Monday, October 6, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials" by Ovidia Yu Served with 'Cherril's Ginger Lemongrass Doctail'

I love a mystery, when you make it a cozy mystery, full of temptingly-described food and set in Singapore--a country I spent time in several years ago, it gets even better. I am excited to be a stop on the TLC Book Tour for the second book in Ovidia Yu's Singaporean Mystery series, Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials. Rosie "Aunty" Lee, cook, business owner and budding sleuth, is back to snoop herself into another mystery along with her domestic helper Nina, ex-flight attendant and potential new partner Cherril, Police Inspector Salim, and the other 'regulars' from Aunty Lee's Delights. This time things get personal for Aunty Lee when everyone suspects that her special chicken dish is responsible for two dead bodies.  

Publisher's Blurb:

"Rosie “Aunty” Lee, the feisty widow and amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home-cooking restaurant, is back in another delectable, witty mystery involving scandal and murder among the city’s elite

Few know more about what goes on in Singapore than Aunty Lee. When a scandal over illegal organ donation makes news, she already has a list of suspects. There’s no time to snoop, though—Aunty Lee’s Delights is catering a brunch for local socialites Henry and Mabel Sung. Rumor has it that the Sungs’ fortune is in trouble, and Aunty Lee wonders if the gossip is true. But soon after arriving at the Sungs’, her curiosity turns to suspicion. Why is the guesthouse in the garden locked up—and what’s inside? Where is the missing guest of honor? Then Mabel Sung and her son, Leonard, are found dead. The authorities blame it on Aunty Lee’s special stewed chicken with buah keluak, a local black nut that can be poisonous if cooked improperly. She’s certain the deaths are murder—and that they’re somehow linked to the organ donor scandal. To save her business and her reputation, she’s got to prove it—and unmask a dangerous killer."

Paperback: 384 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Original edition (September 30, 2014)

I find Aunty Lee to be a delight--although of course I don't have to put up with her constant quest for information (usually gossip) and her meddling like Nina, her assistant, does. For her advancing age, she is spry and sharp as a tack, and she has a good heart. I love her wit and the kitchen wisdom she relates to solving crimes and to life in general.

"Really good cooks probably have dishes that go wrong as often as anyone else. Great cooks have twice as many  because they are constantly experimenting with new ingredients and new combinations. Aunty Lee believed she was a great cook, in life as well as in the kitchen. When a dish came out wrong you knew that there was something wrong with either the ingredients or the way they had been put together. In life, it was people and their personalities who were her ingredients."    
Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials

Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials moves along at a rapid pace--much like the way Aunty Lee's mind works. This made the close to 400 pages fly by and I liked that this second book was longer and gave more detail to the crimes and their solving than the first book did. It is a bit predictable (cozy mysteries often are), and there were some points where I wanted to push Aunty Lee and the police to just figure it out already--but overall the story kept me engaged. Part of the draw of this series for me (beyond the food) is the look into Singaporean culture and life. Having made several trips there, I recognize some of the characteristics of the people, the food, and even some of the places mentioned which is fun. Author Yu paints a picture of the country with her words and has a sly humor that is reflected in her characters, so even if you have not been there, I think you will feel like you have when you enter Aunty Lee's world. Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials is a quick and fun read that you will enjoy if you are a fan of cozy mysteries, foodie fiction/foodie mysteries, female sleuths, and stories with a strong cultural influence. If you are new to Aunty Lee, start with Aunty Lee's Delights--it will introduce you to the characters and set the story up for this second book. I look forward to the next book with more from Aunty Lee and her friends.

Author Notes: Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore’s best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had more than thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program and has been a writing fellow at the National University of Singapore.

Connect with her through Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Don't read this book while hungry--there is so much wonderful food to inspire in this series. In addition to all of the lovely Peranakan food--both traditional and Aunty Lee's variations that she serves in her cafe, there are other dishes like tomato rice and a 'cook a pot of curry day' potluck in the kitchen of Inspector Salim's mother, Filipino arroz caldo (chicken rice porridge) that Nina cooks, biryani and coconut laddus (sweet dessert balls) at an Indian cafe, and even a toasted-banana-and-peanut-butter sandwich that was the 'favorite treatment for existential angst' of Aunty Lee's late husband. I was quickly drawn to the healthy drink concoctions Cherril was building into Aunty Lee's business, calling them 'doctails.'    

"Why you want to call them duck's tails?" What have they got to do with ducks?"

"Not ducks, Aunty Lee. You know, like cocktails and mock-tails, only these are healthy, like a doctor would recommend, so we call them doctails. I'm using green tea, barley water, soy milk, and brown rice tea as bases for the freshly juiced fruits."
Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials

There were two recipes at the back of the book Aunty Lee's Easy Candlenut Chicken Curry--easier to prepare and not likely to be deadly like her buah keluak dish as it uses either candlenuts or macadamias, and Cherril's Ginger Lemongrass Doctail. Having a fondness for lemongrass and ginger tisanes, I decided to make Cherril's drink as my dish inspired by the book.

Cherril's Ginger Lemongrass Doctail
Very Slightly Adapted From Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu
(This recipe makes 4 cups. Two to drink right away, and two to put in the fridge to be chilled for later.)  

5 cups water
An inch of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped (I used about 2-inches)
3 big stalks of lemongrass (or 5 little ones) including the juicy white bulbs, washed and chopped
honey to taste

Bring the water to a boil in a pan. Add the chopped ginger and lemongrass and turn the heat down to simmer for at least 5 minutes. Stir in the honey to taste. Strain and serve. (Note: Because I was icing mine. I simmered the mix for about 15 minutes, stirred in the honey, then removed the pan from the heat and allowed it to cool down for about 30 minutes before straining, chilling and serving)

Book Notes: 
  • Aunty Lee prefers her Ginger Lemongrass drinks served hot, but you'll find it delightful either way.   
  • According to both traditional Chinese medicine and traditional Malay jamu, ginger has many healing and balancing properties, including the ability to warm the blood and soothe the digestive system. 

Notes/Results: Crisp, cool and refreshing with a little heat from the ginger that bursts in at the end. Aunty Lee might like her drinks warm but it is too hot and humid here for that right now. I went for chilled and heavily iced for extra refreshment. Although I *lived* on a similar warm concoction for a few days after getting food poisoning in Thailand and the lovely people at the resort for our weekend stay kept bringing me tea presses filled with hot lemongrass and ginger tisane and saltines. ;-) It was very soothing. I made a couple of changes to the recipe--upping the ginger as I like the kick, and steeping it longer to get extra flavor which helps when icing it. I make tisanes like this frequently--sometimes adding lemon or mint to the mix, and when I travel, I take along this Pukka Lemongrass & Ginger blend which is refreshing and good for the occasional traveler's tummy. 

Note: A review copy of "Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.



  1. The book sounds great and so does the drink!! I have a salad (Tarragon Chicken Salad Veronique) for this weeks SS!

  2. Gluten Free A-Z BlogOctober 8, 2014 at 3:18 AM

    The drink is intriguing! Ginger and lemongrass are flavors I adore! I'll have mine cold thanks.

  3. I prefer it cold too--it's very refreshing. ;-)

  4. The book is fun Pam and the drink very tasty.
    I will put your salad in the roundup this week. ;-)

  5. That drink looks absolutely refreshing - I have a feeling the ginger and honey would feel great on my sore throat right now!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  6. Yes Heather, a hot one for you then--it would make you feel better. ;-) Thanks for having me on the tour. I love this series.


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