ISBN-13: 9780547053738
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: June 2008
Format: Paperback, 304 pgs
Source: Purchased

There is a Chinese saying "民以食为先 " (min yi shi wei xian), which means "food is god for the people" or simply put "food is the basic need of man". Indeed, we strive in life not only to enrich our minds but to feed our stomachs as well. 

In this novel, author Nicole Mones shares with us not only the history and the art of Chinese cuisine but also a life experience story of a widowed woman and a chef and how food can nourish one's body and soul as well. 

Maggie McElroy is a food writer for Table magazine. Her husband Matt passed a year ago and while she is still coping over the loss of Matt, she finds some solace in her work but that peace is shattered when she has received news that a woman in China has filed a paternity claim against Matt and now that he had gone, Maggie has to fly there to settle it. Without a doubt, Maggie is shocked over the news but thinking back she knew Matt's infidelity comes with a reason considering she doesn't want a child in the first place. With their busy work schedules and frequent work trips, she thought it isn't a good time for them all, plus she isn't ready, yet. Despite the difficult times, Maggie accepts an assignment from her editor to profile Sam, a half-Chinese American chef when she's in China. She knew work will keep her sane plus her editor told her that Sam is the last in a line of gifted chefs tracing back to the imperial palace. With Sam gearing up for China's Olympic culinary competition and news that his new restaurant would be opening soon, she knew this profile will make a great article for her column. 

On the other end, Sam Liang is disappointed that his restaurant is not going to open as he'd lost his investor. When Maggie asked if she could do a profile of him, he rejected because without a restaurant there isn't much to say about but Maggie is adamant and is willing to interview and watch him prepare for the banquet for the competition. As the days go by, Maggie finds herself fascinated by Sam's culinary skill as well as his determination. Through their exchanges, she found out that Sam's late grandfather, Liang Wei, was a great chef himself and had written a book called The Last Chinese Chef. Sam and his father, Liang Yeh, are currently working together in translating that book but the progress is slow, given that Sam's father's heart isn't in it. Liang Yeh used to cook but has given up this skill the time they'd moved to America. Sam decided to continue their family's line of cooking and he returns to China to learn all the skills and techniques from his three Uncles, who are living in China. Sam knows that the Chinese cuisine is different from the Chinese-American cuisine back home and he intends to cook up a storm not only for the competition but for him and his father as well. 

As Maggie watches Sam prepares for the banquet, she finds herself drawn to him by his passion for cooking and most of all, the friendship he has extended to her when she is alone and helpless in China. Sam has even gone through the extent of being with her when she faces the woman's family and the little girl who is believed to be Matt's daughter for the first time. Aside from Sam's friendship, Maggie also learns a lot about Chinese cuisine, its history and artistry and most of all, the human connection (关系 guanxi) which not only brings people together in a banquet but also this "ingredient" which has warmed and healed her heart.

What I really liked about this story is aside from the history and the culture of Chinese cuisine, it tells a heartwarming tale of two different people coming together and the discovery of one's self. I especially liked reading snippets of the various philosophy and metaphor about the Chinese cuisine history/culture at the beginning of each chapter; and though they appear to be excerpts from Liang Wei's The Last Chinese Chef, I found them to be very informative and meaningful. One example: 
Apprentices have asked me, what is the most exalted peak of cuisine? Is it the freshest ingredients, the most complex flavors? Is it the rustic, or the rare? t is none of these. The peak is neither eating nor cooking, but the giving and sharing of food. Great food should never be taken alone. What pleasure can a make take in fine cuisine unless he invites cherished friends, counts the days until the banquet, and composes an anticipatory poem for his letter of invitation? - Liang Wei, The Last Chinese Chef, pub. Peking, 1925        
Finally, this novel is a nominee for the Kiriyama Prize* for Fiction (2008). 

* The Kiriyama Prize is an international literary award awarded to books about the Pacific Rim and South Asia. Its goal is to encourage greater understanding among the peoples and nations of the region. Established in 1996, the prize was last awarded in 2008. (From Goodreads)


I have mentioned before that I will be watching Kill Me, Heal Me after raving about Ji Sung's versatile acting skill not too long ago and here I am about to do so, again. 

While I thought the story of Secret was great, Kill Me, Heal Me tells a different story about a man who has dissociative identity disorder (also known as multiple personality disorder) due to some life-threatening traumatic events when he was a boy and how his encounter with a first-year psychiatric resident helps him in dealing with his condition ultimately. 

The premise is basically Cha Do Hyun (starring Ji Sung) is suffering from DID and depending on his mental state and emotions, he will "manifest" into one of his seven personalities. His personalities vary from a vehement man (with a hint of violence except to children and women) to a suicidal teenager; a witty man with a passion for boats and drinking to a feisty teenage "girl"; a 7-year-old "girl" and a mysterious Mr X who are both later revealed as part of the mystery surrounding his medical state. 

Hwang Jung-eum, who played Do Hyun's personal psychiatric, Oh Ri-jin, is once again co-stars with Ji Sung after their previous performance in Secret. I liked watching their exchanges so I was delighted to find they are pairing up again in this drama. Aside from these two, I also enjoyed the scenes between Ri-jin and her older brother, Ri-on. Despite they aren't biological siblings, how they feel and treat towards each other is equivalent or even exceed some siblings who share the same blood. There are times that I was really touched by their relationship. 

There are bits of child abuse element in this drama, though they aren't graphic and I was thankful for that; because the last thing I want to watch is seeing children being abused although I know in reality such things happen and it is all so sad and heartbreaking. 

There are a few surprises in the end and yes, I liked it that there was a twist. Most of all, I enjoyed seeing the different sides of Ji Sung's roles. I don't think I'd see him play so many roles in a drama other than this and I'm giving this a 5-star rating because of the storyline and not to mention Ji Sung's outstanding acting skill. 

Some memorable lines between Do Hyun and Ri-jin: 

"Aren't you scared of the personalities that live inside of me?" 

"Well, it's a little tiring, but anyways, I want to be close with all of them. And comfort them. I've things to say to them as well. From now on, rather than "kill me" ask "heal me". Even if that happens, you guys will not die. You guys will be still alive in here. [Pointing to Do Hyun's heart] But you guys are no longer scattered pieces but like connected puzzles, you'll become a cooler picture. With the name of Cha Do Hyun, you guys will become a cooler person."

(Kill Me, Heal Me Trailer - Fanmade)

(All images credit to Google Images)

ISBN-13: 9781447280026
Publisher: Picador
Publication Date: March 2015
Format: Paperback, 256 pgs
Source: Purchased

I am sure many readers are familiar with this author's name - Emily St. John Mandel. After all, she is the author of Station Eleven and this book was well received by critics; most of them stating her writing beautiful and lyrical. I should have picked up this book based on all the glowing reviews but instead, I decided on reading her debut, Last Night in Montreal. Why? Perhaps I wanted to have a feel of her writing first before I dive into her other well-known works, not that LNIM isn't popular and anyway I believe readers who loved Station Eleven would have snapped up Emily's earlier works by now. 

Rambling aside, here is what I thought of Last Night in Montreal. Did I love it? Yes! Is Emily's writing good? It is more than good; her writing is as what other readers said - beautiful and lyrical. Most of all, I loved the way how she plot the story; intertwining with flashbacks and some doses of lost memories and melancholy. So what is the story about? It is a love story, a mystery and basically it is a story of a girl, Lilia, who travels since young and why she never stays in a place for long. When she was seven, her father "abducted" her. They travelled from a state to another, sometimes to Canadian border and little Lilia finds them very thrilling. This thrill continues all the way to her twenties, and though she no longer travels with her father the thought of staying at a place never lingers in her mind. 

Lilia befriended some friends and found herself a few lovers during her travellings, but it is Eli, her most recent boyfriend, who finds her leaving most puzzling and is adamant to find her, even if it means leaving for Montreal and French is a foreign language to him. There, he met Michaela, who is the one who tipped him off about Lilia's whereabouts in the first place but she wants some answers from Eli first. You see, Michaela is the daughter of a private detective who is entrusted to oversee the case of Lilia's disappearance years ago. 

While Lilia seems to take the centre stage in this novel, I think Michaela and her father also play a huge part in this story. So what did I think of Emily's debut? I was totally entranced by her storytelling; and yes I was blown away by the ending, too. All in all, it is a well-rendered melancholy story about human connections. 


ISBN-13: 9780008165253
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: December 2015
Format: Paperback, 390 pgs
Source: Purchased

Someone Out There not only has a grabbing title but it is also an intense psychological thriller that had me at the edge of my seat. 

Laura Maxwell seems to have it all - she is a successful solicitor and she has a good-looking, loving husband whose family runs a hotel business so their life is blissful and perfect in anyone's eyes. However, since Laura took up the Pelham divorce case there are a series of accidents which cause her to believe they aren't coincidental and that someone is watching her and wanting her dead. 

Her client, Anna Pelham, wants to get a divorce from her abusing husband and gets a custody of their daughter, Martha. Harry Pelham is hot-tempered, impulsive and gets jealous easily. Laura totally understands Anna's decision of getting a divorce and she will try every means to win the case. Anna fears for her safety as well as for Martha, and she is sure the two death threats emails she has received lately came from Harry too, though they had not come from his email address. 

But that is not all that occupies Laura's mind. She faces some difficulty at work in which a colleague has forgotten to do a proper procedure for another case and has landed both of them in hot soup. Their superior, Marcus Morrison, wants them to cover their mistake without tarnishing the firm's image but in the end, it just got worsened and her colleague is fired. Morrison can be ruthless when it all comes to business and protecting himself. 

While this story mostly centers around the culprit targeting Laura (oh, the intensity!), the reader also gets to know more about the secondary characters (they can be quite complex) and how they all got entangled in Laura's "mess". While the culprit's identity is revealed during the last quarter of the story, it will still keep the reader engrossed because of the culprit's motive. Overall, it is an impressive debut by UK author Catherine Hunt and I am very curious to know what she will be writing next. 


I'd had a blast watching two Korean dramas lately. Though they aren't new, it always thrill me to discover new-to-me artistes and getting sucked into the melodramas. I picked up Protect the Boss (released 2011) because it features a workplace romantic comedy and from it I discovered Ji Sung, an actor who played an immature young director of a company and how his secretary changed him to be a better person.

What makes this drama so interesting is not the boss himself but the feisty and tough secretary, Noh Eun-seol (starring Choi Kang-hee) who not only helps him in his work but also helps him in dealing his phobia of facing the crowds (think about giving a speech in front of a sea of strangers). Eun-seol may not have a fantastic certified qualifications (in fact she had a juvenile delinquent record during her school days), but what makes her stand out is her persistence and her ever positive attitude which has not only won her boss' heart in the end but also respect and admiration from the others. That said, Ji Sung's role is more comedic as he tries to act tough but shows his vulnerable, sentimental side instead. 

(4 stars)

Secret (aka Secret Love) (released 2013), on the other hand, portrays Ji Sung's role in a totally different perspective. Here, he is bitter and revengeful after having lost his girlfriend to a hit-and-run accident and would try every means to track and punish the driver himself, if the law enforcement hasn't got to him or her first. Although the driver did eventually turn herself in, she isn't the culprit and her confession is to protect her boyfriend, who has just started his career as a prosecutor. There are a lot of interactions between Ji Sung and Hwang Jung Eum (who played the wrongly accused driver) and I have to say both of their acting skills are excellent. While it was intense to see them entangled in a game of revenge, what most satisfying is seeing them falling in love with each other towards the end. Sigh.

Unlike Protect the Boss, this drama has brought Ji Sung's acting skill to another level as it allows the viewer(s) to see his transformation from a spoilt, rich, ruthless businessman to a righteous man who found peace and love towards the end. Cliché or not, it was moving nonetheless and I loved seeing his transformation. The ironic (and sad) thing about this story is while we see a "bad guy" slowly making his path towards righteousness, the other end we see a "righteous man" betrays, lies and corrupts for the sake of moving up the career ladder. The story may be overly dramatic but it does offer some food for thought. Because I was impressed with Ji Sung's acting, I am going to look out for his latest drama, Kill Me, Heal Me (released 2015). I am hoping this drama will surprise me with Ji Sung's versatile acting skill.

(4.5 stars)