If you surf on over to Digital Manga Publishing’s eManga website, where you can read digital copies of manga titles (by buying points to spend on buying or renting them), you’ll find a section of the site under the name “Harlequin.” What you’ll find there is a collection of short romance titles (most run about 126 pages). They go for 100-400 points a piece (you can buy 500 points for $5.50). They are essentially comic adaptations of romance novels. Since these are short, low budget titles, I feel that it would be best to group them together and review several at once. This week we’ll look at A Bed of Sand and Billionaire Bachelors: Stone. Also, for anyone who has noticed or cares, I am going alphabetically through the titles currently available to me.
[Previous editions of Harlequin Highlights can be found here.]
Title: A Bed of Sand
Author: Kyoko Sagara, original story by Laura Wright
Publisher: Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp.
Vintage: Original novel in 2004, Harlequin manga version in 2008
Rita has been working for three years as a secretary to the president of Al-Nayhalm Corporation, Sheikh Sakir Al-Nayhalm. When her sister’s relationship is in jeopardy, Rita develops the only scheme she can think of to mend their relationship. She will get married. The wedding is fake, as is the groom, as Rita only plans to go through the motions and then have the “groom” simply not show up. Unfortunately, she did use a real name for her fake groom – the name of her boss, Sakir Al-Nayhalm. And, surprisingly, the groom shows up! Sakir has his own motives, and encourages Rita to go ahead with the wedding. He has a business deal in the works with a company back in his native country of Emand, and for three weeks he wants Rita to accompany him as his wife, using the marriage as a sign of reliability and stability to present a confident face to the company he wishes to become partners with. Rita, the dutiful secretary, who also happens to be in love with Sakir, agrees without much hesitation. Rita quickly falls in love with the beautiful desert kingdom, but Sakir is far from happy to be back home. Tensions with his brother, the king, have not subsided since Sakir left home years ago. However, back in his native surroundings, amidst the love of his people who are celebrating his marriage, Sakir begins to relax, and even begins taking more notice of his beautiful and proud secretary. Seeing Rita so enjoy Emand, and wearing Emand’s traditional clothing, slowly melts Sakir’s heart. He even opens up to her about his past, and the reason he left Emand. There was a third brother, Hassan, who joined the kingdom’s army at a young age, and died in an accident. Sakir blames his brother Zayed for Hassan’s death, as it was Zayed who consented to allow Hassan into the army. When Sakir’s business meeting starts to look a bit shaky, Rita steps in and saves the day, but her interference angers Sakir. Rita takes a different tactic and approaches Zayed to discuss Sakir’s situation, but Sakir believes he has been deceived by them both in their plotting behind his back. Can Rita help to patch up all their problems before she and Sakir head back to America, where they had agreed to annul their marriage?
This one is a decent read, over all. I’m amazed by how many of these stories feature (usually fake) marriages to sheikhs. I guess it’s the mystery of the desert, and the exotic look of its people and clothes that draw authors to such a plot. This is yet another one, but rather than be forced into a marriage neither of them really wants to begin with, Rita is in love with Sakir, and Sakir has feelings for Rita, at the beginning of the story. It’s almost like they’re making up an elaborate excuse because they’re unable to confess their feelings. The art is adequate, but the eyes often look strange. In the end, it’s a story about a man trying to run away from his past, but with the help of a caring and loving woman, he is able to face his past and move on from it so he can focus on his future.
Title: Billionaire Bachelors: Stone
Author: Esu Chihara (Honor’s Promise), original story by Anne Marie Winston
Publisher: Harlequin K.K./SOFTBANK Creative Corp.
Vintage: Original novel in 2003, Harlequin manga edition in 2006
With her father dead, and her mother ill, Faith had a hard time growing up. She received help from a wealthy family friend, Stone, who promised to take care of her father’s assets and use them to support Faith and her mother. Unfortunately, Faith’s father was essentially bankrupt, so to protect Faith and her mother, Stone has been secretly paying their living expenses, Faith’s school expenses, and her mother’s medical bills for several years now. One day, Faith uncovered the truth and decided to take her life into her own hands, demanding that Stone stop supporting her, and insisting that she would pay him back for everything. While they are out to dinner discussing Faith’s decision, Stone gets a phone call from his mother. His mother gives him an ultimatum; she wants to retire and pass her company to him, but she insists that he get married, or she will sell off the company to someone else. Not wanting his father’s company to pass into the hands of a stranger, Stone acts quickly and suggests that if Faith wants to pay him back, she can pretend to be his wife for a year to help him inherit the company. This way, Faith can repay her debt, Stone gets the company, and Stone will be able to protect Faith from the big ugly world (basically, he wants to protect her from other men, thinking her too naive to protect herself). Faith agrees, with the added condition that her mother and her caretaker live with them, and the next day Stone takes her on a massive shopping spree to buy their rings and a new wardrobe for Faith. Faith becomes uncomfortable as she is lavished upon, and realizes that Stone doesn’t expect (or want) her to do household chores or even work. She meets Stone’s mother, Eliza, who at first believes Stone is trying to pull one over on her. But watching Faith, she realizes the young girl is genuinely in love with her son, regardless of what the nature of the arrangement might be. With the sounds of love and family filling his house, Stone begins to open up to Faith, but as he feels his feelings surface, he forces himself to push them back down. He is successful until, at a wrap party for a show Stone invested in, he becomes jealous of Faith speaking with another man. Faith, wanting to help Stone and his mother reconcile, goes to visit Eliza on her own, and is offered a part-time job at Eliza’s company. Eventually Faith, frustrated at not knowing how Stone truly feels, offers her body to him, and the spend a passionate night together. Afterwards, Stone admonishes her and casts aside her feelings, insisting that she’s only feeling love for him due to their situation, and that such feelings will fade when their arrangement ends. Distraught, Faith leaves the house, but Stone realizes there’s one place he could find her. Will Stone overcome the pain of his childhood so he can accept Faith’s feelings?
This one is sweet, but it’s lacking some depth due to its short format. It could use some more inner dialog from Stone in regards to his struggle over his feelings for Faith. Faith is pretty easy to read, but her falling in love period takes place before the story opens, and it would have been nice to see her feelings grow throughout her childhood. The art is decent; there’s a gorgeous closeup of Faith in her wedding veil, which really imparts the fact that she is a woman now, and no longer the child that Stone once looked after. The rest is mostly average, but it’s sharp and clean.
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