By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Thien-Kim Lam
After a bad breakup and falling out with her parents, Trixie Nguyen moves from New Orleans to Washington, D.C. She’s set on proving to her traditional Vietnamese parents that she can make a success of her decidedly nontraditional sex toy business. Trixie has started holding pop-up events at a local soul food restaurant. But after her first pop-up, which was a roaring success, the other shoe drops. It turns out that the other co-owner of the restaurant is none other than Andre Walker—the ex who dumped her, with a Post-It note.
Andre never thought he’d see Trixie again, especially given the way he ended things with her. And now that he’s got a second chance, he’s not about to let her go. But it’s not that easy, even with their off-the-charts chemistry. Andre is doing his best to save his family restaurant and Trixie is busy with her own business. But as is the way of romance, the pair can’t help but be drawn to each other as they partner professionally and navigate their respective careers.
“Happy Endings” is the story about second chances—not just in the romantic sense. In addition to rekindling their relationship, both Trixie and Andre are also working on second chances in their careers and families. At times, neither can seem to get out of their own way and see what’s right in front of them—whether it’s help from each other or their family and friends. This trait only makes them more human and relatable because we all know people—maybe even ourselves—who can be so focused on being independent and self-sufficient that it becomes a hindrance.
I also appreciated Trixie’s chosen career path—selling sex toys, with the dream of becoming a sex therapist. Lam does a great job of avoiding the stereotypes that come with Asian women and sex. Trixie is empowered by her sexuality and through her work, is empowering others through education—all while destigmatizing sex, something society desperately needs.
The Candid Life of Meena Dave
By Namrata Patel
Lake Union, 2022
As a freelance photojournalist, Meena Dave lives her life on the go—constantly moving from assignment to assignment. And after losing her parents in a freak accident at 16, she’s been on her own for 18 years. It’s what she’s always known and what has always worked for her. Except it’s not working anymore.
So when she unexpectedly inherits an apartment in a Victorian brownstone called the Engineer’s House in Boston’s historic Back Bay neighborhood, her first thought is to sell it and keep moving. But after some thinking, she decides to figure out the story behind her inheritance. Helping her along the way are hidden clues from Neha, the woman who left Meena the apartment, a trio of meddling Indian aunties, and the cute guy living across the hall.
“Meena Dave” is a story about a woman finding where she belongs. As a brown woman adopted by white parents, Meena knew she belonged with them, but had no sense of belonging outside her family—she didn’t even know her ethnicity. So when her parents died, she lost that as well. So it’s not surprising that she’s very closed off at the beginning of the story. But being at the Engineer House helps her find friendship, community, and, for the first time, culture, and it’s great to see her slowly open herself up to it all.
In addition to Meena’s personal journey, I also enjoyed the mystery of her connection to the Engineer House and its residents. While it was fun trying to figure out why Neha left her the apartment, I also appreciated that Patel didn’t shy away from how painful the process could be as Meena unravels the past (whether she wants to or not). Patel shows readers that family—by birth or otherwise—is always complicated, never perfect, and they might hurt you. But that’s life: messy, painful, but also filled with moments of love and laughter.
Arsenic and Adobo
By Mia P. Manansala
After a horrible breakup, Lila Macapagal moves back home from Chicago to Shady Palms. Once she’s home, she’s tasked with helping her Tita Rosie’s struggling restaurant, and has to deal with her godmothers—a trio of matchmaking aunties who shower her with equal parts love and judgment. When a nasty food critic (also known as her ex-boyfriend) dies right in front of her in her family’s restaurant, Lila’s life quickly goes from rom-com to murder mystery.
As the cops’ seemingly only suspect, Lila has no choice but to investigate the case herself—otherwise she’s going to prison. Not only that, the Macapagals’ shady landlord is just looking for a reason to finally kick them out of their restaurant location (being accused of murder seems like a good one). So things aren’t going well for Lila, but with help from her meddling aunties, best friend, and new friends, she makes along the way, she may just have a chance.
“Arsenic and Adobo” has all the hallmarks of a great cozy mystery, featuring a Filipina American protagonist and her family. Lila is smart, determined, and devoted to her family—even though people thought the contrary when she left for Chicago. Seeing her struggle between needing to figure out her own path and supporting her family—especially in the midst of their financial woes—is something many people, from any background, could relate to. It was also nice to see her views on her hometown, which were less than positive when she first got back, slowly evolve as she starts to more fully immerse herself.
As a story revolving around a family restaurant, it’s no surprise that food plays a large role. Manansala’s descriptions of the different
Filipino dishes, as well as Lila’s baked goods, will have your mouth watering. I don’t recommend reading this book on an empty stomach. Luckily, Manansala also includes a number of recipes of the different dishes mentioned throughout the story, at the end of the book.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.