Desert Isle Keeper
Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material is quite possibly the best romantic comedy I’ve ever read. Almost every page produced a smile, a grin, a snort or a full-out belly-laugh – and I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a book that produced full on giggling of the sort that made my family members give me funny looks.
I love a good fake-relationship story and this is a VERY good one. The premise is nothing new; our PoV character Lucien – Luc – O’Donnell has appeared in one-too-many embarrassing photos in the press and is told to clean up his image or be fired from his job. But Alexis Hall turns this commonly used plotline into something special; yes, it’s frequently hilarious, but it’s also charming, touching, awkward, sharply observant and refreshingly self-deprecating, as is evident right from the start in the way the author pokes fun at the premise itself by having Luc working for a charity dedicated to the preservation of the dung-beetle, whose name, in acronym form, is CRAPP.
Turns out, the one thing worse than having a famous father who blew up his career like a champagne supernova is having a famous father who’s making a fucking comeback.
Twenty-eight year-old Luc is the son of a famous rock-star couple whose dad abandoned both Luc and his mother when Luc was just three years old. For much of his life he’s been constantly compared to his reckless, self- destructive absentee father in the media, the slightest infraction or cock-up on his part inevitably leading to smug ‘like father, like son’ pronouncements, but he learned to live with it (mostly). Five years before the book opens, Luc’s long-term boyfriend sold his story to the tabloids for fifty grand, which sent him into a downward spiral that, for a while, served only to reinforce people’s worst assumptions about him. Now, he’s a mass of insecurities, a cagey, grumpy, paranoid mess with serious trust and self-esteem issues who has made an art form out of pushing people away.
Because somewhere along the line, I’d turned getting ahead of the story into a lifestyle.
With his father making a comeback as a judge on a reality TV show, Luc is once again fair game as far as the paparazzi is concerned. So when a perfectly innocuous photo of him appears in a tabloid complete with sensationalist byline, Luc’s stuffy boss at the Coleoptera Research and Protection Project (CRAPP), worried about losing donors over his reported antics, gives him an ultimatum. Repair his reputation or he’s out of a job. Luc has no idea how to do this – until a colleague (with the wonderfully unlikely name of Alex Twaddle – seriously, many of the names in this book are Dickensian in their ridiculousness!) suggests he should get himself an appropriate boyfriend to be seen around with and then take to the upcoming CRAPP fundraiser.
Which is how come Luc ends up agreeing to go on a not-date with the terribly proper, uptight barrister Oliver Blackwood. They have absolutely nothing in common other than the need to have a plus-one to take to an upcoming event – Luc’s fundraiser and Oliver’s parents’ anniversary – so they agree to be publicity-friendly fake-boyfriends for a few weeks, then have a fake-break-up and pretend it never happened. No problem.
Well, it should be no problem, but as their fake-relationship progresses and Luc starts to get to know Oliver, he begins to realise that behind the serious, fussy, perfectly-presented exterior is a man he could come to like very much – for real.
Luc is pretty self-absorbed, but given his circumstances, it’s not too surprising; he’s famous-by-association and has lived under some sort of spotlight for much of his life. When other kids were getting drunk or stoned at parties nobody batted an eyelid, but when he did it, it made its way into the papers with copy about his being a ‘wild child’ or ‘his father’s son’. He’s short-tempered, sharp-tongued and has a talent for saying the wrong thing, but he’s endearing and vulnerable, despite his outward prickliness, and I loved watching him gradually coming to accept that he was worth loving and deserved to have good things in his life.
And Oliver, while seemingly Luc’s total opposite is absolutely perfect for him. He’s a bit stuffy – although as Luc discovers, has a very dry sense of humour – and is sometimes a bit preachy, but it all comes from a good place and there’s something about him that is completely and utterly charming. He’s had lots of boyfriends, but no relationship has lasted, something Oliver himself puts down to his being boring. To start with, Luc is inclined to agree, but soon starts to wonder. Oliver may be a bit uptight, but he’s also kind, considerate and intuitive (plus, he’s seriously hot) – so how come he’s never had a relationship last more than six months?
Luc and Oliver’s romance is beautifully written and well-paced, and is full of snark, tenderness and genuine affection. From their very first fake-date, the chemistry between them sings, and their gradual progression from fake boyfriends to ‘um… this doesn’t feel fake any more’ is extremely well done. The story is related entirely from Luc’s PoV, but Mr. Hall does a great job of bringing Oliver to life through his eyes, and showing the reader things that Luc sees but doesn’t SEE. Luc is so caught up in his own problems that he fails to see that Oliver is just as screwed up and insecure in many ways as he is – and I appreciated that part of Luc’s journey towards being a little less hard on himself was in learning to recognise when others – notably Oliver – were struggling, too.
He’d helped me see that my life was better than I’d thought it was… that I was better than I’d thought I was.
The sub-plot concerning Luc’s conflicting emotions about his father – who has discovered he has cancer – is really well done, and Luc’s circle of friends – their WhatsApp group variously titled “Queer Comes the Sun”, “One Gay More” and “All About That Ace” – are a bonkers, quirky bunch who clearly adore each other and wouldn’t be out of place in a Richard Curtis film.
Luc and Oliver light up the pages whenever they’re together and while Mr. Hall’s trademark humour and love of pop-culture are very much present throughout, there’s a more serious, emotional side to the book, too, a story about self-worth and acceptance and the need to be true to oneself. Romantic, funny, silly, messy, tropey and completely wonderful, Boyfriend Material is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. I was captivated from start to finish and I’m sure you will be, too.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
Visit our Amazon Storefront
|Review Date:||July 5, 2020|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||fake relationship | lawyer | London | London Calling series | male author | Male/Male romance | opposites attract | Queer romance | unusual occupation|
The only thing I didn’t completely love about this book was: I wanted a little bit more happy ending. Luc and Oliver are A MESS and they didn’t really have a minute to settle into being happy. Of course, I’m going to immediately re-read the thing anyway. Definitely one of the best new books I’ve read this year.
Yes, I agree – it could have done with an epilogue (and I’m not normally one for epilogues) just to show them a few weeks/months down the line. But it’s still one of the best books of the year.
Yes! I feel like there could really be a sequel or at least a novella with these two that focuses on how they cope as they get more and more serious. I loved this book and loved Luc an Oliver. Alexis Hall is always brilliant.
This is my take as well. I really, really enjoyed this book but I was a little shocked at how quickly it ended, right on top of Oliver’s last move.
Well, I finished this in bed last night – very late – after reading and listening to the audio throughout the day, and think that you have summed it up brilliantly, Caz.
I found it a really enjoyable read, with Alexis Hall’s trademark wit, and I think it will be a book that I return to regularly. Some of the set pieces are just sooo funny. I was crying with laughter at the visit to Luc’s mum’s house……………….
The fake boyfriend trope is written so well and then there are all the nods to rom-com movies – Bridget Jones’ Diary and Pretty Woman in particular. Such fun!
It is very romantic and there is much less sex than in the other books by Alexis Hall that I have read. These scenes are written much less explicitly too. They are very sweet but I did miss the great, nuanced sex scenes of the Spires series. From the way the book has been marketed I’m guessing that this is to appeal to a different/wider audience of readers?
I’m glad you enjoyed it. I loved the sheer Britishess of it – from the the pop culture references to the ridiculous names – and how you’re giggling away and then BAM! he hits you in the feels. I’m on the fence about the audio; I’ve listened to the sample (and others by the same narrator) and wasn’t wowed – how was it? (And was Joel Leslie busy? Because, seriously, this book is right in his wheelhouse.)
As to marketing… I have no idea, although one of my fellow reviewers pointed out in our July Coming Soon post that the cover seemed to be trying to appeal to readers of Red, White and Royal Blue. I can certainly see that in terms of the cover images, but I can’t imagine the content is at all similar. Still, I can’t see anyone being disappointed in this one, no matter why they pick it up.
Yes, I loved the Britishness of it too – Morecambe and Wise, Rupert Bear, Mrs Tiggiewinkle and all! That scene in the Gentleman’s Club reminded me a bit of the Tom Sharpe books from the 70s and 80s – I don’t think they’d get past the Content Warnings for sexism and misogyny these day, though!
I’m undecided about the audio as I only heard parts of it. At the moment I would say it is okay – doesn’t detract from the book, but doesn’t enhance it either. Oliver’s accent probably isn’t posh enough but is distinct from Luc’s. The overall delivery isn’t very sparky…….. I agree about it suiting Joel Leslie, or Nicholas Boulton or Cornell Collins who also have previous with AH’s books.
I haven’t read Red, White and Royal Blue – I don’t go near anything pretending to be about the royal family……………..
I have the audiobook and I must say I loved it. The accents were spot on and I thought his distinction between the voices In the large cast of characters was great. The book has a younger narrator and I think it suited the younger voice.
I listened to it this week, and have said elsewhere that the Audible sample (they are, as far as I know, chosen by a computer program!) wasn’t at all a good indication of the narrator’s ability, becuase he was superb. I wasn’t too convinced by his Oliver voice to start with, but it grew on me, and his female voices were brilliant. Rhys’ Welsh accent was really good (Welsh accents are hard to do well) and Luc’s mum’s French-accented English was spot on and not overdone as often happens. I was completely won over and have been raving about it ever since!
Preordered! Have to wait until Tuesday in the US.
Thanks Caz – I’m looking forward to it!
Have to admit. My local independent bookstore had to special order this for me – they aren’t big on romances – so no chance I was going to “happen upon it” there on release day. But their distributor had it in stock and the store called me to come pick it up the day they received it, a few days ago! I’ve been reading as slowly as I can over the weekend, hoping to make it last. I’m about 3/4s in and the book is everything Caz describes.
If I had to wait to find romances in local bookshops I’d never read any! I’m glad you managed to nab this and you’re enjoying it. I read it and wrote this review back in Feb or March, and this is actually the first time I’ve re-read what I had to say about it since then, so I’m glad my comments are being borne out!
I hear you about waiting for bookstores. A lot of the very best romance writing today is not available in libraries and bookstores because of old-habit purchasing practices. But Hall is a particular favorite of mine. And since Sourcebooks (a publisher bookstores and libraries might feel more comfortable stocking) took the plunge with this fabulous m/m author and actually printed paper copies of the book, I thought I should encourage them to sign more m/m authors by buying a paper copy. I’m so happy to see the promotional support Sourcebooks has given this book.
My local bookstore is trying to carry romances. They have Alyssa Cole and Jasmine Guillory, and sometimes Sherry Thomas or Courtney Milan on the shelves (yay!) next to easy choices like Nora Roberts and Robyn Carr. But wouldn’t it be awesome to find Hall’s How to Bang A Billionaire replacing Fifty Shades of Gray? (I cringe every time I see those books – and they are in every bookstore. Too many people think that is the quality of story-telling and writing in the typical “romance”.) Would love to find Gregory Ashe, Kaje Harper, Dal Maclean, and AJ Thomas as well as Elizabeth Kingston and Mia Vincy at my local store instead. Baby steps!
Romance novels are hard to find in most bookshops over here – although it’s been a while since I looked. My local Waterstones – which is 20 miles away – had a few books by Mary Balogh, Stephanie Laurens and Julia Quinn last time I was there (not sure about contemps) which was probably a couple of years ago now. I’ve been relying on Amazon for the past 15 years and since I got my Kindle 10 years ago, I don’t do print books any more.
Romance shelves here tend to be full of “family sagas” a la Cookson with some Mills & Boons thrown in. It sounds like a similar problem of conception here but with even fewer choices!
Powells in Portland, Ore is my local and independent bookstore. They will special order anything and also do a nice job of carrying most romance authors. They are my go-to store and I agree that seeing the authors you list displayed in their store is a boon to the industry. I think that’s awesome that you special ordered Hall’s book from your local indie store!
Glad this is good!
I’m so looking forward to Tuesday, when I can finally read this book!
I hope you enjoy it, Wendy :)