This was honestly so fun and good. Just don’t expect a solid plot but overall
Moderate: Homophobia, Eating disorder, and Emotional abuse
As a thank you to Netgalley and the publisher ( Casablanca Books) for a copy of Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. The story begins with Luc O Donnell famous by proxy and a need to improve his public image decides to form a fake relationship with polished barrister Oliver Blackwood. These two men are vastly different yet have both agreed to be in a fake relationship assisting facets of their public and private lives. The novel kept my attention, had me rooting for not only the main characters but the secondary ones as well. One aspect that kept my attention was the characterization of the couple and ability to psychologically show where they were as the relationship progressed. I recommend this to fans of Casey Mc Quiston’s Red White and Royal Blue or The Wedding date Jasmine Guillory.. Out of 5 stars on goodreads I give it a full five out of five stars.
Luc, the son of a Mick Jagger-like former rockstar, has a lot of baggage in his trunk. That baggage makes him do stupid things that end up being photographed and published in C-rate tabloids. Those tabloids land him in some trouble at his job (a fundraiser at a dung beetle conservation organization), where his boss tells him to spiffy up his image so that they don't lose any donors... aka get a nice, respectable boyfriend. And so Luc has to beg his friends to find a fake boyfriend for him to take to the big beetle dinner, and they do. Enter Oliver, an uptight criminal defense barrister. But while he may be controlling and uptight, Oliver is also really good at helping Luc put away all his dirty clothes and toiletries and further unpack his baggage. And maybe Luc is good for Oliver, too. Good enough to graduate them from fake to real boyfriends....
The two things I loved most about Boyfriend Material are (1) the banter! It's adorable and really makes you see that Luc and Oliver (and their friends) are real Millennials who like to joke and have fun and engage in some fun wordplay and (2) the voice! My god, it's incredible! It rings through so clearly and really makes Luc pop on the page. Initially, I was surprised --and slightly worried-- when I realized that the narration was all Luc all the time (most romances switch back and forth between the two love interests), but Boyfriend Material doesn't! And I'm glad it didn't because I fell in love with the voice of Luc and how its really, really feels like he's just telling everything to his BFF Bridget instead of narrating a book. THAT is how narration should be!
The loss of a half star is because Luc is a VERY annoying character for the first 2/3 of the book. I get it: he's depressed and has been coping poorly with it the past five years. But like, he is just an awful person: selfish, mean, and self-centered to the extent that he can't think of anyone else's feelings, including his friends and his mother with whom he gets along well. I mean, yes, it then paves the way for a rather miraculous dynamic character growth, but still. If I wasn't so hyped about reading this M/M romance, I probably would have stopped reading it.
- Luc, narrator and protagonist, is gay.
- He dates Oliver, a gay man.
- Several of Luc's friends (secondary characters) are LGBTQIA+, including Tom, bisexual dating a (straight) woman; James Royce-Royce married to James Royce-Royce (confusing? yes. unnecessary? yes. funny? yes, but not probably not as funny as Hall thinks it is.); Priya (South Asian) is a lesbian in a committed relationship with an older woman.
Some of the people in this are absolutely absurd. Okay I just had to get that of my chest, 'cause that's one of the most important things to know before you start reading this. Do yourself a favour and try to just go with it.
I definitely liked this, but the absurd people were sometimes a little bit too absurd. Most of the side characters were stupid or rude or enthusiastic to the extreme. Our two main characters are both a bit mentally unstable (one more obviously than the other, but still) and maybe because of that, they are the most normal people in the entire book. Honestly, if I lived in this world, with those people surrounding me every day, I also wouldn't be very stable. But, like I said, you kind of have to go with the extremes? If you accept that that's the way the world is for these guys, them deciding to start a fake relationship isn't as weird as it would be in real life.
So, the fake relationship. I liked it, especially because from the beginning it's quite clear that Oliver is really into Luc, but he knows Luc's not capable of having a serious relationship at that point. So they start fake dating and it's actually really sweet and cute. I just read a different book that deal with a fake relationship and these two situations could not be more different. The excuses these guys use to spend more time together, it's just funny. Even when they are both very much aware they just want to spend time together, they pretend it's fake? Luckily that doesn't last toooo long or anything, 'cause I'm sure it would have gotten annoying.
Speaking of annoying things. The parents. Fucking hell, what was that. Luc's mom is alright, even if she feels like she lives on a different planet. But his dad, can't even remember his name, but he's a dick anyway so who fucking cares. The cancer thing, I immediately thought, this guy is talking shit 'cause he's not saying what kind of cancer. Meaning he doesn't know for sure yet if he really has it, they're just doing tests and he's waiting for results. The whole "I want to reconnect with my son" thing felt off from the beginning and then definitely when they went to his house when they were filming. Honestly, I would never in a million years have waited 5 hours. Why? Because I have self-respect.
Aaaand while we're on the topic of self-respect. Neither Luc or Oliver has it. Seriously. It absolutely makes sense why, but it doesn't make it any less sad. The difference between Luc and Oliver is, though, that Oliver is good at hiding it. I loved how they both helped each other, though. Even if Oliver didn't realise he needed help until the very end. I liked seeing Luc slowly getting his shit together and realising that him being okay didn't have to change if Oliver wasn't there. I also loved Luc showing Oliver (in a maybe not so romantic way, but I was still on board) that he did know him, that he didn't think he was this perfect human. And I liked that everything after Oliver's parents' party went against big rom-com clichés. I mean, Durham or where-ever, was hilarious, at the door with everyone in the car staring... I loved it. I also liked Priya staying with Luc, it showed that while she may be quite a rude person, she's still a very good friend (not that that wasn't clear by her driving everyone around in her truck when necessary :p ).
I loved how, essentially, the book was about finding happiness when you son't think you deserve it and everything you do because of that lack of confidence/self-respect. Denying it's real, pushing the other person away, being scared. Both of our main characters are a bit fucked up because of the things they have been through and how they grew up and it makes total sense. But being a bit fucked up doesn't mean you can't fall in love and want to grow and get better together. Be each others rock. And over the course of this fake relationship turned real, they were both rocks for the other person and slowly, maybe even without realising, started showing less (self-)destructive behaviour. Not just to each other (and themselves, when they were alone) but to the people around them. That was really nicely done, subtle, but still very much there.
Oh and one quick final note, I loved the texts. And the dick pics. 4/5 stars. I liked this a lot, buuuut I still much prefer the (only, oops) other novel by Alexis Hall that I've read [b:For Real|25376011|For Real (Spires, #3)|Alexis Hall|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1429277460l/25376011._SX50_.jpg|45123759].
I'm not sure what I was expecting for Alexis Hall's upcoming Sourcebooks Casablanca release, but it definitely wasn't a hilarious rom-com narrated by Luc, a neurotic, paparazzi-averse twenty-something (his parents are rock-star famous but his dad walked out when he was three) who after accidentally getting some bad tabloid press, which affects his fund-raising job at a coleoptera charity, must acquire a respectable boyfriend. He gets set-up with Oliver, a very, very respectable barrister with a stable, very staid, acceptable lifestyle (who is also incredibly hot in his three-piece suits). So they agree to fake date. (FAKE DATING!!!!) Much of this book is Luc freaking out about feelings and learning to have feelings and be an adult and then maybe learning that Oliver isn't quite as put-together as he thought. Luc has a turn-of-phrase that had me snort-laughing in many places. (For serious. On Luc's and Oliver's first "date" Oliver, who is a criminal defense attorney, says Luc can ask him that question that people always ask. Luc panics and asks if Oliver ever has sex in the wig....I died. Hall also absolutely shreds upper-class posh manners.)
I'm going to give a content warning though. Both Luc and Oliver experience some really garbage casual homophobia - that very casual upper-class British kind that approves of being a Good Gay and not a Bad Gay - and there is one instance of really shitty casual homophobia (look, 3 out of 4 of Luc's and Oliver's parents are garbage - two of them because of said homophobia among other things). Given that this is an #ownvoices novel from Alexis Hall, I think this is probably fairly true to life, unfortunate as it is and I trust how Hall has shown how these situations play out. But it doesn't make it any easier to read especially since Luc and Oliver are so likeable.
The steam level is quite low/low-boil. (For reference, the only other Alexis Hall book I've read is [b:For Real|25376011|For Real (Spires, #3)|Alexis Hall|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1429277460l/25376011._SX50_.jpg|45123759] which is SO HOT that I was sure my face was going to catch on fire during one scene, the pie scene. You know the one.)
3.5, rounded up.
I generally don't read much (ok, any) m/m romance books, primarily because 98.3% of them are written BY and FOR str8 women, and they haven't a clue as to how gay men actually interact (looking at you [b:Red, White & Royal Blue|41150487|Red, White & Royal Blue|Casey McQuiston|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1566742512l/41150487._SY75_.jpg|61657690] ... which I could only stomach about 15 pages of before I bailed). But, despite the name, Alexis Hall, purports to be male, and since the premise of this sounded fun, and it has a 97% approval rating, I thought I'd give it a chance. Plus, in these perilous times, and before the Booker Marathon begins next week, I wanted something light and frothy ... and for the most part, this fit the bill.
Several things about it are fairly ridiculous, beginning with that initial premise, and the fact that anyone would care about a faded rock star's progeny - I can't think of a single individual who fits that profile that would warrant ANY media attention (maybe Chaz Bono, but he is interesting in his own right). Plus, such attention would/could never legally be used to fire someone from his job, so one had to take the set-up with an entire salt lick's worth of skepticism. But regardless, I did find much of this amusing and occasionally LOL funny, and though never strongly invested in whether Luc & Oliver would make it together (was there really any doubt?), it reads quickly and satisfied the fun factor.
It could have used much judicious editing - the entire subplot of Luc forgiving his father was superfluous, went nowhere and should have been jettisoned, and the copyediting was atrocious. 432 pages was twice as long as the story needed, and there were lots of weird anomalies (e.g., Tamara is supposedly a staunchly ethical vegan - yet wears silk, which is a BIG no no!).
But not since the heyday of [a:Joe Keenan|146418|Joe Keenan|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1396444310p2/146418.jpg] [note to self: re-read his Gilbert Selwyn trilogy!] has there been such a witty gay romance, so I was ultimately happy to have spent time reading it. And - damning with faint praise in some circles - it would make a delicious film, if gay rom-coms were even a thing [second note to self: re-watch 'All Over the Guy']. And finally, I rounded UP, rather than down, strictly due to this introducing me to the salacious slur 'bellend', which I had never encountered before this. :-)