Since the lead characters in Well Met are 25 and 27 years of age, I’m probably a little too old to be in the book’s target audience. But I still found it a delightful novel, and one with some significant wisdom that readers in the protagonists’ age range could benefit from.
Emily dropped out of college in order to work as a bartender and help put her fiancé through law school, but after he graduated and got a job with a high-powered firm, he broke up with her. When Emily’s older sister April, a single mom, is seriously injured in a car accident, she leaves Boston and heads to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, in order to help out.
Emily and April have never been particularly close due to their 12-year age difference. But moving in with April and her teenage daughter Caitlin at least gives Emily a place to live and something to do while she recovers from her broken heart. Emily quickly learns that every summer, Willow Creek hosts a wildly popular Renaissance Faire—and Caitlin is dying to participate in the cast. Since she’s too young to do so without an adult guardian nearby, Emily agrees to serve as a tavern wench, figuring her bartending experience will come in handy.
The festival is run by a local English teacher named Simon, who immediately strikes Emily as an uptight killjoy. However, at the fair, Simon dons the costume and persona of a charismatic pirate named Captain Ian Blackthorne. The pirate strikes up a flirtation with the wench, and Emily finds herself attracted to him… at least when he’s in character. Once he’s back in civilian clothes, the two of them always seem to be at odds.
Both Simon and Emily have a lot of personal baggage, and need to learn some serious life lessons before they can be together. Simon is mired in the past, due to family tragedy, while Emily is still bruised and deeply insecure because of her break-up. The happy ending in Well Met is truly well-earned, which makes it all the sweeter.
Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare also has some insights to impart, wrapped in a high-concept romcom about two Londoners who wind up living in the same apartment—even sleeping in the same bed—without ever meeting. Tiffy desperately needs a cheap place to live after breaking up with her boyfriend; Leon is in dire need of cash to pay for a solicitor willing to take his incarcerated brother’s case. Since Leon works nights as a nurse, he figures he can rent his flat to someone with a 9-to-5 job, and their paths will never cross. (He plans to spend the weekends at his girlfriend Kay’s place.)
Kay interviews Tiffy and hands over the key to Leon’s flat (“Her expression could not be more obvious: It says, I was worried you might be hot and try to steal my boyfriend from me while you make yourself at home in his bed, but now I’ve seen you and he’d never be attracted to you, so yes! Come in!“). Weeks pass, then months, and the two roommates never bump into each other, but they do communicate prolifically via Post-It notes. Leon is so preoccupied with his brother’s legal issues—he’s in jail for armed robbery, but swears he’s innocent—that it begins to affect his relationship with Kay. Meanwhile, Tiffy’s ex-boyfriend begins to display an unnerving knack for popping up wherever she happens to be. It seems like he’s trying to win her back, but his reappearances cause Tiffy to develop PTSD-like symptoms as she gradually comes to realize that her ex was emotionally abusive.
Like Well Met, this is a novel that’s fun but not frivolous. Both O’Leary and DeLuca bring welcome fresh voices to the modern romantic comedy genre.