Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for the ARC. It hasn’t affected the content of my review.
First of all, I would like to say that “himbo” was absolutely 100% not a thing in the year 2003, so I hope some copy or line-editor catches that before this book goes to print. And no, don’t argue with me that it was first used in the 1980s (1988 specifically) and uses of it date from then, but it was absolutely not a term that anyone who was fourteen years old in 2003 would have known. The internet popularized it and repurposed it, around 2020.
I find myself talking about the above issue more than I should because I don’t want to write the rest of this review. This is the third three-star book I’ve read in 2023, and I’ve only read five books so far. And this is the second ARC three-star. And I’m probably being generous with my three-star rating here. They’re going to stop giving me ARCs. I can’t really pinpoint anything wrong with the book, though, hence three stars. I just didn’t really enjoy myself very much. There was something off about it for me, something negative. I felt bad while reading this book.
Also, I never connected emotionally with any of the characters or the plot. Which is a huge deal.
This is a romance about man named Max whose best friend Paige is getting married and he’s acting as her best man/man of honor, while a younger more classically “gay” and handsome man, the brother of the groom, is the best man. Oh, and also they had a disastrous hookup before they knew who the other was. Now they have to work together to help Paige plan her wedding. (Sidenote: Not sure where the author got the idea that it was one of the duties of the best man/maid of honor to help plan the wedding; it’s really not. They can help when asked, but it’s still the main purview of the bride and groom, and any assorted wedding planners.)
But Chasten (the brother, lord what a name) isn’t really the problem. The problem is the narrator, Max, who is a negative Nancy. He’s unhappy in his job, he’s unhappy with his body, he’s unhappy in love (dumped by long-term boyfriend who he still hooks up with occasionally), he’s unhappy about how his gayness manifests and how he’s perceived in the regard by other gay men (which could have been really interesting to explore! I, too, would rather have a quiet night at home than go to a smelly loud bar, and the removal of body hair and keeping up with expensive fashions, etc. sounds exhausting). The narrative is dripping with his negative unhappiness.
Worth noting, a lot of this is addressed by the end, but I was so annoyed and miserable along with the narrator for most of the book, that the ending didn’t really do anything for me. You still need to be on the narrator’s side even while they’re making the poor choices and experiencing troubles in their lives. At least, in a romance you do. Probably having a Chasten POV would have helped balance things out, and also give us a hint as to why Chasten would like, let alone end up with, Max. But we just had Max the whole time.
All of this is of course, YMMV.
Lastly, I do want to express some dismay that while I have been wanting to read more romances by male authors, this is not the result I was wanting. I comfort myself that if Alexis Hall exists, there have to be more male authors who are similarly talented waiting in the wings.
[2.5 stars, talked myself into lowering it a half star while writing this review]