Review: Marriage at a Price by Chizuko Beppu & Miranda Lee

Title: Marriage at a Price by Chizuko Beppu & Miranda Lee

Published by Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp.

Available at eManga

I saw one word in the description for this title and it immediately caught my attention.  What was it?  Why, the word was “horse.” Marriage at a Price is about a young woman who is struggling to keep her horse farm, which is heavily in debt.  Her mother has just died, and Courtney is given the bad news that the farm is so leveraged that it’s going to be very difficult for her to find the financing she needs to keep it running.  That is definitely a plot that got me clicking the Read button faster than you can blink.

This was one of the better Harlequins, and I’m not just saying that because it has horses.  The horse elements of the story were very weak, and some parts of Courtney’s grand scheme to make the farm profitable didn’t make much sense.  She proudly tells Jack that the herd consists of 3 mares and 60 stallions.  If it’s a breeding operation, I can see why they are losing money.  She’s got the mare to stallion ratio backward!

Anyhoo, Courtney desperately needs money, so her horse trainer friend takes her to the track to meet prospective investors.  Her problem?  The only guy who seems trustworthy had a run of bad luck and lost most of his fortune when his business partner ditched him.  They can’t deny their attraction, however, and Jack promises to help her raise some cash.  First, though, he has to inspect the farm and make sure she’s being honest with him.  Before he tries to convince his friend to back her business, he has to make sure everything is on the up and up.

I wish Marriage at a Price has been about 30 pages longer.  All of the Harlequins suffer from an abbreviated plot and a rushed sense of pacing, which makes it hard to buy the heroine’s emotional journey.  The stories have to remain simple, and the titles that attempt to be more challenging or complex come off as a confusing mess.  In terms of coherence, there were a few spots where events did not flow smoothly, and it’s hard to buy into the emotional commitment between Courtney and Jack, considering the short time they spent together.

The art is very attractive, though there are some awkward proportions that occasionally made me grimace.  The illustrations fit the mood of the story very well, and are more whimsical and playful than other entries under the Harlequin umbrella.  Courtney is independent and determined to be successful in her own right, and her expressions and boldness is evident in her character design.

While not without its flaws, Marriage at a Price kept me entertained enough to download a sample of the novel this comic is based on to my iPad.  I am curious to see how different the book is from the comic; I just need to carve out the time to read it!

Grade: B

Blue Moon Bride by Roszel & Ito Digital Manga Review

Title: Blue Moon Bride

Authors: Renee Roszel, Kako Ito

Publisher: Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp.

Available at eManga.com

After Hannah is insulted at work, she resigns in a huff and storms out of the office, vowing to never return.  Unemployed, she takes a holiday away from the city to sort herself out and try to decide how to get her life back on track.  When she encounters Roth Jerric, her former employer, under the blue moon, her life will never be the same again.

I was disappointed with Blue Moon Bride for a couple of reasons.  The plot was rather jumbled and jumped all over the place, making it difficult for me to be drawn into the story.  The protagonists fought almost all the way to the last page, but it was a mean kind of fighting, and there wasn’t much tension to be found anywhere in the story.  Hannah is still reeling from being called “arm candy” and mediocre, and she can’t move beyond that.  Jerric didn’t really have enough of a back story to get a handle on his insecurities, and that made his character seem flat and one-dimensional.

Aside from a very contrived storyline that fails to offer any sort of suspense or energy, the translation is iffy in a few spots. The conclusion is unconvincing, and doesn’t deliver on an emotional level. On a positive note, I will say that this is the first Harlequin that I’ve read at eManga where the words actually fit inside of the word balloons.  What a glorious day!  The word balloons were functional!    Yay!

The art is clean and fits the romance genre quite well. The character designs are attractive, and there’s a great deal of attention paid to background details that make the settings come to life.  I just wish the plot had been a little stronger so that the illustrations didn’t overshadow it so much.

Blue Moon Bride is an average read.  It doesn’t offer anything to set it apart from the crowd, and the characters’ motivations aren’t very interesting.  This is worth a rent if you’re a die-hard Harlequin fan; otherwise, try some of the other titles first.

Grade: C

Review copy provided by publisher

The Sheikh’s Contract Bride by Southwick & Okamoto Digital Manga Review

 

Title: The Sheikh’s Contract Bride

Original Story: Teresa Southwick &

Manga: Keiko Okamoto

Publisher: Harlequin

Available at eManga

There are some new Harlequin titles available at eManga, so I must once again check them out.  I become positively giddy when I realize that there are new Harlequins on the website, and I think it is because I am a sucker for a happy ending.  I know before I even start one how it will end, and that the journey to the conclusion won’t be too harrowing for either the protagonists or the reader.  These truths hold for The Sheikh’s Contract Bride, where love triumphs over unbelievable odds and even cultural expectations.  

Beth has always lived in the shadow of her twin sister, Adina.  She’s been ignored and neglected by their power hungry father, and she has been forced to watch helplessly as he’s pushed her sister around.  Using Addie for political gain, he has overseen every aspect of her education after securing her betrothal to the sheikh of a small Middle Eastern kingdom.  Beth and Addie have only had each other for support, and when Addie confesses she’s fallen in love with someone else, Beth agrees to go to Bha’Khar to break off the engagement.  Pretending to be Addie, Beth soon has a bigger problem than she ever imagined; she’s fallen in love with Malik!

Ah, doesn’t the thought of all of that blowing sand and the merciless heat from an unrelenting Middle Eastern sun give you delicious shivers?  I personally don’t find these settings very appealing because they are so beyond the realm of believability due to cultural differences, though the desert temperatures would be welcome, especially after a long, cold Michigan winter.  I must admit that I do find the thought of a wealthy, handsome sheikh attractive, but only because the characters that populate these romantic fantasies are richer than Midas.  Think of all of the manga and horses that you could buy!  Score! 

Beth arrives in Bha’Khar to end the engagement, but of course she quickly finds herself falling in love with Malik.  Both of them have been burned by love in the past,  so they are wary of opening themselves up to be hurt again.  It doesn’t help that Beth is pretending to be Addie in order to end the engagement and that everything he believes about her is pretty much a lie.  While I thought their conflicts were too easily resolved, I did enjoy the story and the characters.  I wish that the dialog had flowed more naturally, and that Malik and Beth didn’t sound so stilted as they were expressing their deepest feelings.  There was some wonderful tension, but much of it was ruined once someone started to speak.  The vocabulary and even the pacing of the dialog just didn’t seem natural.  The art was very attractive, with lavish backgrounds and lots of burning, moody stares.

The Sheikh’s Contract Bride offers up an engaging story, but there are times when it is hard to concentrate on it.  Translation weaknesses and a lack of understanding how word balloons should function (yes, the words should be contained inside the balloons!) mar an otherwise fun read.  I know, deep in my heart, that Harlequin will eventually get all of those floating words tamed and under control,  because that needs a happy ending, too!

Content Grade: B-

Presentation Grade: C-

Review copy provided by eManga.

A Royal Proposition by Lennox & Sanazaki Digital Manga Review



Title: A Royal Proposition

Original Story: Marion Lennox
Manga: Harumo Sanazaki

Publisher: Harlequin/ Softbank Creative Group

Available at eManga

Ugh!  I so don’t want to say “Ugh,” but I’m afraid that I must.  This romance was so clumsy and awkward that I was never drawn into the courtship between Alastair and Penny-Rose.  The dialog was stiff and lifeless, and the characters had zero personality.  At least there was a cute puppy, so the read wasn’t a total waste of time.

The story kicked off to a rocky (forgive the awful pun) start when Penny-Rose, a pretty young girl who wants to be a stone mason, meets the queen of a little podunk country.  Immediately charmed by her friendliness, the Queen decides that Rose is the perfect mate for her son, the handsome prince of Castaliae.  Rose comes from a disadvantaged background, and she has worked hard all of her life to provide for her siblings because her father is an alcoholic bum.  Luckily for Rose, Alastair has only recently ascended to the throne after the death of his uncle.  In order to keep it, he has to marry a woman of virtue and remain married for at least one year.  Since Alastair’s girlfriend is a calculating, experienced older woman, she doesn’t fit the bill and is out of the running to become the next princess.  At least for a year.

This is a quick read, and it is marred by a terrible translation.  The dialog is so stilted that it is humorous.  The awkward dialog stumbles along, and it fails to capture any romantic tension that may have existed between the protagonists.  It was so distractingly bad that the usual text spilling outside of useless word balloons hardly even registered.  Instead, I was caught like a deer in the headlights by the glaringly awful sentences tumbling from the characters’ inked lips.

The art is a tad dated, but after a few pages, I started thinking it wasn’t too bad.  Especially the panels where nobody talked.  I came to look forward to those few pages where the art spoke instead of the leads.  The ungainly character proportions seemed masterful next to the train wreck that is the dialog.  Even the smudges around Penny-Rose’s eyes became appealing after wading through the painful dialog. 

Avoid this one.  I guess there are times when even fairy tales can be rendered clunky and unsatisfying.

Grade: D-

The Sheikh’s Reluctant Bride by Southwick & Aso Digital Manga Review

 

 

  Title: The Sheikh’s Reluctant Bride

  Original Story by:  Teresa Southwick

  Manga by:  Ayumu Aso

  Publisher:  Harlequin

  Available at eManga

  Venturing off to an exotic desert location, let’s take a look at the The Sheikh’s Reluctant Bride.  I have been dodging this one because the cover isn’t very appealing.  With Kardahl’s long, flowing locks, head band, and frilly clothing, this looks more like a fantasy romance, which, by the way, I probably would have liked better if it actually had been.  There are crashing waves surrounding our couple, and a blob in the background that I originally thought was an oil rig.  Silly me, it is supposed to be a luxurious palace, though with all of that water threatening it, I hope the royal family has flood insurance.

Jessica is an orphan, but she’s discovered that she has family living on the other side of the planet, in a small Middle Eastern kingdom.  Flying out to meet them, she learns that her mother was best friends with the Queen, and that the royal family has been trying to find her mother since she fled the county in disgrace.  Jessica also learns the hazards of not knowing what you are signing, and discovers that she has agreed to be Prince Kardahl’s bride.  Protesting this turn of events, Kardahl coerces her into pretending to be his bride until they can have the marriage annulled and he can send her back home.  As these things work in Harlequins, Jessica begins having second thoughts and falls in love with her fake husband.  Can they find happiness despite their deception?

This is a very forgettable read, and the plot is so predictable.  I didn’t even get my usual warm fuzzies when the happy couple decides that they are in love and will cherish each other until the day they die.  The whole fascination with sheikhs and fictitious Middle Eastern counties mystifies me, given the reality of women’s social standing in those cultures.  I do, however, understand the desire to be filthy rich and live in a monstrous palace that has bathrooms bigger than my house.  Now, that is a dream that I can relate to.

Jessica, despite having been raised in an orphanage, is naive and has lived a pretty sheltered life.  Her personality is so saccharine that it made my teeth hurt.  She is thrilled to learn that she has living relatives, and that people were looking for her mother for years.  It even takes away the sting of watching her mother’s downward spiral into drinking and her own upbringing in the orphanage after her mother’s death.

Kardahl is one of those moody, enigmatic heroes.   He keeps his feelings tightly in check, and he is amazed that he feels instantly at ease around Jessica.  She’s like valium to him, and he even forgets about his Tragic Past when he’s with her.  The Tragic Past keeps spoiling his mood when they are apart, and he decides, for Jessica’s safety, that it’s best to keep some distance from her.  Jessica doesn’t understand his yo-yo personality, and begins to feel insecure.  This conflict didn’t have much emotional impact because it is so clichéd.  I just wanted Kardahl to get over himself and stop thinking that he was a magnet for doom and gloom.  I just didn’t have much patience for him.

This story is very forgettable.  It has an uninspired romance, and two characters who I never really cared about.  The art moved the plot along, but I didn’t find it engaging.  This is probably worth a rent if you get snowed in for the weekend, but the protagonists and the story soon fade from memory.

Grade: C

Presentation: C-

Prisoner of the Tower by Karin Miyamoto & Gayle Wilson Digital Manga Review

  Title: Prisoner of the Tower

  Original Story by: Gayle Wilson

  Manga by: Karin Miyamoto

  Publisher: DMP & Harlequin

  Available at eManga

  After learning that Harlequin manga adaptations would be available at eManga through a      collaboration between Harlequin and Digital Manga Publishing, I was consumed with an almost giddy sense of anticipation.  My first introduction to Harlequin Romances took place many, many moons ago, when I was in the 6th grade.  Back then, Silhouette, Loveswept, and Candlelight Ecstasy Romances had yet to be conceived, and the Harlequin Romance line was extremely chaste.  Hand holding was the name of the game, and you could count on one hand the number of times the protagonists actually kissed.  Maybe once around page 100, and then again at the end of the book.  This is probably the only reason my mother didn’t object to my choice in reading material.  Shortly afterwards, after a gabillion imprints and new publishers had flooded the market, I moved away from the category romance.  I was bored with the formula, and I had discovered fantasy novels instead.  Throughout the years though, I have always come back to investigate new titles and authors.  Harlequin has created a very solid brand, and even if I occasionally mock the strict guidelines each of their imprints must follow, I am still entertained by their books.

The Harlequin titles were available at eManga as of yesterday, and I was embarrassingly eager to get through work so I could spend some time perusing the offerings.  The first one I read was Prisoner of the Tower, and though flawed, I found enjoyment while reading it.  It’s like catching up with an old friend;  the plot is comfortably familiar, it has a feel good ending, and it doesn’t tax the brain cells.  That’s like a win-win on a Friday night after a long, stressful week at work, and is the reason Harlequin sells oodles of books.

Let’s start of with the ugly – the production values are sadly lacking here.  The translation wasn’t bad, and the dialog flowed along without any really awkward phrases.  What did stink was the presentation of the title.  Text ran outside of word balloons, the cleanup was shoddy, and there were typos.  That was disappointing, because it looked very amateurish.

As for the story itself, it’s your typical formula romance.  I started with this one because it’s a historical.  I believe it was set in Regency England, though the year was never firmly established.  This was a time when the wealthy and indulgent traveled to London for the season to sell off their single daughters to the highest bidder.  In this instance, Emma’s lunkhead of a brother has squandered the family fortune, so the entire family is expecting her to sacrifice herself for them and find herself a rich suitor.  Being the dutiful daughter that she is, she agrees, though in a moment of rebellion, she wanders out in a blizzard in the middle of the night to savor a brief moment of freedom.  Why she didn’t freeze to death is a mystery, but she did meet a handsome stranger, and like so many women of her time, she was mesmerized by the delicate folds of his cravat.  Yes, indeed, it was love at first sight.

After sharing a forbidden kiss, the exquisitely attired gent disappears into the snow, and Emma is left again to search for her  wealthy husband.  She snags one, and years later, after raising her step-daughter, the old guy croaks, leaving her a widow. Will the Fates smile upon her, and give her a second chance at love?  You’re darned right they will!  This is a Harlequin!

The story is as predictable as you would expect.  Tragedy has touched the hero’s life, and he has eschewed all hope of ever finding love.  A misunderstanding drives them further apart, and Emma has her work cut out for her.  There are no surprises here, and I didn’t expect any.  What you get is a fairly solid romance with two likeable characters.  The framework is always the same, it’s just the outer dressing that is different.  The formula works for me, though I wish there had been a little more conflict between Emma, her step-daughter, and the high-society snobs who looked down at them for being too “common.”  The hero was a little too wimpy for my tastes as well, and he was too quick to run away from conflict.  Usually it’s the other way around, and the hero goes out of his way to create more conflict.  There is just something magical about the bantering (or would that be bickering?) that gets the heart racing.

The art isn’t remarkable, but it’s not bad, either.  Big, sparkly eyes, frilly backgrounds, and an abundance of screen tones fill up the panels.  The illustrations, like the story, are inoffensive and slightly bland, but they effectively set the mood and tone of each scene.  There is enough detail spent on the period clothing and hair styles to generate some interest, but it’s not done to excess.

With Prisoner of the Tower, I got exactly what I expected; a pleasant heroine with some challenges to overcome and a happy ending.  That’s what Harlequin does best.  Now, if only someone would spend a little more time on the production end of things, this would have been a much more satisfying reading experience.

Grade: B-

Presentation: D-