Review: Flirting with Fifty by Jane Porter

Review: Flirting with Fifty by Jane PorterFlirting with Fifty by Jane Porter
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Modern Love #1
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on May 24, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

A sexy and sparkling later-in-life contemporary romance about a woman who leaps out of her comfort zone and takes a chance on love by New York Times bestselling author Jane Porter.
Paige Newsom is finally at a place in her life where she's comfortable. She loves her job as a college professor in Southern California, lives close enough to her mother to visit her regularly, and has three daughters who are flourishing in their own careers. Paige has no plans to upend her life again after her divorce eight years ago, but she's about to embark on a new adventure: co-teaching a course that includes a three-week international field study.
Paige can think of a dozen reasons why she shouldn't go, one being a dazzling Australian biologist who will be teaching alongside her. Professor Jack King is charismatic, a world traveler, and more like Indiana Jones than Indiana Jones, all of which unsettles Paige, who prides herself on being immune to any man's charms. As the two co-professors lead the rigorous program together, first on campus, then in beautiful Tanzania, Paige's biggest challenge will be working closely with Jack while resisting the undeniable chemistry she feels when she's with him.

My Review:

“We are too soon old, and too late smart” – at least according to an old Dutch proverb. Flirting with Fifty is the story of a woman who seems to be caught at the balance point between those two states.

Paige Newsom is just about to turn 50. The big 5-0. But it doesn’t seem all that big a deal to Paige, who finally has her life arranged the way she thinks she wants it. She has a marvelous job, in a place that’s close enough to home to feel “just right”. Also close enough to visit her mother back home on a regular but not too frequent basis.

Her career may have not hit stellar heights, but she’s done well enough for herself and she’s stable enough to be able to afford a home in coastal Southern California, have enough to help out her grown daughters when they need it, and save for her retirement.

Now that’s a bit closer than she likes to think about. Not that she won’t have enough saved. And not that being retired and alone isn’t amazingly better than being retired with her narcissistic, alcoholic, emotionally abusive, bullying ex-husband. It wasn’t all bad, after all, she got her girls out of it and they are her heart, but she stayed more than long enough to make her swear off all men.

So she’s not interested in meeting someone new. At all. Ever. Which means that shaking Paige out of her comfortable but slightly lonely romantic rut is going to require the re-introduction of someone from her past.

Jack King wasn’t the one that got away because Paige never let it get that far. Their one-night stand almost 30 years ago rocked her world. But she saw at the time that she could fall and fall hard for him, someone who clearly wasn’t ready to settle down or settle with someone. Or so she thought at the time.

Of course, at the time, she was only 20 and Jack was 25, pretty much a long time ago in the equivalent of a galaxy far, far away. Actually it was Paris, France, which was pretty damn far away from Paige’s home in SoCal.

Jack’s become a superstar in his field of studying climate change and human effects on the planet. He has his own show on the Discovery Channel and teaches around the world. He’s rather like a 21st century Indiana Jones – without the whip and the aversion to snakes.

And Jack is coming to her university in Southern California to team teach his specialty class and needs a co-teacher for the class who teaches advanced math and statistics. Her Dean has just voluntold her that she’ll be Jack’s co-teacher for the semester.

She’s mortified. Jack is intrigued. Because for him, Paige IS the one that got away. And this time he’s not planning to let her run off in the middle of the night before he has the chance to tell her how he really felt all those years ago.

And how he feels now.

Escape Rating A: I picked this up because of how rare it is to see a romance that centers people past their 30s. The only other one I can think of is Jasmine Guillory’s Royal Holiday. (Which was terrific and well worth a read!) Not that there isn’t plenty of women’s fiction where the story centers around a woman and her daughters where a romance occurs for the mother – not that I don’t love LOTS of those books – but those don’t center the romance the way that Flirting with Fifty does.

What made this work so well is that Paige is more-or-less content in the life she has created for herself. She has what she needs and most of what she wants and she’s not looking for more. It’s a good life. It also works well that we see enough of her thoughts and memories about her ex-husband to understand why she’s in the emotional place she’s in without dwelling on his abuse. She’s still affected by the past – as we all are – but her regrets don’t consume her.

She’s also mature enough to acknowledge that her actions with Jack in Paris happened the way they did because she wasn’t mature at all. She was young and insecure – not too surprising at 20 – and couldn’t cope with her own feelings. She was embarrassed and overwhelmed and she ran instead of dealing with him in what might have been a very awkward morning after.

The romance is lovely because they don’t pick up where they left off. There’s a lot of water under that bridge, and the only way to see if they have something now is to let it happen slowly if it’s going to happen at all. They move from colleagues to friends to more than friends to lovers in a hesitant but natural progression.

It makes sense that way. They’re not who they were 30 years ago. Who is? But they’re also not NOT who they were. Their younger selves are still inside them, and those selves have, if not exactly regrets, at least a certain wistfulness about that road not taken. So this time they decide to take a few steps down that road and see how it feels.

The other thing that made this story work is the way that the author captures the combination of the giddiness of falling in love again with the issues of already having lives and plans that will need to be adjusted and cooperated over to make anything work. And that both of them have pasts that are guaranteed to bite the relationship in the ass at times. As Jack’s certainly does.

He does an excellent patient grovel when required. It’s not glossed over and it’s not leapt past. Which meant that their HEA felt earned and included the acknowledgement that the “ever after” past of that equation was never going to be as many years as it might have been – but that those years will be filled with love.

As they should be.

I am utterly thrilled to learn that this is the first book in a series of romances centered on later-in-life couples. The next book, Flirting with the Beast, is coming in November. YAY!

Reviewer’s Note: As much as I loved Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, the picture of Jack King in my head is Sam Neill – probably because of the accent. Your imaginary casting mileage may definitely vary.

Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha RaiGirl Gone Viral (Modern Love #2) by Alisha Rai
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Modern Love #2
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on April 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

In Alisha Rai's second novel in her Modern Love series, a live-tweet event goes viral for a camera-shy ex-model, shoving her into the spotlight—and into the arms of the bodyguard she’d been pining for.

OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???

I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]

Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!

One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for.

He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for. 

With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections? It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…

My Review:

I absolutely adored this author’s Forbidden Hearts series (start with Hate to Want You and just BINGE!) but bounced fairly hard off of the first book in the Modern Love series, The Right Swipe. Howsomever, I did love Forbidden Hearts, and I heard good things about Girl Gone Viral, so I decided to see if this one would bring me back

And I was in the mood for another romance after yesterday’s lovely book, so this looked like it would certainly fit that mood. And it did. It so did.

There are two tropes going head to head in this romance, the ever-popular friends-to-lovers, and the hot, awesome but less frequently invoked bodyguard romance. And this was a time when these two tastes definitely tasted GREAT together!

The story doesn’t quite match the blurb – or at least the intensity of the feelings involved aren’t quite conveyed by the spritely tone of the blurb.

Kat doesn’t just crave a low-profile life – she needs one desperately in order to cope with her excruciating panic attacks and something that feels like PTSD after a traumatic kidnapping several years ago. Letting that cute guy sit at her table in the crowded coffee shop was Kat sticking a toe out of her comfort zone – only to discover that there are sharks outside that comfort zone. Seemingly literally, as the live-tweet of the complicated fabricated romance takes on a life of its own – probably with the active connivance of both the tweeter and the cute-but-clearly-an-asshole guy.

Kat is spooked. Completely, totally and utterly spooked. Partly because spooked is her default setting – something she’s changing very slowly – and partly because becoming a viral internet sensation can be a two-edged sword at the best of times. She wants this to fade away, but the Streisand Effect is a real thing. So is doxxing. So are death threats – particularly if you’re living online while female and try to claim your own space in the world.

So there’s a lot going on in this story, and not just on Kat’s side of the equation.

Her bodyguard – and secret crush – Jas has plenty of his own stuff to deal with. Including his own PTSD from his military experience in Iraq. Something that he deals with by, essentially, not dealing with it. By shoving it down into a hole so deep that he doesn’t even let himself see what’s crawling around down there. He deals with it by pushing his loud, loving and very intrusive family away. And he keeps telling himself that he doesn’t feel anything for Kat beyond friendship.

Of course he’s lying to himself about pretty much all of it.

So Kat needs to escape and Jas both wants and doesn’t want to visit his family, so he uses Kat as an excuse to go home – while pretending to most of his family that he’s not really there.

Like that ever works.

But out of the city, alone together in a house where Kat can just be and Jas doesn’t have to be on guard 24/7 because it really is safe, they let themselves get close to each other. And finally tear down the walls that have been keeping them apart.

Escape Rating A-: The bodyguard crush is a trope that isn’t seen all that often in contemporary romance, as, after all, most people don’t need a bodyguard. Add to that, at least on the surface, Kat doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would need a bodyguard. She’s not political, she’s not a superstar, no one seems to be threatening her. And yet, she does need Jas, not just as a bodyguard but because her own traumas make her need the safety of having a bodyguard. And, well, Kat just needs Jas but isn’t ready to admit exactly what she needs him for as the story opens.

They are friends. Even if Jas in particular would have a difficult time labeling their relationship that way. Especially because Jas isn’t used to having friends, period. And his tense interactions with his family make it clear that he’s having difficulty with personal relationships in general – among other things.

Which leads directly to a third element to this story that almost put it over the top for me. So often, reaching their HEA solves all of everybody’s problems. Love conquers all, after all. But in real life it doesn’t. Love makes things better, it makes the world look brighter, it makes the hard stuff easier to get over, past or through. But it doesn’t erase the past, nor does it magically sweep away all the baggage we all carry around.

So the great thing about the way that Kat and Jas find their HEA is that love gives them the courage and the impetus to deal with their own shit. Neither can magically fix the other’s PTSD or panic attacks, each of them HAS to do that work for themselves. Love provides support, as it does, but there is no magical healing for the crap they both have to deal with, and it doesn’t. Instead, a big part of the HEA is that they both do better at taking care of their own messes so that they have more room to love each other. And that’s an ending and a message I definitely believe in.

But there’s this niggle. I still feel like we’ve all been left hanging about the fake viral setup that started the whole thing. It feels like a setup. It reads like a setup. I wish there was some resolution to it. Kat gets past it and turns it back on the original posters, but it still felt a bit unresolved. It’s not so much that I wanted them to be exposed – although that would have been really, really terrific – but I wanted some acknowledgement that the whole thing had been a deliberately put-up job from beginning to end to promote his new business and his flagging career. YMMV.

All in all, I’m really glad I read Girl Gone Viral, and I didn’t feel like I’d missed too much by not having read The Right Swipe. There’s enough backstory here to let new readers pick up the series here. And I really loved the characters, not just Kat and Jas but the entire mad and crazy bunch. I definitely would not mind seeing this crew back for more with a new couple at the heart – finding where their hearts belong.