by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Mimi Cracks the Code by Jennifer J. Chow along with a fun interview with Jennifer. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win a copy of book 2 in the series Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines, and a link to order the new book from Amazon.
Mimi Lee Cracks the Code: A Sassy Cat Mystery By Jennifer J. Chow
Review by Cynthia Chow
The rescue of a shih tzu out of the waters off of Catalina Island is rewarding Mimi Lee in many unexpected ways. Not only did the pup’s owner invest in Mimi’s new pet grooming business, the still grateful Pixie St. James offers an all-expense-paid stay at her vacation home as an early Hollywoof first year anniversary. Mimi is looking forward to a getaway with her workaholic attorney boyfriend Josh Akana, but before they even get on a plane – another gift from the tech company CEO – Pixie receives a troubling call from the rental cleaning company with concerns about damage and the previous tenant. The news only gets worse when Pixie is visited by a Los Angeles County detective wanting to know about her now-missing tenant and the threats Pixie made against him.
Unable to believe that Pixie had anything to do in the matter, Mimi uses the trip to Catalina Island to investigate the disappearance and the rather inattentive property manager. While Josh seems more focused on his cell phone and his new paralegal who seems a bit too helpful, Mimi’s Persian cat companion Marshmallow is more than up for another case. Ever since Mimi discovered her telepathic communication bond with the extremely opinionated and assertive feline, Marshmallow has proved instrumental with his spying skills and ability to pass information from furry resources. When not following up on a string of thefts involving Marilyn Monroe memorabilia, Mimi is wingman and frequent excuse on her sister’s forced dates. Their mother is insistent that Alice find a husband immediately, but the cultural barrier leads to the sisters being trapped in a superhero-themed Superpowered Speed Dating event. Their protective father definitely has opinions on Mimi’s unchaperoned overnight vacation, but their mother would prefer to see her daughters traditionally married. The Lee daughters delicately walk the line between respecting their parents’ wishes and following a more American what-they-don’t-know-won’t-hurt-them lifestyle.
What I love about this third in the series is how vividly and naturally Mimi’s Malaysian heritage is woven into her daily life. Food plays a huge role in this, and the Lee family dinners are a Gourmet Magazine-level depiction of mouth-watering spicy dishes and flavor blends. Even more fascinating is how Mimi’s generation has embraced a multitude of Asian cuisines, not to mention how her and Josh’s first date was at a just-as-delicious In-N-Out restaurant. Cozy reader fans will, of course, be entranced by Marshmallow’s acerbic comments and very feline viewpoints, which are sprinkled throughout this very fun novel. Especially entertaining are Hollywoof’s clients, whose wishes to have their companions laboriously groomed by hand (literally) are never too much or outrageous for the devoted groomer. Every appearance by Mimi’s sister is a welcome delight, as following their mother’s wishes leads to further humiliation for the obedient Alice. The tone always remains good-natured and optimistic, though, even when Mimi and Josh’s relationship hits a very blond speed bump (unfortunately, not a literal one though). A compelling mystery involving thefts among the Catalina Island elite ensures that this is another wonderful novel populated by charismatic and very likable characters.
Interview with Jennifer J. Chow:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Jennifer: I’ve seriously pursued writing since 2008.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was the title, and would you tell us a little about it?
Jennifer: 2013. The 228 Legacy. It’s a multicultural women’s fiction book that revolves around three generations of Taiwanese American women who all harbor secrets from one another. It’s also loosely inspired by some hidden, tragic Taiwan history (228 Massacre).
KRL: Have you mostly written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Jennifer: I dabbled in women’s fiction (see previous answer) and young adult (Dragonfly Dreams) but have mostly focused on mysteries.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Jennifer: Mimi Lee Cracks the Code goes back and forth between Los Angeles and Catalina Island. I got inspired by a trip I took to the island, so Book 3 in the Sassy Cat Mysteries has Mimi and her boyfriend Josh going on a romantic getaway, that goes awry when there’s a dead body and thefts involved.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Jennifer: Whenever I can, but I like reserving the morning hours for writing.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Jennifer: A partial outliner here. I have an overarching plot outline, and then I do things scene by scene organically.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Jennifer: Definitely mornings (but not too early) and with no interruptions.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Jennifer: Yes. I have a binder filled with rejections from agents and publishers. The 228 Legacy came out with a small press. In my publishing journey, I’ve done smaller publishers, Indie publishing, and am now with a big publisher.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Jennifer: An editor at Penguin Random House contacted me after reading my self-published mystery, so I did things backwards: secured a book deal and then got an agent!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Jennifer: Once I did a book signing at a comic book convention. Some of those cosplay costumes are amazing!
KRL: How fun! Future writing goals?
Jennifer: I’m working on a new series called the L.A. Night Market Mysteries. It features two opposite-personality cousins who run a food stall at a local night market. In Book 1, Death by Bubble Tea, one of their customers winds up dead, and they need to figure out who did it.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Jennifer: Asian-American fiction: Amy Tan and Lisa See. Mysteries: Agatha Christie, Dale Furutani, and Naomi Hirahara.
KRL: What do you read?
Jennifer: Mysteries – mostly cozy, traditional, or domestic suspense. I also like young adult and sometimes sweet romance.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Jennifer: I tend not to watch TV since it cuts into my writing time. I’m a sucker for action films, though – martial arts or superheroes, and quirky movies with older protagonists.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Jennifer: Death by Bubble Tea comes out in July 2022 and can be pre-ordered now. I really love the cover!
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Jennifer: I used to be in my high school’s drama club and even directed a play.
KRL: It seems relatively recently that mainstream media has finally noticed that there is a huge demand for entertainment featuring diverse characters. Have you noticed a difference response to your books that include Asian and other bi-racial characters?
Jennifer: I remember sitting at a booth trying to sell copies of Dragonfly Dreams, which had been highlighted in a Teen Vogue article: “9 Asian-Led Books that Deserve Their Own Movie Adaption.” People thanked me for writing a diverse book (the cover shows an Asian American young woman), but they walked on by and didn’t purchase the book. Nowadays, I have readers (and writers) thanking me for providing representation and for paving the way.
KRL: How important was it for you to include a multitude of ethnic cuisine in your series (and not just one type of Asian food)? I also love that you also include Josh and Mimi?s first date takes place at an In-N-Out)
Jennifer: It’s important because food is important to me – ha! Honestly, I grew up eating various cuisines. I’m also a foodie, so I like showcasing different types of food. Plus, the book does take place in Los Angeles.
KRL: You made Josh Akana be from Hawaii, which would give him a much different perspective on being Asian than Mimi. How did you come to decide to make that his background?
Jennifer: For sure, I wanted an Asian American love interest for Mimi, and I thought Hawaii would make for an interesting background. I have friends from Hawaii, and there is a different take on identity than here on the mainland.
KRL: How did you find Marshmallow?s “voice?” How do you decide when to include him in the investigation, and when to allow Mimi do her own research?
Jennifer: I can see and hear Marshmallow in my head. I’m not sure if it’s from my own interactions with cats or from years of reading Garfield comics. The balance of sleuthing is tricky because I like Marshmallow to detect, but I also want Mimi to come into her own as a sleuth. I’ve tried to mix up the investigating duties over the three books.
KRL: There are a lot of requests from dog owners that seem over-the-top, but are actually rather practical. I never knew you could groom a dog without hair trimmings and only pull out the hair by hands. Were you surprised by any pet grooming practices, and would you use them on your own companions?
Jennifer: YouTube offers a rabbit hole of techniques to explore. Pet grooming details are quite fun to research. No, I would save the grooming tasks for the professionals.
KRL: What are some of your favorite food memories?
Jennifer: Too many to count! I’m a sucker for large family gatherings around the table (especially when roast duck is involved). I also loved my multiple visits to night markets in Taiwan.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
We will be featuring one of the books in this series in a Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast episode in March!
To enter to win a copy of Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “lines,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 5, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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