Welcome to the A.R.C. Space Station, traveler!
Today I present to you all a new format I came up with for my Advanced Reader Copies’ reviews: a « space station » (i.e. a post) containing multiple ARC reviews. The reviews probably won’t be as long as a whole individual post, but I’ll actually feel less pressured. And I like the idea of this space station, it’s more fun!
Today on the A.R.C. Space Station, two new reviews of ARCs I read in November. One is a Romeo and Juliette fantasy retelling in 1920s Shanghai, the other a YA f/f romance set in a high school theater company. Read all about them below!
Disclaimer: I received those books in exchange for an honest review, and I’d like to thank the publishers for their trust. This does not affect my opinion nor the content of my review.
This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
These Violent Delights
by Chloe Gong
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.
The year is 1926, and Shanghai is under the rule of two gangs: the Scarlet Gang, whose heiress Juliette Cai just came back from the USA, and the White Flowers, with Roma Montagov as heir. The gangs have ruled the city in blood and fear, but another monster is rising from the river to terrorize the population. There are talks of a madness spreading over the city, not regarding gang allegiance, that only leaves death and despair in its wake. Juliette and Roma, ex-lovers that separated in blood and treason years ago, need to team up if they ever wish to stop the monster before it destroys their city.
I had high expectations about this book, mostly because there has been so much hype around it. Sadly, I believe the hype was too high and stopped me from enjoying this book as it is. It results in me having a lot of mixed feelings about this book, but hear me out: These Violent Delights isn’t bad. It’s actually quite an enjoyable Romeo and Juliet retelling.
What worked for me
• The universe: Chloe Gong did a great job of creating a detailed universe. While reading, I really felt like I was in Shanghai, I could clearly see the streets around me, the main characters and background silhouettes move. It was like I was by their side, even if I never stepped a foot in Shanghai — even less in 1926’s Shanghai, I may add. I loved the ambiance, and how the fantasy part was woven into the story. It was intriguing, having this river monster and all those insects — and quite disgusting, I scratched my head so often. The universe in itself is really what pleased me, and especially, what never disappointed me.
• The plot: As I say, I thought the fantasy part with the monster and the disease to stop was appealing. I also liked how it was linked with politics and colonization. I liked that Juliette and Roma were old lovers that betrayed each other. I mean, there were a lot of things that I liked — I liked the idea of this book. But sadly, my expectations were not really met…
What didn’t work for me
• The pacing: The first half of this book is very slow-paced. It helped to set the universe, I admit, but… I wish there were a bit more actions, more stakes. I was getting bored when I hit half of this book, hoping something would soon happen. The pace picked up during the second half, and it raveled a bit by the end. It was like everything was happening all at once, and I would have preferred a better balance.
• The characters: For the most part, I had nothing against the characters. But as we approached the end, I couldn’t stand most of them, especially the Cai ladies. Juliette is described as a strong, badass heiress and violent killer who can do no wrong, and yet she makes so many mistakes and doesn’t seem to learn from them. Juliette is also described as someone who would do anything to protect her family and gang — and yet, she spends the majority of the book bad-mouthing her uncles and aunts, is never seen interacting in a positively with gang members and dismiss one of her cousins as soon as Rosalind starts thinking
rationally differently than her. Kathleen’s story may be emotional, and I sure felt pity for her, but her character is flat: her whole purpose is to follow blindly everything Juliette tells her. Roma also lacks in-depth, but completes Juliette in a way: he’s a family guy but doesn’t seem to be of much use, sadly.
• The plot resolution: This part is going to be spoiler-free, but you may skip it if you prefer. As I wrote above, the pacing was a bit off, and everything happened all at once at the end. Some plot twists weren’t really surprising, sadly, and it added in the fact that Juliette is a daredevil that doesn’t learn from her previous mistakes, while Roma didn’t do much. Even the cliffhanger with which the book ends isn’t holding me spellbound. It was to be expected.
You’ll like These Violent Delights if you like Romeo and Juliette, roaring twenties, modern retellings, and political fantasy.
The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre
by Robin Talley
Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Nina LaCour, this #ownvoices romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley has something for everyone: backstage rendezvous, deadly props, and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to True Love.
Melody McIntyre, stage manager extraordinaire, has a plan for everything.
What she doesn’t have? Success with love. Every time she falls for someone during a school performance, both the romance and the show end in catastrophe. So, Mel swears off any entanglements until their upcoming production of Les Mis is over.
Of course, Mel didn’t count on Odile Rose, rising star in the acting world, auditioning for the spring performance. And she definitely didn’t expect Odile to be sweet and funny, and care as much about the play’s success as Mel.
Which means that Melody McIntyre’s only plan now is trying desperately not to fall in love.
Melody McIntyre just landed the dream of her job in the theater crew of her high school: stage manager. Which means she’s in control of the show, and everything needs to be perfect, especially since an old curse seems to take things from worse to worser in their theater. But then, on opening night, her girlfriend dumps her in the middle of the show, and it reverberates on the play. What if Mel’s love life triggers the curse? Her crew and friends make her swear to stay single for the Spring musical, so nothing can jeopardize their production of Les Mis. And that’s fine! Mel’s okay! That is until rising star Odile Rose comes back to school and sign up for the musical… The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre is your sapphic Hollywood romance, but make it high school theater.
A sapphic theater romance? I was sold before I even opened the book. And happily for me, this book was everything I wished for, and even more!
What worked for me
• The universe: The whole book is set in a high school theater, and the characters are all theater nerds. And I am one myself, having been part of a theater company’s cast and crew during high school too, so the whole universe of The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre really hit close. I loved reconnecting with this universe, and the theater and musical references were also really nice to get. I felt like in a little warm bubble, and Robin Talley made a great job to translate exactly what it feels like to be part of a theater company.
• The plot: I love the idea — an ancient curse that jeopardizes shows if someone breaks a rule, and all those theater superstitions (really, theater nerds — myself included — we do not joke about that). I liked how it was introduced, and what Robin Talley made with it. And I’m not going to spoil you, but I really like how this ends, and what they do about that curse.
• The romance: It’s just so cute. There is no homophobia, no pressure to come out, nor to hide because this is a sapphic relationship. Both Melody and Odile are casual about their sexuality, and their dating experience. There is a bit of slut-shaming coming from side characters, but it is immediately depicted as a bad thing. Melody, who has been dating several peoples the last few years, throws the words « bisexual » and « virgin » as if it is not a big deal — and it’s not, but having a character not worrying about those kinds of things is nice. Odile has only dated a man before, but her romance with Melody is no experiment, and she doesn’t freak out about her new relationship with a girl. Their bisexuality and different dating experiences are written as a normal thing, and in no way a mean for conflict. Plus, they’re super cute with each other, showering the other with support and love from the start.
• The intermission: This is a small part in the book, between the last two parts/acts, and this is the first time I read something like that in a (YA) book. The intermission is a succession of three or four chapters where there are only the dialogues written — no action, no description. We follow Melody and Odile as they start dating seriously, and having all those dates where they get to know each other, and the whole thing really felt like a little bubble of coziness.
What didn’t work for me
• A bit too many characters: I really had to think to come up with something that didn’t work for me. I get it that it takes place in a theater company, and there is a lot of people, plus parents, and teachers, and… this felt a bit too much sometimes. I was identifying easily the main and secondary characters, but I had a hard time keeping up with those background characters we see from time to time. It may have been a bit too much to name everyone in the company, and include everyone in the plot, even if it helped to create the feeling of a whole company/family, but I wouldn’t have minded if we didn’t know about those random guys and focused more on the secondary characters.
You’ll like The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre if you love musicals and theater, Hollywood romance, and YA feel-good books.