4 star, YA

Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

Series: These Violent Delights #1

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

I had the distinct pleasure of doing a buddy read with my friend Kaya @ A Fictional Bookworm. This was a great read for discussion, wild theories and maybe a teensy bit of fangirling over certain characters.

Lush, atmospheric and almost lyrical in its prose, it’s no wonder Chloe Gong’s debut deservedly topped the bestselling charts. Set in 1920s Shanghai, I felt like I was transported to this gorgeous locale as the city was on the brink of political upheaval and foreigner influence.

Amidst all of this is a blood feud between two major gangs ruling half of the city each: the Chinese Scarlet gang versus the Russian White Flowers. And at the heart of this feud lies the heirs of each, Roma and Juliette. I will admit, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Romeo and Juliet retelling but Chloe did this justice. This isn’t just some dumb family hating family story for no reason. I love how integrated this retelling trope was with the rest of the setting and plotline, never feeling forced in for the trope alone.

I listened to the audiobook for this one, and boy, did it make a difference. My Mandarin is almost nonexistent (I’m trying, Mom and Dad), let alone the Shanghainese dialect, so ensuring I have the proper pronunciations of all the pinyin was great.

There are plenty of things I can rave about this book, but I will keep it concise (or as concise as a longwinded explainer like me can go).

The characters make up some of the best reasons why I kept turning back to this book as soon as possible. Juliette is a complicated heroine, with plenty of blood on her hands and much she wants to prove as a daughter inheriting the gang. She needs to demand respect and be more ruthless than the next person, even if it means spreading rumors of more viciousness than she necessarily is. Meanwhile, Roma is the softhearted one of the two, struggling to keep his status in his gang when it (and his father) demands ruthlessness. I loved seeing the opposites here, but also the way they bring out the balance in one another. If anyone understands the kinds of pressure it is to always be on your A game, it’s the other.

We talked about how interesting it is that their relationship was technically lovers to enemies to hopefully lovers. That’s not as commonly seen in literature, and I did wish we got more details about the first time they fell in love when they were younger and more idealistic about the world. However, the steamy slowburn second time around was more than worth the lack of detail before as chaos in the city throws these two back together.

And here’s where I personally really loved this book. The world building does take its time in the first half, but it really sets the stage almost immediately with a mysterious outbreak that leads to self-inflicted harm. I was guessing half the time what was going on, who or what was causing this madness that swept the city, and if everyone we encountered so far could be taken at face value. I was magically transported to this beautiful city by the sea, embroiled in political upheaval as the Communist party takes root among the people while the gangsters grapple amongst themselves with the foreigners trying to stake a claim on land that didn’t belong to them.

Shanghai was messily, gloriously complicated and I was here for it EVERY second.

Not to finish this review without mentioning the secondary characters because for once, this book actually made them stand out as more than props for the protagonists. I love the sweet moments between Roma’s cousin Benedikt and their mutual best friend Marshall. I can see why people are falling head over heels for this ship even with so little screen (page?) time. And on Juliette’s side, her cousins Kathleen and Rosalind were intriguing characters with a hidden depth I feel we are only starting to see, perhaps as a foundation for what’s to come in the sequel.

All this to say is, if I could write a cool Asian-inspired fantasy that was both lyrical in prose and suspenseful in plot, I wish I could write something like this. But then again, I don’t need to because Chloe Gong has masterfully done this already. And with that ending dropped on us…well, I really can’t wait for the sequel now. My heart can only shatter so many times.

Overall Recommendation:

These Violent Delights transports us back in time to Shanghai on the brink of political change, where gangsters still control the city and a mysterious madness may just so happen to be unleashed upon them all. I love the way Chloe Gong portrayed Asian culture with such lush descriptions and poetic prose. I feel not only like I’m there, but that I am home with my ancestors, the country where my family came from. Balancing this unique world building with the romantic characterizations of this retelling of Romeo and Juliet, we follow two enemies as they are forced back together for the sake of their city and the people they love. With high romantic angst, amazing secondary characters and the mystery surrounding the madness encompassing Shanghai, this book is a MUST read for all. I swear, it’ll change your mind about historical fantasies in general.

wrap up

November 2021 Wrap Up and TBR

I cannot believe we’re almost at the end of the year. Is it just me or did this year seem both really long and pretty short at the same time? Is that just me?

Either way, I hope November treated you all well. I feel like all I did was work, but I also got the chance to dye my hair and go to the orchestra reopening with a friend.

Reading wise, it’s been an okay month. I’m loving the audiobooks I’m getting into and it makes certain reading experiences so much more enjoyable! I’m happy I gave it a chance. In other news, my bookstagram reached a milestone and I hosted a giveaway there recently. If we’re not friends yet on that platform, I would love to make your acquaintance and follow you there as well!

What did I read this month?

Most outstanding: These Violent Delights blew me away. This was a joint buddy read with Kaya @ A Fictional Bookworm and our reviews will be individually posted on our respective blogs tomorrow, so keep an eye out! I loved the history, the ingrained cultural aspects and the wonderful enemies to lovers romance. It has a little bit for everyone, and is deservedly a NYT bestseller.

ARC shoutout: A Psalm of Storms and Silence (review here) was an okay conclusion and follow-up to an outstanding first novel. I had higher hopes for it, but I am grateful I got to read it early.

Not my cup of tea: Last Chance Books and The Liars Beneath (review here) were both not what I expected or lacked crucial elements I wanted to see in the book. Might work for some people, but just not exactly for me.

New author alert: I really am enjoying Chelsea Bobulski’s All I Want for Christmas series and cannot wait to finish the rest of them in time for the holidays!

Anticipated sequels: I wanted to badly like While We Were Dating but something fell flat for me, particularly the characters. I missed the cute parts of a relationship and felt like it was only oozing sexual chemistry. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I just want a little something more, you know?


4 Potions

  • These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

3.5 Potions

  • All I Want for Christmas is the Girl Next Door by Chelsea Bobulski

2 Potions

  • A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown
  • Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey
  • While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

1.5 Potions

  • The Liars Beneath by Heather Van Fleet

Current reading list

  • All I Want for Christmas is the Girl in Charge by Chelsea Bobulski
  • Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach
    • currently adoring the Asian representation and the premise on feminism
  • A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout
    • yes, I’m still on this one…

TBR list

  • All I Want for Christmas is the Boy I Can’t Have by Chelsea Bobulski
  • Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
  • The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
  • Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

That’s it for November! I can’t wait for Christmas and will definitely be sharing some Christmas-related things in December.

3 star, YA

Review: Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

10 00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she’s just performed her hit song “Heartbeat” in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She’s about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She’s in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.

11 00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She’s very cute. He’s maybe curious.

12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.

Does anyone else just have the song Somewhere Only We Know stuck in their heads whenever you see this title? No? Just me?

I had the pleasure of reading this book as an audiobook during some down time, which definitely enhanced the experience in my opinion. Otherwise, this rating may have dropped by 1.

Somewhere Only We Know is reminiscent of Gayle Forman’s Just One Day type of romance wherein our protagonist sets out on some wild one-day adventure with someone new generally across a wonderful locale. Mix into this is the celebrity meets ordinary citizen trope and that seemed like the perfect combination in a relaxing read.

And for the most part, it was. Lucky was a character I could sympathize with as she struggled with anxiety while juggling the demands of a successful K-pop career. The K-pop industry is known for its intensive training to shape their stars – aka investments – into a marketable star. Lucky was in the midst of this, about to embark on the next frontier in her career – America.

But then she meets savvy Jack, just trying to survive and figure things out in his life after high school. Having moved to Hong Kong with his family for his dad’s work a year ago, he found himself doing well in celebrity tabloid work in this city that still felt new to him in some ways. What were the odds he’d bump into an actual celebrity without maneuvering himself into such a situation?

The premise was cute. You know things will go down weirdly once Lucky found out her identity as a K-pop star was blown and she’s not just a fun, ordinary girl Jack decided to show around the city. But it sure took a long time to get there. The buildup was almost too long because Jack figured out who she was fairly early on in the book, and we’re just left feeling sorry for poor naive Lucky as Jack continued with his deception.

The romance that also builds as the two went around exploring Jack’s favourite places was also a little hard for me to always believe. I understand the connection for Lucky as this was the first guy she ever really got to interact with outside of her management’s scrutiny. There’s this newfound freedom that’s exhilarating and can easily be transferred to the person who brought such a gift to her. For Jack? Was it just because she was famous? I don’t think so, yet her excitement over absolutely everything didn’t make her personality shine through as much when this overshadowed everything else about her.

What I will say that really saved the story comes down to two things:

  1. I absolutely adored the locale in this book. There aren’t any YA books I’ve found that feature Hong Kong so prominently. As this is where my family is from, reading the descriptions of the food and tourist areas Jack brought Lucky to was an excruciating yearning to revisit this wondrous city. If Hong Kong is known for anything, it’s the amazing variety of foods. I loved listening to the book describe in detail things I remember from my past visits that it almost felt like I was back there.
  2. The other thing is the ending. Once you hold out for the climax when the other shoe finally drops, it’s totally worth it. I loved the way the author chose to deal with the aftermath of what you’d totally expect is going to be a messy fall out. It wasn’t prettily wrapped up in a bow, but it also brought a sense of joy and realness to this story.

While there were clearly pros and cons to this book, I still had a good experience with it. I love travel escapism books and this totally delivered, especially in a city that most YA never gets to see up close and personal. The Asian culture shines through in implicit ways because it is literally the backdrop of everything happening. It makes me feel proud to see my city represented like this, and I’m so grateful to Maurene Goo for writing it. I would still tell you to give this novel a chance. You never know if it’s the next read you’ll fall in love with. And maybe want to book a ticket to Hong Kong right away (when it’s safe to).

Overall Recommendation:

Somewhere Only We Know was an ode to Hong Kong, my family’s city, that made me want to be there with our protagonists as they embarked on a one-day wild trip around all the wondrous sights and foods. Lucky was a sweet but naive girl who struggled secretly on her own as she put on a different persona for her fans as a wildly popular K-pop star. When she finds the one boy who didn’t seem to know who she was, she obviously uses this newfound freedom to explore. While the premise was fun and cute, the execution could’ve been a little faster paced as we’re always left waiting for the other shoe to drop from near the beginning once Jack, our love interest, couldn’t keep up his deception. The ending was worth the wait though, and this book overall was entertaining and full of book escapism at its best.