Flirting with Fifty: Take a Risk and Read Jane Porter’s Thoughtful Romantic Novel

Title: Flirting with Fifty
Author:  Jane Porter
Publisher: Berkley
Released: May 24, 2022
Pages: 336
ISBN: 978-0593438381
Stars: 4.5

It has been a while since I have read a Berkeley title by New York Times Bestselling Author Jane Porter, and I am thrilled that she has this new book, Flirting with Fifty, out now, with a follow-up called Flirting with the Beast coming in November.

I do not read many romance novels because I have not been fortunate in love and gave up hope of finding my soulmate long ago. As someone flirting with sixty, I am cynical and jaded after being hurt by men too many times. I prefer spending time with friends, attending concerts, writing visceral poetry, reading literature, and watching dark, fantasy, supernatural or period dramas on TV. I am independent, self-reliant and comfortable with being single rather than dating from the truly cringe-inducing shallow pool of uninteresting men in my age group where I live.

As a result, although I have never been married, I can relate to Porter‘s heroine in this book. Paige Newsome is a professor of math and statistics at UC Berkeley and a divorced mother of three grown daughters, each of whom lives in various parts of the US. Her best friend, Elizabeth, is always there for her, her career is fulfilling, and she has interests outside of work. Her life is full. Paige doesn’t think anything is missing in her life. Then she’s coerced into a co-teaching assignment for a semester that includes an exciting field trip to Tanzania. The other teacher is a charismatic, celebrity professor whom she had a one-night stand with thirty years earlier when she was an insecure, inexperienced student.

I had a one-night stand almost twenty years ago in Ireland that unravelled me with its unexpected, exciting perfection. If that Black Irish, early 2000s, Johnny Depp-reminiscent social worker ever found his way in front of me again, I would feel like forty-nine-year-old divorcée Paige does when she realizes that the well-known Princeton tenured professor of biology (who has a show on the Discovery channel) she will be teaching with is her long lost one-night stand from Paris.

Jack King is everything a woman like me wants in a romantic interest: intelligent, interesting, successful, confident, handsome, and comfortable in his skin. And I won’t forget to mention his Aussie accent. That kind of man would make most women’s hearts skip a beat. And I love that he “believes value comes from accomplishments and not acquisitions.” However, at fifty-five, not even perfect guys come without baggage. Jack’s career demands a lot of travel; his twenty-eight-year-old son, Oliver, is his heart, and he never remarried after his wife died of ovarian cancer. He also never committed to his longtime, on-again, off-again lover and colleague, Camille. So could he possibly commit to Paige?

What I love about Porter’s writing is that she writes so authentically for her audience and makes storytelling appear effortless. Her characters are richly and carefully developed personalities with flaws that we understand and relate to. When Paige and Jack talk about their children, the meaning of parenthood for each is evident. All of Paige’s insecurities about her body and sex are mine. Porter knows her settings and characters intimately, and readers can sense her love for them. Most of all, I love that Jane’s stories make me dream again about abandoned possibilities for later-life love. I know I have to leave Kingston for it to be possible, and Porter almost makes me believe I can do it and that true love could be lurking around the next corner. Like Paige, I ask myself, “Why couldn’t she try different things without obsessing about the negatives or the future?” And could I make new friends at this stage of life who would not only have time for me but have my back? We will never know the answers to such questions if we don’t take a risk.

Sometimes we long “to be greedy and want more. More adventure. More fun. More change. More new, fresh, interesting.” And we won’t get it if we don’t start by doing something different. However, being genuinely tired, disappointed, and exhausted by life does stand in the way of risk-taking in the future. Fortunately, there is safety in living vicariously through Jane Porter‘s thoughtful, romantic books.

Finding Colin Firth by Mia March

Finding Colin Firth by Mia MarchBook Review
Title: Finding Colin Firth
Author:  Mia March
Publisher: Gallery Books
Released: July 9, 2013
Pages: 336
ISBN-10: 1476710201
ISBN-13: 978-1476710204
Stars:  4.0

Okay, I admit it. I’m not original. I’m like over a million other women who think that Colin Firth is absolutely talented, dreamy, amazing and someone to gush about. When I stumbled onto a copy of Mia March’s Finding Colin Firth in Chapters recently, I couldn’t help but buy it. The title captivated me instantly. I’d heard about Mia March through Jane Porter’s blog and knew that her debut novel was called The Meryl Streep Movie Club and being a huge movie fan, I’d thought that I’d love to read that as well. I just happened to find Finding Colin Firth first. I trust Jane Porter’s taste in women’s fiction implicitly as she has yet to steer me wrong.

Finding Colin Firth is not only a story that has some of the main characters literally searching for Colin Firth when it’s rumoured that he’s going to be shooting scenes for a new movie in the small coastal town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, but it’s also a deeply moving account of three women’s issues of identity and their sense of belonging that stresses the importance of female relationships.

We first meet 22-year-old Bea Crane, a cook at Boston’s Crazy Burger who longs to become a teacher, on the day that she discovers from the deathbed letter of her mother that she was adopted. This shocking news turns Bea’s world upside down and after her bitchy boss complains about her work ethic one time too many when she’s just heard this life-changing news, she decides to quit Crazy Burger. She then travels to Maine to meet her birth mother who left her contact information with the local adoption agency.

Veronica Russo is a beautiful, single, 38-year-old waitress who works at the Best Little Diner in Boothbay. She has a small business on the side making the best pies in the area as well as teaching classes on pie making. Her “elixir” pies are particularly special because of the love, care and thought she instills in the making of every one. March’s delectable pie descriptions had me salivating, and I loved how she created special names for Veronica’s different kinds of pie: Amore Pie (chocolate caramel cream), Spirit Pie (shoofly), Feel Better Pie (blueberry), Confidence Pie (key lime) and Hope Pie (salted caramel cheesecake) to name a few.  Veronica loves Colin Firth and decides that she’s going to apply to be an extra in the movie that’s being filmed in Boothbay Harbor with the hope that she’ll get to see him in person.  We also discover that 22 years ago Veronica gave birth to a baby girl who she got to hold for all of two minutes before she was taken away from her as she’d decided to put her up for adoption. Her parents and high school boyfriend had both disowned her and she was sent to Hope Home for unwed mothers to live until she had her baby, after which she left Maine for Florida and didn’t come back for many years.

Gemma Hendricks is a 29-year-old, newly unemployed reporter from New York City who’s just discovered she’s pregnant but who is terrified that she doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body and that she’ll have to give up her career to become a stay-at-home mother in the suburbs, which is exactly what her lawyer husband Alexander wants her to do. She decides to take a vacation alone and go back to Boothbay Harbor where she spent her summers as a young girl, to reunite with some close girlfriends who co-own a little inn called Three Captains (who just happen to be running a Colin Firth movie month) and to try to figure out how she’s going to compromise with Alexander to find a happy medium for both of them. While in Boothbay Harbor, Gemma is given an opportunity to write a feature article about Hope Home’s 50th anniversary for the local Gazette which leads to her meeting both Bea and Veronica before they’ve even met each other. We come to care about each one of them in the meantime through discovering their histories and because they’re sweet, likeable women. I particularly enjoyed Veronica and looked forward to her appearances in the novel most of all.

This is a delightful, easy read that although predictable in its outcome, still held joy for this reader. Reading it is equivalent to watching a romantic comedy starring Colin Firth (think Bridget Jones’s Diary or Love Actually) while enjoying a bowl of popcorn with your girlfriends, which is something that the women in Finding Colin Firth, actually do. However, the issues of adoption, parenthood and what makes a good parent; reputation and judgment and how one can hurt the other; and finding a way to allow your heart to open after it’s been seriously damaged are not fluffy in any way. There are also interesting love interests for Bea and Veronica with several sub-plots to add depth to their characters and just the right amount of tension and conflict. There were, perhaps, too many questions raised by the main characters in the literal sense, as there were times when March listed the questions running through their minds about their individual predicaments, and that made me roll my eyes because they were quite simplified in my mind, but other than that, I loved the journey of watching these women not only find each other but also themselves, not to mention discovering whether they would actually find Colin Firth. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out.  Go ahead, it’s worth it!

The Good Wife by Jane Porter

The Good Wife by Jane PorterBook Review
Title: The Good Wife (A Brennan Sisters Novel)
Author:  Jane Porter
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Released: September 3, 2013
Pages: 432
ISBN-10: 0425253678
ISBN-13: 978-0425253670
Stars:  4.5

The Good Wife which asks the question, “Is it possible to love someone too much?” is the third book (and hopefully not final!) in the Brennan Sisters series by award-winning, national bestselling author Jane Porter who has more than five million copies of her books in print.  It’s also the one that caused me to shed the most tears.  Read it with a box of Kleenex at your side! I absolutely adore this series and Library Journal calls it, “An investment worth making for fans of smart women’s fiction.”  I couldn’t agree more.

This is the youngest Brennan sister’s story, that of beautiful Sarah Walker, wife of Tampa Bay Ray’s designated hitter and all-around “Spartacus” force of nature, N’awlins native Boone Walker, and mother of rambunctious eight-year-old son Brennan and his little sister Ella.  As the story opens, Sarah and the rest of her family are mourning the loss of their beloved mother to cancer and are attending her funeral.  Emotions are high, nerves frazzled, tempers at the boiling point. Sarah doesn’t approve of her sister Kit’s biker boyfriend Jude, her brother Tommy and his wife Cass are fighting over his unwillingness to try again to have a baby, there’s tension between Meg and Jack, and their sister Brianna is obviously ill but isn’t talking. All is not well in their big Irish Catholic family and we know for sure that nothing will be the same again.

Sarah, who gave up going to law school to marry her professional baseball player husband, is seriously struggling with trying to forgive him for cheating on her three years earlier. She wants to trust him but finds that she can’t and despite Sarah’s best efforts she’s spending her days obsessing over Boone and what he’s up to when he’s not home with her, which is most of the time as he’s on the road with the team.  Her family notices that she’s drinking too much wine and she’s lonely and exhausted at having to move her children and home yet again when Boone is traded to the Oakland A’s.

In the meantime we’re introduced to stunning bakery & café owner Lauren Summers who is trying to get on with her life after losing her seventeen-year-old sun Blake ten months earlier in a car accident. She’s left the business she owned with her sister Lisa in Napa to work for a struggling café owner in Alameda because she needed to get away and grieve in private.  Lauren is a friend of Sarah’s oldest sister Meg who we hear a lot more about in this book and who endures another tragedy after spending the last year trying to save her marriage after having an affair on her husband Jack.

Boone meets Lauren in Mama’s Café in Alameda and they soon become friends as he loves the food there, not to mention her company.  Lauren is someone he can talk to when Sarah, who is pushing him away, can’t be reasoned with.  At first Lauren develops a crush on him but when she finds out that he’s married with children and that he loves his wife, she tells herself that she can’t think about him in that way. Boone introduces her to his teammate, Chris Stier (who I happen to know was inspired by actor Chris Hemsworth…talk about heavy sigh!), who Lauren is determined not to give the time of day to.  But he’s not just a dark blonde, pony-tailed, hulking, overly confident, handsome athlete, he’s also smart, thoughtful and looking for a real relationship.

I love that Jane Porter’s male love interests are tall, muscular, handsome men who could charm the habit off a nun.  I’m attracted to both Boone and Chris, but for me, they’re not quite Jude Knight, who has been the one I would desire the most of all the men in Jane’s books and for that reason and the fact I relate the most to sister Kit, The Good Daughter is still my favourite of the Brennan Sisters novels.

There is a lot going on in this book, which is the longest in the series, and I love that we get to reconnect with Sarah’s sisters, Meg, Kit and Brianna.  These characters are by now old friends and we care about them and want to see them happy.  And even though Lauren is a new character, I found myself caring more about her than Sarah.  Is Lauren going to allow Chris into her heart?  Can she forget about Boone?  Will Sarah believe that Boone’s relationship with Lauren is truly platonic?  These questions and many more are waiting to be answered and once you start reading The Good Wife, you won’t want to put it down until you find out how it all turns out.

The Good Wife is full of gut-wrenching emotion, expressed honestly as always through the very authentic characters that Jane Porter has created. Its theme of the impact of infidelity on not only the couple involved but also their extended family is perfectly realized.  It also possesses a lot of love, humour, hope and redemption and is a story that I’m sure every woman can relate to in some way.

There has been some interest in these books being made into a television series and I can only implore the powers that be to please make it happen!  I’m someone who had never read romance or chick lit novels (except for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Daisy Dooley Does Divorce) before I discovered Jane Porter’s contemporary women’s fiction novels, but I credit her with influencing me to read more of them in the future.

The Good Daughter (A Brennan Sisters Novel) by Jane Porter

The Good DaughterBook Review
Title: The Good Daughter (A Brennan Sisters Novel)
Author:  Jane Porter
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Released: February 5, 2013
Pages: 384
ISBN-10: 0425253422
ISBN-13: 978-0425253427
Stars:  5.0

The Good Daughter is the second book in the Brennan Sisters series by award-winning, national bestselling author Jane Porter.  I was very fortunate to receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) from Jane but the public won’t get to read it until its release date: February 5, 2013.  My review contains spoilers, so read it at your own discretion.

This is the story of Catholic school English teacher, people pleaser, and all around grounded good girl, Katherine Elizabeth “Kit” Brennan whom we first meet in The Good Woman.  Kit is about to turn 40, she’s single, hates dating, and all she knows for sure is that she wants to be a mother.  However, her family is dealing with some heavy burdens and for now, they have to come first.

Although I don’t care for the book cover as much as I did for The Good Womanit’s a little bit too girly and I would have rather seen a cover style similar to that of The Good Woman, with a beautiful, curly red-haired, blue-eyed model looking up at the camera from under her lashes, sporting a sweet but mischievous smile on her face – the story is superlative.

The Good Daughter opens with Kit and most of her family celebrating her sister-in-law Cass’ 36th birthday.  Cass, a labor and delivery nurse, who after six years of trying to have a baby, and who was pregnant at the end of The Good Woman, miscarried, and is now devastated.  Her firefighter husband Tommy Brennan has made up his mind that he’s finished with trying to have a family.  He won’t consider adoption or surrogacy and he doesn’t want to go through another miscarriage with his wife.  He’s done.  Kit’s heart is breaking, not only for Cass and Tommy’s predicament, but also for her father Tommy Sr. and mother Marilyn, who is in the final stages of fighting terminal breast cancer.

I know it sounds depressing, but it’s actually far from it.  These are issues that most of us or someone we know has had to deal with and Porter writes about them with perception, grace and compassion.  Kit had left her boyfriend of ten years in The Good Woman and in this book we find her living happily alone in her newly purchased 1895 Queen Anne style home in Oakland’s Highland Park where she loves to curl up and read when she’s not busy grading papers, visiting with family, or going out with her best friends, Polly Powers and Fiona Hughes, fellow teachers at Memorial High.

Although she’s really not into it, Kit’s friends encourage her to date.  However, the smart, beautiful, red-haired Kit reveals that although she loves to have fun, she hates the torture of online dating, has had some pretty horrific experiences (which I totally identified with), and now feels that she would rather just adopt a baby and be a single parent.

Kit, Polly and Fiona head to the Brennan family’s beach house in Capitola, California for a much needed girls weekend in January.  While they’re at a local bar having drinks, they run into an old beau of Polly’s and his handsome, cocky, aggressive friend, Michael Dempsey.  Dempsey quickly asks Kit out for dinner and against her better judgment, she goes out with him once, only to find out that he’s not yet divorced.  That’s a real deal breaker for her so she tells him that she won’t see him again, but he doesn’t want to take no for an answer.

As it turns out Dempsey is the devil in disguise but his character opens the door for Porter to introduce his step-daughter Delilah Hartnel (who we first met in She’s Gone Country) who becomes one of Kit’s students and we soon discover is living in an unfathomable hell with her wickedly cruel stepfather who beats her mother regularly.  Delilah is a fifteen year old emo girl who has had to move from place to place, enrolling in school after school, where she never fits in, because of her family’s deep dark secret.  We care about her and so do the heroine and hero of this novel.

Dempsey’s next door neighbour is the smoulderingly beautiful, tall, long black haired, dark eyed, tattooed, leather & denim wearing biker, Jude Knight, who Kit had a brief chance meeting with the weekend of her girlfriends’ getaway in Capitola.  Upon first seeing Jude, she’s immediately attracted to him but judging a book by its cover, she just as quickly dismisses him as being a bad boy and entirely unsuitable boyfriend material.  He wouldn’t fit into her tight knit, Irish Catholic family, so she writes him off in her mind right then and there.  I knew Jude would appear again so when he showed up later as Dempsey’s neighbour I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next because frankly, he’s the type of man I can’t take my eyes off.

It took me to almost half way through The Good Daughter to realize that I liked it more than The Good Woman and I did because of the characters and subplot.  The theme of child and spousal abuse is not only heartrending, but is one that needs to be shared and yet isn’t often, if ever explored within the parameters of chick lit.  This is what makes Porter better than any other chick or Mom lit author that I’ve ever read.  She doesn’t make light of serious situations and she wants to include a substantial, thought-provoking subplot in each of her novels.  I loved how Porter wove Delilah and Shey from She’s Gone Country into the story and I fell for Jude Knight more than any other love interest she has ever written because he’s quite simply my kind of guy!

Jude is not at all what he appears to be and his looks, personality traits and hidden life makes him a fascinating hero.  The love scenes that Porter has written for Jude and Kit are far more stimulating to me than what I’m currently reading between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey.  I’m half way through the book and the sex scenes have left me cold, while Jane Porter’s scenes with Jude & Kit had me reaching for my vibrator.  Although I realize that there’s a place for soft core pornography in women’s fiction (and women obviously want it or Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t be the bestselling book of all time in the UK – or are British girls just hornier than the rest of us?), I personally want to experience an emotional investment in the protagonists of a novel and with Jane Porter’s stories, I always do.

I saw a lot of myself in Kit although there are considerable differences as well, but I could relate to how she feels about men after we discover that she was sexually abused as a small child by a neighbour, as was her wild child sister Brianna (an infectious diseases nurse in the Congo), who we learn more about in this story, and who I really hope that Jane will write a book for.

I didn’t want The Good Daughter to end.  I didn’t want to say goodbye to Kit and Jude.  This is the best contemporary women’s fiction novel that Jane Porter has written yet, and after writing 41 novels, she certainly has the right to write the stories that she wants to tell.  Because Jane Porter knows what matters to women and she’s damn good at telling their tales!