You Are First Surrounded was released in May 2014 and I wanted to kick myself for not watching it earlier. Bad villains, police procedural and a sweet romance... yes, these about sum up the drama and now that I'd finished watching I found myself having a hangover. 

Young Kim Ji-yong (starring Lee Seung-Gi) witnessed her mother being murdered at their own house when she attempted to testify as a witness to a crime. Although there wasn't any clue of the murderer, he did leave behind an important evidence - a unique designer necklace. Named as the Masan School Nurse Murder, this case was closed after there wasn't any lead following that incident. 

Eleven years have passed and Ji-yong  became a detective in Gangnam Police Station under the Violent Crimes Unit. To protect his identity, he has since changed his name to Eun Dae-Koo and is placed under the guardianship of the Police Chief after his mother passed. She raises him like her own son, although she is single. No one knew about their relationship. 

The team he is in consists of six staff. Four rookies, including himself, are placed under Seo Pan-Seok (starring Cha Seung-Won), the Team Leader of Team 3. Seo is a legend at the precinct as he is known for solving the toughest cases except the Masan case eleven years ago which still haunts him. 

These four rookies have no intention of becoming detectives in the first place, but of course Eun Dae-Koo's goal is to investigate the murder case of his mother. And his primary suspect is Chief Investigator Seo, ever since he'd heard his name being mentioned after the murderer took a call after finishing his "mission". 

What follows next is a series of investigations and some twisty turns but halfway through the drama, the mastermind is revealed and the staff of Team 3 has to gather evidence so that he could be put to justice. It is these scenes (gathering of evidences) that makes this drama entertaining; there are definitely some intense moments but there are also comedies as some of the characters could make you giggle. 

Aside from the characters and the sweet romance between Dae-Koo and fellow rookie, Soo-Sun (starring Go Ara), what I liked about this drama is the dreams of these four rookies never waver even though they are young and inexperienced. They show their team spirit despite of their differences, and they never back down even if their leads led them to a dead end. Cliché or not, I still enjoyed the drama and of course, there are some moments that moved me, too. I also liked it that Dae-Koo and Soo-Sun are schoolmates during their teenage years and they've liked each other then but they were too proud to admit it. Soo-Sun didn't know Dae-Koo is the "reincarnation" of Ji-yong initially until much later. 

You know what left me cold about this story? Not the runners who are paid to murder people but the extent of a person's doings just to be more powerful and wealthy at the expense of his loved ones. But of course this bad feeling is replaced by characters such as Team Leader Seo and Dae-Koo, not only of their righteousness but also they are good to look at, ha. 

(Soundtrack: What's Wrong With Me, featuring Dae-Koo and Soo-Sun)


ISBN-13: 9780099583738
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 6 August 2015
Format: Paperback, 384 pgs
Source: Purchased 

This year has been a good reading year to me thus far. I'd read a few good thrillers that had me at the edge of my seat, and one or two romantic comedies which made me smile and experienced the joy of romancing through the characters. But a book that moved me tremendously? I Am China would be the book; and I've given it a 5-stars rating for the beautiful writing, the unforgettable story and the various emotions it evoked in me. 

There are two modes of expression that bring thirty-one year old Iona Kirkpatrick to life - one is the sexual act (no worries, this is just a brief mention and there isn't explicit description here) and another is through words. The former merely offers her an escape while the latter allows her to regain something in her life and enable her to connect. As a teenager, she felt herself longing for foreign languages. Words became her world and though she'd once thought that she'd be a writer one day, it is translating works that find her ultimately. 

One April day in 2013, she received an email from a publisher who wants her to translate some Chinese letters and diaries. The publisher used to publish eminent people's biographies but they are thinking biographies of marginal characters who've connections to something big might be more interesting, such as a pile of materials related to a famous Chinese punk musician, spanning twenty years ago and is believed in exiled in some Western countries due to a manifesto delivery in his last concert. 

The other materials are from his lover, Deng Mu, who studied in the same university back in the 1990s. She studied Western Literature while Jian studied Chinese History; both have dreams of the future although they share different opinions. Jian is a vigorous youth who's not afraid of showing his emotions through his songs. Mu, on the other hand, thinks there's not much they could do given their country's system of law and it'd land them to nothing but trouble anyway, although she does have that same fiery spirit in her. They often question things like freedom, arts and whether if the latter is necessarily linked to political since they are living in a country which values collectivism. As Jian had written: "art is the politics of perpetual revolution." 

As Iona read and translate the materials, she couldn't help but to be swept away by their love story, their pain and their dreams as well; and most of all their individual beliefs, their persistence and the struggles (physically and emotionally) they've gone through even though they are many miles apart. Readers would soon know about Jian's and Mu's fate as Iona unravels more through her translations, googling for more answers and even travelling to places in search of their trails. It is also at this moment she began to think of her own life; how trivial hers seems to be as compared to Jian's and Mu's. 

Through Jian's letters and diaries entries, readers also get a gist of his personal history and his views coming from a political family, and how much his family is driven by ideology and revolutionary sacrifices. His father's coldness has cut off every illusion he has in life except of his feelings towards Mu. 

"... My last words to you in this letter: whatever happens with your life and my life, I still have this love for you. So now I give it to you, wherever you are.   Your Jian" ~ Pg 271 

What makes I Am China such an engrossing read is aside from the writing style, Jian's and Mu's voices captured my attention because they transpire this strong individualism yet their love for each other goes beyond all things that separated them. I also liked how Jian's and Mu's stories somewhat juxtapose with Iona's, allowing her for some reflections and made her a different person towards the end. 

Beautifully rendered and filled with melancholy, I highly recommend this book if you enjoy reading Chinese history and culture. Even if you aren't into them, simply read it for the writing and the story (this book is longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction). As you can tell, I loved it so much that I'm going to check out the rest of Xiaolu Guo's releases. 


ISBN-13: 9780385540353
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 29 September 2015
Format: eBook, 320 pgs
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Margaret Atwood's latest novel, The Heart Goes Last, take us to a near future where jobs are scarce and social security becomes another threat. However, there's an answer to these problems and one could sign up to live in Consilience and has a new life and a job there. The only things to sacrifice is leaving the outside world (so-called the real unpleasant world) and giving up one's freedom every second month in Positron (a prison cell in Consilience but unlike other prisons, Positron generates optimism and creates fairness to the 'residents' living in Consilience so they will experience the good and the 'bad' and so all is equal and balanced.) The other condition is a married couple will be assigned to live in the same house together with another couple (called the 'Alternates') but they are forbidden to see and/or interact with each other since a couple will stay in Consilience and the other will stay in Positron for a month and vice versa. 

Our protagonists, Stan and Charmaine, think this offer is too good to be true. After all, they are jobless and they live in their car and who knows what happens if they continue to hide in their car and be sitting ducks for the robbers and rapists. So they signed up and hope for the best. In the beginning, they are happy but things get mundane and bored until one day Stan found a note in their house - a love message addressing to Max from Jasmine. This little note has made Stan's mind wander, and the more he wanted to know her in person. 

Charmaine, on the other hand, finds herself attracted to Max, one of their Alternates, when he returns to their house early one day and found Charmaine there. That chance encounter leads to an infidelity that would destroy their marriages, thus begins the main plot of revenge, manipulation and ultimately, a plan that surprises the readers as well. 

If you are a fan of Atwood's, you'd know that her stories are usually intricate and imaginative; and can be both scary and thought-provoking at times. Well, this story is no exceptional. This story made me think how true it is given today's  economy and how joblessness can lead to one's desperation and depression. What Consilience offers seems like a perfect plan but it isn't without loopholes. What's ugly about Consilience/Positron is not about their strict rules and regulations but a human's greed and desires which made them to overturn protocols. Then again, there's also humanity, the sense of responsibility and righteousness and most of all, the 'heart goes last' that says a lot about the sentimentality and values of one's love and emotions that allows hope and second chance. 

I was really intrigued by the first part of the story; the deeds Charmaine and Stan have done made one thinks of a fatal attraction movie. The second part seemed a bit bizarre to me, but it was also where the pace began to pick up its momentum and where all the actions are. Some of them seemed horrific, and some seemed... did I mention bizarre? Nevertheless, it was an absorbing read. After all, it's Margaret Atwood's. 

ISBN-13: 9780062432629
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: 9 June 2015
Format: Paperback, 416 pgs
Source: Purchased

I've been meaning to read S. J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep after reading so many glowing reviews of it; and I need to check out the film adaptation too, as I've heard it was equally good. Nevertheless, my reading whim took me to his latest release, Second Life, and I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I'm reading a Watson book, right? 

Second Life tells a gripping story about a woman whose intention is to find the murderer who'd killed her younger sister but that path has led her to having another identity, lies and secrets. 

Julia thought her life is in control. She has a drinking problem but she'd gone for a program and hasn't been drinking for years. Her marriage with her surgeon husband, Hugh, is happy. Connor, her fourteen-year-old nephew, lives with them since he was a baby. His mother, Kate, being too young when she gave birth to him, didn't object when Julia decided to bring him up as her own. The relationship between Julia and Kate has became lukewarm after Julia has decided to move out to be on her own; she felt she needed to have her own life after taking care of young Kate since their mother's passing. Their father felt hopeless (clueless, too) with bringing up the two girls but Julia didn't really mind then. However, as adults their relationship became distance apart; and Julia dreads Kate might ask for Connor's return one day soon (although she'd adopted him and he called her "Mum"). 

While worrying over Connor, she's received news about Kate's death. Kate appeared to be drinking alone in a bar before someone attacked her in a dark alley. She was neither robbed nor raped, and this has puzzled Julia and the police. The latter couldn't find anything related to the attack, but Kate's friend (also flatmate) has later told Julia that Kate had went online looking for dates and sex. It was not something shocking, as she'd related to Julia later, considering they are single and they wanted some fun. 

Julia thinks otherwise, and to make things worse she's finally caved in to drinking, thinking a little wouldn't harm her. She also decides she'd look into Kate's death, starting by looking into her things and finding some clues from there. Julia's husband, Hugh, thinks Julia should move on, go seek for a counsellor and let the police handles the case. But Julia feels she should take matters in her own hands and her first attempt is to check out the dating sites Kate had logged on to and there, she befriended a charismatic young man called Lukas. She thinks Lukas may provide some answers to Kate's death, but little did she know that she's seeing more of Lukas and find herself entangled in an extramarital affair. But that is not all, Lukas seems to harbour a dark desire of owning Julia and Julia is no longer sure if Lukas is the man she called her lover. 

Second Life took me by surprise on many levels, which was a good thing. First of all, I thought this would be a thriller whereby Julia would find her ways in searching for her sister's murderer but it ended up otherwise. Secondly, Kate's murder (and murderer) wasn't what I'd expected to be, although I wished she'd not died that way. And aside from the suspense, the story also allows readers to reflect on some issues such as drugs and alcohol addiction, the inconspicuous of social media, family and infidelity. 

While the story isn't new, I found myself engrossed in it. I found the characterisations believable and some of the premise to be true, especially the part which mentioned that there are all kinds of people pretend to be someone they're not on the internet. Speaking of characterisation, Julia was someone whom I felt sorry with the moment I learnt about her past. She has lost her sister; her husband works too hard and neglect her feelings at times and Connor has his own world and life. She feels alone and I could see why she fell quickly and so deeply into another relationship, even if that man was ten years her junior. Then again, she also exasperated me with her occasional stupidity (or is it naivety?) and her self-absorbed mind many times that I wished she'd come to her senses soon, before all is too late. 

I liked Watson's writing style a lot and while the twisty ending felt a bit ambiguous to me, still I was captivated by his storytelling throughout my entire reading journey. Needless to say, Before I Go to Sleep would be onto my to-read list. 

ISBN-13: 9781509814800
Publisher: MacMillan
Publication Date: 16 July 2015
Format: Hardcover, 352 pgs
Source: Purchased

Is Ani FaNelli the luckiest girl alive? After all, she has a glamorous job, a designer wardrobe and most of all, a handsome and rich fiancé, Luke. Based on what she has, everyone would agree that she's definitely the luckiest girl alive. 

However, what she portrays is all lies and secrets. Her teenage years isn't something she'd like to brag or even talk about; she'd mixed with the wrong group of people, had given herself a bad reputation and now that past is going to catch up on her after she's agreed to do a documentary; a show that she'd tell her side of a chilling tragedy that took place when she was studying at the prestigious Bradley school. 

This story is told in Ani's perspective, switching between the past and the present. To be honest, I don't know what to describe my feelings towards Ani; she is not a likeable character right from the start. She is manipulative, vain and shallow. Her teenage years is no better as we often see her bitter and full of angst. One couldn't blame her considering she has both parents who don't understand her; and attending to a new school could be scary where you didn't know anyone and there are cliques everywhere. 

Not giving the plot away, I could only say I'd difficulty reading the first half of the book. Part of the reason is I couldn't connect to Ani, since she was such an unlikeable character. Plus, the pacing was somewhat slow and was spent describing how Ani had come about from her school days and her profession being a writer with The Women's Magazine to her relationship with her fiancé. I held onto the book waiting for the big moment to arrive and that happened after the second half of the book. 

I've to admit the ending did surprise me but not to the extent of shocking. There are talks that this book is compared to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl but I couldn't see the similarity except that both protagonists are flawed and they are bitter with their lives. While I felt empathy towards Ani at some point of what she'd encountered, that didn't make me like her more. Overall it was a good read but it didn't 'wow' me as I'd hoped. That said, this book would make a great book club discussions for the (dark) issues and what happened to the characters here.