by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the latest Noodle Shop Mystery by Vivien Chien, along with an interesting interview with Vivien. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Wonton Terror. There is also a link to purchase it Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Wonton Terror: A Noodle Shop Mystery by Vivien Chien
Review by Cynthia Chow
For the Asian Night Market being held in Northeast Ohio’s Asia Village, Lana Lee is helping out at a booth serving some of her family’s Ho-Lee Noodle House specialties. The event is the first of what are to be weekly summer festivities promoting Asia Village businesses and attracting new tourists. New food truck owners Ronnie and Sandra Chow seem to have a surefire winner with their popular Wonton on Wheels, but their success is horrifically cut short by an explosion that sends Sandra to the hospital and proves fatal for her husband. The rocky state of their marriage, not to mention a hefty insurance policy, have the Cleveland Police suspicious of Sandra and topping their suspect list. Lana’s parents refuse to believe that their longtime friends could have every attempted an insurance scam, must less be involved in one another’s murder, which explains how Lana finds herself once again involving herself in what she considers to be Asia Village business.
A series of road bumps in Lana Lee’s life led her back to the Asia Village, where she is the manager of the Ho-Lee Noodle House restaurant, dates Fairview Park police detective Adam Trudeau, and is getting along surprisingly well with her “perfect” sister Anna May. Much to her own surprise, Lana is happy. That’s why the Asian Night Market’s tragedy is so upsetting, especially when it happens not long before the early arrival of her Aunt Grace. She and Lana’s mother are as different as they could be, with Grace Richardson’s free spirit and career as a travel writer an affront to her sister, who is far more content raising a family without ever leaving their town in Ohio. When not keeping her mother and aunt from having verbal throw-downs during their family meals, Lana is determined to find the truth about the food truck sabotage by questioning the gossiping Matrons, visiting the center of knowledge Asian Accents hair salon, and accompanying her roommate Megan for some not-so-subtle witness questionings.
This continues to be an endlessly entertaining series that fascinatingly incorporates Asian American culture into its main mystery plot. As Lana notes through the increase of interest in the Asia Village, recent films and books have made Asian culture more popular and mainstream. Lana has always felt a little between both worlds, raised by her “big ole white guy” professor father and very traditional Taiwanese mother. Lana’s own maternal grandmother speaks a Hokkien Taiwanese dialect that Lana barely understands, so much of their communication comes through a lot of very clear facial expressions and body language. No translations are necessary in Lana’s exchanges with her boyfriend Adam, although she does wish that he didn’t give her so much leeway in choosing the destination for her weekend birthday vacation. That escape will be much needed as Lana struggles to find peace not just within her family but within the Asia Market, but readers will enjoy watching her face each new challenge. Delicious Asian cuisine, sparkling dialogue, and relatable characters all ensure for a satisfying, funny, and distinctly unique read.
Interview With Vivien Chen:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Vivien: I first began writing when I was in third grade. I would write stories about my classmates to bring to “show and tell,” and I knew then that I loved spinning a good tale. However, being a writer wasn’t really encouraged as a stable path to follow, so it dropped to the wayside until about 15 or 16 years old. I attempted my first novel after reading Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. From then on, I’ve always written, but I didn’t begin to really take it seriously until I was in my mid-20s.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Vivien: My first novel, Death by Dumpling, came out in March 2018. It’s the first book in the Noodle Shop series and introduces you to Lana Lee, a 20-something Asian-American woman, who is trying to put her life together after a messy break-up and some financial setbacks. With limited options, she starts working in her parents’ noodle shop at an Asian shopping mall to get back on her feet. Even though it seems harmless enough at first, the murder of the property owner sets her on a different path than she originally intended to take.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Vivien: I’ve tried my hand at paranormal fiction, romance/chick-lit, and literary, but nothing seemed to fit right. I did end up transforming a paranormal romance novel into a paranormal mystery, but that is still hiding in a pink binder waiting for me to finalize the editing process.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Vivien: I chose Cleveland because it’s my hometown and I absolutely adore the city. There is so much diversity and interesting history here, and it’s oftentimes understated or completely not recognized. I wanted to showcase that in my books and provide something a little different.
The characters I created came from the desire to build a small community of people so different from each other and yet the same. I feel there is something in each one that readers can identify with along with the interactions and relationships between both family and friends.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Vivien: Mostly I have always written to entertain. I like the idea of taking people away from their realities for a little bit. But there is also a part of me that writes to be relatable–for someone to read something of mine and laugh to themselves because they totally get it, or to nod their head in agreement because they’ve been in a similar position before.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing, or just write whenever you can?
Vivien: I still work full time, so I make sure to write after work for at least an hour or two, and then I will have writing marathons on the weekend (and days off) that average around eight to 10 hours per day.
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?
Vivien: No, I’m a total pantser (those who write by the seat of their pants)! I think if I had to successfully outline something my head would explode. To keep track of things, I have bios of all the characters and add significant events to the list as they happen with each book.
KRL: I feel you on that one! If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Vivien: If you would have asked me that 10 years ago, I would have said 2 a.m. Now, to even my own surprise, I find myself preferring to write in the morning hours. When I can, I start around 9 a.m. and just go until my fingers are mad at me.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Vivien: I think the hardest part is working up the courage to take the steps needed. It can be an intimidating process. I always recommend that people join writing groups for the support and encouragement.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Vivien: My best experience at a book signing was actually my launch party for Death by Dumpling. With it being my first book, and me being fairly unknown, I was worried it was just going to be me and my dad in the room. To my surprise, over 80 people showed up and they had to bring in more chairs! I was so grateful to have such an amazing turn-out for my first event.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Vivien: I plan to keep writing the Noodle Shop mysteries as long as they let me. I’ve become so attached to the characters of Asia Village, I never want to let them go. And Lana definitely has more story and life experiences to go through. Aside from that, I am working on a few other ideas for series that involve the mystery genre, but less on the cozy side.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Vivien: Hands down, Anne Rice and Sue Grafton. Both women inspired me to write and I thank both of them for helping pave the way for women writers of fiction. Both of them broke molds in their own ways in regards to the characters they chose and how they told the story.
KRL: Great choices! What kind of research do you do?
Vivien: On a few occasions, I’ll ask an expert questions about a particular area of the book I need to write. Of course, I have various criminal and poison/medical interest reference books on hand, mixed with books on writing so as not to scare the maintenance man. But, a large portion of my research happens online. There, also, I take care in what I type in the search bar. When writing mysteries, the search history on your computer can get a little questionable.
KRL: What do you read?
Vivien: I read a little bit of everything. To help with my writing, I like to sample from a broad spectrum of genres because I feel each one has something unique to provide.
To give you an idea: I just finished The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo and recently started Armada by Ernest Cline. Next in line is actually a book by a good friend of mine, L.A. Chandlar. Her recent release, The Pearl Dagger, just came out not that long ago, and I can’t wait to crack it open!
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Vivien: How much time do we have? Favorite shows: I’m really into the paranormal, so at the top of the list would be: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural. I’m also a huge Marvel fan, so I really enjoyed all of the series that Netflix put out (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Iron Fist, etc.). Movies: All time faves are Artificial Intelligence, The Women, and Raise the Red Lantern.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Vivien: Never give up. As impossible or difficult as it might seem, keep pushing forward. Don’t lose hope. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to give up on following my dream because I was told that I would never get published…that it was an unrealistic goal and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. But if you truly love writing, just keep doing it. Even if you’re the only one reading the words, that doesn’t mean it will stay that way forever. Believe in yourself!
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Vivien: Considering the series that I write, I think a lot of people would be surprised that I can’t cook Chinese food that well.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Wonton Terror, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “wonton,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 28, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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 this week.
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