“Williams blends rom-com fun with more weighty topics in her winsome debut.”
The Washington Post

“SPECTACULAR! Grabbed me on page one and held me enthralled until the end, when I promptly started re-reading to enjoy the deliciousness again.”
—Priscilla Oliveras, USA Today bestselling author


One look at the cover of How To Fail at Flirting (Berkley) by Denise Williams and readers may think they’re getting a cutesy romantic comedy with an awkward meet-cute and clumsy dating. But just two chapters in, you realize you’re in for a lot more. Thirty-somethings Naya and Jake live real lives and have had real-life complications to match.

The biggest “complication” is Naya’s ongoing battle to deal with the scars left behind from her last relationship, one in which her ex-boyfriend abused her. While there was some physical abuse, readers see that his verbal abuse was much more damaging. Naya still wears frumpy loose-fitting clothes so as not to attract attention, something to prevent others from echoing her ex-boyfriend’s accusations. She wonders constantly what those around her think of her, and when she dates Jake, she internally questions what he really means when he says or does anything. It can be complicated to deal with the aftermath of an abusive relationship, and Naya’s got a way to go.

What I love about these main characters is that they are crafted with a knowledge of how they would be seen in the real world. Naya is Mexican and Black, and while that isn’t a huge part of the story (and it doesn’t need to be, it’s just who she is), Williams includes moments of discourse on how people approach Naya, what ignorant or outright racist things they might say, and shows how little those things matter to everyday life. Representation is important, and true representation is done realistically, knowing that no one is a stereotype but lives in a place where stereotypes can be normal criteria for assessing who a person is.


But there are also a lot of funny moments. After all, failing at flirting has got to be hilarious, right? (Unless you’re the one failing.) Naya’s friends make a checklist for her to help get her out of this dating, antisocial rut she’s in. It reminded me of Chloe Brown’s list in Get a Life, Chloe Brown (Talia Hibbert) in that it was filled with items to pull Naya out of her shell. And Naya’s pursuit of checking items off her list is equally as funny as Chloe’s. But Naya’s journey to becoming a more outgoing person is vastly different from Chloe Brown’s. Naya’s comes complete with cheesy jokes — literally cheesy — unfortunate drunken mishaps, and testing phobias, namely Jake’s. 

I’ve wanted to read this novel since I saw its pitch in a social media pitch challenge. I had a feeling this would be an entertaining romantic comedy. But it was so much more. This layered story also appealed to my need for characters to be realistic — having real-life problems, living in the real world of wherever they are — and it gave me insight on effects of more serious problems some face — namely domestic violence. How to Fail at Flirting may be funny and serious, but it is one engaging page-turner worthy of the most-anticipated and must-read lists on which it’s featured.

Trigger warnings: the novel contains mentions of verbal abuse and a scene involving physical assault

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Photo Credit: D&dorf Photography

Denise Williams wrote her first book in the second grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a Ph.D. A diversity trainer and co-creator of a women’s empowerment group, she is dedicated to developing flawed, multidimensional characters who struggle with issues impacting real women. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Iowa with her husband, son, and two ornery Shih-Tzus who think they own the house. Denise was a 2019 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalist, and How to Fail at Flirting is her debut novel.