How To Fail At Flirting by Denise Williams

Monday, November 30, 2020



by Denise Williams
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Adult
Publisher: Berkley Publishing
Publication Date: December 1st 2020
Source: ARC received for review
Star Quotient: ★★★★
Kiss Factor: ✷✷✷✷

With its promise of sexy lists, How to Fail At Flirting was one of my most anticipated romance novels of the year. I went in expecting a fun, steamy, and somewhat fluffy story, but came out with a poignant book that deftly explores the challenges of academia and the aftermath of abuse in relationships. 

How to Fail at Flirting opened up with Dr. Naya Turner at a roadblock in both her love life and her career. Her department at the university where she worked was on the verge of being potentially defunded, which meant that she could lose aspects of her job and a career that she loved. On top of that, the demands of her job have left her love life looking a little sad. An abusive ex has also led to her tightly guarding her heart and focusing all of her time and attention on her research and her career. Naya needed some loving of the romantic nature, so when her friends (who are really really awesome, BTW) encouraged her to have a one-night stand, she took the leap, which provided the perfect opportunity to meet Jake, her love interest. 

Man, I loved Naya's story of growth in this book. She was an impressive woman at the beginning of the book, but she developed even further as a character as she went on this journey of self-love. Her abusive ex had left her self-esteem at a very low point, so she had a lot of healing to do. Denise Williams took care of Naya's character compassionately and realistically. Your heart will ache for Naya, but ultimately you will truly root for her happiness and feel like a proud mama/papa bear at how she was able to rebuild the self-confidence that her dirtbag of an ex spent a long time wrecking. Though a big part of her character, Naya's abuse wasn't the only focus of How to Fail at Flirting. Her passion for her career and research in the education department was clear as day. You could just tell that it was a job she found very fulfilling from the way she spoke about it. She was great overall and readers will easily love her character, in my opinion.

Naya was definitely the star of this book, but her love interest, Jake, was a terrific addition and the perfect partner for her. They met at a bar following which they engage in a night of passion. Of course, we all know how one-night stands end in romance novels, so it was no surprise when the two find themselves wanting to be around each other beyond the night. Jake was a sweetheart and very much of a nice guy, which is what Naya deserved in her life. He was patient and sweet with her, making it easy to root for his happiness. Of course, their relationship wasn't smooth-sailing - an obstacle and a conflict-of-interest arose when it was discovered that Jake was a consultant hired by her university to determine whether her department would be eliminated. Though the stress of that situation loomed, their relationship managed to be light-hearted and swoony. I liked how there was a playful energy between them despite everything.

Anyways, How to Fail at Flirting was a great debut for me and I am excited to read what Denise Williams comes up with next. If it's anything like this poignant and romantic book, I know I have discovered a new favorite author to add to my romance library.

CW: racial microaggressions, intimate partner violence, and abuse


Hi friends!

Please welcome Denise Williams, author of How to Fail at Flirting, to The Infinite Limits of Love. Denise was kind enough to answer some interview questions related to her debut novel and I can't wait for you all to read it! I hope this encourages you to get a copy of the book when it releases tomorrow!

What is your favorite quote from HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING that captures the essence of the book?

This line follows Jake and Naya’s first kiss and it’s the first time she feels the power of being with someone who sees and values her.
“I wanted to be kissed like that again, like I was something special, something wanted, like I was . . . someone.”

Do you have a playlist that goes with the book?

I usually have a playlist of songs to listen to while writing a book—songs that give me the emotion of the scenes of the goals of the characters—but I never had one for How to Fail at Flirting. I’ve recently re-read the book and put together songs that put me back in the world of Jake and Naya. I’ve never shared it with anyone, so I hope you all enjoy it! Here's a link to the Spotify playlist.

Runnin’ (Lose It All) by Arrow Benjamin, Beyoncé, & Naughty Boy
The book opens with Naya realizing she’s unhappy with aspects of her life. She’s spent years running from things that make her happy and I love how this song feels hopeful but also reflects how Naya feels lost at the start.

Texas Man by The Chicks
Naya is looking for a one-night stand when she meets Jake and is seeking a physical connection. Little known fact: the book originally began in Texas!

Brave by Sarah Bareilles
Naya doesn’t feel brave at the start, but her meddling friends believe she is. I imagine she’d listen to a song like this before her initial attempts to get back into the world of flirting.

Girls Like You by Maroon 5, feat. Cardi B
“You’ve not like other girls,” isn’t the compliment it sounds like, but “Here’s what I adore about you,” sure can be. I think this song has Jake energy. He sees how good she is for him, no matter the other complications around them.

Little Do You Know by Alex and Sierra
The story is told from Naya’s point of view, and she’s falling in love, having fun, and having great sex, but she’s also still healing from the trauma of her past relationship. This song makes me think about how Jake cares for Naya and how she, eventually, lets him.

I just Called to Say I Love You by Stevie Wonder
Long-distance relationships like Jake and Naya have are hard! I lived in Tokyo and London as a kid and my parents taught me this song so sing to my grandparents when we called the states. 

Julianna Calm Down by The Chicks
This song (and let’s be real—this whole album!) was like letting out a good cry and then a heavy sigh. So much of this song is Naya wrapped up in the lyrics—a little scared, a little bold, a little fake it ‘til you make it, and a little ready to keep going.

Wait for You (cover) by Travis Atreo
Jake is the perfect partner for Naya for many reasons, but especially his patience. I hope readers appreciate how much he adores the heroine from the beginning, and he’ll wait for her. 

Brand New Me by Alicia Keys
I love that Naya figures out her “brand new me” isn’t because of Jake and isn’t new at all—that she’s the sum of all her experiences, but can feel a renewed sense of self…and that self happens to have Jake!

Rainbow Connections by Garfunkel and Oates
I discovered this song when I was editing How to Fail at Flirting and I love it for so many reasons (A fun video, pro-marriage equality, catchy tune, etc.) but the line “All the things that make you you, all the things that make me me, that led us to the place we were always meant to be” described the HEA for this book.

Naya, like yourself, is an academic. As a current baby academic myself, the representation for academia felt very authentic to me. Did anything from your own experience make it into Naya's experience? What's one piece of advice Naya would give any starting a graduate program?

Thank you! I have worked in academic and higher education for fifteen years. I drew from my experiences about the politics of the place and the day-to-day work that faculty might be doing, but luckily, I’ve never had to worry about department cuts and the other workplace challenges Naya has to face! 
If Naya could give one piece of advice to someone starting a graduate program, it would be to find your people, those friends, classmates, mentors, etc. who will cheer you on. Writing and research can feel isolating, and in a field where critique is a way of life, it’s important to have people in your corner who you trust to lift you up and help push you forward.

HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING also takes a deep dive into abusive relationships and their aftermaths. It's a delicate topic and I imagine the research process was difficult. How did you cope with writing a heroine who had been through an abusive relationship and what was the research process like? If there's one thing you would want readers to take away from Naya's journey of self-discovery, what would it be?

It was really important to me to show a survivor getting her HEA. I hope readers for whom this might be triggering will read reviews of the content warnings on my website ahead of time if that is helpful for them.  

Something I’ve said often is that sometimes trauma and traumatic experiences are the story and sometimes they are the character. In terms of research, I spoke with a lot of people, read about trauma, and pulled from some of my own training. I hope readers walk away seeing a woman hurting and healing and living with trauma who can still have good friends, good sex, and find love, that those things can co-exist, but also that love and friends and sex don’t magically erase the impacts of trauma.

HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING has a list of the sexy variety - my favorite! We see Naya's list in the book. If Jake had a sexy (or not so sexy) bucket list, what would be on his list?

I like this question! Here are some sexy and not so sexy things that would be on Jake’s list and maybe a few will surprise you…

- Learn to surf. He always thought it looked cool but never felt coordinated enough.
- Go to adult space camp.
- Vacation in a glass hotel in Finland to see the northern lights (and keep warm with Naya while there)
- Sex somewhere public. Jake is a rule-follower and secretly loves the idea of doing something taboo, especially if it involves Naya.
- Getting pegged. He has always been interested but never felt comfortable sharing that with his ex.
- Slow, romantic sex after proposing to the woman he loves and she says yes. (Is that a hint about a forthcoming bonus epilogue? Maybe!)
- Adopting a dog with his new fiancée. 
If you and your partner and Naya and Jake could go on a double-date anywhere in the world, where are you all off to and what will your date night look like?

Since we’re still in COVID times, I think we’d keep our double date local. Jake and Naya are fictional and would have quarantined for two weeks, so we’d invite them over. Here’s how I’d envision the night:
My husband and Jake would cook us dinner because Naya and I don’t really cook, unless boiling watch and microwave popcorn count.

I imagine Naya and my husband would insist we watch Star Wars together and Jake and I would roll our eyes and play online Scrabble until it was over.

We’d light a fire and sit around talking about politics, pop-culture, and music while enjoying nightcaps and cake, my and Naya’s favorite snack.

There are a ton of places I’d love to travel, but 2020 is living it’s most 2020 life, and having people over feels like one of the best possible treats!
What's next for you in terms of writing? Anything fun you can share with us? 

My next book with Berkley will be out late next autumn features Wes, Naya’s self-defense coach. I’m so excited to share more about this book soon and you get to check in on Jake and Naya in it! I have a pretty solid crush on Jake, but Wes might give him a run for his money in terms of book boyfriends.

Many thanks to Denise for taking her time to answer my questions!

Let's chat!

What's on your bucket list?
Let me know in the comments below!

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