Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars

Narrator: Iggy Toma
Length: 5 hours, 30 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Noah Stephen’s life changed forever when his parents got divorced. Moving to Texas mid-school year and becoming the new kid, Noah was sure he’d be an outcast; instead, he ends up befriending Rook Oliveira, one of the most popular boys in school. By eighteen, Noah’s resigned to the fact that he’s in love with his best friend, a knowledge solidified when he comes out to Rook and Rook offers to be his first kiss—an experience forever burned into his mind and forefront when dating. Now, the men are seniors in college and Noah is determined to move on from his hopeless feelings for Rook; unfortunately, he chooses to do so with his older brother’s best friend who convinced him to keep their relationship a secret…because he already had a boyfriend. While Noah has no problem ending the relationship, he’s not looking forward to spending time with his ex at his brother’s five-day wedding extravaganza, nor is he happy about his mother’s plan to set him up with a friend of the bride’s. On impulse, Noah accepts Rook’s offer to be his fake boyfriend, but plans to protect his heart as much as possible by laying out some ground rules.

Noah isn’t the only one with that scorching kiss haunting his thoughts, but Rook is certain he’s straight and respects Noah’s wishes to act like it never happened. Rook has never questioned his inability to let it go, nor the fact that the memory is the hottest thing in his spank bank. It makes sense to Rook that he’s hasn’t experienced anything like it with women; after all, it was with Noah—his best friend, his Noah—so of course it was extraordinary. Besides, with Rook’s focus on the NBA, he doesn’t have time for romance, and he has everything he needs in Noah. Offering to be Noah’s fake boyfriend for the wedding is a no brainer; he’s already going and would love nothing better than to shove what Noah’s ex can no longer have in his face (other than punching said face). He doesn’t understand Noah’s insistence on having so many rules for something so simple and has no intention of kissing without tongue or only “necessary” shows of PDA. When Rook’s confronted with undeniable proof that he may not be so straight and Noah may feel more than friendship for him too, confusion quickly becomes determination to overcome any obstacles to expanding their relationship; Rook just never expected that the biggest and possibly insurmountable obstacle would be Noah.

The Faker Rulebook is a fairly standard friends-to-lovers, fake-boyfriend tale whose main strengths lie in its lack of unnecessary miscommunications or drama and Rook’s straightforward honesty. Despite the main action of the story occurring during a five-day wedding bonanza at a ski resort, there is little on-page wedding/family activity; it’s very much about Rook and Noah’s actions progressing the plot and their romantic relationship, rather than the external factors that landed them in fake boyfriend territory. The inbuilt tension of the fake partner trope, especially at a wedding, coupled with that of Noah bringing the eponymous (and clearly titled) rulebook of ridiculousness with him and having his secret ex being the best man all carry the story. I appreciate that Baylin Crow doesn’t go for the obvious to create or resolve conflict for the HEA. Additionally, Noah and Rook are likable characters with good friendship and sexual chemistry. As this shortish book is pretty tightly focused on the five days of the wedding, Crow does a nice job of using the few secondary character beats to highlight/develop traits of Noah and Rook’s personalities and relationships so that they are fleshed out enough to make me root for them.

I found Noah to be the more standard of the pair, as he’s operating from the “been in love with my best friend for years, but have to stop myself from falling MORE in love with him while faking it” gay BFF playbook, while Rook as the “straight” man has a bit more wiggle room. Rook never really questioned his intense platonic friendship and thoughts of Noah being his. When he does begin to query himself, he displays an admirable unwillingness to lie to himself or Noah. I like how he calls Noah on his BS and pushes back on Noah’s assertions that he knows who Rook is and what he wants, which leads into the most distracting issue I have with the story: Noah’s constant refrain that Rook. Is. Straight. These characters are Gen Z and, in the year of our Lord 2023, I am hard-pressed to believe that the idea that someone could be bi/pan would be unknown to Noah. These days, when I hear protagonists under thirty not considering the idea of options beyond “gay” or “straight,” it throws me out of the story every time.

Despite the bi/pan-erasure, The Faker Rulebook is light, forced proximity/only-one-bed fun and Iggy Toma is a good fit as narrator. Although, I tend to find Toma’s narration speed a bit slow (magnified here as Rook’s modest Texas drawl makes the delivery of his POV even slower) and his accent work slightly inconsistent, on the whole, his performances are good, and I think he’s especially strong at voicing young adults. Toma captures the charm of the light-hearted teasing, the push and pull between Rook and Noah, and the emotional beats well. All in all, the audio version of The Faker Rulebook is a low angst, enjoyable, quick listen.