fake dating game coverRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel


Holden James lost his mother six years ago and the grief continues to hit him hard. The two of them were incredibly close, and one of their favorite things to do together was watch TV game show, Madcap Market. When Holden gets a chance to audition for the show, he hopes to partner with his boyfriend, Buckley. But when Holden gets unexpectedly dumped, he ends up going to L.A. alone. However, things continue to fall apart once Holden is in L.A. and he finds himself drowning his sorrows in a Taylor Swift music and too much alcohol in his dingy hotel room.

Fortunately, the hot hotel concierge, Leo Min, comes to Holden’s aid with pizza and board games and his super sexy body. After the two end up talking for hours, they realize they are both desperately in need of funds, and Leo offers to be Holden’s partner to try out for the show. The problem is that Madcap Market casts only pairs with a pre-existing relationship, so Leo and Holden need to pretend that they are dating, not virtual strangers. Also, Leo needs to get majorly up to speed on Madcap Market if the two have any chance of getting cast, let alone winning. It means Holden and Leo need to spend the next few days together, getting to know one another so they can pass themselves off as in a relationship and so Holden can coach Leo on the game.

By the time the guys are ready for the auditions, their relationship has started to move from strangers to much more. Not only are the guys totally hot for each other, but Holden is beginning to realize that this relationship may not be all pretend. Leo and Holden may be on the way to becoming a real couple, but they still need to make it onto the show before they can win the prize. Then, Holden and Leo will need to figure out if they can turn what started as a fake relationship into something real and lasting.

This is a fun story with a nice meet-cute for two guys who are not quite sure where they are going with their lives, but unexpectedly find a connection together. Both Holden and Leo are in their mid-20s, doing jobs they don’t really like, and living with their parents. Both are broke and neither quite knows what they want to do with their life. It gives them an immediate connection, even as these guys are also very different. Holden is very clearly still grieving the loss of his mother and he feels her absence keenly. She died right before college and Holden has sort of just powered through without ever really emotionally dealing with his loss. Going on Madcap Market is in part an homage to her, as the show was special to them both and gives him a way to feel a connection to his mother. It works for him in some ways and not in others, and I appreciated that the story takes time to ultimately have Holden really process his grief. (This story does focus significantly on Holden’s feelings about losing his mother and it plays a big part in the book, so be aware if this is a sensitive subject for you.) I also really liked that Leo has a different, but similar experience with his mother to watching the game show (in his case, it’s shopping at the Korean market together) and so both men have this shared connection to their families and to these significant memories.

The men hit it off immediately, as Leo comes to Holden’s rescue when he is feeling particular down and overwhelmed. The are hot for each other pretty quickly, but also develop a real bond of friendship, then ultimately real feelings. This is a pretty short timeline (the main part of the book takes place in about a week), but the guys are together virtually much all the time, so I could go with the intensity of things between them. I’ll admit, I felt the emotional connection and the bond between them more than the sexual chemistry, though I’m not totally sure why. I also found it frustrating and a little awkward that it seemed like every time they are about to get together, something stops them. This is a pretty sex heavy book (complete with cucumber dildo), so I’m not sure why the choice to keep having something get in the way so often.

I was drawn to this story in part due to the game show aspect and the blurb makes it sound like the actual show experience is a big part of the story. In reality, most of the book is focused on Leo and Holden building their relationship and on the interaction between them, and the actual time spent auditioning and filming is relatively small. I did enjoy the relationship side of things a lot, so I didn’t really mind that the focus wasn’t huge on the game show. But I do still feel the balance was off and major game show events are just sort of breezed over. For example, we see Holden and Leo go to the casting call and then we are just told “they made it through this round” without actually seeing any of the audition on page. So while I didn’t mind the show not being the sole focus, I do feel like I wanted more time seeing it all play out given that this is a major milestone for Holden and his whole reason for being in L.A. Also, while I am definitely not an expert, the timeline here had me questioning. They audition on a Monday, find out they make it the show on Tuesday, then rehearse and film B-roll and background packages Wednesday. Then the show not only is recorded on Thursday, it also airs that same day. So this entire thing happens in four days from audition to on air? Also, they really do casting calls every week to select only the contestants for that week’s show, versus filming a bunch of episodes at once? Again, I am not an expert and maybe this is really the way it works, I just found myself a little thrown out of things trying to follow this super fast timeline.

Overall, I enjoyed this one a lot and found myself eager to keep reading. I liked Holden and Leo and found their connection really sweet. There is humor and lightness here, but also some deeper moments, particularly with regard to both of their relationships with their mothers. I found this entertaining overall and a worthwhile read.

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