REVIEW: Well Met by Jen DeLuca
Dear Jen DeLuca,
I firmly believe there are not enough romances set in an around a Renaissance faire so Well Met was a much-anticipated read for me. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed it very much. It’s a strong debut, ticking most all of my boxes when it comes to things I enjoy in romance.
Grumpy hero? Check.
Strong female friendships? Check.
Main characters making sensible decisions and being brave about their feelings? Check.
I’ve never been to a Renaissance faire (alas) but I enjoyed so much the detail you put in the book – it was never boring or too much and it provided great flavour to the book.
Emily Parker comes to Willow Creek for the summer to help her older sister, April, during her recovery from a serious leg injury after her car was T-boned at an intersection. Apart from assisting April around the house and getting her to appointments, she’s also the “Adult in Charge” for her niece, Caitlin, aged 14. Emily is not quite 25 – there is a 12 year age gap between her and April and as a result they have never been particularly close. April was leaving for college around the time Emily became “interesting”.
Emily had dropped out of college to work two hospitality jobs to support her (shitty) boyfriend, Jake, as he went through law school. Their deal was that when he had completed his studies, he would support her while she went back and completed hers. Except he dumped her when he didn’t need her financial support anymore, with the end result being she was not only heartbroken but also homeless. Emily is a caretaker. She loves looking after people – Jake took advantage of this terribly of course, but it was nice to see that Emily didn’t let that stop her from doing what she loved. Over the course of the book however, she does learn that there are times when she gets to, and should, put herself first.
Caitlin is very keen to sign up to faire but the rule is that minors need an adult volunteering as well. With April out of commission, that leaves Emily to step in and next thing she knows, she’s a tavern wench, practising her English accent and Elizabethan history.
At faire rehearsals, she meets fellow tavern wench, Stacey and they strike up a friendship and she is also much taken by Mitch, the gym teacher and all round hot guy. One of the big draws of faire for Emily is the promise of Mitch in a kilt – there are plenty of kilt jokes to enjoy.
Dammit, Mitch was wearing bike shorts.
I turned to Stacey, betrayed.
“I know, I know.” She shook her head in sympathy. “It’s a disappointment, right? But this is a family show.”
Also at faire is Simon Graham. He’s one of the organisers and appears to have a stick up his butt. He’s grumpy and cheerless and rubs Emily the wrong way from the start when he tells her off for not filling in her form correctly.
Simon is very grumpy.
He has his reasons and they do serve to eventually make him sympathetic but as the story is told from Emily’s first person perspective, it is a while until readers discover what those reasons are. At first, Simon does not make a good impression. I’ve read books where one main character initially dislikes the other before and they’re not always successful for me – either I don’t find the reasons believable (and I don’t understand why they don’t get along) or they’re too believable and I actively don’t want them to get together. You threaded the needle really well here because Simon was an ass at first but his reasons make sense. That said, why he singled Emily out for negative attention was a little too much of the schoolboy pulling the girl’s pigtails. It would have worked better for me if his grumpiness was shown to be more universal. Emily is an enthusiastic and very organised and keen to suggest improvements – this is something that Simon is particularly resistant too (those reasons again) and this worked better for me as the source of their conflict.
Over the course of faire, both in rehearsals and at the event itself, Emily begins to see Simon in a new light and, when faire actually begins and he dons his Captain Ian Blackthorne persona there’s some flirting and Simon lets his inner pirate out to play.
Emily struggles with acceptance and belonging. She desperately wants to have a home and a community. As she makes friends and builds relationships in Willow Creek over the summer she begins to think it could be her home. But as things change with Simon – she’s still gun-shy about relationships and lacking in confidence – she fears Simon is only interested in a summer fling or perhaps that it is only the pirate that is interested and not the buttoned-up English teacher.
I did get nervous because things were heading into Big Misunderstanding territory and that is my least favourite trope. But I was very happy to be wrong about that; Emily decides to be brave and start asking “the right question”. Sometimes it takes her a little while but it wasn’t drawn out and it made sense for her character.
As Simon and Emily embark on a relationship there’s lovely banter and conversation, clearly showing the connection between the pair and the things they have in common and the ways they complement one another.
The story is very much a romance but Emily does find a home and builds a stronger relationship with her sister as well and that was satisfying to see.
The ending was perhaps a little drawn out and just a little cheesy but I’m not going to complain too much about that. I don’t mind some cheese.
On the downside, I could have wished for more diversity in the cast of characters – most everyone seemed to be straight and white.
Overall though, Well Met was a cute and charming and very enjoyable. If this is what you come up with for your debut, then I’m even more happily anticipating what’s next.