse characters and experiences, or that the characters are just downright likable (mostly) and interesting, this series really connects with me beyond the mystery itself. I actually thought that the mystery this time was pretty easy to discern, but that didn’t matter because the journey getting there was enjoyable and well paced. I also thought that Manansala was very good and tackling some of the more difficult sides of Lila’s family. In some ways it is black sheep Ronnie who can’t get his act together, or how Rosie can’t help but forgive him even as he’s hurt her so much. But it actually also shows how someone like Ronnie, who has been pretty hurtful, can be a product of his own hurt at the hands of those who love him and his mother, even if they didn’t really mean for it to be that way. It’s melancholy stuff, but it never felt like it was too much.

And yes, we’re going to talk about the recipes. Because once again we have a slew of delicious sounding recipes that have both Filipino origins, but also a recipe for Coquito, a Puerto Rican coconut egg nog, as one of the characters is Puerto Rican and plays a pretty significant role in the story. It’s always so great to see these recipes that I am unfamiliar with being shared and explained in really simple ways, and I am fully considering trying to make some bibingka (a rice cake with many toppings options) for one of the family get togethers. There are also twists on recipes that I am more familiar with, like a snickerdoodle recipe with ginger that also sounds so freaking good. I said it once and I’ll say it again: give me cozy mysteries with all the food.

“Blackmail and Bibingka” was a fun mystery that brought a little reading zazz to my holiday season after a pretty brutal lead up. It’s always nice to be able to settle in to decompress with an entertaining read, and this one definitely provided that.

Rating 7: A fun holiday themed mystery with even more delicious recipes, “Blackmail and Bibingka” shows the dysfunctional side of Lila Macapagal’s family, but keeps it light.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Blackmail and Bibingka” is included on the Goodreads list “ATY 2023: Asian Diaspora”, and would fit in on “Holiday Themed Cozy Mysteries”.

Previously Reviewed:

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