Wanted: One (very real) husband Nowhere near perfect but desperately trying his best
In BOYFRIEND MATERIAL, Luc and Oliver met, pretended to fall in love, fell in love for real, dealt with heartbreak and disappointment and family and friends…and somehow figured out a way to make it work. Now it seems like everyone around them is getting married, and Luc’s feeling the social pressure to propose. But it’ll take more than four weddings, a funeral, and a bowl full of special curry to get these two from I don’t know what I’m doing to I do.
Good thing Oliver is such perfect HUSBAND MATERIAL.
This Summer 2022, you’re invited to the event(s) of the season.
Sometimes not getting a sequel is actually better.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to pretend that Luc and Oliver were not the main characters in this book and it was instead about literally everyone else, cause literally everyone else was hilarious as fuck and Luc and Oliver make me want to murder someone.
We will now pretend that Boyfriend Material is the sole book in this series, as god intended. If anyone objects, speak now or forever hold your peace.
Actually, don't speak, I do not care.
You may now kiss Boyfriend Material on it's pretty (...probably more like above average, but it's what on the inside that counts) cover.
I have actually never been to a wedding, can you tell.
It took me about 2 hours to listen to the last fifteen minutes of the audiobook cause I kept stopping every two minutes to rant to no-one in particular, but I am glad to report that I have since calmed down, so I will just calmly explain the reason for my rating in bullet points.
There will be 🚨🚨 SPOILERS🚨🚨
🌈 pretend this is a rainbow arch because of ironic reasons
🌈 first of all, as a big Oliver fan: Oliver was barely in this for a good chunk of the book. i'd say for like the first 50% but i am pretty sure that's an exaggeration but it did feel like fifty so... fifty it is
🌈 there were way too many weddings that i did not care about. why did we have to witness Miles' wedding of all people? just to have more material for the whole rainbow arch debate (which we will get to)? honestly, going to your ex-boyfriend-who-fucked-you-over's wedding is psychopath behaviour - but maybe that's just me
🌈 but okay fine, i can look past this, i am cool - or so i thought. until it came to the great rainbow arch debate
🌈 the rainbow arch or you're not gay enough debate was already touched on in book one and i thought we had moved passed this but apparently we didn't. considering it was not just brought up once. or twice. or even three times. noooo, the you're not gay enough debate would follow us through the entire story and every time you thought SURELY we have moved on by now - nope, there it was. lurking. waiting.
🌈 the whole debate is basically about how Luc is very much into the whole expressing your identity with rainbows everywhere and over the top parties while Oliver simply does not care and feels a bit uncomfortable by the whole thing
🌈 which, both is fine? but the way Luc is constantly bringing it up as if Oliver is the most homophobic gay to ever exist because he's like "i don't really care for rainbow arches and parties"? let the man live? it's not like he said "i think no-one should express themselves with rainbows everywhere and celebrate their identity", he just doesn't need it to express HIS identity
🌈 at some point i went "maybe, *i* am not gay enough to get this" because, i really don't get it. i guess this is about them being "fundamentally" different but a) you knew that, b) you already had this whole argument in book one and c) how many times can you argue about it, then be like "it doesn't actually matter" and then argue about it again another fifteen times
🌈 another thing that bothered me is that Luc has zero, and i absolutely mean zero, personal growth from book one
🌈 Luc conveniently constantly kept forgetting that he is with Oliver. The amount of times he would go like "Oh I am so alone, woe is me" only to remember "Oh shit, I actually have a wonderful boyfriend at home" was ridiculous and annoying
🌈 he also still has the same insecurities about Oliver leaving him that he had in the first book even though they have been together for two years at this point, but tbh, i get it, cause he's a shitty boyfriend.
🌈 the amount of times he would ditch Oliver for something else or make a bad situation that Oliver was experiencing all about himself, only to go "Sorry i suck" - yes, you do. but saying "Sorry i suck" does not help with Oliver's problems. all it does is forcing Oliver to say "No, you don't" and once again, everything is about Luc and we have conveniently brushed Oliver's pain aside.
🌈 Luc "proposes" to Oliver by saying "We should get married" while Oliver is cleaning the kitchen. He then gets cold feet and nearly chickens out but unfortunately doesn't so we have this whole "will they, won't they" for the 50% of the book where Oliver is actually present
🌈 a week before getting married they have another rainbow arch discussion where Oliver is like "I am concerned that us being different may work in theory but not in practice". cool. and also a conversation you should have had MONTHS ago and not a week before your wedding
🌈 those two just never talk to each other. not even the rainbow arch debate is ever discussed to an extent where you feel they could justifiably solve the problem - which is probably why it keeps coming up
🌈 Luc is so goddamn immature. this man never thinks before he speaks. or during. or after. Oliver isn't much better cause he also never opens his goddamn mouth. Those two are in their thirties god damn it, you would think they would have enough emotional and cognitive maturity to maybe sit down in advance and go "do we... actually want to get married?" Luc proposes out of nowhere while Oliver is cleaning for god's sake. Oliver later on says he couldn't say no because he could see "what it cost him to ask". and what did it cost him exactly? the last quarter of his last brain cell?
🌈 surprising to no-one: they actually do not get married. which is a fantastic scene because all of it happens in the very last chapter and Luc considers leaving Oliver in front of the altar, but decides he will just marry him even though he doesn't want to, while Oliver is like "I cannot do this" and Luc even has the audacity to get mad about it. they then announce they are not doing this five seconds before the ceremony and happily skip into the sunset. the end. literally. that's the last line.
🌈 what. the. fuck.
🌈 first off all: we could not have dedicated more than one chapter to ALL OF THIS? there is so much to unpack here and we do it in ONE chapter?
🌈 second off all: all of this could have been avoided if even one of them acted his age and sat the other down and they had an actual conversation instead of Luc going "Sorry, i suck" and Oliver going "No, you don't" and then they have sex
🌈 cannot wait for Father Material where Luc inevitably out of nowhere will say "Let's have a kid" while Oliver is cleaning the toilet and then they don't talk about it for nine months and five seconds before the surrogate mother delivers the child they are screaming, crying, throwing up, like "actually, i forgot to mention that i don't want kids" and "oh, thank god, me neither" and they have to kill both surrogate mother and child on sight. and then skip into the sunset. the end.
TL;DR: i'm not mad, just disappointed. ... okay, maybe i'm also a little mad.
I just finished, and I'm going to take some deep breaths before continuing this review. Deep breaths.
Okay, now that I've composed myself a bit, I'm going to attempt to break down my feelings about this book without giving away any major spoilers (but, fair warning, there will be mood spoilers, for sure).
You know when you have something that feels just utterly amazing and you want to treasure it in your mind? For me, that's a 5-star romance book. They are very rare and very unique for me (mainly because I'm a picky woman who has read far too many romance books to tolerate crap). Boyfriend Material was one of those rare 5+ star romance books. I loved it with all of my heart. It was that rare combination of funny, sad, romantic, heart-breakingly real, and yet totally a DELIGHT to read. I laughed, I cried, and I put it on my all-time favorites list (something that is exceptionally rare).
I'm not even addressing the ending of Husband Material, which I saw coming from a mile away and didn't particularly have an issue with (at least compared with my issues with the story at large). I'm talking about the crushing weight of a story that feel like... work.
Husband Material was an exhausting mix of bickering and fighting with almost no levity or character development. The brief glimpses of humor or happiness are swiftly extinguished with another round of misunderstandings and Luc being petty, downright nasty, and picking meaningless fights and Oliver trying to please and being formal. They do not grow, they do not communicate, they do not solve any issues. Plus, if I had to hear one more time about the balloon arch, I might scream. Of course there is no right way to be gay but a balloon arch? Really? That was Luc's hill to die on? I hated Luc in this book with his never-ending narcissism. *shakes in anger* After all of this drama, I had to ask myself, what was the point of this story?
My only reason for the extra 1/2 a star is the absolutely stellar narration from Joe Jameson, who knocked it out of the park. He is an incredible narrator, and he is the only reason I finished this book. Other than the quality of the audiobook, I'm left feeling... bereft. How could this author take such a beautiful complex relationship and lead it nowhere?
Even the side characters couldn't save this train-wreck of a story. What's worse, I feel like Boyfriend Material is ruined for me, and I won't be able to go back to un-knowing this story.
Do yourself a favor and just skip this one. Please.
Does anyone else get sequel nerves? TFW you adored a book so much that the idea of a sequel makes you anxious because it can’t possibly measure up? Well, I had major sequel nerves when I received my ARC of Husband Material, but then something very very sad happened and I desperately needed a pick-me-up, so yet again I turned to Luc and Oliver for a daily dose of snort-out-loud happiness. And I am very pleased to say that Husband Material met my highest hopes and then some.
“Our favourite chaos demon & stern brunch daddy return in this delicious, ridiculous, and often poignant romcom about all the ways love can grow.” < that is the Very Professional Official Opinion I will send to this book’s publisher. It took me a few days to get that by refining the following initial reaction > “dhfksjdhsl what the HELL oh my GOD how does Alexis DO THIS why do I have all these FEELINGS somebody HELP.�� Whichever way you slice it (or phrase it) one thing’s for sure: this book is a six-star read.
The characters remain their loveable selves, from Luc and Oliver to their truly bonkers friends and companions. The humour remains subtle and ironic and sarcastic and fabulous and made me snicker in public at awkward moments. The central relationship is still swoony and affirming and wonderful. But this book is also about growth and change and examination and striving for self-actualisation, and it felt like a wonderful, realistic, encouraging examination of what love and life are really about.
The heroes grow individually and together, and it’s HARD (and entertaining, lol), and they both have to think about themselves and about the world and about each other, and it’s also super relatable because they’re both trying their best, but trying their best is often what makes them get things catastrophically wrong. I love that we see this relationship tested by so many realistic life obstacles, that we see them take a stab at things and fluff it up but deliberately scramble back on the horse because they are in love.
Essentially, Husband Material shows us the heroes of Boyfriend Material living happily ever after, and that doesn’t mean “happy ALWAYS”. It means sometimes sad and sometimes angry and sometimes exhausted and sometimes messed up, but ultimately okay because they choose to be EACH OTHER’S happily ever after. And that’s what’s really powerful and romantic about this book.
Nothing about this book worked for me. There was no character growth, the primary conflict was poorly developed and introduced far too late in the book, and the ending was unsatisfying.
This review contains spoilers for many major events in the book and the ending. CW for discussion in this review of eating disorders.
The primary conflict is underdeveloped and poorly explained
The climax in this book resolves the question, “Should Oliver and Luc get married?” But this question is not introduced until Part 5, which starts at 82%.
Up until this point, the primary questions addressed by the book are, “What should Luc and Oliver’s wedding look like?” and “What do Luc and Oliver’s event-planning preferences say about them as people?" These questions are resolved (to the extent anything is resolved in this book, i.e., not very much) by 95%, and then at 96% we learn, for the very first time, that Luc doesn’t like the idea of marriage. We find out at 98% that Oliver doesn’t either. They have one very brief conversation about their mutual objections, agree to call off the wedding, and the book ends.
Instead of feeling like the ending resolves an issue that’s been explored throughout the story, the reader is blindsided by totally new feelings and problems mere pages from the end, given no time to examine them, and then told all is well. This is an incredibly unsatisfying way to end a book, especially in a genre where the reader expects to feel more certainty about the future trajectory of the romantic relationship.
I get that this ending is meant to mirror what happens at the end of Four Weddings and a Funeral, just as the structure of the book mirrors the structure of the movie. (Why it was necessary to copy this or any other movie is a separate question.) But copying the ending of a movie isn’t satisfying unless you make that ending work for your story as well, and Hall has not done that here. Rather than using the other weddings and the funeral to explore the issues that give rise to the ultimate conflict, as well as the character motivations that allow the conflict to be resolved, Hall uses Parts 1-4 to address entirely separate things. The first wedding is pure romcom shenanigans, the second wedding is about whether Luc is over his ex, and the third wedding is devoted to the “What do Luc and Oliver’s event-planning preferences say about them as people?" question. The funeral is about Oliver’s relationship with his family and is the best part of the book, though it’s only nominally related to any of the actual conflicts.
At no point before 96% does the book even hint at either character’s objections to marriage (ostensibly because neither wants to hurt the other by bringing it up sooner). And forget asking what marriage means to either of them, what they want to get out of being married, what their goals are for their relationship, what alternatives to marriage might look like, or anything else along those lines. Those questions are never raised, much less discussed or answered. I have no idea what Oliver or Luc wants out of their relationship other than “to be together,” which is not actually an answer to anything.
The unsatisfactory nature of the ending is exacerbated by the fact that Luc’s objections to marriage make no sense. He laments to his best friend, Bridge, that he wants to go back to the period in the relationship where things were easy, and insinuates that he’s worried about the conflicts marriage might introduce to their relationship. (Long-term commitment is somehow different from marriage, apparently.) He tells Bridge that marriage isn’t just a piece of paper because: “It’s everything marriage means to everyone who’s ever been married ever, or known anybody who’s ever been married ever, or everyone who’s ever been told they can’t get married ever. It’s this huge thing that eats things, and I think it’s going to eat me and Oliver.”
So… he’s basically worried he can’t live up to societal expectations? But isn’t the solution deprioritizing societal expectations and actually talking to your partner about what you want for your relationship and how best to make that happen? I can accept this as a legitimate concern people might have, but “I’m scared of marriage” is the start of a conversation, not the end of one. It’s hard to feel like Luc has made the right decision when this is his reasoning, and frankly it makes me doubt the entire relationship when this is the level of thought that goes into such an important decision.
Oliver appears to have a principled reason for objecting to the concept of marriage (he believes it’s an inherently straight institution and doesn’t want to apply that framework to his life) but the fact that he couldn’t raise this issue until literally the day of his wedding says terrible things about where this relationship is at the end of the book.
The secondary conflict is bizarre
The conflict that gets the most page space is, “What do Luc and Oliver’s event-planning preferences say about them as people?"
Luc is convinced that Oliver doesn’t like rainbow-themed events because he has internalized homophobia and doesn’t value the queer community. Oliver tries to explain that he doesn’t feel represented by rainbow stuff, but Luc doesn’t accept this as valid. At one point he even says, “And now it seems like you’re going to want our wedding to be this mega-traditional bells-and-incense thing with no queer iconography because you’re so insecure in yourself that rainbows make you uncomfortable.” Oliver’s response to this is to metaphorically wring his hands and say “maybe you’re right, I need to go think about it.” In a later conversation, Oliver says, “If we get married underneath a rainbow balloon arch, we’ll be denying who I am, and if we don’t, we’ll be denying who you are.”
It gets to the point that, after seeing pictures of Luc at his bachelor party at a queer art gallery, Oliver suggests they might need to break up because Oliver will never enjoy going to the same types of events as Luc. Why they can’t just enjoy separate things like any healthy couple, I don’t know, and neither do they.
Their arguments on the subject can all be boiled down to the this:
Oliver: I don’t feel included in the queer community, as you define it, or represented by rainbows or other commonly used queer symbols. In fact, I feel excluded when the community is defined this way.
Luc: That’s homophobic. Why are you so uncomfortable with yourself? You’re rejecting a core part of my identity.
This argument is presented so many times that it seems clear Hall must think he’s doing something smart and interesting here, and really Making People Think about The Right Way to Be Gay. But Luc’s position is wholly unsupported in the text and repeatedly returning to it only made me think about how poorly reasoned it is.
Oliver isn’t rejecting anything, he’s saying he feels rejected by something. Luc’s response reverses cause and effect.
All of the necessary logical steps between Oliver’s position and Luc’s reaction are missing. While there are reasons why someone’s feelings of alienation from the queer community could come from internalized homophobia, that's far from the only reasons one might not feel represented by the rainbow flag. In order to establish that Oliver is motivated by those feelings, the book should have asked the question, “why does he feel this way?” But instead, the book skips to judgmental, negative assumptions about Oliver’s motivations and expects the reader to accept they make sense.
The fact that Luc never questions his assumptions, just grudgingly accepts that he and Oliver feel differently, while Oliver repeatedly questions himself after Luc’s tirades, says troubling things about Hall’s own opinions on the subject. Does he realize what message he has sent by making Luc’s arguments strident and clear while reducing Oliver to hand-wringing self-doubt, or by letting Luc have the last word on this topic in the book (in an argument that ends with Luc insinuating Oliver isn’t proud of their relationship because he would disapprove of Luc’s desire to buy a mlm flag to hang in their window)? Does he really think that people who don’t like rainbow iconography are rejecting the queer community?
Like much of the rest of the book, this portion could have been vastly improved by asking “why?” somewhere in the writing or editing process. Why do the characters feel this way? Why aren’t their underlying motivations explored on-page? Why does Luc assume Oliver must be coming from a place of self-hatred? Why is not wanting your wedding to be an EDM dance party a rejection of the queer community? Why does Luc’s assessment of whether an event is queer focus so much on how it looks rather than who is present? Why is so much of this book focused on analyzing event-planning preferences instead of more important questions like what Oliver and Luc want out of their relationship?
I’d sure like to know, but I’m never going to find out.
Luc is a self-centered asshole
Luc is one of the most self-centered main characters I’ve ever read in romance. Everything in this book is about him and his feelings, even things that have nothing to do with him. It would be one thing if he started the book this way but grew as a person throughout the story, but he doesn’t. The best anyone gets is Luc acknowledges from time to time that he’s making things about himself and then keeps doing it.
The worst example, by far, is how Luc thinks about Oliver’s eating disorder. On noticing that Oliver is reluctant to take his clothes off, Luc thinks, “I tried to be sensitive to Oliver’s body image issues, I really did. But, at the end of the day, he looked like him and I looked like me, and sometimes it was hard to remember that when he was being down on himself, he wasn’t being down on me by association.” He also rationalizes Oliver’s insecurities (simply accepting them as valid is too much to ask) by noting that Oliver isn’t as fit as he was before, because “the problem with giving yourself an eating disorder in pursuit of an impossible beauty standard was that if you got rid of one, you got rid of the other.” In other words, Luc supposes he can accept Oliver’s insecurities because they probably aren’t about Luc, and anyway, they’re factually correct because Oliver’s body is less attractive now. You’d expect these comments from a romance villain, not a romance hero.
Luc’s selfishness extends to his proposal to Oliver, as well. He proposes because he’s feeling insecure and worried about what it means to move in with each other. He doesn’t put any thought into asking the question, and he and Oliver have apparently never talked about marriage before. Oliver’s answer isn’t even shown on-page, that’s how irrelevant it is. Then, when Luc realizes maybe Oliver deserves a better proposal, he goes to one jewelry store and begrudgingly picks out a ring without any prior thought about Oliver’s preferences (and thinks about how he definitely won’t be going to more than one store because that’s too much effort). Then the actual proposal is basically unplanned and all he says is “how great you are and how… like… feelings you make me.” He can’t put even a tiny amount of effort into figuring out how to express his feelings, despite Oliver taking great care to express his feelings to Luc during their previous conversation about moving in together. All of this is supposed to be endearingly incompetent but instead it’s just rude and thoughtless.
Even Oliver’s dealings with his family, including his grief over his father’s death, are about Luc. When the two are going to meet with Oliver’s parents to talk about the wedding, Luc offers no emotional support whatsoever despite knowing how difficult the situation is for Oliver. Instead of spending time that morning mentally preparing (which he explains is important to him), Oliver has to make French toast for Luc so he’ll get out of bed. And when Oliver is grieving, Luc sits around uselessly wishing Oliver would tell him how to comfort him. He makes no effort to figure out what might help Oliver, just whines to his friends about how he's worried Oliver will dump him due to his grief.
Luc also doesn’t do much to support their shared life together, for example avoiding almost all housework and cooking because he’s “bad at it.” Except the sole reason he’s bad at it is because he doesn’t really try. He chooses difficult recipes at the last minute that require complicated substitutions and ingredients he doesn’t know where to purchase. Most people would fail under these circumstances. His efforts aren’t cute or funny, they’re weaponized incompetence – doing something poorly in order to justify putting the burden on your partner. It's selfish behavior that destroys real-life relationships and reads like a red flag, not funny romcom behavior.
Even the rainbow debate is another way Luc makes things about himself. Oliver can’t have feelings about his own identity that are just for him, they must be a commentary on Luc.
For much of the book, all Oliver does is show up to dispense support or wisdom. He has no thoughts or desires beyond what Luc needs at any given moment.
The entire book is like this. Luc forgets his best friend’s wedding vows the moment he hears them because they’re not personally meaningful to him (his best friend’s happiness apparently doesn’t reach that threshold). Someone acknowledging that a past situation was hurtful to Luc is them playing the “you’ve-got-every-right-to-be-angry card to guilt [him] out of being angry.” Bridge learning that her fiancé might be cheating on the same night Oliver and Luc have plans is the universe conspiring to make Luc look like a shitty boyfriend.
He’s also a complete dick to all sorts of people, from acquaintances encountered at weddings (outright telling someone he hasn’t seen in ages that he’s a prick, while making small talk), to jewelry store employees (accusing them of insulting him and then getting mad when they’re offended).
A lot of this would be forgivable if it resulted in character growth. But it doesn’t. Luc is a self-centered dickhead for the entire book and never even notices how shitty he is, much less does anything about it.
Luc only cares about appearances
Luc’s number one concern in any situation is how things looks to other people, not what’s best for him as a person (much less Oliver, who’s a total afterthought the entire book).
As discussed above, Luc fears marriage because of the associated expectations from other people. Luc also admits to Bridge near the end of the book that he proposed to Oliver because he was feeling insecure after his ex’s wedding and wanted to “show or prove” that their relationship was working well. And right before the wedding, he thinks the guests are waiting for him and Oliver to “prove our relationship was just as good as theirs.”
Similarly, he wishes Oliver had been on time to Bridge’s bachelorette party because then he could have “had proof” to show Miles that his life is good now, and he wants to go to Miles’s wedding to “show my ex-boyfriend, my ex-boyfriend’s fiancé I’d met once, and a bunch of strangers that I was free and happy and over it and moving on with my new, infinitely better boyfriend.”
This obsession with appearances extends to absolutely everything, no matter how mundane. He can’t even appreciate small things about his partner because of what other people might think. Holding Oliver’s hand is a skill developed on “embarrassing” walks in their neighborhood. Oliver calling dogs “woofles” isn’t cute, it’s “embarrassing” (see a theme here?). His thought on seeing Oliver wearing his engagement ring is how “mediocre” the ring is.
His bachelor party is the best part of getting married because of how cool it makes him look that he’s having a “super-queer, super-modern non-gender-specific animal party full of exciting people in an exciting venue organized by my exciting lesbian best man.” Tokenizing one of your best friends? Totally fine and not at all something to scrutinize in yourself.
Instead of just picking his best man based on who he’s closest to, his first thought it about what his choice will say about gender roles and his awareness of them: “Picking a best man was a complicated business. Because you didn’t want to be gender normative, but if you got too role-reversy you ended up with something that was gender normative in the other direction.” (Hall apparently felt compelled to point out each and every instance of normative thoughts or behavior as though doing so is, in and of itself, saying something worthwhile. It isn’t.)
A better book would have realized that all of this, especially proposing for the sake of appearances, is terrible and would have had Luc address this flaw. But he never does.
Other miscellaneous problems
* “Her name was Ana with one n, and he said he’d met her ‘on the social media.’ Given that like many of Rhys’s dates she was bizarrely hot and carried herself in a way that suggested she had incredible body confidence, I suspected he’d met her on one social medium in particular.” (This is a reference to OnlyFans, which Rhys had earlier mentioned he was on.) Having your character assume a confident, attractive woman must be a sex worker is not canceled out by a sex work-positive speech by the woman later.
* There are endless pop-culture references in this, to the point of acting out a scene from Pretty Woman and using Love Actually as an explanation for one character’s feelings in another scene. Good luck to readers who aren’t familiar with these references and won’t get the feelings or ideas these scenes are intended to convey, I guess.
* I love how this book is simultaneously hyperaware of superficial heteronormativity but actual heteronormativity in the writing is ignored, such as assuming that a man and woman would only ever be in public together because they’re having sex, or including the tired “only women care about weddings” trope.
* It’s absolutely baffling to use an easily disproved legal myth as the way to establish the cleverness of your lawyer character. For anyone wondering, no, you cannot avoid a theft charge by waiting to form the intent not to pay for your meal until after you’ve eaten the food.
* Over-the-top romcom bullshit like a publishing company booking an author’s book tour in New York, Texas; Los Angeles, Texas; and Las Vegas, New Mexico isn’t funny, it’s exhausting. This whole book is way too convinced of its own cleverness and would be substantially improved by deleting 90% of the “clever” lines and references.
An absolute joy. This is at once a delightful and absurd romcom (I have said before, Alexis Hall does romcoms like Richard Curtis might if Richard Curtis was good) and a really intense, moving love story, and a deep dive into some of the thorny issues of queer identity and belonging. The fact that all three fit together seamlessly is just...gah.
Luc is as before a wonderful narrator. We see how both he and Oliver have progressed from Boyfriend Material, but where Luc is becoming more confident and more able to look at himself and get out of his own head, Oliver is going rather the other way. Not in a bad way, but because he's having to question a lot of the (restrictive, conservative) assumptions that he's internalised, and work out what's imposed discomfort and what's his own fairly reserved nature, and that's a difficult process.
Sounds heavy, is not, in part because both characters are funny and Luc's narrative voice is hilarious, in part because this is an intensely real couple who talk like people do--they're digging into problems they experience, not making speeches. Plus, the setting is pure delight. This is basically four weddings and a funeral (not a spoiler, the book flags the parallel clearly) with a joyous roll around in the absurdity of wedding culture, Britishness, offices, publishing, and the fact that we're all pretending to be competent adults.
Oliver and Luc have real problems in this book, and the fact that they're on one scale small problems (should we have a rainbow balloon arch at the wedding?) doesn't stop them being very big in the context of two people finding their way to a life together. It's a very real picture of the difficulties of a relationship, with real stakes. I've used the word 'real' about 47 times now, but it's important because it's easy for romcoms to feel trivial/low stakes, and this book is doing a lot of serious thinking underneath the gleeful fun. Do not let me underplay the gleeful fun, mind, I laughed out loud a *lot*.
Everything I hoped it would be, and a total delight.
(I had an ARC from the publishers, and share an agent with the author, but as ever, I don't say things if I don't mean them.)
this was... one of the worst books i've ever read. i'm so sorry. the prose is totally fine. the characters are, i suppose, true to themselves from the first book.
but this didn't need to exist. i already am wary when an author wants to draw out a romance that already has a HEA. so to create something that leaves the characters in the same place they started while subjecting a reader to 400+ pages of inane conversations and side plots that do not matter at all? yeah that's not going to work for me.
i could wax poetic about how the established love interest has pretty much no part in the story up until the 50% mark. i could bitch about the main character's ideologies and how he attempted to force his specific concept of queerness on his partner. but there are plenty of other reviewers who say all of this better than i ever could.
the one positive thing i can say i guess is that i can't think of another book out there like this. a MM romance pretty devoid of smut or relationship development. like the relationship is already established so maybe if you need examples of people working shit out this could work for you? i feel like i'm reaching at this point. read the first book, maybe skip the rest.
TW: Eating disorder handled in a way that can be harmful to read about
Update: As a gay man I can't leave this review without pointing out that there is no right way to be gay. You don't have to love everything rainbow and queer to be gay. You don't have to feel comfortable with queer culture to be gay. No one else can tell you what to feel when it comes to how and what you identify with.
Original review I originally wrote a much more detailed review but lost it due to GR bugs. Thanks GR.
When I first heard of this book I wrote a little sentence here. "Maybe I'll finally get the ending I craved in book one."
The author took everything I loved about book one and took a big dump on it.
It's official. August 3rd is the day Alexis Hall and I broke up for good. Just like Oliver should've left Luc and never looked back.
Luc and Oliver together are just something special.
I love how they are both so very individual in everything they do. They are opposite in so many ways, but they still make it work. I loved how their relationship grew and how comfortable they were with each other. Their banter was as always on point. Loved dry witted Oliver and flirty Luc. Loved the teasing, the banter.
What I didn’t love was that even after 2,5 years of being together, they still had so many arguments. The constant bickering about needless conflicts was tiring and not what I expected to get from this sequel. I found parts of the plot quite unnecessary and not helpful to the story, and some conflicts repeated themselves over and over. The pressure of doing it “right” was insane in Husband Material. And the continuous questioning of how to be the right way of gay was exhausting.
So, it’s with no surprise that my feelings for this book are all over the place.
I love these two. Luc and Oliver are such a lovely and interesting couple. They made me so proud at times. How they stood up for themselves and each other. There were so many scenes that made me laugh, and chuckle. But on the other hand the book was also mentally draining. Honestly at times all they did was arguing, if not with each other than with Oliver’s parents and brother. Drama and conflict from beginning to end. It wasn’t a happy book, and definitely not the book I was hoping for.
And as with Boyfriend Material, the book ended way too abruptly, and if I didn’t already know that a third book was coming I would be deeply disappointed.
UPDATE just found out that the third book won't be about Luc and Oliver 😭 my heart is breaking!!! Here from the author: Just a quick note to clear up any confusion: The Amnesia Plot isn’t a sequel to Boyfriend Material / Husband Material—though it is set in the same world as those books. Instead, it will feature a different couple, and you’ll get to meet one of the MCs (who is an old university friend of Luc’s and an epic grump) in Husband Material <3
2. UPDATE AND EXCITING NEWS All is not lost, the author confirmed that we are indeed getting a third book of Luc and Oliver - Father Material - and we are finally getting an epilogue ♡ I never knew how much I needed epilogues until it came to Oliver and Luc. So, I'm very exited, hopeful, and really looking forward to the conclusion in 2024.
___________________________________ I received a copy of this book from the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.
First off, I loved Boyfriend Material. I thought it was cute, funny, and both characters seemed ready and willing for personal and romantic growth. I also love romcoms especially the 90s and early 00s British romcoms these books are inspired by. I even re-watched Four Weddings and a Funeral before reading Husband Material (highly recommend - the movie really holds up well)! So now that we have established my credentials as the target audience for Husband Material, I can say with absolute conviction, this book was a massive dumpster fire of betrayal.
In short, Husband Material fails to capture even one ounce of the wit or charm or even hope of the movie it ripped off from. Every single wedding and the funeral were portrayals of how to be an exhaustively self-loathing narcissistic dick to everyone you know including your own boyfriend. In between the self-loathing there was shoe-horned in social commentary that came out of nowhere and led to nothing. I have yet to figure out what the point of all this was. If we can say Boyfriend Material is a book about two people in bad places finding hope and love in each other, we can say Husband Material is over 400 pages of pointless drivel.
For example, Luc (who is the point of view narrator again), continuously talks about heteronormative weddings and marriage as if they are the same thing and has approximately 100 different positions on them and ultimately lands on none of them. What, then, was the point of the constantly insulting Oliver and his lack of interest in balloon arch-filled parties and implying Oliver is the wrong sort of gay for not liking rainbow balloons when the conclusion for Luc is the balloon arches don't matter and don't mean anything??? Why did we go through this? How did we end up here? ????
I could write a million more words on this but I will instead limit myself to one (1) item per part of the book so I can go to sleep and forget I ever read this but still allow a glimpse of the hot garbage mess. If you want more you can read the book (do not recommend this path) or you can scroll through my highlights. Godspeed.
On page one of this book is a bespoke crocheted vulva hat at a straight cis woman's bachelorette party. Luc, as "maid of honour", wears this vulva hat to his best friend Bridget's hen do cleverly (not) renamed a "non-gender specific bird do" in the book because he, and I quote, "thought having only penis hats would be heteronormative and/ or transphobic". I assume this was an attempt to subvert the stereotypical bachelorette party by including vulvas amongst a sea of penises.
The problem with this is the book's fundamental lack of understanding of what subversion is. A gay man wearing a vulva hat for a "non-gender-specific bird do" does not subvert anything because it does not allow space for genders not on the binary nor does it make it non-gender-specific?? No one would know Luc is gay and has zero interest in vulva. They would probably assume it's a reinforcement of the heteronormative ideals of hen dos and bachelorette parties because the cis man, as it were, does not wear a penis hat because wearing a penis hat would make him gay! The book, by having Luc wear a vulva hat, made it no homo instead of a clever subversion.
Edit 8/4/2022: This book broke my brain a little so it took me until today (a full day after I finished) to realize Luc's "non-gender specific" wedding role should have been person of honour instead of a cis man appropriating the role of a woman by keeping "maid of honour" probably????? Another example of a clumsy attempt at subversion making things worse.
Part two has so many problematic things it was hard to narrow them down but as I already touched on Luc being a narcissistic jerk and accusing Oliver of being the wrong kind of gay, I will focus on the absolute horrendous behavior Luc exhibits towards everyone he comes across. He is written as a bumbling zany idiot who is only clear and direct when he is being cruel. The best example of this is when Luc goes to buy Oliver an engagement ring at a jewelry shoppe.
Luc, who is written as a bumbling zany idiot, says “I guess,” I tried. “Um. A ring?” when asked what he is in the shop for. The customer service associate then tries to help Luc specify what kind of ring and offers a selection of them, to which Luc asks for something cheaper. Then this exchange happens:
“The first tray was in the middle, sir.”
I tried to remember that working in customer service was unrewarding and people had to take their entertainment where they could.
“Okay, something just under the middle, then. Something below average. Because I am a below-average person, as you have so clearly implied.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?” said the gaslighting fuck on the other side of the counter.
In what universe did the employee, or as Luc so charitably described him, the "gaslighting fuck", imply Luc was below-average? This and approximately one million other instances are what Luc is like in this book. He is rude, mean, self-centered, and constantly makes other people feel bad for no reason. Are we meant to find this funny or charming? Because it really, really isn't.
Ah, yes, the classic tale of a privileged white person hating on a different version of privileged white people while refusing to reflect on himself. Or, Luc is a huge butthead at his coworker's wedding who did nothing to deserve his scorn. I could talk about the huge fight he and Oliver had about Oliver being polite at this wedding and it meaning Oliver wants a religious heteronormative ceremony (something Oliver has never said), or the zany accidental breaking and entering of someone else's home, or Luc making Oliver's body image issues about himself again, or how every apology Luc offers isn't an apology and instead is a deflection wrapped in self-loathing in an attempt to manipulate the recipient of Luc's non-apology into apologizing to and reassuring Luc, or any other number of things.
What I want to talk about is Luc's spoiled brat baby internal response to his co-worker Alex Twaddle telling Luc a joke for once and Luc not getting it immediately (spoiler alert: Luc later claims he did understand the joke which, sure, Jan):
“I don’t know, Alex.” I thought it only fair that I go through the full joke-recipient routine. “What does a Roman pirate say?”
“Summus.” Everybody laughed except me. Because I went to a state school. The annoying thing was I could probably work out why it was supposed to be funny from context. I mean it was a pirate joke. There’s only two endings to a pirate joke, and one of them is just an attempt to subvert the original ending.
Fuck, why did every conversation with Alex end with me feeling like I was the one with the problem?
Because you are the one with the problem, Luc, by thinking Alex is stupid every time you tell him a joke that Alex doesn't get or think is funny. Luc being the problem is proven later when he says this to his boyfriend, Oliver, who dared to disagree with him about something:
“And now it seems like you’re going to want our wedding to be this mega-traditional bells-and-incense thing with no queer iconography because you’re so insecure in yourself that rainbows make you uncomfortable.”
Like, what is this? What are we meant to take from this??? What is happening. I thought I was reading a romantic comedy.
Part Four is the funeral in the Four Weddings and a Funeral setup in which Oliver's dad dies from a heart attack. The first several chapters of this part are dedicated to Luc making Oliver's grieving and helping out his family about Luc. Because of course. And this book completely missed the point of the funeral in the movie. The movie scene, while incredibly sad, still had a lot of hope. This has Luc being a self-absorbed buttwipe to everyone yet again. And like I said, the funeral was for Oliver's dad, a man who had very little page time in either book, and frankly, this character dying lacked the emotional punch of the movie the book stole from. Because who gives a shit if that mean old man dies. I did enjoy Oliver making his long overdue speech telling everyone his dad sucks at the funeral and it was nice growth from him but he still gave Luc, an undeserving child, all of the credit.
Finally, the end. Luc and Oliver getting married. oR aRe ThEy?? (spoiler alert: they don't get married and run away from their own wedding because of Heteronormative Societial Expectations, etc.) This could have been a rather sweet realization they worked together better as a non-married couple because external pressure wasn't healthy for them or they had long conversations about what marriage would look like for them.
Instead, I get the feeling these two have never spoken in their lives. The first time either of them brings up maybe they don't want a wedding or to be married is right beforehand? For Luc, it was the middle of the night before the wedding and he tells his best friend Bridget and not Oliver at all and then decides to go through with the wedding anyway and never once considers talking to Oliver. For Oliver, it's right before their wedding ceremony is meant to start but he, at least, has the decency to tell Luc to his face. Unfortunately, this is regressive Luc we are talking about, so Luc gets incredibly butthurt and throws actual garbage at Oliver who is crying and makes Oliver explain why he doesn't want to get married to Luc when Luc had come to the same realization only hours before! What IS THIS??? It isn't romance and it isn't making me look forward to their next book.
if you are the kind of person who regularly reads social media posts from the white queers who populate cities like portland or seattle or oakland, and tend to think, "hey, these people really have a point, and i sure wish they would share their thoughts and opinions more, and also it would be even better if they were british!" then maybe this book will be right up your alley. unfortunately, i am not one of these people, and as such husband material made me want to fucking die.
boyfriend material was an immediate five-star read—which is an incredibly rare occurrence because i only give five stars based on some kind of instinctive primal gut feeling of worthiness—and, to my dismay, husband material was so profoundly awful and disappointing that it actually might have killed some of that magic for me.
i had three major issues (and a whole host of minor ones)—the first being luc, of course, because in the first book luc was a total trainwreck and still an awful obnoxious failure of a human being, but at least in a way that invoked a certain sort of sympathy as the witness to his misfortune. in this sequel, as a lot of reviewers have rightfully pointed out, luc is an awful obnoxious failure of a human being period. he is a shitstain on the lives of everyone around him. i have read depraved crime thrillers with serial killer antagonists who have softened me more than luc, who is so unbearably, unforgivably selfish that i developed a pavlovian ass-clenching response every time he had a conversation with or a thought about anyone because i knew without fail that i would be exposed to the steaming landfill, sewage drain, biohazard bag of his inner (and outer) self. one day i will be able to make my feelings about this character even clearer, but until the devil bestows his language of evil and hatred upon me, i am limited to english alone. :-(
the second issue was the social commentary. i actually began to feel a certain hopelessness when i considered that this might be the state of lgbt politics, that anyone might read this and think, yes, this book truly cares and is saying something particularly necessary about gay liberation. i'm not sure where the author first learned the concept of normativity but that establishment, as well as maybe the entire field of sociology, must be held accountable. i can’t think of a single instance of, well, anything in society being discussed without an immediate caveat about its oppressiveness, political incorrectness, role in maintaining various power structures, etc. etc. which means that the fatal flaw of husband material—as in most books that try and fail at social justice—is that, intentionally or not, it treats its readers like we're fucking stupid. i know about homophobia! i know about heteronormativity! i know about rainbow capitalism! i know about all these things, and even if i didn't, i don't need my critical thinking to be spoonfed to me! and it's not just about pretending like i, the reader, have not read all the same twitter threads as you, the author, but about how deeply self-congratulatory it feels to pack a frankly poorly-structured, boring book with these quips and not-so-cleverly-disguised one-liners about the state of the world. the irony is that nothing and nobody here actually pushes back on anything they claim to condemn (least of all capitalism), which is, again, a hallmark of supposedly social justice-y, politically enlightened mainstream novels. the ending was just the icing on the horseshit cake.
and, the third issue: this book is not funny. it's not funny at all. i didn't laugh. i didn't even smile. i didn't even feel, like, the bare minimum contentedness one expects to feel when reading a "romantic" "comedy" lmao. i started skimming at some point during the multiple-page dramatic eulogy-slash-character-growth-speech and didn't stop. there wasn't even a point to reading. luc and oliver spend very little time together, and what time they do spend they're fighting over the most inane mind-numbing bullshit, and luc is being unhinged, and oliver is generally being a wet rag.
so. if you loved boyfriend material, don't bother. i beg you.
Small update August 1, 2022: There was an announcement today ahead of book 2's release tomorrow that Luc and Oliver will be back for a third book called Father Material. I don't know if knowing that before I read this e-ARC would've made a difference in how I viewed the ending for this book? But I still stand by my review that book 2 is kind of a moot point, and I don't see why this book was necessary in the first place since all it comes down to is that *ENDING SPOILER* *ENDING SPOILER* That's all I wanted to say in light to today's news. The review below remains the same.
I honestly regret reading this book. It added absolutely nothing to Luc and Oliver’s story, and the ending here just makes this entire book feel pointless. Yes, there’s a lesson at the end, but paired with an abrupt ending and trying too hard to hammer a point home to readers? The characters just lost their magic for me with this book. Book three isn’t even about Luc and Oliver, so the ending here feels even less satisfying than the ending we got in Boyfriend Material.
I will say the book started solidly, like in aggressively fine territory with a fun shenanigans 4-stars, but it drops to 3-stars with part four, and then the ending drop kicks it into a very generous 2-stars book for me.
If you loved Boyfriend Material but you’re already not a fan of continuation books and sequels after a couple finds their HEA? Skip this book. Seriously.
I generally LOVE sequel books even when most people don’t, and I just don’t recommend it. Re-read Boyfriend Material instead and you’ll be happier for it.
Content notes (taken from the author’s website): homophobia (challenged), internalised homophobia (challenged), bigoted language spoken by a minor character (presented very much as a bad thing), references (though not graphic) to an eating disorder, mentions of past emotional parental neglect, death of a parent (heart attack; happens off page), grief, and on-page funeral service.
***SOME SPOILERS AHEAD***
So, look. I’m not into romcom movies. It’s just never been my thing. This book, structurally at least, is based off of the romcom Four Weddings and a Funeral. Based on the wiki synopsis, I don’t think this book follows the events in that movie, but that’s just my impression. The book here is broken up into five parts, if you can guess by the movie title. They feel like very separated storylines that give off an individual short story feel, rather than brought together as a whole novel. If this book had been pitched more as a short story epilogue book of sorts, that would make more sense. I went into this book thinking that the story would be fun and games and anxiety about Luc proposing, the engagement, and eventual marriage to Oliver based on the title of this book. And, well, it is and it isn’t.
This book is also still all from Luc’s first-person POV. Unfortunately, we get nothing from Oliver’s POV. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read a single POV book, and sometimes it works. But probably less so with this sequel than the first book by keeping it to only one perspective. You really lose out on connecting with Oliver’s character.
There’s just a lot of odd, unnecessary plotlines that feels like we’re rehashing stuff from book one - like driving all over the UK looking for someone due to a misunderstanding. Is there a point to be made? I don’t know. This is only book two. It’s not like we’re at the end of an epically long book series where it feels like it would be nice to return back to events in the first book to bring everything back full circle. But you know what? The stories and first 2/3 of this book was really aggressively fine. Not brilliant, but I could accept them as fun add-on stories without really dwelling on any MAJOR complaints up through this point.
Really, the biggest error is something nobody else would even care about unless you’re a weirdly theatre obsessed person who keeps tabs on events in the West End even when you live across the Atlantic. Hi, it’s me. This book (not sure about the final edition, but the ARC) does date the story by saying it’s 2021 at one point. We’re two years past the ending of Boyfriend Material and we’re ignoring life changing events that are happening in real life during this time. And I’m fine with that. HOWEVER. This book specifically mentions that Luc and Oliver have planned a formal date night where they chose between Oliver’s choice of seeing the Death of a Salesmen play specifically at the Young Vic theatre, or Luc’s choice of Pretty Woman the musical. And as far as I’m aware these two shows were never on at the West End at the same time. Ever. Death of a Salesman was at the Young Vic until October 2019 (I am only more keenly aware because I was in London while this was running and the Young Vic is not a West End theatre venue), before transferring with a limited engagement through January 2020 at the Piccadilly Theatre (which is a West End venue). Pretty Woman didn’t even start previews until February 2020. Even if you take out a global pandemic that forced theatres to shut down, Death of a Salesman would’ve already ended its run.
All that aside timeline-wise, I think this book suggesting that Luc and Oliver go see the Pretty Woman musical (which received mixed reviews at BEST) over the Death of a Salesman play is also not a good look if you know anything about the most recent London production. It’s the first time a Black cast played the titular family in Death of a Salesman. It was a very highly regarded production. So, it just rubs me the wrong way how the play was so easily dismissed in the text like it was your run of the mill revival? Especially when the choice of musical they decide to go see (not that they actually did due to conflicts) is very, very white and contains a plot that has, by all accounts, aged badly.
This book would’ve been better off making up productions that weren’t actively playing at the time of this story. But that’s just theatre nerd in me raising an eyebrow at that entire sequence of events. You might say, “it’s not that deep!!” and maybe it isn’t. But this book takes a very hard stance on many topics (which I normally wouldn’t mind, but this book really tries to hit you over the head with them at every turn where it starts sounding like you’re being condescended to after a certain point)…well, then I’m going to start pointing stuff out that this book might want to sit down and reflect on too.
And that was the worst of it until we hit part four. Part four took me entirely by surprise because it hadn’t even occurred to me to look up the warnings for this book. Like I said, I thought the book was going to be FUN. But I suppose the word funeral does have the word fun in it? *queue up the “Come to the Fun Home” song*
The entirety of part four is about grief and how do you mourn or sort out your feelings towards someone if they’ve never quite loved you for being YOU? I wouldn’t say this was an absolutely devastating section of the book to read, but I did feel like I didn’t get proper warning for it. And then the story just DRAGS. There is a very long speech at the funeral itself that seems to go on forever, and I’m sorry but I just started skimming. It felt like it was never, ever going to end. There are no breaks in the speech, so it’s just one very long Shakespearean monologue I’m afraid. I’m sure this would’ve been better in audio? Maybe? But I read this in text, and I was over it.
You would think part five would bring everything around and end on a happier note, but it feels quite at odds with the rest of the book. After the funeral, I guess we’re all dragged down with it like a sinking ship situation. There’s a brief lighthearted moment between Luc and Oliver returning back to the restaurant of their first date, but that’s about the only highlight in the last bit of the book that was truly enjoyable. Everything is fights and angst, and it feels like we’re being lectured to about heteronormative expectations and weddings and the overall concept of marriage. Did I come into a romance book named HUSBAND Material to be lectured to about how much weddings and marriage suck? No? I did not? Is this the author telling us all to fuck off about wanting characters to get a wedding and getting married? Bucking the traditional expectations of romance books where the characters have a lovely wedding and ride off into the sunset? If that’s the case, why write a sequel to Luc and Oliver’s story in the first place?? There’s literally three weddings preceding part five, so I’m extremely taken aback.
I really just feel duped, swindled, and bamboozled by the ending and where we’re left at the end of all this. It feels like reading this book was a huge waste of time just to drive a point home about throwing out societal expectations, and I am honestly so upset. I went into this with such high expectations since I loved Boyfriend Material and this is what we’re left with??? We are worse off than where we started.
Other notes from this book I guess I’ll point out before I end this review. I thought the trans character we meet near the end would be our MC for the next book, but turns out he’s just a random character who appears out of nowhere and just as quickly disappears with no rhyme or reason and his purpose is that we now have a trans character appear in this book. He really has no other reason for being in this story. It’s not really an organic introduction or exit. Just feels really random.
Based on hints from the author, the next MC is a college acquaintance of Luc’s and apparently it’s a guy named Jonathan we meet earlier in the book who everyone hates. So, I feel bad for him already. His characterization so far feels like early Boyfriend Material Oliver.
Boyfriend Material was closed door when it came to sex scenes. This is no different. I went into this book expecting it to also be closed door, so no surprises there even if I felt a tinge of disappointment. It’s really not like this book had anything else going for it. It feels like you barely even see Luc and Oliver on good terms.
It was nice seeing Luc’s group of friends and learning more about them in this book because I didn’t find them all that remarkable in the first book, but I feel like I like them and know them a lot more here. Luc’s coworkers at his dung beetle charity CRAPP are still a dysfunctional group of people who all somehow still manage to bring in money for their charity? I don’t know. The technicalities of their jobs is still murky. But they disappear from the storyline with no explanation in the end, even though I thought they were invited to Luc and Oliver’s wedding. It’s very odd how they appear for an entire section of the book and then disappear with no mention of them again.
Finding out more about Luc’s mom’s friend, Judy, was the most enjoyable and fascinating part of this book I suppose. Although we see less of the dogs in this book? They’re still around, but rarely. Luc’s mom is a delight and unchanged from the first book. But I guess I can say the same for Luc’s absentee rock star dad (the unchanged part).
Oliver finally being able to air out his frustrations about his family was nice in that he got to start making amends with his brother. And the chat with his uncle was oddly touching, despite the strangeness of the situation where it seems to have come out of left field.
Overall, I feel like there’s no point to this book and the ending left me disappointed and a feeling of being lectured to. After putting the book down, I do not feel happy that I have read this, and it left me feeling quite worse for having read it. This book feels more like short stories of disjointed thoughts mashed into a novel length production, but still fails to deliver the coherent story readers were led to believe from the title and the blurb.
I guess this book is for readers who don’t normally read romance books and only want romance that throws out the expected, as if it could bring something new to the table.
For those of us who ARE avid romance readers though, I feel like this is a disappointing sequel that went out of its way to ruin my favorite characters in what I had considered one of my favorite books.
***Thanks to the publisher for approving me for this e-ARC on NetGalley***
Initial reaction: two stars is being very generous right now. I generally love sequels/follow-ups to books in a after HFN/HEA story (even when most people don’t), but I feel like I would’ve been much happier if I never read this at all.
This book is cruel. Nothing about it makes sense. Does Alexis Hall hate us? Did he resent having to write this? I don’t know. I don’t understand anything because I don’t understand this book.
Honestly, it started out a little wobbly (I really didn’t care for how obnoxious Bridge was in the first section and how easily Luc discarded Oliver) but eventually it seemed to find its footing - for a while. It was very up and down, but had a lot of interesting things to say in between the plot bits, as most Alexis Hall books do, and I loved that! Then it just kind of… crashed and burned. The funeral section was good and things started looking up. And then it all fell apart.
Boyfriend Material was written in the style of 90s romcoms, and this was Hall’s take specifically on Four Weddings and a Funeral. I know it was part of the style but I personally wish he would have toned down the ridiculousness of the antics in the early part of the book. There were mishaps and bad judgement calls being made merely to drive the plot but I didn’t appreciate the result of these bad calls because they almost invariably ended up hurting Oliver who is the last person who deserves to be hurt or taken for granted.
I adore Luc and Oliver but this book really pushed how far I was willing to let Luc slide in his behavior. He’s never been the easiest-to-like character but he’s flawed and damaged and relatable because of that. Except for in this, he really doubles down on the meanness, pettiness, hypocrisy, and just general misguidedness. He’s legit awful in so many scenes. He seemed hell bent on demonstrating over and over again just how shitty a person he could be and it got real old. It really bothered me that Luc repeatedly displays a complete lack of sensitivity to Oliver’s needs. Especially when Oliver gives him so much in that regard. I found that extremely disappointing. I even felt very #TeamOliver for most of the book which I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to take sides, I wanted to be #TeamLucAndOliver. I’m genuinely disappointed with this.
That said, there’s lots of relatable stuff about family dynamics and navigating relationships (partners, friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, strangers) and important discussions about what it means to be part of the LGBTQ+ community. I especially appreciated the discussion of the very problematic intersection of religion and government, and the many problems with conservatism. Hall handles all this with great sensitivity and insight - and humor - as per his usual.
Overall, I did enjoy much of the book. I laughed out loud MANY times and smiled through so much of it. In the course of the story, both Luc and Oliver end up standing up for themselves in various circumstances to people who definitely had it coming and it is ever so satisfying! I was so proud of them in these moments. It just had way too many problems and parts that made NO sense for me to be able to recommend it. Luc & Oliver deserved better than this. And so did we.
Many thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca for providing the free digital copy via the Early Reads program.
DNF at page 236 because boredom. This is not what I was hoping for when the sequel was announced.
I dislike it immensely when a story becomes entirely too plot driven. We already had this issue when it came to Boyfriend Material. But I was able to overlook that since the characterisation was strong enough. And the cuteness. But with this sequel, we were getting too much of everything else and not enough Luc and Oliver and that’s not what I signed up for. They are the main characters, yet read like a side plot.
Plus, Oliver deserved a POV.
The balance was off. There were too many side characters. Too many other shenanigans happening that were not holding my interest. And I wanted more interactions between Luc and Oliver, which I was barely getting. We were getting scraps of those two and I wasn't fulfilled.
This review contains spoilers. I decline to hide those spoilers as I think it’s better to go into this book fully spoiled, as I was, rather than be blindsided by rage, as many of my friends were.
First, let me say that I deeply sympathize with those that are feeling betrayed by this book. I think it’s incredibly disingenuous of the author and his publisher to title this book Husband Material, release a blurb that reads like a wedding invitation, market the book only with wedding-themed promo materials, and then give us a book that does not, in fact, feature a wedding between the two MCs. I find this whole event baffling. What else could the author and his publisher expect but a steadily declining GR rating along with eviscerating reviews?
Second, I encourage those reading this review to take a look at the top Goodreads reviews written by actual Goodreads users (not authors) who actually read the book. The top reviews enumerate many of my feelings about the book, and in many cases, convey those feelings more eloquently (or more succinctly) than I could.
That said, in this review, I’d like to focus on this book’s treatment of the queer community, specifically the rainbow and also gender.
I am very conscious of the fact that a broad swath of Alexis Hall readers engage with the queer community only through or primarily through his work. As a queer person, I find this deeply concerning because many of the ideas presented in this book are patently false.
Read the top reviews again and let me echo some of the remarks on that goddamn rainbow here. You can be dripping in rainbows and be queer. You can elect not to embrace the rainbow and still be queer. Queer people existed the world over long, long before American artist Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag as a symbol of queer pride in the 1970s. Rainbows aren’t compulsory and not feeling represented by the rainbow is NOT inherently a sign of internalized homophobia. When Luc suggests that it is, that’s called gaslighting, and Oliver deserves better. People can have preferences, likes and dislikes. And people can choose to or choose not to express their identity in any way they want. And that is completely fine.
Additionally, it’s clear that Luc does not comprehend the complexities of some of the ideas that he espouses in the text, particularly those revolving around gender.
It seems as though Luc feels he’s earned virtue points by acknowledging that the weight of importance society places on the gender binary can be problematic. However, his methods of acknowledging this fact highlights that he has no real understanding of the nuances of gender and undermines his bid to accrue the virtue points he feels he’s entitled to. (And spoiler alert: virtue points are not a thing. One should not demand praise for exhibiting basic human decency.)
For a very specific example, let’s look at the pre-wedding party. Luc is very proud of himself for having a “non-gender-specific bird do” for Bridge rather than calling it a hen night (or bachelorette party as we say in America). Sure, the name of the party doesn’t have a gender, but absolutely everything else about the party does. The party is thrown by Luc, who calls himself the maid of honor. And for reasons I don’t understand, he feels that genitals must be represented at the party. He views the penis as exclusively male and the vulva as exclusively female. So, to subvert what he believes society expects at a party like this, Luc banishes the penis and forces everyone to wear crocheted vulva hats? Because not to do so is transphobic?
Make it make sense. It’s as though Luc has pieced together buzzwords he found on the internet to make this word soup of ideas that are ultimately meaningless or nonsensical, or both. In this book, gender identity isn’t handled with care. It’s not respected and instead it’s used as a punchline again and again. And as an agender person, I can say that I’m not impressed. I’m not just a little bit angry and I am just a little bit hurt.
All in all, this was a poorly done book written by an increasingly problematic author. I was once a devout Alexis Hall fan, but with this shift to romcoms there seems to be an effort to carve out a place as a disseminator of queer knowledge. Rather than celebrate the diversity of the queer community and use his books as a tool to express queer joy, books like this one are peddling wrong thinking to an increasingly cishet readership and, frankly, I’m concerned.
But do I plan to read Father Material? Absolutely! And why? Because the author has revealed that there will be a dog. And I must know if this author will write a book called Father Material about two men who are dog parents. I need to know just how far he and the publisher will go to market books by making false promises.
✼ thank you to sourcebooks casablanca for sending me an arc of husband material (easily my most anticipated book of the year screams) in exchange for an honest review
the only way i know how to begin is by going back to the start - boyfriend material. i know boyfriend material like the back of my hand, instinctively reaching for it whenever life gets too much. i see disastrous luc as one of the most intimate mirrors of myself - oh the joy and also the mortifying ordeal of being known.
i’d like to think that after many impulse rereads of boyfriend material (still cannot believe it was on my spotify wrapped please do not perceive me) and falling in head over heels love with so many of his other books, i know alexis hall’s voice. its one of my favorites, a place of comfort, a little bit of home i carry in my chest.
sequels can be scary, especially one for a book so widely beloved. boyfriend material ended with a beginning: now that pretending to fall in love has turned into falling in love for real, what’s next for luc and oliver?
despite that, i never quite worried about husband material. i trust alexis and true enough, here’s his voice shining through the pages again - that gorgeous wit and banter, the snark that masks raw vulnerability and emotion.
husband material felt like reconnecting with a dear old friend. a sweet hello, a teary “i missed you”, a heartfelt “i’m so glad i know you”. this is the disastrous yet endearing luc and oliver we fell in love with. this is their chaotic group of friends, holding hands in their late twenties and stumbling through life together.
if boyfriend material was about falling in love and working through the baggage, husband material is an ode to love and relationships. the people who matter, those who Know our most raw, intimate selves and still stay.
and at the same time, we’re taken down a path that is so fresh and unexpected. as a queer person, this book wedged itself in my heart. it was so unexpected and when it hit me, i broke down. i still lie awake at night thinking about it.
husband material is the extended epilogue of my dreams, but beyond that it is an exploration. it asks you what it means to be a queer person when you don’t see yourself in the prominent culture, when it doesn’t fit the way you express yourself. it’s about not feeling queer enough for queer spaces, and instead watching from afar.
it’s an exploration of relationships - what it is, what it means, what are these feelings that come with conventions that have been exclusionary in the past and still are now. it brought to the surface all these things i hadn’t fully articulate to myself, but the sheer relief and validation washed over me.
and through it all, husband material is overwhelmingly filled with love, with luc and oliver holding my hand each step of the way. how loved we are, despite being flawed and messy.
cw: homophobia (challenged), internalised homophobia (challenged), bigoted language spoken by a minor character (presented very much as a bad thing), mentions of past emotional parental neglect, loss and grief
Before anything else I might say, I want to point out what I loved about this book: the comedy aspect. This author somehow always manages to write with so much wit, sarcasm and just genuine humour. I’ve laughed out loud plenty of times while reading this, which I find quite an accomplishment. It's also just so beautifully British; it was funny in a way that I truly associate with England. Luc’s inner monologue, his banter with his friends and boyfriend, but most of all the absolute absurdity of his work-colleagues (and in particular the icon that is Alex Twaddle), never fail to crack me up. The comedy angle is definitely this series’ main selling point.
It's no secret that the main character of this book is a total wanker, and so is basically everyone else in his life. The characters are flawed, often unlikable, and very difficult. Yet, where that had its own kind of charm in book 1, I found it to be a little tiresome here. In particular, I found it difficult to get in the romance part of the book when I was quite frankly convinced they were very incompatible together, and also, once again, just.. not very likable. They really started to get on my nerves a little bit.
This whole book also felt terribly preachy. It was constantly talking about things such as ‘queer identity’ and having to feel represented by the LGBTQ+ community and everything that is associated with it. Luc and Oliver literally kept arguing about it the entire time: I do not think they had even one conversation that did not involve words such as ‘heteronormativity’ or ‘rainbows’ or ‘bad gay’ or whatever. Seriously, they kept having potentially relationship-ending fights over this stuff, and I simply couldn’t help but get annoyed over it all. It was just so… pointless. stupid. fake. boring. And I was so over it. By the way, I blame Luc for this whole thing, since I was totally on Oliver’s side in that Oliver could feel whatever way he wanted to, and he didn’t have to like certain things just because he is gay. That’s ridiculous. Luc should have just let it go and respect that not everyone is the same.
And, my god, the ending literally made me want to die. It was the absolute worst and I hated it so much. If I didn’t already think Luc and Oliver were a horrible couple together, then this would have definitely pushed me far into the ‘horrible couple’ camp. It was dreadful. Urgh.
I was honestly looking forward to this sequel, and I’m sad over how disappointed I am with the result. The book started out pretty okay, but to me it just steadily became worse and worse. Everything (apart from the comedy) that had worked for me in book 1, just kind of appeared to have lost its charm here. It wasn’t what I was hoping it would be, unfortunately.
'London Calling' duology: 1. Boyfriend Material - 4.0 stars 2. Husband Material - 2.0 stars
I’m so disappointed as I loved the first book so much and was so excited for this one, but sadly I did not love this. Upon finishing it, I’m left with more questions and confused. I feel like the author tried to discuss important conversations within LGBTQIA+ relationships, but it wasn’t very well executed. Oliver and Luc have different ways in which they like to express their identity’s, both of which are valid as there is no correct way to be gay. However, the way they both discuss this in the book, it comes across as one of them needs to not be themselves in order for the relationship to work. Which just makes me question how the relationship would work if neither of them are able to fully be themselves around each other. It just has me so conflicted and sad and disappointed with this book.
Special thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me an ARC of this book for an honest review.
… Wow. This was… completely unexpected.
I took a couple days to digest this book in order to write this review, because here’s the thing: this story is not what you think it will be. It’s not a long epilogue to Boyfriend Material, it’s not a dream fantasy of Luc and Oliver’s HEA. It’s a very real (probably more real than I wanted/needed it to be?) depiction of what Luc and Oliver’s relationship would be like after two years, and I want you all to be ready for it so your experience goes more smoothly than mine, lol.
Firstly, let’s go back to the beginning: Boyfriend Material was my break-in-case-of-emergency book for a long, long time, and when I finally read it, I became instantly obsessed. It’s gorgeous, and insanely funny and sweet, with the burgeoning romance between chaos demon Luc O’Donnell and the most perfect man of all time, Oliver Blackwood.
Husband Material picks up two years after the end of Boyfriend Material, and everyone is getting married (except Oliver and Luc, that is), from Luc’s beloved best friend Bridget to Luc’s hated ex-boyfriend Miles.
As a way to make himself feel better about betraying Luc and selling a story about him back in the day, Miles invites Luc to his wedding to his perfect fiancé, JoJo, which sends Luc into a tailspin. How does he feel about it? Does he want to go? Would he just be appeasing Miles’ conscience, or would it be good for his own peace of mind, too?
Bridget’s nuptials are not getting any less panicked attention from Luc – it turns out that Bridge was sent pictures of her fiancé Tom getting awfully close to another woman, and he’s now unreachable.
All these feelings about these supposed perfect relationships end up getting to Luc, who, in typical Luc fashion, starts questioning his own relationship to his perfect boyfriend and wondering if it might also be doomed (or headed for the altar).
This is essentially the first half of the book. The second half is born out of Luc’s reaction to the events I just mentioned. Cue mysterious song.
So, I’m going to tell you the secrets to enjoying this book and not throwing your kindle at the wall:
1. You are inside Luc’s head for this whole story. Listen to him. Don’t ignore the feelings that he ignores. He might not follow his instincts all the time, but you should always make note of them; after all, characters go through arcs, and, chaos demon that he is, Luc sort of walks around in panicked circles until he gets where he needs to be. His is not a linear journey and you have to be able to understand it in order not to hate this book.
2. Again: this is NOT a long epilogue. A new book means new issues to work through. This is a very realistic – and sometimes frustrating – peek at what it would look like for Luc and Oliver, who are complete opposites in so many ways (all the ways?) to build something together. Just hang tight!
3. Be ready for fighting. And bickering. Please see item 2 above.
Was this book… necessary? I’m not sure. It sure added dimension to Luc and Oliver’s relationship, but it showed us sort of an ugly truth that I prefer to avoid in my romance novels. I wanted them to be happy together at least, like, 85% of the time? And I’m not sure they were. I’m not even sure they’ll be together in another five years!!!
All in all, I laughed and swooned a lot during this, because Alexis Hall is the ultimate writer. But it was also a white-knuckle kind of reading experience. I would give this 3.5 stars at the most for being such an unexpected punch in the gut, but I would still urge everyone to give it a chance. Spoiler alert (and you want to hang on this one): Alex Twaddle’s need to be obtuse makes everything worth it.
HUSBAND MATERIAL was one of my most anticipated reads for 2022. If you know anything about me, you'd know that Alexis Hall's previous installment, BOYFRIEND MATERIAL, was one of my favorite books for 2020. I rarely read romcoms, but Luc and Oliver stole my heart and I knew that I wasn't ready to give up on their story. HUSBAND MATERIAL takes place in (I think) roughly two years after its predecessor and Luc and Oliver's relationship has never been stronger. With everyone in Luc's life getting married, he feels the pressure to propose to Oliver, but knows that Oliver does not have strong feelings about marriage. Their relationship seems solid, but what happens when marriage becomes the top of their disputes?
It's really hard to review this book, because I absolutely loved Luc and Oliver yet again, but I also felt that the story really didn't have much to really dive into. Without getting into spoilers, Luc and Oliver spend their time at multiple weddings back-to-back and it felt like we didn't really get a lot of new story as the wedding drama just kept repeating. There was also literally ZERO steam. Like at all. But again, I loved this couple and I also felt like it resembled my husband and me. I think HUSBAND MATERIAL is going to be a transitional book for the next installment, which is always the hardest book to write. Will it be in my top reads for 2022? Absolutely not. Did I enjoy Luc and Oliver's journey and will I continue to read about it? YES. This sounds more negative than you think, because overall I really enjoyed this book. Just know, its a very different style than book 1.
Much thanks to Netgallery and Sourcebooks Casablanca for making the first five chapters available for me to read
Rating subject to change when I read the whole book
"Oliver was mine, and I was his, and I was completely, embarrassingly, disgustingly in love with him. Especially when he knew exactly how to touch me, rough and tender and careful and endlessly...Oliver. When he knew how to make me forget my uncertainties and my self-consciousness so that I wasn't afraid to cling to him like I needed to cling and let him cling to me the way he needed to cling back. And tell him how wonderful he was, how happy he made me. All the other things I was just beginning to find words for."-Luc
When I read Boyfriend Material almost two weeks ago for the first time, I fell in love with Luc and Oliver. I couldn't believe that I had waited so long to read such a gem. I was seriously missing out. The first book introduced me to Ollie and Luc and all the other interesting characters such as Bridge, Alex, James Royce-Royce and Priya. There was so much wit, humor and colorful characters that made the story not only hilariously funny but also worthwhile.
So what have my favorites been up to?
The sequel picks up almost two years after the first story took place. Two years since Oliver and Luc have been together. That makes Luc what... 30 now? He is still working at CRAPP with Alex Twaddle, my favorite posh snob, where Luc and his dad jokes turn into sociopolitical debates 🤣. Oh how I missed the CRAPP crew and their dung beetle shenanigans 😂. You are in for a laughter alright.
But somethings have changed. Bridge and Tom are getting hitched and guess who is the maid of honor? Lucien. Haha.
We get a visit from Luc's ex, a blast from the past, making the "new" and mature Luc feel somewhat insecure and unsettled. While, 5 chapters is not much to write a review on, I feel like this book will focus mostly on Luc and Oliver and the issues that can develop from being in a long-term relationship.
Will we see this duo tie the knot in this sequel? That remains to be seen but damn I hope so. I would love nothing more than to see Oliver and Luc get married👬.
And while this review focuses on chapters 1-5, Alexis Hall's wit and humor from the first book is still very much strong and evident. Mr. Hall never fails to make his readers laugh and I look forward to it when the book is officially published unless the arc Gods intervene otherwise lmao😂.
I look forward to reading Husband Material whenever that will be.
Parts of this book were fun and/or moving. Parts were bloody exhausting. Unfortunately, for me, the exhausting parts towered hugely over the enjoyable parts.
I feel like this book is built to be enjoyable under a very specific set of conditions: a) You enjoy non-stop wedding-related drama. b) You have watched and loved the classic romcoms of the 90s and 00s, specifically Pretty Woman and anything from the Richard Curtis oeuvre, more specifically Love Actually and MOST specifically Four Weddings and a Funeral, and would deeply love a queer spin on the latter. c) Based on the first book, you are already deeply invested in these characters.
I think I’m around a 1.5 out of 3 on those conditions? I’m often bored by wedding drama plots and prefer them to be minimal fuss in fiction and in life (my favourite on-screen wedding is Andy and April’s in Parks & Rec, lol). I do love those classic romcoms, problematic aspects notwithstanding. I liked the characters, though they didn’t leave a massive impression (which is why I reread the first book). I’d even recently (unrelatedly) rewatched Four Weddings and a Funeral, so I was about as ideally primed for the continuation of Luc & Oliver’s relationship journey and for a big queer FW&AF homage as someone who’s just not hugely bothered about weddings could ever be.
And it started out good. The writing was witty and sharp as ever, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments. The homagey bits sometimes got a bit much (whole pages of Love Actually discussions and lots of quote-based banter) but they were full of love and snark for the source, and mostly they were fun. The interpersonal conflicts brought on first by wedding attendance and then by wedding preparations were handled with Hall’s usual deftness, authenticity, and beautiful emotional insight. There were some really achy and lovely conversations between the main characters that grew out of realising they think very differently about what a wedding should be, and what that means for them individually and as a couple.
My personal favourite was probably the Funeral part and the painful emotional fallout from that. In the midst of a book that was by its very nature full of Big Drama and manic exuberance, that part felt like a little oasis of breathing space where, in the midst of this confused, achey, angry, grieving sadness, the characters created this lovely, complex unity of mutual support, honesty, and tenderness. I loved that, and it felt like the most authentic moment in the book for both of them.
But then… it all kind of got too much. I grew tired of the weddings, and the wedding-related shenanigans. I had already grown tired of some of the jokes, like the fact that the James Royce-Royces just continue to be reduced to the fact that they share the same name, which always has to be spelled out in full, to the point where I still can’t tell who they actually are as people beyond a one-note joke. I especially grew tired of the back and forth of wedding-planning, the constant stupid fights over it, and how every single one of them seemed to bring Luc and Oliver into relationship-questioning territory. I can appreciate some of the character development associated with it, like Oliver struggling with what it means that he feels alienated by LGBTQIA+ iconography, and Luc feeling alienated by that. But there came a point where it felt like they’d had the same conversation about three bloody dozen times. And maybe that’s realistic, and probably that’s shit that comes up during wedding planning. IDK. I like elopements. But it also leaned really heavily into the tired cliché that all wedding planning has to be stressful and awful and relationship-threatening. I wasn’t here for it, and it felt like it went on way too long.
I also felt like the side characters were neither as present nor as layered and lovely as in the first book; they basically only feature as props for wedding drama. Also, the (previously established) choice to fade to black with sex scenes brought me farther away from the characters, as it’s always been clear that physical intimacy is a large part of these two’s emotional connection, and not having that on page (while I understand the choice) does feel like a shortcoming to me.
It still would have been a three-star book. An Alexis Hall book that I’m not 100% loving still tends to be a thoroughly enjoyable thing. But then came the ending. And… well. I hated it? I hated it a lot. I didn’t hate it as much as my most-hated wedding plot ever – that questionable honour still goes to Hell’s Bells in season six of Buffy – but it came astoundingly, appallingly close.
SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING.
So yeah. It feels very much a YMMV book. I have no doubt that heaps of people are going to love it. Me, I came away from it exhausted, tense, and genuinely pissed off, so… I guess I’ll just go and reread the Prosperity books instead.
Thank you to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS Casablanca for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.