Sometimes the right book comes along just when you need it, and that was Flying Gold for me. I love reading about a heroine’s personal growth but have no patience for heroes who have to learn not to be assholes. I’ve been easily distracted lately, and this second chance romance set in a world I know nothing about, amateur classic car racing, hit my sweet spot.
My tolerance for plot stress is zero right now, and I was worried the racing storyline would be too competitive for my tender heart. Luckily, the focus was less on racing (or the main characters’ past disagreements) and more on how their love for cars reminded them of their teenage longing for one another. The main characters in this book pick up their intense teenage romance after ten years, without the bog of eternal flashbacks. This gave me the headiness of instant emotional connection, without needing the suspension of disbelief that instalove requires.
Matt is a cinematographer who left small town Georgia to follow his moviemaking dreams in Hollywood. Now he’s back on location in Atlanta for several months, and reliving past memories of his first love. In a classic quarter-life crisis move, he buys the same 1970s muscle car his high school girlfriend owned, with dreams of racing it the way they’d always talked about. But before Matt gets a chance to spend the summer lost in memories of how they stared into one another’s eyes after mind-blowing sex, his new baby promptly breaks down and gets towed to the very speciality shop owned by his ex’s family, American Heavy Metal.
Tiffani is a talented mechanic who recently inherited an auto shop with her three siblings after their father’s passing. While Matt has only glorious memories of their relationship, Tiffani is angry about how it ended, with Matt cheating. She reluctantly agrees to fix Matt’s car, and later, takes his much needed money in exchange for prepping him to compete. She’s still angry at him, and at herself for falling right back into feeling comfortable with him again. Luckily, using him for sex in the back of a car helps.
One of my favorite parts of Flying Gold was how Matt’s cheating past was handled. Their senior year of high school, he slept with another girl, immediately told Tiffani, and broke her heart. When the two of them reconnect, Matt owns that he fucked up, and doesn’t make excuses, either to Tiffani, or to readers. Matt readily acknowledges how stupid he was, blaming himself when trust issues come up in their burgeoning relationship. The details of Matt’s behavior aren’t explored until late in the book, because ultimately the circumstances don’t matter.
He was a teenager curious about what sex with someone else would be like, and worrying about their upcoming parting to go to college.
Unlike many second chance romances, there’s no misunderstanding of the past that could be solved by a conversation. Matt recognizes that Tiffani’s anger is justified, never makes her feel unreasonable, and gives her a straightforward apology early on. There’s strong emotion here, but the angst felt minimal. They both maintain a sense of humor about his dickish behavior, which was a relief for me as a reader. With a decade of perspective, Matt believes that his years with Tiffani were the happiest he’s ever been, and while that doesn’t make him immediately uproot his life in L.A., it does make him want to spend as much time with her as she’ll give him, however she’ll give it to him. There is delicious groveling in the face of her disdain, while a grumpy Tiffani finds herself teaching him the racing ropes, taking them to their favorite date spots, and trying not to overthink why she wants to spend so much time with a man she says she doesn’t like.
I adored Tiffani. Mechanic heroines are my catnip, and Tiffani is unapologetically brilliant at what she does. At a time when I’m stuck at home, I enjoyed reading about her driving too fast down country roads, reveling in the speed and power of fast cars.
Once on the highway, the Chevelle lurches forward like a dog tugging at its leash. At speed, the engine sounds just like it should: thick and hungry, the vibration palpable through the seats. With that sound comes a rush of memories. Screaming down the old state road with Matt at my side, laughing and teasing and telling secrets.
Tiffani’s bitchiness was fun, and partly driven by grief for her dad, but she is self aware enough to know she’s not being her best self around Matt. He’s impervious to her anger and bitterness, but it makes her not like the person she becomes around him, which is what ultimately leads her to work through her feelings. Training Matt, and getting more involved in the day-to-day of the shop, makes Tiffani realize that she could be the one driving a race car herself. I loved seeing her reshape the shop to be a women-focused environment, and not just a muscle car speciality shop. I wanted to stand up and cheer for her. Tiffani is that rare character who didn’t follow her childhood dreams—to be a photographer—and isn’t sorry about the path of her life. She grows as a person in the book, but not because anything is wrong with her. Tiffani has few regrets in general, actually, which I found refreshing.
Both Tiffani and Matt are fabulous at their jobs. They know they’re competent, but lack any ego, allowing them the space to humbly discover how they can grow into being even more awesome in their fields. They both made me want to squeeze their little fictional faces and kiss their adorable cheeks. Matt is my ideal beta hero. He loves movies, and uses his power to fight for the women on his set. He’s a grown-up nerd who can talk about his feelings. His eyes turn into hearts whenever he thinks of Tiffani’s and her skills. Even though Matt’s ostensibly working, Flying Gold felt like a relaxing summer fling story. Partly that’s because he’s enjoying a break from his real life, but the chill pace of the book helped it feel like nothing bad could happen. Matt doesn’t care if he wins car races, he just wants to drive fast and kiss Tiffani as much as possible.
This might be a good small town romance for people who don’t usually like them. You get the large stable of supportive and funny secondary characters, including Matt’s mom, “a loud-mouthed menopausal rabble-rouser with a shaved head, sitting cross-legged in the middle of Main Street, wearing a T-shirt proclaiming herself the granddaughter of the witches they couldn’t burn.” But on the other hand, there’s no treacly whitewashing of small town life. Matt’s mom leads the three of them in taking a knee during the national anthem, there are characters of color, and Tiffani isn’t shy about calling out the perils of “redneck sushi” from the pan-Asian joint in town. Matt is equally at home in big cities, and Royal isn’t presented as a world apart from Atlanta, with the exception of a scene making fun of Matt’s use of down-home dialect.
I will admit that the end of the book felt rushed, and most of the conflicts were rapidly resolved, or droppedSince I was looking for a low-conflict read that wasn’t a big problem for me, but in a different mood I would’ve been irritated. Flying Gold is the second book in a series, and I got a little lost with the secondary characters. All Tiffani’s siblings have gender-neutral names starting with T (Tanner, Tegan, and Tyler) and it wasn’t until halfway through the book that I finally landed who was who. Tiffani’s loving family that’s smoothly made up of queer and straight people, made me excited for future f/f and m/m storylines. Still, this worked as a stand-alone, and I don’t feel any particular need to go back and read the first book.
Reading this made me happy, because the main characters’ joy in one another and in their work was contagious. This is a book about people who love what they do and are good at it. I adored their passion for cars and movies, and I liked that their issues were reasonable but not insurmountable. Tiffani and Matt are delightful characters who I wanted to see happy, despite my current misanthropic tendencies. I loved seeing the healing of a relationship so damaged that they’re not sure if they can, or want to repair it. For the most part, the plot of Flying Gold hummed along smoothly, which is exactly what I need when the world is messy and distracting.