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?

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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?