Tag Archives: Jen DeLuca

Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca

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Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca

DeLuca, Jen. Well Traveled. Well Met #4. Berkley, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 9780593200469 $17.00

****

Attorney Louisa, Mitch’s cousin who had a cameo in Well Matched, is at the heart of this fourth book in the warm, sweet renaissance faire themed series by DeLuca. While on a business trip in North Carolina and stalled by lack of case discovery from her sources, she slips out to the local renaissance fair for a break, hoping to recover some of the magic from her time with her grandparents at the Willow Creek faire. She runs into Stacey and tries to focus on hard cider, men in kilts, and a lovely Saturday afternoon, but her cell phone never ceases it’s incoming messages and calls. Frustrated with a waste of five years chasing partner without promotion, her demanding boss, and her family’s expectation, she quits her job and skips her cell phone into a laundry tub prop, and kind Stacey takes Lulu into the motorhome she and Daniel McLean have been traveling in with the band he manages… the Dueling Kilts.

As Lulu tries to find her place in the faire, helping with merch and deep frying turkey legs, her cousin Mitch kindly advises her to stay off the grid, enjoy this time to rediscover herself and her wants and needs. He even promises to fend off the family. Pragmatic Lulu eventually setting herself up as the receptionist for a trio of spiritual advisors hawking their tarot reading, rune interpreting and palmistry skills, and slowly succumbs to the possibility of another lens to view life through.

Of course, there is a love interest: Dex, whose reputation for a different girl in every city precedes him. Fans of the series will remember him as Stacey’s ex, easy on the eyes, magnetic, charming, but a little tone deaf and superficial. He wastes no time turns his tiger’s eye gaze on Lulu but she scoffs at him. Unable to flirt with her, he starts to talk to her, and they forge a real connection, but while she definitely thinks he’s hot, she’s oblivious to the fact he’d rather spend a night in with her, chatting, then hooking up with a very flexible member of an acrobatics troupe, a fact her discloses while they have an argument in a thunderstorm that leads to consummating their relationship in the camper.

Seemingly at odds career-wise, with Lulu intending to return to a law practice of some kind in spite of her new-found interest in tarot, and Dex feeling like he has no skills beyond making up verses to Drunken Sailor and shredding on Whiskey in the Jar, even though he’s a darn good planner and problem-solver, they seem doomed until he finds a way to make a grand gesture and admit he’s in love with her. Given how distasteful Dex is throughout the series and even at the beginning of this book, I did find his change of heart difficult to believe; slower pacing and more demonstrations of his changing would have worked a little better for me as a reader willing to suspend my disbelief that people can pivot so quickly. Other things I appreciated: Lulu is no spring chicken at 37; she tells Stacey that her body isn’t too big, the clothes are just too small when she catches her being critical of her plus-size; a secondary character is gay and no one bats an eye (I’d LOVE to read that tale!); Caitlyn makes an appearance (when is she getting her own book?).

I loved Lulu’s journey in this book; her personality, her openness and challenging of her long-held habits and beliefs. I loved how every faire had its own personality and cast, and I loved the distinct personalities and subtle nod to maiden/mother/crone (or is it MacBeth’s witches?) who bond with Lulu while she attracts clients and books spa sessions. As in other volumes, the writing is artful and often funny; allusions abound, and the setting makes me want to lace up my bodice and hit King Richard’s Faire.

Glimpses of Simon and Emily’s wedded bliss, Mitch and April’s domesticity, and Stacey and Daniel’s steadfast partnership pay fan service to loyal readers, and the return to Willow Creek to see April on the field as a pawn in the chess match is priceless.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #WellTraveled from #NetGalley.

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

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Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

DeLuca, Jen. Well Matched. Well Met #3. Berkley, 2021. ISBN 978-0593200445 336 pp. $

I pre-ordered a copy of this third book in a series I love–and then BOUGHT THE EBOOK THE DAY IT CAME OUT–because I couldn’t wait another three days to read it. Jen DeLuca, you’re welcome for the double purchase; Target, take a lesson from Amazon and deliver, not ship, preorders on the date they debut. Anyway, reader, it was WORTH IT.

April, the winsome Emily’s elder sister who in Well Met supplied the “help recovering from a broken leg” premise that brought Emily to Willow Creek, Ren Faire and her Simon, is faced with seeing her ex at their daughter’s high school graduation festivities. While mourning this fate and getting hit on at a local watering hole, her friend Mitch (remember Mitch? The One in the Kilt?) comes to her rescue, pretending to be her #fakeboyfriend and date.

As payback Mitch ends up helping April make some small renovations to the home she intends to put on the market when her daughter Caitlin graduates, and then April returns that favor by posing as Mitch’s girlfriend at a family event over a long weekend where there is #OnlyOneBed and #OneThingLeadsToAnother and of course their mutual attraction, friendly sparring and friendship is the #RealDeal. And then Mitch kindly steps up again at graduation to support April with grace and solidarity in front of the ex. Because he’s Mitch, and noble, and true.

Independent April has to go and ruin it by dismissing her own desires because Mitch is younger and she’s done with raising kids, and he is (just?) the local gym teacher… but even April sees the dishonesty in reducing him when he is, in fact, an excellent educator who has real impact on the lives of his charges. She claims to be happy with keeping it casual–after all, Mitch has a bit of a reputation–but he boldly refuses to be her secret paramour.

This third book in the Well Met series delivers a strong voice that is unique from Emily and Stacey, the Ren Faire details that make this series stand out, humor and pathos and fully developed characters. You don’t have to buy two copies, but it’s a 2021 must-read for modern romance fans who enjoy full settings and attention to detail.

Go back to Well Met for Emily and Simon’s story, and don’t miss book two, Well Played, which features Emily’s wedding and her best friend Stacey’s romance. I’m so excited a fourth book, Well Traveled, featuring Mitch’s favorite cousin, is in the works.

Well Played by Jen DeLuca

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Well Played by Jen DeLuca

DeLuca, Jen. Well Played. Well Met #2. Berkley, 2020. 324 pp. ISBN 978-1-9848-0540-9 $16

****

Stacey gets her man in this sequel to Well Met. In the tenth and eleventh years of the Willow Creek Renaissance Faire, serving wench Beatrice (her alter ego) has been casually hooking up with Dex McLean, the hot guitarist of Dueling Kilts, a pub band on the fair circuit. Dex has a girl in every port and she’s the lucky one in Willow Creek… or maybe not. Thinking they might be more than just a four week fling, Stacey sends a drunken DM inviting Dex to get to know her better after his band departs… and in the harsh light of morning is relieved to find a response to her message that is warm and sweet, instead of a brush off. DMs lead to emails lead to texts over the next year. The feeling of distance and anonymity results in insights and honesty, sharing of hopes and dreams, and an exchange of sweet messages through the off-season that reveals an unexpected depth to seemingly shallow pretty boy manwhore Dex.

As Stacey is on the verge of meeting Dex again, she makes an unexpected discovery to the real identity of the man she’s been messaging with and catches him in his lie. After some deliberation, and realization that she does have strong feelings, she decides to give the relationship a real chance, knowing it could all come to a halt at the end of the Willow Creek tour spot. But, he’s sweet, kind and her cat Benedick approves, so…

This mistaken identity tale is reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac, with the exchange of messages modernized in emails and texts. Stacey is going through a bit a quarter-life crisis, tethered to home due to concerns for her mother’s health. Like Emily, her college dreams got cut short, and her eye for style serves her well and helps her come into her own.

Recurring characters pop up: April becomes a friend, Emily and Simon have their wedding on the fairgrounds, Caitlyn is now part of a roving and performing madrigal group that Stacey was once a part of. Female friendship and family are prominent, and Stacey’s voice is distinct from Emily’s. Simon has loosened up a bit about the Faire, and new details (vendors, lyrics and bits from performances, new costumes) further develop and refresh the familiar setting.

Don’t miss the other books in the series, Well Met, Well Matched, and the anticipated Well Traveled (December 2022)!

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

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Well Met by Jen DeLuca

DeLuca, Jen. Well Met. Berkley, 2019. 336 pp. ISBN 978-1984805386 $16.00

*****

A new-to-Ren-Faire girl falls for the pirate alter-ego of Faire-obsessed local English teacher when Emily relocates to cozy small town Willow Creek to care for her niece and older sister. Chores unexpectedly extend from chauffeuring and housework to shadowing fourteen-year-old Caitlin through the tenth season of the high school’s summer fundraiser, a renaissance faire. Emily gets roped in as a volunteer because minors under age sixteen have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. She is met with disdain right away for not filling out her application correctly by an uptight man who turns out to be in charge of the whole shebang. Emily isn’t quite sure why she rubs Simon the wrong way, and sets her sights instead on buff Mitch, lured by his sunny attitude and the promise of glimpsing him in a kilt. Before she knows it, Emily is deep in Elizabethan boot camp learning drinking songs, chest squeezed into a bodacious bodiced bosom, as she develops her persona of serving wench Emma.

The cosplay allows her to get to know a tight knit group of friends, including friendly and bubbly Ren Faire veteran Stacey, and Emily begins to set down roots, getting a job at a local used bookstore. Family, both by blood and by interest and proximity, is a strong theme; her stay with her sister allows them to bond in a way they never have, as April is twelve years older. Emily’s grappling with a lot of loss as she grows into her new role: a recent breakup with her long-term boyfriend lead to a subsequent loss of her apartment, so the timing for moving in with April and Caitlyn couldn’t have come at a better time.

The character development is wonderful, the writing funny, insightful and hot. I don’t generally like enemies to lovers romances but the characters are so clearly misunderstanding one another, versus simply being mean. The Ren Faire culture is vibrant and authentic with deep fried turkey legs, battle chess, madrigals, vendors, and dust. Literary allusions abound, as Emily was an English major and shares a love of Shakespeare with Simon–even as she cannot resist needling him about the multiple authors theory (conspiracy?)

Don’t miss book two, Well Played, which features Emily’s wedding and her best friend Stacey’s romance, and book three, Well Matched, which focuses on Emily’s sister April and Mitch. The fourth book, Well Traveled, featuring Mitch’s favorite cousin, comes out in December 2023.