Series: Well Met, #2
Published by Berkley on 22nd September 2020
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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.
‘Well-Played’, just like its predecessor, goes with the idea of love found at a Renaissance Faire, even if it involves a woman, two cousins as different as night and day and a few years of lust, lies and re-discovery.
What I really remember of Jen DeLuca is her very accessible, very breezy writing that makes the book so easy to go through and ‘Well-Played’, written in the first-person and exclusively through Stacey’s POV is pretty much that: the same intimate look at a woman’s life journey forward after life has seemingly stalled.
DeLuca takes a risk here with a trope that admittedly is always cringey for me. I was uncomfortable with the direction that it took for the first half, with epistolary deception playing a huge role in driving the story onwards and continuing for a year before the waters started to get muddy. More ominously, the more appropriate and updated term is better known now as ‘catfishing’, when someone assumes the identity of another person for fraudulent purposes—ironically so as well because it’s often associated with online romance scams.
DeLuca does soften the blow nonetheless, by making it easier to sympathise with Daniel who’s never had that fighting chance of romance next to his showy and muscular cousins, who’s never been and likely will never be in the limelight. As the one who’s resigned to his backstage life as band manager, Daniel is the beta all-round nice guy who has made a (huge) mistake and now finds himself at the losing end. He did however, come across as bland and somewhat unmemorable, balanced out by a kind heart of gold that simply wanted the best for Stacey.
There’s also a bit of an ick-factor as Stacey moved on from Dex MacLean to Daniel MacLean: one cousin she’d hooked up with, while the one she falls in love—both of whom work closely together. It’s not my cup of tea personally; in fact, I do sort of detest this ‘Cyrano de Begerac’ sort of reference when taken to this extent, and that proved yet another downer for me.
So while I loved ‘Well-Met’, I’m mixed about this and actually thought that Simon and Emily—who do turn up here quite a bit—were actually the saving grace of ‘Well-Played’. The continuation of their story, the development of their relationship, no matter how indirectly written here, made Stacey and Daniel pale in comparison and it was for them that I finished the book.