Arsenic and Adobo — Mia P. Manansala, May 4, 2021
I used to be super into mysteries as a little kid; one of my favorite book series was The Boxcar Children, and I definitely had a soft spot for Cam Jansen books too. But over time, this interest dropped off as I started to lose myself in romances and faraway lands, and I think that is actually a little tragic, which is why I decided to finally pick up a cozy mystery.
Cozy mysteries are actually a super popular genre among adult readers. They do not hit as hard as thrillers and horror novels would, instead revolving around an amateur detective in a small town, with little, if any, graphic violence. And frankly, that all is right up my alley.
The plot seems to fit relatively within the confines of a typical cozy mystery. Lila, the protagonist, works at her Tita Rosie’s restaurant when, one day, she witnesses the poisoning death of Derek, who is a harsh restaurant critic and her high school ex-boyfriend. Soon, she is swept up in the case, becoming the prime suspect after evidence is found in her storage locker. Determined to clear her name, Lila sets out to find the real killer.
I am extremely happy that Arsenic and Adobo was my introduction to cozy mysteries. Lila is a wonderfully curious, fun character, and the diverse cast of characters was a breath of fresh air in a genre that I am sure is heavily dominated by white voices. The descriptions of food from all different cuisines had my mouth watering as Lila went to every restaurant in town to talk to potential suspects, and the eventual reveal of the killer was an absolutely classic villain confession scene. I am incredibly excited to see what Manansala has up next.
She Drives Me Crazy — Kelly Quindlen, April 20, 2021
You know that feeling when you are trying to get over your toxic ex, and your sworn nemesis hits your car in the parking lot, so you fake-date said sworn nemesis to try to get back at your ex, but then it turns out the girl you hate is actually the best person you have ever met in your life?
Me neither! But that is the plot of this book, so just go along with it!
She Drives Me Crazy is full of rom-com tropes that will delight any reader who wants a quick, cheesy, big-hearted story to digest in a matter of hours. High school senior and basketball player Scottie has been trying to win back her ex-girlfriend when the opportunity strikes to pretend to date cheerleader Irene Abraham to make her ex jealous. But it turns out Irene is far more than the girl who had Scottie’s car towed at a party last year.
The world has been severely lacking high-quality teen rom-coms for over a decade now. Gone are the days of Dirty Dancing, Say Anything and John Hughes movies, replaced by Netflix Original after Netflix Original, all starring Noah Centineo. The last teen rom-com that I can even remember being in theaters was Love, Simon. I think, though, that YA contemporary novels have been filling the void effortlessly well. She Drives Me Crazy is a fantastic example of how to make an entirely new story out of old tropes. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that it has fantastic sapphic representation.
Kate in Waiting — Becky Albertalli, April 20, 2021
Becky Albertalli is one of those authors whose books I will pretty much automatically buy no matter what. I know the movie Love, Simon gets a lot of flack, but the source material was immaculate, an absolute game-changer in the world of queer YA. Kate in Waiting is Albertalli’s first solo endeavor outside the Simon world, and it was pretty much exactly the cute romp through high school drama that you would expect from her.
The premise is simple: Kate Garfield and Anderson Walker are childhood best friends who do positively everything together, including having crushes on the same boys. Then, at the beginning of their junior year, their summer camp crush Matt moves to their hometown, and they have to deal with feelings that they thought would go away. Their school is putting on Once Upon a Mattress, in which Kate plays Matt’s love interest, but to further complicate things, another lead character is played by Kate’s f-boy neighbor Noah.
This book would be perfect for my fourteen-year-old self. Just the right amount of drama, lots of important friendships, a cute romance. Unfortunately, I think I have begun to outgrow Albertalli’s writing style — the sheer number of pop culture references and extensive use of slang began to feel just a little forced. Also, I really wish the story had more properly addressed that Kate and Andy’s friendship is, to put it lightly, a little unhealthy; the way the two of them rely on each other so heavily is not a good way to model your relationships, regardless of whether they’re platonic or romantic. And maybe it’s just me, but I could have used a little more buildup with Kate’s eventual romance; she spends too much time pining after the wrong guy.
In any case, though, Becky Albertalli has once again cracked the code. Kate in Waiting is a quick and easy read, delightfully nerdy and adorable.