I’m at the point where I no longer classify romance novels I listen to while working out as guilty pleasure — I’ve decided that for this year, I will enjoy them without the guilt.
So, when Jen DeLuca published another entry in her rom-com set at Renaissance Fairs, I put it on reserve on Libby and was pleasantly surprised when it quickly arrived. It was then I realized that I’d had last year’s installment in my to-be-read/listened-to list for a while — and that I’d have to skip it (for now) to enjoy Well Traveled. And while my inner continuity self balked at this decision, it did not make a huge difference in the overall scheme of things. DeLuca’s novels are self-contained and while they may feature characters from previous novels, not knowing every nuance of the previous three stories won’t necessarily hurt here.
After the first three novels in the series were set in Maryland, the fourth installment casts a wider net for it setting. Louisa Malone (better known as Lulu) is a driven, high-powered attorney who has been chasing the partner ring for years now. Watching as lesser qualified candidates get her shot at partner and frustrated by the long hours for what feels like little reward, Lulu quits her job while visiting a North Carolina Ren Faire, memorably drowning her cell phone in the wash tub of one of the acts.
But instead of immediately jumping into the job-search mode, Lulu decides to take some time off to decompress and figure out her next steps — and that’s where The Dueling Kilts enters the picture. Lulu (through her cousin from previous novels) arranges to be part of the traveling singing group for a few months and embraces living off the grid for the summer. While Lulu attempts to gain some clarity and perspective, she begins to notice Dex, the guitar player for the group who is a bit of a lady’s man on the Ren Fair circuit. (Dex was featured in the second novel in the series).
But is there more to Dex than just the guy with a girl in every Ren Fair?
As with previous installments in the series, DeLuca’s characters are on-point in Well Traveled. It’s a nice change of pace to see DeLuca expand the world of her Ren Faire romcoms a bit with this installment. And while I was rooting for a happy ending for Dex and Lulu, I can’t help but feel that perhaps romcoms at the Ren Fair are starting to lose a bit of their steam (pun kind of intended here). Yes, the growing attraction is well-handled and there are plenty of legitimate obstacles for our couple to overcome (thankfully, both parties act like adults for the most part, discussing things and not just ignoring them until they become seemingly insurmountable speed bumps), but there were moments where the setting felt a bit too familiar.
Obviously, I have enjoyed DeLuca’s work (I’ve read three of her four novels at this point), but there was part of me that wondered if it might not be time for DeLuca to take a page from Lulu and get out of her comfort zone. I’m hoping her next novel might see her find a different setting or set of circumstances for her characters to meet and fall in love. I think stretching her wings a bit for her next novel would be a welcome change for this reader/listener.