Word of a Gentleman by Stone & Kurebayashi Digital Manga Review

 

Title: Word of a Gentleman

Original Story by: Lyn Stone

Manga by: Tsukiko Kurebayashi

Publisher": Harlequin

Available at eManga

Word of a Gentleman is a Regency romance, and stories set in this time period are typically some of my favorites.  I’m not quite sure what I find so appealing about them, other than the fact that the heroes are usually filthy rich and the heroines spend more than a few pages stressing about what gown they are going to wear to next social gathering. 

Unfortunately, this particular title did not meet my stands for entertaining reading.  The premise showed some early promise, but the execution was disappointing.  Clarissa is an orphan who has  been raised by her cold and distant uncle.  She was shipped off to boarding school, and has recently realized that she had best marry on her own terms, quickly, or be stuck in a odious union with her cousin.  Deciding that eloping with her childhood acquaintance would provide far better opportunity for her to live life on her own terms, she proposes, rather clumsily, to Hugh, the penniless 2nd son of an earl.  Her terms are very clear – Hugh must not interfere with her activities, and in exchange, he will gain control of her inheritance.  Can love bloom under these harsh conditions?

I bemoan the wasted opportunities and chances for tension to flair between our young couple.  They board a coach for the journey to Gretna Greene, and allow the close confines to go to waste.  There is barely a flicker of attraction to spark between them, even given the danger of the roadside.  When they are set upon by brigands and Clarissa dives in front Hugh to save him from being shot, the event isn’t even fraught with danger and suspense.  No, darn it!  The scene comes across as silly, as does a later feat of daring do, instead of being a display of bravery.  One of the biggest problems with this title is the pacing and randomness of the events.  Even a surprise confession of affection late in the story fails to make an emotional connection with the reader. 

The art effectively telegraphs the characters emotions, but the character designs are bland and uninspiring.  Clarissa’s attire was especially disappointing; most of her gowns were shapeless sacks, and once she comes into her fortune, I think she needs to quickly secure herself another dressmaker.  Body proportions were another sticky point which had Clarissa look like a leprechaun when she is standing in the same panel with one of the male characters.  Or maybe they are all future NBA stars, because they all towered over her.

Word of a Gentleman showed some promise, but ended up failing to deliver.  There is too much going on for the number of pages allotted to the story, so it comes across as rushed and unconvincing.

Grade: C

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-

Millionaire Husband by Banks & Uesugi Digital Manga Review

 

  Title: Millionaire Husband

  Original Story by: Leanne Banks

  Manga by: Kanako Uesugi

  Publisher:  DMP & Harlequin

  Available at eManga

Now this is a wonderful example of what a Harlequin is supposed to be like!  I loved this one!  It is part of the Millionaire Boys series, and I really hope that we get the other two parts of it.  This is pure escapist romance at its best.  Once again, the only thing holding it back is the subpar presentation, but because I was so caught up in the story, there were only a few times when the production values really jumped out at me. 

Justin is my kind of guy – he is self-centered, greedy, and lives to make more money.  Growing up in an orphanage, he vowed to never be financially insecure again.  When his best friends convince him to make some charitable contributions, he has a hard time letting go of his money.  While visiting one of the potential recipients, a preschoolers’ learning program,  he collapses and Amy, the young instructor, rushes him to the hospital.  On his deathbed, he makes an agreement with God to do a good deed if he lives.  The good deed turns out to be helping Amy keep custody of her young niece and twin nephews.  What a perfect set up for a storybook romance!

For most of the story, we are treated to Justin’s perspective of events.  This is something that isn’t done often enough, and I always like to get inside the hero’s head and see just what he’s thinking.  Justin is a bit shallow at the start of the book, focused only on amassing an ever larger fortune for himself.  Because of his unhappy childhood, he keeps his distance from women and can’t imagine ever having a family of his own.  He can’t even imagine what being part of a happy family would be like.  And that’s where Amy steps in, to show him that trusting other people can be rewarding and enriching.  A life without love is empty and unfulfilling.

Gosh, I liked Amy!  She hasn’t had a very happy childhood, either, but she didn’t let that turn her away from other people.  Instead, she embraces life and strives to make everyone around her happy.  The gloomy Justin had absolutely no chance once the two of them met.  The romantic tension takes a while to kick into gear, but when it does, yeow!   There is some great comedy worked into the illustrations, too, making this a fun, fun read.  This is so worth a rent, and I might have to try to track down the original books in the series. 

Grade: A-

Presentation: C-

Honor’s Promise by Sala & Chihara Digital Manga Review

 

  Title: Honor’s Promise

  Original Story by: Sharon Sala

  Manga by: Esu Chihara

  Publisher: DMP & Harlequin

  Available at eManga

  I had my ever helpful assistant, Jen, pick out the next Harlequin for me to shine the spotlight on.  She was drawn to title of Honor’s Promise, so despite some reservations about the heroine’s choice of a head wrap, I dived right into the title.  I am going to talk about the awful cover before I get started discussing the story itself.  Look at that cover.  What is up with that glaringly ugly blue bandana Honor has wrapped around her head?  The blue throws off the composition, and at first glance, it looked like she was wearing a pot on her head.  It is so distracting and takes away from the overall appeal of the illustration.

Anyhoo, getting to the story, I’m happy to report that Honor’s Promise was much, much better than Married Under the Italian Sun.  There are a few plot points that made me raise my eyebrows, but I was able to set aside my disbelief and enjoy the book anyway.  The pacing was good, and the further into the story, the more interested I was to see how it would end.

Honor is mourning the death of her mother when a handsome stranger arrives in town.  She feels an immediate connection with him, so her trust is dashed when she discovers he has ulterior motives for meeting her.  In the employ of the grandfather who has shunned her and her mother for her entire life, Trace is on a mission to bring Honor to the family home in Colorado, so she can meet with her estranged family.  Wanting to just be left alone, Honor agrees to go so that she return home to Texas and continue to run her diner without being hassled by the family she has no interest in meeting.  When she is given her mother’s diary, she learns that her mother has been living a lie, and that Honor isn’t really who she thinks she is. 

Wow, talk about getting an unpleasant shock.  Without spoiling the plot, Honor discovers that her mother wasn’t truthful about her family, and that Honor’s entire life has been one based on deception.  There is a delightful sense of suspense as the truth begins to unfold, and as Honor has to deal  with the consequences of her mother’s actions.  She’s a stranger to her own family and her aunt isn’t exactly thrilled that she’s back in the picture, competing for the family inheritance.  Her aunt is snide and rude, but Honor doesn’t back down for a minute.  She’s a strong heroine with a wonderful sense of her own self-worth, and she comes across as confident and self-assured.  I liked that.  A lot.

There wasn’t much romantic tension, but Honor and Trace made a convincing couple.  With so much taking place in the story, a long, drawn out courtship would have only bogged things down.  Instead, it was refreshing that the two just hit it off and developed a mutual affection for each other.  None of that bickering back and forth; just two people realizing that they like each other and wanting to seeing where their relationship will go.  Honor even had the stronger personality of the two, and I liked that, as well.

The production values are better in this title, though there are still lots of smudges and unsightly chunks of text bursting outside of word balloons.  The translation is also good, and the dialogue flows smoothly, without an awkward phrasing.  This is definitely worth at least a rent.

Grade: B+

Presentation: C-

Married Under the Italian Sun by Gordon & Takayama Digital Manga Review

 

Title: Married Under the Italian Sun

  Original Story by:  Lucy Gordon

  Manga by: Mayu Takayama

  Publisher: DMP & Harlequin’

  Available at eManga

We are supposed to be pummeled by a snow storm, so how else can I forget about the impending precipitation than traveling off to Italy?  Harlequins are well known for their exotic locales, so I decided to dive into some warm weather.  Unfortunately, the setting was about the only favorable aspect of Married Under the Italian Sun.  This one was a chore to get through, and I was so disappointed by it.  The overall presentation, is, once again, shoddy, but I’ll get more into that later.

Angela is giving up the life of an American celebrity and moving off to Italy.  After shedding her cheating husband, she emerges from the unhappy union the owner of a villa in southern Italy.  That’s all the alimony she’s going to get, even though her ex is a rich director.  Angela doesn’t really mind because she’s so happy to be rid of him, and the scenery is so much nicer than back home.  Hanging up the persona of Angel, a busty bimbo, was easy, but getting along with the new gardener at the villa is not.

Vittorio is the former owner of Angela’s new digs, and he’s still attached to his old home.  More specifically, he is obsessed with the lemon grove, and he wants to ensure that the crop doesn’t wither on the branch and die.  Needing a source of income, Angela quickly sees the wisdom in keeping him on, because the stunningly handsome guy knows everything there is to know about her lemon trees.  And he’s up at the crack of dawn to tend to the crop. How can she chase this guy away?

That is the gist of the story.  Sure, they both have some extra baggage weighing them down, but none of it was particularly compelling.  It didn’t make me feel sorry for them, or give me a new understanding to their one-dimensional personalities.  The most disappointing aspect was the lack of romantic tension.  There were very few moments that got Angela’s heart to go pitter-patter, and I felt like I was reading a manual on lemon harvesting.  I failed to make any kind of emotional connection with any of the characters, and the painfully uneven pacing made this a painful half hour out of my life.

The presentation was awful again, but this title was the worst so far.  Awkwardly positioned text was nothing next to the Flurry of Random capital Letters inserted on nearly Every page.  It was so distracting!  There were a lot more smudges in this one, too, as if the person responsible for the page cleanup was just as bored by the story as I was.

This is not a good example of a Harlequin romance.  This is not a good example of any kind of romance at all.  This is a book with fairly attractive art that documents life at a lemon grove.  If you are looking for a romance, read one of the other Harlequin titles instead.

Grade: D

[PR] 801 Media’s Nabs Under Grand Hotel by Mika Sadahiro

Gardena, CA (December 7, 2009)-801 Media, Digital Manga Publishing’s adult yaoi imprint, is excited to announce the acquisition of the heavily fan-requested title: Under Grand Hotel by Mika Sadahiro (creator of Pathos)!  Controversial, explicit, yet ultimately fascinating, Under Grand Hotel takes place in a prison that the prisoners have nicknamed the "Under Grand Hotel". A two-part series, the story revolves around two inmates, Sen and Swordfish, and the power politics involved to survive a prison that houses the most dangerous inmates around!

In a new first, 801 Media will preserve the special trim size of this title (4 1/8" x 5 7/8"), and it will hold a special price of $24.95 for each volume for their large volume count (over 320 pages for each book!)

Read more

Sale or Return Bride by Fujita & Morgan Digital Manga Review

 

  Title: Sale or Return Bride

  Manga by: Kazuko Fujita

  Original Story by: Sarah Morgan

  Publisher:  DMP & Harlequin

  Available at eManga

  Since it is the season for shopping, let’s take a look at Sale or Return Bride.  While most people are more worried about finding the latest trendy toy or video game, Sebastien Fiorukis is on the market for a bride.  Lucky for him Alesia Philipos needs money, and that her nasty old grandfather yearns for revenge.  Blaming the Fiorukis family for the death of her father, Alesia doesn’t want to have anything to do with them, but if she doesn’t go along with her grandfather’s scheme, her mother is going to die.  Mom needs an expensive surgery, and even though gramps is a tycoon, he has the heart of a marble and won’t help foot the medical bills.  In fact, the evil old guy hasn’t even been a part of their lives since the death of her father.  Instead, Alesia has been working three jobs to try to take care of her mom.  When the opportunity arises that will ensure her mother is taken care of for the rest of her life, she has no choice but to comply with her grandfather’s wishes.

Ok, that’s the story in a nutshell.  I thought this one was very entertaining.  You have the poor (both literally and figuratively) Alesia who is desperate enough to go along with her grandfather’s plan to ruin the Fiorukis family.  You have a repulsive villain who keeps meddling with Alesia to get what he wants.  And you have a gorgeous, sexy gabillionaire to save our put-upon heroine.  Mix in a few exotic, beautiful locations, and you have all of the ingredients for a conflict laden story.

The mood and tone of the story is effectively set, and even though the book is only 126 pages, there is some very nice plot development.  I do have to say, though, that the ending was a massive fail, both in terms of a emotional payoff and the lack of an effective explanation for the sudden reversal of Alesia’s own Personal Affliction, something that tormented her through the entire length of the story.  For 125 pages she has a Very Big Problem, and on the last, she doesn’t.  Ugh.

Once again, the presentation of the book is on the disappointing side.  There is a lot of text that spills out of the word balloons, and some very awkwardly worded phrases.  The  page clean-up leaves a lot to be desired, too, with smudges on several pages.  The art itself is expressive and attractive, and the page layouts create tension and suspense.  Plus, Sebastien is hawt.

Sale or Return Bride has some obvious flaws, but the story is fast-paced and provides a brief break from reality.

Grade: B

Presentation: D

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-