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Cover - Take Hold of TomorrowTake Hold of Tomorrow is one of those generic romance titles that tells you nothing about the book, and the cover does not give much away either. This is a 1984 Harlequin, which I approached with some caution, after a bad experience with another from the same year and line, Savage Pagan. Fortunately, this was a more pleasant read, though with some weirdness, both good and bad.

The author is Daphne Clair. Her full name is Daphne Clair de Jong, and she has published under Daphne Clair, Daphne de Jong, Laurey Bright, Clair Lorel, and Clarissa Garland. Clair is a prolific author, with more than 75 titles. She was a founder of the New Zealand branch of Feminists for Life, which began as an anti-abortion feminist group, but she left it as it drifted into social conservatism and became anti-feminist.

Stella Rawson runs her late husband’s computer company. Since he died two years ago, she’s proven herself a competent business leader, despite the sexism of the era, which is observed in the book, though not with the more critical perspective we have now. She was helped and defended by Owen, a senior employee who she considers a very good friend. One of her enemies in the company is Gavin, a salesperson she keeps on staff because he is good at his job, though terribly sexist. Presumably in the 1980s there was no need to sell computers to women.

Over the objections of some of her older, male, staff, she hires Russ as a Project Manager. Russ is good-looking, and at twenty-five, four years younger than her, but he’s ambitious, capable, and has experience with the farm management software her company is developing. Owen and Gavin both assume her interest is more than professional, and decide she is looking for a mate. Both move in.

Stella considers Owen a good friend, but has no interest in dating him. He chooses awful ties, and knots them badly. However, rather than let him know she is not interested, their relationship shifts from friendship to occasional awkward dates. Gavin tells her she needs a real man, and kisses her against her will, in her office. She doesn’t promptly fire him, and later jokes about the incident with her secretary. I wanted Stella to be stronger here, but women still endure awkward dates and tolerate unwanted kisses.

Russ may have been hired for his professional skills, but she is attracted to him, and he to her. An overnight trip to a potential client’s farm lets them spend a lot of time together, and Russ is soon forcing kisses on her too, but this time she sort of enjoys them. From here their relationship progresses through various stages of more and less intimacy, as Stella tries to decide whether dating Russ is a good or a bad idea, or whether it should be long-term or a fling. Meanwhile, Owen and Gavin both suggest Russ is just after her money, which raises more doubts in Stella’s mind, although she is aware they are jealous. Russ’s youth is another source of doubt, but it’s only four years, and, particularly after Puppy Love, seems inconsequential.

For all its observed and sometimes tolerated sexism, the story does a good job of capturing the shifting nature and complexities of developing intimate relationships, especially when there are complications such as former relationships and working together. The story also raises the possibility that men and women can be close friends. The last scene with Owen is not a goodbye, but an acknowledgement of the powerful feelings that can exist between friends, even if it is awkward at times.

One of the obstacles to the relationship, and a source of sexual tension, is Russ’s apparent lack of interest in “going all the way.” The eventual explanation is that he is a virgin, and saving himself for marriage. Although that sounds charmingly old-fashioned, in the 1980s I knew a couple of men in their twenties who were proud of their virginity, so it’s a realistic character trait. It’s also delightful to have a hero who does not have a long string of lovers before deciding to settle down. Even better, one of Stella and Russ’s earlier make out sessions is disrupted by his, um, over-enthusiastic response. Though not exactly the clumsy bed scene I keep hoping to see (and plan to write), it’s a refreshing change from the hero being a fantastic lover.

Romances tend to age well – love never changes – but this one is dated by the references to computers. The writer has added various details on what computers do, and how they work, circa mid-1980s, which at the time might have been fascinating material. There’s even reference to the future, where hooking your computer up to other computers might allow buying and selling farm animals online.  Now, of course, the information about computers is filler, though it’s amusing to read, at least for old folks like myself, who remember life before PCs. Maybe that’s what the title refers to – the coming of computers?

As 1980s Harlequins go, a good read. It addresses sexism, with a surprising amount of role-reversal. Maybe that’s what the title refers to? I suspect the mix of sexist elements and criticism of sexism is the author attempting to be progressive within the expectations of the genre at the time. The plot simmers with common challenges of dating, and other ordinary events. The ending satisfactorily resolves the questions of the woman’s career post-marriage, and the challenges of workplace romance. Though not always a strong character, by modern terms, Stella demonstrates that a woman can have it all, on her terms. Some would say that’s just as fantastical as the happy romantic endings, but I say books show us what is possible, and what we can strive for.

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