Review: J.L. Merrow – Played (The Shamwell Tales #2)

Author: J.L. Merrow
Reviewer: Barb
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Contemporary

Rating: ★★★★☆ 


All the world’s a stage…but life doesn’t come with a script.

Posh boy Tristan Goldsmith has one last summer of freedom before he joins the family firm in New York—no more farting around on stage, as his father puts it. But the classically trained actor can’t resist when the Shamwell Amateur Dramatics Society begs him to take a leading role in their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As an added incentive, he’ll be giving private acting lessons to a gorgeous local handyman who’s been curiously resistant to Tristan’s advances.

As a late-diagnosed dyslexic still struggling with literacy, Con Izzard’s never dared to act before. With arrogant yet charming Tristan helping him with his lines, he finally has his chance to shine. But Con’s determined not to start a romance with a man he’s convinced only wants a casual fling.

Tristan’s never been one to back down from a challenge, especially when he realises his attraction to the tall, muscular handyman isn’t just physical. Just as he thinks he’s finally won Con’s heart—and given his own in return—disaster strikes with a slip of the tongue that shatters Con’s trust and sends him running for cover. This show may be over before the curtain’s even opened.


Tristan Goldsmith comes to the tiny village of Shamwell to clean out the home of his childhood nanny and pseudo-grandmother, Nana Geary, after she passes away. Saddened by her loss, he’s nevertheless happy to have the excuse to get out of fulfilling his father’s request to “quit fooling around with the nonsense profession of acting” and come to work for the firm in New York, which is where he belongs according to his father.

JL Merrow has created quite the character in Tristan—a very big ego, as could be expected of a talented actor, but also a much more interesting person than the happy-go-lucky side he presents to the world. When he meets handyman Con Izzard, he wants to climb the tall man and engage in whatever pleasures they can offer each other. But to Tristan’s mortification, Con turns him down flat. Con wants a real relationship—not a quick one-night stand or a summer fling, and he’s determined to hold out until he someday gets it.

The two are thrown together pretty frequently when Con’s friend, Heather, whom we met in Caught, needs an extra actor to play Puck in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. And she needs Con to play Bottom (and don’t think JL Merrow wastes her inimitable sense of humor to make the best of that character’s name!)

Eventually, the men get together but not until after they’ve truly come to care for each other—though, of course, neither is willing to acknowledge that or admit it out loud. And unfortunately, a stupid comment on Tristan’s part breaks them up before they even get started. There’s an interesting WWII romantic mystery subplot thrown in for good measure and a host of really interesting and sweet village characters, including the MCs from Caught. One of the nicest things about this story, in my opinion, is that the characters don’t immediately jump into bed. In fact, the story is nearly over before they have sex. But it comes when it should and makes sense when it does. I’ve come to appreciate authors who can write romance without throwing a sex scene in every chapter, and this is certainly much more of a romance than a “hot sex” story.

As I said in my review of Caught, JL Merrow infuses each story with humor and most certainly did a wonderful job with this one. Humor always adds to my enjoyment of a story and in this particular book there were plenty of opportunities for the flighty Tristan to exercise his mastery of the pun—both subtle and not-so-subtle—though often to his own detriment.

I’m looking forward to more in this series. If the next two are as good as the first two, I have a lot of pleasure coming from reading in the very near future. I highly recommend this story and the series to those who enjoy MM romance, particularly stories set in rural villages in the British Isles.


Riptide Publishing 

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