Another laugh-out-loud romantic comedy featuring kilted musicians, Renaissance Faire tavern wenches, and an unlikely love story.
Stacey is jolted when her friends Simon and Emily get engaged. She knew she was putting her life on hold when she stayed in Willow Creek to care for her sick mother, but it’s been years now, and even though Stacey loves spending her summers pouring drinks and flirting with patrons at the local Renaissance Faire, she wants more out of life. Stacey vows to have her life figured out by the time her friends get hitched at Faire next summer. Maybe she’ll even find The One.
When Stacey imagined “The One,” it never occurred to her that her summertime Faire fling, Dex MacLean, might fit the bill. While Dex is easy on the eyes onstage with his band The Dueling Kilts, Stacey has never felt an emotional connection with him. So when she receives a tender email from the typically monosyllabic hunk, she’s not sure what to make of it.
Faire returns to Willow Creek, and Stacey comes face-to-face with the man with whom she’s exchanged hundreds of online messages over the past nine months. To Stacey’s shock, it isn’t Dex—she’s been falling in love with a man she barely knows.
In WELL PLAYED, DeLuca brings readers back to Willow Creek, and the lovely Renaissance Faire that’s such a hit with its residents. It’s an insular story, in which the energy is VERY ‘small-town.’ We follow the bright and bubbly Stacey, who finds herself wanting… more, in life. At 27 years old, she can’t help but think: what if she could leave the small town of Willow Creek? All her friends from college are starting families, but her one true love is her cat. What if she can pursue her dream at something she’s good at, like fashion, rather than the receptionist job she has? What if…
DeLuca brings Stacey alive in her first-person POV, with an honest narrative. It was easy to empathize with her and understand her feelings. First, she feels responsible for her mother’s health, so she stays in Willow Creek rather than pursues a life elsewhere, despite having plans to work in New York after she graduated college. Next, she feels at odds with herself. While she is active on social media and goes out frequently, she doesn’t find solace or meaning behind those things. I also appreciated seeing her insecurities of being plus-sizes, as in our society we normalize ‘skinny/fit’ figures (which she doesn’t have). Overall, she just feels listless in her life. This ennui galvanizes her to send a text to her casual hook-up partner: Dex MacLean, who performs at the Faire. She’s embarrassed, since she did it while wine-drunk, but he responds back! And then… let the fun begin.
I’m not the type to enjoy reading about deception in my romance books (I don’t appreciate it in romances usually and always think communication is number one in any relationship, in general), but if you keep WELL PLAYED as a light-hearted read, it’s fun and exhilarating in this one. The pacing is interesting, as the MacLean brothers only come to Willow Creek once a year for the Faire. Otherwise, they’re traveling across the nation for their music act. Because of that, a year flies by quickly in the pages, with frequent texts and emails between Stacey and ‘Dex.’ Their conversations get deep as they become vulnerable with the other. For Stacey, it’s the sense of listlessness she feels. For ‘Dex,’ it’s the tire and monotony for being on the road with no real home to go back to.
It had been about searching for a life of my own, which I now had. And it had been about the man behind those screens. And I knew exactly where he was.
Stacey actually figures out early in the game who she was actually communicating with (see? Another reason why this deception worked for me) and understood why it happened. The love interest is really Soft and sweet and caring. I have a special place in my heart for Soft Men, and this love interest’s hesitancy and lack of major confidence fit that bill (especially as he gets compared to Dex so often). However, I did feel like we didn’t know him as much because when we met him, he’s already in love with Stacey – it was a bit difficult to believe since we didn’t see him actively falling in love with her. Nonetheless, he’s caring and has eyes only for her. I think a large part of this feeling has to do with a lack of POV and narrative from his side.
WELL PLAYED brings our favorite Willow Creek characters back to life! It was lovely seeing Simon and Emily (from WELL MET) again, and to see the teasing interactions between April and Mitch, who will get their book next. This series has truly been a love note to renaissance faires, and it was fun reading about them and the passion that people have for them. If you go too deep into this book, it’s easy to become dissatisfied. (For example: what happened to [love interest name’s] issues with his lifestyle and how did that get resolved? Why was Stacey’s mom telling her to “take her time” and checking up on her so often, and how did that transition to her behavior near the end? The resolution in general of the HEA was just a sloppily wrapped bow.) HOWEVER, if you keep this book light and sweet (as the vibe is), you’ll have a fun time!
parent with cancer, sexy times
Thank you Berkley and Netgalley for the review copy!