Book Review

Response by Penny Jordan

D-

Title: Response
Author: Penny Jordan
Publication Info: Dark Horse 2005
ISBN: 1593074115
Genre: Contemporary Romance

This book has it all. And by “has it all,” I mean “Oh god it’s so very, very, very wrong and so very, very, very bad.”

(By the way, if spoilers bother you and you’re planning to read this book, don’t read this review. I don’t recommend that you read this book, either, but hey, to each her own, even when her own is appallingly bad.)

So, let’s look at a list of the cheeseball Harlequin Romance cliches we know and love so well, and see how well Response covers these, shall we?

Is the hero a Greek tycoon type? Check.

Squicky boss-secretary relationship? Check.

Totally iffy secret marriage scenario? Check.

Super-extra-iffy revenge plot? Check check.

Big misunderstanding? OH GOD CHECK.

Motherfuckin’ AMNESIA? CHECK CHECK CHECK CHECK CHECK CHECK.

Really, do I need to say more? Are you guys truly such suckers for punishment?

What am I saying? I’m addressing the people who check our website faithfully on Mondays to see our cover snarkage. Of course you’re freakin’ masochists. In which case: read on, little pilgrim, read on.

Sienna, Virgin Extraordinaire and Ingenue-at-Large, is working for a temp agency in London as a freelance secretary when she’s assigned to an OMGHUNK of a Greek billionaire, Alex Stefanides. The usual chestnuts apply: she sees him and the world stands still; his hand brushes against hers casually, and she feels as if he’s just given her a tonguebath naked, ad nauseam. But she’s but a mere secretary. There’s no way Alex could be interested in her, right?

But to her surprise, Alex does display an untoward interest in her, and in no time flat succeeds in teaching her how to play Hide the Schmeckie.

Then, just when he has the tender young miss in his grasp, OMG HUGE REVELATION TIME: apparently Sienna’s older brother had done Alex’s sister wrong at some point in the past, and the shaggenating and the seducerating was all a big old revenge ploy.

To Jordan’s credit, this bit of silliness is resolved soon enough, as Alex finds out through his sister that he’s full of shit. I perked up a little, but alas, my hopes were dashed most cruelly—almost as cruelly as little Sienna’s head against the fender of a car.

Oh yes. During an overwrought conversation with Alex, Sienna runs outside, right into the rain and the bumper of a London taxicab and loses her memory. At this point, it would’ve been kinder to us readers and a whole lot more interesting overall if she’d just been killed outright and then have Alex embark on a hot homosexual affair with Sienna’s brother (COCK PARTY AHOY!), but no such luck. Instead, Alex marries Sienna in a fit of remorse, even though she can’t remember who she is, though she seems to remember she likes the cock well enough.

Yes, mouseketeers, you read right. This isn’t just a revenge ploy book. It’s a revenge ploy book with an amnesiac bride. What an awesome surprise. It’s like going to the free clinic to get your chlamydia treated, only to find out you have tertiary-stage syphilis. (Retrograde amnesia plots: It’s the tertiary syphilis of romance novels! Authors please take note.)

What will happen to our intrepid young lovers? Will Sienna regain her memory? Will the truth behind the circumstances of her marriage ever be revealed? Will any of this be explained with any semblance of believability? Will Sienna realize that a dickhead who would seduce and dump a girl solely to avenge an imagined wrong and then marry said girl without her consent is probably in-fucking-sane and she should run away as fast as her wee amnesiac feet will allow her to? Will the Chicago Cubs ever win the World Series again?

The only thing that saved this book from an F was the novelty of the format. This book is one of the Harlequin Ginger Blossom series of manga comics published in conjunction with Dark Horse. The artwork is pretty, and the purple ink provided the whole enterprise with just enough kitsch value so I ended up laughing incredulously instead of chucking the book against the wall, and really, throwing things is NOT a solution, because what if I’d accidentally hit one of my cats? Then I’d have a pissed-off cat AND a shitty book that’s no less shitty for having hit the wall. It is kind of bizarre to come across manga conventions like the little sweat-drops of consternation and the chibi eyes in the context of a Harlequin romance, but overall, the incongruity distracted from the awfulness of the book.

Oh, I was also disappointed that the sex scenes were very, very discreetly rendered. I’ve read a few Penny Jordan novels in my time, and they’re usually pretty spicy. Does my disappointment make me a perv? (Like I don’t know the answer to that without asking the question, ha!)

I honestly can’t imagine why anyone would read this book, because it’s neither fish nor fowl nor meat—though tofurkey might serve as an apt comparison. Diehard Penny Jordan fans would probably enjoy the full-length novel better, and manga fans who’ve never made forays into Harlequin novels would probably be puzzled or bored by the soap opera lite feeling of this book. If Dark Horse started translating books that were actually GOOD into this format, like some of the old Anne Stuart category romances, or even something by Vicki Lewis Thompson, this line would have the potential to be a lot of fun. As it is, I can only parrot what I said earlier: Bleurgh!

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Robin says:

    I love the word “untoward”—it even *sounds* uncomfortably inappropriate.

  2. 2
    Maili says:

    WTF? I read this book *years* ago. I can’t be more than fourteen at the time, which it was written … *thinking* … twenty years ago? Why on earth did they choose THIS title? Did they offer an [preferably, rational] explanation?

  3. 3
    dl says:

    I could be wrong here, but hasn’t Penny Jordan been writing for Harlequin for 30 years? I usually avoid romance books from authors that have been writing this long, they tend to be…tired and cookie cutter.  Only for SB would I date myself like this.

  4. 4
    Candy says:

    I have no idea why, out of all the good—or even just plain readable—Harlequin novels out there, they chose this one to be converted into the new format. Maybe it was a sort of immersion tactic? “If manga fans can tolerate a boss-secretary relationship, a revenge plot, big misunderstandings AND an amnesia plot, they’re going to eat the rest of this shit up with a spoon!”

    And yes, Penny Jordan has been writing for Harlequin forEVER. I have no idea if she’s been writing for it for 30 years, but she’s definitely been writing for it for at least 25, because I remember coming across books of hers from the early 80s.

  5. 5
    sleeky says:

    Oh man, that makes me feel so nostalgic! It’s just like the creepy Harlequins I read when I was 12. Ah, the crap old days…

  6. 6
    Arethusa says:

    Better you than me, is about all I can say about that book. Wow, Penny Jordan, brings back memories.

  7. 7
    Tonda says:

    I’m still stunned by the mere idea of manga romance . . . who thought this up? Does someone out there honestly believe that there was a crying need for Greek tycoon/amnesiac bride manga? Who the fuck do they think the target audience for this is? I can vaguely see a manga version of some of the paranormal romances out there, but as the only people on earth who would read “manga romance” also happen to be teenaged juku girls, the odds of them reading Response is pretty much ZERO.

    Now I must explore this . . .

  8. 8
    jmc says:

    I thought the manga-romance marketing was a good idea for Harlequin, with all of the reports of the aging of their market and inroads on their market by other publishers.  All of the pre-teen and teens I know (not a huge list) consume manga voraciously.  Put a romance novel in a format they’ll read, and hook a romance reader for life?  Maybe it’ll work. 

    I was entertained by the idea of pink and purple covers, and by the “suitable for ages 12+” on the cover.  Age “ratings” for books now?  But oh. my. god.  I read one (Holding Alex by Margaret Way).  After gagging on the cliches and the treacly-sweet ending, I marched back to the bookstore and demanded my money back.  But the store doesn’t accept returns for manga – because it is so easily and quickly read and the return policy had been abused by unnamed buyers, resulting in a store policy.  I was not a happy camper.  I didn’t want to return it because I wanted to cheat them, I wanted to return it because it was crap.  I’d’ve been happy with store credit to spend on a non-crappy book, or even just a less heinous one.  Whatever.  But I digress.  Back to the romance-manga:  the story was at least 20 years old, creepy and crappy and sexist (the hero is pissed because the heroine leaves the ranch to go be a ballerina; in the end, she gives up a promising career for lurve).  If I was a teen reading that crap, I’d write off romance forever.

  9. 9

    >>even though she can’t remember who she is, though she seems to remember she likes the cock well enough.< <

    PAH-hahahahah! I am TOTALLY going to use that in a book proposal someday. Hot DAMN, that was funny.

    Okay, I admit I don’t know much about magna or japanese graphic art in general, but wouldn’t this idea be much better if it was that totally pervy x-rated anime stuff? I’d so read an early Thea Devine magna book. :cheese: Oh, yeah.

  10. 10
    Barbarienne says:

    Is it demented of me that I prefer when you guys hate a book? Do I like snark too much?

    I enjoy a review that contains the phrase “cock party ahoy!”

  11. 11
    celeste says:

    What’s hard for me to believe is that someone at Dark Horse didn’t take one look at that 1984 copyright date and say, “WTF? Don’t you have something newer?”

  12. 12
    SamG says:

    What is manga? 

    Sam…forever not hip/out of it…

  13. 13
    Lisa says:

    I’d have a pissed-off cat AND a shitty book that’s no less shitty for having hit the wall.

    Likely your cat would have gotten amnesia from the book hitting its head.

    Good gods, I have nostalgia now for the older Harl. Presents that I cut me teeth on in bagfuls!

  14. 14
    Keziah Hill says:

    It’s a revenge ploy book with an amnesiac bride. What an awesome surprise. It’s like going to the free clinic to get your chlamydia treated, only to find out you have tertiary-stage syphilis.
    I would have appreciated a beverage alert here (she says wiping keyboard).
    How appropriate! The word key is medical 84

  15. 15

    What?  No secret baby?

  16. 16
    celeste says:

    Darlene said: What?  No secret baby?

    LOL! I think that trend really started to heat up in the 1990’s, but I could be wrong.

    The hero who hatches an “I’ll fuck her as revenge” plot is damn near impossible to redeem, IMO. I seem to recall more than one PJ book that features a hero like that, and I just don’t get the appeal. It’s psycho, to me.

  17. 17
    Bron says:

    Not sure why, but I went to the amazon page to look at the cover in a larger graphic. Read the page, saw the links to some other books in the manga/Harlequin line.

    Betty Neels. In manga. I really, really cannot get my head around that.

    My brain keeps sending back an error message.

    Not to mention my amazement at Harlequin’s choices for this line. The Neels I looked at was copyright 1993, but I was reading Neels when I was a kid, back in the

    70s. Are they aiming for a market of sweet Japanese girls? Because my (not necessarily right-in-touch) impression of the manga market here in Oz, and presumably similar in the US, was that it gravitates across from the not-so-sweet market for comics, anime and computer games.

    Somehow I picture the major market for Neels as having more gray hair than that.

  18. 18
    Ang says:

    Honestly, this kind of thing is par for the course in some very bad shoujo manga (ie. manga aimed at girls). Believe me, shoujo manga readers have read worse.

    I’m not much of a romance reader outside of reading shoujo (although SB has gotten me into some more traditional romance writing), but I kind of like the idea of Western romances put in the manga style. I might want to check this line out sometime, even if this story doesn’t sound all that great to me.

  19. 19
    Victoria Dahl says:

    >>I’d so read an early Thea Devine magna book. < <

    Or “manga”. Goddamn it.

    And my word is “perform59” which should clearly be “perform69”. Duh.

  20. 20

    She remembers she likes the cock, but nothing else.

    What if she forgot that too, and started batting for the other team? Then she could “get her memory back” after she has a major orgasm with her new girlfriend and have a major “Wah, I’m so confused and TSTL” moment.

  21. 21
    Candy says:

    Sam: Manga is basically a Japanese comic form. The artwork has a very distinct look to it—this Wikipedia article provides a pretty neat overview of the style.

    Ang: I weep, oh how I weep at how awful bad shoujo manga must be. See, the manga I’ve read didn’t cover shoujo—I’ve read some Cowboy Bebop and briefly dabbled in Lone Wolf and Cub.

    Bron: The next book I’m reviewing is the Betty Neels manga. Hee!

    Victoria: I’d SO READ some dirty pervy manga based on old-sk00l erotic romances, too. Older Susan Johnson historicals might actually be a lot more fun in manga form than as books, because I enjoyed the sexy bits but didn’t really enjoy her writing style too much.

    Lisa: God, if my cat got amnesia from being hit on the head with a flying book, does that mean I’d have to marry him to another cat in a secret ceremony?

    Barbarienne: I like writing the evil, snarky reviews better, so I’m going to a hotter circle in hell than you. I do consider it just compensation for having to sit through a crappy book, however.

    Mistress Stef: Hot lesbian action could only have improved this book. But hot lesbian action could probably improve a lot of things. *chika-bow*

    Celeste: Beats me why they chose the book they did. I’m also puzzled at the whole “fuck-em-and-leave-em” revenge strategy, and why the heroines don’t slap the men with restraining orders after finding out. But then romance novel heroines aren’t exactly known for being brainy, bless their hearts.

    Darlene: Celeste is right, secret babies didn’t start becoming popular until the early 90s, but I also notice American authors using that a lot more often than British/Australian authors. I have a theory involving the way the rancorous reproductive freedom debate in this country has shaped the discourse on birth control and abortion in fiction, especially in romance novels, but that’s perhaps material for another rant.

  22. 22
    Maili says:

    […] the Betty Neels manga […]

    *…*

    This is the end of the world as we know it and I certainly don’t feel fine. Please tell me you two are jesting? Please?

  23. 23
    Candy says:

    Maili, dahlink, you know I’d never lie to you.

    Behold, the next book I’m reviewing!

  24. 24
    Sara Brophy says:

    WTF? what the hell were they thinking. I mean I like manga well enough and love romance, but at no point did I think they should get into bed together and produce deformed rabbits. Just good friends would have been safer for the whole world I think.

    And Penny Jordan?? what where they thinking? I found her disturbing and sexist at 16 when I had no idea. Now it doesn’t even bare thinking about. i mean her hero’s make neanerthals look evolved!!

    really, It’s things like this that ruin my faith in human intelligence.

  25. 25
    Darla says:

    It was probably cheaper to use older books.  Besides, all romances are the same—didn’t you know? 

    [tongue firmly in cheek, in case it wasn’t obvious]

    Very cool idea, poorly executed.  *sigh*

  26. 26

    I think that if you’re going to break into a medium (like Manga) you need to respect it.

    We have a line of Yaoi/Shounen-ai novels. When one of my people came to me with the suggestion, the first thing I did was research the medium, and learn the difference between regular m/m and Yaoi. We signed an anime artist to draw the cover art, even.

    This trend of “Let’s come up with our own line of anime-style stuff and attempt to cash in on a market without showing the slightest bit of respect for it” is a tad disturbing.

    I took a beating on the forums until I made it clear I was doing things the right way. This is not a market that forgives.

    Just my opinion.

  27. 27

    Not the smartest idea.  At least Candy Candy was cute and entirely Japanese.

    School Library Journal reviewer said:

    Romance novels and manga may at first seem incongruous, but there are actually many similarities. Scarcely believable plots, star-crossed lovers, sweet-natured heroines, and distant heroes are found frequently in both.

    I think it’s disturbing that Harlequin is releasing its old stories.  They’re so dated.

    Harlequin should hire CLAMP to write an original manga romance!  (Or get their writers to create something like X – 1999 which is fantastically dark, urban fantasy-like, bloody, and just kicks ass.)

  28. 28
    Keziah Hill says:

    What if she forgot that too, and started batting for the other team? Then she could “get her memory back” after she has a major orgasm with her new girlfriend and have a major “Wah, I’m so confused and TSTL” moment.
    Yes, yes, yes! Please write it!

  29. 29
    Rinda says:

    There are so many hungry, good writers out there who would be all over writing manga romances… why redo the old ones? 

    But, I have to say, the melodrama of these old stories does fit in with some of the manga lines I’ve read. :)

  30. 30
    Shannon says:

    I’ve seen Betty Neals manga at Borders, and I thought…why?  Why not Bombshell manga or Nocturne manga or even SIM manga.

    But no…

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