by Cynthia Chow & Raquel V. Reyes
This week we have a review of another fun mystery set at Halloween-Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking By Raquel V. Reyes. We also have a fun guest post by Raquel about setting her new book at Halloween and she includes a recipe! Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking: A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery by Raquel V. Reyes
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the fall season approaches, Coral Shores, Florida, prepares for Halloween and the many celebrations of its multicultural community. Former New Yorker Miriam Quiñones-Smith and her husband Robert are dressing up for their son’s school Fall Festival where her cooking show’s Spanish language network is hosting a food booth. Miriam is happy to present her Caribbean foods now that she is the host of YouTube’s Abuela Approved and has her Cocina Caribeña featured regularly on a morning TV show, but a shadow looms with the appearance of Lois Pimpkin. The mother of a woman Miriam helped put in prison, family connections to the Smith family mean that Lois is harassing them with conspiracy theories and demands for help. It’s unfortunate that after a tense confrontation, Miriam finds Lois unconscious and bleeding in their front yard next to a Halloween decoration tombstone. That one of Robert’s Frankenstein bolts is also on scene certainly doesn’t help them look innocent.
As the relatively friendly local police attempt to put the pieces together, Miriam is harangued by her mother-in-law Marjory Smith into organizing, and catering, the Women’s Club gala at the Coral Shores Country Club. That the club would never consider accepting Miriam as a member makes accepting the job absurd, especially considering Marjory’s disdainful attitude towards her non-white, middle-class daughter-in-law. What does sway Miriam is the opportunity to build herself a supportive fierce squad of women who are able to bring their own unique background in cooking. The women have been bonded together by the struggle to succeed in a world where everything seems built to oppose them, and they are able to share their memories and skills with Haitian and Cuban comfort foods. The previous murder case that Miriam encountered soon after moving to Miami continues to bring chaos in her life, with past figures somehow escaping justice with new identities and schemes. So in between her cooking show segments, coordinating multicultural food trucks, and not exploding at subtle, and unsubtle, racist attitudes, Miriam must stop a killer before he poisons her and her family’s future.
This second in the series continues to excel at showcasing Miami’s diverse food culture that continues to evolve with each new wave of immigration. What stands out in this novel is how the author skillfully incorporates Spanish into conversations, and through context is able to convey the meanings without having to provide word-for-word translations. The micro-aggressions by Miriam’s racist and classist mother-in-law are cringeworthy and painful to witness, and one wishes that Robert would stand up more against his mother. Miriam’s refusal to back down and her growing confidence is just rewarding enough to make up for those painful interactions though, especially as she builds stronger bonds with those who can relate.
The struggles of immigrants to Florida is portrayed realistically but with a sense of humor, the same humor that often allows them to persevere. Food truly takes center stage here as Miriam and her squad of fierce women cook mouth-watering delights, featuring Haitian specialties like soup joumou, fudge-like dous mako, and Mexican pan de muerto. Recipes of Cuban and Haitian pastries and other savories are included at the end for the adventure although all will vicariously enjoy the tantalizing descriptions. Miriam’s family and friends are genuinely likable and compelling as they make the Southern Florida setting come alive with their traditions and histories, all which make their home such a unique place. Miriam’s future looks to be filled with even more excitement and danger, and readers will be hungering to join her.
Calabazas, Culture, and Cooking
By Raquel V. Reyes, author of the Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series
October in Miami is usually hot and humid. On more than one occasion, we’ve had Halloween in the aftermath of a tropical storm. Real pumpkin jack-o-lanterns grow mold in two point five seconds. Palm fronds falling are not the same as red and orange leaves fluttering to the ground. So why did I set the second book in the Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series, Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking, in the fall? The simple answer is pumpkins. Or, as we call them in Spanish, calabaza. The winter squash that grows in the Caribbean is known as the West Indian pumpkin. It has green skin with lighter splotches and bright orange pulp. Its flavor is closer to a butternut squash than an orange pumpkin, but in my culture, we don’t distinguish—a pumpkin is a pumpkin. All pumpkins are calabazas.
If you are new to the Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series, here are a few things you should know. The main character, Miriam Quiñones, has a PhD in food anthropology, but due to circumstances and her BFF, Alma Diaz, she works as a cooking show host. (Read book one, Mango, Mambo, and Murder to learn those details.) When I began writing book two, its working title was Calabazas, Calypso, and Corpses. (I still love that title best.) My plan was to highlight pumpkin recipes—like Haiti’s national dish soup joumou and Puerto Rico’s habichuelas guisadas.
To be honest, I don’t know which came first in the idea stage, the pumpkin dishes or the body found by a faux tombstone in Miriam’s front yard scene. But needless to say, I knew book two had to be set in the fall. The story starts a few days before Halloween and ends with a Thanksgiving dinner. Oh, and there is a food truck gala for hurricane relief in there, too. I had a lot of fun with the characters and got to give them great Halloween costumes. Miriam dresses up as Chef Vampira. Jorge uses his drag queen skills to create several costumes. I won’t spoil them for you just read the book. Robert, Miriam’s husband, and Manny, their adorable four-and-a-half-year-old son, do a couple’s costume that had me laughing out loud at my desk when I wrote it. I hope readers get as much enjoyment from it as I did.
Not only does Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking have costumes, but it has more food references jammed in it than candy in a trick-or-treater’s pail. And, of course, there are murders to solve—murders, plural. I know readers come for the mystery but love the recipes, too. So, here is a teaser of the recipes included in Calypsos, Corpses, and Cooking.
To enter to win a copy of Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “corpses,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 15, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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