Book Review

His for the Taking by Julie Cohen

B+

Title: His For the Taking
Author: Julie Cohen
Publication Info: Harlequin February 12, 2008
ISBN: 0373820690
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Dear Harlequin USA:

Without question, my biggest gripe with this book is the way in which you are choosing to market it. The UK title is better. Way better. Better like it was kidnapped by hot Vikings and rowed swiftly across the frozen seas to Betterland and crowned queen of all of greater Betterlandia. In the UK this book was titled Driving Him Wild. In the US?

His For The Taking

For God’s sake, people. I can’t even tell you how dismayed I am that this marvelous book is going to be dressed up in the washed out faded tripe that is that title. What a damn fucking shame.  “His for the Taking?” I’d like to be taking that title back to 1982 where it belongs. Do I have to move to the UK? I’d have a hell of a time getting a work permit, let alone a visa to live there. I’m doomed to endure these sexist drivel titles slapped onto books that ought to garner MUCH more attention! And wow, does it piss me off.

The tawdry, insulting craptastic shitcake that is the title of this book offends me as an American. What is with the shitalicious retitling for the American audience? Can you please explain?


And while I’m ranting, take a look at the covers for the UK and US versions of this novel:


image

UK Version: Hot, slightly awkward, but genuine-looking embrace with lithe heroine and normally-proportioned hero? Awesome, with side order of HAWT.

image

US Version: Instead of “awesome, side order of Hawt,” the waiter has apparently delivered a steaming fresh pile of what-the-fuck. The heroine is a cab driver. She teaches step aerobics, and is described by the hero as being lean, muscular, toned and tomboyish. With short blonde hair, I might add. That right there? Soft focus vanilla yogurt retread of any image you might find on a Presents novel from 2008 to 1998. (Although the female pictured does have very red manhands and an absolutely freaking HUGE thumb like WHOA.)

And this book is not a soft-focus sudsy romance. It’s gritty and real and marvelous and holy crap am I irritated that this lovely story is going to be packaged in chiffon when it ought to be at least dressed in leather if not denim.

Zoe Drake is a New York City cab driver. She arrives at her great-aunt’s apartment to fetch some items for said great-aunt’s funeral and finds Nick Giroux, a park ranger and hot nature man, camped out in the hallway waiting for Ms. Drake. Nick is looking for his father, who abandoned his family when Nick was a little boy. Zoe is looking for the black Vuitton shoes her great-aunt specified in her funeral plan. Nick last heard from his father in a note mailed a few days prior with the return address of Xenia Drake’s Manhattan apartment, and he’s sure that his father is there, or was recently enough that he might come back. Zoe doesn’t know what the hell Nick is talking about, but against her better judgment, she lets him stay in Xenia’s apartment with her. He’s hot, he rescues wounded pigeons, and he’s kind, dedicated, and also, hot. Also, Zoe can take care of herself admirably, and has both sharp judgment of people and the ability to kick literal ass. So if he tries anything funny, she can mess him up like whoa and like damn.

Ultimately, this novel is about finding your family, or discovering who your family really is, and what unconditional love really means. Zoe has to overcome her own feelings of hurt and isolation, brought about by her family’s habit of judging her against the perfection of her sisters and finding Zoe substantially lacking. Nick has to overcome his abandonment issues, and both Zoe and Nick have to take sizable personal risks to be together, changing a little bit of themselves in the process, though that little bit is enough to alarm each of them plenty. And really, honest to crapping damn shitcakes, this book takes on a whole list of major issues, and uses them to layer the characterization to the point where only a handful of pages in, I had a better grasp of Zoe and Nick than I have of other characters in other romances after a few hundred pages of superficial description. Zoe and Nick are original, flawed, but honest and noble people who have real and enduring pain in their lives, and the issues they face in order to seize their happy ending are not contrived or shallow. My only disappointment with the book was that I wished some of the familial issues weren’t all resolved off-screen, but even then, the issues of family are never resolved neatly with a bow and a perfectly-folded seam of wrapping paper.

The conflict between and surrounding Nick and Zoe – and there are several little ones that combine into one big mess – is compounded by the fact that both characters are also grieving. Zoe has just lost her great-aunt, who she felt was the only family member who understood and appreciated her. Nick is still grieving the loss of his father and of his own childhood. Because each character helps the other heal as well as grow, their happy ending is fiercely earned, particularly because Nick is used to being a loner, and Zoe guards her autonomy deliberately and without compunction.

Cohen is a strong and marvelous storyteller in a panoply of ways. The layered characters and genuine emotions and reactions of the characters are just part of the collective awesome,. Cohen is particularly strong at showing, not telling, and uses that skill to her hero’s advantage. For example, at one point, Nick ponders the fact that he’s attracted to Zoe, despite the fact that she’s pretty buff, because until Zoe came along, Nick had only been attracted to frail, delicate women who needed his care. Zoe didn’t need his care, though she welcomed his attention. And when, later in the book, Nick figures out why he’d been attracted to delicate women, his attraction to Zoe becomes that much more telling, and, in both Nick’s and the reader’s understanding, much more significant.

So let me get back to how short the US title sells this book. I could think of any number of better options, even options that include the ever-present hook words. Heck, Cohen’s working title, which I heard was “I Left My Clothes In the Bronx,” is a hoot. The UK title and cover image are sharp – she’s a cab driver, so she literally does “drive him wild,” and those cover models look like real people. But “his for the taking?” It literally makes me sad that a ferociously independent, funny, sharp and charming character like Zoe is being sold behind a title that speaks of passivity, sexual submission, and inertia. Zoe is in the driver’s seat of her life, even after Nick lands in the middle of it, and the idea that she’s in one place long enough for anyone to take her is insulting to her character. So ignore the title, and enjoy the book.

And if anyone has the ear of the title-bestowing folks at Harlequin, tell them I’d really like a word with them. Three words, actually. And the third one is “fuck.”

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Meriam says:

    Well, the UK cover model is painfully thin and the guy is a little … hirsute, but I do take your point, Sarah. I’m in the UK and I’ve noticed that our covers (by and large: the exception for me is the Black Dagger Brotherhood series) are better. Combined with what they’re doing to the titles… I don’t know. There are some rather unflattering conclusions that could be drawn, which I’m trying to avoid because I don’t think they’re right or fair.

    I know covers are a hot topic, and we’ve been over this before, but I guess I want to say that I take your point and I find it kind of sad too.

    Onto the book: I’ve been reading a couple of Presents recently and really not liking the old-school feel to them. But I think authors like Julie Cohen, Natalie Anderson etc are bringing a younger, slightly more contemporary tone to the line and it certainly appeals to me.

  2. 2
    Eliza says:

    You’ve convinced me to actually buy a Presents—I don’t think I’ve done that since I was a teenager.

  3. 3
    Erin says:

    I 100% agree with you about the titles, Sarah. I especially “love” the US cover with the window and the rolling green hills and fields that extend beyond the luxuriously made bed.

    If the book takes place in Manhattan in the great aunt’s apartment…well…yeah. No rolling green hills. You couldn’t even lie and pretend it’s central park. Because it’s not.

    So red man-hands + humungoid thumb + World’s Most Likely to be Mugged Cab Driver + strange bizarro world Manhattan = horrible cover.

  4. 4

    I’ve been reading a couple of Presents recently and really not liking the old-school feel to them. But I think authors like Julie Cohen, Natalie Anderson etc are bringing a younger, slightly more contemporary tone to the line and it certainly appeals to me.

    But Meriam, this isn’t from the Presents line. The M&B Modern Heat/Harlequin Presents Collections novels are a separate line which is being sold in a strange way so that at times the books seem to be disguised as M&B Moderns/Harlequin Presents even though they aren’t.

    I’m not sure what the marketing strategy is behind that. The guidelines for the line are here.

  5. 5
    Meriam says:

    But Meriam, this isn’t from the Presents line. The M&B Modern Heat/Harlequin Presents Collections novels are a separate line which is being sold in a strange way so that at times the books seem to be disguised as M&B Moderns/Harlequin Presents even though they aren’t.

    Yeah, I know in the UK authors like Cohen and Anderson (and Napier?) etc have a separate (but difficult to tell apart) line… but aren’t they being sold as Presents in the US? It’s confusing.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    Well, the UK cover model is painfully thin and the guy is a little … hirsute, but I do take your point, Sarah.

    That’s what I like about it. I know very thin women and I know hairy dudes, and it’s so shockingly refreshing to see real-looking people on the cover. I could totally see those two making out in Central Park. In fact, it’s a nice day – if it weren’t so stalker-y I’d go take pictures of some right now, just for comparison’s sake. There are, to quote “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” some fuuunky lookin’ people in New York, and I loved loved lurrrrved seeing that represented on a book that takes place partially in Manhattan.

    Also? Cohen gets the geography dead on, including how long it would take to get from point A to point B while driving down Broadway from the upper west side. Big big ups for that.

  7. 7
    Donna says:

    Yeah, but look at the arms on the UK guy!!  That’s a lot of hair.  And frankly, they look like two teenagers necking.  Never a pretty sight.

    I get your point about the US chick’s hands, though!  Whoa!!  Freaky.

  8. 8

    Interesting analysis, as usual.  I confess, I don’t read a great deal of category romance. Thanks for tipping me off to a writer I’ll want to check out!

  9. 9
    rebyj says:

    The US version’s dude has biceps way out of proportion than the rest of his body, like implants OR he is a lefty and was alone for many years before he “took” her.

    The UK cover seems a little YA reminisent of “Sweet Valley High” type books but it is colorful and I think his hairy arms are sexy, shows he has TESTOSTERONE and doesn’t spend half his paycheck for waxes.

    The synopsis sounds interesting enough to read. I rarely buy harlequins new because I’ll read one in 30 -45 minutes and it doesn’t seem worth the retail price , I get them at the UBS for 90 cents. Yes, I am a cheapass.

  10. 10
    Tina says:

    I haven’t bought a category romance in over 20 years and I wouldn’t even give this book with this cover and this title a second look until I read your review.  Now I’m definately going to be on the look out for it.

    One other thing about the cover, I notice that the UK version is done in primary colors and sharply-defined lines and the US version is all pastel and soft focus.  Is that because in the UK it’s marketed under the Modern Romance Extra line while the it’s marketed under Harlequin Presents/Nights of Passion line here?  That is, is it a function of the visual shorthand that the publishers use to identify its various lines or is it just another layer of chiffon from the US publisher’s marketing department?

  11. 11

    but aren’t they being sold as Presents in the US? It’s confusing.

    In the US I think they’re being sold as “Presents Collections.” And yes, it’s really confusing because (a) they’re not collections of previous HP novels, and (b) they’re often re-titled to give them a more HP-type title.

  12. 12
    Vienna Mars says:

    I dunno. The US cover is clearly a generic throwaway. However, the UK cover looks like another case of the junior designer stealing people’s Flickr photos.

    Plus I don’t see any short, blond hair here either, only long dark hair. And that’s just the forearms.

  13. 13
    Mala says:

    The guy on the U.S. cover looks like Brad the Cad Carlton from The Young and the Restless. Guess Zoe drove her cab all the way to Genoa City, Wisc.!

    And I haven’t read a category romance in a few years and am seriously tempted to pick this one up, even if the heinous cover will make me weep with shame.

  14. 14
    RfP says:

    I’m not wild about the UK cover, but the US one reeks.

    another case of the junior designer stealing people’s Flickr photos.

    Except that the Flickr photo was apparently licensed for commercial use.  Sounds like the photographer didn’t read the user’s agreement.

  15. 15

    I love the UK cover. Reminds me of people I might actually know, with haircuts they might actually have, body porportions they might actually attain, body hair they might actually NOT wax, in an awkward, passionate embrace you might actually see on any city street.

    OK, you get my picture.

    The US version might as well be titled, “My Boss’s Secret Baby” for all it tells me about the book.

    (sad face)

  16. 16
    Alexandra says:

    The man on the US cover looks like he has some tits of his own

  17. 17
    Jill A says:

    Wow, your review makes the book sound really interesting and I might buy it, but if I had just glanced at the book in a store, I would never pick it up.  I dislike submissive heroines, and the title would totally put me off. It’s set in NYC? By the cover I’d guess some ranch in the country.

  18. 18
    Bailey says:

    Rebyj, you killed me with this:
    The US version’s dude has biceps way out of proportion than the rest of his body, like implants OR he is a lefty and was alone for many years before he “took” her.

    I am snorting with laughter over here. It’s elegant, classy, and y’all oh, so kill me.

    Maybe the red hands are symbolic of her hard-working life… Don’t know.

    Bailey

  19. 19
    Jennifer says:

    I would never buy a book with a title like this, or even glance at it more than once because I would start gagging. It smacks of “billionaire scoops up his 25-year-old virgin secretary.” BARF.

    What were they THINKING?! Honestly, how is any half-brained reader supposed to find the good ones in the Harlequin Pile o’ Tacky when they get names like this?!

    Glad to hear it doesn’t suck the way its title does.

  20. 20
    Gemma says:

    M&B and Harlequin routinely reuse their own and each other’s cover art, at least in the Historical line (so presumably in other lines too). Sometimes the cover image is pretty unrelated to the book.

  21. 21
    Emma says:

    Better like it was kidnapped by hot Vikings and rowed swiftly across the frozen seas to Betterland and crowned queen of all of greater Betterlandia.

    This tickled me to no end. Le sigh. A good laugh is always a great thing.

    I’m sold. I want to read it too but you know what, I don’t know if I would have picked it up seeing the US cover.

    Not that I have anything against Presents books. I love them but the US cover didnt do much for me.

    Then again the heron on the UK cover looked like he was half werewolf. *shrugs*

  22. 22
    Emma says:

    *There isn’t a heron on the UK cover. I meant hero. (slinks away)

  23. 23
    TracyS says:

    “That’s what I like about it. I know very thin women and I know hairy dudes, and it’s so shockingly refreshing to see real-looking people on the cover.”

    and

    “and I think his hairy arms are sexy, shows he has TESTOSTERONE and doesn’t spend half his paycheck for waxes.”

    AMEN!!  I was going to say that my hubby’s arms look like that (except his hair is blonde, but still, there is a lot of it!) It’s refreshing to see a man that actually looks like a person I actually know LOL.  I know there are guys out there that are not hairy (no chest hair etc My mom’s whole side of the family is like that), but are ALL guys like that? Because according to romance covers no men have chest hair, arm hair, or leg hair??!!

    I’m partial to guys with a little hair on them, and it’s nice to see it on a romance cover once in awhile! *wink*

  24. 24
    Castiron says:

    Emma, now I want to read the book about the wereheron….

    And count me as another “would read based on Sarah’s review, but would never pick up in store (or even library) based on the title alone”.

  25. 25
    akeeyu says:

    If I were browsing a book store, I would probably pick up a book with the UK title while snorting derisively at the US title.

  26. 26
    Chicklet says:

    Agreed that the US title sucks soft-focus cotton balls. I’m so tired of Harlequin treating us like we’re idiots and giving us these passive-heroine titles and covers. Cinderella is a fairy tale, not a biography.

    And I second the motion that the models on the UK cover actually look like real people—I like that cover much better for that very reason. If the exchange rate weren’t so scary, I’d totally buy this book from amazon.co.uk. As it is, I’ll skip it entirely because I don’t want Harlequin thinking I put up with this crap.

  27. 27
    Sandy D. says:

    The US cover with the thumbs? Clearly Sissy Hankshaw has escaped from Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Better call Thursday Next. :-)

  28. 28
    Emma says:

    Castiron- Just for you my next shifter book is going to be about a flock of wereheron. LOL! Okay, so maybe not exactly a flock and maybe not exactly wereheron. How about dragons? Dragons are close to heron aren’t they? They both have wings, they both fly…Okay, I got nothing. *slinks away*

  29. 29
    wandasue says:

    Thing is … will I remember it well enough to buy it when I see it at WalMart?  One “Presents” cover is just like the other … and like the other, and like the other.  OK, maybe it’ll be conspicuous by its lack of “greek” or “italian” or “secretary” or “boss” or “secret” or “baby” or “billionaire” in the title.

  30. 30

    AAAND another vote for the UK cover over the US cover.

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