I don't read as much manga as I did when I was younger, but I still occasionally read the odd volume-- especially the ones aimed at older audiences, like josei and seinen (basically, the "new adult" versions of shoujo and shounen). HITORIJIME MY HERO was an especially nice surprise, because for once, I feel like the cover did a pretty good job not just representing what the art is like, but also conveying the tone of the manga.
Setagawa (the blonde) is a jaded and sullen teenager who works as a gofer for a petty gang. I feel like it's implied that his mother is a prostitute. He doesn't do particularly well in school, and his closest friend (an outgoing, immature young man) is the younger brother of the hot new teacher, who also happens to be a champion street fighter called "the bear killer" (lol).
One day, Setagawa ends up working for Kousuke instead, and even though his feelings are initially rejected, it turns out that Kousuke had feelings for him all along. Their relationship is taboo, but both of them feel alone and need each other.
I guess how you feel about this book depends on how you feel about student/teacher romances. I don't feel particularly great about them, but the fact that this is a cartoon makes it an extra level removed from reality, which I guess makes it more comfortable to swallow as fantasy. Setagawa is drawn as being much older than he actually is, so I originally thought they were around the same age or that Setagawa was a recent graduate. Kousuke also looks young, too.
As a romance, I feel like this was pretty well done. It's got a silly, manic vibe (captured on the cover), but also some darker, more provoking moments. The sexual tension was pretty well done, and although this is nothing near as explicit as the June Yaoi titles, there are some romantic and sexual scenes in here (although not explicitly drawn). There doesn't appear to be much tension, so I'm curious to see how this will make it as a series. In my opinion, a good manga needs a villain.
Two other things to note: this is apparently a spin off of another manga title called Hitorijime My Boyfriend. It doesn't appear that reading that other series is necessary to enjoy this one, as these leads were actually side characters from the original series. Second, I loved the translation/cultural reference section at the back that defined not just certain words and brands, but also gave cultural context for some of the scenes and references happening. I really, really appreciated that.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
I'm speeding through these Harlequin manga. They're like potato chips-- it's impossible to stop at just one. I know they're the trashiest of trash, but I like them anyway. THE GREEK'S PREGNANT BRIDE is one of those Harlequin novels where the title of the book can also double as the summary. Alessandra has had a crush on billionaire Christian since she was in high school and is deliriously happy when they have a one-night stand. She thinks that the icy playboy will be tickled pink when she tells him she's pregnant, and is surprised when he whips out his daddy issues card and reluctantly agrees to marry her but then tells her that he is unable to feel love.
Hmm, that sounds like another Christian I know...
Shion Hanyu is a fairly prolific mangaka adapter of Harlequin romance novels, and I've read a number of her books at this point. She has more of a shoujo style than some artists, with everything very rounded, with thick lines, and lots of sparkles and light, like you'd get from the dodge tool. I'm not mad at her art style but it's definitely a look, and one that might not appeal universally to everyone.
The story was OK. When I rate Harlequin manga, I take art, story, and readability all into account. As I mentioned before, I do like Hanyu's art. She's not my favorite, but she does a good job and her style is consistent and doesn't do anything too trippy. The story is also OK, but got on my nerves. I don't really like pregnancy as an excuse for marriage, because two people getting together who aren't in love with each other trying to make it work for the sake of a child seems like a recipe for disaster. I'm also not a fan of the "jerk dude with mommy/daddy issues" trope. Either grow up and put your big boy pants on, or don't have relationships with women. Women don't want to deal with that trash.
THE GREEK'S PREGNANT BRIDE falls snugly in the middle of my Harlequin manga rating system. It's inoffensive and entertains, but has too many annoying things going on in the story to really get me invested in the characters' love story. Shion Hanyu seems to go for stories with really rich alpha guys who have toxic family dynamics, though, so that might be something to keep in mind. Some of them do it better than others, and this one was a little bit less so.
Some of these Harlequin romances have the most eye-roll worthy titles, and THEIR SPECIAL-CARE BABY is no exception. Even though it was almost 99-cents, I almost didn't buy it, because the title was so ridiculous. I loved that cover art, though-- just look at those soft, crayon-like colors. How could I resist? Plus, the summary for this book was too enticing to pass up: doctor love interest, amnesia, estranged brothers. Oh yes.
To my happy surprise, this was actually an incredibly serious effort and-- unlike some Harlequin manga I have read-- the art inside the book is just as good as what's on the cover. The plot is also good, too. Desiree was in a terrible train accident, covered in blood. When Dr. Stewart, the first responder, arrives on the scene, he is struck by the sight of Desiree, heavily pregnant and clutching another baby, with her will for the two of them to survive burning bright in her eyes.
Desiree is able to make a full recovery but she has amnesia. Stewart tells her that she was identified as Desiree Kramer, the wife of his estranged brother who he was going to meet for the first time. Her baby is named Sophie, and the baby she was pregnant with, Simone, is currently in the NICU. As if that weren't enough bad news to swallow, Stewart tells her that her husband, Sean, is dead-- he died in a car wreck.
Desiree comes to stay with Stewart, his mother, and his mother's caregiver. They all really like Desiree because she's quiet and cheerful and caring, but Desiree is haunted by the thought that something is wrong-- not just with her, but also with Sophie. Even as she finds herself becoming attracted to Stewart, and he to her, Desiree must come to terms with the secrets revealed by her gradually-returning memory, and Stewart with his enmity with his now-deceased brother.
This is a quiet book-- the romance in it sneaks up on you, but in a pleasant way. Desiree is such a calm heroine, and much more mature than most heroines I encounter in these romances. Stewart is a beta hero who is devoted and loving. He never treats the heroine ill or condescends to her. Their romance flows very naturally and feels believable. Why wouldn't two nice people fall in love? Even though it happened fast, I didn't question it-- it made sense, because they were both so decent.
If you, like me, were put off by the silly title, don't be. I actually enjoyed this romance quite a bit.Toko Naose is a new mangaka to me, but she's one I'm going to keep an eye out for-- I really enjoyed her careful adaptation of this work, and her art style is absolutely gorgeous.
It occurred to me the other day, after finishing a travel memoir about China, that I haven't reviewed a romance novel in a while-- and it's very important that I stay on brand. Luckily for me, a whole bunch of Harlequin romance manga went on sale in the Kindle store for 99-cents. What a great way to make up for lost time! Harlequin manga are like the 100 Calorie Packs of romance novels-- Japanese artists "adapt" Harlequin romance novels into bite-sized shoujo and josei versions of the books, condensing the story down to bare bones and then pairing it with art. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there are a lot of ridiculous things in the world and at least these are fun.
I don't believe I've ever encountered a work by Nina Hatori before and I'm sorry to say that I really don't like her art style. The way she draws women is fine, although the art on the cover is better than the frail, overly flowery way that her ladies look in the books. But the way she draws dudes-- especially the hero, Sergio-- is freaky. Super boxy, super muscular, with, like, ripped Ken doll style anatomy. I really did not like it. At all.
The story doesn't really stack up, either. I saw one of the other reviewers say that this story was creepy-- and yeah, a lot of romances can be creepy, so that's a criticism I always take with a grain of salt. But no, I 100% agree with that reviewer. Sergio is creepy. He's ten years older than the heroine, and a billionaire, so the power dynamic between them is unequal in virtually every way. When they meet, she's accidentally trespassing on his property (she wanted to dance by the beach). Of course, she's an Olympian dancer, so he's utterly captivated, and he manages to persuade her to his bed.
He calls her all these weird and objectifying endearments (like "kitten," which I find really unattractive), even when she protests. Then he tells her that he wants to make her his mistress, and that he doesn't do "love" or "families." Later on, we find out that he has major mommy issues because his mother was abusive, but the heroine doesn't know that, and she absconds. Then this book turns into a "secret baby" story, because in the three years that pass, it turns out that she had a kid, now a toddler, and she is struggling to raise him in poverty as a single parent (athleticism didn't work out).
When she sees her old fling on the cover of a tabloid announcing his impending engagement, she is furious (and jealous), and marches to his "engagement party" to demand money or support or answers (not really clear). He recognizes her and traps her in his mansion, tells her the engagement was just a rumor, and then they spend the night together. He then finds out that she has a kid, knows immediately that it's his, and just magically decides that fatherhood is for him because he must support his legacy. Which is all well and good, except when he sees that the kid has bruises, he jumps to conclusions and KIDNAPS the kid on a plane, leaving behind his lawyer to explain to poor, frantic Kristen that if she wants answers, she'll have to take a plane ticket to see him in person. LOL what.*
*Side note: if your spouse takes the kids because they think you're abusive, it's probably not wise to march right up to them and slap them-- in front of witness-- when you confront them about what they did.
Spoiler: Everything works out, there's a happily ever after, the hero is forthcoming about his mother issues, there's a twin brother for some reason, and the book ends in precisely what the hero said wouldn't happen in the beginning of the story: marriage and family.
I wish I could have liked this book-- I do like the cover art-- but the art style and the bad story totally put me off. I can be a fan of alpha heroes, but not when they're approaching used car salesman levels of sleaziness. YMMV, but trust me when I say that there are much better HQ manga out there.
I love books about dancing, even though I'm not a dancer. I just find the blend of passion and discipline the art requires so utterly compelling. I can only imagine the mastery it requires one to have over their body, the exacting precision, and the endurance it takes to be on one's feet for hours, contorting one's body in time to music, while staying on the beat. I can't help but admire those who can dance, and well. That's why I always come running if I see a book about dance; it's such a beautiful form of expression.
10 DANCE 1 is a yaoi manga (which means M/M) about two dancers with the same name. Suguki Shinya is a refined and buttoned-up ballroom dancer. Suzuki Shinya is a flamboyant and immature Latin dancer. Both of them are very skilled and have their own dance school, but in order to truly be champions, they have to master the other's arts and do 10 very different styles of dances from both schools of dance in competition.
Even though they are bitter rivals, they (and their dance partners) agree to an alliance, where they teach each other their dances. Their female partners quickly grow frustrated with their temperamental partners and are happy to leave the two men to their arguing, but both Shinyas are incredibly stubborn, and despite getting in digs at each other the whole time, they often end up dancing until dawn. It isn't long before things start to get complicated and their passion for the dance begins to bleed out into passion for each other.
"Yaoi" often means explicit M/M content in manga, so I wasn't sure what to expect when picking this book up. Apart from a few shirtless scenes, this book is very tame. Anyone looking for explicit will be disappointed, but I actually really enjoyed the connection between the two male leads and the descriptions of the dances. It's incredibly slow-going, and even by the end of the book, they haven't really kissed or moved their relationship in a truly romantic direction, but I don't mind slow-burn if it means that there's a deeper connection when the relationship between the leads is consummated.
10 DANCE 1 is a light, cute read and I think anyone who enjoys music and manga will be happy to add this to their collection. I'm really curious to see where both Shinyas end up taking their relationship from here, and whether any new rivals will enter the fray to shake things up.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
You know, I'm not sure why Netgalley keeps denying me for these Harlequin manga titles. Don't they know that I am the Queen of Trash? Last time I applied for a bunch and only got one. This time, I lucked out - I got three. One of those titles was A HIGH STAKES SEDUCTION, originally based on a novel by Jennifer Lewis and adapted into manga format by Motoyo Fujiwara, who also did MARRIAGE ON THE REBOUND.
A HIGH STAKES SEDUCTION is about a forensic accountant named Constance who is charged with investigating a casino for fraud. The casino is owned by a man named John Fairweather, who is part of a seemingly fictional tribe of Native Americans called the "Nissequot." She is attracted to him, despite the fact that she cannot have anything to do with him, but when a fire leaves her without rooms, John, who happens to be a volunteer fireman, arrives on the scene and insists that she stay at his hotel. Constance agrees, because conflict of interest? What's that? Lollerskates, must be a synonym for room service.
Unethical behaviors aside, Constance does do her job, and she does it so well that she discovers John's uncle Don hasn't been reporting his gambling earnings to the IRS. While this is not an example of corporate fraud, it's enough to launch an investigation into the casino. She does this after she and John sleep together, and she overhears Don making a sly remark that if Constance is infatuated with him, she might let them skirt the rules and get off without an investigation. Kudos to the girl for doing her job, but points from Gryffindor for making it about being a lover spurned. #professionalism
I liked the art in this book a lot and it was great to see a heroine with glasses, even if there were several iconic "wow, without the glasses she's totally hot now!" moments. I also appreciated seeing a heroine who was handy with numbers and praised for her brilliance. The hero was also a pretty nice guy, much less ruthless than rumors made him out to be. I'm a fan of psychotic alpha heroes, but once in a while it's nice to have a break from Psychoville and go to the island paradise of Beta Hero.
I must say, I don't see the need for the author to invent a fictional Native American tribe when there are so many real tribes she could have given representation to with a little bit of research. This is like when authors write sheikh romances and set them in made-up Middle Eastern countries. I wonder whether this is due to a fear of causing offense or a laziness in doing research (or maybe a mixture of both). While I understand the reasoning behind it, making up fake tribes and fake countries and attaching to them the cultural histories and trimmings of real people and real cultures smacks of cultural appropriation. Do the research. Write about the real people. Don't fudge the facts. #my2cents
Overall, though, A HIGH STAKES SEDUCTION was a decent adaptation of a romance with an interesting storyline, nice art, and a decent hero and heroine. Motoyo Fujiwara is on her way to becoming one of my favorite Harlequin mangaka. I just wish HQ would stop being so stingy with their ARCs and give me all of the ones I ask for. I'm greedy, I know, but... but... manga. They're so addictive. I swear, they're like the Pringles of romance novels. You can't stop at just one (or three).
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Zanna goes back to her mother's hometown to find the truth about her mother when her car breaks down. She's saved by a repairman who turns out to be a millionaire and is also her stepbrother. The art in this book was gorgeous but I wasn't really into the storyline at all. I set the book down for a few weeks, forgot most of the story in the progress, and then picked it up today again trying to remember where I had left off.
Even after skimming through the story again, I still don't fully understand what happened. It was such a ridiculous premise and I didn't really like the hero or the heroine. It felt like the author was trying too hard to throw out all these various romance novel tropes and see what, if anything, stuck.
I am not a fan of "the other woman" trope in romance novels at all so if you feel the same, you probably won't like A SECRET VENGEANCE as it's about two generations of women, both of whom were "the other woman" in the same damn family. Also, the blurb for this book on Goodreads is ridiculous and inaccurate. The heroine in this book is described as "a young temptress who deceives elderly men" who is "desperate to avoid falling victim to the same trap she has set." Um, WHAT? No, she isn't. She's a physical therapist or some shit, not a honey pot expert. I swear, some people need classes in blurb writing...
Celia starts out the book having herself a grand old time with a nude swim at the cabin where her mother and her lover used to have sexy fun times (hence the "temptress" label, I guess). Imagine her shock when the son of her mother's lover stalks to their cabin and catches her naked, thinking that she's the "other woman" who's been sleeping with his father all these years.
When Celia hears the name "Jessica", she knows that Luke is looking for her mom, but he's so agitated and her mother is so distraught over his father (Lionel)'s death that she decides to take one for the team. As it turns out, Luke's mom was raped when she was young and except for the wedding night, she never let Lionel be intimate with her, forcing him to turn to other women (i.e. Jessica) for solace. He also didn't tell Jessica he was married when they met, so by the time she found out, she was already too in love with him to leave. Wow, what an asshole.
Luke is also engaged to be married to a girl named Isabel but that doesn't stop him from trying to put the moves on Celia, first after he catches her nude swimming and then again after he finds out the truth about Jessica's mom (and he's drunk off his ass). The main source of angst comes from the fact that neither one of these dumb kids want to be like their cheating parents, but they're exactly like they're cheating parents. It tries to say that cheating is okay if it's done with love, but that just feels like a means of rationalizing bad behavior to me. Lionel could have divorced his wife and married Jessica instead, rather than ruining her reputation and forcing her to meet with him in secret.
At least Luke did the right thing and broke things off with Isabel after he slept with Celia but man, he took his sweet time about it. It's better to break things off before you cheat. I thought there would be some drama with Isabel but she was chill about it, because she wouldn't stand in the way of love. Lols, probably she realized she dodged a major bullet by moving out of Casa de Cheata.
I was thinking I'd give this three stars but I'm deducting a star because in typing this out I'm realizing how stupid this all was, and how much it annoyed me. If you're also annoyed by other woman storylines you should probably give this manga a miss.
I finally got my hands on one of the Charlotte Lamb adaptations. This is a Big Deal because Lamb was - and still is - one of the biggest names in the Harlequin romance community. She wrote over 160 romance novels, which is an insane amount of books to have on your backlog. I mean, can you imagine? Plus, from what I've heard from friends, she preferred her heroes to be more on the psychotic side, of which I fully approve (being a writer of psychotic heroes, myself).
BODY AND SOUL is about a secretary named Martine. Her boss, Charles, is a German banker and even though he's much older than she is, they have a very close and warm relationship. One day, Charles announces that he's hired a new protege, Bruno. Martine and Bruno have met before: he wouldn't yield to her at a door and they got stuck in it together. She thinks he's very rude and he assumes that she's sleeping with her boss and treats her dismissively for it while also being jealous AF.
Later, Charles reveals to her that he has a tumor that appears to be inoperable and he'd like her to be closer to Bruno. But Martine already got "closer," and now she's pregnant as a result. Not knowing Bruno is the father, Charles takes pity on her and offers to marry her, which Martine rejects. He continues to be in her life anyway, as Bruno gets more and more jealous and more and more dismissive, treating her - and, later - even Charles - like garbage.
Good thing it was all a big misunderstanding and they can live happily-ever-after, right? Right? RIGHT? Haha, I love it when garbage people get happy endings. Nothing like a dude spending 90% of the novel sneering at you, only to remember human compassion in the last 10%. It's always kind of annoying to me when a dude's hero's journey consists of him learning that women are people too, wow!
I did like Martine's close relationship with Charles and I wish he had been the romance hero instead, even though he was so much older. It was so touching how much he cared about Martine and her baby, and the plot with his cancer was so touching and sad, as was his depression and the way he talked about his late wife. Including him in the narrative was a mistake, because it only served to highlight Bruno's unpalatability, like putting aged Kobe beef next to a shit steak.
Wow, this is my third Harlequin manga adaptation from Marito Ai and it was amazing, I loved it so much. I don't know if Ai is a big romance reader herself, but no matter which author she's adapting from at the moment, her work is amazing! When I rate and review Harlequin manga, I grade the books based on the art, the story, the readability of the manga format, and how well the text and art "present" on the page. Marito Ai's work is one of the few that's been consistently amazing. She has a fantastic (but unique) art style, she uses great fonts, and the panels are very readable. When I read her work, I have no complaints.
A CONVENIENT WIFE is also a really great story, and this is one of the manga adaptations that actually made me want to go out and hunt down the original. Blake is the heir of a manor home in the UK and lives there with his mother and his son, Josef. One day, Josef finds a pretty lady with a baby crying and scattering ashes in the cemetery next door. The woman is named Nicole and she is the daughter of Blake's prodigal uncle.
Blake is suspicious of Nicole's presence here because Nicole's father was a drunk and a wastrel, according to Blake's mother, who told him never to seek him out. You see, Blake is not the natural heir of the property. His father was a Romani man his mother fell in love with, so he doesn't have any of the paternal Bellamie family blood. If Nicole wanted to make claims over the house and land by saying that her young boy, Luc, was heir, she could easily dishinherit both Blake and his young son.
But as it turns out, his father's identity wasn't the only thing Blake's mother lied to him about. Nicole's father was a good man, an artist who had no interest in money. The drunken wastrel she was describing was actually Blake's own father (the non-Romani one), Darcy. Worse still, he is falling for Nicole but is afraid that she will only believe him to be after the property titles if she finds out the truth his mother has been trying to hide for years.
Marito Ai seems to be a huge fan of dramatic stories about rich people and inheritance - which is a huge plus for me, because I am, too. One of her other stories I've read, MISTAKEN FOR A MISTRESS, employed similar themes. I was lucky enough to get a copy of it as an ARC and it was amazing. Her art style is so emotional and she does a really good job of capturing important scenes beautifully on paper while also condensing a story in a way that makes it feel whole.
I hope more of Marito Ai's books go on sale. I've read three books by her so far, and really enjoyed all three of them, even the ridiculously named STRANDED, SEDUCED...PREGNANT. If you're a fan of the soapy shoujo manga like Hana Yori Dango or Paradise Kiss, you'll like her work.
For whatever reason, the historical Harlequin manga don't seem to go on sale as often as their contemporary counterparts, but this week appears to be my lucky week because not one but two Harlequin historical romance manga went on sale: this book, TALLIE'S KNIGHT, and THE BARTERED BRIDE. The joke's on me, though, because it turned into a monkey's paw sort of situation where even though I got what I asked for, it didn't really turn out the way I wanted, so I ended up just as unhappy.
My first clue that something about this book was amiss was that the mangaka is Earithen. Earithen is an artist who is very hit or miss. I've liked a couple of her adaptations but she has a very unpolished style; her art looks like something you'd see on Deviantart from one of those mid-tier anime artists from the mid-2000s who had an overly fond penchant for the dodge tool.
I rate Harlequin manga adaptations based on several categories and my ratings for them is unique for manga, meaning that a five-star manga book is not equivalent to one of my five-star reviews for a standard format romance novel. When reading these, I take many things into account, such as the presentation of the pages, readability (too text heavy? too much white space in the panels?), the art itself, and, of course, how entertaining the story is in and of itself.
TALLIE'S KNIGHT is about a girl named Tallie who is a distant orphaned relation of this wealthy family, headed by a bitchy matriarch named Laetitia. Tallie watches Laetitia's kids without pay in exchange for room and board, and some very ugly hand-me-downs. One day while watching the kids during a party, she overhears this hot guy named Magnus looking for a bride with "strong teeth and hips" because he's interested in producing an heir. He decides that person is Tallie after he overhears her preventing an "Old Yeller" sort of punishment when one of the kids' puppies interrupts the party.
Tallie asks that in exchange, he take her to Italy to find her younger brother and he says that's fine, but if she gets pregnant he's cancelling the trip. Sex is a tricky terrain because Laetitia has equipped Tallie with bad information in the hopes that Magnus will break up with her, and Magnus has Mommy Issues™ because his dad was basically his mother's slave, and he has no interest in being made into a love-struck fool. Unfortunately for him, Tallie is really hot without clothes. Whoops.
The art and formatting in this book really isn't that great, especially when compared to the art on the cover. You think you're getting something nice and then you end up with pretty basic anime and some truly ugly font. I don't know what the artist was thinking, going with that font. It looks like Arial, which is much too modern looking for a historical romance, in my opinion, especially in those word boxes. The translation - I'm assuming from Japanese - also feels very half-assed, with some odd, clunky word and grammar choices. It was not very fun to read.
TALLIE'S KNIGHT was a disappointment. I wouldn't recommend it.
Harlequin manga are comic book adaptations of romance novels done by Japanese mangaka. They were the way that Japanese people consumed romance novels and apparently word of their existence made its way to the United States because now, suddenly, I'm seeing them on Amazon all the time. Considering how popular comic books and romance novels are here, especially among women, double-barrelling the marketing by combining them was ingenious. In fact, Harlequin manga are only truly limited in that they are only as good as the work they are adapted from. The curation process seems to be halfway decent, as most of these books are quite good, but every so often I come across one that leaves me annoyed.
BARTERED BRIDE was an exciting buy for me because it's an adaptation of one of Harlequin's historical novels. I've read several different kinds of Harlequin manga so far, but this was my first historical adaptation. Unfortunately, my feelings are pretty mixed, since I didn't really like any of the characters all that much, even though the art was lovely.
The problem is that the heroine, Charlotte, comes from a Garbage Family. Her father, Mr. Garbage, is a compulsive gambler and when he runs out of money while pitting his luck against a marquis, he just decides he'll wager one of his daughters' hands in marriage. He has two, after all. No big loss. Mr. Garbage comes home to tell his daughters the great news, but Clarice, whose hand he has wagered, tells her sister that she can do it because she met her true love in Paris, thanks. Just in case Charlotte gets any bright ideas - like saying, "No, bitch, you marry the damn jerk" - Clarice runs away, leaving Charlotte with no choice but to marry the marquis in her sister's place while her dad looks for her.
The marquis is not super thrilled with the marriage because at the gambling party (at which Clarice was in attendance), he caught Clarice pick-pocketing his guests. However, due to his Mommy Issues™, he doesn't want to fall in love with his wife anyway because love hurts too much, so he's just grateful that she's young and healthy and completely unattractive to him personality-wise. Unfortunately, he catches on pretty quick that he married the wrong sister, and unfortunately, since the papers were signed in Clarice's name and not Charlotte, that grants Clarice all the rights.
While the marquis races off to correct his error, Charlotte endears herself to the people of the march. She's learned that the marquis is also garbage and has been neglecting his people, letting them suffer by the banks of the rotten river that's overflowing its banks. She tells them that if they dam the river and do it well, she will pay them and let them keep the tools and refurbish their own homes, and she manages to do all of this with the spending money allotted to her by the marquis. This endears her to the marquis, who shares his Mommy Issues™ with her as a result. His mother died of a fever from one of their Daily Visits to the Poor™ and he never was able to get over his butthurt from that.
Anyway, sister Garbage Clarice comes back for a visit one day, and is super jealous that the man who she turned her nose up was actually a rich marquis (she didn't know that). She blackmails her sister out of the remainder of her spending money and then steals the necklace that the marquis gave Charlotte as a gift that was from his mother. When she shows up to a party without it, the marquis thinks she's hawked it when he hears of a woman holding it up to a lowlife dude in the garden outside, but nope, it's Clarice Garbage, and when Charlotte runs out there to stop her, she's like, "WHAT A SELL-OUT" and tries to have Charlotte shot, only for the marquis to intercept the bullet.
Clarice goes back home to her father who for some reason 1) isn't mad about the blackmailing incident, 2) isn't mad about the stealing incident, 3) isn't mad about the attempted murder incident, and 4) tells her that she doesn't need to be jealous of her sister, because they're just different (ha ha ha ha, what a garbage thing to say). Charlotte continues to receive letters from her father and sister, although not many, but mostly she is too busy living happily ever after with her new family.
The lack of consequences for Clarice really annoyed me. I get that bad people do not always get what is coming to them, but that is not why I read fiction. Fiction is supposed to be an escape; it is an oasis of logic and predestiny in a world that seems chaotic and unpredictable. That's why I find romance novels such welcome respite, to be honest. You (usually) know you're going to get a happy ending and that the evil, villainous people will be punished or redeemed to such a point that they don't really deserve punishment anymore. But apparently the Garbage family is above such lowly treatment and get to get away with being garbage. I'm sorry, but no. I can't get on board with such trash behavior.
While I also really liked the art, the way this graphic-novel was organized made it hard to read. The mangaka tried to cram too much writing in each panel and this doesn't really work for the e-manga format. The letters - especially the more stylized letters that looked like handwriting - were all scrunched together and very hard to read. I found myself having to squint and hold my laptop closer to my face in order to properly read the dialogue. It could have been laid out much better.
Overall, my verdict for BARTERED BRIDE is not my favorite, but it was barely okay.
Before reading this book, I wondered what the virgin's secret was. Was she actually not a virgin? Was he a virgin? But no, apparently the fact that she's a virgin is the secret, so shame on you, THE VIRGIN'S SECRET, for putting that big old spoiler in your title. That's like if Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was called Dumbledore Dies in This One. Bad move.
THE VIRGIN'S SECRET is actually one of the better Harlequin manga adaptations I've read. When reviewing these books, I tend to group them in their own category and assign the rating based on a number of factors, from the readability of the panels, to the style of the art, to how well the story seems to have been adapted to fit the manga format. VIRGIN'S SECRET does well on all counts, and the story itself is good, too.
Angel Kassianides is part of a disgraced Greek family that lost all their money and fell into ruin after tangling with another distinguished family, the Parnassuses. She's therefore horrified when her latest catering job leads her to have an encounter with none other than the heir apparent to her family's archnemeses, Leonidas Parnassus. Uh-oh.
Naturally, she does the low-key thing, by which I mean she displays no chill at all and flees like the hounds of Hades themselves are after her when he tries to put the moves on her (he has no idea who she is). Of course, her fleeing from his handsome, debonair, playboy self raises all kinds of red flags, he looks into who she is, and figures out her identity. Angel, on the other hand, learns that her father has managed to obtain a copy of the Parnassus family will and plans to ruin the family by spreading word of the matriarch's suicide, before laughing drunkenly and passing out on the sofa.
Angel tries to return the will, but Leonidas is waiting for her, accuses her of stealing, and then tells her that he's figured out who she is and that her sister is pregnant with the baby of one of his business partners. He tells her that unless she becomes his mistress, he won't put in a good word for her sister Delphi and allow the two of them to be married. So ONLY for her sister's sake, not because of her traitorous body, does Angel agree to this arrangement despite being a Virgin.
She is very ashamed of being a virgin because her last boyfriend dumped her for it. As with skinny-shaming of heroines with slim or boyish figures, virgin-shaming is also a very popular trope in romance novels where attractive but sexually inexperienced women are treated badly for being -horror scream- virgins. Being picked on for "flaws" that aren't actually flaws seems to be a running theme in trashy books, because you know, rather than doing the legwork to write a flawed character with actual body dysmorphia, health problems, or socioeconomic issues, let's just make a Special Snowflake character who looks like a supermodel but is treated like she isn't. #BodyImage
Leonidas is delighted with this news, however, because he gets to be the first! WOO-HOO! Their relationship develops and he learns that Angel has a talent for jewelry-making, so he gets her her own jewelry studio so she can commission pieces for one of his friends' wives. Unfortunately, Angel walks in on one of the most popular Big Misunderstanding tropes in romance novels, That Incriminating Conversation I Was Having in Another Room/on the Phone That You Weren't Supposed to Hear and Probably Took Out of Context, and Even Though Five Minutes of Conversation Would Clear This Up, Let's Just Pull a Flounce™ moment.*
*Or you know, TICIWHiAR/otPTYWStHaPTOoCaETFMoCWCTULJPaF
™, for short.
The book ends with the hero learning out that the heroine has flounced all the way to Ireland and is pregnant with his baby. There is an HEA, because of course there is, and it only took a flounce to not just change him of his ways, but also make him realize that his mother's suicide was the reason he developed major mommy issues and decide that love was garbage and no woman could be trusted.
I probably would have given this a higher rating if not for the flounce/misunderstanding. That's one of my least favorite tropes in romance novels, right up there with cheating. But whereas cheating offends me on a moral level, misunderstandings offend me on an intellectual level. I can't stand stupidity, and when people are willfully stupid and revel in that stupidity, I roll my eyes in disgust. Just. Freaking. Talk. To each other. It's not rocket science, which is probably a good thing, because imagine if rockets could flounce. "Screw ready to launch, I'm out, bitches!" Yeah, no.
THE VIRGIN'S SECRET is a fun, light read and one of the better adaptations I've read. Bar the ending, I probably would have given this five stars. I will be looking for more work from this mangaka. Just remember, the next time you read a romance novel and find yourself face to face with a big misunderstanding, ask yourself, "What would a rocket do?" You're welcome.
I'm obsessed with Harlequin manga. They combine two of my favorite trashy reads: comic books and romance novels. It's one of those combinations that you think shouldn't work, like peanut butter and pickles, and yet, once you try it, you're hooked. (And yes, unbelievers, peanut butter pickle sandwiches are a thing.) They seem to have been Japanese-exclusive, but due to what I'm guessing is a demand for trendy Japanese things, they have made the transition to the West. We're all winners as a result. The prize? Trashy, pickley goodness.
THE FRENCHMAN'S MISTRESS is one of those oddly specific romance novel titles that basically sums up the premise of the story in a single sentence. Harlequin is fond of those, and indeed, many of them are interchangeable. I'm sure there's a romance novel generator out there built with AI that spits out gems like "Greek Tycoon's Secret Christmas Baby" and "A One Night Stand with the Sultry Sheikh." (I'm making these up, FYI, but they could just as easily - and might - be actual titles.
In this case, the title is misleading, as she is not really his mistress, as that tends to imply a woman who is either the OW of a married man or a "kept" woman of ill repute (e.g. a high class escort). Caitlin, the heroine, is a nurse. She used to take care of this man named Mard, who wanted to set her up with a young friend of his named Ray. Unfortunately, the two of them disliked each other on sight, despite Mard's attempts at playing matchmaker. After losing everything to a gambling ex-fiance, Caitlin was left with virtually nothing, so in his will, Mard bequeathed his Provence home to her.
Ray wants the land, and is unhappy that Caitlin got it for free despite his many attempts to buy the property from Mard. He makes the same generous offer to Caitlin, who turns it down - not just because she likes the idea of living in the country side and enjoys the project of a fixer-upper, but also because Mard explicitly stated in his will that she had to live in the house for at least six months first.
As Caitlin works on the house, Ray gets involved and helps her out. It seems like they might actually be falling for each other and then Caitlin finds out that there was an additional part in Mard's will that nulls out the six month requirement: if she marries Ray, she can do whatever she wants with the property, and he's even set aside a lump sum of money for them as a wedding gift. Meddling from beyond the grave! Now that is some serious dedication. Matchmakers everywhere, take note.
I thought this book was okay. The art was nice, albeit a tad basic, and I thought Ray and Caitlin were good characters in that they actually act like adults and not fussy children (which seems like it should be common sense, but you would be surprised at how fussy some of these allegedly adult characters are). It's not hard to see how Caitlin couldn't resist falling for a handsome French guy. I don't know how French became the language of love and English became the language of people who eat hamburgers and act like buffoons while traveling abroad, but it's bloody unfair. Quelle dommage.
P.S. The wine on the cover looks like cherry Kool-Aid. 10/10 would probably still drink.
I'm a huge fan of romance novels but I'm very picky about what genres I'll read. I mostly read historical romances and dark romances, with the occasional new adult college romance if it seems like it's going to be smartly written. I don't actually read that many adult contemporary romances. Most Harlequin manga are adaptations of contemporary romances, so it's interesting for me to see what types of romance scenarios seem to be really popular. For example, I had no idea how popular nanny romances were until I started reading these manga.
HER IMPOSSIBLE BOSS actually reminds me a lot of another nanny-themed romance I read recently called THE SUBSTITUTE WIFE. Like THE SUBSTITUTE WIFE, HER IMPOSSIBLE BOSS is about a young, ditzy, manic pixie dream girl who is desperate for a job she isn't really qualified for. The man in question in both books just had his wife die, and without a woman's hand, he is totally lost and incapable of taking care of his kids, so he becomes an asshole workaholic.
Tess, the heroine of this book, is the younger sister of one of Matt's employees, although when he meets her he's slightly horrified that she's only got a high school diploma and dresses like a kid. He hires her out of desperation to take care of his daughter Samantha, and is shocked when they hit it off right away. Samantha has a long list of needs and demands that he's never bothered to find out about, and pretty soon Tess has them doing board game nights or going out to see sports games.
Matt invites his girlfriend out on one of these trips in an attempt to put distance between Tess and himself, but it backfires when he realizes how much he prefers Tess. He breaks things off with his girlfriend and his relationship with Tess turns sexual but oh no, the first time is the unprotected time, so you can imagine what happens. You can also imagine what happens when Matt acts like he's doing Tess a huge favor by proposing, after telling her he doesn't want to be married & accusing her of doing it as a ploy to get her hands on all of his fabulous money. Bad move, Matt. Bad move.
The last act conflict in this book was much better than the drama in THE SUBSTITUTE WIFE. I also liked Matt better. He was just a big fat idiot, whereas Jay in the other book was kind of sexist. I think the dead wife trope is a cheap way to get the previous woman out of the picture w/o conflict, but I get that a lot of women reading these probably don't want to have a jealous or angry ex-wife in the picture, especially with a kid involved. A rich and incompetent widower is probably the ultimate fantasy for a lot of women, especially if it means a stepdaughter who's crazy about them.
HER IMPOSSIBLE BOSS really wasn't a bad book. I'm not a huge fan of nanny romances or manic pixie dream girls, but the romance in this book was okay and I did enjoy it anyway. The art style is pretty simple but pleasant, and it's consistent which is nice (I recently read one of these books where the character models kept seeming to change). Is this one of my favorites? No. Does it take a tired concept and do an okay job with it while keeping the characters sympathetic? Yes. Not bad.
With a title like STRANDED, SEDUCED...PREGNANT, there was no way I wasn't going to read this book. What a title. I think I giggled for a solid five seconds over it, like she just happened to get stranded somewhere with a hot guy and just being in the sphere of his manly presence within such a small, enclosed space just happened to make her pregnant. Sure.
Neve is in her early twenties and when we meet her, she's in the middle of a snowstorm. Her bratty, fourteen-year-old step-daughter has run away and she's trying to find her. Instead, she finds the Godly Impregnator, AKA Severo. He takes a look at her eyes and falls in lust. She takes his car and falls in snow. Instant romance. Severo rents skis to track her down and they end up in an abandoned cabin whose front door just happens to be unlocked and there's already a fire going and everything. Turns out the couple that owned it was also pregnant and had to flee to the hospital, leaving their house to burn to the ground.
Neve and the Impregnator take off their wet, icy clothes and can't take their eyes off each other's conveniently form-fitting bedsheets. They have sex. Protected sex. They enjoy it so much, they do it again - unprotected, this time. Because apparently this manga is a game of Wheel of Fortune and R_ckl_ss St_pidity is on the board. Can I get an "e" and a "u"?
Anyway, Neve ends up pregnant and her step-daughter, who decides she likes Neve now that Neve almost died for her sins, finks on Neve to Severo. He wants to do right by her, she demurs because she's convinced that he thinks she's a Wretched Slutty Woman like his own step-mother, who is constantly coming to him for money. He feigns losing his fortune and probably freaks out all the shareholders of his business by running a fake news article claiming he's lost everything. Neve comes to him, offering her own fortune, and he's like LOLS, jk, just trying to get rid of the Wretched One.
Now he knows for sure that Neve wasn't a Wretched Slutty Woman after all, and really was telling the truth when she told him that she married her step-daughter's father to take care of her and not for his fabulous millions. They get married, and the couple whose cabin they boinked in comes to the wedding and are like, "We're so happy you screwed in our house! Our children will be friends!" Not joking, lolwut, because that's totally the reaction someone would have in this scenario, right? But then, on the other hand, there's #PlaneBae, so who knows? Maybe they totally would. Dafuque.
I liked this book, even though it was a ridiculous story. The illustrations are really nicely done and were familiar for some reason - it turns out I've read another Harlequin adaptation from this mangaka, MISTAKEN FOR A MISTRESS. MISTAKEN FOR A MISTRESS was a much better story, but this story has a much better title. I still feel like they skipped a step, kind of like the Underwear Gnomes' pyramid-like scheme for profit in Southpark. I adapted their chart.
This was a fun story and had some interesting commentary on blended families, but mostly I just read it for the title expecting some serious cheese, and I was happily not disappointed.
Remember the stupid and thankfully short-lived Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge? That dude on the cover looks like he totally decided to go for it. That dude on the cover is our "hero," Acheron Dimitrakos, and he is an asshole. Assholes come in many flavors, like the ice creams at Baskin Robbins, but Acheron is the variety of asshole that gets visits from three ghosts at Christmastime. There's the delightfully amusing asshole, and then there's the whiny little rich boy who makes stupid and petty decisions because he's so ~damaged~.
Guess which one he is?
Tabby is a poor young woman living paycheck to paycheck with a child that isn't even hers. She was appointed the guardian of the baby by someone she knew, and the rich millionaire, Acheron Dimitrakos, was co-guardian - although he refused the post, because #NotAllMen. Now Child Protective Services is on the verge of taking the child away because Tabby doesn't have the resources and she's going to plead for his intervention.
Acheron reacts with all the sympathy you would expect in the situation, which is to lol at her and order security to drag her out of his building. But then the lawyer, who happens to be there, takes him aside and says, "Hey, bro, you know how your slutty stepmother and her slutty daughter are going to inherit half your wealth unless you marry? This girl's desperate and not in a position to negotiate. Take advantage, bro. It's a win/win." So Acheron decides he's going to deign to marry this utterly uncultured wench, insults and gaslights her about her poor person lifestyle, and marries her.
Tabby, however, is sexy and a ~virgin~ and Acheron reacts to this like she's a new and unusual vintage of expensive wine that he simply must sample. Sexual tension ensues, they do it, and then he leaves right after because Acheron Grey doesn't cuddle, he fucks - hard. (Oh, wait, I think I'm confusing my d-bag billionaires.) Then Tabby is almost murdered by the stepdaughter in a hit and run (who wants in Acheron's pants), but she kills herself by driving into a wall. It's revealed that the stepdaughter has an unspecified ~mental illness~, probably that old fan favorite, deus ex ablesism.
I was not a fan of this manga. I thought Acheron was a jerk and the heroine was a ninny who cried all the time. I also thought the art was really ugly. Acheron's lips were so pouty, they took up like a third of his face, and the way Tabby was drawn it was like she was done in a totally different manga style. I'm glad I got this on sale, because if I had paid full price, I would have been terribly disappointed.
After reading so many Harlequin manga, it feels weird to pick up a manga that isn't about gushy romance, but gushy body parts. You think I'm kidding? Man, this is some creepy shit. I thought it was going to be a light-hearted gothic novel with cute little anime girls but now I'm literally freaking out because it's midnight and someone I know might disappear into the woods.
Jeanie and Amber are twin girls who are going to a boarding college in the Australian bushlands because reasons. They thought it would be an opportunity to connect with her aunt, but she drops them off and then immediately leaves under the cover of night, leaving them at the mercy of the crotchety and slightly creepy teachers, and the older than dirt VP. Almost as soon as they take up residence in the school, creepy things happen. Seances go awry, mirrors don't act normally, things watch them in the shadows, and they have some MFing terrifying nightmares about dead girls frolicking in trees raining blood. OH. EM. GEE.
I was actually very impressed by this story and how thoughtful and mysterious and creepy everything is. Sometimes horror anime goes totally over the top, like Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, or "When the Cicadas Cry" had a good atmosphere but also relied on shock horror and had a lot of splatterpunk, whereas THE DREAMING is much more psychological in nature and reminds me of Japanese horror films like The Ring and The Grudge in how it relies on atmosphere, emotion, and secrets to keep the story driving to its inevitable and creepy climax.
Even after finishing this review, I still have chills. I'm going to have to stay up for another hour or two reading something that isn't scary. If you enjoy horror movies, you should pick up this book. It is almost cinematic in its delivery, to the point where I could almost hear the wind and the eerie howls. Apparently the story was loosely inspired by The Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Whoops, I kind of sped through that in a single sitting but it was just that good. THE BRIDE'S BEST MAN is set on the island of Hawaii. Shelby lives with her Aunt Kay, who is young enough to be her sister on account of Shelby's mother having her when she was really young. Both women have a history of abuse and tragedy in their family and are trying to move past it. They have come to Hawaii to meet Aunt Kay's pen pal, "Dan." But to Shelby's horror, she's also being forced to meet someone too, Dan's protege, the good-natured Pete (shown on cover).
I was attracted to this book because of the bright, happy cover and because the couple on the cover actually looked cozy (as opposed to 99% of these covers, which could be an exhibition on aggressive domineering manspreading 101). The book lives up to the expectations. The art inside is really cute and super adorable. Pete is a beta hero who respects the heroine and goes out of his way to communicate with her and make her feel comfortable. What? I know, shocker, right?
The best part of this book, though, is the story. Shelby initially comes across as a jerk, but she's actually very introverted and has learned to shield herself from pain due to the abusive history in her family. Her mother was abusive and suffered from alcoholism and died young, and her father disappeared from the picture after they divorced. She was also the victim of attempted sexual abuse from her step-father, and her mother, the twat, blamed her for it. She's afraid of opening herself up to others and losing the people she cares about most, which is 100% understandable.
THE BRIDE'S BEST MAN is a great book and easily one of the best adaptations I've read so far. The story is great, the emotional development is great, and the romance is super cute. It's so refreshing to read about a nice hero who doesn't have to do a last-act grovel because he hasn't done anything wrong. If you are frustrated with d-bag male leads, you should check this book out. The only flaw is that sometimes the dialogue bubbles are awkwardly placed or formatted so it's hard to figure out who is talking, but apart from that, there was nothing about this manga I didn't like.
Nothing gets my blood running like a good old-fashioned amnesia plot. We never watched soap operas in my household and my mom didn't own any romance novels, so my only explanation for my utterly trash tastes despite growing up with an abundance of Jane Austen and Anne Bronte is that I was always a child prodigy for trashy things and now that I am exposed to these things, this talent is belatedly asserting itself.*
*only logical explanation
THE GREEK'S CHRISTMAS BABY falls into a category of romance novel I would summarize as "title explains it all." Harlequin is a big fan of spoilerific titles that act as concise summations of the story. They are legion, and they are interchangeable. Fun fact, while looking up this book title on Goodreads, I accidentally typed it as "The Greek's Christmas Bride" - and wouldn't you know it, that's a book, too. Is it also a Harlequin novel? Lol, of course it is, you darling fool.
Basically, Eden and Aristide are a star-crossed married couple (she being of humble origins, he one of those millions of rich Greek tycoons that make up 99% of the Greek population) on the cusp of getting divorced when they get into a car accident. Also, she's pregnant. The car accident gives him ~amnesia~ and his evil but sexy secretary has brainwashed him into thinking that Eden is cast in the mold of the disgraced family member that darkens the past of all of Aristide's family members, so he's like lolz, new wife who dis? and totally treats her like garbage because the evil secretary who literally spends all of her scenes laughing evilly must be totes trustworthy.
I didn't like this manga much at all, which is super shocking because amnesia subplots are my catnip. I just didn't really care about either of the leads. The hero is dumb and the heroine is one of those drippy, spineless types who doesn't fight her own battles or stand up for herself. She just cries a lot. Is this supposed to be a Christmas story? The art was also strange - props to Kawashima for having her own style, but I wasn't a fan. The mangaka also tries to cram too many panels in to a page, so they felt very cluttered and hard to read. Having the timeline jump around didn't help, either.
I bought this manga because it was only $0.49 in the Kindle store. I saw it a while back for $1.99 and passed, so this lowering of the price felt like kismet. The premise sounds cliche and silly. Sarah is of noble ancestry but now they are impoverished. She works at a magazine called Beguile (think Glamour or Vogue) where her boss is constantly trying to leverage her tragic history for a story. One day, a man who featured in one of their recent articles (top ten sexiest single males - he was #3) comes into the office demanding to speak to Sarah. He has video footage of Sarah's sister Gina in his house, stealing a priceless artifact. He tells her that he's going to go to the police - unless she agrees to pose as his fake fiancee long enough for him to close a business deal with a sketchy female CEO who is hell-bent on seducing him, despite his protests.
My expectations for A BUSINESS ENGAGEMENT were not high, but I actually enjoyed it a lot. The art is great. I tend to prefer the more delicate styles, and this is very classic old school shoujo. The story also isn't that bad. Sarah and Devon are both good characters. I liked Sarah's devotion to her grandmother, and how big a role her grandmother had in her life. Her sister was an idiot, but she wasn't malicious, and I was ultimately okay with Gina, too. There are misunderstandings, but they actually feel reasonable. The sex scenes are hot and, surprisingly, more graphic than many of these manga usually are. I also thought the dialogue was great, and translated well to this format. It was a solid effort.
So, real talk: I had an interesting time getting this as an ARC. As you know, I'm basically the unofficial queen of Harlequin manga, having reviewed 40+ of the damn things at this point. They're basically josei adaptations of popular Harlequin Presents books, as if romance novels needed to be condensed into addictively snacktastic tidbits like the book equivalent of a bite-size snickers. (Read: Yes, yes, they did.) It boggles my mind why they aren't more popular, but most people don't seem to realize they are a thing yet despite my efforts, which leaves it to me to champion the cause and rally the troops, er, readers.
Recently, a batch of 10 or so of these showed up on Netgalley and I applied for them all without really thinking twice about it, since usually Harlequin gives me whatever I want. I'm a bit pressed for time these days and don't always read everything I'm given, but I do review everything I read, and I have always reviewed all of the Harlequin manga novels I was given, so maybe that's why I was approved despite being Trash™.
Anyway, this time - I wasn't approved. For anything. Ouch. I think the last time I got that rejected, I was getting the "we should just be friends" speech from someone I liked. Ouch. Harlequin, I thought you were down with happy endings and reuniting people with their true loves. How could you deny me my fated destiny with your glorious love-trash? Was it because I call them trash? I call everything I love trash, basically, including myself. And trust me, I love myself. (Not like that. Perverts.)
While I was still smarting from rejection (and still trolling on Netgalley, because even though the last thing I need is more books, well - I still need more books), I noticed that another twenty Harlequin manga had been added to the site. Once again, I applied for all of them, although less cockily this time. And then I went on Twitter and sent them a "Hi, I'm Nenia "Do You Know Who I Am" Campbell" Tweet. Lol JK, I might come across as an a-hole in some of my reviews but I am a benign trash person and wouldn't leverage my reviewing cred for favors because that's real dumpster status . This was more akin to standing outside their headquarters with a boombox blasting "Why Can't We Be Friends?" by Smash Mouth. I get it, you know. I don't use Netgalley with the diligence that I probably should, and my review ratio is trash. That's on me. But these, I would actually review.
Days go by, and I'm hoping that I'm not going to be rejected for everything again because - ugh, my heart. I check my Netgalley dashboard the way a parent stalks their teenager's Instagram, and finally, finally, I hear back. Freaking Harlequin declined me for every single book I applied for but ONE. This one. I couldn't believe it. I checked through all the titles and sure enough, declined. Declined. Declined. I'm not sure if someone is trolling me (LOL, Nenia, this time we didn't decline you for everything), or if this approval was an accident as a result of someone failing to hit the 'decline' button they seem to love so much, but it looks like some serious grade-A trolling on HQ's part.
And honestly? I'm not even mad. Confused, Amused, and Bewildered, but not M-A-D.
I'm not sure what made me eligible for RUTHLESS REUNION when so many of the other books I applied for failed to make the cut. The ominous title could be an extra attempt at trolling, as Harlequin "ruthlessly reunites" me with my coveted HQ manga, only in a Monkey's Paw-esque "joke's on you, I only gave you half of what you asked for" sort of way. But by gum, I was approved this one Harlequin manga by Netgalley & you can be damn sure I was going to read the hell out of it.
Sanchia and Alex have a connection that she ends up running from, and she turns up as a juror in the courtroom over which he presides as judge, he's shocked to see her there. Especially when she claims she doesn't even know who he is. As it turns out, Sanchia has ~amnesia~ and has conveniently forgotten that she and Alex have a whole slew of history together, including marriage. Eventually she remembers and we're treated to a whirlwind of her memories. Here, the conflict switches from "How does he know me?" to "Why doesn't he love me?" And faster than you can dial 1-800-BIH-CRAY, she's preparing an epic flounce, when five minutes of conversation would sort things out right quick.
The non-linear timeline was confusing and not done particularly well in this format. I thought the art was okay (albeit kind of boxy) and some of the speech panels leaked out into other panels, which I guess was supposed to be artistic but actually made reading order kind of difficult.
I thought RUTHLESS REUNION was OK. It's definitely not one of my favorites, but I wasn't mad at it, either. I'm a sucker for a good amnesia plot. I just wish the characters had been better fleshed-out. Sanchia just didn't have much in the way of a personality, which made her hard to root for.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Man, I am revving my way through my collection of Harlequin manga. It feels like I've read 20+ of them in the last week, they're practically bite-sized. THE SUBSTITUTE WIFE is an adaptation of a novel by Barbara McMahon and illustrated by mangaka Junko Matsufuji. I wasn't acquainted with the work of either artist, but Matsufuji's art reminds me of Wataru Yoshizumi's work (you may know her as the mangaka of the popular shoujo manga, Marmalade Boy). The story itself wasn't too bad either, especially considering I'm not normally into books like these that are all about motherhood and wifery.
Deanna is an art student looking for a job to pay her tuition. She applies to be the live-in nanny for a man named Jay, who is in charge of a security firm. His wife is dead and he has two young daughters who are in need of care when he's away. Despite her lack of relevant experience, Deanna is hired because Jay finds her appealing in spite of himself and thinks her energy might be good for his girls.
There's a bit of a Sound of Music vibe to this book. Jay is a strict authoritarian/disciplinarian figure who has his girls on a schedule that runs like clockwork. He's also a bit of a sexist, actually uttering the phrase "that's women's work" in front of his girls at dinner, and to my surprise, the heroine calls him out and tells him that he needs to be a good example for his children if he wants them to be independent when they're older. The dead wife was apparently a Stepford Wife, so Jay has a hard time adjusting to the fact that women might not adore the opportunity to serve him dinner. Lols, not.
As far as these sorts of stories go, THE SUBSTITUTE WIFE really wasn't that bad. My expectations were pretty low, so I found myself pleasantly surprised. It was more empowering than I thought it would be. The only problem is that there's a Big Misunderstanding in the last act, because of course there is, due to Deanna taking something Jay said about wanting a boy (and she didn't even hear him say it - it was hearsay) out of context, and doing an epic flounce out of the room in the middle of this party he invited her to because she can't have children and not being able to have his heir is devastating. No man would want a woman who can't breed! Sob, sob, sob. Side-eye.
Until that point, this book was doing pretty well with its empowering message. Look, I get that not being able to have children when you want them can be very traumatic and bring about grief, and I don't want to trivialize the pain that must bring. BUT, at the same time, I felt like it was handled very badly in this book. Deanna talks to Jay about being judgmental but at the same time, makes this terrible assumption about him (he'll want more kids if he remarries and it will have to be a boy) without even talking to him first. She also tells him that men don't want to be with women who are sterile, which is a big fat lie. It felt like a huge 180 from her earlier characterization so if she had reasons for feeling this way (emotionally abusive boyfriend, cruel words from a doctor), this might have made more sense instead of feeling like internalized misogynistic BS.
Apart from that one thing, THE SUBSTITUTE WIFE was actually pretty good and I liked both the storyline and the art work. Also, funny/random fact: I was looking at some of this mangaka's other works and one of them looks very racy! Bare boobs on the cover and everything. I found that amusing because usually these mangaka tend to be lesser-known shoujo or josei authors, and this is the first time that the HQ artist in question has done something so baldly explicit.
When I pick up a problematic romance novel, I have two reactions. Romance reader me is like, "Yaaass, gurl, you get some. Bees! Birds! Flowers! Hearts! Yaaass!" And feminist me is like, "Um, actually, relationships should not be passports to sex. Women should be autonomous human beings with goals that exist outside of a relationship - and oh, by the way, you don't need to be in a monogamous relationship that leads to marriage in order to have sex, thank you very much."
RAFAEL'S CONVENIENT PROPOSAL is an adaptation of a novel originally written by Rebecca Winters. It's about a woman named Mallory who is the vice president of a huge cosmetics company called "Lady Windemere" (think Maybelline) that's aimed at single career women who don't need men to buy makeup and enjoy themselves, just like the creator. After being humiliated on a talk show by a sexist pig who hurrs and durrs his way through a gamut of stereotypes, Mallory goes to Lisbon to surf, where she saves the life of a girl who just so happens to be the daughter of the resident nobility, Rafael D'Afonso.
I rate these Harlequin romance manga based on several categories - the art, the text to panel ratio, the story line, and how well I feel said story line translates into manga format. The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous - Shion Hanyu is very talented, and I really enjoyed her gorgeous clean lines. The text-to-panel ratio is good and it feels like a clean adaptation. My problem is with the story. Mallory, as I said, saves D'Afonso's daughter, Apolonia, from drowning. She feels a connection with the girl and wants to help take care of her like a pro bono babysitter because the girl's father is a friend of her fellow employee and friend, Lionor. But she's also very attracted to Rafael.
The problem is that Rafael claims he can't allow her to do this because having a single woman hanging around taking care of his daughter reflects badly on the family's honor. If she wants to stick around, he claims, she has to marry him. Bizarrely, she agrees, but towards the end of the novel she has a "what am I doing?" moment where she realizes that this stunt has jeopardized her career. She leaves, but of course the girl chases after her car and falls while the contrivedly adorable pet puppy licks her wounds (looking sadder than any puppy conceivably ought to). The sounds of the little girl's sobs ring in her ears as she remembers Rafael telling her coldly that she only thinks of herself.
OK, let's unpack this. This father figure of the year cares so much about his little girl that he allows her to roam beaches unattended where she might drown so that a deus ex machina in the form of love interest might luckily happen upon her and save her from otherwise certain death? Oh, but she's the selfish one who only thinks of herself? What makes this worse is that this feels like a total bait and switch after we have a "you go girl" moment watching Mallory tell sexist TV host that women wear makeup for themselves, and not for men, tysvm, and you can be single and career driven and proud.
The "happy" ending (which the book actually has to tell us at the very end is a "happy ending" in fancy letters at the bottom, because I guess it's unclear) is that Mallory realizes how "selfish" she is wanting a career when this rich dude is willing to marry her in exchange for her babysitting, and she's like, "I'm ready to think of others!" Um, gag. As a career woman myself, I can't help but take offense to this. Having a job is not selfish. Honestly, I'm one of those people who needs fulfillment in my life to feel good about myself and being some trophy wife cum babysitter sounds like a waking nightmare. How dare this novel say that women who want career development are selfish.
Initially I was thinking I was going to give this a four-star rating but this ending left such a sour taste in my mouth that I can't bring myself to do it. I loved the story until it took that manipulative, antifeminist turn for the worse, which is a damn shame because the sexual chemistry and the art were both pretty great up until that point. Still, it's only 49-cents atm, which is a pretty great deal.
I almost bought this a while ago when it was on sale for $1.99, but military romances aren't usually my thing so I passed. Then it went on sale again for 99-cents and I figured it must be kismet, so I decided to download the book - and I'm actually really glad I did. Harlequin manga can really be hit or miss (see my reviews - at this point, I'm practically an expert), but this one was actually really cute.
STRANDED WITH THE SERGEANT is about an elementary school teacher named Prudence. Her father is a high ranking official in the military and he's appointed one of his sergeants to act as a wilderness survival guide for Prudence and her students as they go on a camping trip in the mountains. It's supposed to be a beginners' trail, but of course a freak snow storm changes that. The kids are rescued first and both Prudence and Joe are forced to wait together in the cold for rescue, and as they wait they get to talking and find out they share some of the same demons. The simpatico is instant but so is the fear of being hurt.
The drawing style in this book is gorgeous and really complements the story, in my opinion. I love the soft lines and the way the author draws their faces. Expressive faces are so important in manga, which tends to be very emotional (Harlequin romances too, actually), so this is key. The story is also great. I have trouble stomaching stories with heroines who are doormats who don't aspire to be anything more than mothers or housewives, so it was refreshing to see a heroine who is passionate about her career and actually stands up for herself (and the hero) when being slighted. Woo-hoo!
Honestly, despite its cheesy title, this book is pretty cute. The h and H have some meaningful conversations about inner-demons and learning to move on, and they end up together because of the connection they feel after these conversations. (Also, you know, they're hot.) If you're into romances that have tsundere heroes who slowly warm up to strong, affectionate heroines, and want your romance stories to be 100% rape-free (you think I'm kidding, but bodice-rippers anyone), this is the book for you. It's a very sweet story with beautiful art. What more can you ask?
Hi, I'm a trash-hole. I read lot of trash and I'm not sorry about it. Especially cheap trash. Did I mention that this book was only 49-cents in the Kindle store? How can I say no to that? I can't. Because I have no self-control.
Harlequin manga are re-releases of Harlequin Presents novels that have been (further) condensed in comic book format. Originally, they were a Japanese-exclusive item, but word appears to have traveled, and where word went, so followed the books. They've become popular enough here out West that there's actually quite a lot of them in circulation now, and as soon as they go on sale I snap them up like MUAs stalking the latest releases of Kylie Jenner lip kits.
LOST TO THE DESERT WARRIOR is not a genre I would normally read, even in manga format. I am not a fan of sheikh romances, particularly sheikh romances that take place in made-up countries with white-washed characters. I've had this conversation before across several of my reviews, but my basic feeling is that it does an injustice to the richness of Middle Eastern culture. It says, "I don't want to bother researching you, I just want to appropriate the things about your culture I find exotic." It's fetishistic, a modern throwback to 19th century Orientalism. We want your carpets, but not you.
I know, I know, that's reading a lot into something that's supposed to be "fiction" (insert eye-roll here, because "fiction" is not carte blanche for "write whatever the fuck you feel like without fear of moral repercussions," despite what stans everywhere might think), but how else am I supposed to feel when I read about a Bedouin-like people in a made-up country where all of the main characters look very white, and only the villains look ethnic? You see something similar in Aladdin, where the main characters are fair and more conventionally Western looking, whereas the scary characters and the villains (like Jafar and the guards) have exaggerated stereotypically ethnic Middle Eastern features.
The plot of this book is pretty blah as well. The heroine, Layla, is on the run from an evil man named Hassan who wants to marry her in order to steal her father's kingdom. She flees into the arms of a sheikh named Raz, who, while an enemy of her father, appears to have won the people's hearts and is surely a better man than Hassan. They have a marriage of convenience while Raz agrees to help her find her sister (also on the run) while also trying to deal with the power coups of Hassan.
Normally I'm a sucker for marriages of conveniences but Layla is such an irritating character. Her sole conflict is "oh no, I've fallen for my husband of convenience!" and "boo-hoo, he says I'm not the real mother of the child of his dead wife!" I like heroines who are strong and compelling, heroines with depth and hobbies, who have me invested in my well-being because I see them, if not as a reflection of myself, a woman who possesses agency and wants to fulfill her hopes and dreams. It's hard to relate to a heroine with nothing but family and sex on the mind. Bleh and a half.
Still, it's only 49-cents right now, so if you want to admire some nice artwork (and ignore the rather cringeworthy cultural appropriation and white-washing), it's not a terrible deal.
Once I bought a book at a used bookstore. It was cloth-bound, old. Henry James. Anyway, I was enjoying the book quite a bit and had gotten about halfway through the novel when I opened it up and a laminated four-leaf clover fell out. I'm not a superstitious person, except when I am, so I kept the book and the clover, because the only thing better than a cheap book is a cheap book with a surprise present inside. A similar thing happened to me when I bought a Harlequin manga book on impulse because it was 99-cents, only to find out that it was actually three books bundled in one. It was not advertised to me as such, so that was a pleasant surprise. I binged them all.
All three of these bundled Harlequin manga are by author Michelle Reid. They are each adapted by different mangaka, so the styles vary quite a bit. Makoto Onishi's MARCHESE'S FORGOTTEN BRIDE actually ended up being the best adaptation even though the art style initially put me off. It's older looking, like manga from the late 80s/early 90s, but the facial expressions were very expressive and it grew on me.
Misuzu Sasaki's NO WAY TO BEGIN had very jagged, simplistic art with very, very large eyes. It kind of reminded me of the Tokyo Mew Mew illustration style, only more simplistic. You know, one of those magical girl knock-off novels that are targeted at middle school girls. The cover makes it look like the art is going to be much better than it actually is, and the story adaptation isn't much better. This was the most disappointing book in the collection and I was not a fan at all.
Min Kyuka's art is the best of the three. It's highly stylized shoujo and very flowery-looking. It kind of reminds me of CLAMP manga, specifically Chobits with the way the long, flowing hair was emphasized on the heroine. The story itself? Meh. Louisa comes to the Greek island her husband banned her from to visit her son's grave. They are on the verge of divorce, although once Andreas enters the scene, it's clear that he still has feelings for her, although they're mired in butt-hurt.
The death of their son ended their relationship, accelerated by the fact that Louisa then caught him in the arms of another women and Andreas then proceeded to ignore all of her letters and phone calls. I guess you could call this a second-chance romance. It was kind of annoying because it turns out all of their relationship drama is based on a series of misunderstandings, which make me roll my eyes in the best of circumstances, but I just couldn't be bothered with this story.
NO WAY TO BEGIN was bundled in with another Harlequin manga I bought. I was wondering why the book in question was 400-pages long. Turns out it was because I was buying 3 for the price of 1, and that 1 was 99-cents. Nina decides to infiltrate (read: sneak into) the house of the billionaire Greek investor who has bought her father's business in order to plead with him to reconsider. Her father's ailing health, combined with the loss of face, has led her to believe Anton is responsible for his ruin.
Anyway, she ends up in his bedroom and he's surprised - but pleased - to see her there, much to her horror. When he drunkenly tries to put the moves on her, she announces that she has a fiance named Jason. But Anton already knows. And he tells her that Jason is the one her father is fretting over. Anyway, she confronts her ailing father and finds out that Anton is the only thing keeping his company afloat, and that Anton actually wants to marry her in Jason's stead. Jason agrees, selling Nina off for 900,000 Euros. So romantic.
Anton tells her that if her father's health takes a turn for the worst she's free to call off their engagement but in a Beauty and the Beast like twist, that's put to the test, and she decides Stockholm syndrome has its advantages, especially in the form of an Adonis who's as rich as Croesus and as promiscuous as Zeus. So she stays with him and they end up happily ever after, the end.
I really didn't like the art style in this book. It was very juvenile, like the middle school manga you sometimes come across for girls who are thirteen. That was at odds with the storyline, which kind of wanted to be dark but also wanted to have its romance cake and eat it too. I was also a little confused about the Jason storyline - was he actually her half-brother? Incest is gross. If that was the case, she didn't seem as shocked and horrified by that as she should have been, but then, this book was weird.
I also didn't really dig the heroine (who actually says, "KYA!" - ugh, she is so manga basic) or the hero, with his "I'm holding info back from you for your own good"/drunken rapeyness actions. He was a slimy creep, and when the hero is the slimy creep, it's hard to root for love. I'm glad this came bundled for free in my other book because I would have been annoyed had I spent actual money on it.
Fun fact: I bought this book because I actually thought the cover was kind of ugly - and it was only 99-cents. I feel like a lot of my impulse buys begin with the preface, "Well, it was only 99-cents." Man, I am such a trash-hole. I'll buy anything if it's on sale, apparently. Lucky for me, MARCHESE'S FORGOTTEN BRIDE was actually a much better book than the cover suggested.
Kathy met wealthy Italian businessman Sandro when she was a young girl and they had a passionate affair - a passionate, unprotected affair. This being a romance novel, of course, Kathy has twins. When she calls to tell him about them, he cruelly rebuffs her. Kathy has never gotten over her hurt over this and is stunned to see him at a party. He appears just as stunned. They lock eyes, and then suddenly he falls over in a swoon, clutching his head.
As it turns out, Sandro was in a car accident many years ago (around the time he hung up on her). It gave him ~amnesia~ and seeing his forgotten flame has brought back all those memories, which have brought headaches because he just can't even right now. To Kathy's surprise, he actually seems pretty eager to meet her kids, despite those cold words from before, and she's both touched and disappointed that despite her best efforts, she just isn't enough as a single parent, her kids obviously need a male presence, too.
Anyway, they start to hit things off again, and then Kathy finds out that she was the OW. When Sandro slept with her that first time, he had a fiancee. In fact, she died in the same car wreck that gave him his ~amnesia~. The reason he was so cruel to her that time she called was because she called in the middle of his dead fiancee's funeral. Oops. But it's okay, because it turns out he didn't even love her. The arrangement was done by their parents and they were considering breaking it off. How convenient, lols. Let's get married, I promise I won't cheat on you like I did the last one, babe.
Honestly, the art in this book isn't as derpy as the cover would have you believe and for an OW/secret baby romance (tropes I can't stand), it was okay. Once Sandro revealed that he was a cheater, though, I became disenchanted with the story. Especially since it turns out the fiancee died before she found out her spouse-to-be was a cheater, and Kathy is all relieved, like, "Oh, well at least she died at peace." Bitch, please. You waltzed in here with your give no trash attitude and slept with a cheater. Don't try to gloss over a shit-cake with edible gold-leaf and tell me it's gourmet. You a cheater by proxy (although I blame Sandro way more, because he knew).
There's a lot going on with that cover. The hero has an epic case of "rape face" (seriously, what is that expression? what is that body language? WHAT IS GOING ON, MANGA COVER?) and the heroine looks like she tumbled through Coachella and landed headfirst into some cultural appropriation. I couldn't resist the grim allure of this Harlequin manga; I had to buy it.
Rebecca has been in love with Zach since she was a kid. When she finds out he's looking for a wife to bear heirs for his ranch, she immediately signs up for the job. Reluctantly, Zach agrees, although he warns her that if she doesn't get pregnant after a year, he's going to divorce her to be with someone who can. What a charmer, I can totally see why she's into this guy.
Rebecca is a nurse who works with terminally ill children, and part of her stipulation in this ~romantic~ wedding contract is that Zach allows her to have a summer camp on his ranch for sick kids. Zach lasts all of one day before he decides he can't be around them (too much of a bummer), much to Rebecca's annoyance and disgust. She also brings home a girl named Jewel, who lost her family in a fatal car accident. They are only supposed to keep her until she gets adopted, but Jewel's potential adoptive family are huge jerks who don't want a kid with facial scarring and a limp. Wow, great parenting.
As it turns out, the heroine might actually be Native? Seems like maybe they just whitewashed the heck out of her on the cover by giving her fair hair and green eyes. Apart from that dubious portrayal of her cultural origins, the heroine was OK. It's hard to hate anyone who wants to take care of sick kids and who wants to help them feel normal and accepted in the face of tragedy. Zach, on the other hand, was kind of a douche. His whole "how can dying kids have fun?" "I don't want kids around unless they're mine by blood" "women are only good for breeding because I was a nice guy who was cruelly betrayed after deigning to be emotionally intimate" mindset was really gross.
The ending was also kind of sucky. I don't understand why Rebecca had to be punished in order to teach Zach a lesson about what a selfish cad he was. Seems like women are often the vehicles that men drive around to explore the landscape of their own morality, which is a shame. Still, I kind of enjoyed the book in spite of myself and the art was good, so I can afford to be a little generous.