Well Played by Jen DeLuca

Monday, September 21, 2020

by Jen DeLuca
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Adult
Publisher: Berkley Romance
Publication Date: September 23rd 2020
Source: ARC received for review
Star Quotient: ★★★★
Kiss Factor: ✷✷✷✷

Jen DeLuca returns to the renaissance fair with another heartwarming love story, this time featuring one of my favorite tropes - a romance that develops over text messages. While I thoroughly enjoyed her debut novel, Well Met, Well Played was an even lovelier story, in my opinion.

Typically, I am not one for romances where there's a deception involved. In Well Played, Stacey, the protagonist, develops a texting relationship with a man who she thinks is her crush, Dex. It's clear to the reader who the actual texter is, but I was a little nervous about how long this storyline would be dragged because I knew I wouldn't enjoy Stacey being in the dark for too long. Kudos to Jen DeLuca for revealing the truth to Stacey fairly early on in the story, allowing her relationship with the guy actually messaging her to blossom without that added complication. 

Stacey is a character that I think many readers will relate to. Growing up, she had big passionate dreams that had her leaving her small town for NYC. Unfortunately, her mother's sudden illness brick-walled all her plans, forcing her to remain in town to look after her parents. In Well Played, she is a feeling a little lost, unclear where she wanted her life to move towards. She is also craving a more genuine romantic relationship, similar to what her friends Simon and Emily have. It's easy to sympathize with Stacey as her situation is true for many of us in our 20s, trying to figure our futures out. For me, what made Stacey a lovable character was how much she put others' first, sometimes at the cost of her own happiness. She has a very nurturing and giving personality, and in this book, we finally do see her take the steps to prioritize herself for once. It was easy for me to root for her growth, happiness, and happily ever after. I was thrilled for her to find that HEA with an equally sweet guy. I don't want to spoil who the real "Dex" is so I won't be revealing his name in this review, but he was a sweetheart. He was at times misguided, but it was obvious that his heart was in the right place. He made mistakes, but it was always clear to me that he made those mistakes because he loved Stacey so much and didn't want to hurt her.

As the book summary suggests, there's a bit of a catfishing situation in Well Played, but as I said, it wasn't dragged, which I appreciated. I love a good romance that takes place over text and emails, which is why I found this book to be so charming. I truly felt the obvious connection that the two shared with each other and the banter between them made reading this book very enjoyable. Overall, Jen DeLuca delivers with a super sweet romance with a lot of heart. I even admit to shedding a single tear (because my heart is frozen for more tears) at "Dex's" last letter to Stacey. This series is also special because of the Ren Faire setting. The setting is a vibrant and vital part of these books. You can tell that that the Ren Faire holds a special place in the author's life and this book is just teeming with her love for it. I've personally never attended a renaissance fair in my life, but these books have confirmed that it's a bucket-list experience for me.

I buddy-read Well Played with Andi at Andi's ABCs, and we both had a fun time reading this book. If you like your contemporary romances full of swoons and banter, and with a more unique setting, I highly recommend trying these books. Meanwhile, I'll impatiently be waiting for April and Mitch's book! 

CW: catfishing


Hi, everyone! I'm very excited to have Jen DeLuca stop by for a chat about Well Played. I love love one of these questions because Jen went above and beyond with the pics. I hope you enjoy reading this interview! 😉

What was your favorite non-spoilery scene to write in WELL PLAYED that truly captures the story?

I love the scene on New Year’s Eve, where they’re exchanging slightly tipsy emails after separate celebrations. He says he hopes someone was there to kiss her at midnight because he couldn’t do it himself, and she replies that she gave Benedick a kiss and he didn’t mind. When his response is wait, I take it back, I don’t want anyone else kissing you, she moves their communication from email to text, taking a selfie with Benedick (her cat) and sending it to his phone.

I think this scene captures so many elements of the story as a whole, since their relationship develops so much via online communication—words on screens as opposed to being together in person. This move, from email to texting, is like leveling up their relationship. Up to this point, their talks had been more from the head—learning about each other, but it’s not until they move to texting, which feels more immediate and intimate than emails, that they start talking from the heart. 

 If Stacey and "Dex" were to travel back in history, which era would they time travel to and who are some famous people they would want to encounter?

They’re both very free-spirited in nature, so I think they’d travel back to the Summer of Love in 1967. The hippie/counterculture movement was hitting a fever pitch, and the vibe is similar to a Ren Faire. They’d hang out at Haight-Ashbury and check out some early Grateful Dead shows. Stacey would get some white go-go boots, they’d both wear beads, put flowers in their hair, and enjoy the music and the environment. I think they’d feel pretty at home. 

Stacey and "Dex" have a squabble. How does he woo her back? What does she do to ask for forgiveness on her end?

He gets caught in a pretty big lie, and has to prove that none of what happened between them was a joke. In one of her emails, she described her perfect evening once: eating Chinese takeout and watching home renovation shows on cable. So he invites her over and recreates that night for her, showing her that not only did he listen and remember everything she told him about her, but to show her that he’s not asking her over for a cheap hookup. 

When things fall apart between them, Stacey realizes that she’s made him think that she doesn’t want him for the man he is, and doesn’t want to be part of the life he lives. So she meets him on his ground, in his world, to prove to him that he’s the man she wants, and his life is the one she wants to share.

If there was one lesson you would want readers to take away from WELL PLAYED, what would it be?

For a relationship to work, honesty is key. You have to show a person who you really are, inside and out. It takes a lot for these two to really lay everything out there, but it’s only when that happens that they know they’re really right for each other.

You invite us to hang out with you at the Renaissance Faire. What would our day and itinerary look like?

There is nothing I want to do MORE right now! The first thing we’d do as we go through the gates is stop for a second and take it all in. Maybe scan the map and make a little bit of a plan of what we want to do and see. (Sorry, I’m a Virgo—planning is what we do!) (Pic 1 – street scene)

Are we in costume? If not, let’s fix that. There’s plenty of costume vendors if you really want to immerse yourself in the atmosphere. But if you don’t want to do the costume thing, let’s at least grab a flower crown. It helps get into the spirit of the day. (pic 2 – flower crowns)

Let’s see some shows! From reading WELL MET you might know that I’m always a fan of the human chess match, so I’ll always look for one of those. But there are so many great performers to check out: singers, acrobats, comedy acts, even ones that combine all three! Shows aren’t just on stages … performers also stroll the lanes, so you never know when you’ll run into something great. (pics 3-6)

By that point we’re probably hungry, so we’ll hit the food stalls, and maybe a tavern … turkey legs are traditional, but honestly there’s all kinds of fair(e) food: chicken tenders, gyros, funnel cakes … if you can deep fry it or put it on a stick, you can probably find it at a Ren Faire. At the tavern we’ll find beer, wine, cider, mead, as well as the lots and lots of water you should be drinking to stay hydrated. It’s hot out here! (pics 7 & 8)

The big event at most Ren Faires is the joust, and there’s usually at least two a day. I like to try to catch them toward the end of the day, when the sun isn’t quite so high in the sky and you can find a little shade. Often it’s a pre-rehearsed show as opposed to a real tournament, but even so it’s knights in real armor with lances on horseback, so it’s still a thrill to watch!  (pics 9 & 10)

Last event of the day at a lot of Faires is a pub sing, which is a kind of variety show put on by some of the entertainers who have been performing all day. Strategically it’s at one of the front stages, so once it’s over it’s easy to funnel the patrons out for the end of the day. We’ll stumble to our cars, muttering tired huzzahs and looking forward to a long shower when we get home. 

(Photos taken at Maryland Renaissance Festival, Sarasota Medieval Fair, and Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Faire)

Could you describe what we can expect from WELL-MATCHED using only GIFs? 

(I’m copying links to them so you can go get whatever you need to put them in the blog post)

Thanks a lot to Jen for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope the answers gave you some insight into the book?

Let's chat!
Have you read any romances that take place over texts/emails? How about romances with ren faire settings?
Let me know in the comments below!

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