Lovefool 05.30.11 | Romance Round-Up

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Bedridden with the Long Holiday Weekend Death Plague, our Lovefool finds solace in the mushiest of comics: manga based on Harlequin romance novels.

 

 
Long, long ago, Jason Green, Fearless Editor, sent out an email asking if anyone was interested in reviewing some manga. This wasn't a big deal and happens fairly frequently since that seems to be one of our staples. These, however, were online, something no one on staff typically messes with, I'm told, but they were utterly and gloriously shamelessly shojo. The shojo-est of them all. They were, my friends, Harlequin manga. Naturally, sitting at my desk in my shared office, I squee'd a squee to break the sound barrier. It's not much of a secret that I like to read the occasional romance novel, despite how much I tried to keep it so for a while, and combining Harlequin and shojo was an awesome idea, as far as I was concerned. Fluffy art, goofy-ish stories, happy endings! What's there not to like? Nothing, I firmly told myself, furtively buying one at a con a few years ago. So imagine my delight when Playback got access to a whole cache of them. I was totally excited. I had a concept in mind. Sadly, time wasn't on my side and the Harlequins got put on the backburner, but the idea kept coming up. And this weekend seemed like the perfect time, being bedridden with some horrible illness, except...
 
This, nerdlings, was supposed to be much cooler. It was. There was going to be a chart with a logo and some other stuff and it was going to be super-awesome. This is, after all, the idea that spawned Lovefool over the course of 30-some emails between JGFE and I. It deserves some respect. It deserves to be more organized and have big showy graphics that you could link to and whatnot but, sadly, as previously mentioned, I seem to have come down with the Long Holiday Weekend Death Plague and, honestly, it's taking all of my processing power to manage to even read Harlequin manga, much less come up with anything to say about it. There will be no graphic design today, sadly. There will, however, be all of the loving snark and affection that you've come to expect from your Lovefool, only filtered through a double-dose of sinus medicine.
 
Title: The Sheikh's Contract Bride
Staff: Written by Theresa Southwick. Art by Keiko Okamato.
Heroine: Alina Bethia, younger than her twin, Adina Bethia, by two minutes and, therefore, not engaged at birth to the hero of this tale. Unloved since she's not destined to be regal, she grows up to be feisty and blonde and all those other things that romance novel heroines should be. She's been recently dumped by her boyfriend, who has found someone with a more influential family, so she's a bit cynical about love. When her twin's husband-to-be summons her to attend a wedding, she agrees to go meet him to trick him into calling off this whole wedding nonsense so her twin can marry who she really loves. Of course.
Hero: Malik the Sheikh. Yes, really. Malik has a Wharton School education, those deep eyes that can see through anything, is tall in the way that only manga heroes can be, and is quite intrigued that Beth isn't the blushing violet he'd been seeing in pictures for the last decade. With raven black hair and gold glowing eyes resembling the glowing desert sands, he also sounds kind of dishy. He's a prince, of course, so he's kind of a jerk, but will his heart be softened by the badass Beth?
Stars A-crossing: Beth thinks that arranged marriages are pretty stupid. Also, this isn't her arranged marriage. When her twin comes to town to swap out, Malik immediately recognizes that the girl he's being presented with as his beautiful fiancée isn't Beth and gets a little tetchy about it.
_____ Will Keep Us Together: Malik renouncing the throne after he finds out about that Beth isn't her twin. In Bah'khar, you see, all royal marriages are arranged as a condition of succession. Eventually realizing that noble Beth did all this just to protect her sister, despite her sister getting everything ever, Malik has a change of heart and decides he can't marry Beth in disguise as her sister or just marry the sister so, either nobly or manipulatively, goes to his father to renounce his position in favor of his younger brother. Malik also reunites the twins with their mother, winning him major points along the way.
Read If...: You like fluffy romances about royalty and Sweet Valley-style twin swaps. Because who doesn't, amiright?
Frame or Fridge?: The cover's a little iffy but the inside's better, despite the lettering, which leaves something to be desired. The full-page spreads are awesome—as those always are, being the showpieces in any manga—and the smaller panels don't let much slide in the way of quality. Honestly, in much the style of Harlequin itself, it isn't really anything to write home about, but isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon with. There's some pretty fabulous clothes, too, if you're into that sort of thing.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: It takes place in an Arabic-type country but doesn't actually address any of the realities of Arabic-type lives. When Malik meets Beth, he offers her a glass of champagne, which struck me as just a smidge discordant. Still, no one reads these things for the gritty realism, do they? Malik is charming, Beth is funny as she tries to manage this farce and it's a fluffy piece of escapist lit. There's a punishment kiss in one scene that's pretty icky when Malik finds out that Beth was involved with some other dude, despite later confessing to sleeping with an undercover journalist. I also find it a little unrealistic that everyone the twins and the sheikh have been involved with has done them wrong. Also, wtf kinds of names are those? Ambassadorship and foreign betrothal aside, really? Bethia?
Hearts: ♥♥♥♥ out of five.
 
Title: Blue Moon Bride
Staff: Written by Renee Roszel. Art by Kako Ito.
Heroine: Hannah Hudson, newly departed Senior Financial Staffer at Jerric Oil, she seems to have quit after being the unwitting Eliza in a plan to turn her into serious arm candy by some supervisors. After hearing them share a chuckle about how mediocre she is, she flounces and takes a vacation at some weird, rundown inn run by a sweet old lady. We know how that turns out... Oddly, Hannah seems way more upset about the mediocre bit than the fact that she was manipulated into being someone different by her jerk boss, Milo.
Hero: Roth Jerric. BMOC at Jerric Oil, he had the audacity to smile at the mediocre crack and then appears in the garden of the inn where Hannah had been sent by the old woman to walk under the blue moonlight. See? Old women are sketchy. When Hannah is like “Eh, it's you,” Roth is all “It is. And you are...?” That's good for a chuckle. He's got enchanting sky blue eyes, sturdy shoulders and jet black hair He's also, possibly, kind of a softie deep down since he rescues the inn's resident pooch after Hannah yells at him for being a jerk.
Stars A-crossing: Well, there was that whole thing where Hannah threw up her deuces and quit his company, and then they didn't exactly make nice under the moonlight. In fact, Roth doesn't even recognize Hannah and that's got to hurt, just a smidge, despite the fact that Jerric Oil probably has hundreds of employees. Oh, and the hottie sheriff that the sweet old lady actually had in mind for Hannah to meet under the blue moon. It doesn't help that Roth is planning on buying the inn since it's deeply in debt and turning it into some condos.
_____ Will Keep Us Together: The blue moon, naturally, has cast a magic spell on these two, since anyone who meets in the inn's garden under the second full moon of the month is destined to marry. And, ultimately, sweet, lying Joan, the little old lady who runs the inn.
Read If...: You like sassy Julia Roberts movies where she's all businesslike but really cute.
Frame or Fridge?: Once again, the cover really isn't that great, the characters depicted on it bearing little resemblance to those inside. I'm a little sketched out by some of the hands drawn in the book and especially on the cover. Once you stop looking at the hands and thinking about the cover, the inside is much more approachable and well done. There's also a rather tastefully rendered, all things considered, sex scene that could've gone pretty badly but didn't. Since the book takes place in rural and urban Oklahoma, there's a down home Americana feel that's surprisingly well-executed in some places.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Hannah's a little classist, which I suppose is to be expected when your rich-as-Midas boss shows up at the tiny little b&b you've escaped to after quitting his company. And Roth is a little dismissive of her feelings. There's a pretty funny moment involving a shared bathroom that's kind of appealing in a romcom kind of way. I'm not really into the sudden reconnection at the end of the book when Hannah and Roth come together and realize that they've been in love this whole time with absolutely zero mention of the fact that they've been either vaguely or openly unpleasant to each other, even when they were making out and saving puppies. Again, I guess it comes with the territory but... There's a lot of gaps in events, too, which makes me feel like I'm missing important story elements. Not that it seems like Hannah's actual life outside of Roth and the inn are much of an emphasized plot point. I understand the point of a romance novel is the romance, but there's a year and a half where the characters are separated. We get to hear about a year of Hannah's life, but what's Roth been doing? What happened after Hannah's move? Did Hannah just break the poor sheriff's heart?
Hearts: ♥♥♥ out of five. Two for the story and one for the art.
 
So, this month, stick to the desert sands and stay out of the moonlight, okay?You'll catch cold, and unpleasant oil executives. Look for Romance Round-up to return in the future, possibly even with charts and coherency.
 
(Many thanks, of course, go to Yoko Tanigaki at eManga.com for allowing the PLAYBACK:stl comics staff access to eManga's archives and new releases.)  | Erin Jameson
 
Click here for a sample of The Sheikh’s Contract Bride and here for a sample of Blue Moon Bride. You can also sample or purchase e-copies of tons of other Harlequin manga at eManga.com.
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