Homicide and Halo-Halo By Mia P. Manansala: Review/Giveaway/Interview

Mar 19, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Food Fun, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Cynthia Chow

This week we have a review of Homicide and Halo-Halo: A Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery by Mia P. Manansala, along with a fun interview with Mia. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to order it from Amazon.

Homicide and Halo-Halo: A Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery by Mia P. Manansala
Review by Cynthia Chow

As much as Lila Macapagal loves cooking and helping out at her family’s Tita Rosie’s Kitchen, Lila has been dragging her feet with plans for the new Brew-ha Café. A play on the Filipino word “bruja” that means witch, the café is designed to help Lila, her BFF Adeena Awan, and Adeena’s girlfriend Elena Torres celebrate their unique, multi-ethnic backgrounds. Lila is still suffering from the PSTD caused by events documented in the previous novel, and as a result she is dealing with a Baking Block and without the mojo that enabled her to create delectable Filipino-American treats in the kitchen. While the last thing Lila wants to experience is reliving the trauma of her beauty pageant teen years, the last-minute dropout of a judge for the Miss Teen Shady Palms Pageant has her nagged by her aunties into subbing in as a replacement. A former Miss Teen Shady Palms herself, Lila still reels from the pressure to be perfect placed upon her by her ambitious, controlling mother. As Lila expects, the pageant still has its share of ruthless contestants, cutthroat momagers, and lecherous judges willing to take advantage of beautiful young women. It does seem that the funding sponsor Valerie Thompson is doing her best to update the beauty contest, allowing self-identifying women and young mothers. Her brother Rob seems to have no interest in promoting the merit of its scholarship or educational benefits, though, and no one should be that surprised when his body is found bobbing underneath a river footbridge.

Lila’s lifetime nemesis and cousin Bernadette Arroyo was coaching one of the contestants in the pageant, but her protectiveness led to an angry confrontation that makes Bernadette the primary suspect in Rob Thompson’s death. A previous unpredicted truce between the cousins led to a détente that helped Lila evade unjust prosecution, so to repay the balance she is willing to investigate the many other candidates with reasons for wanting Rob dead. Fortunately, the Calendar Crew – namely Lila’s godmothers Ninang April, Ninang Mae, and Ninang June – are more than willing to meddle in small-town Illinois gossip as they uncover the pageant’s dirty secrets. Equally helpful is friendly Detective Hyung Park, whose brother Jae Park is the town dentist and whom Lila wouldn’t mind having clean more than her teeth.

This second in the series is at its best when it showcases the diverse cultures within the Shady Palms town. Lila’s Brew-ha Café is itself an amalgamation of her friends’ Filipino, Pakistani, and Mexican heritages, from the décor to the blended teas, coffees, and pastries. Lila shines when her spark is reignited through the inspiration of halo-halo, a layered Filipino confection that often consists of ice, condensed milk, and sweet beans. The variety of flavors and candies Lila creates from the unique desert is mouthwatering, and the descriptions are matched by those of the dessert lumpia and other fusion treats. Dictionary definitions help those unfamiliar with Filipino-American culture, but the author excels in making the diverse cultures feel so natural and real, even embedded within the small Illinois town. Those of us in Hawaii will recognize and feel at home within Lila’s group of extended family and friends, and it’s a joy to see them all so well-represented in a fun and surprising mystery. As refreshing as Lila’s humanistic reaction to having recently suffered from acts of violence is the depiction of her culture and family, making this a continued welcome series written by and including so many Women of Color.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Interview with Mia P. Manansala:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Mia: On and off since I was a child, but I started writing seriously – as in, with the aim to finish and publish a book – in 2015.

KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?

Mia: My debut, Arsenic and Adobo, came out May 4, 2021, and is the first in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series. It’s a culinary cozy mystery, in which a young Filipino American woman returns to her small Midwestern town to recover from a breakup, only to have to deal with her family’s failing business, a gaggle of meddling aunties, and her vindictive ex-boyfriend-turned-food critic who has the bad taste to die in her aunt’s restaurant, leaving her the main suspect in his murder!

Mia P. Manansala

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?

Mia: Yes, but I hope to eventually stretch my writing skills and work in Adult Romance and Middle Grade fantasy, as well as continuing to write in various subgenres of crime fiction.

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? And why did you want to write a food mystery?

Mia: I created the fictional town of Shady Palms, IL (two hours outside of Chicago) because I wanted to lean into the cozy trope of the small town, and it’s a lot of fun creating a fictional town. I get to shape it however I want, and I don’t need to worry about having the geography in the story match a real place. As the series continues and the world grows, I can add in more features.

As for why I write culinary mysteries? Food and books are probably my two favorite things! Plus, food allows me to layer in so much: character relationships, backstory, culture, history, love languages, etc. Even if I never write another culinary cozy series, food will always be an important part of my writing.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?

Mia: I primarily write to entertain and think there’s great value in books as entertainment, particularly when they feature characters from marginalized/excluded backgrounds. The great thing with cozy mysteries is that I can do both. Because I’m still working in crime fiction, I get to touch on issues that are important to me, but in a way that’s easily digestible.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?

Mia: I currently have Mondays, Tuesdays, and most weekends blocked out for my writing and book coaching work, but I’m going to be shifting to full-time writing soon, which means I’ll need to be a lot more disciplined with my time. I am both excited and terrified at the prospect!

KRL: What is your ideal time to write?

Mia: Late morning and early afternoon. The pandemic has changed my sleep schedule slightly and I get up later than I used to, but my brain definitely functions better before 4 P.M. After that, good luck getting anything decent out of me.

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?

Mia: I write a series so before each book, I have to turn in sample chapters and a full synopsis for my editors to approve. Through my book coaching certification, I learned about a tool known as the Inside Outline, which connects the character’s inner journey to the outside plot. It’s flexible enough that I don’t get bored with planning ahead, but still solid enough that I can see the shape of my story and the goal posts I want to write toward.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Mia: The first book I ever finished, Death Comes to ComiKon, won the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant, got me into the mentorship program, Pitch Wars (where I was mentored by the amazing Kellye Garrett), and got me my first agent. That book was on sub for a year and a half, and got to “Acquisitions” multiple times, but was ultimately rejected because it “wasn’t marketable” and I “had no audience.”

Luckily, I spent that year and a half of rejection working on the book that would become Arsenic and Adobo. When I finished, my then-agent didn’t like it, so we amicably parted ways. I went back to the query trenches and signed with my current agent, Jill Marsal, who managed to sell it at auction in two weeks. If you can’t tell, my publishing journey has been a bit of a rollercoaster!

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Mia: I was at Kinokuniya Chicago (a Japanese bookstore inside a larger Japanese marketplace) with my husband looking at the graphic novel section, and the Fiction shelf was directly behind us. We heard a group of people chatting in that area and one of them suddenly said, “Oh, Arsenic and Adobo! I’ve been wanting to pick it up,” and the group started debating whether they should buy my book or not. I tried to pretend I couldn’t hear them, but my husband grabbed me, pulled me around to the fiction area, and yelled, “She wrote that book! She’ll sign it for you if you want!”

Turns out it was a group of Filipino American college students, and they were so sweet and excited to meet me. It was a little embarrassing, but a wonderful experience overall.

KRL: How nice! What are your future writing goals?

Mia: To get better at writing short stories – they’re so hard! – learn how to write TV, feature, and comic book scripts, and experiment with different age categories and genres. I want to try it all!

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Mia: It varies from book to book. Arsenic and Adobo required a lot of research into various poisons and health codes for Illinois restaurants. I must be on some FBI watch list! Homicide and Halo-Halo had me doing a deep dive into the Filipino connection to beauty pageants, and Blackmail and Bibingka, which comes out this October, had me visiting wineries to understand how an Illinois-based winery would realistically operate. Yes, I know, how I suffer for my art…!

Because I write a culinary cozy series that includes recipes, researching and developing those recipes takes up a good amount of time. However, baking is my favorite form of research and procrastination, so I’m not going to complain.

KRL: I could definitely go for research like that lol What do you like to read?

Mia: I read across age categories, genres, and mediums, but lately I’ve been particularly into Adult romance and Middle Grade contemporary fantasy. When it comes to crime fiction, I enjoy cozy mysteries, “medium-boiled” PI novels, and the occasional psychological suspense. I also like comics and graphic novels, but my TBR stack has become rather unwieldly, and I don’t read nearly as many as I’d like.

KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Mia: Build your community and build it early. Writing is hard and the publishing industry is even harder, so finding the people to cheer you on and push you to be better has been absolutely invaluable for me. I honestly don’t think I’d have made it this far without the support of the wonderful people I’ve met on my writing journey.

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Mia: I spent over three years teaching English in South Korea, and while there, I had a very brief stint on a roller derby team.

KRL: Cool! Pets?

Mia: I have two dogs, Gumiho and Max Power. I adopted Gumiho – possible Jack Russell Terrier mix – in 2013 when I still lived and taught English in South Korea, and my husband and I adopted Max Power, a possible Beagle mix, in 2016.

KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Mia: If you’d like to read more diversely or find plenty of new-to-you crime writers, make sure to check out the Crime Writers of Color website: crimewritersofcolor.com (KRL has a Crime Writers of Color Coming Attractions column that goes up every 3 months)

You can find books separated by recent releases, crime subgenre, or even specific racial/ethnic backgrounds. We also have a Speakers Directory if you’re looking for people to add to a panel or lead a workshop. It’s a fantastic resource.

KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook? Instgram?

Mia: miapmanansala.com

To enter to win a copy of Homicide and Halo-Halo, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “halo,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 26, 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 LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode goes up next week.

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Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Interesting interview! Count me in!

  2. Lot of problems to solve – between opening
    a brewhouse and a beauty pageant. Should
    be interesting to see the Philipino culture
    thanks. txmlhl(at)yahoo(dot)com

  3. Sounds like a book I would really enjoy reading.

  4. Been hearing a lot about this series lately. One I need to try!

  5. We have a winner!


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