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How to Fail at Flirting


How to Fail at Flirting

Newcomer Denise Williams debuts with HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING, a spectacularly rendered romance novel about a Type-A woman finding herself after a traumatizing breakup, while learning to accept and celebrate herself and her ability to love.

Naya Turner is a bit of an overachiever: she boasts a PhD, has published groundbreaking work on mathematics and education, and is now up for tenure at the university where she teaches. But it’s no secret that the institution that employs her is failing. Not only is she discouraged by bored and lazy students, her department’s funds have been dwindling and there are rumors that the university will be making cuts. Terrified at the thought of losing her career and office --- for which she has worked her entire life --- Naya turns to her friends for some cheering up...and gets a whole lot more.

For three years, Naya has not been herself. Following an explosive breakup, her light sense of humor and interest in fun have all but disappeared. Her friends Felicia and Aaron have noticed the change in her personality, and they have decided it is time for a change. Enter the checklist. Both lighthearted and direct, the checklist is created to help Naya shed her librarian clothes, let her hair down and re-enter the world of dating. She starts slow by letting a man buy her a drink at a bar, but little does she know that she picked the worst one-night-stand-worthy man available: Jake has major boyfriend potential. Agreeing to avoid the “personal stuff” and just have fun, Naya and Jake give in to the spontaneity of the moment and just be themselves.

"What makes HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING so successful is not only the swoony, steamy romance, but seeing how Naya learns to fall in love with herself and demand to be treated the way she deserves."

Following a night of incredible, witty banter (and some terrifically bad cheese puns), Naya and Jake seem set on the path to a real, true-love romance. But there are a few obstacles in their way, the least of which is Naya’s abrupt and vomit-fueled ending to their sexy evening. She is still reeling from the effects of her last relationship with Davis, a fellow professor who maintains strong and influential ties to her school’s new president. Davis was an outwardly charming feminist who often bragged about taking young women under his wing and helping them reach the levels of academia often barred to them. He was also an undermining, sarcastic and abusive boyfriend who threatened Naya’s entire career. Now that her department is facing the chopping block, she knows she must be on her best behavior, lest his ugly threats become reality. So when Naya finds out that Jake is a partner at the consulting firm that her university has hired to evaluate their budgets and employee performances, it spells big trouble for her reputation and her love life.

As Williams demonstrates, navigating the beginnings of any relationship can be tricky, but when your guard has been building itself stronger and stronger over three years, it is nearly impossible. Naya is very much the heroine of her own story, but Williams’ careful handling of trauma and defense mechanisms adds some complex layers to this already inspiring and well-developed character. When we first meet Naya, some of her more surface-level changes --- such as her baggy wardrobe and fear of being noticed --- can be easily tied to the abuse she faced at Davis’ hands, but Williams does not stop there. Employing a keen sense of emotional wisdom and a clear understanding of the psychology of abuse, she paints a full and heavily layered portrait of abuse, without ever putting Naya’s abuser in the spotlight. Emotional abuse can be hard to quantify, but without showing it to us in a voyeuristic way, she is able to perfectly tabulate its effects on Naya and her relationships.

As Naya’s romance with Jake develops, readers are treated to scenes that are as funny as they are emotional, as sexy as they are sensual. Jake is the perfect love interest: a “nice guy” but imperfect, sexy but believable. Once he starts to understand Naya’s romantic background, he changes course swiftly and easily, always stopping to ask “Is this okay?” and reminding Naya that she is beautiful, sexy and worth any wait.

What makes HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING so successful is not only the swoony, steamy romance, but seeing how Naya learns to fall in love with herself and demand to be treated the way she deserves. This is a cathartic, knockout hit that will remind readers everywhere that consent, autonomy and equality are some of the sexiest parts of any romance, and that gouda cheese puns are always useful in queso emergency.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on December 4, 2020

How to Fail at Flirting
by Denise Williams

  • Publication Date: December 1, 2020
  • Genres: Comedy, Fiction, Humor, Romance
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0593101901
  • ISBN-13: 9780593101902