Now I’ve come to the end of Bastone’s Forever Yours series and must say I’ll miss her world and the characters she creates. I hope to see more from Bastone: she’s a wonderful combination of familiar-contemporary-romance groove and something fresh, new, and, at times, subtly subversive. On the surface, one thinks typical contemporary rom-com, as the blurb suggests:
Mary Trace is bright, bubbly and back in the dating pool in her midthirties. All of her closest friends are in love, and she refuses to miss out on romance. So when a regular customer at her trendy Brooklyn boutique wants to set Mary up on a blind date with her son, she gives a hesitant yes. John Modesto-Whitford is gorgeous and well-groomed, so maybe dinner won’t be a total bust—until he drops a less-than-flattering comment about Mary’s age.
Desperate to be nothing like his snake of a politician father, public defender John Modesto-Whitford prides himself on his honesty and candor. But his social awkwardness and lack of filter just blew it with the most beautiful woman he’s ever dated. Luckily, Mom’s machinations keep Mary and John running into each other all summer long, and soon they resort to fake dating to get her to back off. When their pretense turns to real friendship—and some surprisingly hot chemistry—can these two stubborn individuals see past their rocky start to a rock-solid future together?
The blurb makes things way tamer than John’s comment and Mary’s reaction. He says, and it’s worth quoting: ” ‘I was expecting someone…younger’ Reality miffed out Mary’s candle.” OMG, as a lady of a certain age, I was APPALLED and, like Mary, thought “what an ass.” Ever since Pride and Prejudice, ghastly first impressions make for delightful reading. And Flirting With Forever was delightful, for the most part, until it kind of wasn’t. Except I loved Mary and John so much and Bastone is such a peach of a metaphor writer that I still ended up with a goofy smile on my face. John knows he committed a terrible faux-pas, but he’s awkward and grumpy enough not to know how to backtrack it. And to show you how truly clever Bastone’s metaphors are (and they’re delightfully peppered throughout), his guilt and shame is: “the twelve-year-old monitor that sat like a heavy, judgmental toad on his desk.” There’s only a teensy vindication when John is marched into Mary’s shop, “Estrella and a bitingly disdainful-looking John, his elbow firmly in his mother’s grip” for an apology. Which he, admittedly, executes beautifully and Mary can’t help but credit him for it.
In this dance from hate-at-first to grudging-respect to friendship-with-secret-love-and-hots to a full-fledged-hot-for-you-affair to love-avowals, Flirting with Forever is a courtship romance, just like Pride and Prejudice, with Mary as emotionally and socially savvy as Lizzy and John, like Darcy, not. Not much happens except the protagonists get to know each other, understand each other, see the qualities in each other, and admit to liking and then loving the other. Because of John’s original foot-in-mouth comment, because Mary is sensitive about being six years older, because they have interesting chips on their shoulders and because they’re of opposing temperaments, her sunshine to his grumpy scowls, their journey is long and fraught with hurt feelings and misunderstandings. But they’re so likeable, such good, decent, kind, funny people that I rooted for them throughout.
What I described as their temperaments aren’t inherent to them, but the result of nurture, or lack of, and nature. This isn’t a melodramatic abandoned, or abused childhood romance. Their temperaments have much to do with their parents. Mary, for example, is especially sensitive about her age because her mother, a former beauty pageant queen, harps on her about being old, unmarried, and childless, without giving a thought to what Mary has endured the past six years: the loss of her best friend and beloved Aunt Tiff. Despite grief and obligation, Mary is a happy person, but, like John comes to realize, she works at happiness. John’s sensitivity has to do with his father: a slick, wealthy mayoral candidate and successful lawyer who abandoned John and his mother. His father now wants to make amends, but John staunchly rebuffs every attempt to allow his father to trust-fund his way into John’s good graces. As a public defender, John is poor, respectable but poor. He can’t afford what the successful business woman Mary can and that makes for an interesting subversive twist to their conflict. The heroine is the moneyed one, the heroine has the thread-count sheets, and the hero has to come to accept that this will ever be so, given his life’s work, “John just wanted to keep minors out of prison.” John has to come to terms with this, Mary is totally cool with it. How they navigate their misunderstanding and vulnerabilities makes for great romance.
The narrative, however, ebbs in intensity and interest once John and Mary consummate their relationship (though the love scenes aren’t extensive, they’re explicit, as they were in the first two books. I love that Bastone establishes the protagonists’ love-relationship before putting them between the sheets, one of her many strengths). It’s a problem when the hate-at-first and banter exchanges of what turn out to be two lovely people work things out. There’s not much to where you can take them. Bastone tries, but it leaves the last fifth of her narrative anti-climactic, no matter how many love scenes she squeezes in there. However, the terrific first four-fifths make up for this minor flaw. Miss Austen agrees with me that Flirting with Forever offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Cara Bastone’s Flirting With Forever is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in January 2021 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-galley from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley, for the purpose of writing this review.