Review: These Violent Delights

Review: These Violent Delights

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Set in the year 1926, Shanghai is being hunted by a monster in the shadows. And in the heart of the city, it is being embroiled in a blood feud between the Scarlet Gang and White Flowers. Juliette has returned to the city, ready to be by her father’s side as the heir to the Scarlets. But the gangsters find themselves in trouble when a sickness forces the infected to claw out their throats. Before it destroys her people, Juliette must partner with the Flower’s heir, setting aside their personal grudges to save the city before the madness burns it all down.

The Violent Delights is one of my most anticipated reads of this year. The second I laid my eyes on that cover; I immediately ran to GoodReads to make sure I don’t forget this book exists. I won’t lie, but this book was both brilliant but still somewhat disappointing at the same time. The story follows the Juliette, recently returned from New York, and during a business meeting she is interrupted by rival heir Roma Montagov. Roma informs her of an incident where the casualties have appeared to die by their own hands. Both changed by an accident of their past, Juliette and Roma have to put aside their differences and feelings to discover the truth.

I liked the story for most parts, but the start of the novel is rather disappointing. It kicks off relatively strong, the death of gang members with no real cause, Roma making the brave move to enter the Scarlet territory to find Juliette and the both of them trying to figure out what’s happening. There are so many components to this story that appear so exciting and unique, but I found its execution rather clumsy, to say the least. The story hooks you in really well within this 1920s Shanghai as it faces trouble from its citizens and foreigners alike. The impact of colonialism takes centre stage in the setting, and Gong builds up a formidable background. The stakes are high as Juliette as to figure out what the monster is and how it’s linked to the death of her people. With foreigners like the British, French and Russians moving in the background, Juliette almost feels like a stranger in her own city, and you feel it too as a reader.

As you settle into the story, it quickly beings to falter and drag on its own feet. Juliette can’t seem to get her parent’s approval, while Roma’s father ignores most of his findings, which leads to them working together and then the story doesn’t know what to do. There’s a lot of starting and stopping, and it breaks the momentum and pacing a lot. There’s a specific moment when you realised the story gains its drive again, but before that happens, it feels like it’s just kicking rocks, waiting for that push to continue. Juliette and Roma had met years prior, but an accident separates them, leaving Roma in Shanghai and Juliette returning to New York. I just didn’t feel any chemistry whatsoever. All of their feelings are buried in the past, and for plot’s sake, it was all withheld so in the last second, it makes for a theatrical scene. It just didn’t work out as well because the everything before that scene was so lacklustre.

The characters that aren’t Juliette and Roma are the saving grace of this entire book for me, personally, and why I’ll patiently be counting down the days for its sequel. Roma’s side includes Benedikt, his cousin, and Marshall, who form his closest circle. He also has his sister, Alyssa. Juliette’s team includes her twin cousins, Kathleen and Rosalind, and another cousin, Tyler. The characterisation of these secondary characters was so much better than anything that happened between Juliette and Roma, and I feel bad for saying that I was more interested in their lives than what was happening between the leads. The moments when they appear, the story becomes alive and engaging, and when we return to the main story, it feels like a giant step back. Towards the end of the story, as I mentioned, it gains its momentum well. And while it took me days to get to the 50% mark, I found myself speed reading to reach the end, and it was so much more entertaining.

Overall, These Violent Delights wasn’t precisely what I had anticipated, but I’m very excited to see what happens in the sequel. Despite my dispositions, Gong does a great job here in her debut. I did love how she had taken the story of Romeo & Juliet and adapted it to her cultural background and history. While the story wasn’t for me at the start, the ending redeems itself 100% over. It’s a story of identity and family and with the fantastic imagery and political backdrop, I’m still very interested in seeing what happens next for the Scarlet Gang and White Flowers.


Latest posts 

Review: Shine (Shine #1)

Review: Shine (Shine #1)

Rating: 1 out of 5.

After training six years to be DB Entertainment’s newest K-pop star, Rachel Kim is so close to making it. She just has to train, train and train some more until she can finally prove her spot. One viral incident has her thrust into the spotlight beside DB Ent’s golden boy, Jason Lee. But the harsh realities of trainee life begins to strain on Rachel as she starts to doubt herself. And any mistake can risk everything.

I have to be honest, I went into this book with low expectations as my experience with most celebrity-penned novels have resulted in some mediocre reading experiences. I thought even being a SONE for years now would colour my judgement. But Shine might be the most disappointing book that I have read this year. From the writing, characters and plot, nothing in this book shines through.

The only decent thing I could say about this book was that it is readable. I flew through the story at a decent pace, but then again, I just wanted the story to be over with. So take that with a pinch of salt. The pacing was all over the place. One chapter would end like a drama, but the next would continue as if nothing was wrong. Much of the writing was so inconsistent which made the story rather dull and boring. Jung fails to make you feel anything but annoyance towards every person we encounter in this book, including our very own Rachel Kim.

Continue reading “Review: Shine (Shine #1)”

Retrospective: Morganville Vampires (#1 – #3)

This post was almost complete before the news that Rachel Caine had passed away was announced. Rachel Caine is an author whose words quite literally inspired me to become a reader. So writing this now feels more bittersweet than I had expected. As per Sarah’s announcement, I’ll be making a donation to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of American Emergency Medical Fund in her name.

Retrospective is a blog series where I’ll be re-reading books and series that I had read during my childhood and early teen years. What better way to start this new blog series is beginning with the series that I think kickstarted my love for books. I was a very casual reader as a child, only because my access to books was minimal – I had only read books that my sister had on her bookshelf or whatever my primary school provided. My sister had just started college and using her EMA money; she bought the Morganville Vampires. And I probably wanted to copy everything she was doing, so I picked up the series as well. I don’t know what it was, but ten-year-old-me was obsessed with this series. And I wanted to re-read the series for a while now, mainly to remember some of the finer details of the series and to see how the story holds up to me currently as a twenty-two-year-old young adult, rather than as pre-teen. My standards and taste in books as certainly changed. But my love for vampires hasn’t so….

If you don’t know anything about Morganville, here’s a summary:

College freshman Claire Danvers has had enough of her nightmarish dorm situation. When Claire heads off-campus, the imposing old house where she finds a room may not be much better. Her new roommates don’t show many signs of life, but they’ll have Claire’s back when the town’s deepest secrets come crawling out, hungry for fresh blood. Will she be able to face the town’s terror or will she drown like everyone else?

There are fifteen books in the main series, so I’ll be splitting this post into small posts, so I’m not just chucking down a block of text at anyone reading this. But, I hope you enjoy this retrospective, I cannot guarantee it will be something coherent or engrossing, it’s mainly a brain dump of me reminiscing on the series. And oh do I have some feelings about this series.

Please note that the Retrospective series will contain many spoilers.

Glass Houses

The biggest thing that surprised me about Glass Houses was how short this book was? At first, I thought it’s just my memory fog and nostalgia. But then I realised, my child brain quite literally mashed the events of Glass Houses and Dead Girls Dance together because there is no time skip between the two and I most likely read them both one after the other.

Glass Houses is mainly about Claire Danvers as she is forced out of school dorms due to bullies. She miraculously makes her way to Glass House where she meets Michael, Eve and Shane, who inform her that Morganville is a city of Vampires. And the students are unaware of it all. It’s real residents; however, are aware and do their best not to gain any bad attention. Those protected wear a bracelet, naming their protector. But Claire finds herself joining the three people who hate the city the most. And leaving the dorms isn’t as easy as she thought it could be.

The first book revolves around Claire and her search for a rare book that holds deep vampire secrets. Like, I said, it’s relatively short, but we are introduced to the main cast and secondary characters who are staples in the series. Monica and her brother brought back some deep-set anger. I forgot how much I hated her, damn. We meet Amelie, the leader and oldest vampire in the world, and the story of Morganville slowly comes together.

Reading this in 2020 was a lot of fun, there’s a lot of quips and jokes that were on-brand for the early and mid-2000s. I think Shane was playing a PSP and I laughed so hard because back then, I thought Shane was so ~ cool ~. After all, he had one. Now, in 2020, I’m playing Ghost of Tsushima on the PS4, and now that I think about it, Shane and Michael would have both loved that game as much as I do.

The best part of reading this was just remembering Morganville. A weird Texan town that was home to a secret society of vampires. The idea of vampires living in one of the hottest places in the USA was so funny to me.

Seeing Claire make her way up to Glass House, her not knowing what’s to come, had me screaming. When Eve enters in her full-on goth outfits, Shane and his constant supply of chilli, and Michael being very elusive, it felt so nice to be re-introduced to all these old favourites.

The ending of this book had me spinning out as a kid. I was SO mad at Michael’s “death”, mostly since he was my favourite out of the Glass House residents. Shane’s story was the saddest, but as a character, I think I grew to love him more by Midnight Alley. I liked the angst, but I think it was too much for me as a child. Michael was a sweetheart character.

The Dead Girls’ Dance

Michael coming back to life just in time to save Claire and Eve was iconic. This book is a lot more eventful than Glass Houses; I’m not surprised that I mixed up the plots when I was younger because you put these two books together, and with a little more editing, could easily pass as one book. Now that I think about it, if I had to give some sort of critique as an older reader, I feel like the earlier books in this series could have been put together to cut down and I don’t think it would have affected the quality whatsoever.

Re-reading this book has made me particularly aware of how much my tastes have changed. There’s a lot in this book that I shrugged off as a kid, but now as an adult, I’m like “huh, not a fan of that,” and continued reading. I always loved Claire, but it took me so long to warm up to Shane. I respected that he put up some boundaries between him and Claire. His backstory is so damn tragic, this town has ruined him the most, and I’ve always rooted for him to be better. There’s just something I can’t quite put my finger on that unsettles me about him. Or maybe this was just me not yet realising that the romance aspects of books aren’t the hook for me as it would be for other readers.

Michael deciding to become a vampire was such a plot twist for young me. Looking at it now, it was quite really the only option for him, considering he could only appear at night. It feels less exciting and more disheartening, once you realise the effect it has on everyone.

This is a formal apology to Sam Glass. I have a terrible memory, but I still cannot believe I completely forgot about him. There was always a nagging feeling in the back of my mind as I was reading that I knew I had forgotten something, just didn’t realise it was that fact that Michael’s grandfather is a vampire. 💀 When he introduces himself to Claire, I was so mad at myself for forgetting. If I were ranking the series, Dead Girls’ Dance would probably land in the bottom five, not because it’s terrible but more so that I know I enjoyed the series a lot more later on.

Also, the copy I had of this book growing up was the glow in the dark version and young me was lowkey sad they discontinued those covers. 😭

Midnight Alley

Midnight Alley is where the series really kicks off. The first two books were good at introducing the playing field of Morganville, but Midnight Alley brings us to the real issue behind the town.

The introduction of Myrnin as the trap door spider was SO good. Also, I forgot how young vampires are supposed to look in this series. He’s introduced as looking like he’s in his mid-twenties. The web series of Morganville had cast older actors to play a lot of the vampires so yet again my terrible memory fails me once more. (as always)

Myrnin reveals Morganville’s darkest secret: all the vampires are slowly dying, and Amelie has no idea how to stop it happening. So she assigns Claire as an assistant to Myrnin, but she struggles to handle Myrnin during his moments of sickness, where he completely forgets who he is and turns on her. Here is where we learn how the Morganville network works. Everything is based on Alchemy, but if Myrnin doesn’t figure out their sickness, then everything that Morganville stands for will soon fall.

The only critique I could have about this book is the whole Captain Obvious arc and how he’s never mentioned before this book. It’s nothing serious or anything terrible. But considering that Michael is revealed to be a member of their anti-vampire new spread, I would have thought it would be mentioned much earlier in the series. I feel like it would have worked so well in Glass Houses. But there are no hard feelings there. It’s still quite satisfying seeing the group collapse so quickly.

If the ending of Glass Houses had me spinning, then I died at the end of Midnight Alley. I knew Mr Bishop as one of the series’ antagonist, but I miscalculated when he actually appears. The way he tricks Claire’s parents and the book ends with him demanding to see his daughter, Amelie, or he will kill all the humans in the house. If I learnt anything from this re-read of Morganville Vampires, is that Rachel Caine knew how to make cliffhangers, and that was one thing that never changes. 

Well, that’s a wrap on part one of this Retrospective series for Morganville Vampires. It’s not my most eloquent of posts. I was initially planning to make this a reading vlog, but I’m not confident enough to speak in front of cameras yet. I was mainly writing this for the nostalgia kick, as it has been over 11 years since I first read this series. I’m not surprised by how much I have forgotten, something that will be common in future posts, which is why I wanted to do this retrospective series so much. The list of books I want to read is never-ending, so I often don’t get a chance to re-read books that I did love. So I am very excited to re-read this series again.

Latest posts 

Double Review: Wicked As You Wish & Wilder Girls

Double Review: Wicked As You Wish & Wilder Girls

Wicked As You Wish

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Prince Alexei has spent every waking moment since he was five years old on the run. When the Kingdom of Avalon was left frozen after the Snow Queen waged war on the magical country. The people who did survive are now stuck in places where magic is nothing and feared. Tala lives in a small Arizona town where magic doesn’t even work, and her home is now the prince’s newest hiding spot. But not for long. The legendary firebird appears for the first time in years, and Alex and Tala must find their way back to Avalon to reclaim Alex’s throne.

Like the series name, magic has hundred of names, the meaning changed depending on the culture it is rooted in. Many memorable tales live on in different ways. From King Arthur to Robin Hood, magic is affected by fairytales. Tala is a descendant of Maria Makiling, a figure in Philippine mythology, a being associated with guardianship of Mount Makiling. Tala’s power negates magic which makes her presence the most important when it comes to protecting Alex, as the Snow Queen catches up to their team, sending hoards of her most lethal companions. I really loved the references to different fairy tales

The world-building is where the story lost me. I couldn’t keep up as the story developed because there wasn’t a strong foundational start, to begin with. As the group make their way to Avalon, we’re introduced to so much more, and it got very overwhelming. I read this book over a couple of months, restarting a few times, and I still couldn’t pay attention. There was also some banter between the group of character that just didn’t work out of me. The jokes weren’t funny, and they fell mostly flat in their execution. And they also didn’t blend together as a group very well. Alex is down right rude to a lot of them, and when we discover why, it just didn’t seem like a reasonable excuse for him to be so openly mean. Especially, since he doesn’t do anything remotely important during their entire journey and the rest of them do most of the heavy lifting.

Wicked As You Wish is good, but it was not the book for me. If some things were done differently, maybe I could overlook some of the difficulties I had with this book, but it wasn’t. And I don’t know if I’ll continue this series.

Wilder Girls

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Eighteen months since Raxter School was put under quarantine. An unknown illness has spread across the island, named by the girls as The Tox. The Tox has slowly been infecting the students, one by one, in unique ways. One girl can lose an arm while another gains one. Now, cut off from the world, the girls don’t attempt to leave their school grounds, as the tox has also infected the wildlife, making even the smallest of animals a deadlier prey. When Hetty discovers her best friend, Byatt, has gone missing, her actions to find her, including breaking quarantine, reveals an even sinister secret lurking beneath.

I won’t lie reading this while under an actual quarantine made this a lot spookier than I had originally expected it to be. Wilder Girls is beyond creepy and immensely gritty. Alternating between POV, we see the world through the eyes of Hetty and Byatt as they both realise what is happening to them. This story is very atmospheric, and I felt uncomfortable as we slowly discover how the tox infected the girls. And that discomfort is very great at compelling you to read on.

The premise is this book is so good, but I just lost interest very early on. Despite the entire story being contained within the halls of Raxter, the setting felt so empty. This book is more character-driven, but they don’t hold up very well, and with an empty world, it all falls flat in the end. The situation they were all in does not feel as gripping as it should’ve been because the characters fail to react and the narration becomes so fragmented, it just caused a lot of confusion. The ending didn’t help to offset any confusion either as the author opts to leave it open, when there’s a whole world of questions that remain unanswered. . Opening endings aren’t bad, but for a plot like this, some closure would’ve made it a lot of impactful and enjoyable for me. I have to add, calling this book a horror feels like too much of a stretch for me. What the tox does to the girls is extremely horrifying and very vivid, but the rest of the story pales in comparison.

Latest posts 

Review: The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1)

Review: The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Sixteen-year-old Deka fears for her life in anticipation of the blood ceremony that will declare her human or an abomination. On the day of her ceremony, her blood runs gold, and the village turns on her. Until a mysterious woman arrives with an offer: submit to the Emperor by joining his army of gold-blooded girls, known as Alaki, or stay imprisoned in her hometown. Deka proceeds to journey to the capital, joining other girls like her, girls who bleed gold and can’t seem to die—making them perfect fighters against the vicious Deathshrieks that can take down even the most seasoned warriors. As she prepares to become a soldier, Deka discovers that something is different about her power, and she must find the truth before anyone else does.

Well, I must admit, The Gilded Ones was a surprisingly brilliant read. I went into this book with a relatively neutral mindset, very enticed by its cover, and found myself enjoying this one.

The Gilded Ones is a high fantasy novel that deals with racism, xenophobia, misogyny and abuse. The world that Deka resides in is extremely patriarchal that makes young girls go through a ceremony where if she bleeds gold, she is deemed impure. This will most likely end in death or slavery. Gold-blooded girls are almost impossible to kill, their ability to heal at lighting speed makes them demons, according to the village priests. Deka goes from being the village demon to a soldier in training at one of the Emperor’s greatest training halls. The other girls hail from towns from all corner of their world, going from strangers to sisters-in-arms in just weeks.

The lore of The Gilded Ones is where I think it shines the most. Deka and the other girls are descendants of monsters which makes them extremely resilient to most damage. The origins of the death shrieks are so fascinating. The land of Otera is vast and diverse. I was conflicted on what I wanted more: continue to read Deka’s story, or wanting to read about the past. Because there’s a lot of information I think could’ve pushed to the present that would not have dragged the book down, but enhance the current world more. The worldbuilding was well-done, very descriptive, and I can imagine any sequel will build and improve upon what we see.

A high fantasy novel of this kind would not be what it is without its characters. And Namina Forna delivers! Deka starts off someone entirely innocent, due to her upbringing, and she grows up very quickly after discovering the truth. She is terrified of herself and soon realises it’s not her fault the world decided she was a demon, so why should she be afraid? The only issue I noticed was that her powers were introduced and developed very quickly. I feel like some progression could’ve been dragged over to the sequel to make it more balanced, rather than immediately push her into the role of a Chosen One. It doesn’t help that the training scenes are skipped over in favour of a time jump. The central casts are all girls who, like Deka, have been made leave home and become warriors. All of them have their own story and stand firm in their own right. Their personalities stood out, loud and distinct, not one faded into the background. And their quips are hilarious and on point.

For most of the novel, the storytelling is pretty great. The pacing and flow are pretty consistent. I’m not sure how to best describe this, and I’ll do this without mentioning any plot detail. But some moments lost momentum because we’re made to recall something that had happened previously. Something pivotal would occur in the story, and then Deka would remind us of something that happened before because it now holds relevance to the story. This didn’t impact my enjoyment while reading, nor does it affect my rating. I just noticed it happening a few times in the novel.

Overall, I was thoroughly surprised by The Gilded Ones. Much of my expectations were met, and I had a lot of fun learning about the world of Otera: one I would like to see more of the world in any upcoming sequels. The story ends in a complete way; if you had told me this was a standalone novel, I would’ve believed you. The events of the first book are tidied up quite nicely, enough that you could be satisfied to leave there if you wish, but I’ll be anticipating what happens in Deka’s story next. This series has the potential to be something extraordinary.


Latest posts 

Review: The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)

Review: The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

This review will be spoiler-free for The Burning God, but will mention content that will be spoiler-ish to the two previous books in the series, The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic.

Betrayed once again, Rin returns home to the southern provinces of Nikara and begins to take her own stand for her future. The people of the South are fighting two battles: one with the stranded Mugen soldiers and another with the Dragon Warlord. Rin can help, but she faces even more difficulty as the Southern Coalition aren’t too happy with her arrival. But the common people rise behind her, and she quickly realises that power is within the people who are done with being treated as fodder. But will Rin be strong enough to resist the Phoenix who calls for her to burn the world, along with everyone she loves with it? As she begins to grow her army, Rin must make her final stand against the Hesperians, or lose her country to colonisers once again.

I remember reading TPW for the first time back in 2018. It was exhilarating and one of the best books I had ever read. (Still is one of the best books I’ve ever read.) Kuang makes her mark with this series, and in this finale, the stakes are higher than ever before. And I can now confirm that The Poppy War trilogy is one of the best series I have ever had the privilege to read. This trilogy is just pain in three acts. Not one of the books falter, and Rin’s story remains incredible and deeply saddening at the same time.

Continue reading “Review: The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)”