Fun, quirky, slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers, romantic comedy
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Pages: 335 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Emily Parker is 25 years old and currently at loose ends, after being summarily dumped by a callous live-in lover on whose behalf she had dropped out of college to spend five grueling years working two jobs to help put him through law school. When, soon after this debacle, she gets a call from her 37-year-old, divorced sister, April, to help take care of her during her recovery from a bad car accident, Emily is more than willing to temporarily relocate for the summer to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland. Emily likes to be useful, and she is very fond of her sister and her 14-year-old niece, Cait.
Emily initially has no interest in getting involved in the small, tight-knit community of Willow Creek, but Cait desperately wants to volunteer for the local Renaissance Faire, and she cannot participate unless a parent or adult caretaker volunteers with her. Out of a combination of curiosity about the faire and deep love for her niece, Emily hesitantly agrees to act as a stand-in for April.
On the sign-up day for faire volunteers, Emily encounters the main person in charge, Simon Graham, a handsome, 27-year-old, high-school, English teacher. His older brother, Sean, started the Renaissance Faire from scratch 10 years ago with major help from a local woman, Chris Donovan, who owns a small, indie bookstore and plays the Queen of the faire. But ever since Sean tragically died of cancer three years before when he was only 27 years old, Simon has been carrying on with the faire as much as a burden as a pleasure. It is an enormous responsibility.
Emily is surprised and angered by Simon’s rudeness to her, which she believes is based in an insulting assumption that she is a flake who isn’t committed enough to the success of the faire to be worthy to participate in it. But this inauspicious start to their relationship soon takes a surprising turn. On the grounds of the faire, where Simon dresses and acts the part of a hot pirate named Captain Ian Blackthorne, and Emily is in character as a brassy tavern wench named Emma, Simon/Ian initiates a surprisingly thrilling flirtation with Emily/Emma. Gorgeous Captain Ian is impossible to resist, but while hot-blooded Emma willingly succumbs to his sexy blandishments, cool-headed Emily can’t help wondering—is any of this real? Or are the Captain’s sexy quips and burning kisses an entirely fabricated connection that only exists between their uninhibited alter egos?
Over the years I have only read one or two romance novels with a backdrop of a Renaissance faire, but that particular setting seems well suited to romantic comedy. I enjoyed the colorful events of the faire in this story and appreciated all the quirky subcharacters who take part in the faire. Willow Creek is a cute little town which is filled with an entertaining cast of eccentric locals.
This story is written with two main plots. First, there is a chick-lit style main plot of Emily as a woman scorned who is on a journey to get a backbone and become the star in her own personal drama rather than always being a sidekick and unpaid servant to an ungrateful man.
Second, there is a slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers romance plot between Emily and sexy, cranky Simon. For me, personally, this romance runs into a bit of trouble for over half of the book due, in large part, to the author’s telling her story entirely from Emily’s first-person point of view (POV). That artistic choice is typical of chick lit but not at all usual in adult romance novels, which almost always offer the dual POV of the heroine and hero. In this novel, first-person inevitably creates reader alienation from Simon for most of the book, because he comes off as an uptight jerk since that’s Emily’s opinion of him. Fortunately, when the tide finally begins to turn toward romance instead of enmity between these two, and Emily stops wallowing in resentment toward him, we are at last allowed to begin to experience the real Simon, who is a sensitive, compassionate guy. At that point I began to like him very much and truly enjoy the romance.
For those who prefer G-rated romances, this one is more PG. There is only one sex scene in the novel that goes into any detail, but it is not particularly graphic, and Simon is both sensual and tender toward Emily.
I greatly appreciated that this novel retains its lighthearted tone throughout, never bringing down the comedic tone into jarring darkness by swerving into melodrama, as far too often authors of supposed romantic comedy tend to do.
All in all, this is a fun read, and I rate this novel as follows:
Renaissance Faire Plot: 4
Romance Plot: 3
Overall: 4 stars