by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the first in a new series, Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes, along with a fun interview with Raquel. 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 and one from an indie bookstore.
Mango, Mambo, and Murder: A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery by Raquel V. Reyes
Review by Cynthia Chow
As much as Miriam Quiñones-Smith loved living with her family in New York, the struggle to raise a son on the salaries of two academics was enough to lure them back to her home city of Miami. It would not have been her first choice to live so near her in-laws in Coral Shores, which may be geographically close to her Hialeah but is economically — and ethnically — a world away. It’s especially stressful since her own parents have just left for the Dominican Republic to pursue their own opportunities, leaving the Cuban-American feeling more alone than ever. This is only reinforced when Robert passes up the academic position at Florida International University for a much higher paying job in the Department of Environmental Resources and Management. It’s at this vulnerable moment that Miriam’s best friend Alma Diaz lures her into auditioning for a cooking host spot on UnMundo morning show’s La Tacita short cooking segment. Alma also convinces Miriam to network at the Stepford Wife-ish Women’s Club, where she alarmingly sees Sunny Weatherman face plant into her highly mayonnaised chicken salad. The members all placidly attribute Sunny’s collapse due to extreme dieting, but a later visit by Robert’s policeman cousin Gordon Smith informs her that it was a drug overdose.
Substance abuse is not unheard of in Florida, but it tends to get covered up in the high echelons like Coral Groves. When it is real estate agent Alma who becomes implicated, though, Miriam will fight through the prejudices and do everything she can to help her childhood friend. Thankfully, primo y policia Gordon is willing to listen to his cousin-in-law, especially since she has an in with Sunny’s friends and foes. Robert’s other “kissing” cousin is less appealing, as not only does Juliet Pimpkin have the approval of his mother, Robert seems to be straying into the tesla-driving lifestyle of a stranger. So it’s a relief to have a brand new YouTube bilingual cooking segment to focus upon, one which allows Miriam to utilize her PhD in anthropology and her passed-down cooking skills to showcase the influences and blending of Cuban, Dominican, and Haitian cuisines.
This novel is outstanding when depicting the natural language of characters who combine Spanish with English phrases. Often using both languages in the same sentence, the rhythm of their dialogue flows swiftly and effortlessly. One of the author’s strongest talents is how she is able to interweave Spanish into the conversations without requiring definitions or a dictionary, as the context brilliantly conveys the meanings. Those who explored beyond high school and college Spanish language classes will be delighted with Miriam’s use of saltier phrases which are far more creative than English explicatives. Equally compelling, and handled in ways both relatable and realistic, are Miriam’s struggles with the racist micro-aggressions from her mother-in-law. Manuel — a name her Suega “forgets” to use, instead preferring to call her grandson by his middle name Douglas — being bilingual is a battling ground for the women, with Marjory Smith doing her best to make him as “American” as possible. Anyone who has ever felt “other” will adore this novel, which embraces multiculturalism and how diversity should be encouraged and embraced. I adored this first in the series, and reveled in the celebration of ethnic cuisine and language. The author’s love of her blended culture shines through as Miriam teaches us the power that food has over our identities.
Interview with Raquel V. Reyes:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Raquel: Since grade school.
KRL: When did your first novel come out?
Raquel: October 12, 2021.
KRL: What was it called?
Raquel: Mango, Mambo, and Murder.
KRL: So this is your debut novel then that’s great! Can you tell us a little about it?
Raquel: Miriam Quiñones puts her academic career as a food anthropologist on hold to move her young family from New York City to Miami. The week she arrives, she finds a passive-aggressive mother-in-law, a new job as a cooking show host, and murder.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense?
Raquel: No, I’ve written poetry, plays, and short-form literature. I switched to the mystery genre when I saw that no one (or very few) who looked like me was authentically represented on the page or by-line.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your book/series?
Raquel: I live in Miami, and I love Miami. We are the gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America. It is the perfect setting for a diverse cast of characters as in the “Caribbean Kitchen” series.
KRL: Do you write to entertain, or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Raquel: Fiction is rarely one note. I write to entertain, tell an interesting story, make the reader think, explore social injustices, educate, inform, and provide some armchair escapism.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Raquel: I try my best to write daily. Consistency keeps the muse happy. For a long time, I had a copy of this Isabel Allende quote on my desk: “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”
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?
Raquel: I make a skeleton outline, and then I let the story and writing supply the details and twists. I know the beginning and end and a few key scenes. I use Plottr and keep an Excel spreadsheet with character details.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Raquel: Morning. I have to write in the mornings before the world intrudes.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Raquel: I have a lot of stories to tell. I just need the time to write them. And maybe a wealthy patron to sponsor me.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Raquel: In high school, I wrote to Tom Robbins, and to my surprise, he wrote back. We exchanged several letters over a year or two. I liked the sense of humor and ethos in his novels. I was also a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut for the same reasons. It is no wonder that I identify as a Unitarian Universalist like Vonnegut.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Raquel: I’m researching constantly. I have a curious mind and enjoy learning. For the “Caribbean Kitchen” series, I get to read, watch, and experiment with recipes.
KRL: What do you read?
Raquel: I enjoy suspense authors like Rachel Howzell Hall and Catriona McPherson. I love short story anthologies, and of course, cozy mysteries.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Raquel: Vera, My Life is Murder, and just about any contemporary set series on Acorn and BritBox.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Raquel: Keep writing. Develop your patience. Find a supportive writing group. Go to writing craft conferences.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Raquel: I love sea creatures—real ones and make-believe ones, too.
KRL: What can people find you online?
To enter to win a copy of Mango, Mambo, and Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “mango,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 13, 2021. 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.
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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