Discussion

Acqua & Movies: Booksmart + Let It Snow (2019)

In March of 2019, I wrote an Out of My Comfort Zone post about book-to-movie adaptations. I finally felt like I was in the right place to watch something again.

Prepare for a whole post of low-level culture shock and me being confused!


I wanted to try a movie that was not a book-to-movie adaptation, and I wanted something that was a) sapphic and b) available to buy in my country on google play, the only place where I could easily buy things online without having to ask my parents.

Unsurprisingly, that’s a really small pool, and that’s how I ended up watching Booksmart (2019, directed by Olivia Wilde), in Italy “la rivincita delle sfigate” (wow do I hate this title).

bI wish I were able to start by telling you something as simple as whether I liked Booksmart or not, but as usual, screen-induced anxiety made this a weird experience and I don’t know what to say. Or, I should probably tell you that you shouldn’t take what I say too seriously, as I started to get into this only around the 75% mark, and the 102 minutes of it actually took me a whole afternoon, since I kept pausing things.

We started off on the wrong note because this was only available in Italian, and not in English (with or without subtitles), and the dubbing was… messy. At first I struggled to understand which of the two girls was speaking. Also, the humor in this book relies a lot on certain types of joke that don’t translate well, and that doesn’t help.

And since we’re talking about cultural barriers: I always forget just how alien American culture – and, especially, American high school – is to me until I actually see them. I realize I keep imagining things wrong when I read contemporary books, because even the settings (the cities are so flat and yet going anywhere has to involve a car?), the objects in here (…people actually seriously unironically wear togas? I forgot that. And cars that old are allowed? Like no one will stop you?) – everything is so weird to me. And this is important, because this is a story about challenging high school stereotypes, and it doesn’t work as much when those stereotypes aren’t really your own? But once I got into it, it was a fun time, if one I always felt like I couldn’t fully get.

I also agree with this tweet by author Rory Power:

I’m not going to pretend I know anything about movies and say whether or not this was in any way good on a technical level, but it was really nice to see a lesbian on a screen, and that’s what I wanted, so I’m not unhappy. I also got emotional because of the character development, so that was nice, but the nicest feeling is the one I got by constantly reminding myself of how good it is to not be 17 or in high school anymore.

Now I’m left with a question – why does US media like to pretend high school is something worth missing? The characters seem to hate it, and yet the ending is all about how they’ll miss this time of their life. I’m two years out of high school and I haven’t missed it for a moment, and it’s not like people in my country seem to expect people to. Cultural differences again? Or is there something I just don’t get?


Then I finally figured out I could a 25€ giftcard at my local bookstore and start a Netflix account on my own without needing anyone’s help, which definitely widened the pool of material available to me.

To start out safe, I went back to a book-to-movie adaptation of a collection I read before I started blogging even in my first language, Let It Snow.

let_it_snow_posterI liked this so much more than Booksmart, surprisingly. Not because of… better quality of the original material, I don’t think so, but this time the dubbing wasn’t a tragedy and the movie wasn’t quite as heavy on my screen anxiety. Maybe it was the recent exposure (two movies only a few days apart from each other… wow Acqua) and maybe it’s really this specific story, but I managed to enjoy some parts of this, which is a lot for American movies about teenagers.

I don’t remember the book that clearly, but I have to say that as an adaptation this is both:

  • high quality, or at least, better than I remember the book being
  • not faithful at all – it’s almost more “inspired by the collection Let It Snow by Mauren Johnson, John Green & Lauren Myracle” than an actual adaptation, which is probably a positive thing

(In case it wasn’t already clear, I didn’t love that book.)

The main thing I loved about this adaptation/reimagining was how they took away a lot of space from Lauren Myracle’s short story, which I remember most people hated and that I didn’t love either, to give space to a sapphic romance. I don’t remember if there was any F/F content in the book, but it definitely wasn’t a major storyline as it was here – so much more space is given to Dorrie and Kerry’s romance than it is to Addie’s “woe is me I’m so self-centered that everyone hates me… maybe I shouldn’t be like that” storyline.
The sapphic romance still isn’t as developed as the two straight romances and it is written with straight lenses (it has the dreaded “person who is out pressures other person to come out” trope portrayed with no nuance whatsoever – the movie acts as if Kerry is wronging Dorrie by not being out) but I honestly don’t have it in me to nitpick the very little sapphic media that is legally available to watch in Italy. Also, this story might be a tired cliché and not a very good one, but it still had a lot of heart in it? Probably because the actors playing these two characters are both queer; that matters.

What I would have changed was the amout of space given to the characters of John Green’s short story, Tobin and Angie “the Duke”: their friends-to-lovers story is boring and has no flavor at all apart from the overwhelming heterosexuality and how much the main character is a typical John Green Novel Main Guy. (If you’ve read one of his novels, you know the type.) Their story had like… two funny moments and the creepiest romantic declaration I’ve seen in a long while (“when I see you with someone else I want to kill them”? What the…? What? Why didn’t Angie run? I hope that was a joke and that I didn’t get it.), which ruined what little good it had.
Though I have to admit their story had one of the funniest parts in the movie, the completely out-of-nowhere blasting of Rock the Casbah during the car chase. (…I couldn’t stop laughing at that.)

The main storyline, though, is pretty much unambiguously the normal girl/celebrity one, following Julie and Stuart. It was adorable, if really different from Maureen Johnson’s short story (the only story I remember liking). I’m glad that the main roles were given to two actors of color. I just wish the whole miniature decorative houses played a bigger part in the movie, as they do in the novel, because they’re cute.
Another thing the movie did right was that it got the atmosphere down perfectly. If there’s one thing these teen movies are good at and have in common, it’s being really pretty.
Also, tinfoil lady was the best character.

And this time, I’m again left with a question: is going in Africa for a semester after high school so… not uncommon for American students? It was mentioned both in here and in Booksmart. That’s “I’ve never heard of anyone in real life doing that” level of unusual for Italians.


Have you seen these? What did you think? What should someone with a Netflix account and time they should definitely be using to study watch?

haul

Reading Four Books I Had Never Heard Of + Haul

I was trying to come up with the premises of the next Out Of My Comfort Zone posts, then I had an idea, and that idea got a little out of hand, and… well, this is the result! I hope you like it, it’s basically the ultimate Out of My Comfort Zone post.


What I’m Doing, and Mostly, Why

Being an Italian person who loves YA books and adult SFF is, more often than not, frustrating. Not only because being international and bilingual in the book community comes with its own challenges – it’s also that in the genres I reach for, English media dominates everything. The SFF and YA sections of Italian bookstores are mostly books translated from English, usually American, while I barely ever see Americans talk about translated books (at least, not in these genres).

And if I am annoyed by all of this, what about trying books that are not translated from English instead of complaining or doing nothing? The thing is, not only trying to find non-English books that might interest me (read: diverse books) is difficult because there aren’t that many in the genres I know, so I might have to reach outside of them; I also don’t know people who talk about them, so I’d have to go into the books without knowing anything.

And then I thought: was that not what I did before blogging? And I’m much better at finding red flags in the synopses than I once was. I could try trusting myself for once.


The Book Haul

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As you can see, the last four are books translated from English I have read or want to read; the first four are graphic novels I know nothing about, and that I’ll read for this post. Surprisingly, it looks like the graphic novel section in my bookstore is the only one that cares about diversity outside the occasional translated English books.

More in detail:

  • Sol by Loputyn (aka Jessica Cioffi, an Italian artist) is a collection of illustrations that don’t form a story, as far as I understand, but there’s a thread running through them. It’s a journey in the fantastic, tied to music, to read “in chiave di sol” (in g-clef). I looked inside before picking it up and the art is gothic and gorgeous. I don’t know if it’s available to non-Italian readers, but if it is and it sounds like something that could appeal to you, there’s basically no text in it, so you wouldn’t lose anything from the experience. And oh, does it look like it will be an experience. Also, of course, some of the drawings are sapphic and I’m so here for that.
  • La ragazza nello schermo by Manon Desveaux & Lou Lubie, translated by Sarah di Nella from French, was mostly a cover buy. It’s just… look, if this is a queerbait I’m going to be so disappointed, because this is probably the most explicitly f/f cover I’ve ever seen in my country ever? Just to give you an idea, the height of f/f rep here is Leah on the Offbeat. I don’t hate that book, but it has issues, and even with that it’s a miracle that we got something. Anyway, I think this is about a relationship that starts out on the internet. [The title means “the girl in the screen”]
  • Non sono questi i problemi by Rén is a graphic memoir (this sounds bad. how do you call something that is both a graphic novel and a memoir) from – if I understood the synopsis – an Italian lesbian, and it should talk about love and LGBT rights and coming out. I picked this one up because the rainbow cover stood out to me immediately, and because hey, I am an Italian lesbian and this is the only time I’ve seen one in a book? I don’t usually gravitate towards nonfiction, and depending on how heavy on the politics angle this is it might be too painful for me, but I’m hopeful? [If you’re curious, the title means “the problems are not these”. I want to know what that means exactly.]
  • La mia ciclotimia ha la coda rossa by Lou Lubie, also translated from French, is another graphic memoir about living with cyclothymia. Another thing that is severely lacking here is mental illness representation that isn’t tortured boys in an All the Bright Places style (…and mental illness awareness in general, do I know that), and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this illness mentioned in any book, translated or not. Also, it looks like it’s not going a terribly sad book? Again, I hope the cover isn’t misleading. (As you can imagine, most rep we get is seriously depressing.) [The title means “my cyclothymia has a red tail”]

The books I won’t be reading for this post are:

  • Trilogia Imperial Radch: Ancillary Justice, Sword, Mercy by Ann Leckie, translated by Francesca Mastruzzo. I already own these, but I want my family to read them – and then I discovered we finally translated it! I loved the translator’s note at the beginning of the book, so I’m hopeful about the translation being good. If you don’t know, the Imperial Radch trilogy handles gender in a very unusual way even for SFF, and since the English language is gendered in a completely different way from Italian (in English, gender is in pronouns; in Italian, the end of certain nouns and adjectives is also gendered) this must have been difficult. Anyway, I’m so glad to see it here as well, it was high time we translated the most acclaimed English-language sci-fi trilogy of the last ten years.
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, translated by Benedetta Tavani. This is the complete trilogy + a short story. I wasn’t the biggest fan when I read the first two novellas, but it’s been years, and I might give it another try. In any case, I want to support diverse SFF when it gets translated, as it’s not a common occurrence.
  • Il suo corpo ed altre feste, aka Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, translated by Gioia Guerzoni. I’m trying to branch out from my usual genres more, and the hype for her work intrigues me. (I so hope they translate In the Dream House.)
  • Il priorato dell’albero delle arance, aka The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, translated by Benedetta Gallo. This just got translated!! I was already planning to read this, and now I have no excuse to avoid this giant F/F fantasy tome. I’m so glad it got here, we usually don’t translate adult SFF by women at all, but the situation seems to be slowly changing! After seeing The Stars Are Legion get translated this year, I’m a little more hopeful.

The Actual Post, Finally

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I started with La mia ciclotimia ha una coda rossa, and the first thing that stood out to me is how much this, the only nonfiction book about mental illness I’ve ever read, came close to my experience with dealing with psychiatrists specifically, in a way no fiction book ever has.

American YA books come in extremes: psychiatrists are either the main character’s salvation or downright evil. And the truth is in-between; they’re not evil but some of them completely lack tact in a profession in which it’s vital, and some jump at things being sociopathy/antisocial disorder/conduct disorder faaar too easily than they should. (When I got to that scene, I had to put down the book for a moment, because that was too close.)

I don’t have cyclothymia or any kind of bipolar disorder as far as I know, but I could relate to a lot of things in here, since what I have can also bring drastic mood swings over nothing (not in the same way, and not as intensely, but that scene in which she stars crying because of yoghurt of all things: relatable. Ah, the mentally ill life).

Apart from this, it’s an easy, informative read about a difficult topic; I loved the metaphor of the unpredictable-fox-as-cyclothimia, and that it also talked about a few other mental illnesses a little. The black-orange-white color scheme works wonderfully here, and this book has a lovely sense of humor as well, which made it not heavy at all. Definitely one of my favorite graphic novels of the year; it convinced me I need to read more nonfiction in this format.

(I also ended up gifting my copy to my parents and they really liked it too! They don’t read a lot of novels because not much time for that, but graphic novels are quick to read and mental illness is a topic that affects all of us, due to my existence, but isn’t much talked about in Italy.)

So, I chose one that worked for me despite the fact that I had never heard of it and I’m so proud of myself. Let’s see about the rest.

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Then I tried Non sono questi i problemi by Rén. The vague-grayscale art style was not my thing, but I did like the points it was trying to make – sometimes the problem isn’t open homophobia, sometimes it’s what in English are called microaggressions (but I’m not sure if this is even a word that exists in my language) and people who have very ambiguous responses, the kind of people who make you walk back into the closet by yourself by making you feel as if you’ve just made things awkward. It might not be outright dangerous, but it’s also difficult to fight back, and this is also about finding ways to cope with that.

Also, how difficult it is to use our word for “lesbian”. I can’t believe how much discourse there is around English labels, which I usually see in a positive context because internet spaces, while I’ve almost only heard the Italian ones as insults, all of them? (no wonder many just use gay. this book gets it.)

Several choices in here made me think it was mostly aimed at straight people, so I can’t say I got that much out of this, if not for the experience of not seeing a layer of translation between me and queerness, for once, and that’s something I value a lot.

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Sol was, as I predicted, an experience, the kind of experience that makes you feel as if, by not listening to the right music for the book, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s magical and ethereal and horrible; I think the cover explains perfectly what kind of tone this collection strikes – it’s pretty and delicate if a little sad, and the pavement is crawling with bugs.

Sol dances on the line between the beautiful and the disturbing, going in a few notes from soft to eldritch, while the witchy, vaguely melancholic atmosphere never leaves. There’s a running thread of decay in this collection, of the wild taking over the human, and I really liked the metaphors for that – from snakes to fungi to wolf masks.

I’m going to post two of my favorite illustrations in here, to give you an idea of what kind of thing it is:

In its own way, it’s a lot like a poetry collection; there are themes, and sections about certain themes, but the illustrations aren’t tied to each other, and some of them will speak to a person and others won’t. I found that most sections did, with the exception of “Lamento” – the themes were too… heterosexual, but the art was still pretty (someone who likes black-and-white ink and/or artistic NSFW hetero stuff might like it more than me).

This is not to say that the collection as a whole is too heterosexual, as there is lovely sapphic content, and certain things are universal anyway – it’s an exploration of toxic attraction and inner demons, it’s about facing your own monstrosity, and in it music is as much of a call as it is a way to keep the monsters at bay.

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La ragazza nello schermo follows an online romance between a 20-year-old illustrator from France (Coline) and a 27-year-old Canadian barista from Montréal who wants to be a photographer (Marley). It’s really sweet and lovely and I’m so glad it exists, as I can count on one hand the f/f books one can currently find in an Italian bookstore.

My favorite thing about this was the portrayal of Coline’s social anxiety. This is probably the closest a book has ever come to my own experience with it? (Wow, am I finding a lot of relatable things today.) Coline had to leave university because she had panic attacks so strong she couldn’t stay in class, and… that was basically me for my first two months of last year? And like Coline, I will take off and literally run away at the slightest provocation! I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of these things in a contemporary from the US.

Another thing I really loved was the art – each artist only draws one PoV, one of the two in all grays, the other in color, and the result was both really interesting and pretty.

There are a few things about this that gave me pause and could bother someone else, however: the age gap (not really a problem for me but it is significant), the fact that Marley was already in a relationship, albeit a toxic one (her boyfriend belittles her and pressures her into sex multiple times through the story, and while it’s not explicit, it’s upsetting) when she starts falling for Coline, and a plot point involving Marley doing something big that affects Celine without her consent.

About this last thing, I have been in a similar situation as someone who also gets stuck because anxiety. People helping me without asking (because I wouldn’t have let them) did make my life better in the end, but at the same time, it had felt like a betrayal back then, and I wish this graphic novel had tried to address that a little? I get it, and I don’t think it was wrong necessarily, but seeing them talk about it would have been great; it would have made me believe in this relationship more, also because the ending is kind of abrupt.

Apart from these things, I really loved this. It’s a story about two young women who are stuck for different reasons, who help each other get free, and it’s beautiful. I hope that if these authors put out new content, it will keep arriving here.


What I Got From This

That, especially about graphic novels, English publishing isn’t and shouldn’t be the whole world; that I do like nonfiction if it’s about topics that interest me and I should definitely seek out more of it; that I am in fact good at picking up things I’m going to like.

Also, English publishing’s way to do things puts up so many limits. Traditional publishing hates the label “new adult” for marketing reasons, so it often pushes stories like La ragazza nello schermo to be YA when they aren’t, and I’m glad that’s not really a thing in other countries. (Did you know Italy doesn’t have the thing were every novel written by a woman is assumed to be YA? It’s great, and for the one time I use this word for my country, this isn’t sarcasm.)

I’m definitely going to be reading Loputyn’s backlist in the future months – I’ve already bought her artbook named Loputyn – as I’m going to be exploring my bookstore’s graphic novel shelf.


Do you often pick up books you have never heard of? And translated novels/non-English books?

contemporary · Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #8

My eight post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

My last post was about experiencing a story in three different formats; this time, I’m going to talk about my experience with adult mysteries.


My History With This Genre…

…is completely nonexistent. I always start my Out of My Comfort Zone posts talking about history, but this time I can’t, because I had never read an adult mystery set in the real world before. Fantasy mysteries? Sure! The Perfect Assassin, for example, was one, even though not really good in the mystery aspect; same for one of my favorite books of last year, Witchmark by C.L. Polk. But no contemporary/realistic mysteries.

Maybe my own complete lack of interest leading up to this post should have rang a bell and made me understand that the fact that this genre didn’t sound appealing to me at all until I got the idea to read it for a blog post could mean something. Maybe that could have deterred me from trying.

Alas, it did not.


What Happened

I read two books:

  • If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio, a contemporary/historical mystery set at an elite arts college and following a group of obnoxious theater students; I chose this one because it’s hyped, got many good reviews from people who have tastes not too different from mine most of the time, and because I’ve been told it’s m/m and why not read about gays across genres.
  • After the Eclipse by Fran Dorricott, a contemporary mystery/thriller story about child abduction in an English small town. I chose this one because it has been getting wonderful reviews from friends and people I follow, and because it has a main f/f romance (of course, it’s not the focus), which does seem particularly uncommon in this genre. Also, it’s more of an “under the radar” book, which means I didn’t go into it with they weight of hype or high expectations.

And now, to what I thought of them.

If We Were Villains

30319086The main thing I have to say is that If We Were Villains kind of is to books what cardboard is to food, and I failed to see the appeal of it on every single level.

I should have DNFed it when I realized – and that happened pretty quickly – that I hated every single character, but I didn’t: you’re not meant to like them, and I wanted to know where the book would go with such a deliberately unlikable cast.
But the problem is, they’re not even unlikable in an interesting way. There are characters I don’t like but am fascinated by, and there are characters I just want to disappear from the page. Here, everyone fell into category two, and I should have listened to my DNF instinct; after all, there’s a difference between my first reaction to a group of characters being “this is awful and messed up, I’m into it” and it being “everyone in this book would greatly benefit from a year or two spent hoeing the earth“. More than messed up – which they were, sure – they were blandly annoying.

Yes, bland. I really didn’t expect that from a book with a skull on the cover and a cast of over-the-top pretentious assholes. Did the main character even have a personality? Did James? What sense does it make to write a character-driven book in which the characters (intentionally?) have only two character traits, one of which is “pretentious”, so that we get “pretentious and promiscuous”, “pretentious and prideful”, “pretentious and frail”, or “pretentious and intoxicated”? This isn’t a play, this is a novel, the characters should have some depth.
And for a book in which a lot of the plot hinges on the main character’s loyalty to [redacted], the book sure managed to not make me feel anything about it. There was a lot of telling, but when it came to actually showing these relationships, the dynamics of this dysfunctional friend group… they felt so empty. I didn’t believe them, and the amount of backstory the characters shared that it’s implied but we’re not even really told about didn’t help either.

While reading this, I kept thinking that there was no way the characters were intentionally that flat, so I can’t help but wonder if this book is meant to be something meta about Shakespeare’s characters or plays. But since I know pretty much nothing about Shakespeare, this didn’t do anything for me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case for many who didn’t grow up immersed in the Anglosphere.

And no, if you don’t have the average Shakespeare knowledge an English speaker is expected to have, I really don’t think this book is worth it. It’s flavorless, and as a mystery, it was obvious enough that I predicted the ending step by step before the murder even happened.
(There were also many smaller things that were in bad taste, like using an eating disorder as a plot device to annoy the main character, but at that point I barely had the energy to care.)

My rating: ★★

After the Eclipse by Fran Dorricott

44153328._sy475_This was suspenseful and incredibly compelling, for something in which I guessed who the culprit was the moment he appeared on the page. While the book constantly tries to mislead the reader, the combination of heavy-handed foreshadowing and stereotypical characterization of every single side character didn’t leave much space for the reader to imagine other outcomes. I never suspected anyone else.

Unlike the previous book, this story did keep my attention; like the previous book, it disregarded the idea of complex, realistic characterization to pin every single character in a predictable role. Even the main character isn’t much more than the classic figure of the mystery-solving figure with alcohol problems and a past unresolved tragedy which ends up being tied to the present one; at least, unlike most characters that belong to this archetype, she is a lesbian and ends up in therapy.

I also think that if you’re going to write a multi-PoV novel and the book is not only perfectly understandable but also deeply predictable if the reader outright skips one of the two PoVs, there’s a problem. This is a story about child abduction and child sexual abuse. When I understood that there would be many chapters in the point of view of an abducted child, the choice for me was either skip all of them or DNF the book – I chose to skip/heavily skim, and I didn’t feel like I missed any relevant information. I can see reasoning both for including that kind of content and not doing that, so it’s more complicated than “just don’t include this kind of thing”, but the way it was done here… I’m not sure it was the best choice.

Overall, my impression of this was that it was deeply average. It’s a story about a struggling journalist in a small town with a quirk that has to catch the town’s predator before he strikes again, and while it isn’t a bad novel, it doesn’t do anything unexpected. I’m already forgetting most of the details and it’s only been a few hours.

My rating: ★★½


Will I Read Another Adult Mystery?

I’m always hesitant to judge an entire genre from only two books, but at the moment, I don’t plan to. This genre never appealed to me, and considering that I picked up the books that I thought were more likely to work for me – they’re queer, they got many good reviews, they had an interesting premise – that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

I feel like mysteries – and this is also true for the YA mysteries that don’t get too distracted with the romance – often expect the suspense to carry the reader through the story instead of crafting compelling characters and relationship dynamics. And I mean, on a level it works: I didn’t DNF either of these books, and they didn’t take me that long to read. However, that also means that I start forgetting them the moment I finish them and end up feeling like I wasted my time.

I don’t want to write off an entire genre, of course. I want to be able to find books that work for me, I’m just not really sure where to look for them, and I’m not sure which kinds of adult mysteries/thrillers would be more likely to make it. I don’t know. I want something that will actually give me characters who feel like people and that I won’t start hating from the moment I start reading (…as I said, unlikable is great as long as it doesn’t start to make me question why should I ever want to spend time in that character’s head; I realize this is a harder balance to strike in contemporary) instead of throwing half-baked plot twists at me.


What do you think of this genre/books?

Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #7

My seventh post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

This time, I did something a little different, and tried experiencing the same story in three different formats at the same time.


A Little History

For several month now, my twitter timeline has been full of people talking about a something called Mo Dao Zu Shi (or, as it usually is in tweets, mdzs). I didn’t pay that much attention to it, because most of what I saw was completely out of context and I had no idea of what it even was. I just assumed it was something movie/show/animation-related, and didn’t investigate further. (If you want to know about my history and relationships with things on screens: here. The TL;DR is that watching things on a screen and my anxiety don’t go along well.)

So, I went through months of being spoiled for basically everything, but in a way that was so out-of-context that it didn’t even matter or affect my following experience with mdzs. All I really knew was that it was a) gay in some way, at least in subtext and b) historical, maybe?

Then, I don’t remember how we got there, but I ended up talking about it with Silvia on twitter, and she recently got into it – so I finally understood that the thing that was everywhere on my timeline was a Chinese m/m adult fantasy novel involving necromancy that was adapted both as a donghua and as a live action show.

This combination of hype + recommendation from people I trust + vague but interesting premise meant that, at that point, I really wanted to try it. Since I had been wanting to try again and watch something on a screen for a while as well (in small doses, I can do that, if I can skim certain kinds of scenes), I did.

If you want more detailed information about what this story is and where to start, Silvia wrote a post about that!


Overall Thoughts

43188345._sx318_Someone should have told me that this had the very specific trope “the most hated person of the realm comes back from the dead, chaos ensues” sooner!

I realize that I’ve never talked about this because it’s an overly specific combination of things and because I had only seen it in another book before, but… it might be my favorite trope. (Even though these stories have nothing in common, Mo Dao Zu Shi opens with exactly the same trope as Raven Stratagem.) I love reading about hated undead. It might be the many years spent in Catholic school and the whole framing of resurrection as holy when actually it’s a terrifying concept, I don’t know.

Also: complicated family dynamics! Music as magic! Necromancy and blood magic! There were a lot of tropes I loved in here.

Anyway, the story overall was great, and this was such a good time. Far from flawless, and it’s definitely the kind of thing I would only recommend with disclaimers, but was it addicting.

Now I’m going to talk about what I liked about each format. Keep in mind that I have very little experience with two of them.


Mo Dao Zu Shi [Donghua]

I started from here. Season one has been completed, season two is ongoing, and there should be a season three but I’m not sure when.

Pros:

  • There is a lot to take in at first. Not only because it’s fantasy and we know how worldbuilding can be, but because it starts at a point in which the main characters already have a long, fraught history with each other, so you don’t really understand their reactions at first (after, there will be many flashbacks). However, I have to say that, as I was told, the donghua beginning is the easiest to follow – it doesn’t infodump you but it gives you most of the information you need.
  • Even before you get to appreciate the characters for who they are, this is funny just for how dramatic it is, and I loved that about it. The first scene involving the protagonist is one of the most dramatic things I have ever seen and I was there for it. (Might be typical of the format? I wouldn’t know.)

Cons:

  • So many scenes happen in the dark. Scenes set in tombs, in caves, dark buildings, woods at night – there’s a lot. Every time I got to one of those scenes, I couldn’t understand anything about what was happening, because of the terrible lighting/lack of contrast.
  • I kind of find it aesthetically unpleasant for a variety of choices.
  • It’s not finished yet.
  • The fight scenes are boring and proportionally longer than they are in the live action (at least they’re really dramatic, which makes them funny).
  • Of course, as usual, I need to skim some scenes, which means that I do lose some things.
  • The m/m relationship can only be heavily hinted at because censorship.

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation [Novel]

This one was a really interesting experience. You might already know that I have little to no patience for long books, especially ones longer than 600 pages. If I had known that this one was longer than 1000, maybe I wouldn’t even have started it. And it didn’t feel like something longer than 1000 pages, which made me think about what exactly I don’t like about long books – it’s not the length, not really. It’s the repetitive structure in a novel that just takes longer to get there.

A published American novel, unless it’s somehow experimenting with format, has a beginning in which the characters and world are introduced (or: new elements are introduced if it’s a sequel), a middle in which there might be a journey and there’s usually rising tension, and then a climax and an ending. It might be 100 or 500 pages, but it’s always that. If the story is really long, it gets broken up in two to three books, so you have to do this exact same thing three times. And from knowing this structure, you can more or less predict what’s going to happen next.

And it’s not that in this novel these elements are absent. There is a beginning, there is a main climax, there is an ending; however, it’s also a mess of incredibly long flashbacks sometimes following characters different from the main couple, and while it’s long it’s one story and not one broken and watered down to make three books, and all of this paradoxically makes it less boring.

Pros:

  • Being a novel, you get more details and many thing that can’t be translated as well on a screen;
  • Comparing structure and tropes with the novels I usually read was really interesting, and there are some parallels as well as things that I’ve never seen a fantasy novel try, when they clearly should have. (Fake redemption arcs in a Shatter Me/A Court of Mist and Fury style are boring and always feel somewhat forced. What this book did is so much better when it comes to reversal of expectations, why don’t YA novels do [this spoilery thing] more often?)
  • Unlike the other two formats, this is explicitly gay and doesn’t only hint at things. This way, you get that it took the main character years to understand that he is gay while being clearly in love with another man.
  • If you’re interested in another of the two formats, this tells you the significance of certain symbols, so that the gay subtext of the adaptations becomes way closer to text in your head.

Cons:

  • This is messy at heart.
  • While the author is really good at writing pining and romantically oblivious characters, the same definitely isn’t true for actual romantic scenes. The amount of dubcon in the form of non-consensual kisses and drunk kisses and drunk sex was really uncomfortable. The love interest’s jealousy also made my skin crawl. Let’s say that while I liked the romance in theory, the execution was bad.
  • A person who values their own eyes should skip the sex scenes. I’ve never seen a fandom agree so strongly about the fact that these are terrible.
  • It’s true for all of the formats, but something that is even more glaring in the novel is that every single female character is either evil, dead or irrelevant, with usually a big emphasis on irrelevant. While the other formats at least attempt to develop the female characters who end up dying, especially the live action, the novel does not.

The Untamed [Live Action]

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Pros:

  • Listen. The aesthetic. I love everything about the way they chose to portray the setting and the costumes and everything looks so pretty on the screen
  • I thought the casting choices were really good! I mean, there is to say that even if the acting was mediocre, I wouldn’t know, but I thought the characters were portrayed really well on the screen
  • The romantic tension. This is such a good example of dancing around censorship. The longing, the loving gazes, the romantic songs… perfect. (This led to the weird phenomenon in which I like the romance in the live action, in which it can’t be explicit, far more than I do in the novel, because all the weird dubcon isn’t there. What a recipe for pain.)
  • Female characters have a more active and important role! It’s still very flawed but at least they do something.

Cons:

  • It’s completely impossible to take the fight scenes seriously. (Maybe that was the purpose, I’m not sure, but they’re kind of ridiculous).
  • It got rid of some of the moral ambiguity, which I have mixed feelings about.
  • Censorship, of course
  • Since this looks more realistic than the other two formats, I needed to skim a lot.
  • Even though this ended up being my favorite format (I know, I didn’t see that coming either), I don’t recommend starting from it because I think I would have found the beginning really confusing if I had.

So, How Was Following A Story in Three Formats?

It helped.

A problem I have with anything on a screen is that I have to skim. By skimming, I usually lose interest, because I lose details. Being able to switch from one format to another when it came to a point in which I started to lose interest in one was helpful, so that I ended up finishing all of them [well, the first one isn’t finished, but I saw all that was out]

It was really confusing, yes. These stories are similar enough to all feel the same story and different enough to cause confusion. I don’t separate them clearly in my head, but there’s also some good that comes from that – watching something that only heavily hints at the m/m relationship while reading the novel in which they’re explicitly gay (and what I said about the novel explaining the symbolism) ends up making you feel as if you are in fact watching something explicitly gay, because you mix them up in your head, everything feels like the same story. It never feels like baiting.

There are not many stories with which I could do this kind of thing – the stories that I’m interested in reading rarely get adapted, which is sad – but I would do it again if I had the chance.


Have you ever tried following a story in multiple formats at the same time?

Adult · contemporary · Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #6

My sixth post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

The last post was about movie adaptations of YA contemporaries; this one is about full-length adult contemporary romances.


My History With Romance

I’ve said in the past that I don’t really read romance, and that’s not true. When you say “romance”, people immediately think about contemporary/historical adult novels. But romance is so much more, and I’ve actually read plenty of it – YA contemporary romances like Under the Lights, YA fantasy romances like The Star-Touched Queen, adult fantasy romances like Witchmark, and novellas like Once Ghosted Twice Shy are still romances.

It’s just that none of them are full-length adult contemporary romances.

37648566Of these, I think I’ve ever only read and finished one, Syncopation by Anna Zabo, a non-romance story with an aromantic character in the romance genre – and even then, I read it just for the aro representation (which I really liked, even though me and that aro character had nothing in common but that).

It’s not the only adult contemporary romance I’ve tried. I’ve tried several by Rebekah Wheaterspoon because of twitter hype, and DNFed them (I think I just don’t like her writing style); I tried excerpts of Helen Hoang’s and other well-known authors and always got bored before the end of the sampler. They always fail to hold my attention, and I’m not really sure why. Because I’m aromantic? Because I’m reading the wrong ones? Because sometimes you just don’t like a genre?


What I Read

This time, I decided to read two novels, one from Alyssa Cole, who wrote one of my favorite romance novellas, and one from an author I had never read anything from before, Avon Gale.

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A Princess in Theory: so, this didn’t start out badly, but it ended pretty much as I expected, which is to say, I was really bored for half of this book and just wanted it to end. It wasn’t that it was bad, because it’s really not, and it wasn’t that I was annoyed with certain tropes I often find in m/f romances, because this time those weren’t there. It was that after 50%, there was basically no tension, and the political subplot was so lackluster that I couldn’t wait for the book to be over. Also, I found the writing significantly less… detailed than it was in Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, and I missed the atmosphere I could feel in that one. I loved the beginning, however, and thought it was really cute – it’s just that me and adult contemporary romances almost always lose each other before halfway through.

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The Love Song of Sawyer Bell: this was an interesting experience, as it started out boring and became interesting a quarter of the way through instead of the opposite. I like this combination a lot better, and I also like how this author writes sex scenes (no awkward euphemisms! the character talk and joke and you can tell they’re having fun! doesn’t read like a grocery list!). Also, I will always be a bit biased when it comes to f/f romances. However, this was very short (under 300 pages) and I know that if it had been any longer I would have been so bored, because the characters weren’t that interesting to begin with and the author decided that atmosphere and setting were for the weak.


Will I Read Other Adult Contemporary Romances?

Maybe, but only if the premise sounds really interesting to me (and, probably, only if they’re queer). I still want to at least try the really popular ones (for example, I will try Red, White and Royal Blue at some point) but if the samplers don’t work for me, I won’t continue, because adult romance always ends up being some kind of boring and I can’t rely on the idea that they will get better.

I think part of the reason they don’t work for me is that a romance isn’t enough to carry a book. You either need internal conflict (often fueled by miscommunication, and that’s… usually annoying to read and not something that will make me think the relationship will last much) or external conflict, which will be something I probably won’t care about – in YA, the characters deal with external conflicts I have experienced or have seen other teens experience; with contemporary adult characters, I… haven’t been there, so what happens to them doesn’t hold as much emotional weight (one of the reasons I don’t really reach for adult contemporary fiction in general). This might or might not change as I Grow Up™.
Also, I’m aromantic. All of this is by definition unrelatable, which doesn’t affect me too much but that I can’t completely ignore; another reason for why I’m not dying to read more romance.

Another thing that doesn’t help is that the authors often don’t bother to describe anything about the setting. If YA contemporary seems to try once in a while, I still haven’t found an adult one that did, but that could be because I haven’t read many of them. And if I avoided historical romances up until… last month, basically, I have discovered that queer historical romances aren’t always full of homophobia and that they usually have something resembling an atmosphere (The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was especially good at this, but it’s not like A Little Light Mischief was bad). Maybe I do like historical more than contemporary in this genre, which is not something I would have ever seen coming, but again, I’m only interested in the f/f ones.


What do you think of adult contemporary romance? Do you read it? And if so, what are your favorites?

contemporary · Discussion · Young adult

Out Of My Comfort Zone #5

My fifth post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

The last post was about middle grade, the next one will likely be about full-length adult contemporary romance.

This post will be about movie adaptations of YA contemporaries.


My History With Movies, and Specifically YA Contemporary Adaptations

I don’t watch them. As a general rule, if it’s on a screen, it’s not for me.

Not because I think movies are bad or that I’m above them or that books are just so much better – it’s that they give me so much anxiety (and often secondhand embarrassment) that watching them isn’t even fun.

Anyway. If we’re talking specifically about YA contemporary adaptations, I think I’ve only seen two, both without really wanting to – one American (The Fault In Our Stars) and one Italian (Bianca il latte, rossa come il sangue). I didn’t like either of them and I watched them just because of friends/classmates, but they basically had the same usual sicklit plot and I never like those.

This time, I’m going to try adaptations of books I liked.


What I Watched

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I mostly like this because I’m glad it exists.

So. It wasn’t bad, but I had already seen so many gifs of this movie that I felt like I was rewatching it, and it still gave me so much secondhand embarrassment. I liked it, mostly, because I like the plot and characters, and I think it’s a pretty faithful adaptation while working perfectly even if you haven’t read/don’t remember the book.

I can say that the biggest thing I didn’t like about the book – the overwhelming pop culture references and complete lack of atmosphere – weren’t a problem here, so I think I would have liked it more than the book… if I ignored my inherent problems with this format. But those inherent problems take away a lot. I wish I could have found it cute and funny, but that’s just not how my brain works.

However, it did make me want to read Leah on the Offbeat, so…

ivb5-ps35vaTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), an adaptation of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.

Again, I mostly liked this because it exists and because of the aesthetic. I’m glad this cute romance with an Asian-American main character got adapted, and the settings are beautiful.

However, this was emotionally exhausting. First, the secondhand embarrassment? So much of it. Not because this movie is more cringe-y than the average romcom – it didn’t feel like that to me, I can’t watch most of them and I did finish this, even though I just wanted it to end – but again, my brain just can’t with many things on a screen.

Also, there’s something about straight romances – or, to be specific, the tropes associated with straight romances – that tires me so quickly, and it’s true for many books, but for movies it becomes unbearable. The whole “I take away your hair tie because I prefer your hair down”, the drama with exes, it’s just… hhnng. And I really think it’s a genre thing and not this movie’s problem, so this is a reminder that I shouldn’t get swept up into the hype.


Will I Watch Other YA Contemporary Adaptations?

…maybe? I mean, I can’t say this went well, but it was still an interesting experience. One I don’t want to repeat anytime soon, but I could do it again, eventually. (Because when something gets hyped, I want to know!)

Things I learned from this attempt:

  • I think the reason I never get invested in movies is that the feelings of anxiety and/or secondhand embarrassment are so strong that they overpower everything else I might have felt about the storyline or the characters
  • I can’t imagine people doing things like these to themselves often and for fun but I guess that’s the beauty of human diversity and human brains
  • In both of these cases I preferred the books for the reason above, but I’ve noticed that YA contemporary adaptations tend to be more accurate than the YA SFF ones, or at least it feels like that to me
  • I still liked them more than the old sicklit ones! But it’s mostly because the overall quality of contemporary has improved so much in my opinion
  • not exactly “learned”, but it reminded me of how alien America feels to me. With books, it’s easier to ignore because I make up the setting in my own head, as contemporary books usually don’t bother to describe it.

Anyway! If you want to recommend me or just tell me about your favorite YA adaptations (both contemporary and SFF), I’d really appreciate that, because I’m curious – even thouhg I’m not sure I’ll watch them. Also, while I do know people who have Netflix, I don’t have it myself (it wouldn’t make sense, I watched more things for this post than I did in all of 2018), so I’m usually not in the condition to watch things that are only on it.


Have you watched/liked any of these?

Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #4

My fourth post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

This time I will be talking about an age range I rarely reach for anymore, middle grade.


My Long History With Middle Grade, and Why I Almost Never Read It Anymore

9788893816601When I was the target audience for middle grade, I read a lot of it. A good part of it was Italian middle grade – I want to mention specifically the Fairy Oak series by Elisabetta Gnone because this series kind of shaped who I am as a reader (it’s an atmospheric story about witches with a lot of plants involved, of course I loved it).

I also read a lot of translated middle grade. Harry Potter was really important to me when I was in middle school, and so was The Golden Compass.

Then, from 2013 to may 2015 I almost completely stopped reading. I won’t go into what happened in this post because it would be off-topic, but anyway, in 2015 I started reading again. This time I was mostly picking up young adult books, because that was what I was drawn to – I wasn’t the target audience for middle grade anymore. But as I started following bloggers and booktubers (I started blogging in Italian at the end of 2015), I didn’t only see YA recommendations, but also middle grade ones. And the most loved middle grade series after Harry Potter seemed to be Percy Jackson.

I had always avoided Rick Riordan’s books because their Italian covers are hideous. In 2015, I tried two of them. And while Rick Riordan seems to be a great person from what I know about him, his books aren’t.
33832945I hated Percy Jackson. The narration irritated me, I couldn’t visualize anything, and the book was trying so hard to be funny and quirky that it only ended up feeling fake all the way through. But as so many people loved it, what I thought wasn’t “maybe I don’t like this author”, it was “I think I’ve outgrown middle grade” – which was reinforced by the fact that I tried Cassandra Clare and Holly Black’s Magisterium series and thought it was mediocre at best, even though I had liked YA novels from both of these authors.

And that’s how I didn’t read another middle grade book until the summer 2018, in which I tried The House on Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, inspired by the Russian stories about Baba Yaga. It was, again, mostly mediocre, and didn’t do anything to convince me I wanted to pick up more middle grade books. If anything, it reminded me that just because a book has a really pretty cover and an interesting premise, it won’t mean it’s good.


What I Read

I decided to try three books from three authors I already know I like.

City of Ghosts

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I have had a complicated history with Victoria Schwab’s books, but I can sum it up as “she’s good, I’m glad she got popular, I don’t like how people criticize her female characters for literally everything, but some of her books are really overrated”.

I hadn’t heard a lot about City of Ghosts – probably because it’s middle grade – but it looked like it could be a cute and slightly creepy ghost story. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the writing style at all, which was a surprise.

If I had read this a few years ago, when I was the target audience, I think I would have felt like I was being talked down to. I understand that Schwab probably felt the need to explain more because she’s writing middle grade, but… I’ve always thought that authors should trust their readers. I can’t of course be completely sure I would have felt this way about City of Ghost when I was in middle school, but I know that at the time I felt this way about some middle grade books – and phrased it a lot less nicely. (“Does this book think I’m stupid?”). The only thing I’m sure about is that I’m unlikely to get anything out of this right now.

DNF at 25%

Dragon Pearl

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I… would have loved this one so much in middle school. I love it right now, too, but middle school me needed this.

I mean, this book features mischievous ghosts, adventures in space, a shapeshifting fox teenager who is trying her best and lying a lot (she gave me Lyra Belacqua vibes at times and she was my favorite character for so long). Of course the writing style isn’t Lee’s usual Ninefox Gambit-level of weird, it’s easy to read, but I never felt like it was explaining too much.

This book also has a lot of things I appreciate today that I don’t know if I would have noticed/cared about a few years ago, like the way the technology is tied to the characters’ beliefs and feels a bit like magic but also not completely. But the main difference between this book and the middle grade SFF I read in middle school is the diversity. It’s an ownvoices Korean-inspired space opera set in an  unapologetically queer-inclusive universe, with non-binary side characters and mentions of polyamorous adults. I don’t think I read any non-western-based fiction until I was 16, and I definitely didn’t see even a mention of queer characters in the books I read. If there was rep, it was Dumbledore-style-rep, which is to say “useless, vaguely-hinted-at representation I didn’t even know was there”. And of course trans characters weren’t anywhere. It means a lot to me to see that now things are different.

But, more than anything: this book was so much fun. In a way adult and YA books often aren’t, and not in a I’m-trying-to-be-funny way either. I just love books about adventures like this one, they’re so full of wonder.

I wrote a complete review of this, here.

My rating: ★★★★★

Aru Shah and the End of Time

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When I started reading Dragon Pearl, I was afraid that it would somehow sound like Percy Jackson because it’s a Rick Riordan Presents book. It wasn’t the case at all, as I hoped. Then I thought it didn’t make that much sense to worry about that in the first place, because Lee sounds nothing like Riordan, no matter how much he tones down the weird-and-somewhat-purple side of his prose.

As it turns out, it wasn’t that nonsensical, because Aru Shah and the End of Time had everything I dislike about Percy Jackson in it, and Chokshi didn’t sound like Riordan to me either, when I read her YA books. In this book, the narration is constantly trying to be funny but it doesn’t really work, the quirky (…annoying. I’m sorry.) chapters titles are here, and the result is unreadable – for me, of course; this will probably work for those who liked Percy Jackson.

I’m disappointed because I loved the premise and Roshani Chokshi’s previous novels, but I think I’m just going to stick to her YA books. (I still haven’t read The Gilded Wolves. How.)

DNF at 10%


Will I Read More Middle Grade?

…It depends? If some other authors I love start writing it, I might pick it up, and if Dragon Pearl gets a sequel I will read it for sure, but I probably won’t pick up much middle grade on my own.

I never like to say “I outgrew this”, but it’s also normal that most of the books written for an age range I’m not part of anymore don’t work for me. I’m just not the target audience. I don’t think they would have worked for me when I was in middle school either, but again, I can’t be sure.


What do you think of middle grade books? Have you read any good ones lately?

Discussion

Out Of My Comfort Zone #3

The third post in my Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you missed them, part one was about comics, part two about my experience with an audiobook.

I didn’t know what my next Out of My Comfort Zone post was going to be about. I have no time lately to read novels that aren’t ARCs – so full-length adult contemporary romance was out of the question, even though it’s a post I’m planning. I’m also currently writing my post about webcomics, but I’ll need some more time for that.

I wanted something even shorter, and then I remembered that… I never read poetry. And I really should try sometimes.

So, today I’m talking about short sci-fi and fantasy poetry I found and read on some of the sites that usually publish my favorite sci-fi and fantasy prose short fiction.


Why I Usually Don’t Read English Poetry

The “English” part is there because I have read a lot of old Italian poetry, because of school. I disliked most of it – I know you can’t see me now Carducci but really why are you still inflicted on young people today? And Foscolo, what did hoopoes ever do to hurt you? – but that’s what happens when you are forced to read something, I guess.

Anyway. The reason I rarely read English poetry is that I don’t follow a lot of people who read it, and the kind of poetry that gets really popular isn’t the kind that… speaks to me? With “the kind of poetry”, I mean personal collections about trauma and feminism. I have tried excerpts of some of the most popular ones in the past, felt nothing, and decided it just wasn’t my thing. Maybe I could find some collections I liked if I looked more into the genre, I don’t know. But I wanted to try something I’m more likely to enjoy right now, so… short SFF in verse.

[I’ve also had mixed experiences with poetry novels – I loved The Poet X and strongly disliked The Sisters of the Winter Wood – but I think those are another thing entirely.]


What I Read

When I noticed that there was free poetry written by one of my favorite short fiction authors ever on Uncanny Magazine, I knew I had to try it immediately. I’m talking about Cassandra Khaw, and I don’t know why I had never looked into whether she wrote poetry, because she’s the kind of writer whose prose feels like poetry. I wrote down parts of I Built This City For You instead of my notes during Latin because I couldn’t get them out of my head*.

A Letter from One Woman to Another – as I thought, her writing is perfect for this. The part between “I want to pretend” and “forward”? Wow. Why do some words, when put together in that order, with those line breaks, sound so well? This is about not settling down for mediocre men, by the way, which is a message I always appreciate.

I’m now also going to try authors I had never head of before:

hypothesis for apocalypse by Khairani Barokka – I’m not… sure what this is about, to be honest, but the imagery is creepy and it sounds nice when read aloud. I think it’s about agency and the lack of it, but I could be wrong. Interesting, in a good way, since you could read this (very short) poem in many different ways.

She by Heather Averhoff – this is so short, and yet… I can see it. A fractured poem for a shattered woman we see in pieces at the edges of our field of vision. Is this about a violent death? I’m not sure, but I could see it that way. It makes sense even though I’m not sure what that sense actually is. Which kind of seems to be a theme, but I don’t mind that?

Red Berries by Jennifer Crow – this one was lovely. Not only it had a perfect wintry atmosphere and imagery I loved (red berries against the snow?? gorgeous, ok) but it also had a vaguely monster romance feel. I could kind of see this as a scene in Deathless, if only it were darker.

A View From Inside of the Refrigerator by Andrea Tang – this is about the woman in the refrigerator trope. It makes up for being somewhat obvious (especially if you’re aware of the trope already and have read it about before) by being well-written, and that ending couldn’t have been better.

The Modern Girl’s Guide to Dating the Paranormal by Sophie Dresser – listen everything that has a paranormal romance feel to it is good. It doesn’t look like it would sound as good if read aloud as some of the poems I talked about before, but I love the content and the ending here is perfect (those last two lines… they mean a lot to me. I’m putting together a post about hauntings to talk specifically about that).


Will I Read More SFF Poetry In the Future?

I have gone through a good part of the Uncanny Magazine and Strange Horizons poetry archive, and I have to say that most of the ones I tried didn’t work for me at all, and I decided to not talk about them in my “what I read” section because I didn’t want to repeat many times “I didn’t get this and it also sounded awkward to me”. However, the ones that worked for me were great – especially the Cassandra Khaw one, but I saw that coming – so I’m interested to see what these two magazines will publish in the future.

Reading SFF poetry is exactly like reading SFF prose short fiction, except it’s even more cryptic and hard to get but it sounds even better (and you know that part of the reason I like short fiction so much is that sometimes the writing style is an experience itself, something that isn’t true for most novels). I also liked that it’s far more open to interpretation, and what I see might not be what you see at all. I think it’s the kind of thing that would be interesting to discuss with people – also because all of these take just a few minutes to read.


* Yes, this is 100% normal Acqua behavior, I don’t think I ever took notes for an hour without them turning in either song lyrics, pieces of books in another language, or spoonerisms. My notes always end up being useless but at least my hands have something to do?


Do you read poetry? If so, which kind(s) of poetry?

Discussion

Out Of My Comfort Zone #2

The second post in my Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you missed it, part one was about comics.

And this time I tried an audiobook.


Why I Usually Don’t Listen To Audiobooks

The first reason is accessibility. Audiobooks cost more than ebooks and, unlike physical books, I can’t find them in the bookstore if translated.

They don’t get translated at all, and while I am bilingual, English isn’t my first language, and listening to something in a language different from yours is more difficult than reading.

I tried audiobooks only once before, with Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, but I DNFed it.


What I Listened To

I chose Sadie by Courtney Summers, not because I thought I would like it – I didn’t, not really, but that’s not what I was expecting anyway – but because it’s an audiobook I knew was going to have great narrators.

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My thoughts on the book: as I expected, I didn’t enjoy this book, but you’re not really supposed to. This kind of dark realistic novels is really not for me – reading about tragic events that could be real means complete emotional detachment on my part (the other option, I feel, is Anxiety Time and my brain is trying to protect me. At least, that’s what I think it’s happening). But it was a story compelling enough that I didn’t DNF it, so it was perfect to understand whether or not I like audiobooks.

Anyway: I really appreciated the casual diversity (poor bi/pan main character with a stutter, the other main character is a man married to a man) and this book’s messages. Sadie talks about many important topics like the way predators often hide in plain sight and the way society fails vulnerable people like children and those who are poor or ill. I liked that while it made its point about young women’s pain being considered both normal and entertainment, in this book Sadie always had agency.

I didn’t feel strongly about anything in here – but I often didn’t like how this book talked about addiction (I talked more about that in my goodreads review) even if it made sense for the story.

My rating: ★★★½


Will I Listen To Another Audiobook?

I don’t want to say never, but… it’s not “yes” either. For many reasons, but not the ones I thought. (Well, the cost is still a reason*).

Surprisingly, I had no problem understanding what the characters were saying. I had to look up the spelling of everyone’s name when I wrote the review, but that was the only thing I didn’t get.

However, I have a very uneven reading pace. I don’t know if it’s that way for everyone, but I don’t read all the scenes at the same pace – I often reread descriptions multiple times to understand how things actually look or feel like, I read dialogue very quickly, and I often skip ahead a few pages and then go back. I stop all the time, go back, skip ahead, repeat, and it’s… annoying when you do it so many times with an audiobook**.

While I understood what the audiobook was saying, I struggled to visualize what was happening. I never liked having someone tell me stories, so I probably should have seen this coming.

Also! My hands really wanted to do something while I was sitting there (me, staying still? Ha!), but I can’t multitask at all (me, paying attention to multiple things? Ha!), so… it was a weird combination of struggling to pay attention to the audiobook (which took effort) and feeling like I was wasting my time because my brain didn’t register the audiobook as something I was doing – so I was bored and tired at the same time.

*(I don’t have a library. I know about audible and scribd but it’s still money for something I could end up not using? I prefer spending once for a thing I want that paying for something that I could end up not using every month.)

**Edit: if you’re wondering why I do it, it’s the anxiety. Not being able to do that easily really impacts my enjoyment of what I’m reading. (Anxiety is not fun and reading is supposed to be fun)


I don’t think this is the format for me. Is it the format for you?

Book review · Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #1

The Judging Before Reading series has come to an end with my post about Buzzwords. So, today I’m starting another series of posts: Out of My Comfort Zone.


How It Works

I usually read fantasy & science fiction novels in the adult and young adult age ranges, and contemporary (young adult range only). Everything else is out of my comfort zone – be it historical realistic fiction, adult contemporary romance, realistic thrillers, paranormal middle grade, comics & graphic novels…

…but that doesn’t mean I won’t like it. One of my goals for this year is to try some new things, and every time I read some books from genres, formats and age ranges I usually don’t reach for, I’m going to write a post about it.

And today I’m reading comics.


Why I Usually Don’t Read Comics

Habit? Habit is a big factor, and since I get most of my reading done on an ebook, I was hesitant to even try. Also, one of my favorite parts of reading is imagining how the setting and the characters look like – which is why I love atmospheric novels and don’t like when contemporary books don’t describe the setting – and illustrations won’t let me do that.

The only comic I’ve ever read is the Monstress series by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda, which I love, so I wanted to see if maybe I actually like this kind of books more than I thought.


What I Read

I chose three comics to read for this post – more or less randomly, because that’s the way I like to explore new genres. Going randomly out of my comfort zone helped me discover my favorite author, after all.

Those three comics are:

  • Twisted Romance vol. 1, edited by Alex de Campi
  • Giant Days vol. 1 by John Allison, Lissa Treyman & Whitney Cogar
  • Fence vol. 1 by C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad

Twisted Romance

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Weird, wonderful, and very queer.
Twisted Romance is an anthology of comic shorts and prose short fiction, which is something I had never read before. Not everything worked for me, but most stories did, and I’m so glad I read it.

It’s a really diverse anthology – most of the stories have queer main characters, there are stories about polyamory, there are multiple stories with fat main character and main characters of color, and also one with a disabled character. Many of the creators are themselves queer, trans and/or authors of color.

Some of these stories stayed with me more than I expected. There is a beautiful fairytale-like short comic about a princess saving herself from an abusive relationship with a dragon (Treasured by Trungles), for example, in which both the art and the message were beautiful. And two out of the four prose shorts were wonderful, and my favorite things in the anthology: Back At Your Door by Vita Ayala was about polyamorous lesbians, while Unbound by Naomi Salman was an adult romance short about bondage, and I remember them as vividly as I would had I read an entire novel following these characters. They were that good. (And also, both of them had main characters of color!)

There were some shorts that didn’t work for me, both short stories and comics, but I remember the good parts more than the not-so-great ones. Twisted Romance is an anthology about romance stories that are seen as “unconventional”, whatever that means in the context, and it’s just exactly my kind of romance. I really recommend it.

My rating: ★★★★

My reviews of the individual stories in Twisted Romance

Issue #1 
Old Flames by Katie Skelly & Alex de Campi – ★★★½ 🏳️‍🌈
This was… an interesting start. It’s the story of a bi/pan vampire-like creature (incubus/succubus might be more accurate terms, but as the main character says, they’re too specific and he likes to switch) in New York during the 70s, and it involves a cheating husband, a deadly vampire-like woman, and a really disappointed wife.
I had some mixed feelings about this. While I loved how colorful and funny it was, the art didn’t work for me. Also, graphic on-page death of queer women, casually? I know the main character himself is queer, but… not my thing.

Leather & Lace by Magen Cubed – ★★★★ 🏳️‍🌈
A vampire and a human hunt man-eating wendigos in Devereux City. Dorian, the vampire, has feelings for Cash, but Cash has a boyfriend, and this means Dorian’s feelings are totally unrequited. But are they?
A fun m/m paranormal romance story with some interesting action scenes. (and no annoying cheating storylines, if you’re worried about that!)

Red Medusa by Sarah Horrocks – ★ DNF
I didn’t even get what this was about and I’m not sure I want to know it. Well, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know it, and even if I did, it was so (intentionally) hideous I didn’t want to look at it. This is probably great if you’re into this sort of thing, but I can’t look at horror-like graphic stories.

Issue #2 
Twinkle & the Star by Alejandra Gutiérrez & Alex de Campi – ★★★★½ 🏳️‍🌈
A story about a fat desi photographer’s assistant falling in love with an asexual actor! I loved the art style in this one, it’s just as cute as the story it’s portraying and it’s also very… contemporary-feeling? (Hi! I review prose! I know nothing about art!) Anyway, everything about this felt like a cute, diverse new adult contemporary romance novel, and it managed to say so many things in so little space – it talked about fatphobia, body image, misogyny, gender roles, allonormativity and slutshaming.
However, I didn’t love how the love interest’s sexuality was almost framed as a plot twist.

Back At Your Door by Vita Ayala – ★★★★★ 🏳️‍🌈
One of my two favorites from this anthology! This is a contemporary story about an f/f/f love triangle – about polyamorous lesbians in college – with a latinx main character. It talks about how messy it can be to figure out your sexuality, about how sometimes questioning teens unintentionally hurt other people in the process, about how sometimes queer women are really oblivious when a girl is flirting with them. And the ending is one of the cutest things I’ve ever read.

Would You Even Know It? by Meredith McClaren – ★★★★½
A story about a girl who may or may not be falling in love with an AI. I usually don’t like AI romances, but this one didn’t go into the “romantic love makes you human” territory I was expecting (…dreading) and instead questioned what it means to be in love, and the definition of romantic love. As an aromantic who kind of doesn’t get it, I really appreciate these discussions. It was a bit too short, but I liked the art style. Really cute.

Issue #3 
Invincible Heart by Carla Speed McNeil & Alex de Campi – ★★★½ 🏳️‍🌈
An m/m romance in space! Gruff spaceship captain meets flirty privateer, gratuitously shirtless most of the time! Not exactly my kind of thing as it had no worldbuilding and most of the plot points didn’t have much impact because of that (also, the world ended up feeling generic) but it was a fun story.

The Last Minute by Jess Bradley – ★★½
This was just ok – my lest favorite of the prose short stories. It’s about a man and a woman who survived an alien invasion and are trying to save Earth. Just like Invincible Heart, it had very generic worldbuilding and didn’t stand out to me because of that, even though I appreciated that it was about men taking no for an answer.

Olivia Lies, Pierced by Margaret Trauth – ★★★★
Anthropomorphic animals (a mouse prince and a cat with a prosthetic arm) connecting – and then falling in love – because of a vidshow! It was a bit confusing at first because the main character is a liar, but it’s also very cute and colorful.

Issue #4 
Treasured by Trungles – ★★★★½
A subversive fairytale about an “average-looking princess” escaping the palace with the help of a snake-dragon… who has not the best intentions. To me, it felt like a metaphor for an abusive relationship: people who feel/are lonely are more vulnerable to abusers, snake-dragons or not, and then blame themselves for what happened to them; abusers can be really charming at the beginning, even when they are snake dragons; but unlike the usual captive princesses, the main character here can’t be rescued by a knight – she has to save herself.
It was a lovely story, the art style was my kind of thing (I loved the details here!) and I also really liked the fairytale ending. The main character deserved it.

Unbound by Naomi Salman – ★★★★★ 🏳️‍🌈
A lonely latinx mechanic moves into a new apartment… but, apparently, there’s a sex club downstairs. This m/m story was one of my favorites in this anthology, and it’s exactly what I mean when I say that I love adult contemporary romance when it’s short. Novels never seem to work for me as much as I want them to, but this? wow.
It’s the only story with an actual sex scene and it involves bondage. Also, Asian love interest!

Legacies by Sarah Winifred Searle – ★★★★ 🏳️‍🌈
Another f/f/f love triangle! This was a bit confusing because of its length and I had to read it twice to understand what had happened, but it was really cute and sweet. It’s about doing better in the future to make up for the mistakes of the past… and of your past selves. Also, the main character is fat and I love casual diversity.

Giant Days

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This is the first volume in a contemporary comic series following three girls who become friends at university. I can’t really summarize the plot, because there isn’t one, but I didn’t have a problem with that – I really like reading slice-of-life contemporary stories sometimes, especially when I need something that I can read quickly that won’t be stressful.

🌟 Susan Ptolemy, cynical, kind of grumpy, probably the only one of the three in touch in reality, if she weren’t so in denial about her feelings.
🌟 Esther De Groot, local goth, extremely dramatic. I loved her scenes because she was a mess and because they were always the funniest ones.
🌟 Daisy Wotoon, queer, naive, needs to be protected. As a character, she was probably the one I liked the least, but her storyline has the potential to be the most interesting? I don’t know.

I like reading about female friendships, and this was no exception.
I didn’t feel strongly about the art. While I did like the bright colors because I’m that kind of person, the drawing themselves aren’t exactly my kind of thing. I like details, give me more details, even when they’re not in any way the point!

It’s a fun, light read, and I flew through it, but I don’t think it will stay with me. While I did find it entertaining, it didn’t have any depth to it, and the romance storyline already seem cliché to me (not a surprise: I’m only interested in the potential f/f one). I might continue with the series, but I’m not sure I will.

My rating: ★★★½

Fence

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Fence is a contemporary comic series following Nicholas Cox, a fencer at an all-boys boarding school, as he attempts to get into the fencing team.

This first volume was made up of the first four issues, which is probably the main reason I’m struggling to write this review – it felt very much like an introduction, one that ends on a cliffhanger, so I can’t say much about the characters, their arcs or how their rivalries, friendships or possible relationships seem to be developing. It’s just a beginning, and as that, it’s pretty good – even if it doesn’t in any way stand on its own.

I liked the humor in there. Sometimes it got a little over-the-top,  but I didn’t mind that. The duck shower curtain? I love it, Nicholas and Seiji are so dramatic. The fact that the coach has an entire wall of “things one shouldn’t say”? I loved that too. (…and one of these things is “Aiden dumped me”!!) I also really appreciated the casual queerness here, from hints of crushes to characters who are explicitly queer.

I haven’t read any sport romances before, so I have nothing to compare this to, but for now Fence seems to be exactly the kind of fun, diverse, not stressful contemporary I like to read when SFF get a bit too much.

I don’t have much else to say, if not that this series has potential. To say whether the series fulfills it or continues to not have much substance I’d need to read the rest when the second and third volumes come out. And maybe I will.

My rating: ★★★¾


Will I Read More Comics in the Future?

Yes!

This went well – even if not everything worked for me, I liked most of what I read. I will for sure read more of Twisted Romance if more issues come out, I will continue to read Fence even though it’s not a priority, and while I probably won’t continue Giant Days, it was a fun read. (And, of course, I will continue to read the only comic series I knew before this episode of Out of My Comfort Zone, Monstress).

I think my once-problem with comics was that I expected them to feel similar to novels, but they don’t. For me, reading comics is more similar to how I feel when I watch TV:

  • for me, they require less effort than reading prose
  • I read them in less time, but, just like movies and TV shows, they tend not to stay with me. It’s not a coincidence that the part of Twisted Romance that impacted me the most was written in prose.
  • unlike TV, I can read comics at my own pace, which I really appreciate. Not being able to easily stop and repeat a scene or skim-read a scene is exactly my main source of anxiety with TV (and the main reason I don’t watch it, as I don’t particularly like being anxious for fun).

What are your favorite comics? Have you read any of these?