Miss Winthrope’s Elopment by by Christine Merrill, Riho Sachimi

It’s interesting how different a manga adaptation can be from a book.  In Christine Merrill’s original version, we have a much kinkier, more amusing, and much darker Regency Romance.  Mangaka Sachimi, however, makes everything lighter and fluffier, a carefree and sanitized version of a more robust novel.

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Story:  As long as she lives under his roof, heiress Penny Winthrope’s brother has forbidden her from reading her beloved books. In desperation, she sets out to find a husband willing to leave her to her studies in exchange for part of her inheritance.  Adam Selkirk, meanwhile, has lost everything in a desperate gamble and decided to end his life so his brother can take over the title of Duke and hopefully do a better job. When they meet after a carriage accident, Adam and Penny come to an understanding – the commoner heiress will get a title and privacy while Adam will get his debts paid off.  But Adam has a dark past and Penny her own secrets standing in the way to happiness.

The story is a redemptive arc: Adam regretting his past philandering and Penny hiding from a society that shunned her for being plain and intelligent.  The story should be a slow burn as they come to know each other better but Sachimi keeps the book light and fluffy.  No sex, just a chaste kiss, and a Duke who seems both clueless and hapless at the same time.  The alpha male with a heart of gold is somehow transformed from book into a brainless manga handsome guy who is led along by our heroine.  As such, it was a bit hard to really like him or get into him – we never got a chance to see what Penny might have seen in him.

The illustration work is, as always, quite lovely.  It’s the older, 1970s “Rose of Versailles” type of drawing that, while incredibly historically inaccurate and muddled, is still lovely to look at (though I like the female character designs much more than the male).  In all, a lot of the heart (and heat) of the original book are gone and so characters appear much more vapid and honestly kind of silly.  Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Promised Neverland Volume 9 by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu

With volume 9, we get a second pivotal book in the series. The first milestone was the children escaping from the orphanage. This book is a big reveal about William Minerva and sets a new arc up in the near future. As well, there is a huge surprise at the end that while not unexpected, is definitely welcome.

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Story: Lucas and Emma have made it to the door they were directed to find by William Minerva. When the pen unlocks it, they learn so much more about the resistance to the demons and their own place in the world. Meanwhile, the survivors of the Goldy Pond hunts decide it is time to stand up to the hunters and take out the duke once and for all. How many will survive?

There is a lot of action in this volume since we have quite a few interesting fights as the children go after the demons one by one. They’ve done their homework, they know the weaknesses of each of the hunters, and they also know that it will be one tough battle, especially when they go after the mastermind of the whole ‘game.’

There are additions of several new characters including a new nemesis. In all, the story is rolling out nicely and expanding in an organic and unexpected direction that should continue to provide great storylines. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Middle-Earth by Donato Giancola

This book lives up to the promise: stunning artwork of various types (drawings, paintings, several mediums) and a true passion for Tolkien’s works by the artist. It is obvious he has delved deep into the texts and produced images that are very sympathetic to the original vision. Each scene is described in detail and the book is 90% images with just enough caption wording to explain the concept of the art and the tools used.

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Most of the images are smaller drawings but the full page, full color illustrations are breathtaking. The artist has a command of light that is inspiring, infusing each image with high contrast brightness/darkness values that make the subject(s) of each work pop. Then the colors are as vivid as the lighting, making for truly commanding images.

This is a great book for LOTR fans – very different from the movies but all the better for it as well. It’s a book to savor and perhaps even remove pages to frame. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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It’s Never Too Late To Look Great! by Maggie Cox

Of note, this is a very British-focused book, providing quite a few stores/places to find the fashion featured in the book. Style transcends location, of course, but the thoughts, references, and voice of the book was very British.

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The author starts with a simple premise to help guide older women to finding their own look: STAR (Surprise, True to yourself, Artistry, and Reinvention). Using this principle, she guides women to avoid common mistakes (wearing tents, trying to hide under huge hats, or hoping a garish pattern will distract from the face) while giving examples of styles that always transcend fashion. Most of the book is easy-to-digest motivational or educational passages with an occasional photograph to illustrate a point. I could wish for more photographs, of course, since once the book is read, the reread value is in looking at the images again before shopping. There just aren’t enough of them; certainly, not enough body types or different models/looks.

The photographs themselves are surprisingly low quality; snapshots of the author or one of her friends/acquaintances in candid poses. Many were with hair blowing in the face or standing in full sun outside the house, with little definition of the face or features (despite a large section on makeup that had no photographs or illustration tips). The fashion was clear, yes, but the cover was the only image that was professionally shot. It’s a shame, really, but it does create a more friendly (and perhaps realistic) spotlight on the clothing itself.

In all, I did find inspiration here. Granted, all but one of the women was on the slim side and hadn’t ‘filled out’ like so many of us in later years. There were few pear or apple shapes and only one woman over a size 12 that I could see. I would have liked to see more diversity in the shapes – what works for one woman likely will be problematic on another. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Through The White Wood by Jessica Leake

With a mix of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Russian myth and mythology, and the typical YA heroine and bland insta luv hero, this is an ideal Summer read when you don’t want to be challenged. The book travels between medieval Kiev and Constantinople, with a nice and simplistic milieu that is easy to digest. If the characters are paper-thin and heavily cliched, the book makes up for this with some charm. The bad guys are punished and our good-hearted heroes triumph in the end.

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Story: Katya lives in a poor village and is tormented for his ability to control ice. When her grandfather tries to protect her from the bullying, he is assaulted and she loses control of her power, killing many of the villagers and her grandfather in the process. Arrested and taken to the prince of Kiev Rus, she fears for her life. But the prince needs her help to save the principality from earth elementals. Can the two work together to save the Kiev Rus?

Yes, the usual cliches are here: girl with unknown powerful mother, instaluv perfect prince, misunderstandings to cause drama with the prince but she’ll learn he’s not evil but actually good hearted, road trip to discover her heritage, secret uber-powerful mysterious inherited magic she hates but has to master, returning lovey-dovey characters from previous book, mustache twirling bad guys, etc. The plot is the usual as well – ‘oh, I have a power, but I don’t know how to use it, so it’s lucky this uber handsome and perfect prince will help me! Oh noes, bad guys, I must learn to master my power and zap them or they will hurt my prince!” But even though we’ve read this before, Through the White Wood doesn’t hit any sour notes and at least has a more interested fantasy setting in old Russia.

So yes, an enjoyable if undemanding read with your usual energetic and moody heroine, cute and virtuous prince who dotes on her every breath, a cast of disposable side characters, and some super-evil villains (they capture villagers to enslave them!) that need to be triumphed over for the story to end. There are also some questions left open for more books future as well. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Star Collector by Sophie Schönhammer, Anna Backhausen

While the illustration work is decent in Star Collector, the storytelling feels not much better than a hastily written fan fiction. The pacing is very off, the story rushed, characterization unnatural and inconsistent, and it is a very hard story to get into as a result.

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Story: Fynn is a laid back guy who just wants to smoke, lay around, and skip class. When his girlfriend dumps him for not caring, he is at a loss of what to do now. When he goes to his favorite hang out spot on a hill to catch a smoke, he finds another guy there star gazing with a telescope. A little bullying to get this interloper out of his spot turns into the guys getting to know each other at school. Niko may be a nerd, but he is also completely subservient and willing to be bossed around by Fynn.

Honestly, I didn’t like either character. It didn’t help that they changed personalities constantly and reacted oddly and inappropriately to the pacing of the story. It felt like both were a sketch and the author never actually inhabited either of their skins to flesh out real people from the character outlines.

The story is odd, jumps around quite a bit, and often doesn’t make a lot of sense. There is no character development, except in weird and odd spurts that are jarring and unrealistic. Fynn is a complete jerk and loser and Niko is a doormat. Great for them but not very interesting for me to read.

Manga is truly an art form – a blend of storytelling and art that has been developed over decades into a well oiled machine in Japan/Asia. That hasn’t happened yet in the US and unfortunately, the result often ends up either with a good story but art that destroys it, or vice versa. In this case, the latter. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Technically, You Started it by Lana Wood Johnson

This hits all the check marks of a great Summer read: cute romance, very funny interactions, light and fluffy read, and two interesting main characters. The ‘gimmick’ here is that the story is told completely through text messages. I admit to being curious about how this would play out once they do get together – but the ending was great and smartly written.

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Story: When she is mistakenly texted by the obnoxious Martin Monroe, Haley is at first annoyed but then soon intrigued by his sense of humor. The Martin she knows through friends is pretty much an unlikable and stuck up playboy. But the Martin in the texts seems completely opposite: smart, self deprecating, and surprisingly honest. Little does Haley know that the boy she is texting isn’t the Martin she knows – it’s his cousin (“the burrito clown” who keeps showing up where she works at a gas station convenience store) with the same name (famous grandfather, natch). Can Martin find the courage to let her know the truth? And as for Haley, why does the amazing guy of text chats have to be such a jerk in real life?

The premise does get stretched a bit in that it should be pretty obvious from Martin’s texts that the guy she talks to in school occasionally is not the same guy on the phone. But it’s worth the suspension in disbelief as the two get to know each other and really respect each other’s very different home lives. Haley comes from a solidly middle class family of sci fi nerds while Martin bears the responsibility of a famous and wealthy grandfather and upper class upbringing. It’s amusing to hear his frustration as Haley thinks she hates his ‘cousin’ whom she doesn’t know but thinks she might like the ‘other’ Martin on the phone. It’s confusing to write here and somewhat confusing at times in the book, but it all works in terms of the plot. The two don’t have a lot in common but that is kind of what makes their relationship so interesting to see developed.

In all, I greatly enjoyed this read. I liked the characters, the plot, the mistaken identity and misunderstandings, and the fun humor as they poke at each other while still being intrigued. Just suspend your disbelief and go with it – it’ll be a fun ride. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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