The Boyfriend Subscription
Grade : D+

Steven Salvatore is new-to-me, and I understand that they’ve previously published three successful queer YA novels. The Boyfriend Subscription is their first adult romance, and it’s a queered version of Pretty Woman in which the sex worker (Cole Vivian) is wealthy and the Edward character – in this case, Teddy Hughes - has just lost his home and business as part of a nasty divorce.

It's one of the early entries in Harlequin’s new Afterglow line, which the publisher describes as:

- a new Harlequin series aimed at the under-35 romance reader, featuring spicy romances grounded in relatable character journeys. From showing up to glowing up, these characters are on the path to leading their best lives and finding romance along the way…

Entrepreneur Cole Vivian is the man behind VERSTL, an app that, according to the book blurb “allows sex workers and consumers to make real - if temporary - connections.” (It seems to be a kind of mash up of OnlyFans, hookup app and escort agency.) The app has been a huge success and Cole continues to be one of its most successful content creators and performers - and now he is preparing to publicly launch the business and bring in outside investors. With the launch party in full swing and his schmoozing commitments fulfilled, Cole decides he needs a break and heads outside, looking for somewhere to escape.

On the day botanist and author Teddy Hughes files for bankruptcy and closes up his horticultural business for the very last time, his best friend and roommate Kit drags him out for a drink at a seedy bar near their apartment. Jobless and hopeless, deeply in debt and still angry and grieving for his failed marriage, Teddy is unable to continue to live in NYC so is preparing to return home to New Orleans in a week’s time. He and Kit are on a mission to drown Teddy’s sorrows and maybe get him laid – something that becomes infinitely more appealing when the most gorgeous guy he’s ever seen walks up to the bar.

Teddy and Cole enjoy a night of fantastic sex, and in the morning, Cole makes him a business proposition. He needs a date for his sister’s wedding at the weekend, plus he’d like Teddy to accompany him to dinner with a potential business partner that evening; he offers to pay Teddy to spend the week with him, pretending to be his boyfriend. He likes Teddy, enjoys his calm steadiness and enjoys his company – it’s not like he’s asking for forever.

This story follows the basic beats of the movie’s storyline, but unfortunately, the novel is poorly paced, poorly characterised, and devoid of chemistry between the leads. I did like some things – the sex and body positivity, Cole’s aim to ‘humanise’ sex work, the excellent queer rep, and Teddy – but the whole thing feels completely superficial. Okay, so the romance in the book follows the short time-frame of the one in the film, but at least Julia Roberts and Richard Gere had plenty of on-screen chemistry to carry it through; here, there just isn’t enough time spent on convincing the reader that Cole and Teddy are falling for one another.

Another thing the book has taken from the film is having a villain who tries to sabotage Cole’s business and who lies to him about Teddy’s background and intentions. What makes NO sense whatsoever is that, even after Cole finds out what’s going on and who is responsible, he still believes this person a few pages later when they lie about Teddy again. (There’s also a very sudden confession of sexual abuse by a secondary character, which feels as though it’s been thrown in just to reinforce that the bad guy is really bad – but sexual abuse of sex workers is, sadly, all too common, and just using it as a random plot point – and then forgetting about it – doesn’t sit well.) The author tries to inject some family drama into the story by having Cole somewhat estranged from his father because he – Cole – didn’t want to follow in his footsteps by taking over the family business empire, but the sting is taken completely out of the tail when his father turns out not to be the monster Cole has kind of built him up to be.

In terms of the characters, Teddy is more relateable than Cole. He’s sweet and funny and absolutely didn’t deserve what his ex-husband did to him both emotionally – making him feel as though he wasn’t good enough – or materially, forcing him into bankruptcy after he cheated, left him and screwed him over in the divorce. Teddy is something of an underdog and easy to root for, but Cole is pretty bland and other than his being a wealthy sex worker with daddy issues, I couldn’t tell you very much about him.

The Boyfriend Subscription is a quick, steamy read, but the writing is choppy, the pacing is off, the PoV switches every three or four pages were enough to give me whiplash, and on occasion, there are things written from the wrong perspective. The plot is all over the place,  and there’s no romance here - Cole goes from zero (I don’t believe in love or commitment) – to sixty (I love you, let’s make out) - in less than three days, which might have (just about) worked if there’s been any chemistry between the characters. But there isn’t, so it doesn’t. TL:DR – not a book I’m going to recommend.

Reviewed by Caz Owens
Grade : D+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : March 27, 2024

Publication Date: 03/2024

Recent Comments …

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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